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Punk Rockers Experience Desert Oasis at ‘Desolation Center’ By Sandra Carr

The Desolation Center documentary took audiences back to the early days of the LA punk-rock scene during its screening at the Florida Film Festival. The film was directed by the Desolation Center’s founder Stuart Swezey who provided moviegoers with a chance to see punk-rock band performances in the desert more than 30 years ago on the big screen.

Swezey’s innovative concert experiences are also considered the precursor to Coachella and the Burning Man music festivals.

Coachella

The Coachella music festival is held at the Empire Polo Club, a 78-acre polo club in Indio, California in the Coachella Valley near Palm Springs, California. Image courtesy of Coachella.

Burning Man Festival

The Burning Man festival is an annual, nine-day gathering in the desert that includes artistic performances, installations and live music. Image courtesy of Burning Man.

Desolation Center Movie Poster

The Desolation Center screened during the 28th Annual Florida Film Festival. Image courtesy of the Desolation Center.

Being a punk rocker in Los Angeles during the 1980s wasn’t easy. The City of Angels’ law enforcement weren’t fond of teens and young adults who had a mohawk haircut, colored locks, wore black attire and listened to anti-authoritarian and politically-charged punk-rock music.

Members of the punk-rock subculture were looked upon as outsiders or troublemakers, but in reality they were misunderstood artists, creatives, dreamers, musicians, writers and decision makers of the future.

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Punk rockers hung out on Melrose Avenue in Los Angeles, California during the 1980s. Photo by Kevin Panet of the Melrose Avenue in the 80’s Facebook page.

Punk Rockers on Melrose Avenue

Punk rockers ruled Melrose Avenue in Los Angeles, California during the 1980s. Photo by James Baker of the Melrose Avenue in the 80’s Facebook page.

The Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) appeared at punk-rock concerts when there wasn’t a disturbance. The police activity also caused tension between law enforcement and the punk-rock community. Many concertgoers felt that the police instigated fights with the punk-rock scene, so they could make arrests.

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LAPD officers stand outside of the Hollywood Palladium waiting for The Ramones and Black Flag concert to end on Nov. 17, 1984. Photo by Gary Leonard.

Folks living in LA at the time consider this era as LAPD Chief Daryl Gates’ reign of terror. Many of the punks felt he was a tyrannical puppet master holding the strings and causing unnecessary chaos.

LAPD Chief of Police Daryl Gates

Daryl Gates was the Chief of the Los Angeles Police Department from 1978 to 1992.

Swezey was a punk-rock music enthusiast who was fed up with LAPD harassing fans at concerts. He wanted to make a difference and give fans and musicians a safe haven for concerts. He came up with the name Desolation Center for his venture, which displayed his feelings of despair in the punk scene. He scouted out remote locations for out-of-town shows. With the help of Bruce Licher of Savage Republic, Swezey organized his first concert at Soggy Dry Lake, a lake bed near the Joshua Tree in the Mojave Desert. The concert was called the Mojave Exodus, which included performances by the Savage Republic and Minutemen on Saturday, April 24, 1983.

Mojave Exodus

The Desolation Center’s first concert, Mojave Exodus, occurred on April 24, 1983 in the Mojave Desert. Image courtesy of the Desolation Center.

LA punks embarked on a mysterious and adventurous journey as buses transported them to the Mojave Desert.

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Music fans traveled on school buses and experienced a punk-rock field trip to a concert in the Mojave Desert. Image courtesy of the Desolation Center.

Besides the concert being situated in a secluded utopia, there were hiccups during the first Desolation Center concert. The bands needed to block out the sand and wind, so the best solution was placing socks on the microphones and parking the buses behind the them to create a windbreak. The buses came to the rescue again when the generator powering the public-address (PA) system started to run out of gas.

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The Desolation Center provided punk rockers with an opportunity to experience concerts in the Mojave Desert’s scenic and serene ambiance. Photo by Scot Allen.

Savage Republic

The Savage Republic performed during the Desolation Center’s Mojave Exodus concert in the Mojave Desert. Photo by Dan Voznick.

Minutemen

The Minutemen performed during the first Desolation Center concert in the Mojave Desert. Photo by Bob Durkee.

Swezey took his second desert DIY experience up a notch in the Mojave Desert near Mecca, California. The Desolation Center’s Mojave Auszüg concert, which occurred on Sunday, March 4, 1984, featured avant-garde, experimental German band Einstürzende Neubauten, noise artist Boyd Rice and the machine performance-art collective Survival Research Laboratories.

The explosive concert featured Einstürzende Neubauten banging rocks on metallic surfaces and oil drums and Survival Research Laboratories attempting to blow up a canyon cave along with having its Mad Max-looking mobiles drive around in the desert.

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The Psi Com band’s lead vocalist Perry Farrell (later the frontman for the alternative-rock band Jane’s Addiction) and drummer Aaron Sherer attended Mojave Auszüg on Sunday, March 4, 1984. Photo by Mariska Leyssius.

Desolation Center

Einstürzende Neubauten became one with the desert during the band’s Mojave Auszüg performance. Image courtesy of the Desolation Center.

Boyd Rice

Noise artist Boyd Rice was one of the opening acts during Mojave Auszüg. Image courtesy of Mute Records.

Survival Research Labs Photo

Mark Pauline (pictured on the left) and his Survival Research Laboratories crew create machine art that shoots flames and blows up things that get in the way. Image courtesy of Survival Research Laboratories.

Three months later, the third Desolation Center concert, Joy at Sea, left the barren desert for a vessel voyage in the San Pedro, California harbor. Fans experienced a concert on the water before concert cruises were popular! The show, which occurred on Friday, June 15, 1984, featured the Minute Men, Meat Puppets, Points of Friction and Lawndale.

Joy at Sea

The Desolation Center’s third concert was Joy at Sea. Image courtesy of the Desolation Center.

Joy at Sea Banner

Sailing with punk-rock music fans during Joy at Sea. Photo by Ann Summa.

Joy at Sea Bands

Pictured from l-r: Curt Kirkwood of the Meat Puppets and D. Boon of the Minutemen at Joy at Sea. Photo by Ann Summa.

The Desolation Center’s final Mojave Desert gig, the Gila Monster Jamboree, featured the Sonic Youth, Meat Puppets, Redd Kross and Psi Com on Saturday, Jan. 5, 1985. During this show, fans drove themselves instead of relying on buses to transport them to the concert, but stopped at checkpoints along the way.

Gila Monster Jamboree

The Gila Monster Jamboree was the final Desolation Center concert. Image courtesy of the Desolation Center.

Sonic Youth goes ballistic during its desert performance, Redd Kross dresses down and rocks out and punk-rock fans have an opportunity to see Perry Farrell perform with his Psi Com band before it disbands and becomes Jane’s Addiction. Farrell organized Lollapalooza as a touring music festival, but after a six-year run, it’s now based at Grant Park in Chicago, Illinois.

Lollapalooza

Lollapalooza is a music festival conceived and created by Jane’s Addiction lead vocalist Perry Farrell. Image courtesy of Lollapalooza.

Kim Gordon of Sonic Youth

Sonic Youth’s bassist Kim Gordon performs in the desert. Image courtesy of the Desolation Center.

Sonic Youth

Sonic Youth have a rockin’ time in the desert during the Gila Monster Jamboree. Image courtesy of the Desolation Center.

The film from start to finish flows well and tells the wonderful story of the four Desolation Center concerts with classic footage and interviews by Swezey, band members and concert attendees.

The desert punk-rock concert concept was ahead of its time. It took a lot of guts and determination for Swezey to make his dream a reality.

Swezey participated in a question-and-answer session after the film screening. I had an opportunity to ask him if he would change anything and which band he wished had performed during one of his Desolation Center concerts.

Stuart Swezey

Desolation Center’s founder Stuart Swezey directed the documentary about his desert-destination concerts. Image courtesy of the Desolation Center.

“I wouldn’t have had attendees drive themselves to the Gila Monster Jamboree concert because I felt like it changed the vibe and slightly detracted from the overall atmosphere,” said Swezey.

As far as the bands go, “I would have enjoyed seeing and booking the Butthole Surfers because the group’s performance would have been incredible with fire in a desert setting,” he said.

Butthole Surfers

The Butthole Surfers are on Swezey’s Desolation Center band bucket list. Image courtesy of the Butthole Surfers.

Keep your eyes peeled for upcoming DVD releases, featuring footage and extras from the Desolation Center concerts in the future.

Music fans will love the Desolation Center documentary because it’s punk-rock history melded with timeless tunes that make you want to go back and experience the music by land and sea.

 

 

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‘The Blair Witch Project’ Turns 20 By Sandra Carr

Watching The Blair Witch Project on the big screen 20 years ago was an eye-opening experience. I believe film making changed and took an in-your-face and more authentic storytelling approach after the film hit theaters. Plus, the film popularized the found-footage technique, which was successfully used by thriller films like Paranormal Activity, Cloverfield and the Chronicle.

Writers and co-directors Dan Myrick and Eduardo Sanchez were inspired to make The Blair Witch Project after discovering that documentaries about paranormal phenomena were much scarier than traditional horror films.

The result was a film about three student filmmakers (Heather Donahue, Michael Williams and Joshua Leonard) taking a jaunt in the Black Hills of Maryland to shoot a documentary about Elly Kedward who was banished from the Township of Blair for witchcraft in the late 1700s. One year later, their footage is found, revealing the eerie events leading up to their mysterious disappearance.

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The Florida Film Festival at the Enzian Theater in Maitland, Florida celebrated The Blair Witch Project’s 20-year anniversary with a 35mm print-film screening and question-and-answer session with Haxan Films’ filmmakers Eduardo Sanchez, Robin Cowie, Dan Myrick, Ben Rock and Michael Monello and actors Michael Williams and Joshua Leonard on Sunday, April 14. Actress Heather Donahue wasn’t able to attend the film screening.

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I’m posing in front of the Enzian Theater’s marquee before The Blair Witch Project’s 20-year anniversary screening during the Florida Film Festival.

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The Blair Witch Project’s filmmakers and actors are pictured in front of the marquee from l-r: Eduardo Sanchez, Robin Cowie, Dan Myrick, Ben Rock, Joshua Leonard, Michael Monello and Michael Williams

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Full Sail University’s Course Director Carol Nowlin and the Enzian Theater’s Program Director Matthew Curtis introduce the filmmakers and actors of The Blair Witch Project before the film’s 20-year anniversary screening during the Florida Film Festival.

I relived the fear that I had experienced 20 years ago during the horror movie’s anniversary screening. I was still on the edge of my seat and felt the very raw and real moments of The Blair Witch Project once again.

One thing that attracted me and others to the film was how relatable the characters were on camera. Plus, you truly felt their anxiety, anguish, frustration and sleeplessness during their terrifying ordeal in the woods. After seeing the film again, my feelings haven’t changed. I also think that folks who are watching the film for the first time will also appreciate the film and characters in the same way.

The Blair Witch Project Brush Figure

A figure made out of brush, leaves and sticks is hanging in a tree during The Blair Witch Project.

Joshua Leonard and Michael Williams

Actors Joshua Leonard and Michael Williams are in the woods during The Blair Witch Project.

Rocks

A nest filled with rocks in a tree creeps out the three student filmmakers during The Blair Witch Project.

Heather Donahue

Actress Heather Donahue is experiencing a happy moment during The Blair Witch Project.

The Blair Witch Project Ending

Actor Michael Williams stands in a corner of an abandoned house in the woods during The Blair Witch Project.

The Blair Witch Project premiered at the Sundance Film Festival on January 25, 1999 and had a north American release on July 14, 1999 before expanding to a wider release beginning on July 30, 1999.

The low-budget, sleeper hit cost $60,000, but reaped an amazing award after it made nearly $250 million worldwide at the box office for the UCF filmmakers.

The Blair Witch Project also opened a lot of doors for the filmmakers and actors and put Orlando and UCF’s film school on the map.

The filmmakers and actors discussed The Blair Witch Project during a question-and-answer session with UCF Center for Emerging Media’s Studio Director Rich Grula after the film screening.

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Pictured from l-r: Rich Grula, Eduardo Sanchez, Michael Monello, Ben Rock, Robin Cowie, Dan Myrick, Michael Williams and Joshua Leonard

The Enzian Theater was pivotal for The Blair Witch Project. The test screenings were conducted at the theater before the film was submitted to the Sundance Film Festival.

The filmmakers are forever grateful for the Enzian Theater’s support. The Florida Film Festival’s home base was an instrumental component for the film’s success.

The discussion provided fans with some interesting tidbits. One thing I learned is that the twine that was used for the stick figures cost $8 a roll. The Haxan Films’ team have not let production designer Ben Rock live it down to this day!

Rock’s inspiration came from the Rune Man pictured in the Magical Alphabets: The Secrets and Significance of Ancient Scripts – Including Runes, Greek, Ogham, Hebrew and Alchemical Alphabets book by Nigel Pennick. Rock and Fahad Vania worked tirelessly to create the stick figures featured in the movie.

Stick Figure

The Haxan Films’ team still gives Ben Rock a hard time about the $8 twine that was used to create the stick figures during The Blair Witch Project.

Producer Robin Cowie shared a hilarious story about him getting distracted by a bikini-clad teen walking her dog, which caused him to hit the Senior Vice President of Blockbuster Video’s brick mailbox with his car in Atlanta, Georgia. It turns out; the girl was the executive’s daughter. Cowie pitched him The Blair Witch Project and he decided to invest in the film. The backer also predicted that the film would be a hit.

Co-producer Michael Monello discussed the movie’s marketing. He said the marketing campaign that was associated with the film was accidental and happened organically. The website, which included footage, was designed to engage and provide viewers with an opportunity to ask questions before the film was released, but turned out to be a wonderful way to promote the film before it hit theaters.

I had an opportunity to ask a question during The Blair Witch Project’s panel discussion. I wondered if the filmmakers or actors would change anything in the film 20 years later as well as what was their favorite part in the film.

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Rich Grula and the audience get up close and personal with The Blair Witch Project’s filmmakers and actors during a question-and-answer session.

Williams jokingly said he would change his contract. Seriously, he said he wouldn’t change a blessed thing. He also felt there was no way that the actors and filmmakers would be able to create the film today on nonunion terms and is happy for the relationships that everyone has established over the years because of The Blair Witch Project.

Williams is currently writing a book about his Blair Witch Project experiences. Plus, a book titled Eight Days in the Woods, which was written by a fan of the film, discusses all-things Blair Witch and will be publishing soon.

 

 

 

 

 

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The Florida Film Festival = Film, Food and Fun

The 21st Annual Florida Film Festival kicked off with its opening-night movie Renee at the Winter Park Regal Cinema and a culinary celebration followed at the Enzian Theater. It was a foodie’s paradise! I enjoyed sampling delectable dishes by Sushi Pop, White Wolf Cafe, Hyatt Regency Grand Cypress Hotel, K Restaurant Wine Bar, the Black Bean Deli and Whole Foods Market while watching The Mud Flappers jam on stage.

Sushi Pop

Sushi Pop was a hands-down favorite during the food festivities. The restaurant served its White Tiger sushi rolls, Pork Tacos and Bubblegum Sorbet. The yummy sushi featured fresh ingredients, including Kampyo, Escolar, cucumber, sweet chili and topped with salmon, shallot-ginger sauce and Daikon sprouts.

The Oviedo restaurant’s Pork Taco also pleased the palate. The mini taco featured a marvelous mixture of cinnamon and Star Anise braised-pork, avocado puree, greens, cilantro sprouts and Hoisin barbeque sauce.

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A Bubblegum Sorbet was a delightful ending to a three-course edible extravaganza. The sorbet was prepared liquid nitrogen-style with Pop Rocks (I haven’t had Pop Rocks since I was a kid!) and whipped cream. The delectable dessert was an amazing combination and the Pop Rocks popping in my mouth were a nice surprise. Peruse Sushi Pop’s menu or better yet, visit their restaurant with chop sticks in hand: http://sushipoprestaurant.com/

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White Wolf Cafe

White Wolf Cafe always delivers and they didn’t disappoint during the Florida Film Festival’s opening-night gala. The eatery served a hot dog but it wasn’t your average Oscar Mayer Wiener! This specialty beef dog and short rib combination was cooked the sous-vide way and smothered with shallots and chives and presented on a white bun.

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The Cracker Jack cotton candy concoction was a pleasant ending to the White Wolf’s two-course meal. Butter, popcorn and Isomalt were fused together and voila, you have Cracker Jack cotton candy!

White Wolf Cafe: http://www.whitewolfcafe.com/

K Restaurant Wine Bar

K Restaurant Wine Bar was the only restaurant with a salad on their menu and it was very refreshing. The Cape Canaveral Red Shrimp Salad is perfect for a spring or summer day in Florida. The name didn’t hurt either. K Restaurant got it. The green mixture wasn’t spicy and featured chilled Royal Red Shrimp, mango, hearts of palm, Jicama, cilantro, citrus and chili.

The BBQ Pork Belly Slider was also delish and included house-cured Palmetto Creek Farms Pork Belly with savory bacon marmalade and tomato jam.

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K Restaurant Wine Bar: http://www.facebook.com/pages/K-Restaurant-Wine-Bar/106618472590

Black Bean Deli

Winter Park’s Black Bean Deli is a family-owned Central Florida institution. The tiny eatery is packed for lunch and it’s worth the wait. The restaurant serves Cuban recipes and bakes homemade bread. The restaurant’s pork sandwich was tasty but mum was the word with the chef. Heck, some things are worth remaining a secret! You will just have to wait and taste it for yourself!

Black Bean Deli: http://blackbeandeli.yolasite.com/

Hyatt Regency Grand Cypress Hotel

The Hyatt Regency Grand Cypress Hotel always entices my sweet tooth during the Florida Film Festival’s opening-night gala and this year was no exception. The hotel provided attendees with six dessert options. I sampled the Mango Cream and Grapefruit Caviar Push-Up, Bouchee of Banana Bread Pudding with Foster’s sauce and the Spicy Pecans with Powdered Chocolate and Peanut Butter.

All three desserts were delicious but I really enjoyed the Mango Cream and Grapefruit Caviar Push-Up or as my husband Dan would say, a dessert shooter. I don’t recall having a dessert or candy push-up as a child, so this interactive experience intrigued me. In fact, I had two just to fulfill my sweet sensation and it was worth it!

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Hyatt Regency Grand Cypress Hotel: http://grandcypress.hyatt.com/hyatt/hotels/index.jsp?null

Whole Foods Market

Whole Foods Market is renowned for their natural and organic groceries but I never sampled any of their food offerings until now. The grocer served Tomato Gazpacho Shooters, which included a blend of farm-fresh veggies in a shooter cup. I sampled their yummy pork slider with Thompson Farms’ New 5 Plus Step rated pork and topped with a blue cheese slaw.

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Whole Foods Market: http://www.wholefoodsmarket.com/

Top Chef Marcel Vigneron

Top Chef Season Two runner-up and star of the Syfy cable network’s Marcel’s Quantum Kitchen Marcel Vigneron attended the Florida Film Festival’s opening night gala and raved about Sushi Pop’s Bubblegum Sorbet and White Wolf Cafe’s Cracker Jack cotton candy and was impressed with the Black Bean Deli’s specialties and homemade bread. Me and a Top Chef think alike and have great taste! I guess it’s the foodie in me!

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See Marcel Vigneron, two-time cookbook author and award-winning Southern maven of deliciousness Martha Foose and blogger/author and culinary artisan Gui Alinat during the Digital Dish on Saturday, April 14 from 11:30 a.m.-1 p.m. at the Enzian Theater. A special complimentary taste will be prepared by Marcel Vigneron and served during the panel discussion. Tickets are $10. View the entire Florida Film Festival schedule and purchase tickets at http://www.floridafilmfestival.com.

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