One of Finn's short films will be playing on Thursday February 24th, 2011 at the 2640 Space (2640 St. Paul), at a benefit for Dara Greenwald. Greenwald is an artist and activist fighting with cancer. The evening also includes Jem Cohen, Ben Coonley -- he's awesome -- Tara Matiek, Melinda Stone and Igor Vamos, and more. Jenny Graf and Jesse Stiles will play music. It's on Facebook.
I asked Jim a few questions about his work and about Dara Greenwald, whom he calls badass, very funny, and not an anarchist.
Do you identify as an “experimental filmmaker” or something else?
I call myself a filmmaker but it may benefit me more to call myself an artist. The problem with filmmaker is that you are then lumped next to Ingmar Bergman, Steven Spielberg and every other mainly male director that anyone’s ever heard of. An experimental filmmaker gives the image of sitting on a hard seat and watching something that will move very slowly. But if I say I’m an artist then I probably need to get some fucking gallery representation so I can cash in. But I’m broke and little known and make smartass movies. So for now, filmmaker.
Your video “Sharambaba” is part of the program coming to Baltimore for the Dara Greenwald benefit show. I haven’t seen it before, but from the excerpt at your website it looks a bit different from your newer work in that you’re using actors instead of found footage. Or are those not actors?
I shot that film in 1997 and took two years to edit it. Like many first-time filmmakers the reality of what ended up on film was not as charming as what it looked like in my head. I edited it on a Steenbeck and ran it forwards and backwards. When I ran it backwards I thought it looked fine mostly and at times sounded pretty good. So I shot it off the Steenbeck screen with a prosumer Sony digital recorder I got in 1999. I took the lines that I had written and subtitled them. They worked much better in a foreign language than in English. And I gave the best lines to the girl, which I didn’t do originally.
Your website is really nice, by the way. I like that you feature excerpts from your films. Was it a difficult decision to put them there? That is, do you worry that they won’t represent you accurately?
Well trying to throw people a bone. I made a trailer for Interkosmos which I love but it seemed silly to do that for La Trinchera Luminosa. So I needed to show some amount of the film.
When making political art, how do you decide how much “argument” or “thesis” you want to leave to audience interpretation? I mean, how do you know when you’ve made your point?
I am working on an essay about why I make political film. Unfortunately the essay is still in my head. But I guess the answer is I put in as much as I could handle if I were in the audience. I am a political junkie but I have a somewhat short attention span and need to be entertained every few minutes with something or other.
Can you tell me about Dara Greenwald?
Well, Dara and I weren’t always chummy. She was part of a cabal of activist-artist types in Chicago in the olden days of the 90’s and I was some sort of special person I guess I thought. I don’t really recall why it took us a long time to become friends. We had like 30 friends in common and then ended up in grad school together and were like O yeah you’re great. No no you’re great. I can tell you what she’s not. She not an anarchist. And the reason she’s not is because she doesn’t want to define herself in relation to the state. Yes, she is that badass. And very funny. She makes very weird soft-core Uncle Sam porn and dances at anti-war protests, blows up giant plastic replicas of ancient African-American churches, and writes books and does incredible amounts of research to show that we humans have not always just sat by and waited passively for corporations to provide us opportunities to buy things. She also can pick up dance moves like Zumba really quickly. And now she has this shitty endometrial cancer and has some kind of crappy post-student insurance plan. So that’s the deal.
Interviewer Adam Robinson is a contributor to the literature blog HTMLGiant and a Baltimore publisher of Publishing Genius. He has written two books of poetry and several essays and interviews.