Friday, April 14, 2006

Smash the police state and pass the popcorn

 Santa Cruz's Guerilla Drive-In stages outdoor protest film festival

Sentinel Staff Writer

It's not every night you can experience a giant, 20-foot-tall image of late-night wiseguy Stephen Colbert, uh, "answering nature's call" projected onto a building. But, obviously, Thursday night wasn't your ordinary night in downtown Santa Cruz.

Call it media-savvy meta protest. Call it spontaneous hipster mass entertainment. The coordinators of the small event on Church Street on Thursday prefer to call it Santa Cruz Guerilla Drive-In. As a kind of gonzo protest against city ordinances in general and a proposed law making it illegal to loiter in parking lots specifically, roughly 50 people gathered at the Church Street parking structure to watch a handful of short films, projected across the street onto the diamond-checkered exterior wall of the Santa Cruz Cinema 9.

"Welcome to the first annual Flim Flam Film Fest, celebrating repressive laws in the city of Santa Cruz," announced Wes Modes, one of the coordinators of the event. "I can't really see the trend reversing itself, so maybe there will be a second annual. Who knows?"

The mini film festival was designed to show short films all focusing on repressive laws and police abuses. Many of the films were made in Santa Cruz and were about various controversies of city ordinances and local police behavior.

Many of the enormous images that could be seen from Pacific Avenue and Cedar Street were of Santa Cruz cops in dubious action, often arresting or using force against protesting suspects. Police were evident at the scene but kept their distance.

The Guerilla Drive-In is something of Santa Cruz institution, having staged word-of-mouth movie screenings for a few years now, usually on private property. The event at the Cedar Street parking lot was the first of its kind. It was meant as a protest against proposed municipal code 9.64, which would allow police to arrest anyone for trespassing who is in a Santa Cruz parking lot or garage for longer than 15 minutes.

On Thursday, many of the loiterers were sitting on the sidewalk or just under the shelter on the first level of the garage. The crowd was polite and was mindful of keeping parts of the sidewalk and the entrance to the parking lot clear.

Very few passersby stopped to take part in the spontaneous festival. One woman said she had come from a family of police officers and she disapproved of the negative image that was being presented of Santa Cruz police.

Getting a good share of the laughs on Thursday was the Colbert piece, from his highly rated Comedy Central show "The Colbert Report," which was jauntily titled "So You Live in a Police State." It was a satire on government surveillance and police intrusion into private life that was in jarring contrast to many of the earnest documentary-style shorts about Santa Cruz politics.

The projector, on the parking structure's second level, was placed atop the Toyota Prius hybrid that also powered it.

The weather, after weeks of unrelenting rain, cleared up for the event.

"We expected it to rain," said Modes. "That's why we plan to set up under the shelter on the first level. But we would have done it anyway."


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