The documentary “99%: The Occupy Wall Street Collaborative Film” was made with an experimental production process, utilizing footage submitted from an open call for collaborators. The film examines the year when terms such as “Occupy,” “Zuccotti Park” and “income inequality” first broadly entered the public consciousness.
The finished film, which has four credited directors and six co-directors, features footage from Occupy events in some 20 to 25 cities, as well as interviews with a handful of organizers and early participants in the notoriously decentralized organization alongside writers and cultural commentators including Naomi Wolf, Matt Taibbi and Micah White.
The film premiered earlier this year at the Sundance Film Festival and, after a recent theatrical release in New York and Los Angeles, will be broadcast Tuesday evening on the fledgling television channel Pivot. The film will be available on iTunes starting Wednesday.
The project began with filmmakers Audrey Ewell and Aaron Aites. Just as their previous film, “Until the Light Takes Us,” was a look at the Scandinavian death metal scene they are not a part of, their “Occupy” film chronicles something they were curious about but not involved with.
“We usually start every interview having to say we’re not part of the Occupy movement,” said Aites in a recent interview. “And we’re really not.”
“There’s a difference between being made ‘in the spirit’ of it and using an experimental production process that reflects the Occupy movement,” said Ewell. “The one term is loaded and the other term is a little more accurate.
"The only way I could conceive of doing a doc about this would be one that mirrored this," she added. "It just felt inherently right. It felt like a way to crystallize this movement in a way that was authentic to this moment. And it seemed like an interesting way of telling the story."
The “99%” film got its start in the early days of the protest in New York City. On Oct. 1, 2011, Ewell was at home in Brooklyn, N.Y., and saw an online video of the then still little-known movement known as Occupy Wall Street that included some 1,000 marchers on the Brooklyn Bridge, hundreds of whom were being arrested. When she switched to a television news channel, she saw nothing.
“I couldn’t understand why there weren’t five news helicopters out, there are a thousand people on the Brooklyn Bridge being arrested, is that not news?” she said. “So we went down to Zuccotti Park that day and we just felt like it needed to be documented. It was a moment that needed documentation and we could. So we did.
“When we get there it was not what I’d been seeing in the news,” she added. “I’d been seeing sock puppets and yoga and when I got there what I actually saw was people from all over the country standing up and talking about how the system is broken and how their lives had just become this struggle that they couldn’t continue on with. It was a compelling story happening in our backyard and this was before it really spread.”
Deciding to make a film in the same inclusive air as the Occupy movement itself, Ewell and Aites put out a call online for collaborators, receiving more than 100 responses. A big part of the earliest stages of the production was figuring out work flow and communication, how to organize the project so things actually got done.
As for how many hours of footage they ultimately ended up with, Aites joked, “We can only talk about this in terabytes.” (They figure they had around 18 terabytes of footage.)
The most common knock against Occupy Wall Street and the Occupy movement is that they didn’t actually accomplish anything and existed largely as a media sideshow (an idea pushed forward by the appearance of Occupy on the recent season of “The Newsroom”). Yet even for Ewell, who describes herself as “probably one of the people most critical of the Occupy movement within the production,” it is clear that Occupy did accomplish something.
“I don’t think that’s up for debate,” she said. “I think the idea they didn’t accomplish anything is silly to an absurd degree when you look at how much they did to change the discourse.”
For Ewell and Aites the function of the film is to allow people to think about and try to understand what that year of the Occupy movement, and in particular those few months in Zuccotti Park, were all about. The film stands as a document of a moment in time as much as an examination of the Occupy movement itself.
“We wanted everyone to be able to actually sit down and watch this and understand what it was,” said Aites. “Because people don’t.”
Follow Mark Olsen on twitter: @IndieFocus
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