Polyester Road Diaries

My life in the bush of filmic ghosts

May 28. Portland, Oregon. One of my few urban, hipster adventures-if Portland can be called urban. It's either a large town or a little city, a sprawling coffeehouse. I had met my Portland contact just days before on the beach near Tillamook (a town made famous by cheese). Around a hellish bonfire, pumped up on the sort of alcohol that makes everything seem possible, Beth Stewart had invited me to help her organize a Polyester Prince Traveling Film Festival on Wheels in her downtown loft. I spend the hours before 8 p.m. papering her neighborhood with fliers to cultivate an audience for the screening.

We show a collection of films from various local artists along with my work. I introduce myself to a room of strangers and begin the show with Passive Anarchy, The Death of the Father and Tipo. Between each, I briefly discuss the works and describe my mission. The crowd likes my films and, honestly, maybe likes my mission more. Sandro from Mexico buys one video and a couple of my self-published zines SOGNI (Dreams). Total cost: $12. Sandro hands me a 20 and tells me to keep the change. By the end of the night, I've sold two more videos and countless magazines and collected a total of $26 to help fund the festival.

May 29. Seattle. Scott Eastman lives in a downtown a little like Portland's. Amidst the maze of abandoned warehouses, you feel humanity lurking, but you often don't see a soul for blocks. When you do, they're usually the displaced. The forgotten. Roaming the streets. Lost in the shuffle.

Scott has found an abandoned industrial shed downtown, one with an essential electrical outlet exposed. It seems perfect in all ways for guerrilla cinema: right next to a park, lots of grass to lie on, and an adjacent fence on which to hang a sheet for a screen. The perverse urban beauty is staggering: the space needle juts into the sky. And once you've seen them, the towering Olympic Mountains can almost be felt in the distance, like some giant standing at your shoulder. The radiating heat of a warm Seattle night makes the vegetation throb with life.

We lay on the grassy field watching films. I begin with The Death of the Father and follow with Passive Anarchy. I begin to feel like it's too much of a good thing-the warm night, the film, the 20 or so people gathered, including a small knot of homeless men who watch first from the shadows and then move slowly into the circle of light to join us. Is it my imagination or is everyone sucking at 40-ouncers?

I decide to end on a high note and cut the screening short before we are shut down by Seattle's finest.

June 10. Banff, Alberta, Canada. After 11 days, I look-and smell-like hell. The glamour is only temporarily off. Camping illegally or in squalid, Unabomber-style campgrounds; sleeping in my van; never finding a shower, I am determined to splurge this one evening. I camp at Tunnel Mountain Camp Ground, a fairy-tale land where deer and bison gambol in the rugged Canadian Rockies.

The night before, I had pulled off a guerrilla screening in the center of town after finding exposed outlets. A young woman there told me that the Canadian Television Festival was to start in town tonight. It was, she said, the video and digital technology equivalent of Canada's esteemed Toronto Film Festival. She told me to contact Susan Kennard, who would absolutely love what I was doing.

I bicycle from the campground the 3 miles to the Banff Center and track down Kennard. I am a little nervous about trying to win her over, but the fact that she has maintained blue hair into her late 40s makes me hopeful. At first, she stares at me, which I interpret as a psychological diagnosis: she thinks I'm a lunatic. But after I finish spurting out my entire manifesto and the recent successes of my screenings on the road, she smiles and says: "Simply brilliant. I love it. We would be honored to show your work tonight. Let me introduce you to some of the other artists."

Easy as that. She has never seen my stuff and has no idea about the subject, but her intuition and faith in humanity tell her to go for it. Angels are watching over the Polyester Prince Traveling Film Festival on Wheels.

She introduces me to the entire staff, and everyone seems to like what I am trying to do. In a tour that is entirely improvisational, we improvise: we decide that I will be the evening's "featured filmmaker," a kind of visual DJ, mixing my own films (no sound, please) and projecting them above the heads of the 200 well-dressed people at the 1998 Canadian National Television Festival. For two hours, I mix every one of my films and videos, including more than a dozen from my days as a college student. A DJ lays down drum & bass, house and ambient tracks. At evening's end, I walk away the happiest man alive.

June 11. Calgary, Alberta. I set out for Calgary, which is an hour away by car. I can feel the evolution from paradise to suburbia. After being lost in what may be the most beautiful spot on Earth, at this moment, I dread all cities-Calgary in particular. The stucco shops and shopping malls begin rising up at the road's edge miles from the city center. Everything has changed. I race through downtown. My neck bends at every sight and sound. I jet from the west side to the east side, and before I know it, Calgary is over-like that apocryphal town you miss while blinking-and I find myself in a suburb. I spot a sign hanging precariously over the street: OVER 10,000 ITEMS-COLLECTIBLES, ANTIQUES, USED STUFF. I slam on the brakes, and the van fishtails. After a few Starsky and Hutch maneuvers, I find myself on the threshold of thrift nirvana.

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