Editors Note: There are a lot of articles about Strouth and all of his various projects and very few of them are here. This is just a small collection and more will be posted as they are found , so in internet speak: we’ll get to it when we do…
Legal cases continue from the events of last September’s Republican National Convention.
This week, federal prosecutors recommended a three to four years prison sentence for Bradley Neal Crowder of Austin, Texas. He was convicted of making Molitov cocktails and plotting to use them against police during the RNC here in St. Paul.
Mainstream media carried Images of delegates rallying in the Xcel Energy Center, protesters demonstrating outside, and police officers trying to maintain control of the streets of St Paul.
But, documentary director Chris Strouth has focused on another angle of the RNC. He’s assembled footage recorded by citizen-journalists, protesters and bystanders for his film – “Unconvention: A Mix Tape from St. Paul, RNC 08.”
He joined Tom Crann in the studio to discuss the documentary. Strouth is screening the film at the 27th Annual Minneapolis-St.Paul International Film Festival at the St. Anthony Main Theater on April 26, 5:15 p.m.Strouth will present the film and take questions from the audience.
Chris Strouth had been living with kidney disease for three years, but suddenly it was getting worse. He needed a transplant. Not knowing what else to do, he turned to Twitter and wrote:
“Sh*t, I need a kidney”
Within a few days, 19 people offered to find out if they might be a match. One of the people who replied was an acquaintance named Scott Pakudaitis, who hadn’t seen Chris in years.
After seeing the Tweet, Scott researched the procedure, talked to people who had been through it before, then decided to get tested to see if he would be a match.
When the match came back positive, he decided to donate his kidney. After the procedure, he sent a get-well-soon message to back to Strouth—on Twitter.
DIRECTED BY: Chris Strouth
RATED: Not Rated
SHOWING: St. Anthony Main, April 26, 5:15 pm
It has now been more than seven months since the 2008 Republican National Convention came to its resounding end. The events of those four intense days continue to play out, yet many have already forgotten what exactly transpired. In his first political documentary, “Unconvention,” local director Chris Strouth combats this widespread amnesia by exhibiting a broad collection of interviews and firsthand accounts of both the order of the convention and the mayhem on the streets. The result is an engaging, at times terrifying, record of the 2008 RNC.
What sets the film apart is the style in which it is presented. Strouth doesn’t attempt an all-encompassing narrative; he doesn’t even make a political statement. Instead, he simply tells the story through the filmed experiences of journalists from a variety of political and social backgrounds. These ranging perspectives help tell all sides of the story, and while no film is free of bias, “Unconvention” certainly takes a crack at complete objectivity.
A&E spoke with Strouth about the convention, protestors and the role of the journalists in today’s media.
What were the issues that you wanted to deal with in this film?
The movie is as much about the media as it is about the events of the moment: what really got caught, what didn’t get caught. It’s not a film about protest; it’s not a film trying to convince someone. Our way of thinking was that this whole process is kind of insane and there might be a better way to handle it. Our perspective was: we’re not pro-protester, we’re not anti-protestor, we’re not pro-cop, we’re not anti-cop; we just think the whole thing was idiotic.
And it was amazing to me that people who lived in St. Paul didn’t realize there was a firefight going on. The amount of tear gas, percussion grenades, all the stuff that went off and you don’t really get it. The footage from CNN of this girl being hit by bikes was one of the only images that got into mainstream media. I think it says a lot that it was just a moment, and there’s so much information out there that it’s a moment that got completely lost. Even though it was on CNN, you didn’t hear a lot about it.
The other thing that really got us was the arrest of the journalists. Journalists had such a strange role in this. We have footage from this guy who is the editor of Variety and he got arrested as a protester. This is like a Brooks Brothers kind of guy and they took his cameras and a lot of the footage he got, and that’s draconian; that’s just not right. But at the same time you’ve got a lot of people who were like, I have a blog and therefore I am the press and they made their own press passes. They’d go write about something and then they’d go protests and they’d use these press passes as a get out of jail free card. Our thing on that is if you’re a journalist, you’re a journalist. You might not be a journalist all the time, but when you’re doing that process you have to be in that mindset.
The film comes off as comparatively unbiased. Did you have any political agenda or were you attempting fly-on-the-wall neutrality?
We really tried to take the pure documentary approach. Tim Sherno [KSTP reporter] said a thing in the film that’s great, “I’m here to witness. I am the unblinking eye.” That’s totally it. We’re not there to persuade; we just wanted to shine a light and show the ludicrousness of the situation on both sides; the circus element. There were people throughout this that we thought were absolutely ludicrous. My favorite moments are when people from either side would at first say something that sounded rational, and then as they got further and further they become, you know, Mussolini.
But there’s always going to be a slight slant whether it’s intentional or not; you can’t avoid that. I know that the film is a little more sympathetic on the left than it is on the right, but it’s mostly — I don’t want to say a centrist approach — but just a common sense approach. When it comes to politics, people get very heated and they don’t necessarily see past their perspective.
What effect do you hope the film will have seven months after the events of the 2008 RNC?
Basically I just want people to bear witness. My thinking about things like an atrocity in general — and I’m going to go ahead and call this an atrocity — is that if you bear witness to it, it won’t happen again. News moves so fast these days that everything gets lost. The RNC was just like a bad cocktail; people wanted to swallow it down and try not to think about it anymore. But we’ve got to know our mistakes or we’re destined to repeat them over and over again.
We like to talk about politics at parties. We like to talk about politics in a way that’s pretty unobtrusive, but it’s a very strange notion that because someone watches the news they think they’re politically active or politically conscious. There’s a big difference between just being aware and doing something about it and it doesn’t take much to be involved and change the tide. If enough people, just ordinary people, actually said to their congressmen, “Hey, we don’t want to do this anymore, let’s not waste millions of dollars on conventions, lets figure out a better way to do this.”
So there is some criticism regarding the convention itself?
Well, it’s just a ludicrous process and now is an awesome time to rewrite the system, rebuild the infrastructure and find something that works, where everybody feels represented. There’s this infrastructure that we’ve never updated, so even though we’re living in this technological age of instant telecommunications and instant contact, we still organize in a way akin to Whig politics.
It’s just sort of silly and we’re not hearing people; everybody’s got their own agenda. One of the things that I would hope for with the film is that people be aware that we need to let go of our personal agendas just to see what agenda the world needs around us and kind of adjust to it. But I think really the film just bears witness. It’s a statement that says, “This happened. Let’s try not to [expletive] it up again.”
- Article by: KRISTIN TILLOTSON , Star Tribune
- Updated: March 10, 2010 – 12:29 PM
William the Conqueror defeated Chris’ arch-enemy Harold, but he never could have done it without Scott.
Sounds like a weekly soap-opera update from “As the Medieval World Turns,” but it’s actually the tale of two guys, a traveling kidney and saving lives through social media.
Chris Strouth needed a kidney transplant. He’d been on dialysis for months after Berger’s disease (which he called “Harold”) wreaked havoc on his renal system. So he tweeted about it, casting a wide electronic net with a plea to anyone he was even remotely connected to online. He got an impressive 19 offers, and one match — casual acquaintance and Facebook friend Scott Pakudaitis of St. Paul, whose left kidney, “William the Conqueror,” was transplanted into Strouth in December. Both are doing well, and the rest is Facebook history.
“Part of my culture growing up was to be involved and help people,” Pakudaitis said. “A friend of mine had gone through being a donor for a relative of his, and he was just fine afterward.”
Before agreeing to become a donor, he checked with his own family to make sure none of them anticipated needing a kidney someday.
“Oh, sure, so I was your second choice,” joked Strouth.
A study in contrasts
On a recent afternoon in Strouth’s northeast Minneapolis studio, the two men sat down — in front of a coincidentally kidney-shaped table — to talk about their unusual connection and respective experiences. Aside from both being culture vultures, the pair are a study in contrasts. Strouth, a musician, filmmaker and teacher, is a gregarious wisecracker and extremely nonlinear thinker who seems to know everyone. Pakudaitis, a research and data analyst for St. Catherine University and freelance photographer, is a self-described introvert with an endearing, eccentric passion: He adores squirrels.
As is common in Facebookworld, Strouth, 41, and Pakudaitis, 44, were only slightly acquainted, but have overlaps in their friend circles.
“We’d never had a beer or lunch together or anything like that,” Strouth said. “But I was at a party at his house once.”
The occasion marked the first time the two men had seen each other since the hospital.
“Through the entire course of putting this together we never spoke on the phone or in real time,” Strouth said. “The whole thing was through Facebook and Twitter. I would send long messages to which Scott would not reply for a while and I would feel panicked that he didn’t like something I wrote. Then he’d answer and I’d think, ‘Good, I’m still getting the kidney.'”
Social media have been used to advance worthy causes since MySpace logged its first few members, but actually finding a donor organ via Twitter or Facebook is a newer phenomenon. It may not technically be more personal than a targeted mass mailing, or a flier on a club bulletin board. But it feels more personal, allowing us to communicate with huge numbers of people in a very efficient, yet also very emotional way.
Social media and organ donation
Pakudaitis remembers feeling calm pre-surgery, even joking with his doctor about making sure to take the right kidney. Strouth said he was vomiting with nervousness — a natural reaction, but he was in experienced hands.
The University of Minnesota Medical Center has been performing organ transplants since 1963, longer than any other place in the world, and also holds the record for the highest number of living-organ transplants, including more than 4,000 kidneys. Cathy Garvey, a transplant director and coordinator, has seen firsthand how Facebook is being used to connect with possible donors.
“Typically, it’s been people who need a second transplant, who already know they’re not compatible with family or friends, who push the search out farther,” Garvey said. “Church bulletins, workplace newsletters, approaching TV stations to put it on the news. Social media is the logical next step.”
Some would-be donors have the best intentions, but don’t pass a required psychosocial test, she said: “Some people can’t handle the stress. If they have financial worries or a long history of mental illness, we don’t want anything to upset the apple cart. We did take an extra look at Scott because he and Chris have a looser relationship.”
Pakudaitis knew they had to make sure he was doing it for the right reasons, he said, adding they looked closely at his attitude toward volunteering. He’s been a longtime Big Brother, has given time to Habitat for Humanity and even cares for injured baby squirrels at a wildlife conservatory.
Pakudaitis did a one-week countdown on his Facebook page before the operation. Because he knew he wouldn’t be very spry for a while, he went out dancing the night before, gathering a crew of friends to join him by putting out a call on … Facebook, natch. He began tweeting about the recovery from his hospital bed that afternoon.
Internet as cocktail party
Social media also helped support for both donor and donee grow exponentially.
Chris: “I got a thousand Facebook messages the week of the surgery. We had numerous Catholic churches praying for us, a Buddhist temple, a bunch of Lutherans, a pagan sect and at least two Satanists that I know of, so we were pretty much covered.”
Scott: “That was my experience, too. Every faith was represented. I said, ‘Pray for the surgeons, that they’ve got steady hands and are well rested.'”
Chris: “Oh, I wanted them to pray for me.”
Scott: “Well, you needed that; I didn’t.”
Chris: “The Internet is a copy machine, but it’s also a cocktail party. The magic of Facebook is seeing all the different people from my universe interact. A friend of mine would make a comment, some German technomusician would do a follow-up, then someone I went to high school with, and then some weirdo who I don’t know how I know them.”
Since his transplant, Strouth has given the Roseville-based regional division of the National Kidney Foundation a Facebook-page tutorial.
“This is a way to throw a need out there to a world of people you wouldn’t normally talk to and see what comes back,” said Jill Evenocheck, regional division president. “There are 83,000 people nationally waiting for a kidney today, and social media is one of the ways we can help that number can go down.”
Pakudaitis is now Facebook friends with Strouth’s surgeon, Dr. Ty Dunn. (Strouth isn’t, because Dunn has a rule about not “friending” patients.) Would he recommend his donor experience to others?
Scott: “I see the impact it’s made on Chris’ life and I feel great for helping make that change. And my own recovery went great, less painful than I expected.”
Chris: “Yeah, but would you give it five stars on Yelp?”
Scott: “Five stars.”
Chris: “I never told you this, but you were the first person to send me a friend request back when Facebook was really new and I was just using it to communicate with my students. I thought, how am I going to handle this, should I accept everyone, or just family and close friends? Then I thought, anyone who wants to be my friend who I know is not some kook I’m going to let in. People recommend limiting who I add and I say, really? Because you never know what you’re going to miss.”
Strouth handed Pakudaitis a belated Christmas gift — a nutcracker in the form of a squirrel.
“You’ve already given me mine,” he said.
Czeslaw Janicki was an electronic-music composer based in northeast Minneapolis during the 1960s. After various government jobs, he channeled his resources into his life’s work: a machine that could musically beam human existence into outer space. Sadly, the experiment killed Janicki, trapping his spirit in an unfinished loop.
OK, so none of that actually happened. Janicki is a fictitious character concocted by Permanent Art & Design Group. But his sci-fi existence serves as the backbone for “Czeslaw’s Loop: The Final Opus” — a sprawling, three-day multimedia opera with roughly 100 participating artists and musicians, taking place on the Mississippi River during this weekend’s Art-A-Whirl. This marks the fourth year that high-concept antics have come to the riverfront behind the Sample Room, and it looks to be the most elaborate yet.
The logistics behind “Czeslaw’s Loop” are a bit mind-boggling, but here goes. There’ll be four distinct acts over three days, atop a massive stage built on the river, Permanent creative director Joseph Belk said. Ryan Olson, ringleader of the supergroup Gayngs, and rapper P.O.S. will head up the first act, titled “Desire,” on Friday evening. Producer/composer Chris Strouth will conduct the third act, “Creation,” on Saturday night, along with members of ’80s stalwarts the Time, the Family and Information Society. The entire weekend will be packed with music and visual art, all rooted in the pathos of a shared sonic loop — Janicki’s unfinished masterpiece. The performance will sprawl off the stage onto a barge (!) and two houseboats.
Strouth, an avant/multimedia veteran, likens the project to a “prog rock opera.” “It’s the weirdest thing I’ve ever done,” he said, promising surprise guests and a laser-filled ending. “This is like the Nashville of the Midwest in a lot of ways,” Strouth said. “Sure, I’m biased, but I’m not wrong.”
- Jay Boller
Some Assembly Required
(2002’s Minnesota theme, with Chris Strouth)
When Chris Strouth found out he had kidney disease, he named his sickness Harold. It was a way to deal with something that might kill him, and the name was a lot easier to remember than IGA Nephropathy. Strouth has coped with Harold for about three years, but by last winter, his life was such a living hell that he decided it was time to take Harold for a visit to the Mayo Clinic. The news was not good. Harold had overstayed his welcome.
Strouth opened up his Twitter account.
“‘Shit, I need a kidney,’ or words to that effect, is what I wrote,” Strouth said the other day. “I got replies instantly.”
Nineteen people contacted him with offers to get tested to see if their kidneys would make a suitable match. One of them was Scott Pakudaitis. On Dec. 1, the two men will be laying next to one another at the University of Minnesota Medical Center as surgeons whip out Strouth’s diseased kidney, replace it with one of the good ones belonging to Pakudaitis, and show Harold the door.
When he saw Strouth’s tweet,”I thought is was a joke. That he wasn’t serious,” Pakudaitis says. But then he read a longer, eloquent and emotional plea on Strouth’s Facebook page. After talking with a friend who had donated a kidney 15 years ago, and doing some homework of his own with the medical literature, he figured he’d be no worse for the wear and tear and decided to see if he could be a match for Strouth.
The tests came back positive. And when Pakudaitis contacted Strouth, they discovered they had another link. Pakudaitis is a volunteer with Big Brothers Big Sisters, and it turns out that his little brother’s mother had worked with Strouth at the American Composers Forum.
Strouth has been a fixture in the Twin Cities’ music and arts scene for years. He was Director of Artists and Product for Twin/Tone records, he’s played in a range of rock, jazz and experimental bands around town, and on stages including First Avenue, the Walker and the Weismann. He had just wrapped production on a documentary about the Republican National Convention in St. Paul when Harold turned up the volume.
The two men have known each other for a long time, first crossing paths when Strouth was with Twin/Tone and Pakudaitis was managing the band All The Pretty Horses. “Back when Venus DeMars was a guy,” Strouth says. But that was years ago. Pakudaitis is now a statistician at St. Catherine University and a clothing designer and photographer. They haven’t seen each other in person in a while, and Pakudaitis says there’s a good chance they won’t until the doctors prep the OR. Penciled-in plans for a Thanksgiving weekend meeting may get scrubbed because of cramped schedules.
When the operation’s over, both men say they expect to return to regular lives. Strouth will rid himself of the dialysis machine that has ruled his existence since February. Pakudaitis will be a few ounces lighter. And Harold will be nowhere in sight.