Music, film and propaganda

Right Now Radio in conversation with Zak Hepburn
Last week on Right Now Radio, we spoke to Zak Hepburn, curator of Hindsight: Death to the Fascist Vultures – a Human Rights Arts and Film Festival music and film event featuring nine short animated propaganda films presented in the style of a Russian Speakeasy. You can listen to the interview online in the Right Now Radio podcast (which also featured HRAFF Director Ella McNeill), or read the transcript of our chat with Zak below.

Zak Hepburn

Zak Hepburn

Right Now: You created Hindsight: Death to the Fascist Vultures – it’s described on the program as an afternoon of film and music that will transport you to a Russian Speakeasy. Please explain, it sounds great!

Zak Hepburn: Get your time travel hats on!

Basically, I’ve always been fascinated with sort of interstitial clips and kind of footage in that respect and that led me to propaganda films. And one of the strange caveats of propaganda cinema in a way is the animated propaganda film. And that was very uniquely Russian in many ways.

There was an animation studio called Sonzalpuss Animation Studio and its just a real kind of powerhouse of these inventive little nuggets of propaganda which are so highly stylised and incredibly kind of hallucinogenic in some ways. There’s one called ‘Shooting Range’, which is from 1979 and it deals with a capitalist young man who is set forth into a human shooting range, and basically he is used as a product of his own mercy and whims. It’s just a really narrow field that no-one’s ever really looked at on the big screen. And these things were lost for many years – obviously they were produced under different kinds of governments and they’ve gone through different rights holders so it’s kind of this time capsule of films that no-one’s really ever gone through and presented to the public. And that was something that we were really interested in doing with this program – presenting them in a new light for viewers to look at for the kind of animation technique that they have, beyond the time that they were produced. And particularly to see them on the big screen, which you very rarely can do these days.

So it’s a curation of nine separate pieces.

Nine separate animated pieces, yeah.

How did you go about finding them, and how did you go about making decisions about what to include and not to include in the piece?

I’ve done quite a few curatorial projects around cinemas around Melbourne and, you know, the sort of methodology that you use is exactly the same. You just kind of look at everything and nothing at the same time, so you just kind of have this whitewash of content that sort of falls over you initially and then you just refine it, go through it, and you always see a few things that you look at and think “I want more of that” or “I want more of this” and it’s an endless search for that.

I came upon these films two or three years ago. I’ve always wanted to try and do something with them and when I met the fine, upstanding people at HRAFF it just seemed like a marriage made in propaganda heaven I suppose you could say …

Propaganda heaven?

Yeah, wherever that is.

Tautology? Oxymoron?

I don’t know. If you buy a ticket you might find out. But it’s just something that I always wanted to get off the ground and I probably looked at around 200 hours of propaganda films when I put the list together. They’re all from the same animation studios as I said, and they range from around 1930 to around the end of the 1970s, so you are seeing a large spectrum there, and you’re seeing evolving animation techniques, evolving thematic concepts that the animators are dealing with so it really is a kind of history lesson in many ways.

Was it easy enough to be able to get a hold of these animations and the rights to be able to show them?

The rights are a little bit precarious. In the time since I actually found the films, as they were government listed titles, they’ve actually now been re-appropriated by different companies and what not. So, with any kind of curatorial work there’s always a little bit of detective work that has to go on, but finding them … luckily enough there have actually been a lot of restored versions of them with new soundtracks and subtitle tracks, so that’s what you’ll be seeing on the day. So it’s nice to be able to get these in their absolute proper aspect ratios, not from a small YouTube video or anything along those lines. You’ll be seeing it nicely projected in a digital environment.

And you say we’re going to be transformed to a Speakeasy, are there going to be little vodka shots for us?

I believe it’s going to be a full bar operating. We’ve got DJ, Systa BB, spinning some kind of imperialistic tracks to set the afternoon ablaze. But the idea is basically to just come, see these films in a way that they possibly would have been presented when they were initially screened in a kind of rustic hall environment versus a cinema environment, so the idea is to really ignite the film, ignite the discussion and bring them to a new paradigm, and that’s what we’re all about.

Hindsight: Death to the Fascist Vultures is presented as part of the Human Rights Arts and Film Festival, 2pm Saturday 17 May at Bella Union. Full $12; Conc $10.


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