Project Moonshine armed Reno teens with video cameras and set them loose to discover the essence of Artown--and of Reno
By Kat Kerlin
Ben Kolton shoots DBR and the mission at Artown.
Photo By David Robert
For two months during the summer of 2006, seven Reno high school students were equipped with digital video cameras and set loose (with adult project coordinators) on the town. They were part of the new summer filmmaking program Project Moonshine. Their initial assignment: film an independent documentary of Artown, Reno's month-long cultural event, over the course of July. Scene 1, June 28: Moonshiners discover
the unrelenting positivity of PR
It's three days before the official Artown kickoff. The Moonshinerswalk from the Nevada Museum of Art over to Artown headquarters, located in a small, rectangular office building on Flint Street. They're unaware, or maybe just dismissive, of professional codes--a leopard print bra strap peeks out of a tank top; a wristband reads "party time"--though some seem to have spiffed up a bit in a dress or button-down shirt along with jeans and trendy tennis shoes.
is where Artown is?" one of them asks upon entering the nondescript, musty ground-floor lobby.
The Moonshiners don't know exactly what they're looking for. In the past month, they've studied many different forms of documentary filmmaking with Moonshine founder Michael Albright. They've interviewed each other but no one else. They came up with a list of questions to ask during their interviews with the Artown administrators, such as, "What organizations are funding Artown this year, and do they have any influence on which artists and events are selected?"
There are seven Moonshiners and three new Panasonic Leica digital video cameras, so they pair up, with one person as interviewer and the other as cameraman.
"If I had my druthers, I'd rather film than ask, but I can do either," says Charlie Hayes to Noah Conrath. Charlie,17, is in a broad-striped, button-down shirt with striped wool shorts and loafers. He has floppy hair, dark eyebrows and alert eyes. Noah, 17, is irreverent, goofy and a self-proclaimed attention-deficit case, wearing rolled-up black jeans and tennis shoes with no socks. He has curly, blond hair and a smirking, wide-eyed look on his face, as though he's just played a joke on someone and is waiting to be found out.
The group walks up the stairs to the second floor with their cameras and list of questions. "Doesn't it smell like oatmeal in here?" one of the girls asks while walking down the blue-carpeted hallway to office 281. They fall silent as they wait in a line to enter the Artown offices.
Marketing director Natasha Bourlin welcomes them with her usual bubbly manner. A giant Artown logo hangs on a red wall behind her.
Albright reminds the Moonshiners to watch their battery levels, to stop the interview if the tape runs out and then restart, and to have the subjects state their name and title for the camera during interviews.
Charlie, Noah and Ali Alonso go to interview Artown director Beth Macmillan in her office. Ben Kolton and Nathan Lower enter Natasha's office, and Danielle Hauser and Allana Noyes are assigned to Annelise McKenzie, Artown's development and finance director.
The girls are nervous with McKenzie, and Danielle reads questions off the prepared question sheet as Allana holds the camera. McKenzie answers with a professional smile. The words "richness," "culture" and "diversity" are common throughout her dialogue.
"Artown started the revolution--the Renaissance that Reno is going through," says McKenzie.
This is the girls' introduction to the world of public relations. Albright had warned the group no one would likely say anything negative about their institution--especially on tape.
Danielle, with blue hair and purple shoes, asks why Artown doesn't seem to offer much for teens, to which McKenzie answers, "You can't start out being everything to everybody." They've started with their core, she says--kids, seniors and the "arts community" and are now reaching out more to twentysomethings with Artown after Dark, held at the Green Room. She says Artown helps "foster identity" and enhances Reno's national image, so what they bring to its stages has to be "tasteful, entertaining and of the highest quality."
Danielle and Allana thank her for her time, leave the room and go in the hallway.
The first thing 15-year-old Allana says is, "You were too easy on her. You read straight off the page."
Allana Noyes readies her camera.
Photo Illustration by David Robert
Danielle slumps against the wall and sits down. "That was really hard," she says. "She kind of twisted some of my questions around. She made it sound like it was a good, positive question."
"But that's, like, her job," says Allana. "You need to be more manipulative. You accepted all her questions without asking anything. ... You can be controversial, but you have to be nice about it."
Danielle says McKenzie frustrated her about the age question--from Danielle's point of view, there's not much in Artown for people her age, between the ages of 14 and 21.
"I was so angered," she says. "The next interview, I'm just going to ask what's in my head. I'm so mad at myself. This was my chance to grill her and get her to say what I want her to say. There were so many chances where I couldn't get her to say what I wanted her to say. I have to be meaner."
"I'm glad you went first," Allana says.
Scene 2, July 1-7: Go-Carting with Sonic Youth
The Moonshiners spend the first week covering everything from ballet to African world music. Then the unexpected happens.
Sonic Youth is set to play the then-Reno Hilton (now Grand Sierra Resort) on July 4. So Moonshine project coordinator (and RN&R contributor) Brad Bynum sends a shot-in-the-dark e-mail to the band telling them of Project Moonshine and requesting permission to film them while they're here. The 25-year rock veterans welcome them with open arms.
On July 4, the Moonshiners are go-carting with Sonic Youth on the Hilton's grounds. They play basketball with them, get exclusive interviews and discuss Cheetos, the term "Skeno" and tacky Reno T-shirts with lead singer Thurston Moore. And of course, they shoot the concert--a rock 'n' roll alternative to what they've been filming with Artown. Nathan, a tall, quiet 19-year-old with a professor's voice, has his summer made by getting to do the band's sound check.
Thus begins a second project for Project Moonshine: the Sonic Youth concert documentary.
Scene 3, July 7: Dreaming of Moonshine
Tapes Shot: 24 Artown, 12 Sonic Youth
It's been one week of filming. Albright, 24, sits in his room in front of his computer, editing. He's the film's director and editor, as well as the frontman of Project Moonshine. A Reno native, Albright was inspired to start the program after an internship with direct cinema pioneer Albert Maysles in New York City in 2004. There, he helped Maysles, in both the field and the editing room, work on a documentary about Christo and Jean-Claude's The Gates
--a huge, controversial art project of orange saffron fabric that, after 26 years in the making, was finally installed all over Central Park for 16 days in February 2005. The documentary is scheduled to air on HBOthis fall.
"We were interns with more responsibility than we probably deserved," says Albright. But by doing, he learned. With Project Moonshine, he wanted to give kids in Reno a similar opportunity, even if on a smaller scale.
The "moonshine" refers not to homemade alcohol but to the concepts of the independent and homegrown.
"The idea," says Albright of the project, "is to build a core with the young and unsculpted and make sure they have the opportunity to find their own style and use that later on to make movies their own way."
But today, he's tired, bleary-eyed and a bit out of sorts. He's been dreaming about Artown at night, all the images unloaded on him and into his computer blurring in his mind. He thinks about it driving to the grocery store, walking down the street. His schedule for the past week has been to go with the kids as they shoot footage all day, then edit all night.