LOCAL FILM mavens know Jim Reed from his tireless work as the brains/brawn/everything behind the Psychotronic Film Series, which has hosted counterculture and kitsch films at the Bean for over a decade.
Reed is expanding his cinematic footprint with the first inaugural local version of the Human Rights Watch Film Fest, which this year is a trio of films screening at Muse on Sunday, Aug. 17.
“I was unfamiliar with the Human Rights Watch Film Fest until Dare Dukes—a locally-based singer songwriter—mentioned it to me in hopes I would want to bring it to town,” Reed tells us.
“I’m very grateful he introduced me to this event, because once I realized just how unique and special the HRWFF is, I immediately negotiated the rights to curate a Savannah version of this year’s tour.”
We spoke to Reed last week just as he was putting the finishing touches on the menu of films.
What’s the inspiration for the Festival? Why this, why now?
Jim Reed: For more than a decade, I've put a great deal of effort into curating the ongoing Psychotronic Film Series at the Sentient Bean, as well as special film events at Muse Arts Warehouse, the Lucas Theatre, the Jepson and other venues. A few years ago, I also became interested in arranging for well-respected touring film festivals to make stops in our area. There are a few handfuls of unique and respected national and international festivals that hit the road once a year, but never come within a day's drive of Savannah. Since I also have a background in promoting live concerts by touring artists, I wanted to try and merge that approach with the PFS, and give adventurous local film lovers a chance to enjoy some really fantastic movies that they'd otherwise never see on the big screen in Savannah.
Are you taking steps to make sure it doesn't sort of morph into another environmentally-themed film series?
Jim Reed: There are some really dedicated folks in our area who are already involved with either independently organizing—or bringing in touring versions of—environmentally-themed film series or festivals. I have great admiration for the work they do, and I encourage everyone to consider attending and enjoying their screenings, as I try to do as often as possible.
That said, they have that angle covered very well, and so there’s really no need for me to do the same thing. I’ve always viewed the overarching mission of the Psychotronic Film Society to be “filling the gaps” in local cinema, and my hope is that this event will be seen as a wonderful complement to the other annual festivals we’re lucky to receive.
While it’s true that one of the three films I have selected for this first installment of the 2014 Human Rights Watch Film Fest has to do with oil drilling in West Africa (Big Men), that is merely the backdrop for what is essentially a profoundly eye-opening drama of human conflict. It’s about the struggle between those who have wealth and power and those who cannot even conceive of that level of wealth and power.
Each of the films I chose for this all-day triple feature is about the importance of treating all people on this planet with dignity, respect and compassion. That theme runs throughout all the features showcased in this festival, and it’s what will drive my choices going forward, should this event be successful enough to warrant future installments in Savannah.
The three films are obviously chosen at least in part because of the very wide range of issues/experiences. But how/why specifically did you choose this particular trio of films?
Jim Reed: I was given ten films to choose from, but with only a one-day window of opportunity, I knew I could only choose three. It was tough to narrow them down, as they were all exemplary in their own way. To me, these three features serve as a microcosm of the entire breadth and scope of this year's touring roster of documentaries. They are each quite unique and different from one another, yet share a comparable level of quality and craftsmanship. I also wanted to offer films that I felt would have particular relevance to local viewers. Issues such as spousal abuse and a flawed court system (Private Violence), and corporations going to any lengths—no matter how unethical or ecologically damaging—in order to maximize profits (Big Men) may seem unfortunately familiar subjects to viewers in our area.
The final film of the day, To Be Takei, is a phenomenally entertaining portrait of the one and only George Takei, who played “Sulu” in the original Star Trek series and films. In his later years, he’s become a tremendously inspirational figure for tons of people, as well as a ribald and risqué figurehead in the LGBTQ community. His voice and face are known to millions all over the world, but most folks don’t know much at all about his difficult childhood in our country’s shameful Japanese-American internment camps during WWII.
I have a feeling that due to George’s huge internet following and the TV and print publicity he’s been doing for this film, folks will be very excited at the chance to see a sneak preview of this documentary before it is even released in theaters.
Plus, I just dig the real Star Trek, you know?
Plans for the future if this is a success?
Jim Reed: Well, if all goes well, my plan is to continue to present the Human Rights Watch Film Fest in Savannah each and every year from now on out. And, if attendance is strong for all three films this Sunday, then I am defin itely considering booking another all-day triple feature at Muse in the coming months, to show another three selections from this year's HRWFF. There were so many great documentaries for me to choose from that it was very hard to narrow it down to just three, and if Savannah can show through ticket sales that they appreciate this kind of programming, I'm happy to expand on this event.
Tell us one awesome thing you particularly admire or for us to watch out for in each of the three films.
Jim Reed: At various times while watching each of these films, I found myself marveling at the profoundly personal and rather unexpected connections I felt between my own life's experiences and the seemingly unrelated events unfolding onscreen.
It’s hard to explain without giving too much away, but I have the sneaking suspicion that most other viewers will find themselves caught up in similar waves of emotion and acknowledgment while watching the documentaries as well—particularly the first film we’re showing that day, Private Violence.
Trust me as well when I say that Big Men’s look at the plight of poverty-stricken West Africans in Ghana who are at the mercy of a giant, U.S. based multinational oil conglomerate which wants to drill off the shore of their country will strike a chord with anyone in Savannah who has watched with dismay as greedy, out-of-town developers descend on our Historic District with dollar signs in their eyes and many of our local leaders in their back pocket.
Or, for that matter, anyone who has followed the saga of the foolish and environmentally dastardly dredging plans for the Savannah River which have been foisted upon us at our own habitat’s peril by those with enough money and tenacity to smother even the most ardent and righteous foes.
I guess that didn’t really answer your question, did it? Okay, so here’s something: I absolutely love William Shatner, and in general terms, I forgive him his many, many faults. I even paid to see his one-man stage show about—what else—himself!
So, it has pained me to see he and his former co-star George Takei feud bitterly and childishly in public for the past few decades. I have long hoped that the entire, extended fracas was little more than an elaborate, consensual piece of deadpan performance art.
Secretly, I’d hoped against hope that deep down, both men respect each other as people, and as actors, and that, when no one is looking, they share a conspiratorial chuckle about the extended, twisted prank they’ve been playing on the world.
However, after seeing Shatner’s appearance in To Be Takei, I think it’s clear that he truly dislikes Takei on a deep level, and is just plain terrible at hiding it.
Likewise, I think Takei knows he should take the higher road and simply announce once and for all that he forgives Shatner for being an egomaniacal schmuck who has treated him with some strange mix of jealousy, apprehension and disdain for decades, but something in Takei’s personality will not allow him to move on.
And so, we’re stuck watching two talented old men, who should be able to—at best—enjoy reminiscing together about their unique, shared experiences, or—at worst—just stop whining, continue to take pot shots at each other in the dirty sandbox of celebrity.
For me, Shatner’s short comments in this film would seem to betray much more about his own insecurities than most anything else I’ve ever seen him say or do in regards to Takei. Star Trek fans should find this stuff spellbinding.