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Tony Shawcross Saved Public-Access TV in Denver

Deproduction will use grant money to help others.

As if that weren't enough, Shawcross has one more project in the works: a collage-style film using real events at the Democratic National Convention as the backdrop. The inspiration for the flick is Medium Cool, a 1969 movie by director/cinematographer Haskell Wexler that thrust a fictional news cameraman, portrayed by Robert Forster, into the maelstrom of the 1968 Democratic convention in Chicago. Wexler captured vivid footage of the rioting that took place outside the city's International Amphitheatre, where the delegates gathered and security forces engaged in their own brand of rough justice; then-CBS correspondent Dan Rather was famously clobbered on live television.

Rather than emphasizing a single narrative or protagonist, however, Shawcross wants to tell a slew of stories. "We're working on getting ten or fifteen production teams and having each of them do a short, from five to fifteen minutes long, that focuses on a single scene," he says. "And all of the shorts will look at the myth of black and white — of good versus evil versus shades of gray, which we think relates to the idea of only being able to choose between two candidates, or two political parties." And if Chicago-style mayhem doesn't break out? No problem, Shawcross insists: "The idea is to work with these groups over the next few months to make sure everyone has a solid script and to make sure the setting of the conversation and the action is flexible enough that it could be happening if there are cops and tear gas or if everyone is singing 'Kumbaya' in Civic Center Park."

As is typical for Shawcross, he doesn't want to limit participation to those with experience in the field. Instead, he explains, "we're building another tool in Drupal that will help people say, 'I want to learn more about film production,' and we'll help production crews find each other on the Denver Open Media website," at www.DenverOpenMedia.org. The filmmakers will use equipment purchased with the aforementioned PEG fees, with at least four crews receiving what Shawcross describes as "the full high-definition production package." After the convention, the movie will be assembled and shopped on the film-festival circuit. "I'm not expecting it to be picked up by Sony," he admits. "I just hope it inspires more people to make media — to show that they can share their perspective and influence their community through media and film even if they don't have a huge budget or the backing of a network or distributor."

Of course, making such a film would have been impossible were it not for the 2005 city council decision to put Shawcross in charge of three public-access channels that seemed nothing less than doomed. Every once in a while, idealism pays off.

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