Split Screen and Nineties Indie Film
AFS celebrates John Pierson’s seminal IFC show
With its heavy emphasis on comedies like Portlandia, Documentary Now!, and Stan Against Evil, younger viewers might be surprised that the F in IFC stands for film. But when the Independent Film Channel first started broadcasting in 1994, that was all it did. These days, the cinematic side is admirably handled by its theatrical distribution wing IFC (currently promoting Ken Loach's I, Daniel Blake) and its horror sub-shingle IFC Midnight, the IFC cable channel has a heavier emphasis on episodic broadcasting.
But in 1997, it was Split Screen, the movie magazine show by producer John Pierson (a key figure in the early success of Michael Moore's Roger & Me, Kevin Smith's Clerks, and The Blair Witch Project) and future SXSW director Janet Pierson, that melded the two strands. Retrieved from the vaults late last year by FilmStruck through their Criterion Channel, Sunday sees a rare screening and reunion at the AFS Cinema of four episodes, plus a reunion for some of the series creators and subjects.
For four years, the series was ground zero for the indie film explosion of the late Nineties and early Aughts. Episode 1 opened with John – shaggy hair, big, round glasses – hanging out with Spike Lee in front of the old Bleecker Street Cinema, talking about changing the sign on the front and hunting mice in the back. It was the TV spin-off of Pierson's book Spike, Mike, Slackers & Dykes: A Guided Tour Across a Decade of American Independent Cinema, allowing him and his cohorts and collaborators to further champion the indie scene. Not just talking about the creative successes but, as Pierson described it in the opening monologue, "warts and all, the art, the heart, and the enterprise of the American independent film."
Part of Split Screen's mission was to highlight cinema away from the big NYC/L.A. studio production hubs, and this weekend's selection dives straight into Austin's part of that legacy with Kyle Henry (Room, the upcoming Rogers Park), Elisabeth Sikes ("Weekend With Larry") and Bob Ray (Hell on Wheels) reminiscing with John about the episode from SXSW 1998. Janet Pierson will screen her examination of Vermont-based artist and filmmaker Miranda July (Me and You and Everyone We Know), plus filmmaker Bill Daniel (episode 19, "Selective Service System Story") and cowboy-turned-actor Barry Tubb (episode 17, "Lonesome Blood Trail") will attend to show and tell their stories.