by Vittorio Carli
Ed Marszewski (commonly called Ed Mar) has been an important catalyst in the Chicago art scene for many years. He is the editor of the transgressive political magazine, "The Lumpen Times," which is published in Chicago .
He is also the publisher/editor of "The Lumpen Times," and he runs the Version Festival. It's a hybrid festival which explores the experimental possibilities of film, multimedia, social activism, conferences, internet works, and technology every year.
The theme of this year's version festival is Invincible Desire, and it will include over 350 art pieces, performances, media, presentations, talks and interventions. Several collectives with commited local followings will have work in the show such as the truly bizarre literary/music Zine, Terry Plumbing the multi genre group,Anti Gravity Suprise , and the wonderful music/ puppetry/music performance group, Enviornmental Encroachment. Viewers can access the whole catalog to find their favorites at http://www.versionfest.org/version05b/
The festival will take place from April 22 to May 1. The program will also include many choice film selections. Ed Mar leant me some copies of shorts from Sweden (many of them were political and against the US invasion of Iraq ), as well as many American shorts. The admission price for the screenings is $5.
Most of the screenings will take place at the Underground Multiplex which is comprised of three screens at Buddy's, Heaven Gallery, and High School on the 2nd and 3rd floors at 1542 - 1550 N. Milwaukee Ave.
One of the highlights of the festival will undoubtedly be a screening of the superb political documentary "The Take (see my reelmoviecritic review.). It will be shown opening night on Friday, April 22nd on the 3rd floor at 1542 North Milwaukee at 9:30.
I sat down with Ed Mar at a nearby cafe, and asked him some questions about the festival and his career in general. Some of his answers were laced with irony and sarcasm, but I know from experience that this is how he normally speaks.
Can you tell me about your background and how you got started in art?
How much of my background do you need? I started an art school applicant at University of Illinois at Champaign . I left art school because I didn't think it was necessary to take art classes, so I got into political science with a minor in history.
Do you favor socially conscious or political art?
I don't necessarily favor it. But in this restrictive age when free speech is getting attacked, it's important for artists to contribute to the dialogue on the issues of the day.
What do you think about the controversy over the recent Columbia stamp exhibit?
It's fantastic that a little three square inch piece can cause such uproar. It's a testament to what artists can do. I think it's great that the media picked up on the story, and didn't condemn the artist. It's important that all people should be able to speak their minds without suffering any retribution.
Can you tell me about the films at this year's Version Festival?
Most of the programs will be screened on Monday, April 24 th at a program called the Underground Multi-plex. There will be three different screens going at the same time. You could go to a bunch of different theaters as if you had bought a matinee pass.
Can you tell me about "Lumpen Times," the magazine that you edit and publish?
It's a family magazine (ironically) that was started in the early '90s to contribute
alternative opinions to the widest public we could reach.
When and how did the Version Festival begin?
It began in 2002. It evolved out of a number of events that we did for the MCA. It's a hybrid festival like the ones we saw in Europe . It combines technology, art, media, and political activism. It was based on the concept of the digital common. We are programmed it with the MCA.
What's the digital common?
The notion of the common in which the public shares the use of resources or land is an old one. In England , they kept privatizing public property and closing off this formerly public property. In the age of the Internet there is now a rush to close off access to information and protect intellectual property rights such as Napster's restrictions on file sharing. Sharing personal files is great example of how people are harnessing this digital common or the vast internet free space. We set up spaces that allow expression that is not necessarily regulated by governments or corporations. The festival is about where we are now, where we are headed, and how do we protect out rights to share knowledge?
Can you discuss the theme of this year's festival, invincible desire?
It's a loose concept. We are trying to create a convergence of people who make their works, projects, or collectives, and we are giving them a chance to spread their network or group and overcome all obstacles.
Who worked on the festival?
There is a regular group that worked on the festival that also worked on many of our previous projects. Of course, there's me, and Elisa Harkins. Andrea Fritsch and Helen Kongsgaard work on the programming. They all helped curate various programs at the festival, and they communicated with the artists to make sure we could meet their requirements. Harkins put up the website with help from myself and others. I also did a lot of painting this year. There's many others as well.
How were the individual films selected?
We like to make an open proposal in which artists respond to the theme of the year. We
want the pieces to look good as well. We also judge pieces as to whether they fit the
theme. Of course, we don't accept all work. Because of this year's theme, we used more
curated programs from collectives, and we tried not to edit out what they wanted to present. We wouldn't necessarily normally show all those works, but this time we wanted to retain the continuity of the group's vision. We also went to other festivals, and looked around on-line. We asked some of those artists for permission to use their works in the version selections program of the festival.
How can people submit to next year's festival?
It's simple. Just go to the website, and e-mail us.
How did you come to acquire the Swedish shorts?
They found the call for submissions. The use of the Internet allows people both far and near to respond based on the interest to your programming. They can get an idea of what kinds of works we like by looking at past festivals. Many of our submitters share our shared interest in politics or making social commentary through art.
What are some of the individual groups that have blocks of work in the festival?
There's Volatile Studios collective from Canada , and there's a block from Sweden . There are other mini-festivals in the festival such as Media that Matters.
Can you single out any individual films that particularly impressed you?
Well, my personal favorite stuff (which isn't listed in the program) is the Yuri A pieces which are beautiful children's videos with adult themes. The colors are very beautiful They are examinations of bowel movements, disease, and toys are thrown into the mix. I can't really describe them beyond that except they're the most fantastic animated pieces I've ever seen. "Cobra vs. G.I. Joe" has a really covert political statement. I loved the "Taliban Country" documentary we're showing. It's a great example of how a film maker effect social change by investigating wrongs. It investigates reported crimes that the United States soldiers were committing against citizens of Afghanistan . After the film was screened the UN and the United States government began to investigate these alleged crimes. Naomi Klein film, "The Take" is awesome. We want to show works with compelling content. I like half of the Media Matters pieces. The other half are too informational and lame. This year it's all fresh. Jan Van Neunan used to be in every festival. He is the most talented young animation artist in Holland . We've screened his stuff in past festivals and we will probably be screening his stuff at the festival in informal settings. The Lost Film Festival is also a big deal. It happens on Friday, April 29. The DJ Scott spins films like most DJ's spin records. He'll play what audiences want to see.
Since there are so many films in the festival with political content, I have to ask, what are your favorite political films?
I really loved "The Corporation." The Power of Nightmares" was a great three part PBS miniseries about Al Quaeda. It shows how the extremist Fundamentalist Islamics and the emerging conservative neocons in the US have converging interests, and helped fabricate a nightmare to further their own agendas.
Has the popularity of "Fahrenheit 911" increased the popularity of political documentaries?
I think so. Perhaps there will be a continuing interest in more political films because of the last election. But who knows. People are burnt out despondent over the last election and they might not want to see them.
What are your current views on the last election?
I think this is the closest we've come to fascism in the history of America . Because we leave here, we might not see that the rest of the world hates and fears us more than ever.
They see us as being responsible for the killing of hundreds of thousands of people all over the world.
Are there any multi-media projects that combine films will other media or art?
There are lots of cut up pieces. Some of the programs themselves might combine animation and documentary for instance, but the genre cross doesn't happen so much in individual films in the festival.
Are there any projects that you created for this year's festival?
I'm organizing some public interventions. I created and edited some TV shows for the cable access show which will run every day of the festival.
I know it must be hard to choose, but what are the must see programs in the festival for film buffs?
Well, everyone should see "The Take" and the Version Selected Shorts program which will screened on Monday, April at the Underground Multiplex. We have three screens going on at once from 7-1 am. Opening night will be great because there will be a wide assortment of crazy stuff. The Lost Film Festival is a must see for its socially conscious volatile films. It happens on Friday, April 29th at 8 p.m.
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