SoPARTS Spotlight: Carman Spoto

What drives you to wake up in the morning & what keeps you up at night?
Seeing the growing fascist threat keeps me awake at night while seeing the active resistance to fascism and gentrification makes me want to live. I wake up every morning nervous about what reactionaries have done, and how it is going to hurt my friends. But even more, I revel in the news of any liberatory action. This dual anxiety has long preceded the recent upsurge of American fascism, and I’m sure will continue way past it.
Why art? How does using film allow you to tell stories or break down barriers that are otherwise uneasy to explain?
I wish I could understand “why art”. I have a lot of reservations about the value of “art” especially in the western concept of what  “art” is or isn't. I can’t explain how film breaks down barriers, but I see it as a heavily emancipatory tool. Cinema for me is important as someone who considers themself an amateur horologist (one who studies time) Cinema is the only medium that allows me to truly express the feelings of time and duration. When I make cinema, I am not trying to “teach” my audience a lesson, or be didactic, I am offering an experience of time through images and sound. The only thing I hope with my work is that it elucidates something within its viewers, and hopefully pushes them to change the world around them.

Carman Spoto

Tell us about “What Color is Blue”. How did it come about? 
     What Color is Blue is an independent feature film about two young queers in Philadelphia questioning the difference between action/inaction and life/death while facing a world that does not want to see them exist. The film is more or less a collection of memories from my time in Philadelphia. I've loosely connected these memories and feelings around a story about anti-gentrification “activists”. The film’s most recent incarnation was inspired by a science fiction short story about a teleportation device, but quickly grew into something much more personal and reflective of my life and my community. We are currently crowdfunding for the film and will be shooting the film in the fall of this year.

For every pain, there is a pill. For both personal and social “pains”, what is your medicine?
     My two favorite things in the world are friends and cinema. There is nothing better to me that spending time with friends sitting around for hours talking about something that challenges us (a piece of art, a lecture, a book, a concept). The only thing that can improve that is watching a film before hand.
You mention fighting violence and oppression of at-risk communities, both in the streets and art galleries. Can you explain ways in which people can do both?
     People can do both, but in my belief it is separate. As much as I am a proponent of political art, I see that art has its limits. Some films have caused political change, but real political change comes with hammers and torches. I think all art is inherently political, because all artists are inherently subjective. The question is, “is what we are saying radical and important?” Any time we are offered a platform, I think it is pivotal that we bring our concerns about our liberation to light.
But I don’t think artists can be “just artists.” We have to literally be in the streets, supporting militancy and defending our communities from attack. While art can inspire political change, art itself can not create said change.

Do you think the art world is becoming more representative of queer identity?
    I am not sure if the “art world” is becoming more representative of the queer identities because I do not belong to the art world. I will say that more queer art is being presented as it is becoming increasingly sell-able. However queer and trans artists have been making art for thousands of years, it’s just that now that it is popular for people to talk about queer and trans issues it is finally getting a platform.
What does community mean to you? How does that community affect your creative output?
     My concept of community has changed a lot over the years as my politics have changed. I used to hold this concept of “community” up on a pedestal, where everything we do needs to be done for this imaginary “community” that doesn’t really exist. There is a micro-geopolitical concept of “community” that holds up, but for the most part, a broad concept of “community” doesn’t exist for me. That being said, What Color is Blue is a very personal piece about the first community I have ever felt accepted into. While I was living in Philadelphia, I became a part of a mostly queer and trans “radical” community. A group of folks of all different genders, races, sexualities, and even politics, but who all came together to stand together against the things that tried to destroy us, whether that be cops, gentrification, white supremacy, or hetero/transphobia. I have fought alongside these people, had them show up to my court hearings, dance at parties with them, cry at concerts together, and collaborate on amazing pieces of art. They are my “community” and they are what What Color is Blue is really about.

 A list of Carman's influences

A list of Carman's influences

Is there anything you would change in your life, if you had the chance? In the world?
I would change an infinite amount of things in my life and in the world. Global capitalism, fascism, racism, homophobia, transphobia, sexism. But when it comes down to it, I just want my friends and the rest of the strangers in the world to be free, and have full autonomy over their own lives.
Can you share a story about social injustice? How do experiences like these manifest in your work?
In 1985 The Philadelphia Police Department dropped a bomb on the MOVE house from a helicopter. They dropped plastic explosives on a house full of a family of black activists and radicals. While they tried to escape, the Philadelphia police started shooting into the house to prevent anyone from escaping.  The Police then told the fire department to “let the fire burn.” 11 people died in that fire including men, women, and children. No police were ever reprimanded or arrested for these murders. This is the legacy of Philadelphia, this is the legacy of America.

Police injustices have destroyed the lives of queer and people of color for the last two hundred years and beyond. My work reflects these stories, and hopes to inspire defense against this threat.

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