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A Conversation with Chris Metzler, Director of "Plagues and Pleasures on the Salton Sea"

Screening Liberally Big Picture
By Josh Bolotsky

We recently had the opportunity to have a conversation with Chris Metzler, director of Screening Liberally NYC's February selection, the critically acclaimed Plagues and Pleasures on the Salton Sea. We talked about Sonny Bono, John Waters and where his film fits (or doesn't fit) into the recent spate of eco-documentaries.

How did you come to this project?

Like a lot of things in life, it was purely coincidence. I grew up in the Midwest - I didn't even know that the Salton Sea existed when I moved out to Los Angeles for school - and one day, decided to take an exploratory road trip, camping with a friend and maybe checking out other parts of the dessert - you take a few wrong turns here and there, and you wind up upon this huge body of water, the Salton Sea, and just kind of quickly fall in love with it, just based on water being out in the desert in such huge amounts, but secondly, the kind of apocalyptic landscape, which was my own fascination. That's got things started. Congressman Sonny Bono had been interested in restoring the Salton Sea, seeing it as both an environmental wetland, and also a place for resorts and boating and fishing…as a result of this discussion about making Sonny’s dream come true, we wanted to explore how those attempts at restoring the Salton Sea were going to go.

It seems like the residents of the Salon area have become used to extravagant promises laid at their feet every couple years, whether it be through Sonny Bono, or the [longstanding] hope it will become a large retirement community - in making the film, was that something you had to consciously overcome in gaining their trust, that you weren’t going to be someone coming in with promises as happens every few years.

That was one of the difficult things that Jeff [Springer, co-director] and I anticipated from the beginning – we knew that the Salton Sea had this long history of nothing ever being done, and that most of the film and news coverage of the Salton Sea had been very negative. Given how just complicated a place this was, [we figured] it deserved some unbiased, entertaining journalism. Once we started meeting people in the community, there was something that drew them to us - we didn't have to overcome any inherent skepticism… and most embraced us from the get-go. Maybe it’s just because so much of the other coverage of the Salton Sea often dealt with politicians and scientists and they really just appreciated that we were going straight ot the people who had lived in, thrived and struggled in the community for so many years.

One unique aspect of the film is that you're talking about an potential ecological crisis which, unlike a lot of the eco-documentaries that came out in the last several years, is not directly related to climate change..Have you had difficulty explaining to people this is a separate issue?
The Salton sea being such an obscure issue…drawing attention to it and explaining why it's an important film in addition to being entertaining does present a problem. That's one of the reasons why when we market the film and present it to people, we [emphasize] the carnivalesque factor. 'Come and watch this movie about what these unique people have created in this place you’ve never heard of.' In a lot of discussions we try to have with people after the screening, [we tend to present it as] a microcosm of these larger environmental issues that are going on in other parts of the US and the world…Some of the things you see going on down there could, through climate change, happen elsewhere. It’s a great example of the environment run amok, whether you discuss the flooding that happened in the 1970’s, and how that relates to Hurricane Katrina, or the rapid evaporation of the water of the Salton Sea, and the dust storms that might be affected, that relates to climate change, [similar to those in] other parts of the world, where, if temperatures continue to rise, you’ll have more exposed dried lake-beds…In a way the Salton Sea is a parable to other things that the larger part of society might have to deal with in upcoming years.

How did you get John Waters? His voice is so perfect for the film.

At first we didn’t really want a narrator, because we wanted to let the people of the Salton Sea to speak for themselves. But given some of the larger issues which were difficult to condense and explain in interviews, we decided we needed to rely on a narrator, and we thought, if we needed to use as narrator, we needed some a little unorthodox and untraditional, and John Waters came to mind given his unique voice, but also his own deep affection for people who live on the fringe…As we started doing a little bit more research on John Waters, and watching his films from a different perspective we also recognized that while we often associate his films with comedy, with a camp value, all of them deal with these undercurrents of larger social issues…Coincidentally, he was friends with Sonny Bono from his film Hairspray, and kind of liked the idea of doing this as a payback to Sonny, who had done something really important for him.

What are your next projects after Plagues?

Both Jeff and I are drawn to projects about outsiders – we think those are the ones who are the real risk-takers in society because they've decided to live life in the way they want to. We have some projects going on [in this vein,] one about evangelical backpackers Christians following the path of the Apostle Paul, a documentary on gay truck drivers, another on outsider artists in the south – the documentary coming out later this year is one on the black punk band Fishbone…We try to disguise our films as entertainment, with a lot of information in there.

Mocking Fox News...While On Fox News

Laughing Liberally To Keep From Crying

One of our beloved Laughing Liberally regulars, Lee Camp, had the golden opportunity this weekend to tell us what he thinks about Fox News...while on Fox News.

After having performed for both Yearly Kos's and for the Young Democrats of America, it's nice to know that Fox News got to meet the same gentlemen us liberals know and love - as did Dan Abrams. Congrats, Lee!

No Way Bush Makes the Hall of Fame

A scandal of deception & hubris
shook Americans faith in their institutions
& Congress rushed in to take action.

Hearings came quick, with bold questioning,
& people were held accountable for misdeeds
as the public tuned it to watch.

A proud Texan stuck to his guns,
even as his story frayed, opinion turned,
humiliating him & threatening his legacy.

Now...if Congress can do it to Clemens,
why on Earth can't they stand up to Bush?

Treat the pumped-up case for illegitimate war
like pumped-up, illegitimate athletes...
& there's no way Bush makes the Hall of Fame.

If only Congress had some way
to punish the President more seriously...

You'll never strike out sharing your views
as you share some booze with left-leaners
at your local progressive social club.

DRINKING LIBERALLY
Find - or start - a chapter near you.

No Way Bush Makes the Hall of Fame

A scandal of deception & hubris
shook Americans faith in their institutions
& Congress rushed in to take action.

Hearings came quick, with bold questioning,
& people were held accountable for misdeeds
as the public tuned it to watch.

A proud Texan stuck to his guns,
even as his story frayed, opinion turned,
humiliating him & threatening his legacy.

Now...if Congress can do it to Clemens,
why on Earth can't they stand up to Bush?

Treat the pumped-up case for illegitimate war
like pumped-up, illegitimate athletes...
& there's no way Bush makes the Hall of Fame.

If only Congress had some way
to punish the President more seriously...

You'll never strike out sharing your views
as you share some booze with left-leaners
at your local progressive social club.

DRINKING LIBERALLY
Find - or start - a chapter near you.

Shooting Liberally Takes Aim Today

Drinking Liberally Shot of Truth
by Justin Krebs

I admit that I was skeptical when local liberal drinkers in New York suggested Shooting Liberally. "We have some groups that call billiards nights Shooting Liberally...isn't that enough?"

Personally, I am not enthusiastic about guns -- even in safe, legal, regulated, recreational settings -- so I didn't really get it. Fortunately, it wasn't up to me. As these grassroots ideas tend to grow on their own, this one took root -- and tonight, in three cities, Shooting Liberally begins.

Billed as a program "for the First Amendment enthusiast ready to move on to the Second," Shooting Liberally is arming progressives with a new hobby...or rather, recognizing a hobby many of us already have. While the New York outing will bring mostly newcomers to Manhattan's only gun range, the gatherings in Charleston, South Carolina, and Denver, Colorado, will feature a mix of gun-owners, experienced hunters and relative rookies. (Contact info for all the local organizers is on the temporary Shooting Liberally site -- if tonight goes well, these events will become more frequent.)

The more I tell people about the idea, the more surprised I am by the energetic and positive responses. "We've been meaning to go to a gun range," was the reply of one liberal millennial friend living in DC. Another: "My uncle is a big Dem and runs a gun club -- he'll love this."

The experience around the country may vary -- in NYC, you would need to bring your gun in a locked case if you possess your own, and you need to plan ahead to reserve the range; in Charleston, it can be far more spontaneous as permissible areas and gun ownership are far more prevalent -- but the bond is common...many Liberals like to shoot.

And being Liberals, they want to shoot smartly, safely, and in the company of a community - and most of all, want to prove that being a responsible sportsman and supporting sensible gun control isn't an oxymoron.

Don't worry, we won't start Drinking Liberally until afterward.

Shooting Liberally Takes Aim Today

Drinking Liberally Shot of Truth
by Justin Krebs

I admit that I was skeptical when local liberal drinkers in New York suggested Shooting Liberally. "We have some groups that call billiards nights Shooting Liberally...isn't that enough?"

Personally, I am not enthusiastic about guns -- even in safe, legal, regulated, recreational settings -- so I didn't really get it. Fortunately, it wasn't up to me. As these grassroots ideas tend to grow on their own, this one took root -- and tonight, in three cities, Shooting Liberally begins.

Billed as a program "for the First Amendment enthusiast ready to move on to the Second," Shooting Liberally is arming progressives with a new hobby...or rather, recognizing a hobby many of us already have. While the New York outing will bring mostly newcomers to Manhattan's only gun range, the gatherings in Charleston, South Carolina, and Denver, Colorado, will feature a mix of gun-owners, experienced hunters and relative rookies. (Contact info for all the local organizers is on the temporary Shooting Liberally site -- if tonight goes well, these events will become more frequent.)

The more I tell people about the idea, the more surprised I am by the energetic and positive responses. "We've been meaning to go to a gun range," was the reply of one liberal millennial friend living in DC. Another: "My uncle is a big Dem and runs a gun club -- he'll love this."

The experience around the country may vary -- in NYC, you would need to bring your gun in a locked case if you possess your own, and you need to plan ahead to reserve the range; in Charleston, it can be far more spontaneous as permissible areas and gun ownership are far more prevalent -- but the bond is common...many Liberals like to shoot.

And being Liberals, they want to shoot smartly, safely, and in the company of a community - and most of all, want to prove that being a responsible sportsman and supporting sensible gun control isn't an oxymoron.

Don't worry, we won't start Drinking Liberally until afterward.

A Bleeding-Heart...and a Broken-Heart?

We elected a new House & Senate
believing they could end the disaster in Iraq
...yet now the war hardly makes the headlines.

We cheered candidates who stood strong
on poverty, Habeas Corpus & universal healthcare
...but now seem to accept compromise & moderation.

Obama's soaring trans-partisan rhetoric won our hearts
...while that same "bi-partisan spirit" in the Senate
passed immunity for companies that spied on Americans.

Candidates, Senators, Representatives, I beg you!
On this Valentine's Day, live up to liberal ideals!

I'm already a bleeding-heart.
Don't leave me a broken-heart.

Share Valentine's dreams & political themes
while sharing a pitcher & night with new friends
at your local progressive social club.

DRINKING LIBERALLY:
Valentine's Day for the Bleeding Hearts
Find - or start - a chapter near you

Mitt Romney Quits Race to Spend More Time With His Wives



And you think ONE wife is time-consuming. Just kidding. This is not an anti-Mormon post. Some of my best friends are Mormon. But if Mitt can dish it out, he should be able to take it. By it, I mean, of course, intolerance. In other words, I don't care what religion he is. But I do care that Mitt has said he wouldn't have Muslims in his cabinet. The Mormon's were, indeed persecuted. But if Mitt's sensitivity and acceptance in restricted to Mormonism, it's hard for me to feel sorry for him. Mitt's religious-tolerance preaching and JFK comparing is opportunistic, in light of his less than tolerant stance on Muslims and atheists. It's as hypocritical as, let's say, preaching immigration tolerance, while at the same time advancing immigrant-intolerant speech and policies. If that sounds familiar, it is. During the Republican debates-- sorry, during the Florida, Youtube, debates, Mitt slammed Giuliani for being the mayor of a sanctuary city, and bragged about his own 0 tolerance for "aliens" stance

If you're here illegally, you should not be here. We're not going to give you benefits, other than those required by the law, like healthcare and education, and that's the course we're going to have to pursue.

When Rudy shot back that New York's "sanctuary city" didn't hold a candle to Mitt's "sanctuary mansion," which was maintained by Mexican gardeners and lawnmowers, the Governor reverted to his Bostonian alter ego, delivering a multi-culti, celebrate-diversity, envision-world-peace diatribe vindicating his tired, his poor, his huddled landscapers.

Are you suggesting, Mr. Mayor--because I think it's really kind of offensive, actually, to suggest--to say, look, you know what, if you're a homeowner and you hire a company to come provide a service at your home--paint the home, put on the roof--if you hear someone that's working out there... if you hear someone with a funny accent, you, as a homeowner, are supposed to go out there and say, "I want to see your papers." Is that what you're suggesting? That you now are responsible for going out and checking the employees of that company, particularly those that might look different or don't have an accent like yours, and ask for their papers? I don't think that's American, number one. Number two--

But then, much to the releif of all God/ immigration-fearing people, Mitt, without skipping a beat (well, OK a few beats, during which Anderson Cooper reminded The Governor, in vain, "We got to move on"), Mitt continued his enumeration of good deeds against bad aliens.

Let me tell you what I did as governor. I said no to driver's licenses for illegals. I said, number two, we're going to make sure that those that come here don't get a tuition break in our schools, which I disagree with other folks on that one. Number three, I applied to have our state police enforce the immigration laws in May, seven months before I was out of office. It took the federal government a long time to get the approvals, and we enforced the law. And Massachusetts is not a sanctuary state, and the policies of the mayor of pursuing a sanctuary nation or pursuing a sanctuary city--

So I apologize for making fun of Mormonism, which no longer permits polygamy. And their whole racist things is so 1970s; in 1978, after a vision from God (and pressure from the IRS), the Church of Latter Day Saints lifted their ban against Black priests. I am going to miss watching Mitt preach religous tolerance (for Mormons only) and practice intolerance towards atheists, Muslims, gay people, and immigrants. But, as a great man, prophet and failed presidential candidate once said, "I felt like I had to say something because I simply cannot let my[self] be a part of aiding a surrender to [hypocritical and sanctimonious] terror."