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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Relive the ’80s scene in ‘SpokAnarchy!’

In anticipation of Saturday’s screening of “SpokAnarchy!,” billboards popped up around town.
Jennifer Larue, Correspondent

Two years ago, hundreds of self-described “punk rock, new-wave and artistic weirdos” converged on Spokane for a reunion, reliving their ’80s days of mayhem.

Around that same time, a handful of them decided that they had a story worth telling. With cameras in hand, they interviewed dozens of 40-year-old “punks” from Spokane to New York, edited more than 100 hours of footage and “SpokAnarchy!” came to fruition.

The film, which will have its first screening at the Garland Theater on Saturday, includes archival footage of trailblazing Spokane bands and artists from 1978-1988, including Sweet Madness, P-P Ku, Strangulon, Cattle Prod, Social Bondage and the Vampire Lezbos.

It’s described as “the real-life story of what it means to look back on a youth spent challenging the social and cultural norms of small town America.”

Those being interviewed described where they bought their clothes and how they altered them, how their fashion choices and obvious contempt for mainstream values got them beat up a time or two, and the many warehouses where experimental music and art took place.

The recollections are inspiring and sad at the same time, filled with the spirit of “raise your voice,” “do it yourself” and “question authority” juxtaposed with stories of addiction and even death.

When the feature-length documentary was in its early stages, following that punk-rock mentality, the title had a profanity in it. But things change.

“It was a pragmatic decision to change the name. It would be hard to put our initial title on a marquee and we didn’t want to shoot ourselves in the foot,” says Dave Halsell, editor and co-director of the film.

While the film is peppered with profanities, it has found acceptance at the Landlocked Film Festival in Iowa; the Columbia Gorge International Film Festival in Vancouver, Wash.; and the Alaska International Film Festival, where “SpokAnarchy!” won the best director award.

Halsell and his cohorts – Erica Schisler, executive producer, co-director and director of animation; Jon Swanstrom, director of photography, co-director, research coordinator and assistant editor; Theresa Halsell, line producer, co-director and co-editor; Heather Swanstrom, production assistant, co-director, co-editor and script supervisor; and Cory Wees, co-director, photography, lighting and grip – look upon those times as life-changing and worthy of the limelight.

Seeing her first experimental music/art show in Spokane in her youth, Schisler breathed a sigh of relief in the realization that forward thinking was alive and well even in the small city.

“Being a part of all that, in a sense, gave me permission to do, say and be anything,” she says. “I was introduced to new ways of thinking about music, art and society.”

Dave Halsell agrees: “The ‘scene’ gave me an early education and helped me see through the hypocrisy of mainstream living.

“Though some tragedies offset the exuberant glee we felt in those days, a lot of really creative people came out of it. Many have maintained that ‘punk rock’ mentality and they are free to create without restraint because of it.”

A soundtrack to the film, featuring more than a dozen tracks by bands from back in the day, will be available tonight at A Club, 416 W. Sprague Ave., during yet another reunion where a half-dozen bands will play, and at Saturday’s screening.

Both events are open to the curious public, whether or not you were there at the time.

“We really hope the film inspires others to do it yourself, think for yourself and do your own thing,” Halsell says. “If it can be done in Spokane, it can be done anywhere.”