Life constantly presents us with challenges. It gives us problems and obstacles along our way which, depending on how we deal with them, form the shape of our lives. Each obstacle, then, becomes an opportunity to either reinforce a worn-out, yet familiar habit or ideology or to look at the problem with a fresh, new perspective and get creative. More often than not, the ideas and actions that push our lives and society forward come from outside our own personal, self-interested comfort zones, from the courage to look at life and act in a unifying, compassionate way. This courage and intention lies at the heart of the “creative response.”
“Let Fury Have The Hour,” the feature directorial debut of author, filmmaker and visual artist Antonino D’Ambrosio which had its world premiere in April at the 2012 TriBeCa Film Festival, depicts the unique cultural history and immense social possibilities manifested by a concerned and activated generation of artists. During the late 1970s and early 1980s, American and British culture became increasingly enmeshed in the reactionary politics and ideologies of greed, an agenda lead by Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher. Using linguistic attacks, such as Reagan’s cautioning against “the schemes of the do-gooders” and Thatcher’s famous statement, “There is no such thing as society,” a new political atmosphere began to insidiously suggest that compassion was a weakness and to champion individualism over community, consumerism over citizenship. Out of this changing time bloomed poets, musicians, dancers, directors, street artists and skateboaders who used their creativity to respond, resist and inspire.
A citizen is someone who takes active participation while a consumer sleepwalks from one product to another; yet over the past thirty-years it is the latter attitude which has not only taken precedence but is rewarded in the maintstream culture. The seeds planted in the Reagan-Thatcher era have taken root and sprouted dangerous life that continues to grow now in our time of high unemployment, foreclosures and an ever-increasing global income inequality. Yet within the fertile loam of these bleak times grew artists such as Shepard Fairey, Eve Ensler, Wayne Kramer, Chuck D., Edwidge Danticat, John Sayles, Elizabeth Streb and Lewis Black whose creative voices, prescient ideas, and basic celebration of humanity have inspired social and political change.
With “Let Fury Have The Hour” Mr. D’Ambrosio has composed an exhilarating, irrepressible symphony of a film which mixes the media of animation, graphic art, music and spoken word to give voice to a distinctive perspective on how we live with each other on this planet. “Creative response,” says the director, “is less a counter-narrative or alternative view, than a more accurate telling of our problems and how to respond—in an impactful, meaningful way—to those issues.” Featuring interviews with over 50 artists, Mr. D’Ambrosio has created something that is less a traditional documentary and more like a visual conversation. It is an energizing film that uplifts, that resonates with our common humanity, and re-inspires us that there are infinite possibilities of good worth working for.
COOL met with director Antonino D’Ambrosio at TriBeCa Film Festival to discuss his film and creative response.Since this is your first feature film, I would like to ask about yourself. You’re a writer, filmmaker, and visual artist. What strongly inspired you to be in the creative field?My parents were Italian immigrants, so I grew up speaking Italian and my mother was concerned that I wouldn’t learn English. She made a great effort to get me to speak English by reading. So I fell in love with books at an early age. The power of reading, it was the power of my imagination so I could see things in my own way. It was an early window into creative response because I was re-calibrating the world around me, whether it was Shakespeare or whatever I was reading. Fast forward a few years later, when I’m ten, eleven, twelve in the early 1980s when Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher come to power and I started seeing how the effect of what they were putting into place was affecting people like my family, my father was a bricklayer for example. I gravitated towards punk rock, skateboarding, hip-hop and street art. They were all happening to me at the same time, this hybrid culture. That’s where I found a voice.
There are so many artists in the film. How did you gather those different artists for interviews?I run a non-profit called La Lutta, we did short films and a lot of cultural work. Along the way I was meeting some of these artists like Shepard Fairey. And then I end up writing “Let Fury Have The Hour” the book and wrote another book called “Heartbeat and a Guitar.” And those experiences of writing the book, artists were reaching out to me because they liked the work and I started collaborating with them. And little by little I was working with Wayne Kramer, and met John Sayles, met Tom Morello. They were intrigued by how I was framing things through this cultural lens of creative response so they became not just participants in the film, they were collaborators and creative partners. Some of them were inspirations for me, like Wayne Kramer of The MC5, and then there were people that I really admired who were influences on me like Eve Ensler, Edwidge Danticat, Hari Kunzru; these are amazing artists and great thinkers in how they view the world. I wanted to collect that.
I don’t know if you got to experience the first days of Occupy Wall Street when it was in Zuccotti Park, but there were so many different creative voices converging in that space: drumming, dancing, meditation, mothers painting signs with their kids. And yet that response was met with violence by the police and the city. What do you think is the future of creative response in these times?I think that the future is very strong. When you see the reaction against creative response, as you mentioned the violence against Occupy, it shows you the power resonated enough to create a response. If they didn’t feel, and I’m talking about the power structure or whoever that may be, that there was even a shred of an opportunity for it to become bigger and to oppose a real threat or challenge they would not respond in that way. That shows you that there is always an active reaction against creative response and that creative response is always reflective of the human spirit. That can’t ever be tamped down. It’s always going to explode.
How is social media a creative response to what is happening in the world and how people interact?My definition of social media is broad. I think that what you and I are doing right now is social media. I think that filmmaking and writing are social media. It always contributes to the most important and basic fundamental right that we all have as human beings which is freedom of expression. Without that right we don’t live in a modern world, we live in a barbaric one. It’s always playing a vital role in amplifying, protecting, strengthening freedom of expression. So whether it be shooting on a 16mm camera, writing with a pen on a pad, whether you be talking face-to-face, sending a text these are all elements are amplifying and strengthening freedom of expression.
And now that Facebook and Google are becoming vehicles for consuming and collecting information about consumers, what are your fears about social media being co-opted for profits?It’s something that we should be very vigilant about because social media and things like Facebook, Twitter and Google are not a panacea to solve our problems. In many ways, new media and technology can mute more than it can amplify what we are trying to do in terms of connecting with each other. Of course the fact that it’s viewed much more as a way to promote consumerism rather than citizenship is something to be concerned about. But it was like that with TV, it was like that with radio, you know.
Skateboarding, punk rock and even hip-hop and rap came out of youth culture. And then they were monopolized by big business. So when youth culture becomes capitalized, what is your suggestion for the youth to do?A true popular culture, to me, is the culture that starts in the street. Once it becomes commodified then it’s something completely different. I think that always exists. I think that the true popular culture always remains in the street. The Clash are a good example. They obviously had struggled with that contradiction, had that tension of being on this major label but also representing this worldview of global citizenship and creative response. Embedded in creative response is understanding the contradictions that we have to navigate and try to swim through that and find a way to amplify what is always most important: freedom of expression, connection, engagement, strengthening democracy. This is what we’re talking about. What’s happened over the last thirty years is the weakening of democracy all around the world.
There is a line in the film, “There are myriad ways to organize society; poets and artists see that.” Is there any social re-organizing model that you are passionate about?The only thing that can really change things, the only way that we really can organize society is for people to come together. Art and culture is a way to do that, but it’s not a way to change that. What excites me about creative response is the unknown, it’s what the exploration is. Maybe that new idea of social re-organization can be found by you. That potential is vast and limitless. We need to explore that rather than what the alternative is, which is a society that tells us that the power structures are in place because there are no other alternatives. Not because it’s the correct one but it’s the one that there are no alternatives to, which we know is not true.
Creative response is a consequence. Something happens and then you…Or, the way to look at it too is that creative response precedes what is considered the facts or the truth of the dominant ideologies. For example, Picasso paints “Guernica”, nobody really knows, they reported about it when it happened — it was buried in the papers. But it was Picasso painting “Guernica” that amplified it to the world. So it preceded what it was fighting against, in many ways. It becomes this great part of creative response and it becomes a monument against war that exists now. So to me, it’s less a reaction against and more of an active participation in a more truthful and real world. What I’m advocating is being “for”, not “against”, because the bad ideologies always tell us what they’re against, never what they’re for. But creative response tells us what we’re for: we’re for people coming together, moving people forward, connecting people, compassion and citizenship.
There is another line in the film, “Democracy requires participants and troublemakers.” It seems as if the establishment doesn’t want people to participate, only to consume. Are we living in a democracy now? What are we really living in?If we’re living in a democracy now, it’s on life support. It’s very, very… I feel that, after the economic collapse and what’s happened in the country and around the world, democracy is harder and harder to see. Which makes the movement of creative response even more important because that’s the ultimate goal of creative response – to truly foster democracy. If it’s there it’s very faint right now.
Art and music education in our country is being cut lately. Children don’t get to touch art or feel art as much. What are your thoughts?It’s very troubling. There’s two things: I think it’s an easy target to cut art because we’ve convinced people that art doesn’t contribute anything to society, so when they cut it there is no push-back. The other thing is, is that there is an intentional aspect to cutting art because art is what really creates critical thinking. It creates metaphor. It creates different ways of seeing the world, exchange of ideas and cultures. There’s a kind of a conscious attempt to constrict that. Because if you start to do that, what Ian MacKaye says in my film about Saddam Hussein attacking the Kurds and then the United States attacking Saddam Hussein and his ultimate point is that it’s one people. That’s what art eventually reinforces, that idea. When you see the way that people express themselves and think about the world through their art, whether it be in Japan or Italy or Mexico, you realize there is a common human narrative that we share with humanity. That’s very powerful. It’s antithetical to what the power structures want us to think in terms of being consumers or continuing to participate in a particular economic system.
“Let Fury Have The Hour” Official Website
text by Joseph Reid
photo of the director by Taiyo Okamoto
photo from the film by La Lutta Productions