In conversation
with maverick media-maker
by Jim Magary (3/27/02 for Oakland Urban View)

Berkeley artist Antero Alli is racing to get high. The self-described "media-maker" is still in the trenches of post-production, shaping his new "videofilm" feature Hysteria into a final cut in time for its Saturday March 30 debut at Fine Arts Cinema. Such a debut -- with a big screen, big audio, and a big, reverent audience -- is Alli's narcotic of choice.

It's what cemented his path into moving pictures. A decade ago, Alli screened his first video, a 44-minute docudrama based on German poet Rainer Maria Rilke's "Requiem for a Friend." "What a high," says Alli. "Positively shocking. Since then, I have continued getting high from shooting action, editing it, and sharing that vision with others. On a more serious note, media-making has become a viable outlet for the expression of perceptions I don't have words for, things that I can see but cannot explain."

Indeed, Alli has the vision thing. He even has a "Vision Statement." He's a pure artist in the traditional sense, a painter chasing his muse around the atelier, an unrepentant experimentalist who cares more about the ritual of cinema than impressing the suits at Bravo. In dozens of features, shorts, and staged events, Alli has struggled to visualize the unknowable, inarticulate terrain of the imagination. From the "paratheatrical" experiments of "Crux" (1999) to the virtual-reality religiosity of "Tragos" (2000), in which a band of techno-pagans worships while a sci-fi police state keeps watch, his works look for pockets of pre-modern mysticism in a post-modern landscape. It's eccentric stuff, perhaps, certainly not the kind of marketable, comfort-food eccentricity one acts out for the benefit of Miramax creative execs on the slopes of Sundance. He rejects the compromises of the glad-handers and gold-miners. Antero Alli doesn't the need the Hollywood Dream Factory; as a dream machine, he's a self-contained unit. It's a calling, not a job. "I don't apply the word career to myself or my work," Alli says. "It's like reputation. The media and other people do that for you."

For the media and other people, it might be their first foray into a story that wrestles with the mental fallout from the attacks of 9/11. For Alli, his experience on Hysteria marks a sea change in his growth as an artist. "The challenges of Hysteria," he says, "were different from my previous works -- I shot 98 percent of this feature myself, for starters -- and I knew it'd be a turning point in terms of honing my vision and my skills."



Hysteria, which Alli bills as "a post-9/11 drama," is the story of two sisters, Peri (Anastasia Vega) and Marian (Atosa Babaoff), who reunite when the World Trade Center attacks send Manhattan club girl Peri to the relative calm of her sister's home in Oakland. They suffer the usual slings of sibling rivalry. The younger Peri is sexually liberal and restless; Marian is organized and family-defined. When Croatian boxer and devout Catholic Ikar (Jakob Bokulich, who also co-wrote the script) moves in next door, the twosome grows to a crowded threesome. The Balkan wars have turned Ikar into a literal and figurative fighter. Peri is attracted to him; Marian is cautious. He's not only a man afflicted by a troubled past, but by constant visions of the Virgin Mary.

What interests Alli aren't the melodramatic possibilities, or the typical ways in which we react to the terrorist attacks. He's into the hysteria of it all, how such a huge and monstrous spectacle affects the human condition. "In the six months it took to write, cast, rehearse, shoot, and cut this movie I was pretty much in full throttle response to the shockwaves that continued over the months following 9/11. And so," he says, "I was energized not so much buy the shocks them-selves but from my constant responses to them. I felt that if I was not in response, I would numb down into more passivity and immobilization."

Though highly mobile in context of his works, Alli remains, after birth in Finland and childhood in Canada, on the edge in terms of coastlines and lifestyles: Bay Area, Portland, and Seattle. Constrained by the low budgets of self-exhibition, not to mention his distaste for the lonesome, homebody nature of VCRs and streaming media, he's still unusually resolute in his refusal to give it the old college try for art audiences in New York, Chicago, or Austin. Despite an international flavor to his background and choice collaborators, home is where the art is.


Antero Alli

"I am definitely a creature of the West Coast and the SF Bay Area in particular," he says. "My values are subversive to the mainstream. I don't know if I have a mainstream bone in my body. My mind definitely bends towards the adventurous and living on the West Coast provides this rich, nurturing climate for the kinds of experi-mentation and synthesis of ideas that generally excite me. So, I don't really know if it's me or the west. Maybe I am a figment of the cultural imagination. So, regionalism, yes I think so. The west is the best."


filmography & bio

HYSTERIA production stories

an intermedia arts group