Progressive Film Clubs

I’ve used this blog recently to address questions about the definition of independent cinema and to reflect on the political role of the house party film screenings. While I’ve expressed some doubts about the “house party” model, I think they can be useful as a tool for organizing people with similar interests, as this San Francisco Chronicle article argues. I use “house party” in scare quotes because many of the Greenwald films are screened in public or semi-public spaces such as churches, community centers, bars, cafes, and other non-private spaces.

I mention these issues because I received an email tip the other day about the launch of the Ironweed Film Club, which will promote independent filmmakers and “offer movies as a rallying point for Americans who share progressive values.” It’s basically a monthly subscription service that distributes independent and politically progressive DVDs (if you subscribe to MoveOn.org or The Nation, you’ve probably heard about it). In their FAQ section, in fact, the folks at Ironweed describe themselves as “a monthly progressive film festival on DVD.” Ironweed looks like an interesting concept. The service builds on the successful practices of the house party events associated with the launch of Robert Greenwald’s documentaries and also provides indpendent filmmakers with the exposure and buzz they need to promote their films, as many filmmakers confront significant challenges when it comes to distributing their films.

The first film, Wetback: The Undocumented Documentary has been getting some good buzz, and with Bush focusing more attention on illegal immigration issues, it’s certainly a pertinent topic. Also included is Where is Iraq?, a short
film that explores the experience of ordinary Iraqis exiled in Jordan after the American invasion. I’ll be interested to see the direction this service takes over the next few months, but it certainly seems consistent with the move away from the multiplexes and into other kinds of screening experiences, not all of which are retreats into the private world of the home.

4 Comments

  1. Jeff Wei Said,

    December 8, 2005 @ 1:42 pm

    hey chuck, you really ought to spellcheck your own entries before you post (“confrot,” “attantion”). It’s too bad that you aren’t at Tech anymore, I came here today wondering where you were because I thought you’d make a good judge for Campus MovieFest. Oh well. Btw, did you ever get a chance to watch Ghost in the Shell and the series, Stand Alone Complex? The new season is awesome.

  2. Chuck Said,

    December 8, 2005 @ 1:48 pm

    Hey, Jeff. Thanks for stopping by. Yes, I do need to spellcheck more carefully, but I’m usually writing on the fly. Judging Campus MovieFest would have been fun (I enjoyed attending it the last two years I was at Tech).

    I haven’t seen “Stand Alone Complex,” but will put it on my Netflix queue if it’s available.

  3. McChris Said,

    December 8, 2005 @ 4:03 pm

    I’m not sure these film clubs are an entirely new thing. Down the street from my old place in West Philly, The A-Space hosted “bike-in movies.” (The “a” stands for “autonomous,” but it’s written as an anarchy symbol.) Here in Austin, bike shops, coffeehouses, and radical bookstores all host screenings pretty routinely. Perhaps what’s new is filmmakers are trying to find national audiences through what Janet Staiger would call “non-art venues.”

    Have you read Juhasz, Alexandra’s “They Said We Were Trying to Show Reality – All I Want to Show is my Video!’ The Politics of Feminist Documentary” in Screen 35, no 2. (the citation was handy) She talks about alternative models of exhibition in the piece.

  4. Chuck Said,

    December 8, 2005 @ 4:25 pm

    I don’t think political film clubs are entirely new, either, so if I implied they were, I didn’t intend it. I have read Juhasz’s essay (anthologized in a collection on documentary I read recently), so I’d agree that there’s certainly a history of these alternative screening spaces.

    There may be something new in the ways in which filmmakers are deploying DVD and Internet distribution to seek out national audiences through alternative channels (“non-art venues”).

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