Saturday, June 16, 2007

Hot Docs Interview and Review: Punk The Vote

As that post-Seattle wave of protest fades into memory and piss poor re-enactments, one of it's lasting cultural hangovers is the activist flick. One only has to think of the cinematic vision entailed in The Corporation's systemic critique of the profit motive to see the activist flick genre done well, working as both a propagandizing tool for the politics of horizontal practice adopted by social movements in countries as disperse as Bolivia and India it also incubated Utopian hopes for the west.

Punk The Vote is Roach from Eye Steel Films meandering attempt to expose the theatrics of a Montreal political process that cared little for the poverty he experienced in his youth leading him to run in the municipal elections. He presents the audience with a rather strange exposition of anarchist politics, intimately linking them to the punk sub-culture and a youthful rebellion he himself embraced, doing every bit the disservice of a mainstream media pre-summit hatchet job.

Roach's technique is loud and brash, mostly based on the eccentricities of his ego which he constantly pushes to the fore of the movie sacrificing both serious political critique for comic interludes and up front "punk as fuck" antics that rely on a cliched anarchist aesthetic. The movie ends up being a simply executed argument for proportional representation, which Roach confuses with direct democracy.

It is only as Roach is drunk on stage at a DIY show the end of his election run do we uncover that the actual purpose of the movie was to promote the site, which acts like a brilliant online soap box for the homeless.

So without purpose, the movie ends up being a very apt encapsulation of what happens when activists touch elections - they eventually drift from their original movement concern to play the hodge podge game of media whore-dom. Confusing a drift to the centre of the political spectrum with political maturity all the while insisting on their own radical merit. I expected so much more from this. Anyway, I still managed to catch up with Roach for a short interview about the movie..

Not many people in Europe will have heard of the film Squeegee Punks In Traffic (SPIT) - can you tell me something about it and how you yourself got into film making through it?

Ok... Well SPIT is the film about my life in the street. I met Daniel Cross (director of SPIT) back in 1998. He told me he was looking for a street kid to document this world (he had done "The Street: A film with the homeless" before and I knew he was a filmmaker and what kind of work he was making). So we talked and left for the civil disobedience against the MAI : Multi-lateral agreement on Investments. So I got arrested at this civil disobedience and when I got out of jail, Daniel gave me a Hi-8 camera, that became the ROACHCAM, and told me he was going to teach me film-making.

Daniel is a University teacher in film making. So we started the film around the streets. I was in the process of getting out of drugs and out of the streets and needed a passion to quit all this and find a new life. Daniel gave me this passion through film-making. If I would have never met Daniel and Mila (cameraman of SPIT) I would have been dead.

So SPIT: Squeegee Punks In Traffic, is a documentary about me, as a street junkie who finds a passion in cinema, quits drugs and get off the streets and become a filmmaker.

How does "Punk the Vote" relate to your previous film making efforts?

I don't completely understand this question (don't forget I am francophone) but PUNK THE VOTE is an evolution in my career. I did SPIT as an associate-director, then I did ROACHTRIP my first film as a director. This film was about me traveling across Canada with my friend Smash (who was in SPIT) and it is a kind of road movie/documentary... And now here I am with PTV.

PTV for me is a film that had to be made for me. I am an activist, strongly politicized and fighting against this system since I am 14 years old. So it was just a natural shift I made, but it is also the best film I made in my career. I am really proud of the political experience I had and the result: "Punk The Vote". I think I am getting better and better and it will continue that way with my next film, which is about police harassing people of the streets and the effects of jailing and criminalizing those people.

How did you conceive of the "punk the vote" campaign was it as an excuse to make a movie or was it a political idea in and of itself?

It was actually an evolution. The film I wanted to do was called: "DIY: the Montreal hardcore-punk scene" but the grants were not coming in and people who funded films in Canada were kind of scared about this film. So when I met Starbuck, he told me he ran in 2 elections and was planning on running in the next federal election (because our government was hit with a sponsorship scandal in Canada and we knew the Liberals were going out and that we were going in election). So a new idea started in my mind and then I wrote this film... I wasn't even suppose to be in front of the camera but when it comes to politics, I just can't shut up. So I went to Astral Media ( a TV broadcaster) and pitch the film, and I just jumped into the unknown world of Canadian politics (because I didn't know shit about how the Canadian electoral system worked).

Were you aware of a similar effort in the United States with quite the few underground punk bands endorsing a campaign called "Punk The Vote" during the recent 2004 election that tried to get young people out to vote?

Yes I was aware, it was called "punk voter" but was not at all inspired by that. It was inspired by Liberal party corruption and the need for electoral change.

A lot of your movies start off as one thing, for instance Punk The Vote starts as a movie about Starbuck and ends up dealing with issues of representative democracy - are you conscious of these evolutions while making the movies or do you only come upon them while editing them?

No it is all natural... It arrives that way while we shoot. Don't forget that it is documentary and not fiction... What you see happened for real. Also the fact that I fought for proportional representation of the votes is also my ideology and I was in front of camera fighting that so of course it is the big fight of the movie, it was my whole program and the film is about campaigning. But things just happened that way.

You seem to associate punk with rebellion and political radicalism, do you think it is more so than other sub-cultures and if so why?

I don't get the question).. but punk is not unknown to provocation, social denunciation and revendicate (is that a word, in French it is). So yes I will always do that and my film will always say that I guess, we are here to demand change!

The film makes plenty use of anarchistic imagery and rhetoric, but ends up as an argument for representative democracy over the traditional anarchist desire for direct democracy - how can you explain this gap between image and idea?

Huh??? I don't get it either.... I am an anarcho-Communist punk, and I believe in the people, not the power or profit. I am no politician, I am a filmmaker and an activist and I will always be there to fight against the injustice. Workers, poor and oppressed should all become one and take over this system. I believe that the working class are the deciders, and we should be the ruling class. I am no anarchist, I believe a lot in communism. That's why I am an anarcho-communist. But I really don't understand your question.

By the end of the movie you seemed quite close to the New Democratic Party, has this relationship not developed further and would the experience of electorally minded social democratic parties like New Labour in the UK and elsewhere not signal the dead end of reformism?

I still don't understand... But I had join the NDP 2 weeks ago, a year after I ran. I will never go with the party line, I will always use my freedom of speech. Even if the leader, Jack Layton tell me to shut up, I won't. We live in a democracy, and a country where freedom of speech is encouraged, so I will keep that freedom. Parties are less democratic than democracy itself. That is why I ran as an independent and that I will resign from the NDP if I am being told to shut up. I will never stop to say what I have to say and to attack my enemies, politicians!

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