Medium Obscures Message at Lost Film Festival
Beibin, the organizer of many experimental film, music and performance art showings, prefaced the event by noting that some films were the first or only productions of those filmmakers. This served as part-disclaimer, part-mission statement, as Beibin’s purpose is to find the “punk” energy in new, unusual work that might not otherwise find producers and distributors. “I like to call them emergency films,” he explains. “They wouldn’t have been created without a sense of crisis.”
The first “crisis” of the evening appeared in the opening short: a little boy’s squealing, floor-pounding, havoc-wreaking temper tantrum in a crowded supermarket. The advertisement portrayed the young father’s distress and embarrassment at this shrill demonstration, concluding with the advice, “use…condoms.”
The piece serves as a self-aware and necessary comment on the tone that many of the following political diatribes display. To the average film viewer, the piercing political tirades voiced by filmmakers often seemed unjustified. While the shortcomings inherent to amateur creations often undermined their credibility, Beibin is fully committed to the political causes of the work in the name of finding an outlet for genuine protest art.
The random assemblage of work which Beibin chooses—sometimes on impulse during the disorganized festival—lacks the professional refinement of other genres, but he assumes the responsibility of spreading the filmmakers’ messages to new audiences.
The antagonisms between independent and commercial filmmaking is one of Beibin’s main concerns. He attempts to use his film festivals and distribution companies, Evil Twin Booking and Bloodlink Records, to “reach places that independent film doesn’t reach.” Utilizing his “do-it-yourself roots” he attracts a raw clientele and helps distribute their work without the “frustrations” of the impenetrable commercial industry. Beibin claims that this grassroots approach has successfully brought unusual and socially conscious work into the limelight. He has defied the unwritten rules of success in an entertainment industry built on social contacts and favoritism, he says.
Beibin’s film festival experience started as a product of suburban teenage angst, as is typical of the punk scene. In 1999, seventeen-year-olds Skot Beaudoin and Mike Carroll proposed a mix of films and bands in a baseball field in their hometown of Doyleston, Penn. When the mayor denied them a permit, the group relocated the event to West Philadelphia, Beibin’s home, and the Lost Film Festival was born.
Since then, Beibin has taken the teens’ vision to festivals like Sundance and Cannes. A slideshow of his trip to this year’s Sundance Film Festival proved that he, and a core group of fellow punks, can bring their “anti-corporate” cinema to legitimate commercial forums.
In Park City, he and his colleagues built a robot in the image of President Bush and toured him through the streets, repeating words like “terror” in a robotic voice. The robot “accidentally” caught fire.
Movies of Mass Destruction
At Monday night’s festival, President Bush was the target of nearly every film and the artists criticized his politics with varying degrees of intellectual depth and artistic ability. Unfortunately, the conceit largely backfired, as the anti-authoritarian criticisms gradually lost their power with every repetition.
Through a process which Beibin describes as “cultural appropriation,” filmmaker Mike Norris created one of the festival’s more memorable moments, reorganizing a political speech given by President Bush by linking his words into three main familiar themes: terror, Iraq and weapons. His editing techniques highlighted the power and significance that these overused words have assumed, leaving a babbling Bush repeating “terror,” “terrorism,” “tool of torture,” followed by applause from the audience and dozens of repetitions of “Iraq” and “Iraqis” and “weapons.”
The sheer number of times these words appeared in the speech was overwhelming, as the echoed “buzz” words pounded into shape a concise political critique. Its point was clearer than other films at the festival that indiscriminately linked new and old television footage to mock its subjects with a shallow and undeveloped accusatory attitude. Norris notably kept his footage in context and related it to the words that preoccupy today’s political world as a whole.
A liberal warrior’s battle is not only one of rhetoric and words, but one of attention-grabbing action, one of disturbance—one of pie fights. Pie Fight ’69, a film by Chris Bruno and Sam Green, documented the social disruption caused by a group of independent filmmakers at the “mainstream” San Francisco Film Festival’s opening night on October 23, 1969. A group called Grand Central Station arrived in a white van full of pies and hurled them at the star-studded crowd. Afterwards, a mime mockingly swept a broom just above the trail of pie.
It seems that activists will use any means available to undermine corporate America. “I’m Not Stealing” was created by two young activists who attempted to fix the effects of commercial materialism on their own, thus incurring the wrath of the monolithic Wal-mart Corporation. Recode.com featured a barcode generator that allowed clients to re-price commercial goods as they saw fit. After the website’s creators were forced to dismantle their project because of legal action, the response film played on the website. The cartoon’s host, a talking barcode, called the project “an elaborate satire of Priceline.com,” and launched accusations instead at the corporation.
Another informational video advertised further innovation driven by this same use of technology for mobilizing political fervor. One tech company, under the Institute for Applied Autonomy, developed text messaging software designed to send mass text messages to many people at once. The concept is that demonstrators can more quickly organize in an urban setting if they are in contact via text message.
One highlight of the evening was a play on the “Lord of the Rings” film series. As scenes from the film play, subtitles interpret their deeper meaning. Both takeoffs were created by the Stolen Collective and one, entitled “The Fellowship of the Ring of Free Trade,” pitted Noam Chomsky (Gandolf) against NAFTA and the WTO (the Dark Lord and the Ring, respectively). The second, “The Twin Towers,” featured the heroic Anarchist (Aragon) and fearless activists (the hobbits).
Overall, many disorganized montages allowed amateur filmmakers to release their pent up liberal zealousness. While often the films might appear incoherent and poorly edited—one that stood out in particular was a clip of a man in an ambiguous animal costume shouting to visitors at the 2005 presidential inauguration---they were fresh and a clear break from the mainstream. Though the scattered selection eschewed the finesse of commercial filmmaking, the festival nevertheless stood steadfastly by the pure punk spirit of Beibin’s vision.