Hansi Oppenheimer is a fan first and a filmmaker second. Afterall, you have to know your audience if you want to reach them. I first heard about Hansi’s work after watching the documentary “Color Me Obsessed”… the fan film about the Replacements. I knew right away that she probably grew up watching Penelope Spheeris’s Decline of Western Civilization and hanging onto Paul Westerberg lyrics like they were the best relationship she ever had. We were fellow fans of the Replacements and that made us kind of the same. Her new film Squee! is about that very thing. Strangers bonding hard over Star Wars or Star Trek or anything with a cult following. It’s the lunch table at school where no one fits but everyone belongs because fanning over Leonard Nimoy levels the playing field.
Ara: When did you decide to be a filmmaker?
I’ve been an artist my whole life and have worked with a lot of different media. I had done some fairly well known local graffiti in the 70’s. By the early 80’s I was making these huge “labia flora” canvas painting-sculpture hybrids and I decided to shoot some Super 8 film to use as projections at an exhibition of my work. I guess that was when I found my medium and I just kept working with film and then video.
My early work was pretty conceptual but it was the early 80’s and the art scene was full of that kind of stuff. You know, I was friends with a lot of the artists in the Actualist Movement, Frosty Myers, Nathan Joseph, Richard Thatcher and some of the younger Abstract Expressionists that hung out at Mickey Ruskin’s place so it was a very friendly environment to make experimental works.
Ara: Why film? In particular documentaries?
So I finally went to Film School in the mid 90’s, mostly to get my hands on the equipment which was still pretty expensive at the time. I did make a few short narrative films but I ended up working as a TA for two really brilliant documentarians (Hank Linhart and Fred Barney Taylor) and it was a good fit. I hated trying to get cast & crew together for shoots and it was easier to just go out with my camera and talk to people and record an oral history. I was a Tape Librarian for many years and I guess still have that need to archive information.
Ara: Who is your favorite female filmmaker?
I love the documentary work of Beth B. & Penelope Spheeris. There are so many women whose work I admire; Jane Campion, Shirley Clarke, Sofia Coppola, Ida Lupino, Maya Deren, Agnes Varda. I love the new horror films by Jennifer Kent and Ana Lily Amirpour, The Babadook and A Girl walks Home Alone At Night. I’d love to try my hand at a horror film one of these days but imagine it will end up as a documentary somehow.
Ara: What do you want people to take away from your work?
My films offer an opportunity for people to explore a subculture that they may or may not be familiar with. In the case of those who are familiar, I’d hope that they can relate and enjoy the camaraderie and in-jokes and say “yes, that’s me too” and for those who not a part of that subculture, I’d hope that they learn about a new world and discover the people are as fascinating and wonderful as I do when I’m making the films. Truthfully, I make the films for myself, because I enjoy making them. I hope other people enjoy them but even if they didn’t, i’d continue making them because it’s so much fun talking to all these amazingly awesome people about the things they love. I just have a deep need to document their stories
Ara: I think it’s interesting to see the early influences in an artist’s life. Take us back to 1985. Describe yourself and your life in 1985. What was playing in your walkman? What were you watching on television and in film?
In 1985 I an artist living in Williamsburg, which was a really funky dangerous (and much cooler) place back then. My daughter was 6 and she used to roller skate in the loft, which was mostly an unfinished work space.
I was making art, working as an artists model and art archivist’s assistant. It was pretty cool, we did the archival work in the loft so there were often Jim Dine’s or Julian Schnabel’s or other beautiful pieces spread out in the work space.
Musically, I mostly remember listening to a lot of 1930’s Jazz, California Punk bands like Flipper, Black Flag, Dead Kennedys, Minutemen and all the older NYC stuff I grew up with like Johnny Thunders and The Ramones, Television and Talking Heads.
I don’t remember what I was watching on TV except for Uncle Floyd but I remember enjoying the films of Jim Jarmusch, Scott & Beth B, Nick Zedd, Vivienne Dick, Amos Poe, Eric Mitchell and Richard Kern. That was sort of the end of the No Wave scene around that time.
Ara: What is Squee!? Why did you decide to do a documentary about Fangirls?
Squee is the sound a Fangirl makes when excited. “Squee”, the film that we’re just completing now is a documentary that explores the experiences of Fangirls and how they interact with Pop Culture. They don’t just consume media, they take it apart and recreate it in fanfic, vidding, cosplay etc. It’s totally punk and subversive, they have seized the means of production and are creating the stories that they want to read. It’s beautiful!
As a lifelong Fangirl, I’ve always felt that we get a bad rap and are often depicted as immature teenyboppers or groupies. The truth is Fangirls are so much more than that, we are writers, artists, academics, costumers and filmmakers. We organize campaigns that benefit the needy, we raise money and support the arts, we develop teaching programs and rally the troops. Yes, we do get a little weak in the knees when someone we admire retweets us or gives us a hug at a Con but we are proud of the things we love and we love them passionately.
Fangirls are incredibly generous; when I realized I would need to transcribe over 60 interviews in a few weeks for Squee, I reached out to the Fangirl community for help and they were amazing. They busted their asses to get them done and transcribing a 30 minute interview is a bitch, so they have nothing but my love and admiration.
Ara: Are you a Fangirl? Who makes you Squee?
Yes! Well my number one is Paul Westerberg. I have his autograph tattooed on my midriff. I got to spend some time with him on his solo tour in 2004 when I was shooting Color Me Obsessed and it was pretty damn awesome. He’s an incredibly brilliant and unique artist.
Admittedly, I have many, many people that I’m a Fangirl of, writers, artists, actors, directors, musicians, other Fangirls.You can see tons of photos on my Facebook page of me and some of people that make me go “squee”. The ones I really adore are as cool in person as you think they’d be. James Marsters, Kevin Smith, John Barrowman, George Romero, Felicia Day, Lauren Tom, Joel Hodgson. Just lovely people who make great art.
Ara: What is your favorite part of filmmaking?
There’s this creative high you get when all the pieces fall into place and it makes sense. I love that! I also love that I am able to meet and talk with all these amazing people. We recently did an interview for “Squee!” with legendary Fangirl Bjo Trimble. She saved Star Trek! She’s 81 years old, still considers herself a Fangirl and has stories about hanging out with Forry Ackerman, Robert Heinlein, Isaac Asimov, Robert Bloch! It’s just amazing to me that my camera gives me the opportunity to spend time with living legends (can you feel my inner squee there? )
Ara: What was the most important moment in your life, creatively?
*crickets* …no idea…
Ara: Give me a song lyric that describes you imperfectly perfect.
How about a quote instead?
“Buy the ticket, take the ride.”
That pretty much covers my philosophy towards life and art and I certainly can’t say it any better than Hunter S. Thompson.
Facebook page: www.facebook.com/fangirlproject
Teaser trailer: https://youtu.be/pzD9zu-SDqA