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The “Public” Life of Ondi Timoner

The “Public” Life of Ondi Timoner (photo)

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Ondi Timoner seems less interested in making documentaries than immersive experiences, something both at odds and in harmony with Josh Harris, the internet pioneer and the subject of her latest documentary, “We Live in Public.” A man who claims his best friend growing up was his television, Harris made his millions by creating a web-based startup (Jupiter Communications) and selling it to Prodigy in the ’90s before spending money “like it’s sand through the fingers of time” on a Big Brother-esque bunker in New York where people volunteered to have their every movement captured on video.

Timoner was invited to bring in her own camera, and even after Harris’ bunker descended into chaos, she tagged along for his subsequent venture, a 24/7 webcam of his life with his then-girlfriend Tanya at, and his unexpected life after the dot-com bubble burst. As Alison Willmore noted in her review on Indie Eye, Harris “might just be too good a subject for a film,” but Timoner’s aim is far larger than his. Just as her last film, “Dig!,” latched onto something far larger than the rock ‘n’ roll rivalry between The Brian Jonestown Massacre and The Dandy Warhols, “We Live in Public” deals with larger issues of human connectivity and isolation. Following a triumphant run at Sundance where the film picked up the nonfiction Grand Jury Prize, “We Live in Public” comes to the city in which it’s set to close out the New Directors/New Films Festival this weekend. With it comes Timoner, who talked to me about Twittering, being almost misquoted in her own movie and how her latest film is “really about you, so at the end of the movie, it’s kind of like ca-clunk. Think about it when you look down at your BlackBerry.”

When Josh first asked you to bring a camera to this thing, what kind of expectations did you have going in?

I had no idea what he was going to do. He said “Come document cultural history!” and I thought “Oh, Josh… what’s it going to be?” He said, “If you want to [do] something really special at the millennium, I’ll tell you that once you show up, I’ll make sure you get what you need.” That was his promise. I was shooting a pilot for a show that I was developing in Manhattan anyway, so it was like, let me just see what he’s doing. I went down there and it was this empty bunker. I couldn’t tell what exactly was going on, but he explained it and I just thought, I’ve got to capture this. I’ve got to be a part of this.

At what point did you know this was going to be your next feature, since you finished “Dig!” in the interim?

We thought it was a feature doc from the get go. I cut a version of the bunker alone in 2001, then the dot-com crash [happened], [and] we just stopped that project. I’m glad we did, because it took me until 2006, when I saw my first Facebook status update from someone driving down the freeway and I thought, What is that? Who cares if you’re driving down the freeway? Is this what we’re coming to? And hey, I Twitter now, too. It is fun, it is compelling to share and to be shared with. I started realizing that the bunker was actually a physical metaphor for how we react to surveillance and the Internet and this democratization of fame. We would submit to anything and everything to get attention.

04022009_weliveinpublic2.jpgI thought it was sort of sly on your part, the way you showed your own involvement in the film, in how it was shown and how it was mentioned. Was there was an internal debate about how much to include of yourself?

Not much. I didn’t want to do the voiceover. It’s not really my style. I’m not Morgan Spurlock or Michael Moore, but I do believe that the work comes first and that the form of the film should follow the content. And every film is its own organism. My films, at a certain point, trump me. The film itself has a way that it wants to become. I tried Josh Harris doing the voiceover, I tried Jason Calacanis doing the voiceover. I was sure we had it with Jason and we totally didn’t. It did not work for this film. And it came down to, like, what about you? And I don’t like omniscient narration. I like it to come from within a story if it has to be there at all. In my film “Join Us,” one of the cult members does the V.O. In “Dig!,” Courtney’s the V.O., I’m in the story, so then it became okay, well, now I need to be physically in the story so that people can anchor with knowing that I was there and it’ll make it feel more like the film has integrity.

There was a debate over when I say “I’ve been reborn by the cereal bar [where people eat at the bunker].” They wanted me to cut it off at “I’ve been reborn,” and I was like no, I was not reborn by the bunker. At all. At times, I enjoyed [being there], but at times, I thought it was so disturbing because of the way people reacted to their chance at fame. People [were] just clamoring for attention there, being grosser and more overt and more sexual, and as much as I appreciated the whole spectacle of it, it really made me uncomfortable. I felt like I was seeing the dark side of humanity. When the movie fell into place for me in 2006 and 2007, I realized that that was part of what I was suppose to feel there, that I needed to make this film now because it’s so important for people to be conscious as they use the Internet, not unconscious.


Hacked In

Funny or Die Is Taking Over

FOD TV comes to IFC every Saturday night.

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We’ve been fans of Funny or Die since we first met The Landlord. That enduring love makes it more than logical, then, that IFC is totally cool with FOD hijacking the airwaves every Saturday night. Yes, that’s happening.

The appropriately titled FOD TV looks like something pulled from public access television in the nineties. Like lo-fi broken-antenna reception and warped VHS tapes. Equal parts WTF and UHF.

Get ready for characters including The Shirtless Painter, Long-Haired Businessmen, and Pigeon Man. They’re aptly named, but for a better sense of what’s in store, here’s a taste of ASMR with Kelly Whispers:

Watch FOD TV every Saturday night during IFC’s regularly scheduled movies.


Wicked Good

See More Evil

Stan Against Evil Season 1 is on Hulu.

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GIFs via Giphy

Okay, so you missed the entire first season of Stan Against Evil. There’s no shame in that, per se. But here’s the thing: Season 2 is just around the corner and you don’t want to lag behind. After all, Season 1 had some critical character development, not to mention countless plot twists, and a breathless finale cliffhanger that’s been begging for resolution since last fall. It also had this:


The good news is that you can catch up right now on Hulu. Phew. But if you aren’t streaming yet, here’s a basic primer…

Willards Mill Is Evil

Stan spent his whole career as sheriff oblivious to the fact that his town has a nasty curse. Mostly because his recently-deceased wife was secretly killing demons and keeping Stan alive.

Demons Really Want To Kill Stan

The curse on Willards Mill stipulates that damned souls must hunt and kill each and every town sheriff, or “constable.” Oh, and these demons are shockingly creative.


They Also Want To Kill Evie

Why? Because Evie’s a sheriff too, and the curse on Willard’s Mill doesn’t have a “one at a time” clause. Bummer, Evie.

Stan and Evie Must Work Together

Beating the curse will take two, baby, but that’s easier said than done because Stan doesn’t always seem to give a damn. Damn!


Beware of Goats

It goes without saying for anyone who’s seen the show: If you know that ancient evil wants to kill you, be wary of anything that has cloven feet.


Season 2 Is Lurking

Scary new things are slouching towards Willards Mill. An impending darkness descending on Stan, Evie and their cohort – eviler evil, more demony demons, and whatnot. And if Stan wants to survive, he’ll have to get even Stanlier.

Stan Against Evil Season 1 is now streaming right now on Hulu.



Reminders that the ’90s were a thing

"The Place We Live" is available for a Jessie Spano-level binge on Comedy Crib.

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GIFs via Giphy

Unless you stopped paying attention to the world at large in 1989, you are of course aware that the ’90s are having their pop cultural second coming. Nobody is more acutely aware of this than Dara Katz and Betsy Kenney, two comedians who met doing improv comedy and have just made their Comedy Crib debut with the hilarious ’90s TV throwback series, The Place We Live.

IFC: How would you describe “The Place We Live” to a fancy network executive you just met in an elevator?

Dara: It’s everything you loved–or loved to hate—from Melrose Place and 90210 but condensed to five minutes, funny (on purpose) and totally absurd.

IFC: How would you describe “The Place We Live” to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Betsy: “Hey Todd, why don’t you have a sip of water. Also, I think you’ll love The Place We Live because everyone has issues…just like you, Todd.”


IFC: When you were living through the ’90s, did you think it was television’s golden age or the pop culture apocalypse?

Betsy: I wasn’t sure I knew what it was, I just knew I loved it!

Dara: Same. Was just happy that my parents let me watch. But looking back, the ’90s honored The Teen. And for that, it’s the golden age of pop culture. 

IFC: Which ’90s shows did you mine for the series, and why?

Betsy: Melrose and 90210 for the most part. If you watch an episode of either of those shows you’ll see they’re a comedic gold mine. In one single episode, they cover serious crimes, drug problems, sex and working in a law firm and/or gallery, all while being young, hot and skinny.

Dara: And almost any series we were watching in the ’90s, Full House, Saved By the Bell, My So Called Life has very similar themes, archetypes and really stupid-intense drama. We took from a lot of places. 


IFC: How would you describe each of the show’s characters in terms of their ’90s TV stereotype?

Dara: Autumn (Sunita Mani) is the femme fatale. Robin (Dara Katz) is the book worm (because she wears glasses). Candace (Betsy Kenney) is Corey’s twin and gives great advice and has really great hair. Corey (Casey Jost) is the boy next door/popular guy. Candace and Corey’s parents decided to live in a car so the gang can live in their house. 
Lee (Jonathan Braylock) is the jock.

IFC: Why do you think the world is ready for this series?

Dara: Because everyone’s feeling major ’90s nostalgia right now, and this is that, on steroids while also being a totally new, silly thing.

Delight in the whole season of The Place We Live right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib. It’ll take you back in all the right ways.