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Collective Creativity

March is International Women's Month, and the women of Pan Left Productions are celebrating with a group screening. They're calling it Flix by Chix.

The showcase's 12 short films range in form from narrative to experimental to documentary, but they all share a willingness to address social, political and cultural issues--the unifying trademark of Pan Left films.

Pan Left is a loose collective of like-minded left-leaning filmmakers that got its start back in 1994, when co-founders Jeff Imig and Lisa Wise were finishing their media arts degrees at the UA. Both were interested in making films dealing with social justice--not exactly a recipe for blockbusters.

Without commercial viability, graduation would leave them without access to the expensive media equipment necessary to shoot and produce films. Realizing that a horde of other Tucson filmmakers were also being silenced by high production costs, the pair formed a filmmakers' collective that could pool funds and fundraising efforts to purchase community equipment.

"One big piece of our mission is to put the tools of media and film production into the hands of communities not often heard," says Jamie Lee, Pan Left's current co-executive director. "When people come from underrepresented groups, and they see themselves represented on screen from the perspective of their own communities ... it's amazing to see how they become empowered."

Flix by Chix will screen two trailers of Lee's upcoming documentaries--Imagine and The Unexpected Woman--both addressing LGBT rights, the kind of films you won't see from traditional media outlets.

Under this inclusive ideology, the collective has grown significantly over the years to include members from various communities: LGBT, racial and ethnic groups and, yes, women. People come to Tucson from all over the map, from all walks of life, to join the collective. Some have media backgrounds; some don't. That's not the point, says Lee.

"These are people interested in democratizing the media and offering a different point of view," she says.

After getting a script approved by the collective, members are given a key to the studio--and are told to get to it. They are offered uncensored creative freedom.

Though Imig still pops in and out of the occasional board meeting, he has turned leadership of the collective over to fresh hands in order to pursue a career in law. He's pleased with how Lee and the other collective members are carrying his legacy forward: "It's humbling. It's become much more than we ever expected, far exceeding anything we could have dreamed of."

For all of the collective's growth some things remain unchanged. A nondescript downtown house still contains the rather modest studio: one camera, a couple of laptops and a single editing bay. Lee says it can be hard to manage time with so many filmmakers and only one camera. But for members like Daniela Ontiveros, any equipment is better than none, especially when coupled with such a supportive community.

"It's a dream come true," she says.

Ontiveros, a Mexican native, first heard about Pan Left nine years ago while living in Minneapolis and struggling to shoot her first documentary, an exploration of her Mexicana roots. When Pan Left offered her a grant to produce the documentary as a full-length film, she packed her bags for Tucson. Since then, she has become a prolific underground filmmaker, producing and screening numerous documentaries and short films. Last month, she shot a narrative music video for a song by local singer-songwriter Amy Rude. She also thinks of the three short films she's screening at Flix by Chix as "sort of music videos," short stories set to music.

Without Pan Left, she might have spent more time securing the means to shoot her films than actually shooting them. "Pan Left has been an integral part of my creative life in filmmaking," says Ontiveros. "It's a really great collective to work with, even though right now, we're kind of hating it, because we have only one camera."

Flix by Chix is not just a showcase; it's a fundraiser. The $5 to $20 suggested donation will go toward replacing a second camera that broke last fall. "We have 40 active members all sharing the same camera," says Lee, in exasperation. "We have lots of scheduling conflicts."

When asked if Flix by Chix would become an annual event, Lee says the collective has lots of great filmmakers, both male and female, and this is the first time they're showcasing just women. Her laughter comes soft over the phone.

"The men are maybe a little jealous," she says.

Flix by Chix will screen at El Ojito Springs, 340 N. Fourth Ave., from 1 to 4 p.m., Sunday, March 9. Call 792-9171 or visit panleft.org for more information.

More by Andrew Mortazavi

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