Category Archives: Movies

Does The Midwest Independent Film Festival Have a Sexual Harassment Problem?

by Legendary Lew and Ty Pi

In an explosive Facebook post on Sunday, film director Felix Piñeiro (Cycles, I Am Not Broken) made public allegations of ongoing sexual harassment by a leading figure of the Chicago film scene.

Written with white heat, he could no longer contain himself knowing about a sexual predator targeting numerous women:

I’ve been aware of a certain someone in the Chicago film scene that has been sexually harassing (perhaps even assaulting — not exactly sure where the line is drawn) women for a while now. I was made aware of it over a year ago by one of the victims. It appears that in the end I know at least 3 of these women. He who shall remain nameless is the emcee of a particular first Tuesday “film festival” event that happens at a certain theatre that showcases independent film.

Just this week, it was brought to my attention by one of these women that a list of about 20 women with allegations has been made available and brought to this loser’s attention. When he found out about the list, he went into damage control mode and contacted this particular woman to explain that his “lack of sobriety” was to blame. This harassment continued for 5 years in this specific case.

Anyone involved in the Chicago film scene or who can do a simple Google search can figure out the film festival in question. The only Chicago film festival featuring independent films showcased on the first Tuesday every month is The Midwest Independent Film Festival (MIFF).

So now further questions must be asked:

To what extent does anyone at MIFF know these allegations exist?
Do the sponsors know there may be a very big problem brewing here? There are important corporate sponsors like Canon, United Airlines and also many Chicago film organizations connected to MIFF.
Then there’s the problem of public funding. The Illinois Arts Council helps fund the festival. Are they aware of potential public moneys given to a festival possibly harboring a predator?

We’re not journalists, nor do we pretend to be. However, it’s vitally important to start airing this discussion publicly if we want sexual harassment in the entertainment industry to stop. Local Chicago journalists have to pick up this story and investigate it.

And it’s vitally important for MEN to bring up these issues of women as targets of sexual harassment.

The entertainment industry has to clean up house. It’s our duty to help.

The following is Felix Piñeiro’s entire post as it appeared on Facebook on Oct. 22, 2017:

“Alright, I’m about to go all James Gunn right here. I agree with everything he says below for sure, but this in particular to the local scene in Chicago.

Since I’m not aware that anyone else has done this yet, I’m about to blow the lid on something I can’t hold back on anymore. It’s been eating away at me, and given the momentum of recent sexual assault allegations brought to light in Hollywood, now seems a good time as any. It’s always one of those things that’s tough to discuss because it becomes a he said/she said situation; not to mention unintended consequences in re-traumatizing victims and the unfortunate reality of a victim blaming society especially when it comes to women.

I’ve been aware of a certain someone in the Chicago film scene that has been sexually harassing (perhaps even assaulting — not exactly sure where the line is drawn) women for a while now. I was made aware of it over a year ago by one of the victims. It appears that in the end I know at least 3 of these women. He who shall remain nameless is the emcee of a particular first Tuesday “film festival” event that happens at a certain theatre that showcases independent film.

Just this week, it was brought to my attention by one of these women that a list of about 20 women with allegations has been made available and brought to this loser’s attention. When he found out about the list, he went into damage control mode and contacted this particular woman to explain that his “lack of sobriety” was to blame. This harassment continued for 5 years in this specific case. Right, because we all know that’s how this stuff happens. If only it wasn’t for this or that. That’s called gas lighting and people who use this tactic given allegations of such heinous acts are what we call sociopaths.

So you’re now sober for 18 months and that’s what made you all hands-y, huh? Ok, well explain this. I’ve been warning people about this guy ever since I heard about these allegations. Less than a month ago, on the set of my own film, one of the women working on my crew mentioned that she had worked the last film event thrown by this clown and that he, in her own words: “ …was all over me.” Really? FUCK YOU.

No tolerance for this bullshit. What angers me even more is that this hack literally has no say or power in the film scene. The whole “festival” is a circle jerk for a select group to aggrandize themselves that literally does zero for the artists. Not to mention the whole thing is a fraud (the “selections” are rigged) and the guy is a starfucker. It’s exploitation at the end of the day. We need counter-programming that is relevant to the scene.

What bugs me further is that there is NO WAY that I was the only person outside of the victims that knew about this, which leads me to believe that in many of these scenarios there are multiple abusers protecting each other. Now, I can’t prove that part for sure, but I do believe the women I have heard from.

It seems people are way easier at doing this when the bandwagon and momentum is already heading that way. Myself included. Point is — we can do better. This film community here is too small. A list of over 20 women gives me hope in the sense that this guy’s days are over. He definitely won’t be the last as our culture glorifies certain aspects of entitlement and ownership over women in the model we live in and until we address that we may continuously end up in this vicious cycle trying to find justice as opposed to preventing such things.

I have cringed to have to make appearances at these events knowing that people I know and have worked with sponsor this now toxic event. I would suggest those involved pull their resources because it’s a sinking ship and those who deserve it shall receive their comeuppance. I recently received notice that a project I worked on is being featured at the next event. I contacted the filmmakers with all his information to let them know that I will not be attending and will be boycotting the event for these reasons. I think you should too.

I have zero fucks to give in this department. I don’t care who is connected to who. That’s not an excuse. At the end of the day, we’re human beings and how I strive to be a better human is by calling these assholes out. I don’t care if you’re my family or friend. I’m calling you out and everyone else should too.

Seeing the hashtag #metoo was eye opening for many men including myself. I’ve got a new one for ya — #nomore 

BTW, this is not the first time The Underground Multiplex has been exposing actions against sexual harassment in the entertainment community. We’ve covered activism directed against The Profiles Theatre last year, just before that venue closed. You can find out about that action here.

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“Make Out Party” Seeks to Blast Hollywood Norms on a DIY Budget

by Legendary Lew

I become very intrigued when I see projects like this one in development.

Writer/director Emily Esperanza is crafting a DIY no-budget film that, from the looks of the pitch video, is a hybrid polyamorous child of John Waters, jd films and indie queersploitation festival movies.  They’re getting support from Full Spectrum Features, a non-profit co-producer of the project.

As the Seed and Spark website describes it, “Make Out Party is a no-budget, high-style comedy of errors that follows three vibrant characters though a day of misadventure as they set out to attend hostess Mary Woah’s Make Out Party.”

Regardless of how the final product comes out, I’ll say this: I’d be much more interested in how this type of film gets made, with its challenging ideas and blasting of accepted cultural norms, than the next high-budget, soulless Hollywood product.

If you want to help the movie get completed, contribute to their Seed and Spark campaign.

Nemesis of the Controversial Documentary “Tickled” Dies

David D’Amato speaking to Tickled co-director, Dylan Reeve at a film screening

by Legendary Lew

David D’Amato, the subject of last year’s controversial documentary Tickled has died, according to the film’s directors David Farrier and Dylan Reeve with confirmation via The New York Times’ Obituary section.

D’Amato was alleged to have been behind a fetish film company called “Jane O’Brien Media,” which paid lucrative sums of money to young men for tickling films. The documentary uncovered bullying tactics and blackmail perpetrated against some of the men appearing in and assisting with the tickling fetish shorts.

With legal and even thinly-veiled personal threats against them, Farrier and Reeve set out to discover who was behind “Jane O’Brien Media.” That trail led to D’Amato who, according to Tickled, was the sole source of funding for the fetish films. D’Amato’s past disturbing criminal history was also exposed in connection with the creation of tickle fetish films.

The news of D’Amato’s death was a bit of a shock, given that Tickled was only just given a very broad release on HBO. (Last year, it was granted a limited theatrical release and available on iTunes and Amazon on Demand).

With D’Amato’s passing and personal legal threats left behind, I have a feeling more accusations may pop up. A number of posts on TKLFrat and Tickling Media Forum (TMF), two outlets for the tickling fetish community, have expressed condolences.

Others expressed no sorrow. One case in point: the post by TMFJeff, a co-founder of TMF who was on the receiving end of one of D’Amato’s lawsuits. He explained how he was practically forced to censor any discussions about D’Amato on his website, in order to keep the forum from being shut down:

Years and years ago, after he got out of jail, he sued a bunch of Internet companies including Google and Yahoo, for five million dollars. Among those named were me personally and the company that was hosting the TMF at the time. Nobody wants to be sued for five million dollars, but I wasn’t that worried because it was an obviously ridiculous suit.

But our hosting company wanted no part of it. I got a call at about 8:30 AM one day from their lawyer who said I had four hours to take down the TMF. It wouldn’t have been a huge deal, just a few days of downtime while we found a new host, but who needs that headache? So I said “What if I just put his name and alias into my spam filter, and make it impossible to have discussions about him on my site? Would that satisfy you?”

They agreed, so that’s what I did, and that’s why he’s been on the blocked list for so long.

David D’Amato may be dead, but I have a feeling some of the stories of his damage may continue to emerge.

BTW, I interviewed Dylan Reeve last year regarding the movie Tickled. Be sure to give it a listen right here.

Legendary Lew is the co-founder of The Underground Multiplex, host of “Mediatrocities” and the upcoming “Vital Media Show.” An avid collector and expert of weird movies, music and TV, he also hosts monthly rare board game nights and invites you to join us in Chicago!

 

Female Trouble The Musical?

by Legendary Lew

I’ve long been a fan of John Waters’ trashy classic Female Trouble with its amazingly crazy dialogue and situations that still hold up today.

That’s why when I first heard the Mel Henke classic swinging lounge album “La Dolce Henke” (described as a Playboy Magazine on record), I knew his wild rendition of “All That Meat” somehow fit with the film.

It’s been a few years brewing in my head, but I finally decided to make my very first musical mix combining the two great pieces. This is my way of convincing John Waters’ and others that Female Trouble should indeed become his second musical.

Hope you enjoy it!

Here’s the First Look at the New Feature “Path of Egress”

pathofegressby Legendary Lew

Trance Productions presents a new locally-made Chicago crime thriller from director Vincent Baran. Path of Egress features a large cast and, having seen some working clips of the film, looks very sharp indeed. (Full disclosure: I appear in the film briefly and am friends with leads Tyler Pistorius and Paskal Pawlicki).

From the youtube site:
A story about three close friends; Ray, a mover for a mob boss named Bub, Udjenzo, one of Bub’s best hitmen, and Leigh, Ray’s childhood friend who attempts to prove himself by providing information about the perfect heist, so perfect, that it convinces Ray to bring it to his boss. Bub, a man who never gets his hands dirty, decides to oversee the job himself. Consequently, Ray is pulled in by the FBI who make him question his friendship with Leigh.

Keep on the lookout for its appearance in film festivals this year. We will keep you updated.

 

Happy Holiday from TUGM, Plus a Movie Recommendation

Netflix Can’t Duplicate Anything from the Video Store Experience

Chicago's Odd Obsession Movies, one of the indie video stores still surviving despite Netflix and cable

Chicago’s Odd Obsession Movies, one of the indie video stores still surviving despite Netflix and cable

by Legendary Lew

Film School Rejects recently posted an interesting article by Colin Biggs, who advises Netflix to take on staff recommendations for movies instead of relying on analytics for viewer’s next entertainment choices. It’s an interesting idea and one that Netflix could perhaps give serious consideration.

I’m a former personal video consultant (yes, that was actually the title of the job I had at a video store) of almost twenty years in three different video stores. I’ve helped film and TV fans choose entertainment from 1998-2016. One of the three video stores I’ve worked in failed miserably and closed in less than two years. The other two  struggle to keep on, but they have done so, even while Blockbuster Video has collapsed all around them. So I think I can give some insight regarding Netflix and having paid employees make thoughtful recommendations to customers.

My main thought on this is, “It’ll probably suck.”  Why? Allow me to give several reasons for what would be an almost certain failure:

1.  Netflix was Built on Dehumanizing the Viewing Experience

You can argue that Blockbuster Video separated viewers from the movie theater, but Netflix took the idea one step further in this ingenious, creepy ad. Note how the Netflix customer sits comfortably, relaxed and alone in his chair while various unfocused others in the background scramble to reach the video store that shutters and darkens like a prison.

Of course, there could never be a mention that you could actually meet other film fans face-to-face in video stores or that, due to different circumstances, late fees could always be negotiated or waived. I’ve done that plenty of times to keep customers.

This personal viewer isolation was definitely in Netflix’s DNA–so much so that you could not phone nor visit Netflix regarding DVDs lost or broken in the mail. You could only email to unseen, unheard associates. Even if you wanted to work at one of Netflix’s distribution centers  across the country, finding their locations was like a search for government hangars performing interplanetary alien autopsies.

2. Any Paid Video Consultants Would Probably Not Be Allowed the Freedom to Suggest Their Own Movies and TV Choices

Netflix is now in the business of producing streamed entertainment. Despite strong attempts to de-emphasize their rent-by-mail service, the company still offers it and acknowledges the die-hards who stick to it. However, DVD subscriber membership is dropping yearly to less than 5 million today–down from almost 15 million in 2011.

Thus, it should be no surprise when DVD.com (Netflix’s mailing service) releases a YouTube ad in April and garners less than 700 hits in five months. Note how the approach is much more subdued than the 2004 ad above. There’s even a lack of voice over. Stay awake if you can.

If Netflix were to hire its own “personal viewing consultants” to guide you through different choices, what do you think the chances are they will compel employees to suggest only Netflix programming? If they are like any other place I worked for that had competition, those chances are pretty darn high.  You can also bet those unlucky consultants could only suggest what’s currently available:

“Sorry, Mrs. Haggerfield. We love that movie too and highly suggest it. However, we just removed that film from our catalog yesterday.”

Suddenly, Mrs. Haggerfield feels no less frustrated than the late video return customers in that 2004 ad.

3. Video “Clerks” Would Need to be Redefined and Respected

This point is most crucial. I will always contend that Blockbuster Video’s greatest failure was not its powerlessness against Netflix and cable. It was the lack of good, expert customer service. Yes, I am sure that many former Blockbuster clerks knew their stuff, handled unruly customers well and were competent retail employees.

However, Blockbuster Video did not value the extra knowledge of eclectic or rare finds. It didn’t make much sense for me as an employee to apply my expertise on films if a similarly positioned co-worker had no idea who the world famous filmmaker Fellini was. Knowing the “top ten” movies and having enough new releases to please every customer was enough. Eventually, though, any film fan with an ounce of curiosity will seek out something different, and the Big Blue was ill-prepared for that.

With media becoming cheaper to produce, many more independent works are being created. It’s truly impossible for anyone alive to take in all good movies and TV shows, so the knowledge of unknown or unappreciated works has more worth. Consuming so many different films from different countries over the span of 100+ years takes an enormous amount of time and money. Theater ticket prices are expensive. Include Netflix, Hulu Plus, Amazon, HBO and a host of other online/cable offerings and it all adds up. (No wonder piracy is popular). Paying a college-aged clerk minimum wage won’t cut it. Nor is it respectful of customers’ demands.

One reason Biggs’ suggestion falls short is because there’s no mention of the context in which films are viewed. As a personal video consultant, I had to answer questions like, “What film would you recommend as a suitable Halloween movie for my two sons aged 10 years and younger?” This was an actual request I fulfilled for actress Joan Cusack. (She and I eventually agreed that Jason and the Argonauts was good for her adventure-seeking boys). I’ve had rental requests for DJ dance parties, Thanksgiving family entertainment, dating–straight and gay, art galleries, business meetings, depression cures, frat parties, teachers’ research projects and more. These specific types of demands are the ones that really test you.

So what would Netflix need to have satisfactory staff recommendations? It would need very well-paid experts on different genres of film. Those persons would take no other responsibilities for Netflix, except to watch as many films/TV show  in their designated categories as possible. They would need to have the freedom to suggest works Netflix doesn’t carry, but another service might. They would need to know local independent films with limited DVD/online releases. And they would need excellent customer service savvy to care about each individual’s particular need. Netflix has a legendary business growth plan currently, but given its past history with vast catalog mail rentals, they would be foolish to try inching back. You’d be better off going to independent video stores that survived the Netflix onslaught.

lew-win_20160713_205425Legendary Lew is the co-founder of The Underground Multiplex and former personal video consultant of almost 20 years. He’s a writer, producer and host of the podcast “Mediatrocities” and the upcoming “Vital Media” series.