From LOST OREGON, a piece about our co-founder, Dennis Nyback (John Chilson)

An interview with the late, great Dennis Nyback, film collector and film preservationist

Back in the 1990s I did a b-movie zine called Schlock and let me tell you Dennis Nyback in the zine scene was legendary and almost mythical. In interviews I read or film screenings I saw promoted there was Dennis’ name, finding and screening the rare, rad stuff that nobody else wanted or even KNEW about. Jump to 2002 and I find myself living in Boston still cranking out Schlock (via the web) and thought, what the hell, let me email Dennis some questions – and lo and behold he answered them.

We were Facebook “friends” up until his passing a couple of years ago. As the former owner of the Clinton Theater (I didn’t know that in 2002), he still makes appearances there thanks to his memory and his film collection.

As I learned later throughout the years, Nyback was more than just a “film collector” he was a film archivist, found footage filmmaker, historian and writer. I found my below interview from more than 20 years ago (!!) thanks to the magic wonder of and it’s posted below with minor edits.

Q: I read in one of your interviews that many times you just walk into a place and ask for films being thrown out? Where do you get films from these days? Is eBay an option?

A: Yes, eBay is now a primary source. I still drop into junk stores and ask. People give me films. Yesterday I stopped at a store and asked about films. They said they would bring one in today that I could have for five bucks. It is German and from the fifties, probably a half hour long. I’ll be heading over there soon.

Q: Does Portland know how lucky it is to have such an awesome theater as the Clinton Street Theatre? Seriously, here in Boston we have a few theaters that seem to show the same old stuff, such as “Reefer Madness” at some midnight screening. Pretty middle-of-the-road fodder. Can you describe a typical showing at the Clinton? Is it a weekly thing? Daily? What kinds of audiences do you get?

A: The Clinton is a jewel, but I’m no longer connected with it except I still occasionally show my films there. There is no typical show or crowd. The programming is all over the map and crowds range from very small to almost filling the place. It is open daily. Some of my programs played for up to two week runs or for only one night. One of the programs I have here is called Hillbillies in Hollywood, which are music shorts—mostly “soundies”—from 1927 to 1964. I showed it for one night at the Clinton and 200 people came. It ran over four hours. I then did a two and half hour version at the Experience Music Project in Seattle. The version I’m showing here is a streamlined 90 minutes.

Q: So, you started out in Seattle then moved to NYC, then came back to Portland?

A: I grew up in Portland. My family (on my mother’s side) arrived by boat in 1843 and founded the city. They came from Portland, Maine. The main reason I came back here was to save the Clinton Street which was slated to close. I also needed to get out of NYC as it was too difficult to pay for an apartment there. I am moving back to NYC now. I will concentrate on writing and touring with my films.

Q: In your interview on the Kulture Void Website, (note: opens via Wayback Machine) you mentioned you stopped listening to the radio in 1973. I have a pal who claims he’s never watching films made after the early 70s. He’s pretty serious about this. What are some of your current movie faves? Do you pay attention to what’s being churned out by Hollywood these days? Do you show current indie films?

A: I don’t own a TV. I read newspapers for information. I do go to movies. I walk out on about half of them. Did you read my article Hollywood Garbage and How to Smell It? It’s on the Other Cinema website (note: opens via Wayback Machine) . Here in Germany I watched Gangs of New York (dubbed into German). It was so-so. I did stay to the end. In Kobenhaven I watched The Navigators and The Man Without a Past (in Finnish with Danish sub-titles). They were both excellent. I haven’t seen any of the Oscar candidates except Gangs. I think the Oscars are hogwash.


Q: Have you ever thought of doing some sort of traveling show across the country? Ever been to Europe to screen films? If so, were they more appreciative? The reason I ask, was there was a screening here a couple years ago of groovy opening titles [Saul Bass, etc.] and the audience was HOWLING with laughter at some of the stuff. Pissed me off. I was chatting with the curator afterwards and he mentioned that he screened the same show in Germany, and each one practically got a standing ovation from the audience. Is there more an appreciation “over there” than there is here?

A: Oh, I thought you knew about my European travels. This is my seventh tour of Europe. They started in 1995. I think there are appreciative audiences everywhere. For the offbeat stuff there just aren’t enough oddballs to support most venues. I have the Saul Bass film. I think it’s great. European audiences are a little more solemn than Americans. I think they appreciate the fun of the films but also are there for the educational aspect. America has much less funding for the arts. Getting guarantees there for my film shows is hard. That is only at funded operations such as Yerba Buena Center for the Arts in SF and Simon’s Rock College in Great Barrington, MA. The best film town for old films is Paris, but I’ve never shown my films there is regular theaters like I have in other European cities.

Q: Public domain. How do you get around it? Is it possible to do a “free” screening and ask for donations or something?

A: I try not to worry about the copyright police knocking at my door. There is no getting around it by making it a “free” screening. It also wouldn’t pay enough. For the hotter titles that the copyright holders try to suppress I ask that venues do not mention specific titles. Before the internet I didn’t have to worry at all, except in high profile venues.

Dennis Nyback (left) and Jack Stevenson in 1993. Source.

Here’s a great piece on his life in film.