18 Jul Conventional
16 years ago I shot at my first convention. We were in Philly for the Republican shindig following around Sander Hicks who was in the process of re-publishing a discredited bio of GW Bush. We didn’t think of ourselves as activists but we were following one. We also didn’t really think of ourselves as political filmmakers nor journalists, but instead observers. We didn’t want to shape the action nor the results. We continued to shoot for a full year after that. In fact our last day of shooting on that project was Sept 10, 2001. We were almost done with the edit at that point but went to shoot as Sander moved out of the basement that he had squatted as the office for his publishing company. As you might imagine, we had a tough ride with the film even though it was not an anti-Bush screed. It was a sober look at politics- but sober looks don’t attract a lot of attention. The film isn’t currently on any streaming platforms right now so for the weeks of the convention we’re posting it here.
Eventually, after about a year we began to get traction with it as opposition to Bush grew. We self-distributed it and even got it short listed for the Academy Award. At that point it cost tens of thousands of dollars once you got short listed as one had to deliver a 35mm print to the Academy- yet you were not allowed to tell anyone. They changed that policy a few years later. Even as interest in that project grew so did the sense that what we were doing was dangerous. When we got short listed we had to hire a publicist. Horns was our first doc so we had very few contacts. We sent out half a dozen VHS tapes to publicists in LA and almost all of them reported that the got them in plastic bags that stated that the packaged had been opened and inspected by the government. Several of them said they had no interest in representing the film. Today I am thinking about all of the Turkish filmmakers who have been working on projects that raise questions about the government.
When the next election cycle rolled around we partnered with Gabriel Rhodes, Keefe Murren, and Jennie Bedusa on a project called “August in the Empire State” which centered on the Republican National Convention in NYC. For that film we followed a Republican Congressional candidate from New York, a housing rights activist who was organizing a poor people’s march, and a writer from Salon. It was a very tough week. Before the convention the police showed off all kinds of military gear, and they had a massive surveillance program targeting the various protest groups. Even before the convention officially started the The police began to carry out mass arrests in an attempt to keep the protesters off the streets. I didn’t have press credentials but I was following a credentialed press person so I kept getting thrust into situations that put me at great risk of arrest.
We had a tough time getting anyone to care about the film when it was done because nothing overtly controversial happened. It was an observational look at the three participants and at the time it did not resonate with programmers or distributors. However, I think it’s absolutely worth your time to check it out.
About a two months ago I had an idea to do a kind of “Medium Cool” mash up with “Over The Edge“. I wrote out a long scenario for a largely improvised film. My heart wasn’t in it though. Still, I thought I would go to Cleveland to document the event, but I just couldn’t bring myself to get a ticket. On some level I am much less interested in shooting when there are a lot of other people doing it as well. It just doesn’t seem like there’s that much need for it. In addition, even though I’ve shot a lot of these kinds of events, I haven’t have an outlet for the work. However, I have begun to organize it and want to do some exhibitions in the coming years. I don’t see it as a feature film but instead an installation in which people can move around and watch various events as they flow together.