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EXIST

Esther Bell
2004, USA, 80 minutes
www.existfilm.com

Women's Building

2/6, 430P Buy
2/12, 215P Buy
Oakland
2/13, 230P Buy

Esther Bell (Godass, 2001 Digital Underground), collaborating with a cast of “actorvists,” has made a fearless and tender portrait of a group of Philadelphia squatter/activists as they are kicked out of their squat by the cops and scatter into the city to their individual fates.

Some go underground, some stay active, some just get confused—but they’re all fiercely human and searching for ways to engage and make the world better.

Brian Bergen-Aurand from Clamor magazine said it better than I can:

In a recent article from Kitchen Sink discussing Hollywood movies about activists, Jen Burke Anderson writes, “What I don’t recognize is a world where every progressive is a no-fun prig, and every no-fun prig is a progressive. Conventional wisdom has long been that Hollywood is unapologetically liberal. Bit if that’s so, where in the movies are the progressives I know—funny, sexy, smart, open-minded and most of all, nice?”

They’re in EXIST. Here, the characters are not idealized heroes working in utopia. They are suspicious, stubborn, selfish, jealous, compassionate, driven, intelligent, funny, sexy, and, in the end, willing to make sacrifices for long-term goals. This is the activist community I know—not always straight edged or above the fray, but aware of the power and wonder of collaboration, community and love. This complex articulation of one activist community is the vitality behind EXIST.

From casting to workshopping the story, the film was composed through cooperation and improvisation. EXIST is a collaborative production that not only confronts Hollywood images of activists but also the standard hierarchies involved in mainstream filmmaking.

—Tod Booth

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