Big congrats to Big Muddy

By Gus Bode

[Editor’s note:An edited version of this letter was published on Wednesday. In the process of editing for length, some of the original meaning may have been lost. What follows is the letter as it was originally submitted.]

Dear Editor:The past two weeks have been a great lesson in how cinema is a battleground and what is at stake is nothing less than our imagination:of how we understand our present and what we want to make of our future. So, while Hollywood affirmed itself, once more time in a glittering ceremony, I would like to raise a toast to our very own Big Muddy Film Festival on its 27th birthday and wish it many more years of success.

Hollywood once again awarded its oldest clichd narrative:a working-class person makes it to the very top by the sheer dint of her effort. When Maggie, the isolated, asexual, and alienated protagonist of “Million Dollar Baby” is no longer able to fight in the boxing rink she prefers to die. Clint Eastwood would have us believe that life as a quadriplegic without the “glory” of being a spectacle or confronting another as an antagonist is not worth living, that ultimately we are alone in this world. Several films screened at this year’s Big Muddy suggested the opposite. “The Agronomist” (Jonathan Demme, 2004), a militant documentary on Jean Dominique, a Haitian radio journalist who was assassinated for his radical critique of Haitian repression and U.S. imperialism was the celebration of a life lived in solidarity with others.



While not one single Academy Awards winner veered away from the stale Hollywood aesthetic of dumbing down all of cinema’s formal elements to tell a story the Big Muddy screened work that was like a breath of fresh air. “The Agronomist,” was a cinematic revelation of how the radio can be a theater of the imagination. Films such as, My “Mother Y Su Madre” (Kris Williams, 2004), Anaconda Targets (Dominic Angercane, 2004), “Lift” (Hughes Dalton and Jeff Garton, 2004), and “Magda” (Chel White, 2004), among many others shown in the narrative, experimental, and documentary showcases, challenged us to ask how we come to know and see through cinema. Many of the films directly addressed the ongoing war against Iraq and the increased commercialization of life.

Best of all, we were respected as an audience. Rather than come to these films as passive consumers wanting to escape life or as connoisseurs of autonomous, fetishized art objects we came as members of a community ready to discuss and evaluate the work. For the past six years that I have lived in Carbondale I have come to recognize faces at the various screenings. It makes me proud that the festival has grown beyond the walls of this university and belongs to the larger community S.I.U. is part of. One of my most memorable moments from this year’s festival was the screening of “Fenceline:A Town Divided” (Slawomir Grunberg, 2002) at Thomas School. The residents of this neighborhood have been trying to organize and bring legal action against Beazer East Inc., which now owns the old Koppers Plant, the site of a dumping ground for chemical containments associated with cancers and asthma in the neighborhood. Slawomir, a juror at this year’s festival, spoke to his audience as a go-between, as one who brought news of the struggle and victory of another community against the Shell corporation, the subject of “Fenceline.” The second memorable moment for me were the enthusiastic halleluiahs, so to speak, that greeted Reverend Billy, the protagonist of “Preacher with an Unknown God” (Rob VanAlkemade) as he rallied against the worship of money. Banished was the hushed silence of the movie theaters and the museums.

Thank you, each and everyone who mounted this festival of democracy. The organizing committee made up entirely of students, Shane Pangburn, Joshua Buursma, Sinisa Kukic, Megan Curry, Joe Nudleman, Megan Currey, Jared Kennedy, Brian Brems, Mike Katzenstein, and John Waterman. The student directors of the festival, Chris Sato and Brian Gallaghar. Finally, it takes commitment to build an institution of this kind and we need to acknowledge the labor and mentoring Mike Covell, one of the founders and faculty advisor, has given the festival for most of its 27 years. It is the consistent presence of events like the Big Muddy that can maintain our public spaces from being covered in the big-budget, sugary glitter that Hollywood covers us with year after year.