DURING THE LAST presidential election cycle, Minneapolis artists Mark Wojahn and Matt Bakkom visited Kettle River, where a manifestation of the Virgin Mary had appeared before the citizenry. After covering the weeping Madonna beat, these filmmakers and photographers next turned their attention to more secular concerns--a multi-media project titled (with no apparent irony) What America Needs. "It was a period of my life when patriotism seemed like religion," Wojahn says. So 310 years after LaSalle reached the mouth of the Mississippi at the Gulf of Mexico, Wojahn traveled down the river taking the national pulse with a video camera. However, the trip produced no finished product; instead it amounted to (so to speak) a testing of the waters.

          In 1994, Bakkom joined Wojahn, returning to communities on the shores of the river--from Bertha, Minnesota, to the Crescent city. Shooting on 8mm film in black-and-white and color, the pair also documented a dozen hours of interviews on still film and audio tape. The 13-minute video edit that resulted is a fairly elaborate, non-synchronous montage of handsomely composed images; in other words, there are no talking heads here. "Mark brought more of a Studs Terkel approach," Bakkom explains, "while I was influenced by Pare Lorentz and the silent documentaries of the 1930s." The scenes that emerge from this collaboration range from Koyaanisqatsi-ian crowd accelerations to Robert Frank-like portraits of leather-clad bikers at an Our Lady of the River monument. Though the titular interview question--What America Needs--may seem like a blunt instrument, the answer this film provides is instead a selective substance of what America now is.

          What might be the most remarkable part of the film is an elaborate 8-track sound mix by Chris Kubick--a polyphony of voices which favorably recalls Glenn Gould's CBC radio documentary "Ideas of North." "It seemed like a good way to capture the confusion that's out there," Wojahn says of the aural collage, which subordinates each interview to a greater narrative stream.

          After first wading hip-deep into Americana and then retreating to the isolation of the editing room, Wojahn and Bakkom will complete the final leg of the tour by exhibiting the final products--the video and its supplementary photos and bound interview transcriptions--to the audiences that created it. A handful of public libraries from Cairo, Illinois, to Memphis, Tennessee, have confirmed screening dates; bars and laundromats may also host impromptu presentations. Where Easy Rider's motorcycle sojourn ended at the Mardi Gras, Wojahn and Bakkom will arrive in New Orleans by minivan on the most unholy day of the American religion: Election Day. "Then, the project will be over... at least for now," Wojahn says. "We'll have to see about the year 2000." (Michael Tortorello)


          What America Needs will be screened at Minneapolis's Walker Community Library, October 19 at 1 p.m. and at the Red Wing Public Library, October 21 at 7:00 p.m.



          AT THE NEW York Film Festival screening of The Rolling Stones Rock 'n' Roll Circus, its director likened the film's collection of rockers to art renegades of yore. Meanwhile, those looking for a dose of this generation's artistic zealotry could find it nearby at the IndieNet Online Publication Conference, the upstart sidebar to the technocratic Online Expo at the New York Coliseum last weekend.

          Like the Stones' Circus, this was a rare chance for fellow cyber pioneers to have an ideological cuddle in real time/space. To set themselves apart from the corporate gladiators at the Expo, the IndieNet crowd created an oasis of cozy living room camp, with each site displayed in its own unique couch-and-coffee table setting. San Fransisco's prankish screed-pub, Suck ,didn't even bother to bring a terminal. Of their display--basically a refrigerator adorned with magnetic poetry kits and stocked with Jolt-like "Suck Cola"--Suck's Owen Thomas effused, "Really, what's the point? People can see [the website] anywhere. What we brought is sophisticated, sturdy terminology (knocking on the fridge)....When the T1 line was down yesterday for about four hours, our site was up and running."

          Nearly absent from the IndieNet scene were stereotypical "techies." Rebecca Odes of gURL, a lively pomo site for teenage girls, is a grad student and indie rocker; IndieNet organizer Gabriel Paul is a former art promoter; the co-founder of the highbrow Feed jumped ship from the Wall St. Journal. And while the hustling vibe wasn't quite as intense as at the Expo, chatter about revenue streams brought some articulate defenses of corporate affiliation. With his gen-X multimedia site, Word, up for InfoNet's cool site of the year, Tom Livaccari insists parent company Icon CMT has given him "free reign," with obvious win-win results. And even though Suck jests that it "charges extra to warp editorials to suit advertisers needs," its credo--"sell out early and sell out often"--comes with an implicit asterisk to take marching orders from no one.

          For true indies, of course, it's an endurance game of waiting for receiving-end products to get more user-friendly, and waiting for demand to kick in. On Saturday night, as the group convened at St. Mark's Place's struggling internet bar, @, fest promoter Rebecca Bodicky tried patiently, then impatiently to pull up a site for us, before slamming her palms on the table and echoing the frustrations of 486-owners everywhere: "This machine sucks!" Says Kyle, an indie-elder from Urban Desires, "No one with a content site is making money right the industry evolves, the strongest brands will do best." His business partner and wife, Gabrielle, rolls her head back in her easy chair, looks up at us imploringly, "Right now we sell T-shirts. Wanna buy one?" (Laura Sinagra)

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