Debacle called Debauchery – part one

The Student Activities Office and MPAC screwed up big time by failing to be different.

Adri Mehra

First of all, despite its menacing name, the recently deceased Trash Film Debauchery student group was nothing more sinister than a sinfully entertaining Friday night quirk-fest.

But the major selling point? The films were always free. And when quality free movies are threatened, I’ll not stay quiet. Where else can one seek and find a wide variety of nonmainstream cinema at no cost?

In the past two years, perfect strangers had become a recurring cast of dozens of regulars. Dorm geeks fell in with professors and campus bus drivers. Often the camaraderie extended past the film’s running time.

On-screen subject matter ran from traditional gorefests to Mexican wrestling tournaments, Japanese rock epics, ’70s blaxploitation evergreens, innovative stop-motion animated shorts, sci-fi zombie flicks, and the occasional mutant-baby-becomes-lizard tale. You can’t see a lot of this stuff anywhere else.

The idea of Trash Film Debauchery was not just to titillate or ingratiate, it was to provide an on-campus alternative to the bloated, soulless cinematic plague afflicting mega-plexes and video-rental chains. Viewers at TFD were just as likely to catch a sampling of some of independent film’s greatest visionaries as they were to see dwarves with exploding heads. TFD founder Theresa Kay, who has applied for funding through the proper bureaucratic channels over and over again for years only to be constantly ignored or denied, went to the Student Activities Office to ask for help in securing rights to legally show her group’s wide variety of indie cinema.

After warning Kay that navigating the application is a “complicated process,” an ill-advised adviser suggested co-sponsoring a movie night with Minnesota Programs and Activities Council at Coffman Theater, which is analogous to Michael Moore collaborating with Wal-Mart on a new ad campaign. MPAC is the wonderful organization that shells out thousands of dollars of our student fees to line up second-run crappy blockbusters.

Never mind that nearly all of TFD’s films come from smaller production houses that have long since sold their rights to VHS and DVD distributors, and would cost the University next to nothing to screen. Never mind that some filmmakers have been known to give free permission over the phone or e-mail.

But here’s the clincher: Upon receiving an inappropriately late and disorganized reply from the committee (she had first inquired the year before), not only did Kay receive no assistance or guidance, she was also vengefully accused of looking for a handout from MPAC, as well as for having a hidden agenda to take over Coffman Theater and cancel MPAC’s film schedule.

Shortly thereafter, Kay was ordered by the Student Activities Office to pack up and ship out of Ford Hall – permanently – forcing her to cancel the rest of TFD’s impossibly diverse fall season. Nearly 700 kindred spirits populate TFD’s MySpace Web page and mailing list, and it seems that every one of them count on and look forward to cramming into a 60 person-capacity broom closet in Ford Hall every other Friday to give holy communion to the gods of the B movie.

What’s next for Trash Film Debauchery? Is there a silver lining to this latest trashed-out cloud from the Student Activities Office? Read this column next week for the answer to the first question Ö

Adri Mehra welcomes comments at [email protected]