April 28th, 2008 | Interviews

Christine Hale
For five issues, Wholphin has been blowing the minds of bookish cineastes and befuddled stoners alike. Selections from it’s upcoming 6th issue will be screened tomorrow at the Silent Movie Theater. Curator Brent Hoff speaks about dolphins, the politics of fear and the multi-faceted brilliance of the Japanese.

What’s going to be in the upcoming issue of Wholphin?
Brent Hoff (editor): One of the things I’m most excited about is a film called Please Vote For Me, which is 200 years of American democracy distilled down to 30 minutes. Basically, a Chinese class of 3rd graders decides to hold a democratic election for classroom monitor and within five minutes the entire class is bawling. Just completely bawling. There’s this little Karl Rove figure that has convinced one of the other kids to boo the first speaker and then they get busted and the whole thing goes to hell and you’re like, ‘Oh, there’s Jack Abramoff. Oh, there’s Karl Rove.’ It’s really one of the funniest things I’ve ever seen and I’m really excited about it. It was smuggled out of China, which is all I can say right now. Sometimes people say that and it’s not really true, but in this case, I think it’s actually true. I mean, I don’t know that the Party is quite ready to do democratic experiments right now, but it’s a really interesting film and actually, I bet if the People’s Party saw it, they’d be quite pleased because it’s not really a sales pitch for democracy in the sense that it shows how money just corrupts the system immediately and the kid who bribes his class the most wins. It’s really amazing.
Tell me a little bit more about the BBC documentary The Power of Nightmares, the incredible documentary that spanned over three issues and concerned the parallel rise of neo-conservatism and Islamic fundamentalism and was never screened in America.
There was an article about it in the the Los Angeles Times talking about it a bit. As an educational piece of film, everyone thought it would be important for it to be seen in America but this was the only way it was going to be seen. Which was crazy. We have a nice subscribership and good distribution, but still the majority of Americans have not seen this film. A film that’s been released on Wholphin, I still think should be released wider. That film should have theatrical release in this country. We did our best to make that happen and it still hasn’t happened, and I’m upset about that. I’m glad you saw it and I’m glad a lot of people saw it. We get hundreds of e-mails about it, but there are still hundreds of thousands of people in this country who should see that film. Think of how this country has changed in the last six years. It was untenable to even contemplate saying something like that film says four years ago. We really feel like—ahhh, we’ve come out of this bubble and we have a chance to have perhaps something akin to an honorable human being in the executive office but really, at the time, there was a real Gestapo sense about what you could and could not say in this country without being completely beaten down. And for an executive of a major media company? I’m not at all surprised that people have been afraid to put it out. For good reason!
When you watch it, it’s kind of a comforting film. So many people would really enjoy seeing that things maybe aren’t as bad as they are being made out to be. The fact that it’s so hard to find is ridiculous.
Yeah, like everything else in the world, it IS out there. That’s the whole idea of naming Wholphin “Wholphin.” I mean, a wholphin is a real animal. It’s a cross between a whale and a dolphin. It exists. Dolphins will have sex with anything. These creatures exist, they’re out there, but most of us have no idea they’re out there. And Power of Nightmares is wholphin. It’s an amazing film that I bet if you talk to your parents, it’ll be like, ‘What? I’ve never heard about this. I didn’t know they stopped the Cannes Film Festival to screen it, they thought it was so important.’ Who knows any of that stuff? That is what we try to help. But even the best we can do isn’t enough sometimes. For that film especially. There’s American Outrage on issue 5 which is this incredible story that talks about how when we were all busy during the last ten years ‘freeing’ Tibet and having these little concerts with the Beastie Boys and whoever, saying, ‘Yes, let’s free Tibet’ … meanwhile 200 miles away from these concerts venues there were these Shoshone Indian grannies who were having the same kinds of things done to them by mining companies in the U.S. It’s an incredible story. The U.N. has issued proclamations against what is being done. The United Nations! I mean, the rest of the world is aware of it, but we in America are not. And we think if we’re not aware of it, well, then maybe it’s not quite real then. But that’s not true. We do not have access to as much media as we think. You can have all the internet in the world and still not know what the fuck is going on. That’s why some of this stuff is really important. A lot of people would not have seen these films if Wholphin hadn’t existed. Sometimes it’s no big deal and we put out our funny, weird stuff—films about drunk bees and crying competitions­—but really a lot of these films are really important to see. I feel like it’s not just a gimmick, like a fancier version of YouTube. I really feel like it’s important to get some of these films out.
I read about how the Wall Street Journal hijacked Walleyball and put it on their website without giving you any credit.
Yeah, that was awesome. The consummate defenders of IP law just taking a film for their own needs without citing it. Which I thought was kind of interesting. Which I guess proves that when everyone discusses the intricacies of intellectual property rights, it’s sort of a non-starter. We’re living in a complete free for all. It’s a good thing for us—I’m glad we are. But it IS a total free for all. I wasn’t going to sue the Wall Street Journal. I was happy the Wall Street Journal put that film out and I’m happy more people saw it because of it. I mean, who cares? It was pretty ironic to me that they of all people would just feel free to rip it off the site without any accreditation or permission when half of their columnists devote so much time to proclaiming the evils of people who do just that.
What do you think it is about Wholphin that makes it successful in this age of YouTube where people can watch a lot of these things online for free?
Well, you could answer that better than I could. I think it’s just that you still can’t see a lot of these films anywhere else. Spike’s not putting his Al Gore doc up on YouTube. Adam Curtis isn’t putting The Power of Nightmares up on YouTube. Khadija Al-Salami isn’t putting up A Stranger in Her Own City up on YouTube. A lot of these films don’t exist anywhere else. They’re not films that are made to go viral and eventually have Coke sponsor the sequel. They’re not long enough for television to program them in the U.S. They’re not going to be programmed in theaters, but some of them are really important films. And I think that some of our funny or interesting films are funnier and better than a lot of what’s online. Every place online right now wants to be the place that people go to for the great stuff, but I really don’t think that any place has established itself as the place where great stuff lives. I think we’re really one of the only ones. Actually, I shouldn’t say that. That’s two margaritas talking. I hope we have come close to that at least. There are a million websites that aggregate a lot of content and it’s all about the quantity that they can bring in, and there’s a bit of quality because there will be a celebrity attached or they will have a specific style of video. But no place else has film that has been smuggled out of Iran.
Have there been any films that almost made it on the DVD but didn’t?
Obviously, we could talk about the Paul Thomas Anderson/Elliott Smith short that we’ve been trying to get for a while, but he’s been so into There Will Be Blood for a long time. Supposedly we’ll be able to finally see a copy for issue 7. That’s the one that I’ve been chasing down for literally a year and a half. Elliott Smith in a comedic role as a Rastafarian basketball player, with a cameo by Bette Midler. That’s the only information I have on it. I have been sending e-mails, trying to get a hold of it. I just keep getting back, ‘Soon—it’s going to happen.’ Apparently it’s in one of four storage spaces that he has and he has not had time to get there. Supposedly, this spring he’s going to find the film and send it to us. There are a lot of features that are really amazing that I wish we could distribute in some way. Our model is just not set up to do it. There’s this film Apart From That, and this Jim Finn film called Interkosmos that are both incredible as well. For whatever reason, the stars don’t quite align for them and they end up distributing the films themselves and I wish we could help distribute some of them. I really wanted to put out the film Special with Michael Rapaport, which is an amazing film. I think that’s getting distribution now. We’ve started editing features into 30-minute shorts for the issues and that’s something that seems to be working pretty well for us. We’ve been told by people it helps get the films into festivals if they’ve appeared as Wholphin shorts.
Tell me a little more about Funky Forest. That really did something to me when I saw it.
I was hoping you could tell ME a little more about that Funky Forest movie. When I talk about looking at the intent of that film…that film is not about, ‘Let’s be wacky for the sake of being wacky and do crazy special effects and have purile humor’ at all. There’s a real deep intent to that film. It is a serious film for as insane as it is. If you’ve seen the full film it makes sense. To me, it makes sense. I don’t know why—it may be some grounds for being committed but that film makes sense. It’s not light. There’s a real logic and underlying surreal narrative to that film. Have you seen the whole film? I actually don’t think it’s been released in the U.S. yet. I really wish it would be. I would love to release it. Supposedly, you’ll be able to find it soon. If not, we’ll just have to suck it up and start a feature distribution imprint because this stuff is too amazing. You should see the full thing because it’s indescribable in its parts. It’s a cohesive film, with a cohesive idea behind it. I really think I know what that film is about. I know what it’s about more than I know what some major motion pictures that I won’t mention are about. There are some films that I will see and I’ll say, ‘I have no idea what that Jimmy Fallon film was about. I don’t understand it at all.’ But I definitely understand Funky Forest.