udio Visual Terrorism is an independent, radical film studio based in New York City. Founded by the prolific Vagabond Beaumont—who also did the artwork for our Oscar Lopez Rivera poster—AVT describes themselves as “art masquerading as media.” They’ve done short films such as No Way Home, Coney Island Dreaming, and many more, in addition to an award-winning feature film, Machetero. Their latest film shares a title with our book: Aftermath. We caught up with Vagabond to talk about his work and how it’s informed by the current political climate.
For folks who are unfamiliar with you, can you introduce yourself and Audio Visual Terrorism?
My name is vagabond. I’m an artist, writer, filmmaker and graphic designer. Audio Visual Terrorism is my production company. It’s also a T-shirt design company focusing on promoting AVT as a production company and our own brand of APOC (anarchist people of color) politics.
How did you get into filmmaking?
When I was a teenager I loved comic books. I was going to art school and I wanted to be a comic book artist, but I was frustrated by the inability to express myself the way I wanted to. Then I went to see Clint Eastwood’s Pale Rider at the old Ziegfeld Theater. In the opening scene a woman is reading aloud from the book of Revelations in the bible and it’s intercut with a scene of a mysterious man dressed all in black riding a horse. She reads in Revelation: “And I looked and behold a Pale Horse and his name that sat on him was death… and hell followed with him.” And just then you see Clint Eastwood riding up on his white horse. That scene gave me chills and it set up the tone for the rest of the film. This was the kind of storytelling that I wanted to do but felt I couldn’t get at being a comic book artist. It was then that I decided that I wanted to be a filmmaker.
Are all of your scripts written and executed in-house, or do you collaborate with other writers outside of your collective? And do you offer your services commercially as well?
We usually generate our own projects but we’re open to working with others. We recently worked with Moroccan Latino poet Youssef Alaoui from California on our short experimental anti-narrative tone poem film ’SACRED AND PROFANE FACELESS JACKS‘ that he wrote an epic poem for. We also collaborated on ‘CONEY ISLAND SIREN’ which is a story I came up with but Youssef once again wrote an epic poem for. Both of those poems were recently featured in Youssef’s latest book of poetry Critics of Mystery Marvel published by 2 Leaf Press.
We also collaborated on a third project with Youssef beautifully directed by Omar Villegas called ‘MYSTIC SYSTEMS OF THE ROSY ORDER’. That project is for Youssef’s previous book of short stories Fiercer Monsters. We’re also in production on a new music video for poet Abiodun Oyewole (founding member of The Last Poets) that should be released this summer.
We do offer production services commercially as well. We are in post production on a project called South Bronx By South Bronx for a new community focused and based website called SBXSB. The SBXSB is a portal for the South Bronx community and the website will be featuring short videos of people from the South Bronx speaking on issues facing the community.
Your films, even the more experimental ones, seem to carry lots of political commentary. Are you hoping that your work can be used as a tool for social change?
Bertolt Brecht said, “Art is not a mirror held up to reality but a hammer with which to shape it.” James Baldwin said, “Artists are here to disturb the peace.” Our political commentary, whether in our films or in my T-shirt designs, are a hammer to shape the world and disturb the peace. That being said, I don’t think art changes the world. I think art can change peoples’ minds but people have to act on that change. Art can play a part in changing the world but art in and of itself doesn’t change the world, only people can change the world.
What is the role of print in the work that you do?
I’m an analog baby. I come from that generation. I like things I can hold. I’m a big art book lover. To bastardize Sir Mix-A-lot, ‘I like big books and I cannot lie’… the bigger, the better. I buy books, I buy printed matter. I collect film posters. In terms of print playing a role in our work, we use print for our business cards and make postcards to promote our projects.
Recently we have been thinking about doing a bi-annual publication for Audio Visual Terrorism since so many of the people within the company have incredible work that no one sees or no one knows about. The digital world is an exciting space but websites and social media portals are fast and fleeting. They’re like a fast food version of what you are and what you do. Creating and having printed matter that is beautifully done is more like sitting down and having a meal with friends.
Where do you see the future of independent film?
I don’t see it. These are volatile disruptive times that we live in and to think about the future of independent film or the future of anything as a whole is a difficult question to answer. Uber is a cab company without cabs, AirBnb is a vacation rental company without properties, Fox News is a 24-hour cable TV station that delivers entertainment but no news, YouTube is a media empire that creates no media, Facebook is data collection company posing as a communication company. Everything we know is becoming everything we knew…
Independent film is a strange animal. What do you mean by independent? Is Barry Jenkins’ 2016 Best Picture winner ‘Moonlight’ an independent film? Because some people saw it as an independent film, and it was marketed as an independent film. How do you define an independent film? Are independent films made outside the Hollywood studio system? Because there are a lot of powerful players like Amazon Studios and Netflix that are outside the Hollywood studio system that i wouldn’t consider independent.
At the same time, there are filmmakers who are working on the margins of the Hollywood system that have control of their work, they have final cut approval and are doing things they want to do outside of Hollywood tent pole blockbusters. People like Martin Scorsese making a film like ‘Silence’ or Paul Schrader’s recent film ‘First Refrormed’, are they independent filmmakers? I know I’m an independent filmmaker because I’m way outside all of that, so the question is, where does one draw the distinctions when it comes to defining ‘independent film’?
What’s next? And how can people stay updated?
We are always working on something. We stay restless and everything we do is interesting, so folks should definitely keep in touch with us.
People can check us out on our website: http://www.audiovisualterrorism.com
They can check out some of our work on Vimeo On Demand, like our award-winning film MACHETERO and NO WAY HOME as well as an interview we cut and translated of Puerto Rican independent Filiberto Ojeda Rios, who was killed by the FBI in 2005 called ‘Comandante Filiberto Clandestina/Clandestine‘.
Or check out some of our work on Vimeo: https://vimeo.com/avterrorism
People can also keep up with us through social media:
Twitter: @AVTerrorism • https://twitter.com/avterrorism
Instagram: @AudioVisualTerrorism • https://www.instagram.com/audiovisualterrorism/
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