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SXSW ’10 | “Barbershop Punk” Filmmakers Hit the Cyberseas to Capture Broadband Co’s

SXSW '10 | "Barbershop Punk" Filmmakers Hit the Cyberseas to Capture Broadband Co's

Georgia Sugimura and her co-director, Kristin Armfield, tackle the hot-button issue of net neutrality in Sugimura’s feature film debut. “Is ‘The Man’ controlling the vertical, the horizontal and the channel you’ll be on? In a privatized American Internet, is big business ‘Big Brother’ or does the free market protect and serve the needs of the average citizen with its invisible hand? With the simple act of swapping files, barbershop quartet baritone Robb Topolski finds himself at ground zero of a landmark case whose outcome will affect the rights of every American citizen. Following one man’s personal quest to defend what he believes to be his inalienable rights, ‘Barbershop Punk’ examines the critical issues surrounding the future of the American Internet and what it takes to challenge the status quo.” [Synopsis courtesy of SXSW]

Editor’s Note: This is one interview in a series profiling directors whose films are screening in the Narrative Competition, Documentary Competition and Emerging Visions sections at the 2010 SXSW Film Festival.

“Barbershop Punk”
Emerging Visions
Director: Georgia Sugimura
Co-Director: Kristin Armfield
Screenwriter: Georgia Sugimura
Producers: Georgia Sugimura
Co-Producers: Kristin Armfield & Matt Kregor
Cast: Ian MacKaye, Henry Rollins, Janeane Garofalo, Damian Kulash of OK Go, John Perry Barlow, NARAL Pro Choice America, The Christian Coalition, Jim Ladd, The Future of Music Coalition, and Congressman Marsha Blackburn
Cinematographer: Amy Sharp
Editor: Matt Kregor, Jose Pulido
83 minutes

Sugimura and Armfield introduce themselves and talk about being longtime-friends-turned-collaborators…

Sugimura: I’m the Director, Writer and Producer of “Barbershop Punk.” I’m a dreamer and a storyteller. I am also a writer. I have a background as a dancer, and in music and visual arts. Sadly, I’m not all that coordinated. Filmmaking seemed the perfect way to put all those elements together into something that communicated.

Armfield: I’m the Co-Director and Producer of “Barbershop Punk.” I’ve always loved music and the arts, but alas more as an appreciator than a participant. Working in the music industry for over 15 years, I’ve enjoyed promoting the talents of others through writing and producing TV/radio campaigns. Taking this jump into filmmaking with a very good and talented friend has challenged all of my abilities and blown away any comfort zone. We met in High School. I think we were both miserable and on an escape plan. Ultimately we found each other and ourselves in Los Angeles. Having been friends since we were 15, there’s a trust and ease of communication between Georgia and myself that only old friends can appreciate.

Sugimura: No training for feature film collaboration like surviving being teenage girls together.

The filmmakers on coming to making a unique film about piracy…

We started making a film dealing with the current state of the music industry. On the topic of piracy we found ourselves at an FCC hearing at Stanford and then it was down the rabbit hole from there….The film, even as it offers technical and legislative information, is a narrative film told in a non-linear style. The writing structure of the film is a classic hero’s journey within a design that is very much a lace — ideas, issues, people and lives looping back within each other, as we all know real life does. Another very important factor in our approach was denying the idea of traditional documentary “B-Roll,” preferring to see it as “visual narrative.” And we have really just begun with sound design. We do hope we have a chance to get back in and play within those elements as well.

On making an interesting non-fiction film about the law…

The film involves so much technical and legal mumbo jumbo, which can both fry your brain and put you to sleep. But it’s really important stuff that does and will continue to impact all our daily lives in a major way. That was and continues to remain the challenge, how to communicate the facts of this issue intelligently and keep the audience engaged. Paying for it out of our own pockets was also a huge obstacle, though clearly also a gift as we were really able to make the film we wanted to make.

On what audiences can expect…

Hopefully they will all feel like “punks,” empowered. It’s just about realizing we all hold that power. Wouldn’t it be great for the bullied masses to just tap into that inner badass and to quote Ian MacKaye, “we’re not ok with what we’re being given and we’re going to do our own thing.” We also hope the audience leaves talking, excited – motivated about what is going on with their civil rights…

On the filmmakers’ influences…

“The Sweet Hereafter” – for its seamless structure and pacing; “Southern Comfort” – for not being afraid to take its time; “Eternal Sunshine of The Spotless Mind” – for its visual soul; also “The Thin Blue Line,” “Robo Cop,” “Star Wars,” and “June Bug”…

Up next for these two…

We need to finish the music doc, it’s over half cut and we have some wonderful threads that tie the films together — like Krzysztof Kieslowski’s Blue – White – Red trilogy. So much left to say…

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