From the Back of the Room: Amy Oden talks about her women in punk documentary
Punk rock prides itself for an inclusive environment--as a place for misfits and alienated souls to come together, despite differences. Of course, it only takes a few minutes at a concert to recognize that the crowd itself isn't as diverse as its philosophy. Despite the egalitarian message, the scene tends to be dominated by men.
Amy Oden, a longtime fan of the lifestyle, sought to look deeper. Besides filmmaking, Oden has played with bands Starve and Hot Mess, and also serves as an organizer for CLITfest. Since 2006, she has been collecting voices in her documentary From the Back of the Room, which aims to open a dialogue for women within the scene, exploring issues such as gender, sexuality, and motherhood. It took four years of hard work and DIY fundraising, but the documentary is now seeing the light of day. Her film is partially a historical piece on punk feminism, but its primary purpose is right in line with the classic punk message: social change.
From the Back of the Room speaks with many personalities, ranging from Riot Grrrl figures such as Kathleen Hanna and Allison Wolfe, to DIY enthusiasts like Chris Boarts-Larson of Slug and Lettuce and Maygun of Profane Existence and the Breast Brigade. Oden resides in DC and did much of her filming there, but a number of Twin Cities women appear in the film, including Annie Holoien (Soviettes), Lisa Griswald (Oroku, Garmonbozia), Meagan Lass (Profane Existence), Michelle Riordan (Two Minute Tantrum, Whorehouse of Representatives), and Saira Huff (Detestation, Question, Faggot).
From the Back of the Room is currently wrapping up a screening tour, and Oden is working to arrange a Twin Cities theatrical screening. In the meantime, Gimme Noise caught up with her to talk about the project.
Gimme Noise: You made the film while pursuing a Masters in Women's Studies, correct? Is the film a part of your studies, or has it been an independent project while you've also been studying? How do you find the time?
Amy Oden: The film was not part of my studies, it was an independent project. I'm still not entirely sure how I found the time - between work, school, bands, and other organizing, it was a rough road!
Do you view the primary audience to be people involved in the punk scene, or is it something broader that will still appeal to people who have no interest in DIY culture?
I think this film can appeal to both folks involved in DIY and people who aren't. I hope it can appeal to anyone interested in "women's issues." I'm always frustrated when I hear people talk about how they "can't" start a band. Maybe the film will shake some folks out of that mindset.
Riot Grrrl is the last thing most mainstream audiences have heard involving women-specific issues and punk rock. While it's an important piece of history, how much effort did you put into separating that period of time from your primary subject?
I'm definitely interested in paying respect to Riot Grrrl, but it's not something that has defined my experience. I think the film started as a catalog of women in DIY, but at some point I realized the distinction had to be made that not all women are Riot Grrrls. It's very reductive to call us all that.
Is your tone to honor successful women or more to shine a light on a larger, ongoing issue?
I think I'm more interested in opening dialogue than anything else. The women that are in the film have all accomplished great things, but there's not a whole lot that separates them from anyone else. That's the beauty of DIY culture: it has the ability to demystify things like playing in bands or creating zines. I want people to talk about how gender affects their daily life, and to be able to acknowledge the diversity of experiences other folks have. I hope the film can get some of these conversations started.
When you explained the subject of your film to potential subjects, did you get mixed reactions or people who flat-out refused to participate?
Not too many women refused, although there were a couple who declined, saying they were nervous. Most of the women I approached were just relieved that someone was doing a project like this.
Did you find yourself asking why this movie wasn't made years ago?
Michelle Riordan (Two Minute Tantrum, Whorehouse of Representatives)
For more info and screenings keep an eye on FromtheBackoftheRoom.com.
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