ArtPod: Matt Jones, Sundance, and indie Detroit
Welcome back to ArtPod, the arts-obsessed home for Michigan’s movie, music and book lovers.
Here’s what we're talking about right now:
1) Matt Jones. The Ypsilanti indie-rocker with a cult following, a great new album (arguably his best yet) and a serious Civil War obsession. We’ll talk with him about alcoholism, getting through a self-destructive phase, depression and making great music with people you love.
2) But first, let’s go back to a story that was just cool and different and got some press in the papers but nothing that really did it justice.
Maybe you remember when this touring group of Sundance executives came through Michigan earlier this fall.
"They're on the hunt for female directors, indie documentary makers, and young minority men and women. Someone worthy with talent that needs fostering and a little help from the pros."
They held some screenings, sure, but they were also on the hunt for up-and-coming filmmakers – especially people who are underrepresented in film: female directors, indie documentary makers, and young minority men and women.
Someone worthy with talent that needs fostering and a little help from the pros.
One of those screenings/searches was at Eastern Michigan University in Ypsilanti, where Fruitvale Station (a Sundance film) screened to a small crowd of knit cap-wearing film students.
(Note: If you haven’t seen Fruitvale Station, you need to STOP READING this and go watch it right now. If you’re at work or whatever, ok, but go home tonight and watch it online.)
The movie isn’t easy to watch. It’s based on the story of Oscar Grant, a young black man who was shot and killed by a police officer in a Bay Area train station on New Year’s day in 2009.
It’s the kind of film that’s best in the theater, because when the lights go up, you can look around at the people sitting next to you, just to kind of acknowledge that, hey, that was an experience.
"And [the police] ended up arresting him that night. And I was like, wow."
One EMU student, a young woman named Raquel, told the audience in a Q & A after the movie about how she feels like she and her friends get followed around and stopped by police all the time, for no other reason than they’re walking outside at night while being black.
“And there’s always, you know, that one person that’s just in the back quiet like, ‘I ain’t saying nothing because I’m gonna go to jail.’ And I don’t know why, but that’s always the person that winds up getting antagonized the most."
“And [one night, the police] started questioning [that friend] like, ‘Oh you can’t speak?’ And we're just looking like, there’s no point for this to even happen right now! Ya’ll asked us what we're doing, we told ya’ll. And they were like, ‘You don’t even have your ID either?’
“And he started getting upset, like, ‘Man I ain’t been doing nothing this whole time!’
“And they ended up arresting him that night. And I was like, wow.”
Are Michigan's film students competitive enough to survive LA or NYC?
So these conversations are great, and the screenings are important because it gives young wannabe filmmakers like Raquel the chance to get career help from Sundance staff like Moira Griffin, manager of diversity initiatives.
“Honestly, [I want to do] anything inside the arts. Like I’m the biggest film buff you possibly could ever think of,” Raquel said.
“Honestly, because film is a very difficult business, right?” asked Griffin.
“So you have to think about what it is you’re passionate about within the industry. You could be, hey, I want to be a producer or I want to be a director. But what does that mean? What kind of producer do you want to be?”
"If I wanted to live in LA and work in big productions, I would have gone to LA and worked on big productions. It's not like it was a dream like, oh man I want to live in Detroit where it's not sunny and it's not nice and work on movies!"
One other thing: the Sundance reps also held a private roundtable with Detroit-based directors and filmmakers, as well as some filmmakers from L.A. whose movies were recently featured at Sundance.
In a chic little movie house, Detroiter Oren Goldenberg (the guy who made the documentary “Our School,” also a great movie worth watching) talked about the few upsides of Michigan losing its cushy tax credits for filmmakers: the city has gone back to its independent movie feel.
“If I wanted to live in LA and work in big productions, I would have gone to LA and worked on big productions. It’s not like it was a dream like, oh man I want to live in Detroit where it’s not sunny and it’s not nice and work on movies! No!"
“It’s like this idea that, working with [another filmmaker named Sultan Sharrief] for years and we used to meet all the time about an independent film collective, and how you utilize Detroit and those built-in locations. Like we don’t construct sets.”
Something else came up during this roundtable that wasn’t particularly flattering for Michigan: several people who work with film students in Detroit said they see a real lack of work ethic, the kind that could get them “eaten alive” in New York or L.A.
"You don't find that same competitive nature, like I'm gonna work hard and stuff to be competitive in this larger pool."
“You don’t find that same competitive nature, like I’m going to work hard and stuff, to be competitive in this larger pool,” says young filmmaker Q.
“That’s generational, though,” says LA filmmaker Marta Cunningham, who made the documentary Valentine Road.
“You need generations before you to have that experience. And New York has that and you guys don’t,” says Cunningham.
“It’s very hard to break that mindset, because that mindset is ingrained here and it has been for a very long time,” says filmmaker Sultan Sharrief.
“We have a hard time getting kids to come to afterschool programs if you don’t pay them,” says Orenberg. “Like there’s a lot of programs where that’s the incentive.”
If you want to check out more of what Sundance is doing in Michigan, go to sundance.org/filmforward
He’s got a tattoo of Gettysburg and he wants you to ask about it
Ok, switching gears here entirely!
Matt Jones! His new album is The Deep Enders and you can listen to the full thing here.
A reviewer at mostlymidwest.com wrote the following about it.
“[The Deep Enders is] delicate, dimly lit, and at times, very beautiful, like a whale breaching the surface of midnight waters in slow motion.”
Michigan Radio’s Emily Fox (a seriously talented singer and musician in her own right, by the way) sat down to talk with Jones about the new album. You can hear the full interview in the sound file at the top.