The Quietus - A new rock music and pop culture website


Mekons Film Director To Fund Film Online
Luke Turner , November 4th, 2010 18:53

Full details of how to contribute to Revenge Of The Mekons here

Earlier this week, New York filmmaker Joe Angio got in touch with the Quietus to tell us about a film he's making about Leeds punk troupe the Mekons. Revenge of the Mekons is currently in production, and Angio is seeking to finish it off using funding from the Kickstarter programme, that allows fans, friends and members of the public to contribute to a film being made. You can see the Revenge Of The Mekons Kickstarter page here. It's a good one, this - if you pledge money but Joe doesn't hit his target, you pay nothing. We dropped Joe Angio a line to find out more about his film and the Kickstarter project. Read on to learn more:

Can you tell us about your interest in the Mekons, and where it stems from?

Joe Angio: My interest in doing a film on the band stems initially from me being a fan. I've been wanting to make a music-related doc for some years now and the Mekons just seemed to hit the sweet spot when considering the elements that interest me and, hopefully, will interest others: they've put out great music over a long and constantly changing career, they are VASTLY under-regarded, and they have a story. They're the only UK punk band, circa 1977, that has remained intact with its core members, the current 8 Mekons have been in the band for roughly 26 of those 33 years, and I like this notion of the Mekons as an art collective. They formed in a radical, Marxist-oriented art program at university in Leeds - where they were best friends with Gang of Four; their members even performed in each other's bands at the outset — and they've continued to stay active as visual artists. Over the years, they've exhibited art collectively as "Mekons" and in collaboration with other artists, including Vito Acconci and Kathy Acker, with whom they did a musical-theatrical version of her novel, Pussy, King of the Pirates shortly before she died, around 1996.

Do you have a central theme/particular aspect to the group you're trying to explore?

JA: Yeah, there are a few things I want to bring out in the film. One is that notion of the Mekons as an art collective, which I mention above. I think that's one of the most fascinating aspects of the band. They're really engaged in the world around them — socially, politically, historically — and if they find that something they're trying to say is better expressed in paintings, sculptures or something other than a three-minute pop song, then that's the form it takes. Granted, they're a band first and foremost, but the film will show how they, together and variously as individuals, engage in the visual arts. So that's one thing.

The second is to show that, despite the fact that their music has nothing whatsoever to do with punk rock any more, they still retain the "punk ethos" (for lack of a better term), from which they sprang. That's somewhat elusive, but I think it comes across primarily by the fact that for 33 years they've put their money where their mouths are. They follow their own muse; they define "success" on their terms; they simply refuse to kowtow or play the game. And they've paid the price for that: Their relationships with major labels (Virgin, A&M, Warner Bros.) have ended disastrously. And all of them to this day must scratch out a living in one way or another in order to survive.

Which leads me to the primary questions that drive the film: How does a band that has never "made it" survive for so long? And, perhaps more to the point, why do they bother?

Why did you decide to take the Kickstarter approach to funding?

JA: Kickstarter is one of those things that has just grown and grown in its short existence - I think it only launched about a year ago. I've had a number of friends post projects to the site, and all have been successful. Of course, the first answer to your question is simply that funding for films is so precarious nowadays. Used to be you could cobble together a few European pre-sales to partially fund your film, even at the proposal stage. But now, everyone wants to see a finished film before they commit. So we've been forced to turn over every stone that's out there to find the money. The success of recent projects on Kickstarter, coupled with its built-in ability to create an eager audience that has a vested interest in seeing it through to completion made it an attractive avenue to pursue. Plus the fact that the guys doing a doc on Graham Parker, of all people, just raised $50,000 through Kickstarter convinced me!

Do you think this is increasingly going to be a way that independent filmmakers fund their work?

JA: I guess I implicitly answered this question with my previous response! I do think that this is the case. The major upside to the digital filmmaking revolution has been that the bar has been lowered considerably to make a film; the downside, however, is that it created more films than the market - the "traditional" market (cinema, TV), that is - can support.

A few years ago you had all these documentaries getting theatrical distribution and lots of attention. So a lot more distributors jumped into the ring. Suddenly you had this situation where these small indie films which, historically, would have enjoyed slow rollouts, incorporating grassroots, word-of-mouth marketing, were now being held to the same standards as Avatar! If a film had a poor opening weekend, even with great reviews, the exhibitors would pull it from the the theater because there were any number of films ready to take its place! The distributors lost money, the filmmakers never saw a dime and everybody started getting gun shy.

Then you toss in reality TV, which significantly reduced the television market for documentaries, and that's how we got to where we are: If you're not Michael Moore or Errol Morris or one of the major documentary filmmakers, you either need to fund through grants, find a guardian angel to invest -- or do it yourself! That's why I think outlets like Kickstarter are going to become more and more prevalent.