Trent Harris: «What's the Use of Art If It Can't Cause a Revolution»

 

It is always a pleasure to listen to people who have something interesting to say. If they also do it in a spontaneous and fun way, it is perfect. Trent Harris does both things and he proved so in the talk he gave yesterday. Accompanied by Pablo Conde, programmer of the Festival and responsible for having Harris here, the discussion dived into the story of the director of Rubin and Ed.

During an hour and a half, we got to know his conception of cinema, his inspirations, his career and his way of life. "I don’t have a wife, I don’t have kids, I have a 25-year-old car, I live in a small house but I love making films. So I make one after another”, said Harris, who has made over 200 films, documentaries, feature and short films, many of which "I’ve only seen myself”.  

Drawer, photographer, writer, musician and filmmaker, his relationship with the seventh art started at the Art Brut Museum in Lausanne, Switzerland, a former mental hospital. The inmates’ work inspired him, since "he could see their art came from their original voice”, and that they made those things not being afraid of making a mistake or wanting to please anybody or getting an economic benefit. This can be seen in the work of the director of Beaver Trilogy.

According to Pablo Conde, Trent’s films "keep shouting: Author, author, author!” He makes films because, on the one hand, it makes him happy and, on the other, it is "his way of giving something new to the audience”. In this regard, the director said "it is a bad idea to try to conquer the audience” and that "you have to take risks, since it’s the most important thing in order to create”. In fact, if we were to take into account what film critics have said about his films, we would not even consider him. How much would we miss!

Harris said he built his career "thanks to bad publicity”. As an example, the director narrated a funny and incomprehensible anecdote: In 1992, he premiered his film Rubin and Ed; he received compliments such as "the worst movie of the decade” and another one that suggested "to take the director’s license away”. Thanks to them, the film only lasted two weeks in theatres. However, the production company was ready to sell the film in videos which, mysteriously, were all stolen until "the film vanished”. Years later Harris found out "the fans had stolen the videos, and they made sure to make them circulate until it became something really big. That’s when I started pirating my own movies and selling them on the web”, he declared.

Something similar happened with Beaver Trilogy: it became a massive cult phenomenon. The documentary portrays a young man, called Groovin' Gary, who makes glamorous performances –even dressed as Olivia Newton John- in a "small town in Utah where dressing as a woman wasn’t actually approved”, explained Pablo Conde. It was shot in 1979, but in 1981 and 1984 Harris made remakes starring Sean Penn and Crispin Glover -respectively-. The fact of shooting a documentary again, with minor changes, has to do with, on the one hand, the director’s wish to satisfy Gary’s request of not showing the material and, on the other, with "a very restless man who questions everything”, stated Conde.

For many years, this trilogy of documentaries was not released, until it was screened in 2000 at a small museum. The head of the place recommended that the material be exhibited at Lincoln Center. The exhibition was done and, from there, it grew in popularity. Harris gets phone calls from all around the world asking him, even today, to screen Beaver Trilogy.

The validity of the message could be seen in the audience reaction in the Festival who, after the screening, sunk into a deep silence. "It means they are still processing the message, and they will for several days”, stated Pablo Conde. Because Harris has a lot to say about reality and his next film is also about it, where there is a text that says: "What’s the use of art if it can’t bring about a revolution. At least, a mind revolution”.

This is Trent Harris. An artist who, from the outmost independence, never stops creating, regardless of the judgments from mainstream criticism. In fact, the harsher the critique, "the more I want to watch the film”, he stated. 

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