Sunday, February 26, 2012

Kate Christensen Says "Bomb It"

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Kate Christensen Says "Bomb It"

(from brinkzine. com 5/5/07)

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  • picture Kate Christensen
I met Kate Christensen last week at the Tribeca Film Festival when I was talking to the flamboyant star Velvet of the outrageous surrealist French comedy “Avida.”  Suddenly a young woman next to her started telling me I must see that film.  It turned out that Christensen was championing a film she had nothing to do with despite the fact that the press screening of her own film, “Bomb It” would be at exactly the same time as the press conference for her friend’s film. That’s when I decided I had to see the enlightening film Christensen produced about graffiti around the world—an ambitious, kinetic, slice of social history.  I reluctantly turned down an invitation by the two women to go out drinking, but later I got to ask Christensen about her impressive documentary, which screens for the last time Sunday May 6 at the AMC Village VII on Third Avenue at 11th Street..
Danny Peary:  What is your background?
Kate Christensen: I'm from Baltimore, the home of John Waters and Barry Levinson.  I grew up in love with film.  I would study the movements of Greta Garbo's eyebrows and Fred Astaire's feet.  I remember watching “Pink Flamingos” when I worked in a movie theater.  I was in high school at the time and it was a transforming experience.  I couldn't believe what I was seeing and I wanted to keep watching.  I studied history in college and planned to be a law professor, but somehow I ended up in LA messing around with movies.
DP:  As a producer, what exactly did you do on this film?
KC: What does a producer do?  That's the $64,000 question.  My background is as an editor, so a lot of what I did involved post production... I helped to structure parts of the story; found cool music; hired an editor; looked for composers; and recruited and supervised many of the loggers, translators (we shot in seven languages), assistant editors, associate editors, and researchers we needed to complete the project.  I also landed some interviews, set up shoots, found archival footage etc. etc.
DP:   I assume the director came up with the idea for a film on graffiti?  Is that true?  And did he always plan on traveling the globe to put together the film?
KC: The idea for the film came from one of the (graff) writers, Sharp. The director, Jon Reiss, was interviewing Sharp for another project. Sharp found his questions compelling and suggested he make the first global graffiti documentary.  Jon kept asking questions for the next two years.
DP:   Did anyone behind the camera have graffiti experience?  Have any of you done it since?
KC: Our titles were done by a writer, who also contributed photography. Some of the animations were done by a writer, who also brought other writers on board the project for interviews.  Have the rest of us started tagging?  We're probably better filmmakers than taggers.  It might be pretty embarrassing.
DP:   Can you define what is and what isn't graffiti?  For instance, why is there no mention in the film about the type of graffiti written on bathroom walls. Is that graffiti?
KC: Graffiti is a mark made without permission on a public surface. Writing on your own bathroom walls is not graffiti.  Writing on someone else's bathroom walls is graffiti.
DP:  The first line of the film is "Art is a weapon." So does that imply “bombing”—a term some of the graffiti practitioners use in the film--is an art form?
KC: The most controversial term in your question, is not "bombing," but "artist."  A lot of the people we interviewed for this film don't consider themselves artists at all.  They call themselves writers. In the graffiti world there is a real distinction between writers and artists. "Bombing" is associated with an illegal act and is more commonly applied to writers.
DP: Today, most of the graffiti in New York and Los Angeles is gang-related.  How are their origins different?
KC: New York started on the trains.  LA graffiti started with the shoe shine boys and the placas.
DP: Talk about Cornbread, the first graffiti artist, dating back to the sixties in Philadelphia. Who are your favorite graffiti characters in the film?  Are the females different from the men?
KC: Cornbread got his name from reform school.  He hated white bread, so he kept asking for cornbread.  Wouldn't stop.  After awhile, Cornbread became his name.  He wrote it all over the walls.  He was famous. When he got out, he wrote it all over Philadelphia.  He became more famous.  And then the crackdown started.
I loved Mickey, the kindergarten teacher by day, graffiti writer by night, Fuckin’ Revs who wrote his diary in the subway, Zezao, who went down to paint the sewers of Sao Paulo... Because of the possibility of jail time, graffiti is not something that people do casually.  Both men and women are risking their lives to do this.  That makes them interesting.
DP: You include people who dislike graffiti, including a woman from T.A.G. (Totally Against Graffiti).  Did you feel compelled to show the other side?  Do you agree with anything said by the people who think graffiti artists are criminals?  When is it vandalism?
KC: Graffiti doesn't happen in a vacuum.  It happens in a world of crime and punishment.  It happens in a world of laws and power.  You can't understand it without showing "the other side".  Legally, putting your mark on a public surface without permission is a criminal act. There's nothing theoretical about it.
DP: When is it vandalism? 
KC: It's vandalism when the person who does it is on an anarchic mission of destruction.  It's not vandalism when the writer or artist thinks they're making the space better.
DP: Did you accompany any graffiti artists on nightly, guerilla excursions? Is it as if they are preparing for war?  Were you (or whoever went with them) scared of being arrested or of rats, muggers, etc.?
KC: Tracy Wares, our Producer and DP, and Jon Reiss, our Producer/Director did that.  As for the fear factor, from what I've heard, rats and muggers were not much of a concern.  The police were.  The gangs were.  And the sewers of Sao Paulo could be pretty lethal.
DP: Do graffiti artists despise those who make money using graffiti-like art on commercial posters and in ads?
KC: Graffiti is in a lot of ways a “fuck you” to the establishment.   For that reason, a lot of people that practice it, resent people who use graffiti to advance themselves in society.  But there is a huge market, and a lot of great writers and artists are attracted to that.
DP:  What have you learned about graffiti? Do you personally prefer political graffiti or other types?
KC: Graffiti is highly visible, but most people have no idea what the tags mean.  Graffiti is a secret language being written all around us.  A war is going on that most people don't even know about.  Graffiti is about power.  I don't have a favorite kind of graffiti.
DP: Talk about showing the film at Tribeca.
KC: There's a line in the film from Claw: "Graffiti is an indemnible [she meant “endemic”] part of New York City.  You can't even think of New York without it.  It is as New York as the Empire State Building."  New York was the perfect place to screen the film, and, of course, Tribeca is an incredible festival.  The day of the premiere, I ate two lunches.  It wasn't until I had finished my second lunch that I remembered I had just eaten a half an hour before.  Premiering a film is a pretty nerve-wracking experience.  You're on the auction block.
DP:  What are your plans with the film?  Are you searching for a distributor?
KC: We're talking to a few people.  Everyone should please sign up at our website to be on our mailing list:
DP: What are your plans?
KC: My next project is “Die for You” It’s a story of family murder and suicide in Tokyo.
I will direct and produce this documentary with the Japanese filmmaker, Yumiko Aoyagi.


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