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Local artists attempt to subvert your cable box via public access   
By Gavon Laessig. Mon, Mar 26, 2007
You might know of “Tribal Vision” as the Lawrence collective of DJs and artists who throw badass dance parties with a social conscience and occasionally screen documentaries at Liberty Hall. But unless you’ve lingered in the nosebleed channels on basic cable, you’ve likely missed out on their latest endeavor—“Films for Action TV.”

Using that bastion of home shopping and church services known as Public Access Television (Channel 99 for cable subscribers in Lawrence), “Films for Action” began airing a full roster of independent documentaries this month and will continue for as long as they keep finding movies. There are 50 and counting so far. A full schedule can be found at filmsforaction.org. Tim Hjersted and Matt Toplikar spoke with lawrence.com about sneaking into your TV north of C-SPAN 3.

lawrence.com: I keep trying to watch QVC on channel 99 because I’m desperately interested in Suzanne Somers’ new anti-cellulite cream, but when I tune in I keep seeing these uppity documentaries—what’s this “Films For Action” business and why do you want me to have cottage cheese thighs?

Matt Toplikar: We just don’t like QVC. That’s the whole plan.

Tim Hjersted: We realized with the media system and the channels available to people, there wasn’t a way for people to be informed on the issues that mattered … local issues to national issues, from the Iraq war to global warming. “Films for Action” was kind of an attempt…to reduce dependence on corporate media so that people could get informed on these issues.

Matt: We just did it because there were all these great movies that no one ever gets to see. Public Access is available, so we might as well show them to people. It’s really too bad there’s only one public access channel. It’s 99 and no one ever goes past it, usually. It would be a lot better if we had three or four.

How did “Tribal Vision” make the transition from DJs to film promoters?

Tim: I think the idea for “Films for Action” came to my mind just from reading all these non-fiction books and wanting to get my friends to read them … and people just wouldn’t have the time. I realized that film is such an accessible medium—it’s a much more powerful and easy way for people to learn about these ideas in a concise form.

How do you get the rights to show these films?

Tim: We have to get permission from the filmmakers. Because a lot of the films we do are independent or low budget, as long as we ask them permission, most of them are fine with it. Some of them do charge anywhere from $20 to $150 for each public screening or for cable television rights.

You held a screening for “Loose Change,” the conspiracy movie that basically posits that the U.S. government planned and executed the September 11 terrorist attacks. Do you fear that you might alienate people with such fare?

Matt: We actually kind of debated whether or not to show it. People don’t realize it, but there were a lot of documentaries about that subject. “Loose Change” was kind of the one that got the most press, even though there are some sketchy facts in it … but that was the one that was going to get us the most exposure. We figured that it at least had some right ideas and we could tell people which ones we thought were wrong.

Tim: (The screening) was really positive. There was applause afterwards and we handed out 130 DVDs … People really had a warm reception to it.

When it’s not QVC on channel 99, it’s church programming. Combine that with your left of center documentaries and it makes for an interesting Public Access gumbo.

Matt: Most of the documentaries we’re playing might differ politically with some of these church groups, but I think most of the documentaries have a real humanitarian, love-for-one’s-neighbor type of feel. Some of them are anti-war, anti-violence—that’s right in line with Christian ideals, I think.

Tim: Compassion for your fellow human beings. I think that “gumbo” is a good way to put it. I like the idea of being able to throw a lot of ideas into this stew that is the media system, into this marketplace for ideas; to have this diversity of voices and thoughts—left of center, right of center…

Matt: It would be more interesting than QVC.