As the world’s largest doc fest the International Documentary Film Festival Amsterdam is jam-packed with nonfiction gems from around the globe. Yet one of my most delightful and surprising finds at the 24th edition this past November was a small film from the heart of the host city itself. “Meet the Fokkens” is a nuanced portrait and loving celebration of 70-year-old twins Martine and Louise Fokken, two vivacious ladies of the night who’ve been selling sex in Amsterdam’s infamous red light district since 1961 (though Louise, suffering from arthritis, is now retired). Prior to the latest “Meet the Fokkens” screening at February’s Berlinale, I spoke with the doc’s Dutch co-directors, who gave me the scoop on many-splendored things, including Martine’s green fingers, corruption in the red light district, and the history of older professionals in the oldest profession in the world.
“The newly rich are doing well but we old rich are the new poor.” So sayeth the fifty-something Anne Mette, in just one of her many Oscar Wilde-like bon mots. The younger half of the female Danish duo at the center of Eva Mulvad’s The Good Life, Anne Mette and her elderly mum have downsized from their vast villa and now reside in a tiny apartment in Portugal on income from a single pension. And while the parallels of Mulvad’s film to the Maysles’ classic Grey Gardens are obvious in its portrait of a somewhat dysfunctional mother-daughter relationship and the fact that these once wealthy women are now living in poverty (if not exactly squalor), what struck me most was the biggest difference between the two docs. Unlike with Little Edie and Big Edie, no one can accuse either the unabashedly eccentric Anne Mette or her stoic mother of one ounce of insanity. Which is what makes The Good Life all the more heartbreaking. These strong-willed dames whose banter plays like a vaudeville act not only aren’t in denial, they are painfully aware of all that they’ve lost.
Fortunately, Lady Luck shined on me when I got to chat with the driven and down-to-earth Eva Mulvad – who I’ve been wanting to interview ever since her intoxicating doc caught me by surprise at last November’s International Documentary Film Festival Amsterdam – at the decidedly chichi Trump Soho Hotel when she was in NYC for the flick’s North American premiere at this year’s Tribeca Film Festival.
Laurie Penny is an English journalist who came into the public eye last year with her gripping coverage of the student protests and occupations. She writes a column for the New Statesman, as well as appearing in The Guardian and the Evening Standard. Her first book Meat Market: Female Flesh Under Capitalism is out on Zero from April 29th. I caught up with Laurie recently to talk about her book, and the situation facing women today.
I first encountered Michael Madsen’s “Into Eternity” at the International Documentary Film Festival Amsterdam this past November. What struck me most about the film – a visually and sonically stunning, existential leap into the very future of civilization via Finland’s nuclear waste storage facility Onkalo – was how little it resembled a documentary at all. Images from “Lord of the Rings” and “2001: A Space Odyssey” danced in my head as I tried to wrap my brain around the overwhelming concept of this enormous underground burial chamber that will continue to be under construction until the 22nd century, that is to be built to last for 100,000 years. Fortunately, I was able to sit down with the Danish director in the lobby of the infamous Hotel Chelsea before the flick opened at NYC’s Film Forum to discuss documentary versus fiction genres, the current cinematic climate in Denmark, and the necessity of myth in our modern-day rationalist society.
Polysics are Japan’s answer to Devo. Weird, experimental, blending elements of pop, punk, rock, and New Wave into a stew that’s definitively Polysics, they’re fun and totally unique.
With keyboard player Kayo about to graduate*, Kirsty Evans caught up with the band a few days into the American tour to chat about how things are going and their plans for the future.
(In Japan the term graduate is used to indicate that someone is leaving a band, or that a band are leaving a record label. The implications are positive, not negative. Also, please note that unless otherwise noted, the singer, Hiro, is doing the talking.) Continue reading
The future of journalism: it’s the subject of books, panel discussions, and countless blog posts and news articles, most of which revolve around the ways we can fund media after the shift to the Web. Tracy Van Slyke is the former publisher of In These Times magazine, and is the project director at The Media Consortium, where she works to connect and strengthen progressive voices in the new media age. Van Slyke co-authored, with Jessica Clark of American University’s Center for Social Media, the book Beyond the Echo Chamber: Reshaping Politics Through Networked Progressive Media, where they examine how the age of the Web has opened up opportunities for media makers to not only continue to produce quality journalism, but expand their reach and impact to effect political change.
She took some time to talk to Sarah Jaffe about the progressive media in the age of Obama, media’s role in social justice efforts, and the changes she still hopes to see. Continue reading
Toshiya, bassist for Japanese alt rock phenomenon Dir en grey, isn’t interviewed very often, but we got a chance to catch up with him during their recent American tour and found him smart, thoughtful and refreshingly direct. Dark, weird, and frequently rather disturbing, Dir en grey’s unique amalgam of styles has earned them a rabid underground following all over the world. This is what Toshiya had to say about the band, how they function as a unit, and what his own contribution to the process is.
Kirsty: Recently it seems like you’ve been experimenting with slap bass. What brought on your interest in experimenting with other techniques? Are there any other styles you’d like to try?
Toshiya: Hmm, I’ve always had an interest in slap bass. But I never really planned on doing it. Lately… I felt like it was one way to play and started try to play that way. As for new techniques, right now, I’m not really thinking of any. But I would like to gather new techniques.
Kirsty: It seems that you only wrote maybe one song on the last album. Will you be writing more for the next album?
Toshiya: Though I am thinking of writing a couple songs, we all bring material and all five of us do it– it’s not like only one person contributes; everyone works together. It’s like that.
Kirsty: In the promotional picture that your management sent us, I noticed that you’re wearing a skirt. Why did you start doing that again? Continue reading
Finnish rockers The 69 Eyes have been around since the 80′s, but it’s only recently that they’ve begun to make inroads into the American market. With a new vampire-themed album released just in time to capture the bloodsucker-friendly zeitgeist, they’re currently hitting the road in the hopes of connecting with old fans and finding themselves some new ones.
Kirsty Evans sat down with frontman Jyrki right before the first show of the tour in San Francisco to talk about cartoony horror bands, old school rock and roll, and what makes Finnish bands unique.
Kirsty: This isn’t your first time in San Francisco, right?
Jyrki: No, this is the 4th. We’ve been here a couple of times headlining ourselves and then we played at The Fillmore with Cradle of Filth, which was brilliant.
That’s a strange combination.
I don’t think so. Cradle of Filth is kind of a cartoonish black metal band and we’re kind of the same, like a cartoon rock band.
That’s interesting, because when bands that audiences here aren’t familiar with open for American bands, the audiences can sometimes be a little hostile.
The face of anti-GLBT activism in Ukraine is not necessarily what you’d expect it to be. In my case, I expected something resembling a bearded preacher with a fiery stare and little gobs of spit forming around the mouth. Yet journalist Ruslan Kukharchuk, the founder of the organization Love Against Homosexuality, is attractive, educated and well-spoken – and quite possibly one of the biggest enemies of gay rights in Eastern Europe.
Sitting down with this fierce ideological opponent (I should get this out of the way quickly – I am diametrically opposed to Kukharchuk’s views), I was struck by what an enormous, uphill battle sexual minorities face in Ukraine today.
Natalia: So tell me about your organization – you’re the founder, right?
Ruslan: Yes. It started in 2003. It wasn’t really an organization then. I found out that a lesbian parade was going to be organized in downtown Kiev, and sprung into action. We only had 10 days to act, but we made them count. The local authorities eventually, as they put it, “discouraged” the parade from taking place. On the day of the parade, we passed out anti-gay fliers. I guess the lesbians also had some kind of tent. From then on, it became a tradition for us, protesting homosexual propaganda in the streets of Kyiv. We have what we call “Family Carnivals,” we just had one this past Saturday. In 2006, we gained legal status. In 2009, we nationalized.
Natalia: The word “God” crops up quite a bit in your promotional materials. Are you a religious organization?
Gamers and fantasy fans are often maligned as freaks and geeks, but they also foster close-knit communities that support each other and are wary of outsiders. Writer Ethan Gilsdorf left the gaming community years ago, but returned to it as an adult, exploring the connections between Tolkien fans, World of Warcraft addicts, old-fashioned Dungeons & Dragons players and others in his new book, Fantasy Freaks and Gaming Geeks. Gilsdorf traveled the world, from gaming conventions to the building site of a castle in France and the filming locations for “The Lord of the Rings,” interviewing people in various subcultures and exploring his own connection to the gamer culture along the way.
He took some time to talk to Sarah Jaffe about the book and what he learned, both about our culture and himself, from the process of writing it.
Sarah Jaffe: You tell the story from a personal angle rather than a detached journalistic one. Other writers would’ve looked at gamers as strange outsiders, or been too involved. This is kind of a hybrid memoir and journalism and yet it gets inside the material the way many others wouldn’t have.
Ethan Gilsdorf: I think I’m fortunate that this idea came to me when I was reevaluating these things in my own life. People are really wondering what online gaming is about—is it gonna suck my child’s soul dry? Yet the stuff is infinitely more acceptable now than when I was playing Dungeons & Dragons back in the Reagan administration.
I do a lot of travel writing. One of my favorite models for that is to go try something new that I’ve never done before, like go hiking in the French Pyrenees. There are some good opportunities for humor and self-reflection when reporting in the first person, though in travel writing it can be abused. If I was going to do a book I wanted to do it as an outgrowth of my work as a journalist.
S: I think this story really works better with a personal guide into the subcultures you explore.