If two drunk film dorks go for alcohol with the same brio they went for audio-visual extra credit in high school-and no one's around to stop them from “borrowing” G.I. Joe clips from the Internet-do they automatically get their own night at a local bar?
Not usually, but thanks to a penchant for 1 a.m. pints of Guinness and a desire to bring long-lost cinema to the San Diego masses, John-Ryan Shea and Gavin Allen were drunk and dislocated enough to believe that their own little film festival could happen.
And it did.
It's Thursday night, and a line of people curls around the door of South Park's Whistlestop Bar. A crowd this size is uncommon, especially for a weekday. Seated at the crux of the line are the jovial Allen and Shea, two unlikely doormen in denim uniforms (they call them “Canadian tuxedos”) that mute their entirely comedian hilarity.
Allen is the mouth. Shea is the proverbial muscle.
Allen greets everyone on the planet like a long-lost sibling. Shea asks for donations. It's a power play that works well.
“I was in a film class at [San Diego] State and we had to share our favorite filmmaker,” Allen remembers. “There was this dude that was spouting about his love for French cinema and I was like, ‘Dude-who is this jackass?'
“But we ended up bonding anyway,” Allen says of Shea, the jackass in question. “Shea and I bond over our mutual love of alcohol.”
Shea and Allen's baby is Brew & View, a monthly showing of cinema in a bar-a concept that the left coast has been late in adopting. So, lo and behold, the audience can get cockeyed while they comment on the value of French new-wave cinema made in the Vietnamese era of verite.
Shea and Allen put together short- or feature-length films, documentaries, music videos and clips of random sillies that they've cultivated over the years. (Allen has a penchant for overdubbed '80s-era G.I. Joe public service announcements.) Shea tracks down national pieces and Allen gathers local and college films that are all donated for screening at Brew & View.
“We're trying to do the whole vaudeville thing,” Allen explains. “We've learned along the way what works and what doesn't. Lots of little things keep people's attention, but we don't want to be MTV. We don't want to show short shit 'cause people can't pay attention. We're assertive as far as filmmakers go, with a bit of a Kids in the Hall influence.”
This mixture is not for the faint of heart.
“We're the rock 'n' roll equivalent of a film festival, so it's not for some people,” Shea says. “We get fucked up and share Monty Python references.”
As far as film goes, the indie festival has always been a sort of highbrow bacchanal. Cannes and Sundance keep the “cinemalcoholics” (official terminology) on the down low for a reason. Imagine the carnage if the two mixed openly and freely-Demi Moore's high heels flying, Paris Hilton squealing, reel-to-reel unraveling.
Tom Cruise called one film festival “a giant, snobby pain in the ass.” Ignoring the irony in Tommy's statement, he could've also added arrogant, conceited, self-important, over-buzzed, vain, haughty and smug. But hidden deep at the crux of indie film is a purpose-a full-fledged creative explosion of art, style and culture-jamming that doesn't normally intersect in our day-job doldrums.
Shea and Allen have not only found that intersection, but they're four-wheeling straight through it.
“We want to create a hub for San Diego's community of film,” Shea explains. “It's like when we were at State-we were always underrated. We would win at festivals all over the country, but we never got any credit for anything but being a party school. [Brew & View] wants to showcase up-and-coming young filmmakers, but we also show films that have been around for 45 years and tie it all into this San Diego film community that no one knows about.”
Brew & View began with two shows at the Ken Theater in Normal Heights, but Shea said he wasn't feeling the atmosphere. So he turned to his local bar, where he'd been a loyal patron for three years.
And judging by the mix of co-eds, hipsters and old-timey film connoisseurs present on this Thursday, the schizophrenic, haphazard audience is just what Shea was aiming for. It's a kind of appropriate mise-en-scéne crowd that appreciates a film's guts and purpose, but still says things like, “I like the part where the guy farted, now pass me a beer.”
“Avant-garde to us means dick and fart jokes,” Allen spits. “We're showing people things they wouldn't see elsewhere, but we're still having fun in the process-which is, like, unheard of.
“What began as a bunch of drunk guys in Utah has turned into fliers and friends and a Ramones documentary. This has been longer-lasting and more fulfilling than I ever thought it could be.”
Brew & View takes over the Whistlestop Bar in South Park again on March 25 at 8 p.m. (www.johnryanshea.com)