Filmmaker Q&A: TURN IT AROUND Director Corbett Redford
We've announced a few of our big series already - highly anticipated films, Alberta Scene, Shorts, Late Shows, and most recently, Documentaries and Music on Screen - and on August 30 we'll be releasing our full festival lineup. In preparation for the festival launch, we want to connect film fans with the process and the people that go into making the final product that ends up on screen. In an earlier entry we discussed poetry and family values with Canadian director Melanie Wood from SHUT UP AND SAY SOMETHING, but today we're going south of the border - all the way to California. Here's what director Corbett Redford, from the Music on Screen documentary TURN IT AROUND: THE STORY OF EAST BAY PUNK had to say about his film.
Can you briefly summarize what your documentary is about?
Our film spans over 30 years of the California Bay Area’s punk music history with a central focus on the emergence of Berkeley's inspiring 924 Gilman Street music collective. I believe that our film’s main focus is about the human need we all have to find a place to belong -- a place we feel safe to truly be ourselves.
How did you first hear about this story?
As an East Bay area native, I grew up knowing that punk culture was flourishing in our region. My first punk show was Green Day and Cadillac Tramps at Berkeley Square in 1992 - it was a life-changing experience. Soon, I began attending shows at 924 Gilman, volunteering in the community and even started a band of my own. As a member of the local punk scene, I had a knowledge, love and understanding of the story - and I was glad to take on the responsibility to bring this story to the screen.
What's one new thing that you learned when making this film?
I learned a million things I didn't know about our local punk scene - one early story that stands out that was new to me was that SF beatnik-catalyst City Lights Books and William Burroughs helped fund the first ever Bay Area punk "zine" Search and Destroy, named for The Stooges song, or course. BONUS THING: I found out Robin Williams tried out to be a part of the SF band The Tubes stage show... and didn't get the part.
Can you share a behind the scenes story from filming?
Many folks asked us if the many rock stars we have featured in our underground punk-based documentary were difficult to work with. I'll just say this: Duff McKagan of Guns n' Roses helped us haul our equipment to our van after his interview. Everyone we interviewed was so kind and helpful - we could not have asked for a better interviewee experience.
You’ve condensed 30 years of music history into just 2.5 hours of film. How did you narrow down and determine the focus of the film?
It was a very difficult process that took almost 4 years to complete. We interviewed 185 people for over 500 hours, gathered over 35,000 photos and other archival images, and accumulated over 500 archival video clips. Our narrative would shift with every new story we heard - soon we worked to develop a "story editing" database where we would use time codes, descriptions and keywords to easily access story elements. Keeping a year-chronology helped determine our focus. So did democracy - if enough people spoke to us about a subject's importance, then we would tally the mentions of that subject and make sure to include it in the film. Also, always asking simple questions like, "How does this relate to East Bay Punk culture?" helped us a lot when we needed to reign things in.
Globalization has led to increased fragmentation, isolation and nationalism in North America. Do you see parallels in today’s political climate to that of the East Bay punk scene? Is punk dead, or can it save us?
The East Bay punk scene of the '80s and '90s that we cover in our film, however imperfect, could serve as one example of how people can build positivity in spite of the adversity of the world. The punk scene here was plagued by racism, sexism, violence and corruption - and Gilman was formed to be an antidote to this. By establishing constructive and thoughtful rules, Gilman was able to build a foundation for creativity, community and expression that still stands 30 years later. Punk is not dead - but it only exists if new people continue to inject new ideas, art and sounds into the culture. Go outside and see a show, participate, create, introduce yourself to someone who doesn't look like you, make a flyer for your event and hand it to a real-life human instead of sending only Facebook event invites, don't be a jerk who beat people up or rips people off... if you do these things, I promise you that the world you live in will seem a lot less daunting and hopeless.
TURN IT AROUND is executive produced by Green Day and narrated by Iggy Pop. How did you get connected with such iconic musicians? Can you share any stories about working with these music legends?
I went to high school and grew up in the same towns as the Green Day guys. It was a thrill and an inspiration to any creative kid in our area to see them rocket into the world. Green Day had the idea for this project in their minds for many years and... one thing led to another and I was chosen to helm it in October 2013. We decided about a year into production that we needed a narrator. Green Day had worked with Iggy many years back on some songs on the Iggy album "Skull Ring". Billie Joe of Green Day and I were brainstorming about interesting voices and Billie thought of Iggy. I recall getting an email from Iggy after Billie reached out saying something like "consider it done" and soon I was flying with our crew to record narration with him at his home in Miami. I recall Iggy coming in as we were setting up gear and saying he was going to go meditate in his backyard. "Feel free to come out there if you want", he said. I waited a bit and went outside to see Iggy basking in the Florida heat on an ornate wooden altar (that tan is real, folks!), surrounded by Miami-native colorful lizards and pumpkins painted like skulls. A pretty mind-blowing sight.
What do you hope audiences will take away from this film?
We made TURN IT AROUND to shine a light on our creative peers and our shared history, not to mystify “glory days” or make anyone feel like they missed some sort of legendary era. Our biggest hope is that the documentary might inspire those who feel alone, hopeless or misunderstood to seek out others to build something new and different of their own—to make films, to start bands, to organize garage and backyard shows, to create together and inspire each other. Get out there and do-it-yourself - punk is what you make it.
TURN IT AROUND: THE STORY OF EAST BAY PUNK is playing at the Calgary International Film Festival as part of the Music on Screen Series. Tickets go on sale Wednesday, August 30.