Sometimes a film will hit really close to home, even when it’s about a home on the other side of the country. Rock, Rage, and Self-Defense, a new documentary by Leah Michaels and Rozz Therrien is on tour now (it stops in Connecticut on May 1-2). While it covers a subject matter that stems from an event that took place over 20 years ago, its material still holds an importance in the music community today. Mia Zapata was the lead singer of punk band The Gits who were formed in the mid-80s in Seattle. In 1993, while walking home from a bar one night, Zapata was brutally raped and murdered. The aftermath lead to her friends forming a non-profit anti-violence group called Home Alive, which taught self-defense and campaigned for social justice in the community. While the organization has changed throughout the years (all of its course material is now available online, and instructors are available by appointment to teach classes to anyone who asks), the message of “you are worth defending” remains the same.
Why is this important to Now Beer This? As a music blog, we go to concerts all the time. We hang out at cool bars and drink delicious beers. We should feel safe doing the things we love, without threat. It’s important to have outlets like Home Alive, to be aware and educated, and to have support when violence and injustice do happen.
I chatted with Leah and Rozz, the filmmakers. What is really remarkable is that the two had never made a film before, so it’s especially fascinating to see their journey through the process.
Can you please give a little background to how the documentary came about?
The film evolved from a class oral history project at the University of Washington. The class was titled, “Making Scenes and Building Communities: boys and girls play indie rock” and the premise was to explore how these popular scenes come to be and who gets written out of the history. The who being predominately people of color and women. Being in Seattle, we focused on what is now referred to as the “grunge” scene. So, for this project student groups were assigned women in Seattle who were a part of different scenes and communities, and each group filmed oral histories. We were each assigned different co-founders to the grassroots self defense organization Home Alive.
When we finished the oral histories, we kept talking about how amazing the interviews were and how inspiring these women were. We asked our professors what was going to become of the oral histories, and they said they will be housed in the “Women Who Rock Digital Oral History Archive” for later projects. Being Juniors, we were like ummm we’ve got another year here, and we want to know more about Home Alive. So out of yearning to know more, we found ourselves making a documentary.
Mia Zapata was murdered over 20 years ago. What helped to bring her case to life again through your studies?
Our oral history assignments brought the activism that transpired after her death to life for us. We were both familiar with The Gits and 7 year Bitch, but unfamiliar with the social activism the arts and music community in Seattle were doing at the time.
Now that so many things are immortalized forever on the internet, do you think the idea of an oral history is still important today?
We think it’s more important today than ever. We live in a soundbite era, where headlines, reports, and full news hours are dedicated to one soundbite removed from its original context. We aren’t getting the full story from those who are saying the soundbites. With an oral history, or rather our intention with making this an oral history driven documentary, is that we, as filmmakers, are not controlling what our interviewees are saying, or are not intending to prompt a specific answer. With that being said we do have the final say in the editing process, but because these are oral histories we let the interviewees tell us their truth and their histories. The importance of the oral history in the age of twitter, facebook, and instagram is that we are capturing more than 140 characters, and more than one cool photo with a filter on it. Oral histories provide an avenue for people to share in preserving their histories in the first person narrative, that might otherwise be forgotten or excluded from the larger narrative.
Was it difficult to get in touch with the co-founders? Were they receptive to the creation of this documentary?
You know, everyone was surprisingly receptive. I think having met two of the co-founders through our class project, the co-founders and Home Alive volunteers were more accessible and willing to be interviewed.
What was the most rewarding part of making this documentary for you?
Where do we begin? Haha, for both of us the past three years have been an incredible journey, as cheesy as that sounds. The most rewarding part is that these women were willing to trust us with creating a documentary about their baby, Home Alive, and that they’ve been so supportive through this whole process. They have shared their personal stories of trauma, stories of strength, and life advice. Since we started making this film, we’ve graduated (go Dawgs), left Seattle, and are now navigating our post-collegiate lives. These women and their stories have been great beacons of how to live our lives creatively and outside of the traditional 9-5 job, and how to do all that while not losing sight of the importance of grassroots activism.
It is also incredibly rewarding to hear responses from people after watching the film. People feel so inspired and empowered to start creating change in their own ways whether it is self-care, creating art, or wanting to start their own community self-defense collective. All of that is amazing because one of the main goals of the film is to have people start thinking about violence prevention in whatever way makes sense to them.
What resources are currently available for people outside of Seattle, and across the country?
The folks that are currently running Home Alive have put the curriculum, tools, and reading materials on the internet. Anyone can access the tools, for free at teachhomealive.org. There are people doing great work across the country. Oakland has Girl Army and the latest edition of Ms. Magazine had a great feature on rape culture on college campuses and they showcased a lot of awesome organizations doing really vital work. There are so many people doing so many things that this is not an exhaustive list.
Do you think this documentary could inspire others to lead a revival of the organization’s original message?
We think the collective’s original message of “you are worth defending” is still at the core of Home Alive today. We hope that the film continues conversations about community safety, sexual violence, community responsibility, violence prevention, and art as a resource for positive change. The more we talk about these issues, the more receptive we are to take action when shit happens, and also plan to prevent these scenarios from happening.
Rock, Rage, and Self Defenseis currently on tour throughout May. For Connecticut residents, the film will be screened in the New Haven area on May 1 at the Outer Space in the evening and May 2 in the afternoon at the University of New Haven. These screenings are free to the public. For more information, check out the documentary’s official tumblr.