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Interview: Corbett Redford – Turn it Around: The Story of East Bay Punk

“Turn it Around: The Story of East Bay Punk” is a unique and thorough look at the music scene in California’s Bay Area over the past 30 years, with a key focus on 924 Gilman Street and how it impacted punk music. The documentary is a fantastic insight into the scene, and all music lovers should definitely get on this one.

“The music [of 924 Gilman] is important, but it’s also contributing to this alternative way of living. This was a place that was subterranean, away from the mainstream and a new way to explore new ideas of living your life.” – Billie Joe Armstrong of Green Day

The documentary is narrated by Iggy Pop and executive produced by Green Day, “Turn It Around: The Story of East Bay Punk” is the definitive telling of this vibrant story, drawing from a wide variety of voices and viewpoints and featuring the music of many of the most famous and infamous punk bands ever.

You can see it in theatres from July 28th – to find a screening near you, visit eastbaypunk.com/screenings

Katie spoke to writer and director Corbett Redford about “Turn it Around: The Story of East Bay Punk” for an inside look into the documentary and the 3 1/2 year process it took to come to fruition.

Are you a long-time punk music fan? What’s your favourite band?

I have been a fan of music since an early age – I have a deep love for punk music, but also enjoy rock, rap, folk and other genres. Not sure if I have one favourite, but a few at the top of my list are: Thin Lizzy, They Might Be Giants, Green Day, Tom Lehrer, Operation Ivy and Ween.

Where did you get the inspiration for “Turn it Around” and/or make you want to tell the story? I hear Green Day and Billie Joe Armstrong had a big involvement in getting the project off the ground, are you able to give me more insight into this?

Green Day had the initial idea to create a film about their early history and the wider East Bay Punk music scene. I have been a member of the East Bay Punk community for over 20 years and the band tapped me to direct and produce the film – they served as executive producers on the project. I feel the story is important to tell because the overall message of the early Gilman era was one of inclusion and community. I hope the film inspires people to work together and create art, music and community of their own.

The opening of Gilman Street obviously had a huge impact on the punk scene in East Bay. How important do you feel it was to changing the scene?

In my opinion, Gilman changed the face of punk rock as we know it. When Gilman was formed in 1986, the idea that the space was all-ages and tolerated no violence, no alcohol and no hate speech was not a typical stance for punk scenes or clubs. Gilman inspired countless other clubs to embrace those ideals – and with the success of bands like Green Day and Rancid creating inroads for millions of other outsiders – the Gilman ethos spread even further.

How was the overall process of “Turn it Around”, from beginning to end? There are some good names involved in the project, was it a positive experience? Any great challenges?

The process took about 3 ½ years and began in October 2013. At the beginning, we started coming up with names of people we wanted to interview and subjects we wanted to cover – then as we began interviews, we discovered other subjects to cover. We amassed over 500 hours on interview content from over 150 interviewees and gathered over 35,000 photos and flyers. At peak production, we had about a 10 person crew, but most often it was myself, Anthony Marchitiello (co-writer/director), Greg Schneider (editor/director of photography), and Matthew Voelker (sound) who worked on the film.

The film was a very positive experience – our interviewees and archivists were incredibly generous and helpful. Many people ask if the various rock stars in our film were difficult to work with – and my answer is that they were the most personable and least difficult to work with. Punk is a place for affected odd ducks and weirdos of all stripes – so sometimes it was difficult to navigate with a few participants. My wife started calling me “The Punk Whisperer”… I just tried to speak and act with compassion, conviction and understanding when asking people to share their sacred histories. Hopefully that comes through in the film.

Was there anyone not involved in “Turn it Around” that you would’ve liked to have on board or interview?

Sure, there were some folks I wish we would’ve had the chance to talk to. But we interviewed over 150 awesome people – so I am happy with what we accomplished. Most of the people in our film have never been in a documentary – we did our best to include the unsung… the volunteers, the writers, the illustrators, as well as the rock stars.

There’s always been a hot debate over Green Day’s “genre”, including on the doco calling them “too poppy”. What do you personally think constitutes as punk?

I think the term was “really poppy”, not “too poppy” [laughs]… I think our film shows that punk is what you make it. It isn’t about a genre or a style. It is about energy and as Paul Curran of Crimpshrine states in our film (when talking about Green Day), “Its about playing HONEST music.”
Kathleen Hanna of The Julie Ruin and Bikini Kill also says something great about punk in our film, “Its about doing something you are afraid of doing in front of other people. And encouraging them to do the same.”, or something like that.
To me, punk is energy and spirit, and a way of life.

What films have been inspiring or influential to you? And people?

I watch a lot of narrative films and love: Pee-wee’s Big Adventure, Cool Hand Luke, The Fisher King, Dr. Strangelove, Time Bandits, The Blue Brothers – anything that has some humor and realism in it. It has to have an element of joy in it for me to pay attention, so I am not too keen on horror films or suspenseful stuff unless the writing is good! So far as documentaries, I love Grizzly Man, Burden of Dreams and many others. I really liked the recent Jarmusch Stooges documentary.

So far as people who inspire me: my wife, my son, my late grandfather, Bernie Sanders, Dorothy Parker, Weird Al Yankovic, Michelle Gonzales, Billie Joe Armstrong, Richard Pryor, Rihanna, Joan Jett, Phil Lynott… a lot of people inspire me!

And finally, do you have any other exciting projects on the horizon?

After 3 ½ years on this film, if possible, I would like to rest a bit before launching into something new. There are a lot of potential new projects swirling right now… not sure what is next, but I am excited for the future.

Bonus Katie question: how were Green Day to work with?

They are kind, personable, common-voiced people. They are community-minded and down-to-earth – which in my opinion makes them a wonderful anomaly in the world of rock stardom.

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