FROM THE INTRODUCTION
Back in the 1980s, I had two favourite pastimes: hitchhiking around Western Europe and watching weird, far-out movies. My favourite movie house at the time was the Kino im KOMM in Nuremberg, Germany, the city where I was living. It was a dingy space on the second floor of Germanys biggest independent youth centre. More often than not, it was necessary to fight ones way through crowds of punk rockers, junkies and all sorts of rebellious kids in order to reach the theatre. The projectionist at the Kino im KOMM would sell the tickets, sell the beer, voice extensively and at length his views on the movies playing before eventually starting the show (which was whenever the projectionist thought everyone who was going to arrive had arrived). The Kino im KOMM showed a lot of films I wanted to see: Italian neo-realist pictures, French new wave, New German Cinema, punk rock documentaries and the films of the nascent New York no-wave scene. However, there were many films I still felt were being left out, which is why, in March 1985, I joined the Kino im KOMM collective myself. The first film I included in my fresh capacity as programme scheduler was Leni Riefenstahls Triumph of the Will. Although the film was shot in Nuremberg, no theatre in town dared to show it and even within the Kino im KOMM itself there was strong resistance against screening such "fascist propaganda". But the film is an important part of the history of the city and the only noteworthy movie ever made there!
It took a few years to exhaust the German distribution channels but I did arrive at a point where there were many films I wanted to show but which remained unavailable domestically. At the end of the eighties, I made another career move. I got in contact with similar theatres around Germany and started to build up a network with the ambition of importing film prints from America and the UK, touring them through different cities while sharing the costs with the other cinemas. The first film to travel this circuit was a 35mm print of Conrad Rooks Chappaqua which I imported for a few weeks from England.
In the autumn of 1990, I went to New York for the first time. Not wanting to be a mere tourist, I took with me a few Super-8 films that friends of mine had made, with the idea to perhaps arranging a few shows on the East Coast. It worked! Though the income off the shows admission didnt nearly cover my costs, I had found a new and exciting way to travel: instead of hitching into some strange city late at night and not having much plan of what to do there, I would now get in contact with hospitable film people who would arrange a screening, allow me stay in their homes, show me around town and introduce me to other interesting people just as I had done with visiting filmmakers in Nuremberg. My hosts would always try to connect me with movie folks in other cities. I loved it! I went from New York to Washington DC, Philadelphia, Boston, and back to New York, connecting there with the Cinema of Transgression scene.
Back in Europe, I soon went from shipping film prints around to arranging personal tours for American filmmakers. The first such tour had New York Cinema of Transgression filmmaker Richard Kern showing his work in twelve cities in Germany and Holland.
In 1992, I left Germany and moved to New York, only to re-open the film tour business shortly after: a friend back home coordinated the tours of European cinemas, while I scoured the New York underground scene for interesting talent.
But my main goal was to visit places myself and to introduce fresh audiences to films they would perhaps otherwise never have a chance to see. I got invited to places as varied as Copenhagen (which seemed to be the world capital of affluent underground movie connoisseurs in the early nineties), Budapest (where nobody had much of a clue what was going on onscreen), and Moscow (where they love all things bizarre). It got me into driving from coast to coast America. In 1997, I did a tour of Japan with an American underground film programme, showing the films in such places as a Rock club in Kyoto that was going out of business the very next day (not because of my movies, I might add!), the Nagoya art school, and the main hall of a Shinto Shrine in Fukuoka. I went back to Japan in 1999 to show vintage American porn from the 1920s. Such movies were strictly illegal in Japan because of a law that prohibits pubic hair onscreen but who cares!
The strangest place I ever went on movie business, though, was North Korea. I didnt go there to show films but to select a programme of North Korean films to be shown in Europe. They were not underground, of course there is no underground film scene in North Korea; people would probably get shot on the spot for making something that didnt adhere to the politics of the Workers Party. Rather, those movies were over-the-top propaganda from the most reclusive country in the world, from a country that feels more like the compound of a suicidal sect than a real country. In early 2000, I could be seen driving around Europe again with prints and softitler in a rented car this time confusing jaded cinephiles with whacked-out North Korean propaganda praising the Great Leader, glorifiying peasant life in the "best country on Earth" and advocating war for the "independence of the whole world"
Trashfilm Roadshows is a collection of stories from those pretty strange, zero-budget movie tours. I hope you enjoy them.