Nevada City Film Festival closes today with ‘Desolation Center’ documentary
The Nevada City Film Festival is excited to screen the documentary “Desolation Center” as the closing film of this year’s fest on Aug. 29 at the Nevada Theatre.
In the early 1980s, long before strings of vehicles poured into the Coachella Valley for the area’s synonymous annual music and arts festival, there were a group of rebels — revolutionaries, if you will — who looked toward the future and saw past the ordinary.
Stuart Swezey, a self-proclaimed college dropout, led this group and organized, as best as a 21 year old can, a series of guerilla punk and industrial concerts deep in the Southern California desert. Attendees were bussed in, the exact location never being disclosed until arrival. There was no shelter, no electricity and essentially no rules.
Swezey dubbed the concert series Desolation Center, and now nearly 40 years later, his film of the same name tells their story, one of musical ingenuity that blazed the trail for a myriad of festivals and musical genres following them.
Artists such as Meat Puppets, Minutemen, Sonic Youth, Redd Kross and Savage Republic all played some of their earliest gigs as part of Desolation Center. A young Perry Farrell — who years later would go on to front Jane’s Addiction in addition to founding the Lollapalooza festival — made his debut with his band Psi-Com.
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Swezey admits he lucked out in that a number of the attendees not only filmed the shows but managed to keep the footage since the early ‘80s.
“Various people shot various shows,” Swezey said. “We went through thousands of hours of footage. (‘Desolation Center’) is a story, it’s really about people taking culture and the way they see music into their own hands. Not just punk rock or industrial; it could be meaningful to any music you might like.”
The filmmaker was a bit overwhelmed, he said, by the sheer volume of stories that could possibly be included in “Desolation Center,” realizing that he could very easily concentrate on one artist or the other.
“I had to make choices,” said Swezey. “It was more about the festivals than about each band. There’s so many, and I was like, am I going to tell (their) stories?”
In the end, he wanted to simply provide an account of the creative minds who came together in a series of events so significant, they are often cited as inspiration for modern day festivals like Outside Lands and, of course, Coachella.
Swezey maintains that “Desolation Center” is more than just a film about punk rock, but rather of igniting a creative spark and daring to do what hasn’t been done before.
“If someone is of the age I was when putting on these shows it might be an inspiring look, a catalyst for doing cool (stuff). If it’s someone who has been on the planet a little longer, it’s a nice appreciation of a time that hasn’t really been over-covered in the media. Hopefully we have captured the spirit of the time which I think is worth looking at.”
“Desolation Center” shows at 7 p.m. on Thursday and will feature a Q&A with a few of the film’s subjects including Bruce Licher of Savage Republic and Aaron Sherer from Psi-Com.
Following the screening of the film, Nevada City Film Festival will host a special After Dark party at the Golden Era Lounge featuring DJ Fossil, who will be spinning tunes from the artists featured in the film. Noshes and a no-host bar will be available.
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