Poetic Terrorism and Wholphin #2

Sean Uyehara October 17, 2006

When Brent Hoff, curator of Wholphin, was checking into a hotel for a film festival, the concierge thrust a business card into his hand, “Remember me next time you’re casting a film.”

Apart from the facts that the aspiring actor had no idea who Hoff was or whether this gesture had the chance to have any meaningful repercussions, the situation gave Hoff pause. He describes, “At first I was amused. I mean, in what world does this work? You want to get cast in a film, so you spend the day handing out cards to all the people who check in? It’s hilarious.” So, after pondering it for a while, Hoff decided to give the man what he wants. “I want to live in a world where this kind of hopeless gesture pays off every once in a while.” So he asked the biggest directors he knows, including Miguel Arteta and Bennett Miller, to cast the concierge in a series of short films. “I don’t want to say his name in case he reads this article, but in one month this guy, who has never even worked in film to my knowledge, is going to suddenly start getting calls from the most talented directors in America. I want to him to have to choose between appearing in a Steven Soderbergh or a Paul Thomas Anderson film. I want all of his crazy ideas about life and this business to suddenly come true.” Afterwards, we’ll gather all of his work and release it as The Collected Works Of .” I can’t wait.

I guess this kind of thing should be expected when the conversation begins, “Hi, I curate Wholphin.”

What is a/the Wholphin? First, it is a real animal, the hybrid lovechild of a whale and a dolphin. Second, it is the hybrid DVD/literary magazine which presents, as the Wholphiners describe, “films designed to make you feel the way we felt when we learned that dolphins and whales sometimes, you know, do it.” It’s a small operation run by Hoff, Emily Doe and a few interns.

And, all of this miscegenation is turning heads.

With only two issues under its belt, Wholphin is already making itself known as an eclectic collection of works you’ve always wanted to see, but were never sure how to find. A short list includes: Spike Jonze’s doc on Al Gore, Alexander Payne’s student thesis film, Errol Morris’ interview of Donald Trump talking about “Citizen Kane,” Miranda July’s “Are You the Favorite Person of Anybody?,” Adam Curtis’ controversial BBC doc “The Power of Nightmares,” Khadija Al-Salami’s “A Stranger in Her Own City,” and (with a little luck) Paul Thomas Anderson’s film that stars the late Elliot Smith and includes a cameo by Bette Midler. Anderson says Wholphin can present it if he can find the film in one of four storage containers in Los Angeles.

The reputation and backing of McSweeney’s/The Believer helps Wholphin get such material. “The makers aren’t trying to make any money with this stuff,” says Hoff. “They just want to make sure that their work finds a good home.” So when Emily Doe contemplates whether or not Todd Solondz has short films to show, all she has to do is call him and ask. Hoff relates, “It turns out that Solondz does, that in fact, he is often told these shorts are his best projects. But, because they have music on them that is not cleared for theatrical release he only shows them to friends at his house. They are literally just waiting in his home storage. He says if we can clear the music rights, we can show them. So, obviously I am working on that.”

Still, what rounds out the Wholphin is its original content. Most recently, Hoff and a few friends traveled to Borderfield State Park, which contains a beach crossing the border between the United States and Mexico. A fence constructed of metal pylons stretches pathetically into the ocean about 50 feet or so to keep the land divided. Flaunting customs law, Hoff played a game of pickup beach volleyball over the fence with people on the Mexican side. A video of the scene is on issue #3 of Wholphin. The absurdity and fun of the situation caught plenty of attention and was covered in major media outlets, hilariously confirmed in The Wall Street Journal as the “first ever game of international border volleyball.”

There’s a bit of what Hakim Bey calls Poetic Terrorism in what Hoff does. For Bey, PT consists in the creation of a jolt that gets someone to believe in something wonderful and strange. Whether this is strategic or not on Hoff’s part, the collection overall gives one a similar sense of the enigmas of this world, and it turns out these things are quite fun. What happens when you play international beach border volleyball or if you ask Errol Morris what’s in his basement?

Hoff tells me, “I want to see Mongolian TV. I bet there’s some good stuff. I hear that Jordan has a robust short film movement. Supposedly, there are a bunch of shorts making sophisticated and comedic critiques of terrorism. I am desperately trying to get these.” It’s this sort of impetus that characterizes Hoff’s curatorial bent on offering the unexpected.

Which brings us back to the concierge. “I remember playing music for years waiting, wishing for my break,” says Hoff. “One night I see Joey Ramone sitting in a restaurant eating, and I approach him. I say, ‘You have made such an impression on me, influenced me. And, I’ve listened to you for all these years. So here.’ And, I hand him my band’s demo tape. What do I think is going to happen? He’s going to go back to his studio, and decide,

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