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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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New Nasty

Whips, Chains and Hand Sanitizer

Turn On The Full Season Of Neurotica At IFC's Comedy Crib

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Jenny Jaffe has a lot going on: She’s writing for Disney’s upcoming Big Hero 6: The Series, developing comedy projects with pals at Devastator Press, and she’s straddling the line between S&M and OCD as the creator and star of the sexyish new series Neurotica, which has just made its debut on IFC’s Comedy Crib. Jenny gave us some extremely intimate insight into what makes Neurotica (safely) sizzle…

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IFC: How would you describe Neurotica to a fancy network executive you met in an elevator?

Jenny: Neurotica is about a plucky Dominatrix with OCD trying to save her small-town dungeon. 

IFC: How would you describe Neurotica to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Jenny: Neurotica is about a plucky Dominatrix with OCD trying to save her small-town dungeon. You’re great. We should get coffee sometime. I’m not just saying that. I know other people just say that sometimes but I really feel like we’re going to be friends, you know? Here, what’s your number, I’ll call you so you can have my number! 

IFC: What’s your comedy origin story?

Jenny: Since I was a kid I’ve dealt with severe OCD and anxiety. Comedy has always been one of the ways I’ve dealt with that. I honestly just want to help make people feel happy for a few minutes at a time. 

IFC: What was the genesis of Neurotica?

Jenny: I’m pretty sure it was a title-first situation. I was coming up with ideas to pitch to a production company a million years ago (this isn’t hyperbole; I am VERY old) and just wrote down “Neurotica”; then it just sort of appeared fully formed. “Neurotica? Oh it’s an over-the-top romantic comedy about a Dominatrix with OCD, of course.” And that just happened to hit the buttons of everything I’m fascinated by. 

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IFC: How would you describe Ivy?

Jenny: Ivy is everything I love in a comedy character – she’s tenacious, she’s confident, she’s sweet, she’s a big wonderful weirdo. 

IFC: How would Ivy’s clientele describe her?

Jenny:  Open-minded, caring, excellent aim. 

IFC: Why don’t more small towns have local dungeons?

Jenny: How do you know they don’t? 

IFC: What are the pros and cons of joining a chain mega dungeon?

Jenny: You can use any of their locations but you’ll always forget you have a membership and in a year you’ll be like “jeez why won’t they let me just cancel?” 

IFC: Mouths are gross! Why is that?

Jenny: If you had never seen a mouth before and I was like “it’s a wet flesh cave with sharp parts that lives in your face”, it would sound like Cronenberg-ian body horror. All body parts are horrifying. I’m kind of rooting for the singularity, I’d feel way better if I was just a consciousness in a cloud. 

See the whole season of Neurotica right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib.

The-Craft

The ’90s Are Back

The '90s live again during IFC's weekend marathon.

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Photo Credit: Everett Digital, Columbia Pictures

We know what you’re thinking: “Why on Earth would anyone want to reanimate the decade that gave us Haddaway, Los Del Rio, and Smash Mouth, not to mention Crystal Pepsi?”

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Thoughts like those are normal. After all, we tend to remember lasting psychological trauma more vividly than fleeting joy. But if you dig deep, you’ll rediscover that the ’90s gave us so much to fondly revisit. Consider the four pillars of true ’90s culture.

Boy Bands

We all pretended to hate them, but watch us come alive at a karaoke bar when “I Want It That Way” comes on. Arguably more influential than Brit Pop and Grunge put together, because hello – Justin Timberlake. He’s a legitimate cultural gem.

Man-Child Movies

Adam Sandler is just behind The Simpsons in terms of his influence on humor. Somehow his man-child schtick didn’t get old until the aughts, and his success in that arena ushered in a wave of other man-child movies from fellow ’90s comedians. RIP Chris Farley (and WTF Rob Schneider).

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Teen Angst

In horror, dramas, comedies, and everything in between: Troubled teens! Getting into trouble! Who couldn’t relate to their First World problems, plaid flannels, and lose grasp of the internet?

Mainstream Nihilism

From the Coen Bros to Fincher to Tarantino, filmmakers on the verge of explosive popularity seemed interested in one thing: mind f*cking their audiences by putting characters in situations (and plot lines) beyond anyone’s control.

Feeling better about that walk down memory lane? Good. Enjoy the revival.

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And revisit some important ’90s classics all this weekend during IFC’s ’90s Marathon. Check out the full schedule here.

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Get Physical

DVDs are the new Vinyl

Portlandia Season 7 Now Available On Disc.

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In this crazy digital age, sometimes all we really want is to reach out and touch something. Maybe that’s why so many of us are still gung-ho about owning stuff on DVD. It’s tangible. It’s real. It’s tech from a bygone era that still feels relevant, yet also kitschy and retro. It’s basically vinyl for people born after 1990.

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Inevitably we all have that friend whose love of the disc is so absolutely repellent that he makes the technology less appealing. “The resolution, man. The colors. You can’t get latitude like that on a download.” Go to hell, Tim.

Yes, Tim sucks, and you don’t want to be like Tim, but maybe he’s onto something and DVD is still the future. Here are some benefits that go beyond touch.

It’s Decor and Decorum

With DVDs and a handsome bookshelf you can show off your great taste in film and television without showing off your search history. Good for first dates, dinner parties, family reunions, etc.

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Forget Public Wifi

Warm up that optical drive. No more awkwardly streaming episodes on shady free wifi!

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Inter-not

Internet service goes down. It happens all the time. It could happen right now. Then what? Without a DVD on hand you’ll be forced to make eye contact with your friends and family. Or worse – conversation.

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Self Defense

You can’t throw a download like a ninja star. Think about it.

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If you’d like to experience the benefits DVD ownership yourself, Portlandia Season 7 is now available on DVD and Blue-Ray.