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Mr. Fish doesn't fit in any box, much less a box designed to describe him, so if you want to know more about this amazing artist, its time to check out the film trailer.

Keeping The “I” In Independent: A Preview To This Year’s AIFF

Phil Busse / April 12, 2018

The 1996 Telecommunication Act may sound like a somewhat dated and bureaucratic piece of legislation; but, it is really more like a seed planted two decades ago that has grown deep and gnarled roots into American culture. Consider, at the time, the 10,000 or so radio stations in America were owned by about 5000 different parties, but today 80 percent of those radio stations have been consolidated into ownership by three corporations. Clear Channel, for example, only owned 40 or so radio stations in 1996, but a decade later controlled hundreds.

How does that relate to a film festival?

It matters because our media—and subsequently culture and viewpoints—are increasingly becoming homogenized. Did you see the recent video circulated by Dead Spin showing dozens of newscasters on Sinclair-owned TV stations parroting the same script about “fake news”? It was one example about a media that is no longer free-thinking or independent.

Within the paradigm, Ashland Independent Film Festival is an important, and even critical event—four days to celebrate and engage with directors, filmmakers and actors who are trying to build careers in their own images and ideas, as opposed to catering and answering to a corporate boss; four days to explore different and, at times, uncomfortably “other” view points and attitudes.

“Freethinking is what comes to mind as what defines independent,” says director Pablo Bryant, whose film Mr. Fish is a remarkable and important case-study of one independent artist, a political cartoonist. Mr. Fish, the main character at the core of the documentary, isn’t trying to please anyone—and, although publishing in major magazines like Harper’s, his fierce independence creates problems with his career, but also answers a higher calling. “He is not looking to create an easily digestible tidbit that won’t ruffle anyone’s feathers,” explains Bryant. “The end result of a culture that does not value, or cannot handle an independent view, independent criticism, or freethinking,” continues Bryant, “is one that ends in fascism. It sounds blunt when I put it like that, but it’s just a matter of playing out the scenario.”

Increasingly more and more Americans seem more interested in media that re-enforces and hardens their own viewpoints, and our news feeds increasingly are catered from our Facebook friends and self-selected media outlets. Alternatively, Ashland Independent Film Festival offers a smorgasbord of viewpoints, attitudes, and styles—and we hope you sample and consider as many as possible.

Mr. Fish: Cartooning From the Deep End: Highly, highly recommended

At last year’s film festival, my favorite documentary was Nobody Speak: Trails of the Free Press. What sounds like a puerile story about Hulk Hogan’s sex tape turned out to be a profound and frightening study about the First Amendment, and an important exploration about the media’s vulnerability to censorship (as a result of a lawsuit over the sex tape, Gawker was shut down). The film fed conversations for me for many months later.

Mr. Fish arrives at this year’s film festival with some momentum from other festivals—and also lands as an informal companion piece to Nobody Speaks; another study into the contemporary media landscape, and a film I know I will reference for months to come. 

Mr. Fish, the real life person at the center of this documentary, is a political cartoonist. He is likable and, at times, vulnerable. And, he is also complex and sometimes distasteful, both in his art work, and his stubborn and overly opinionated personality; that is, the perfect recipe for an engaging central character.

Moreover, the film doubles down on independent media, as in the Ashland Independent Film Festival. It is a case-study about how an independent artist tries to financially and spiritually survive as a grown-up, and also the examination about the role of defiantly independent art in political discussions. That is, it may be the film that best exhibits the soul of an independent film festival.

Ultimately, Mr. Fish is a fun, engaged, and thoughtful documentary. But the result is a complex set of emotions and thoughts: Not necessarily pessimistic or optimistic, but certainly concerning. PB

6:40 pm Thurs, 12:40 pm Sat, 9:40 pm Sun at Varsity 3