Citizen Video by Keith Boyd 08.02.06
When I was a kid, my family moved around a lot. We lived in California, Maine, and Virginia, and each time we'd head to a new destination, we'd usually drive. This crisscrossing of the entire country makes up a bulk of the illuminating memories of my life.
In that last gasp of true regionalism in America (the late 60's to mid-70's), I had the good fortune to experience a place of unique differences. The flavors of the south, the undeveloped orange groves of California, and the raw beauty of Maine. All of the sprawling land between these places was equally interesting and unique. This was the pre-"plugged in" world. Sure, we had TV, but due to the lack of cable, internet, and xeroxed strip-malls, the differences between regions were more marked than their similarities.
Times have certainly changed. The America we engage with has become increasingly bereft of original voices. What creativity there is that surfaces is usually out of reach. It's either grossly out-priced (think, theater tickets and fine dining) or doesn't show up on the radar (zine/blog writing, unsigned bands). Waxing nostalgic for the old days is all well and good, but it only goes so far. What's needed are people who turn their attention towards their passions and who ask themselves what they can actually do about it.
Holly Jones, owner of the South Park video rental store, Citizen Video, is one of those people. On a recent visit, we discussed her store, its vision, and the part it plays in her ongoing response to the homogenization of culture, economics, and life.
Holly is an artist, and although she has a background in photography, she has no formal training in film. The concept for Citizen Video came to her while visiting the "Alphaville" video store in Albuquerque, New Mexico. "I was there and it just popped into my head. It was one of those AH-HA moments." This intuitive moment was inspiration enough, and realizing that San Diego was lacking this type of an outlet, the idea for the store was born. Taking the inspiration from "Alphaville" to organize the films by director, she then used her designer and artist's eye to create the space. Her aesthetic is evident as you approach the store.
The blue and green color scheme, with stencil art in the windows and on the walls, is inviting and enticing. There is a comfort and warmth to the interior which is matched by Holly's personality. You get the sense of rightness between place, purpose and person.
In discussing the vision and mission of Citizen Video, Holly is very clear. "We want to provide a way to get the unheard voices in cinema more well-known. In San Diego there is a tendency for people to try to not make waves. We thought we'd step outside of that and not be afraid to come from the left and the outside, because that's who we are." Citizen Video is an example of a business that seems tailor-made for its community. About South Park, Holly says, "As soon as I saw the neighborhood, I fell in love with it. I wanted to figure out a way to make a living here while giving back and adding to the community." The ongoing themes of our discussion were community and outreach. In addition to staging genre-based film trailer shows at The Whistle Stop, they have begun hosting monthly screenings of movies with a theme, followed by group discussion. One catches the palpable desire Holly and her employees have to promote cinema and help inform people how to approach it. She is, however, quick to point out that they don't want to appear elitist. "We struggle with the perceived elitism of art-house cinema. We aren't film snobs, but we also realize the need to provide people with choices." Holly sees the broad acceptance of a narrow range of mainstream choices as a part of a larger pattern. "Its not just in cinema, its also in things like our eating habits. We crave the familiar and will accept anything as long as it is known to us. I feel its a symptom of a general numbing effect at work in our society." This nationwide march toward ever greater levels of homogeneity is not some abstract concept. Its a living reality, one that we can see at work on any day of the week. Try to find a locally owned coffee shop. See if you can get any truly underground literature at your mega-bookstore. Peruse the choices at any of your video rental/retail chains. What you'll come up with will be the same choices available from coast to coast, and by their ubiquity, our intellectual palette is diminished.
Holly Jones strikes me as a person who has come up with a valid and workable response to this situation. Find a need, fill it, and reach out to your community with knowledge, an open mind, and love.
2207 Fern St.