Shooting Wall is a local collective of young filmmakers and theorists who promote the medium through discussion groups, screenings, and a zine, all of which are free. You may already be familiar with their recent Occupy Philly-related screenings at City Hall or through their aforementioned zine, which includes essays with titles such as “Film Movements Are Failures”, “The Failures of American Film Festivals”, and “Mediocrity and American Awards Shows”. Shooting Wall know what’s wrong with modern cinema and they’re looking to fix things with the help of like-minded locals.
Cinedelphia recently sat down with Shooting Wall members Joshua Martin, Karl Starkweather, and Carrie Love to discuss the origins of the group, what they hope to accomplish, and their attitudes toward the Philadelphia film community.
CINEDELPHIA: What are Shooting Wall’s goals?
JOSHUA MARTIN: I think the goal of Shooting Wall is to create a small collective of cinephiles, critics, filmmakers, theorists, who are interested in not only making films, but discussing films that are difficult or considered not mainstream. Actual independent films, not independent as a genre, but independent made outside of the studio that combats the stale, clichéd crap that we see not only in mainstream film but in local cinema. Our goal is to take film back for people who like to engage with film on a very critical level and like to watch very difficult and challenging films. We think there’s enough of an audience to bring ten or twenty people in and play not only our films, but films by people who might not be very well known, filmmakers that get brushed aside. And I think Shooting Wall is about a community of people who will watch those films and also a community of people who will make movies and watch them together.
C: Would you say that there’s a revolutionary bent to what you’re doing?
KARL STARKWEATHER: I think conceivably we could take on, in a minor way, the Hollywood/”independent” film, we can take it on now because of how accessible technology and distribution are. I think that’s where we’re coming from, we’re revolutionary in a tactical sense, we’re not going to do something that we think is going to be a waste of time and energy. We’re also trying to get people to get off the internet. When I got into film I was told to go to this message board. We want to get people out of the house, get people who are into film mobilized. In a way I guess that’s kind of revolutionary.
JM: We’re also interested in utilizing these new distribution and technical aspects to revolutionize in the sense. We realize we’re not going to take down Hollywood, but I think that we can see that there’s an alternative to these means of production and distribution that we can create for ourselves, that we can create a community of people, maybe it’s just regional for now, who can make, distribute, and view each other’s films and maybe it will grow from there. We see these technological advancements as being revolutionary. We see cinema coming out of them on a small level and that’s where we’re trying to jump in.
C: So you don’t have any lofty goals such as the betterment of cinema as a whole…
CARRIE LOVE: Part of what we want to do is teach people and attract people who really love film and then work from there. I don’t think any of us think we can convert a large group of people into thinking like we do, we’ve decided if no one is going to give us what we want then we’re going to do it ourselves.
C: Is your group open to the general public?
JM: It’s open to everyone, yeah.
CL: Our lack of marketing skills is really our only problem.
KS: We’re DIY to the core so we’re learning as we go along. We’re not a business though.
JM: Everything we do is free, the zine is free, the screenings we do are free, the reading groups are free. There’s no money involved, that’s not our interest.
C: So who do you see as your audience? What kind of person would you like to have walk in and join the group?
JM: We don’t consider ourselves film elitists, ideally we like people who are literate about film, but we don’t discount people who just have an interest. We want people who are open-minded and willing to take some chances with what they want to see and what they’re interested in. There’s no sense of “we’re up here and unless you’re up here you can’t come.”
C: And these discussions and your public screenings are a means towards educating the interested.
JM: We do screenings of local films, our favorite short films, people like Chantel Ackerman, Hal Hartley, Luc Moullet. These are not easy films, but people come and really like them. There’s the zine, there’s the blog, there’s a website.
KS: We try to promote actual filmmaking, we’re all filmmakers, we want to promote local films.
JM: We did an omnibus film where each of us made a film. We’re going to be asking local filmmakers to make films for our website so in the long run we’re asking people to make a film for us to bring to our screenings and we’re offering up our help. We have equipment and we’ll come and be your DP or whatever.
C: You mention that you’re all filmmakers, was this a credential that initially brought you all together?
CL: I’m not a filmmaker so not everybody. I really think the only requirement is that you have to love film and love watching movies and the filmmaker is moving past that and wanting to make films and have people watch them. I guess it was Karl’s thing and Josh and I saw his flyer which was very revolutionary and kind of “I piss on this and this and let’s fix this and this,” it was very tongue-in-cheek.
JM: It was love at first sight.
KS: It wasn’t only my thing, it was me and a couple of other people and those people just kind of gave up on it.
CL: We were drawn to the fact that there was someone out there who had the same complaints and grievances with the industry.
JM: At least what we’re doing with the omnibus film is that each film is very different. It’s not like neo-realism or the nouvelle vague where we’re all saying we want to make films in a certain way, we all have different influences and make films in different ways. I think it’s about good filmmaking, not about one kind of filmmaking and it’s about liking good films not what kind of films. My favorite filmmaker is different than Karl’s favorite filmmaker.
C: Would you say that all of your tastes differ from those of the mainstream?
CL: John likes more mainstream movies. We’re hoping to show our diversity with the omnibus film…I think there is kind of a canon that we agree upon.
C: Is it the canon that the greater populace would adhere to?
CL: If they got to see the films then they might.
JM: We are critical of a lot of filmmakers that the film school populace embrace, Kurosawa maybe. I think we do offer criticisms of that.
KS: The film schools and the art population are the people that come out to our stuff, but we’re a bit more radical than them. We’re not above anyone, if you want to come with a love of Kurosawa, but you’ve never heard of Mizoguchi then we’ll talk to you about him, we’re not going to talk down to you whereas if you go to a lecture then you’re not a part of a two-sided interaction.
JM: The idea for us is to make it so that if you do like something that we don’t like like, say mumblecore, if you come in and you like mumblecore we’re not going to kick you out. If you can talk about and defend mumblecore then that’s fine, that’s okay with us. Your passion is what we’re concerned with.
KS: We don’t allow ourselves to just not like something without explaining why we don’t like it.
CL: We try not to make things representative of the whole group, we’re not unified in theory. I think that’s the beauty of it, we really don’t agree on everything.
C: You’d think that chaos would result.
KS: It hasn’t. I’m surprised that film school people come, people who go to experimental video installations come, people who are annoyingly intellectual come. We all get along, we all like movies and want to be part of a community.
JM: We’re trying not to exclude people. Well, maybe if you came in and were really into stuff that we thought was terrible then we’d try to exclude you.
CL: We always say “well you like this, maybe you’d like this.”
KS: As a film theory group we’re not vanguardists in a lot of ways. There is a common thread, but we’ll never be able to identify it or live up to its identification.
C: I feel like your writings are reminiscent of the film theorists of the 60s and 70s.
JM: We like the idea of the cinegroups, but we think there are a lot of problems with that too.
KS: I feel like I’m always making up for major mistakes by the film critics of the 60s and 70s and at times I feel like I’m trying to clean up the mess that they made. Pick up any film journal or look at any film class in college, they’re the problem. We’re trying to make film fun.
C: Film groups come and go. Do you have long-term plans for Shooting Wall?
CL: I think the filmmaker part is what would probably keep it together since people rely on each other to get the films made.
C: But you’re not moving towards a production-only capacity?
JM: No. We do have ambitions of having collective equipment, that would be great, but I don’t think we’re necessarily working towards it happening.
C: What’s your impression of the moviegoing public in Philadelphia?
KS: I think places like the Philadelphia Film Festival cater to a certain group of people who watch certain movies, primarily old people and rich people, they don’t cater to people like us. Older people tend to like safer films and we’re not about safer films. I’m not interested in going to the Film Festival to see a safe movie or something that I can see at the Ritz in a month anyway. I think that in Philadelphia a lot of art caters to a certain crowd, mainly the old and wealthy. And that’s not something we like.
C: Do you think that the Philadelphia film community will support a group like Shooting Wall?
JM: That’s a legitimate question that we don’t have an answer to yet. I don’t think it’s ever going to be big in Philadelphia. We went to see the latest Pedro Costa film at I-House and there weren’t many people there and that’s disappointing. And then you go to something like House, which is a fun movie that sold out…I think people only come out to certain types of things, usually things that are hip. And we’re about films, not just films that are hip.
Shooting Wall are currently working on the 4th issue of their self-titled zine in addition to their new online series “Shooting Wall Filmmakers“, an ongoing monthly series of “commissioned” films. Details here.