FESTIVALS: Revolution Through Celluloid! Protest Fest Screens Against Philly's RNC
by Hugo Perez
(indieWIRE/8.11.2000) --"The thing you have to include in your article is that 339 people are still in jail, including two Lost Film Festival volunteers, one who is being held on a $50,000 bail, the other $25,000," says Scott Beibin, the director of the Lost Film Festival and one of the members of the Lost Film Festival Collective which has organized four Lost Film Fests since November of 1999. LFF 4.0, the latest version of this DIY, punk influenced film event was held opposite the coronation of George W. Bush at the Republican National Convention in Philadelphia. "Our goal was to highlight through our programming and discussions issues that were obscured by the RNC. We were an alternative for people that were sick of the puppet show, for people who chose not to demonstrate but to converge with other artists."
The LFF 4.0, along with the Shadow Convention, and the Independent Media Center became one of the meeting places for those wishing for an alternative to the cordoned-off Comcast Arena in South Philadelphia where the Republicans convened. For six days, from 5pm to sometimes 5am, the LFF screened an eclectic mixture of documentaries and fictional narratives, features and shorts at the 1911 Plays and Players Theatre in Downtown Philadelphia, a tall, narrow 300-seat balconied theater, elegant in its decay.
Festival Director Beibin also founded and runs indie label Bloodlink Records, which has no doubt influenced the laid back feel of the festival which was more CBGB's than Sundance, with featured filmmakers likely to be hanging out late into the night on the front stoop of the theatre sharing a smoke with cineastes and anarchists.
On my first day in Philadelphia a hush of quiet desperation followed as I wandered the city worrying that this would be a quiet week, after all. Then, almost by accident, I bumped into the tail end of a massive un-permitted march that was corralled into South Philadelphia's Roosevelt Park to slowly whither away through boredom and exhaustion under the watchful eye of Kenneth Anger like gangs of police on motorbikes. The effect was like watching a beached whale slowly die.
The sweltering heat and my sense of disheartenment were dispelled by the inspired programming of my first night at the LFF which spotlighted films, documentaries in particular, which dealt with issues or material more or less ignored by mainstream media. I arrived early that first night, sat at the back of Plays and Players Theatre, and watched them hang the screen, a very large unweighted sheet which drooped slightly in the middle. The program began with "Out: The Making of a Revolutionary," a heartfelt PBS style documentary on Laura Whitehorn, an out lesbian and one of six defendants in the Resistance Conspiracy Case who were convicted in 1983 of bombing the U.S. Capitol. In a compelling fashion, "Out" conveys Whitehorn's development from social activist to militant through interviews with Whitehorn and her compatriots, faltering only at the end when the film attempts to deal with the broader subject of political prisoners in the United States.
Following "Out" was the documentary short "Big Girls," a refreshing GRRRL powered attack on our weight obsessed conceptions of beauty, narrated by director Sara McCool whose interviews with large women in the adult entertainment industry are aimed at redefining desirability.
Jon Fine and Michael Schiller's double bill of shorts, "The Squid Ink Scrolls" and "Kung Fu Jew," were unconventional and fiendishly funny. "The Squid Ink Scrolls" was like Borges ruminating on the origins of the written word via Spike Jonze. "Kung Fu Jew" could be described as Shaw Brothers meets the Torah meets "Starsky and Hutch" -- a radical Jew kung fu exploitation film. Fine and Schiller are currently working on "Kung Fu Jew II" as a feature.
Monday night's main event was a screening of the documentary "The Gods of Times Square" followed by a Q and A with director Richard Sandler, whose twenty plus years as a street photographer heavily influenced his style as a one man documentary crew capturing the theological ruminations of the denizens at "the crossroads of the world." "The Gods of Times Square" was remarkable for its use of mini-DV to capture beautiful images, and for its appropriation of verite techniques to create a film that was more personal essay. Sandler is surely one of the strongest voices to emerge in the documentary genre in the last few years. Why aren't more people seeing this film?
One of the festival highlights was a Wednesday night rough-cut screening of 7th Art's "Rage," an engaging documentary focusing on the early punk movement in America, specifically the punk scene on the West Coast. Following the screening, Dead Kennedys' frontman Jello Biafra performed spoken word to the standing room only house making a case for why artists should fight the hegemony of corporate media. "My way of singing the blues is to illuminate things that I was concerned about. Illuminating it for all to see is at least the first step to solving the problem."
Taking a break from the festival early on Thursday evening, I visited the Philadelphia Independent Media Center location on Locust Street. The Philly IMC was a temporary headquarters for alternative journalists occupying a half-floor of a building filled with borrowed desks and computers, thick bundles of cables running everywhere like veins, and a TV studio set up in the corner broadcasting to 2.5 million homes across the country. Also present were the many indie journalists and filmmakers volunteering their services to provide an alternative version of events in Philadelphia to the outside world.
Coincidentally, Jello Biafra was doing a live broadcast from the IMC when I walked in, offering convention coverage with a certain Jello flair. The IMC had the feel of a scene from a cyberpunk novel, or a media titan's worst nightnare, either way a vision which seemed to address the need to provide an alternative to corporate media coverage in Philadelphia.
The Lost festival peaked on Thursday night with a presentation by Mark Hosler, a member of the infamous band Negativland, best known for being sued by U2 for sampling "I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For" and combining it with outtakes of Casey Kasem spewing angry profanity at a dog named Snuggles. Hosler presented a number of provocative, well produced, and often hilarious videos which demonstrated the bands use of "found" music and sound to provide commentary on media and corporate art. Hosler introduced the intellectually stimulating documentary "The Ad and the Ego" for which Negativland had composed the score. Two-thirds through the film, the power went out, provoking a mild sense of paranoia (which given the police raid on a group of puppet-makers earlier in the week seemed not without cause), until Hosler shone a pocket maglite on himself and began to answer questions from the audience.
There we were in the old theatre huddled like a group of anarchists plotting conspiracy by candlelight, listening to Hosler describe the manner in which he had become re-politicized after Seattle, and encouraging the filmmakers in the audience to make use of the materials at their disposal to combat the corporate media. It was the moment that captured what was best about the LFF -- spontaneity combined with a little chaos, an interest in promoting social causes and creating a sense of community.
The Lost Film Festival traffics in the same underground films that have made the Chicago Underground Film Festival and the New York Underground Film Festival popular with garage indie-filmmakers. For those that missed LFF 4.0, many of the same films will be on display in Chicago later in August including "Existo," "Fruit of the Vine," "Rock Opera," "Godass," and "Freestyle." What distinguishes it from these other festivals is a greater commitment to promoting social activism, calling for change with its slogan "Revolution through Celluloid!"
The final touches are being put on a plan to take the best of the Lost Film Festival to Los Angeles next week as a counterpoint to the Democratic National Convention. An original slate of programming is also being planned for LFF 5.0, which will be unveiled in November to coincide with the presidential election.
In a phone call with Beiben, he offers a last plea for support. "We desperately need money. We lost $3,000 on this festival, plus the video projector we were using was stolen on the last day," he says. "But that won't stop us."
More information can be found at <http://www.bloodlink.com/lostfilmfest/>
[Hugo Perez is a freelance filmmaker and writer currently living in the
Berkshires and producing a series of profiles on contemporary writers for PBS.]