Director Blair McClendon Talks 'America for Americans' [Indie Beat]

There’s no need to be afraid, the latest Indie Beat is ready to be played. Today we have on Blair McClendon, filmmaker, and editor.

McClendon began his film studies at the New York University graduate program and it was there that he met some of his current collaborators. He soon found himself experimenting by repurposing video, taking other forms of media, remixing and rearranging or adding other elements to change their meaning and context entirely.

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One of the strongest examples of this type of work involved the music video for Taylor Swift‘s song “Wildest Dreams.” Originally, Swift is seen having issues with her beau in the backdrop of 1950s Africa. Contained in the video are various throwbacks to this time, including a super cool old-timey biplane and a lion. It’s a really sumptuous, naive look back at a time when various countries on the continent were under colonial, apartheid rule. At the time of its release, various publications lobbed criticisms its way but McClendon took it a step better and recut the video, adding in black and white footage of destroyed villages and soldiers making civilians abandon their homes at gunpoint. This, along with the heavily manipulated audio track, becomes incredibly jarring and shows how disgusting the original video truly is. He declared it the “NeoColonial Mix.”

McClendon’s “Carceral Geographies” finds him and collaborator Harry Cepka shooting exteriors in New York City of what appears to be a corrections facility. It’s dark, alienating footage on its own, but the duo coupled it with the words of Mumia Abu-Jamal, a journalist who was convicted of the murder of a police officer in 1981. Abu-Jamal claimed innocence and many people rallied around him, but ultimately he was given the death sentence and spent most of his life on death row. Despite this, he published numerous writings, delivered commencement speeches at colleges, and appeared on the radio quite often, pontificating on social and political concerns. Here in the film, he talks about the makeup of a prison, a brief history of black activism, and how black Americans’ lives have only gotten worse throughout the decades. Chillingly, the only other prominent sound next to Abu-Jamal’s words are a police siren and the heavy dangling of a prison guard’s keys. Watch here.

These two projects, McClendon says, were crucial precursors to his most recent piece, “America for Americans.” This movie, another found footage essay, is the director’s masterwork. The film combines footage of today (police killings, parties, freestyle rapping) and juxtaposes them with older historical footage, such as civil rights era demonstrations, forwarding a point he also made with “Carceral Geographies”: we’ve all seen this before, nothing has changed. But you don’t come out of the film without hope or optimism — there are numerous moments of pure joy during the film and the moments of protest are edited with a spark, leaving any viewer with fervor after the credits begin. View the trailer here.

McClendon came on the show to talk about that, the limits and benefits of politically charged films, “Wonder Woman,” “Lincoln,” and breaking away from the film canon for inspiration… and more. Take a listen.

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