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Not Bradley Beesley’s First Rodeo

Not Bradley Beesley’s First Rodeo (photo)

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This interview originally ran as part of our coverage of the 2009 SXSW Film Festival.

Outside of his ongoing collaboration with The Flaming Lips, Bradley Beesley last tackled the great outdoors with the bare-hand fishing doc “Okie Noodling,” which premiered at SXSW back in 2001. Eight years later, Beesley is once again casting his lens on a sport of a bygone era, though this time he’s stepping indoors — as in the big house — for “Sweethearts of the Prison Rodeo,” a look at the Oklahoma penal system’s annual bull riding and horse wrangling competition. Although the prisons take the rodeo quite seriously, complete with in-house saddle shops and mechanical bulls to practice on, no one seems to take it more seriously than the prisoners themselves, who look forward to every August when their minds shift from how much time they have left in their sentence to how long they can stay on a bucking bronco.

Beesley, on the other hand, is far more interested in the inmates than the rodeo action, following a mix of male and female convicts who all have a reasonable shot of parole during the course of the film. There’s Danny Liles, a convicted murderer working his 18th year at the rodeo as well as attempting to reduce his sentence; Jamie Brooks, who was convicted at the age of 17 of 2nd degree murder for her role in a botched robbery; and Brandy “Foxie” White, an inmate who provides one of the most compelling stories as she searches for her family members with the help of a private investigator. Beesley talked with me about how he became interested in the female inmates of Taft, Oklahoma’s Eddie Warrior Correctional Facility and living out a childhood dream of going to the prison rodeo.

09162010_bradbeesley2.jpgHow did this film come about?

I grew up in Oklahoma, so I knew about the prison rodeo and always fantasized what it would be like to go, but I was a suburbanite, and even though my grandfather was a world champion cowboy, my dad never took us to rodeos of any kind. In 2006, I heard that they were going to allow female inmates to participate, and I was like, I’ve got to do it. I booked a flight that night, showed up with my camera and my buddy James. We had no idea that we were going to develop this into a feature-length project, but we were so emotionally struck by these inmates and their stories that we were just compelled. Ultimately, it’s a character-driven piece, and the rodeo is a visual palate in which the characters could play.

09162010_prisonrodeo4.jpgSince you grew up in Oklahoma, do you think this is the kind of event that could only happen there in this day and age?

And Louisiana. [laugh]

Yes, the film mentions that there were two places in the world that still hold these.

The other one’s in Louisiana. Texas closed their prison rodeo in 1988 due to lack of funding, but it’s kind of impossible that it still goes on and unbelievable that it’s allowed, but I don’t necessarily think that’s a bad thing. It just seems like such a throwback, it surprises me that it hasn’t completely shut down.

There seems to be a tightrope you walk when dealing with the prison system since filmmakers have a tendency to either demonize or empathize too much with their subjects. Were you conscious of that while making this?

Certainly, and we were conflicted — very conflicted — that we were making Danny Liles into a hero and the same with Jamie and yet they murdered people with families out there, and what does this mean for those victims when they see we’re putting these people up on this pedestal? Ultimately, especially in Jamie’s case, she was 17 years old when she committed this crime and as [her lawyer] says in the film, she’s paid for it. If you look at the backstory of all these women that went to prison, it’s all the same. Their mom went to prison, they dropped out of school when they were 12. There’s a reason that they’re there. They’re not privileged people.

One of my favorite moments in the film is when Jamie’s lawyer tells her, “If you’re confident enough to ride a bull, you’re confident enough to stand in front of a parole board.” Although it’s not overtly addressed in the film, did you see the rodeo help with the rehabilitation of these inmates?

I don’t think there’s a lot of rehab going on, but I think they’re building their self-confidence, especially the women. They’ve been beat down by men, whether it was being molested [when they were younger] or the guards talking down to them [in prison], so it was very empowering.

09162010_prisonrodeo2.jpgAnd even to be on the rodeo team, you have to be the best of the best and be on good behavior. Then we as filmmakers had somewhat of an effect. Just having someone talk to them like real people, they haven’t had that, in Jamie’s case, for 13 years. So we were just trying to humanize these ladies and make them real people.

I noticed that you were credited as a co-cinematographer on the doc “Winnebago Man” [about the legendary viral video starring an angry man who attempts to give directions] — how did that happen?

Ben [Steinbauer, the director] was my roommate and I brought home the video of the Winnebago guy and turned him onto it, so late night every night for three years, anybody that came to our house, we would show them this video and then collectively, [we were like] “we’ve got to find this guy!” And kudos to Ben for sticking with it, because I was like I don’t know if it’s worth it, and then two years later, I’m up there with Ben and we’re filming the Winnebago guy.

As for your own career, now that you’ve done this film and “Okie Noodling,” what other Midwestern off-the-beaten-path sport is left for you to document?

I don’t know. I feel like I’ve tapped the odd resources within Oklahoma and I wouldn’t mind branching out. I’m working on a narrative script right now. I’m sure I’ll make another film about Oklahoma, but it’s probably going to be [later]. But right now, we’re just going to enjoy this. I’m looking forward to many screenings with the ladies.

“Sweethearts of the Prison Rodeo” opens in New York and Austin on September 17th, with more dates around the country to follow. The DVD comes out October 25th.

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WTF Films

Artfully Off

Celebrity All-Star by Sisters Weekend is available now on IFC's Comedy Crib.

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Sisters Weekend isn’t like other comedy groups. It’s filmmaking collaboration between besties Angelo Balassone, Michael Fails and Kat Tadesco, self-described lace-front addicts with great legs who write, direct, design and produce video sketches and cinematic shorts that are so surreally hilarious that they defy categorization. One such short film, Celebrity All-Star, is the newest addition to IFC’s Comedy Crib. Here’s what they had to say about it in a very personal email interview…

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IFC: How would you describe Celebrity All-Star to a fancy network executive you just met in an elevator?

Celebrity All-Star is a short film about an overworked reality TV coordinator struggling to save her one night off after the cast of C-List celebrities she wrangles gets locked out of their hotel rooms.

IFC: How would you describe Celebrity All-Star to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Sisters Weekend: It’s this short we made for IFC where a talent coordinator named Karen babysits a bunch of weird c-list celebs who are stuck in a hotel bar. It’s everyone you hate from reality TV under one roof – and that roof leaks because it’s a 2-star hotel. There’s a magician, sexy cowboys, and a guy wearing a belt that sucks up his farts.

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IFC: What was the genesis of Celebrity All-Star?

Celebrity All-Star was born from our love of embarrassing celebrities. We love a good c-lister in need of a paycheck! We were really interested in the canned politeness people give off when forced to mingle with strangers. The backstory we created is that the cast of this reality show called “Celebrity All-Star” is in the middle of a mandatory round of “get to know each other” drinks in the hotel bar when the room keys stop working. Shows like Celebrity Ghost Hunters and of course The Surreal Life were of inspo, but we thought it
was funny to keep it really vague what kind of show they’re on, and just focus on everyone’s diva antics after the cameras stop rolling.

IFC: Every celebrity in Celebrity All-Star seems familiar. What real-life pop personalities did you look to for inspiration?

Sisters Weekend: Anyone who is trying to plug their branded merch that no one asked for. We love low-rent celebrity. We did, however, directly reference Kylie Jenner’s turd-raison lip color for our fictional teen celebutante Gibby Kyle (played by Mary Houlihan).

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IFC: Celebrity seems disgusting yet desirable. What’s your POV? Do you crave it, hate it, or both?

Sisters Weekend: A lot of people chase fame. If you’re practical, you’ll likely switch to chasing success and if you’re smart, you’ll hopefully switch to chasing happiness. But also, “We need money. We need hits. Hits bring money, money bring power, power bring fame, fame change the game,” Young Thug.

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IFC: Who are your comedy idols?

Sisters Weekend: Mike grew up renting “Monty Python” tapes from the library and staying up late to watch 2000’s SNL, Kat was super into Andy Kaufman and “Kids In The Hall” in high school, and Angelo was heavily influenced by “Strangers With Candy” and Anna Faris in the Scary Movie franchise, so, our comedy heroes mesh from all over. But, also we idolize a lot of the people we work with in NY-  Lorelei Ramirez, Erin Markey, Mary Houlihan, who are all in the film, Amy Zimmer, Ana Fabrega, Patti Harrison, Sam Taggart. Geniuses! All of Em!

IFC: What’s your favorite moment from the film?

Sisters Weekend: I mean…seeing Mary Houlihan scream at an insane Pomeranian on an iPad is pretty great.

See Sisters Weekend right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib

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Reality? Check.

Baroness For Life

Baroness von Sketch Show is available for immediate consumption.

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GIFs via Giphy

Baroness von Sketch Show is snowballing as people have taken note of its subtle and not-so-subtle skewering of everyday life. The New York Times, W Magazine, and Vogue have heaped on the praise, but IFC had a few more probing questions…

IFC: To varying degrees, your sketches are simply scripted examples of things that actually happen. What makes real life so messed up?

Aurora: Hubris, Ego and Selfish Desires and lack of empathy.

Carolyn: That we’re trapped together in the 3rd Dimension.

Jenn: 1. Other people 2. Other people’s problems 3. Probably something I did.

IFC: A lot of people I know have watched this show and realized, “Dear god, that’s me.” or “Dear god, that’s true.” Why do people have their blinders on?

Aurora: Because most people when you’re in the middle of a situation, you don’t have the perspective to step back and see yourself because you’re caught up in the moment. That’s the job of comedians is to step back and have a self-awareness about these things, not only saying “You’re doing this,” but also, “You’re not the only one doing this.” It’s a delicate balance of making people feel uncomfortable and comforting them at the same time.

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IFC: Unlike a lot of popular sketch comedy, your sketches often focus more on group dynamics vs iconic individual characters. Why do you think that is and why is it important?

Meredith: We consider the show to be more based around human dynamics, not so much characters. If anything we’re more attracted to the energy created by people interacting.

Jenn: So much of life is spent trying to work it out with other people, whether it’s at work, at home, trying to commute to work, or even on Facebook it’s pretty hard to escape the group.

IFC: Are there any comedians out there that you feel are just nailing it?

Aurora: I love Key and Peele. I know that their show is done and I’m in denial about it, but they are amazing because there were many times that I would imagine that Keegan Michael Key was in the scene while writing. If I could picture him saying it, I knew it would work. I also kind of have a crush on Jordan Peele and his performance in Big Mouth. Maya Rudolph also just makes everything amazing. Her puberty demon on Big Mouth is flawless. She did an ad for 7th generation tampons that my son, my husband and myself were singing around the house for weeks. If I could even get anything close to her career, I would be happy. I’m also back in love with Rick and Morty. I don’t know if I have a crush on Justin Roiland, I just really love Rick (maybe even more than Morty). I don’t have a crush on Jerry, the dad, but I have a crush on Chris Parnell because he’s so good at being Jerry.

Jenn: I LOVE ISSA RAE!

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IFC: If you could go back in time and cast yourselves in any sitcom, which would it be and how would it change?

Carolyn: I’d go back in time and cast us in The Partridge Family.  We’d make an excellent family band. We’d have a laugh, break into song and wear ruffled blouses with velvet jackets.  And of course travel to all our gigs on a Mondrian bus. I feel really confident about this choice.

Meredith: Electric Mayhem from The Muppet Show. It wouldn’t change, they were simply perfect, except… maybe a few more vaginas in the band.

Binge the entire first and second seasons of Baroness von Sketch Show now on IFC.com and the IFC app.

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G.I. Jeez

Stomach Bugs and Prom Dates

E.Coli High is in your gut and on IFC's Comedy Crib.

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Brothers-in-law Kevin Barker and Ben Miller have just made the mother of all Comedy Crib series, in the sense that their Comedy Crib series is a big deal and features a hot mom. Animated, funny, and full of horrible bacteria, the series juxtaposes timeless teen dilemmas and gut-busting GI infections to create a bite-sized narrative that’s both sketchy and captivating. The two sat down, possibly in the same house, to answer some questions for us about the series. Let’s dig in….

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IFC: How would you describe E.Coli High to a fancy network executive you just met in an elevator?

BEN: Hi ummm uhh hi ok well its like umm (gets really nervous and blows it)…

KB: It’s like the Super Bowl meets the Oscars.

IFC: How would you describe E.Coli High to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

BEN: Oh wow, she’s really cute isn’t she? I’d definitely blow that too.

KB: It’s a cartoon that is happening inside your stomach RIGHT NOW, that’s why you feel like you need to throw up.

IFC: What was the genesis of E.Coli High?

KB: I had the idea for years, and when Ben (my brother-in-law, who is a special needs teacher in Philly) began drawing hilarious comics, I recruited him to design characters, animate the series, and do some writing. I’m glad I did, because Ben rules!

BEN: Kevin told me about it in a park and I was like yeah that’s a pretty good idea, but I was just being nice. I thought it was dumb at the time.

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IFC: What makes going to proms and dating moms such timeless and oddly-relatable subject matter?

BEN: Since the dawn of time everyone has had at least one friend with a hot mom. It is physically impossible to not at least make a comment about that hot mom.

KB: Who among us hasn’t dated their friend’s mom and levitated tables at a prom?

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

BEN: There’s a lot of content now. I don’t think anyone will even notice, but it’d be cool if they did.

KB: A show about talking food poisoning bacteria is basically the same as just watching the news these days TBH.

Watch E.Coli High below and discover more NYTVF selections from years past on IFC’s Comedy Crib.

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