Rod Webber’s ‘2020: The Dumpster Fire’ is a must watch
Are we all doomed? The past few years have been consumed by political elections, mass protests, and a surging pandemic. Talented filmmaker and satirist Rod Webber examines it all in his latest documentary 2020: The Dumpster Fire. The film takes an unflinching look at the madness & chaos of the U.S. political landscape and demonstrates that if there’s hope to be found, it comes from looking a different direction.
We were fortunate enough to speak with Rod Webber about the film and his ongoing work. His unique perspective and this new documentary just might be a wakeup call for some out there.
What made you want to become a filmmaker?
Want? Desire never played a part. It was always just something that I did. Children are born artists and anarchists, and are gifted with an innate connection to the subconscious. They are not bound by the systems of control which most adults choose to conform to. These hierarchies by nature strive to beat the anarchic state of the creative child-mind from young people. Whether it be parents, teachers or Barney Fifes, there is always someone who wants to rip the kinder spirit-magic out of you. Artists are those who manage to maintain this spark, and their role is to hold a mirror up to society and show them who they are.
What filmmaking/filmmakers influenced you to pursue this type of documentary filmmaking?
Pablo Picasso. Emma Goldman. Bob Dylan. The Brothers Bellamy. The Cups. Jello Biafra. Noam Chomsky. Daryle Lamont Jenkins. The Merry Pranksters. Vermin Supreme. Monty Python. Federico Fellini. Charlie Chaplin. We are only here for a short while. And if I am able to turn the weirdness up a few notches in that time, then all the better. And if I can get all the young rabbits to think twice about living a life mired in the lies of these politician game-show hosts, then, yes. I’ve got a vision of a world. I mostly did it for Lauren Pespisa.
What do you love most about satire?
Humanity’s destruction is on the horizon. And we’re collectively jammed into a rowboat, and racing toward the edge of the dead ocean which is pouring out into the lion’s mouth. It’s straight-forward. And it always tells the truth.
What’s your response to people who say that after Trump’s administration, satire is dead?
I would tell them Trump is a puppet you can make dance like any other politician. I would tell them a guy known as “The Flower Man” taught himself to become a lawyer and beat the President of the United States in court as a piece of performance art. I would tell them there’s a movie about it now on Apple TV. I don’t know if that’s satire— but it’s goddamn hilarious to me.
When did you first decide to make 2020: Dumpster Fire? Was there a particular political or social event that motivated you?
Well, to answer that question, the first thing to understand is that “Dumpster Fire” is but one film in the “Political Outsiders” series which I began filming eighteen years ago at the DNC in 2004. That resulted in the 2008 release of, “A Man Among Giants”, about the Mayoral Candidacy of Doug ’Tiny’ Tunstall, a midget wrestler from Pawtucket Rhode Island. Tiny ran as a Republican— a fact which I find totally irrational and not in line with his personality. And though his politics are steeped in cockalorum, it was Tiny’s sheer determination and will to fight to the bitter end in a hopeless battle against a well-oiled machine which was so infectious.
The follow-up to “Giants” was 2009’s “American Psych Ward,” about Tiny’s involuntary commitment to the Eleanor Slater Prison mental hospital in the wake of of his Mayoral race. Some dark shit.
After Tiny’s 2009 stay as a political prisoner, in 2012 and 2013, we filmed, “The World According to Tiny.” In this particular instance, another African American little-person began impersonating Tiny in a series of home invasions. The local press dubbed it “The Mini-Mr. T. Robberies.” When the police arrested him, his mother called me in a panic— and so began my journey to track down Tiny’s doppelgänger and prove Tiny’s innocence. Upon his release, Tiny made a series of stop-motion animations with super-hero action figures he calls “The Ghetto Altered Heroes.” He went to comic-cons and got celebrities like Tony Todd, Ernie Hudson and Stan Lee to voice the characters to tell the story of his false-arrest and subsequent incarceration. During the filming, he was once again arrested for so-called home-invasions. But this time, the alleged home-invasion took place while Tiny was in jail— thus proving once and for all that Tiny was not the little person committing the robberies. Soon after, Tiny’s doppelgänger went to prison.
Somewhere in between all this, I made time to shoot a couple narrative films— a couple with Greta Gerwig, a couple with Joe Bellamy and Matt Ferrel. One with Artie Wahlberg.
In the summer of 2015, I made my return to politics.
I had just spent a year traveling around the country passing out flowers to strangers. At the Fourth of July Parade in Amherst, New Hampshire that year, I met Jeb Bush, and offered him a flower. I asked him, “what are you going to do to make the world more peaceful?” He responded, “pray a lot.” From there, we found the genesis of the 2016 documentary, “Flowers For Peace,” and it’s accompanying book.
“Flowers” spilled into “The War of North Dakota,” about Standing Rock, which spilled into “The Oppressed Majority” about all that Proudboys bullshit.
“Flowers” also spilled into “This is Vermin Supreme”. That’s a weird one— in that it’s basically out-takes from the 2016 coverage created for “Flowers For Peace”. It actually proved what I’d said many times before. From the footage shot for any given project, a skilled editor could probably extract several entirely different films. And, so rather than the Flower Man invading the election with his sidekick Vermin, we cut together Vermin with his sidekick the Flowerman.
In 2018 Vermin and I started touring the film around to Libertarian conventions. I’m not a libertarian myself, but it got me thinking that I might focus on staying behind the camera to make an improvement on “This Is Vermin Supreme” during 2020. But, Vermin decided to start running a “serious” campaign which I found to be far less interesting than trolling the candidates, and went back to trolling them myself, since I didn’t see anyone else carrying on in the tradition of the Yippies. And so that brings us to 2020.
What did you learn from managing a satirical presidential campaign?
Participation in an election is participation in a happening.
Elections are a year-and-a-half long 24-7 moving theater production— and we are merely stowaways hijacking their song-and-dance numbers. Sometimes quite literally. These politicians are just foolish enough to open their productions to the public. That means, anyone can come, and there are no rules.
During my first fake campaign, (the Flower Campaign), the objective was to just play nice until Lindsey Graham or John McCain would invite me up on stage. The intention is to create a moment. When you build enough moments, you build a narrative. And once you have a narrative, you are effectively became a participant in a brand-new reality. It is an under-reported reality for sure. But what you start to see is that what is reported on CNN or Fox News is just their version of reality too.
I’m partial to the world that we’ve created for ourselves— And what is amazing is that when we’re done, anyone can pop on our movie and experience this weird parallel story to what they’ve been seeing on TV. Everyone knows who Trump and Bush and Biden are, but your average person is likely totally unaware of how many cross-overs they’ve had into our universe, and vice versa.
Did you learn anything shocking or insightful while interviewing 2020 presidential candidates?
Insightful? We will never have nice things as long as you keep voting for these inter dimensional space maggots.
Shocking? Not particularly. It’s possible that I suffer from Apocolocynposis— or fear of turning into a pumpkin.
I do recall though that someone held an Eyes Wide Shut party for former Massachusetts Governor Bill Weld. It was at a secluded location at some fancy mansion in the New Hampshire woods. I was the only one who wore one of those Commedia dell’arte masks with the long-ass nose. You know— like in the Kubrick movie with Tom Cruise and all the creepy murder/ sex parties. I am fairly confident that Governor Weld’s soft BDSM play was about to begin— but the hosts pushed me out the door before I was able to get my clothes off. They also threatened me with their attack dog.
Laugh all you want— but there’s video.
The real thing about 2020 is that when George Floyd was murdered, all hell broke loose— and there were no more presidential candidates. The candidates were gone. It was clear to me that we were in a historic moment, and accordingly, who became president was no longer even of interest. If I didn’t capture the moment, I knew that almost no one else would. So, I donned my gas mask and began dodging rubber bullets, police explosives and live rounds of ammo. I saw cities on fire. I saw drive-by shootings by the police. I saw kids doing donuts with their car inside a mall. I filmed as Federal Officers incited riots day after day in Portland Oregon. I even saw the National Guard pull a black man out of his car as they did with George Floyd. I believe the only reason they didn’t kill him was that they saw that someone was there to film it. By the time they came to their senses, they let go of him, and he jumped on top of their Humvee, and they drove off into the distance at 60 MPH with the guy clinging to the roof.
The most shocking thing about the 2020 candidates is that America still voted for these cowards who could not muster the courage to spend even five minutes out at the protests.
Are there any politicians working today that inspire you or give you hope?
I am absolutely most inspired by candidates who don’t have a cent to their name, and don’t stand a snowflake’s chance in hell. Why? They aren’t running for wealth or power or fame. They are running on principle; Candidates like Fred Schultz, Kasey Wells, Brian Ellison, and Vermin Supreme. The list of unelectable candidates I’ve made videos about is too long to list.
What’s something that you wish more people understood about the U.S.’s political landscape today?
The United States has a one-party system. I understand that the Democrats and Republicans present themselves as diametrically opposed philosophically— but these are just their public personas. Once they’re in office, it is all about raising money, and making money. They may get into the game with altruistic intentions, but within the upper levels of government, the office itself corrupts the individual, and those who make it in must sell out their values just to get where they are. The mass-awakening promised by Q-Anon or any other Jonestown crackpot will never happen— so it is incumbent on any and all responsible citizens to constantly push back on those in office, or they will grind the people into dust.
People who try to defend the January 6th Capitol riot often try to compare it to the George Floyd protests. You experienced both firsthand. Can you tell us about the differences you saw on the ground?
What is the difference between the George Floyd protests and January 6th? The George Floyd protests lasted for months. January sixth has lasted over a year. During the Floyd protests, I was a free man. Since January sixth, my wife Lauren Pespisa and I have been political prisoners under constant surveillance by the FBI and Joint Terrorism Task Force, and the targets of at least five Grand Juries that we know of.
To be clear, I attended the Stop The Steal rallies— but January 6th was the one major event that I did not attend. Nonetheless, January 6th has lead to a nightmare situation, and has had a direct impact on Lauren and I.
But to let’s give your readers some context as to how we’ve arrived at this situation.
During the course of filming over the past few years:
- My film-crew and I were falsely raided by the FBI— twenty agents with guns out.
- I was kidnapped by mercenaries.
- The Capitol Police falsely accused me of having a bomb.
- Right-wingers attempted to get me swatted by the FBI.
- Federal Agents broke into my car.
- I was brought up on false charges for burning a Trump effigy.
- I have been arrested ten times.
Considering that the cops and the Feds are conservatives, it didn’t take a lot of math to figure out that they would make any excuse possible to lock in prison any lefty found to be in attendance at January 6th. It’s not like they were hiding the fact that the Trumpkins intended to stage a coup to crown Lord Glubbertush as their Blumpkin-King for Life.
And the fact that I had just won my lawsuit against Donald Trump and a motherfucking FBI agent had just plastered a bright-red target on my back.
Surprise surprise… a couple days after January 6th, and I was approached by Federal Agents from the FBI, The Joint Terrorism Task Force and the Secret Service. Agents Andy Creed, Steven Kimball and Dave Kennedy. They informed me that they were there under the umbrella of the January Sixth investigations.
I was then falsely accused us of a plot to assassinate then President Trump. They told me they came to the conclusion that the so-called threat should be taken seriously because they had just interviewed a Proudboy who alerted them to the trailer for “2020: The Dumpster Fire.” The trailer to our fucking movie was their evidence of this so-called assassination threat.
Later in January, they visited me a second time. At that stage, they told me that they would throw Lauren in prison, and get me “like Martha Stewart, for lying to the FBI.” Subpoenas were issued to members of our film crew for a February 2021 Grand Jury in Massachusetts. Thankfully, it was kicked out because the case is absolutely bogus— and anyone with half a brain can see that this is an utter assault on first amendment-protected free speech. This should have filmmakers across the nation outraged.
But… The Feds went shopping for prosecutors. And they found one in Maine.
In October, a so-called witness testified in exchange for “immunity.” Immunity is given by prosecutors to criminals to coerce them into lying— in exchange for the promise they won’t have to go to jail themselves. Sure enough, this so-called witness later confessed that he lied in exchange for immunity— and I can prove it.
In November, Embry Galen and Anthony Petrovich (producers from Dumpster Fire) were called to testify. The Feds made at least 17 visits to friends and family of Lauren and I. At least five Grand Juries have been called (that we know of), and it would seem probable that indictment is on the horizon.
Other basic differences between the Floyd protests and January 6th— The Trumpkins proved they have no respect for human life. But considering 16 out of the 17 deaths caused during the 2020 protests were caused by right-wingers, this is no surprise.
What sticks with you the most from your experience on January 6th?
It seemed to play heavily into our persecution by our government.
Do you think enough has been done in response to what happened at the Capitol?
From where I stand, too much has been done. 2020 was a dumpster fire, but the draconian overreach that the FBI and JTTF has engaged to persecute documentarians during 2021 is beyond the pale.
What do you hope people take away from watching 2020: Dumpster Fire?
We’re all fucked— The only way to make things a little less fucked is to stop getting your news from corporate outlets beholden to holding down the status quo. We must fight through the constant struggle to stay vigilant and continuously call out power.
Did creating the film make you feel better or worse about the nation’s political situation?
We’re really fucked— and it’s mainly because everyone is still watching CNN, MSNBC and Fox News. If you want things to feel better, focus on local politics. Run for local office. Make a difference in your community.
Are you currently working on any projects you can tell us about?
I have been filming with a New Hampshire hermit named River Dave who was thrown in jail, and had his cabin burned down.
At some point, I am hoping to collect all of my election films as well as the ones starring Vermin by Steve Onderick and Vic David and make the “Political Outsiders” series available for public consumption.
It’s easy to feel cynical, pessimistic, and hopeless in today’s climate. Where do you find hope and the motivation to continue doing the work you do?
Anyone who isn’t cynical simply is paying no attention.
Where do I find hope? People who ask questions. People who are willing to see the political process with their own eyes. People who are able to get up off of their couch.