In the low-key and conversational documentary From the Back of the Room, which screens at the Know on February 11, director Amy Oden gathers interviews with dozens of punk artists (musicians, writers, photographers, zinesters) to fashion a brief oral history of female involvement in various punk and hardcore scenes of the last twenty years.
As a fairly cynical and cloistered writer who too often limits his focus to punk's aesthetic potential as a sound and a style, I cherish this film as a reminder that punk provides a space for intelligent debate and maybe even a little bit of positive change. Which is not to say Oden's film is some sunshiny love letter to perfectly enlightened scenes. The women interviewed in From the Back of the Room (people like Kathleen Hanna, Chris Boarts, Cristy Road and Anna Joy, to name only a few) have encountered as many problems as possibilities in the ostensibly radical world of punk rock, and tales of disenchantment and abuse shadow the optimistic testimonials.
The punk scene isn't a utopia, in other words, but it can be a good place to sit for a spell and chat. Which is precisely what I did (through email) with director Amy Oden, who will be in attendance at the Know screening to answer your questions. Be there.
WW: The logistics of DIY filmmaking are of particular interest to me. How long did it take to make From the Back of the Room? How did you finance the project? And now that you are in distribution mode, how are you getting it seen?
Oden: It took about four years to make the film, including fundraising. The project was funded via a slew of benefit shows, local business raffles, and film screenings in the DC area. Raising money for the film was an ongoing process, and took a ton of time and energy. Now that it's been in "distribution mode", I've been booking the screenings myself. I've done a few tours with the film, and am pretty continuously booking, which is both time consuming and rewarding.
While you cover a wide range of punk sub-genres in the film, I noticed a slight tilt toward the anarcho-crust end of the spectrum. Can you talk a bit about how you made the decision to highlight certain sounds/scenes?
I think it just made sense to me to highlight the anarcho-crust sub-genre of punk for a few reasons. It's the music I grew up listening to, but it's also the sub-genre of punk that purports to be the most egalitarian. If there was a film that focused on sexism in super-masculine hardcore, or in gore grind, no one would be surprised...
Were you friendly with many of your interview subjects prior to filming? And if so, did that make the process more or less difficult? I'd imagine there might be some added pressure when it comes to representing friends fairly and accurately.
I was friendly with about a third of the interview subjects before I reached out to them about the film. Knowing someone prior to an interview is kind of a double-edged sword. On one hand, you might have more intimate thoughts expressed in an interview, but on the other, it might come across as overly casual. I wasn't honestly too worried about accurate subject representation, because I feel like maybe the one underlying commonality in the interviews is the fact that folks were very genuine with me.
You'll be screening the film at Portland's premiere punk venue, and there will be bands playing after the movie. Is this a pretty standard screening arrangement for you? And what's it like showing a movie to people who might only be there to rock out?
I've screened the film in SO many different types of environments! Art galleries, show spaces, libraries, even outdoor screenings. So, there really isn't one "standard" screening arrangement. I have to say I initially shied away from show/screening combo's, because I thought the event might be too long, but any time bands have played it's been nice to have an excuse to hang around and socialize with folks afterward. I haven't had any problems with folks only showing up for the bands.
Every scene seems to have those few folks who are always taking pictures of the various goings-on and filming bands. Were you active in that fashion from the very beginning?
I started filming bands in the early 2000's, because I was working on a different short documentary called After the Salad Days, that was about DC hardcore. I kind of got known around town for it during that time, but have done it less frequently the more that filming has become my job. I want to go to shows to have fun and forget my job, so I don't take as many pictures or shoot as much as I used to.
What are you working on now?
I'm in production on two new projects, actually. The one is called Opting Out and it's about the economic downturn and masculinity—the main idea being that we have to entertain more alternative ideas about masculinity, especially in the wake of the recession. The second project is called Exotic and is about strip clubs and exotic dancing in Guam. I'm leaving to live on the island for a month after the west coast tour - I'll be filming out there in late Feb through mid March. If folks want to be kept in the loop on those projects, they should "like" From the Back of the Room Productions on Facebook - I'll be posting updates there regularly!
From the Back of the Room screens at The Know on Saturday, Feb. 11 with live music by Bellicose Minds and Vivid Sekt after the film. Director in attendance. 7pm. $5. 21+.