Film festivals at Allen Hall bring creativity

By Jim Vorel

Allen Hall’s most recent guest in-residence likes to stencil. Quite a bit, in fact. So much so that his first book, “Stencil Pirates: A Global Survey of Street Stenciling,” was devoted entirely to the subject. For Josh MacPhee, stenciling was a whole new artistic device, discovered at a time when he was trying to make sense of the world. By embracing the art world, MacPhee found his sought-after perspective.

Now MacPhee brings his perspective to University students. At 7 p.m. Thursday in Allen Hall’s South Rec. Room, MacPhee will be presenting the first of two film festivals coming to Allen Hall this week. MacPhee’s festival, titled “Create! Occupy! Resist!: Short Films From Around The World,” is a collection of international films dealing with creative resistance and activism.

The program is also an extension of the new technologies that exist to make it easier now than it has ever been for film makers with no budget and no equipment to be able to create films and put them online to distribute them. These technologies have led to the prominence of Internet video-networking sites such as YouTube.

MacPhee believes that such film-making can be seen as art, and rankles under his perception of art in today’s society.

“I think that too often art is treated like a side-show to the ‘real’ disciplines in life, whether it be economics or politics,” MacPhee said. “Art is like the ‘fluffy stuff.’ I think art is just as integral to what it means to be human as anything else. So therefore, if you’re interested in humanity, you should probably be interested in art.”

To bring his art before interested student eyes, MacPhee travels the country, giving talks about stenciling, street art, posters and presenting his series of films.

One of the films to be shown during Thursday’s event was created by MacPhee and is titled “United Victorian Workers.” In it, MacPhee and some 40 associates dressed up for the day as a full Victorian-era working class to re-enact a day in the life of a Victorian society. Another short film, “Steal This Film,” concerns the growth of Internet film-piracy.

MacPhee stressed that the idea of the festival was to expand the traditional boundaries of what is and is not viewed as art, as well as an attempt to create a more important place for art in the pantheon of American values.

“I think it’s good to question or reject the roles that the traditional art world and mainstream society have for the wider world of art,” MacPhee said.

Tara Jaggers, freshman in LAS, was in the crowd Monday as MacPhee lectured about activist poster-printing, another of his eclectic interests. She said that she had attended his lecture the day before and was enticed to come back.

“I’ve always been interested in street art, and it was interesting to see someone who has made it one of their main focuses,” Jaggers said. “This kind of art probably isn’t considered ‘real art’ by some people, but it’s about what’s going on right now.”

Laura Haber, the program coordinator for Unit One, the collective learning community in Allen Hall, said she believed that film festivals like Thursday’s are in the spirit of Unit One’s core beliefs.

“Unit One is all about exploring and experimenting with ideas that might be outside the mainstream,” Haber said. “I think Josh MacPhee’s presentations will open up new interests to our students and give them the incentive to explore fields like art and activism that they might not have known about otherwise.”

Allen Hall will also play host to a similar style of film festival this Sunday at 7:30 p.m.

The Lost Film Festival, presented by Scott Beibin, has been to Allen Hall several times in the past, and brings films that are mostly American to complement the international films of MacPhee.

Among them are films of every conceivable type.

Past films have has subjects as varied as a “Lord of the Rings” themed look at free trade agreements, to “Piefight ’69,” rare footage of the 1969 San Francisco Film Festival where a truck full of pie-wielding radicals crashed the black-tie festival and let fly.

“These are short films that are funny, weird and quirky,” Haber said. “In the past, there have been political spoofs, art films and home-videos.”

Haber feels it is important to present all students on campus with the opportunity to participate in cultural events like the film festivals in Allen Hall.

“We try to provide an environment of intellectual engagement, creativity, exploration and curiosity,” Haber said.

For more information on Josh MacPhee, the film festivals and Unit One, check Unit One’s Web site at http://www.housing.uiuc.edu/living/unit1/guest_2007-08/MacPhee.asp.