If you’ve experienced public access television first hand, you know it’s always a mixed bag. Some programs prove important and informative while many others are self-indulgent and only briefly entertaining. The fledging Alternative Media Festival, on July 31, organized by Public Access of Indianapolis, mirrored this experience.
Attendees of the Alternative Media Festival view a screening.
After a two-year hiatus, the festival returned as something the city needs. With mammoth corporations controlling most media here, individuals should know their voices can still be heard and that they can use the tools of the media to make a difference. Paoli resident Karyn Moskowitz’s presentation, Change is Inevitable, Highways are Not, was proof that people can accomplish much with limited technical experience. Using Powerpoint, Moskowitz mixed still images with a soundtrack combining protest music and audio interviews to tell the story of four rural communities in Kentucky, West Virginia and Virginia threatened by highway projects. An economist by training, Moskowitz had never tried making a documentary. But the final product — unfortunately screened for only 10 people at the festival (65 attended the overall event) — made many crucial points about the shortsightedness and greed behind America’s incessant highway building. One interview subject said of the interstates and the accompanying sprawl: “It’s almost like a carnival that would come in and clean the town out of its money.” This issue, of course, is just as important in Indiana and Moskowitz is considering working with others on a documentary about the I-69 project. Along with making a strong case against building new highways, the documentary serves as an activist tool, offering suggestions for communities fighting these projects. Moskowitz has shown the documentary all over the country, often in towns threatened by unwanted and unnecessary highways. “It needs to get out even more, to more local rural people,” she said during the healthy discussion period following the screening. The festival’s keynote speaker and New-York based documentary filmmaker and public access guru, George Stoney, challenged Moskowitz to do just that. “You get applause at festivals like this one. When you go to the local places you get action,” he said. The film, Chameleon, by local musician Dan Niswander, was the polar opposite of Moskowitz’s inspired and inclusive project. Niswander’s movie, a painfully overindulgent exercise in self-love, was reminiscent of public access shows that are all about the host and his or her favorite things (usually him or her). Hopefully, the festival will return next year. If so, it would be well served by making a few changes to its approach. Scheduling the event in the winter would help as busy summer schedules and the lure of outdoor activities makes spending a Saturday in screenings and seminars less appealing. College students would also be back in class and would be perfect participants — at a discounted rate — for the festival. As limited as the audience is for this type of thing, organizers should also consider offering fewer overlapping options so more people could be present at each screening or class. Even though Stoney was a great component, the festival could have used some topical draws — like the screening of a Michael Moore documentary with a panel discussion to follow — or a screening of the Outfoxed film and discussion as part of the day.