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indieWIRE INTERVIEW: “Air Guitar Nation” Director Alexandra Lipsitz

indieWIRE INTERVIEW: "Air Guitar Nation" Director Alexandra Lipsitz

Director Alexandra Lipsitz‘s doc “Air Guitar Nation,” which premiered last year at the SXSW Film Festival and also played in Toronto follows the birth of the U.S. Air Guitar Championships. Two aspiring rock stars strum and strut their way towards glory and the coveted national title. C. Diddy, a samurai warrior clad in a “Hello Kitty” breast plate and red kimono emerges as an early favorite, but his arch nemesis from New York’s Lower East Side, Bjorn, is not far behind. As the film reaches its climax, the future of Air hangs in the balance. Will Bjorn’s technical prowess, stage performance and airness be enough to take him to the top, or will C. Diddy conquer all to become America’s first supreme being of Air Guitar? In her interview with indieWIRE, Lipsitz talks about her involvement in “Project Greenlight,” her crash course in filmmaking and what she found while searching for “talentless America.” Shadow Distribution opens “Air Guitar Nation” in limited release Friday, March 23.

Please introduce yourself…

I’m a filmmaker and TV producer and work for the Magical Elves. Former jobs: Circus Roustabout, catering with a Cajun mercenary sniper, carpenter at a state run fair ground, sales girl at one of the first video stores in NYC, teacher of carpentry on a bus to elementary school kids, Rock N Roll stagehand, photographer. Born and raised in New York City, now live in LA.

What were the circumstances that lead you to become a filmmaker?

Unofficially, when I was a kid I used to shoot with my folks VHS video camera in the squats in NYC. Officially, I was studying photography in Paris, France and I was in a friend’s apartment where her boyfriend had a large group of black and white photos spread out on a table. They were of punk rockers. I asked him what they were and he told me they were for a documentary he was making in Poland about an underground rock festival. I asked him if I could go–he said he would look into it. It was a joint production with BBC and Interpol (then the only film company in socialist Poland). A week later I was in as his apprentice, and I bought 30 rolls of Tri-X film and went to Poland that summer. Andzje Kostenko was the man–he introduced me to filmmaking.

What other creative outlets do you explore?

I take pictures, sing, paint and write. I would say I like to create by any means available.

Did you go to film school?

I did not go to film school. Almost went to school in Lodz, Poland but joined the circus instead, that is a school of some kind, a school of ethics, hard work, creativity. Eventually I got a GED and went to college to study fine art and photography. Then I met Ondi Timoner and got back into filmmaking. I also worked on “Project Greenlight,” [which] was the best film education. Nothing better than putting a mic on the director and producers and the entire filmmaking crew and documenting the making of a film. Working in reality TV was also a great way to learn fast. People would say to me, “hey can you mix audio?” I would say “uhhh no but I am a fast learner.” Next thing you know they are teaching me how to run a rig in an hour and I am working on a network show! Then the director comes up to me and shakes a tape in my face and says, “Alex can you tell me why there is no audio on this tape?” Tears and another lesson and some guy gets fired. Then I get hired on a surfing show and travel to the south Pacific with 15 surfer girls to mix audio…I think the best way to learn filmmaking is to do it.

“Air Guitar Nation” director Alexandra Lipsitz (left) with New Video’s Steve Savage and Susan Margolin at the New York premiere of the doc Tuesday night. Photo by Charlie Olsky for indieWIRE

How did the idea for “Air Guitar Nation” come about, and how did the film evolve?

Kriston Rucker read an article in the Wall Street Journal about the World Air Guitar Championships. He asked his friend Cedric Devitt to go check it out, and they went to the world championship in Finland and filmed their experience then came back to the US to pitch a TV show with the Magical Elves (Jane Lipsitz and Dan Cutforth) and a producer named Anna Barber. The idea was to make an “anti-American Idol,” a search for the talentless America. I worked for the Magical Elves and was brought on the project with Tony Sacco, Casey Kriley and many other elves and folks willing to help out. The TV show was picked up then dropped by VH1 for a short period of time. The producers decided to go ahead with the championship and the birth of US Air Guitar began. We documented it and the story was so incredible [that we] decided it was not a TV show it was a film.

What were some of the biggest challenges you faced in either developing the project or making and securing distribution for the movie?

Music! We self funded the entire project and [we were all] making other TV shows and working full time while making the film. Also it was the first time we [had ever done] a film.

How did you finance the film?

We all chipped in 1000 “air dollars.” I personally took out a loan at Bank of Amairica.

What are your biggest creative influences?

My creativity is influenced by Airness and 40s. For this film: Rock N Roll, World Peace, Finland, Air Guitarist world wide, DA Pennebaker and Chris Hegedus, Michael Moore, Penelope Spheeris, “Easy Rider,” “Wayne’s World,” Jim Marshalls photographs, and lots of years of seeing live bands.

What is your definition of “independent film”?

A film that is made with the spirit of Amelia Airheart, the intelligence of Richard Feinman, and the humor of Condoleezza Rice.

What are some of your all-time favorite films, and what are some of your recent favorite films?

Recent favorites: “Air Guitar Nation,” “Cache and Funny Games,” “Grizzly Man,” “Little Miss Sunshine,” “Eyes of Tammy Faye Baker,” “Paradise Lost,” “Born into Brothels,” “The Devil and Daniel Johnston,” “Bobby.”

All Time favorites: “All the Presidents Men,” “The Secret of Roan Innish” and anything John Sayles made , “Citizen Kane,” “La Strada,” “Maltese Falcon,” “Suburbia,” “My Private Idaho,” “Gone with the Wind,” “Big Lebowski,” “Spinal Tap,” “Liquid Sky,” “Reservoir Dogs,” T”he Quiet Earth,” “The Navigator,” “Lair of the White Worm”, “Faster Pussycat Kill Kill,” “Rocky Horror Picture Show” [and many more]. Why do I like these films? Because they are amazing and I have a lot of time on my hands.

What are your interests outside of film?

Air guitaring, yoga, text messaging and sex.

How do you define success as a filmmaker, and what are your personal goals as a filmmaker?

1200 screens. But seriously success is sitting in the theater and hearing the people laugh and cheer and squeal with enjoyment. Does not get better than that.

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