As its hashtag title suggests, Kevin Breslin’s “#whilewewatch” is a movie about social media, but the focus is more specific: Breslin’s documentary, which premieres on SnagFilms tonight accompanied by a live online Q&A with the director, chronicles the rise of the Occupy Wall Street movement through the grassroots media efforts of its participants (watch the trailer at the end of this interview).
Breslin’s camera was there from the early moments of the movement when protestors first arrived in Zucotti Park, but he also turned to the activists’ canny use of various social networks and crowd antics to tell their story. Breslin spoke to Indiewire about his interest in OWS and why he didn’t want to make a political film.
When did you first get interested in the Occupy movement?
I’m not a member of OWS in any way, shape or form, except that I admire the idea of anyone opening their mouths and saying something. It just so happened that it was in New York City and since I’m a filmmaker, I decided to take a walk down there around its second or third week. I couldn’t figure out what was going on, because it’s all politics, and while I’m a political person I didn’t want to tell a political story at the magnitude of every social problem that’s going on in this country. But one thing that amazed me was people making their own news. One guy was livestreaming; I didn’t even know what livestreaming was. I’ll admit it. I didn’t know what livestreaming was until I went to Zucotti Park. These people immediately caught my interest because they were creative people. So I started following them. I was annoying to them in a certain way because they were on a deadline. I asked them why they were doing it and they said they didn’t care for the way mainstream media was covering them and they wanted to tell their own story. The project came out of their perseverance.
What sort of reaction did you get from OWS when you first started filming its participants?
Like most New Yorkers, I had been watching it on TV. I kept thinking, I’m a New Yorker and should pay attention to this. I knew one guy there who was their public relations guy. So when I went down there, people were very distrustful. They were mad at the mainstream media. I think the New York Times was the first to start the problem because they ran a column [saying] they were lazy college kids living at home and a lot of them had money. I think it’s rather irrelevant whether you have a few bucks or where you live. It’s your political feelings about what’s going on. Maybe they don’t like having student debt. I’d imagine they were mad.
Do you have a better understanding of OWS’ platforms now?
The movement is about a whole generation, maybe a whole country, shackled to student debt, no insurance, a lack of jobs, a housing crisis — I did not make a political movie because we would be going down every avenue known to man. In that regard, they started direct actions. They created their own noise and covered themselves. I started thinking this might be a loaded deck — not in a bad way, because this was the best thing I’d ever witnessed. They’re up there doing something and not waiting for anyone because they’re telling their own story. I watched them. They didn’t juice the story. They’re not slanted. They’re utterly unbiased about it. I will say that there was an unusual amount of police tension and probably a real threat to First Amendment rights.
When did you know the film was complete?
I was worried from day one what was I doing, where it was going, because it seemed open-ended. I always knew there would be a “chapter close” if they were kicked out of the park. So of course we were there for that, we got to see that, and then I figured, where is everyone? What’s next? The media seemed important. From my perspective, the media seems rather comfortable with themselves.
That seems relevant to your distribution plan, since you’re bypassing a conventional release model by streaming the movie online.
I will not even waste my time going to a studio or TV network. I had a movie out a year ago, “Living for 32,” which was on Showtime and short-listed for an Academy Award. It was at film festivals like Sundance, all that. OWS invented their own distribution technique, putting out their own newspaper, using wifi hotspots in the park. I realized to myself that we have to stay in the whole spirit of the idea of just getting it out.
I don’t care if we plaster it all over Facebook. OWS has done a good job of being accountable for what they’re done. I decided to make a movie quick and short to show people what’s going on.
Watch the trailer for “#whilewewatch” here:
Disclosure: Indiewire is owned by SnagFilms.