The wild, wild west at Cinevegas

Indie helmers discuss 'Outlaw Cinema'

LAS VEGAS — True to its name, a panel discussion on “Outlaw Cinema” held Sunday at Cinevegas bent and broke the norms of the typical festival panel event.

With discussion that ranged from bestiality on film to lack of any public funding for American filmmakers, a quintet of Yank helmers with reps for working far outside the box reflected various modes of what it means to be a true independent in today’s film world.

Eclectic group, veering away from many of the usual indie suspects, comprised Abel Ferrara (“Mary,” Bad Lieutenant”), Gregg Araki (“Mysterious Skin,” “The Doom Generation”), Bob “Bobcat” Goldthwait (“Stay,” “Shakes the Clown”), Nina Menkes (“Queen of Diamonds,” “The Bloody Child”) and James Fotopoulos (“The Nest,” “Migrating Forms”). Panel moderator was L.A. Weekly film editor/critic Scott Foundas.

Most dismissed the “outlaw” tag as mere labeling, with Araki remarking that “the media and critics largely generate these terms. But there’s a human compulsion to have works of art placed in categories.”

“I’ve been happy that I’m seen as an outlaw,” said Menkes, whose mythically-tinged and surreal films have rarely received any type of commercial distribution Stateside or abroad, and are available currently only on videotape. “If making money isn’t your priority, which is true of me, than you’re an outlaw in the film business.”

At one point, when Menkes remarked on her low budgets, Ferrara asked her, “how low?” “Lower than yours,” Menkes responded, leading to the ultra-chatty Goldthwait to chime in that “now, we’ll get into a contest over whose films had the lowest budget.”

Though it was noted that Araki would likely win that contest (his 1987 debut, “Three Bewildered People in the Night” cost a reported $5000), the prize would go to the 29-year-old Fotopoulos, who has made well over 100 shorts, features and installations, many virtually on his own for costs south of $1,000.

Yet Fotopoulos is now prepping his first conventionally made feature, cop pic “Area Six,” and now finds himself “having to answer to other people and show them my storyboards without explaining everything. This collaboration process is a new thing for me.”

Talk quickly shifted to issues of censoring and/or controlling extreme or objectionable content. “I resist when someone says, ‘You can’t do that,'” said Ferrara, who particularly targeted the MPAA rating system. “I’m never gonna be contained by a bunch of Hollywood housewives who call themselves ‘the MPAA.’ A real filmmaker can never let a (wrong) rating stop them.

Goldthwait, who reported that his last official standup perf was in the same venue that panel was being held — Palms Hotel’s The Lounge — joked about how he handled Humane Society reps on the set of “Stay,” which involves the repercussions of when a woman admits that she once pleasured a dog.

In a rare serious moment, Goldthwait — who nearly took over the discussion with his amusing anecdotes — claimed that Technicolor’s Hollywood lab recently turned down the job of making prints of “Stay” because of concerns over distasteful content.

Reviving a long-dormant issue, Menkes and Araki chided the Bush administration and federal policy for gutting public funding for the arts. “When I made my first films,” said Araki, “getting NEA funding — even though it wasn’t much — was like a validation that I was a real filmmaker. For Nina, me, (Richard) Linklater, Todd Haynes and others, we would have never gotten our first films made without some public funding. Now, it’s gone.”

“I honestly don’t know how truly independent filmmakers get their films made in this country now,” added Menkes, who noted that her upcoming pic, “Phantom Love,” is being funded through a mix of private grants and private funding, and even added a pitch to anyone in aud who might be able to pony up additional completing funds.

Ferrara added in deadpan fashion his own pitch, suggesting that the crowd should see “Mary,” screening in Cinevegas: “Every empty seat is a knife in the director’s back.”

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