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What’s the matta with “Schmatta”?

What’s the matta with “Schmatta”? (photo)

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Marc Levin is still finding pins under the floorboards of his loft in New York’s Garment District. He ended up digging far deeper to find the hook for his latest doc about the economic crisis — “Schmatta: Rags to Riches to Rags,” a startlingly prescient history of the clothing industry from 7th Avenue to Bangladesh which airs on HBO on October 19th, having made its world premiere at the Toronto Film Festival in September.

Like a lot of American industries, the “schmatta” (Yiddish for “rags”) business was once booming, but has diminished in the face of globalization, leading to the stunning statistic presented by Levin that now only five percent of all American clothing is produced domestically. As his documentary puts it, where the clothing business goes, so goes the economy.

A year ago, Levin found himself at a Marc Jacobs show after hearing the news of Lehman Brothers’ collapse. “I thought I was the kid in ‘The Emperor Has No Clothes.’ I kept thinking the economy has no clothes,” said the director, who made a name for himself with the poetry drama “Slam” and the doc “Protocols of Zion.” Even in the midst of a busy fall, the documentarian still found the time to talk about the expense of cheap clothing and the importance of documentaries in a 24-hour news cycle.

How did you get interested in the Garment District?

The Garment Center is a character — that was my starting point. Street smart, ballsy, humorous, full of vibrancy, soul, heart. How do you bring that to life? It happened to be 2008. Little did we know it would be such an epic historic moment, but from the February shows to the September shows, there was tremendous fallout. People were losing their companies, their jobs, their work. We look at what was happening in a season, but we go back and knit together a history of this almost fabled magical kingdom that had its problems and issues, but was this gateway for immigrants, especially Jewish and Italian immigrants at the beginning of the 20th century, to enter America.

They were the vanguard of a labor movement that wrote up a new social contract for America. Unemployment, health care, housing — all these things that we take for granted came out of the Garment Center. After the war, 7th Avenue [made] America the center of the commercial clothing business. And then the ’70s, ’80s and the ’90s, the emergence of designers as superstars, and marketing and lifestyle that was more than clothes — it’s a cultural force. When I grew up, music was the leading cutting edge and certainly movies, but in many ways, fashion has eclipsed everything in popular culture around the world as [something] young people want to be part of and plugged into and understand.

It also seems like there’s a growing disconnect between the American public’s knowledge of how things are made.

If we can get a deal, whether it’s fast food or a shirt or a dress for under $10, it’s attractive. But you don’t think of the connection to that, how it’s made and what it says. Maybe it’s giving somebody an opportunity, but maybe in my neighborhood, people that worked in this business are out of work [because it was made overseas]. You don’t see it all interconnected, and it is.

Do you see documentaries becoming increasingly important in making those connections?

I think [documentaries are] important. Look what happened this summer with health care — the 24-hour cable news cycle, there’s no context. It’s just a food fight. So cinema, indie film, documentaries, they are, in a way, filling the gap of a hunger that we have to try and comprehend and make sense of our world where we have access to information, but we overload on it. A lot of opportunities come out of crises, and I’m an optimist just by nature, but I do feel that context, story, humanity, heart and soul need to be part of the mix, so that people can make a more informed discussion of where we go from here and we look at ourselves. We like to dress up and look in the mirror and see how we look. Now, the real question is: How do we want to look?

“Schmatta: Rags to Riches to Rags” premieres on October 19th.

[Photo: A scene from “Schmatta: Rags to Riches to Rags,” Blowback Productions, 2009]

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Last-Minute Holiday Gift Guide

Hits from the '80s are on repeat all Christmas Eve and Day on IFC.

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GIFs via Giphy, Photos via The Everett Collection

It’s the final countdown to Christmas and thanks to IFC’s movie marathon all Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, you can revel in classic ’80s films AND find inspiration for your last-minute gifts. Here are our recommendations, if you need a head start:

Musical Instrument

Great analog entertainment substitute when you refuse to give your kid the Nintendo Switch they’ve been drooling over.

Breakfast In Bed

Any significant other or child would appreciate these Uncle Buck-approved flapjacks. Just make sure you’re not stuck on clean up duty.

Cocktail Supplies

You’ll need them to get through the holidays.

Dance Lessons

So you can learn to shake-shake-shake (unless you know ghosts willing to lend a hand).

Comfy Clothes

With all the holiday meals, there may be some…embigenning.

Get even more great inspiration all Christmas Eve and Day on IFC, and remember…

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Celebrating Portlandia One Sketch at a Time

The final season of Portlandia approaches.

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GIFs via Giphy

Most people measure time in minutes, hours, days, years…At IFC, we measure it in sketches. And nothing takes us way (waaaaaay) back like Portlandia sketches. Yes, there’s a Portlandia milepost from every season that changed the way we think, behave, and pickle things. In honor of Portlandia’s 8th and final season, Subaru presents a few of our favorites.


Put A Bird On It

Portlandia enters the pop-culture lexicon and inspires us to put birds on literally everything.

Colin the Chicken

Who’s your chicken, really? Behold the emerging locavore trend captured perfectly to the nth degree.

Dream Of The ’90s

This treatise on Portland made it clear that “the dream” was alive and well.

No You Go

We Americans spend most of our lives in cars. Fortunately, there’s a Portlandia sketch for every automotive situation.

A-O River!

We learned all our outdoor survival skills from Kath and Dave.

One More Episode

The true birth of binge watching, pre-Netflix. And what you’ll do once Season 8 premieres.

Catch up on Portlandia’s best moments before the 8th season premieres January 18th on IFC.

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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…


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.


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).


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.


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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