Margaret Rorison ’12 is the single constant to an otherwise unfixed and spasmodic contemporary film scene in Baltimore City. Since 2011, the Baltimore native has curated experimental cinema for the city's enjoyment and filmic edification via partnerships, hard-earned artist grants, and - perhaps most importantly - a little help from her friends.
What started as elaborate film screenings hosted out of Rorison's living room, has turned into one of the city's longest-running and most prolific avant-garde film series, known as Sight Unseen. The series focuses on experimental, image-based work that explore innovative ways of working with image, sound and narrative.
Five years into programming, the previously-nomadic monthly cinema event moved to a permanent home in June 2017, the restored Parkway Theater, home of the Maryland Film Festival, and a partner in MICA's Filmmaking M.F.A. program.
"Baltimore has always been a creative city for me. It has an expansive DIY community that came out of having a lot of underground spaces where one could experiment and explore," Rorison said.
Rorison, a poetic and expressive filmmaker herself, found her creative home in artist communities like the Red Room Collective, a volunteer-run space in Baltimore, where she occasionally orchestrated experimental music and film shows. These eclectic and inventive communities scratched the artistic itch for her at first, but eventually, she wanted to connect with people who were interested in focusing on having a dedicated film series in Baltimore.
In 2012, she wrote a proposal for Sight Unseen with the help of two other newfound filmmaking friends. The trio submitted it to MICA's graduate awards program, Launch Artists in Baltimore (LAB), and won a $10,000 grant to launch the contemporary film screening series. Since then, Rorison has led fundraising efforts each year to keep the reels rolling under the Sight Unseen name.
With funding in hand, and Rorison at the helm, Sight Unseen has elevated Baltimore's film culture, introducing a diverse range of Baltimore communities to alternative modes of the cinematic media, while welcoming recognized pioneers and emerging innovators to events that showcase contemporary and historical time-based art.
"When I moved back to Baltimore in 2009, I noticed that it was a city that had a large presentation of experimental music and performance, but I felt that there was a gap in experimental film programming at the time. I wanted to bring filmmakers to Baltimore, to share new works with the community or artists and experimenters, that would also benefit local teachers and students of film, and expand their exposure to this kind of cinema."
Starting in 2018, she will be teaching an undergraduate course, an intro to 16mm filmmaking class at MICA, which happens to be her medium of choice.