It seems like only yesterday when we could all have a good laugh at a fun movie without thinking about the coded messages those films were transmitting. Remember what it was like when the date-rape scene in Sixteen Candles and the other date-rape scene in Revenge of the Nerds or the other other date-rape scene in Back to the Future didn’t bum us out so much that we could barely make it through the whole film without furiously cataloging how these scenes may have shaped our own thoughts, attitudes and behaviors for decades? Ah! Those were the days.
But what about those films that used to be funny in an eye-roll kind of way and have gotten real since the 2016 election, such as the jokey, low-budget propaganda of would-be dictators like Steven K. Bannon or convicted criminals like Dinesh D’Souza? Those nut-job musings of Alex Jones and company in Richard Linklater movies might seem not so funny right now.
But a new group in town, Filmanthropy, is hoping to revive our liberal love of laughing at right-wing babble boxes … for a good cause.
Co-founders Suki-Rose Simakis, a creative development executive and programmer for the Everything Is Festival, along with Scott Whiteman, a film programmer for the VCLA microcinema and a contributing member of Everything Is Terrible!, dreamed up the idea after L.A. Weekly published this short history of Steve Bannon’s disastrous 2009 anti–climate change horror film The Chaos Experiment. The question arose: How can people watch and laugh at a train wreck of a film that demonizes climate change and still feel good about themselves? So they devised a plan to screen Chaos and charge admission (and take additional donations) to benefit EarthJustice, an organization that fights for environmental laws in court, creating a lasting and legal impact.
“We’re showing films that might have a quality of fun or hilarity to them but also have something content-wise that is super icky essentially,” Simakis says of their plan to do monthly screenings that benefit different causes thematically linked to the films. She says they’re offsetting that gross feeling with the donations, sort of like how someone might plant a tree to make amends for their carbon footprint. “My skill set is very particular, and it is not legal. I’m not a doctor, I can’t go work for Doctors Without Borders. But I can host a screening.”
It can’t be overstated how monstrously and unintentionally funny Chaos is, but this is not a film you’d want to watch alone.
“There’s a lot of special moments of Val Kilmer meditating on a carousel, and also extended slow-motion sequences,” Simakis says. “This film doesn’t just hate climate scientists. It also hates women, men, the media — it’s an anti-humanity movie, really. The patriarchy hurts everybody, ya know. So a movie like this is way more fun with an audience in the theater where everyone is having the same ‘What … the … fuck’ moment.”
Up next, they’re slating God’s Not Dead, a schlocky mess about a smug college student who lives out the evangelical’s fantasy of proving an atheist professor wrong. All you have to know is that one of the villainous characters is a left-wing blogger who criticizes Duck Dynasty — oh, the poor maligned bigots of Duck Dynasty! For that film, they’ll choose a charity that works toward separating church and state.
Above all, Simakis thinks coming together for an event like this is key to preventing burnout, because it’s difficult to sustain the anger and action required to resist a corrupt administration every single day. We need to laugh.
“Look, it’s important to laugh at these movies, because if you don’t laugh, they become scary,” Simakis say. “If you don’t laugh at them, they’re winning, they’re succeeding. And we don’t want them to succeed.”
The Chaos Experiment screens Sun., March 26, at 5 p.m. at Downtown Independent. Tickets are $10.