/James June Schneider on “Punk the Capital: Building a Sound Movement”

James June Schneider on “Punk the Capital: Building a Sound Movement”

A film that dives into the history of punk and hardcore music in Washington DC in the late 70s, Punk the Capital: Building a Sound Movement focuses on the construction of the punk scene in a city known for its conservativism and introduces the audience into what became a powerful cultural movement, according to James June Schneider, producer and co-director of the film. 

Featuring a variety of music and artists, the documentary screened at 7:30 p.m. Oct. 24 at The Alamo Cinema Drafthouse in El Paso, Texas. 

A little before, Schneider gave Minero Magazine an insight into the film, going over some of the experiences and challenges that were faced while filming the documentary. 

Q. You have been making films since 1992, what made you want to pursue filmmaking?

A. I started with photography and music and then I started making flipbooks and filming my photos etc.…Then the next natural step was to start making movies. The craft asked a lot more of me and I knew when things were done whereas I never felt like I finished anything with photography—plus I could bring music into the mix.

Q. You have award-winning films such as Blue is Beautiful and the End of the Light Age. Is it ever a concern of yours that your new material will not compare to the old one?   

A. I don’t really think about it that way, I just work on projects that mean something to me or that seem important. I do try different things for each film but really see these films always as part of one whole project. Also, there’s the challenge of making the film align with the content, so the form of it reflects what the content, and that extends to how it is distributed and produced. So, in the case of the D.C. punk film, that meant making the edit as fluid as possible and being really conscious of the materials, respecting the archives more than ever, building it from the inside out and not rushing the process.

Q. How do you keep your inspiration fresh for you not to lose focus, and what do you with your time when you are not filming?

Once you’ve started something like this and you have the support of the community and their trust, you have to follow through. Filmmaking eats up a lot of time, but I also like to do projections in the streets, and live cinema aka “vampling” is another side project I’ve been doing since the early 2000s but that I hope to get to full time someday.

Q. How did the project come up and what challenges did you face in the process of filming it?

A. Well nobody had made a film about D.C. punk when we started so we took it on. But then our scope was really large at first, so getting it down to size and watchable was definitely the biggest challenge. Our first cut was around 7 hours long! Other than that challenge, it was really a gift I think for Paul Bishow, Sam Lavine and myself to have fallen into the role of doing this film. 

Q. Punk the Capital focuses on the era of punk in Washington D.C. from 1976-1983, how do you think the behavior from locals back then in response to the punk genre compares to their behavior now? 

HR, from the D.C. punk band Bad Brains, performing at historic D.C. venue Madam’s Organ from the film.

A. It was kind of dangerous back then to be a punk in some parts of town because the marines would come in and beat up punks for fun, including at concerts. But since D.C. was 70 percent Afro-American punks came across as just more strange white people to most people in the city. Now it all becomes far more palatable like everywhere else. From the dress, it’s hard to tell sometimes if people are dressed punk for fashion reasons or because of their community/musical tastes. In fact, punk has become somewhat re-appropriated in D.C. and there are banners with Ian MacKaye in some neighborhoods touting D.C. culture and the REI store has punk flyers all over the place.

Q. What was the process behind selecting the artists and music for the documentary?

A. We let the film write itself in a lot of ways. The Super-8 film that the co-director Paul Bishow shot determined a lot of what songs/bands we put in, because that’s what we had. Same thing with a lot of the other archives, whatever we had, or whatever lyrics connected best to our themes.

Photo from Punk the Capital of D.C. punk musician, Henry Rollins.

Q. What was the desired impact you hoped this film would have on the audience? Has their response been what you expected? 

A. The response has been overwhelmingly positive. We really wanted the film to speak to an audience that was bigger than the built-in fan base, and it looks like it does from the screenings so far. 

Q. Are there any meaningful or exciting experiences from while filming Punk the Capital that you would like to share? 

A. The whole process was amazing, especially realizing the greater impact of this community for people around the world. I realized that part of the magic that has kept D.C. punk alive and relevant for so long is the capacity of so many of the people in the scene to remain curious and playful like a kid but in a wise, critical and clear minded way.

Q. You’ve been touring all over the US, going from screening to screening. Is there a specific reason why you decided to have a screening in El Paso? 

A. I actually showed films in El Paso in 1997 and have really good memories of the city. And to boot, we know that El Paso native Beto O’Rourke is a big fan of D.C. punk, Dischord Records, Minor Threat, and Fugazi. We weren’t sure his platform fully reflected the D.C. punk flavor, so we invited him to the screening to get the real story! We just found out he has a scheduling conflict… but who knows.

Q. Do you have any ideas of what you want to work on next? 

A. The next project is a film about a group of inspiring filmmakers from the 1960s who called themselves Newsreel. They documented the counterculture of the day and the co-director and myself are tracing out their history and touching on a lot of the wings of the movement of the time: women’s rights, black liberation…It should be done next year, stay tuned!

By Sofia Terrazas

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