A federal agency is spending hundreds of thousands of dollars every year to support film festivals that showcase movies that some Americans might find offensive. Decapitated heads, public urination and sexual promiscuity are among the subjects explored on the big screen of events underwritten with U.S. taxpayers' money.
The National Endowment for the Arts directly funded at least 39 film festivals last fiscal year at a cost to taxpayers of $845,000. That doesn't include the dozens of other festivals funded by federal dollars funneled through state and local arts agencies.
Among the films featured at taxpayer-subsidized film festivals were "Wawd Ahp," a short film in which a rapper decapitates himself, then has sex with his own severed head in a bathtub; and "Eczemus," which uses stop-motion animation to portray a man urinating a stream of blood while pummeling a baby bird to death and watching his dog defecate.
"Farah Goes Bang," a feature about a young woman's desperate attempts to lose her virginity while working for John F. Kerry's 2004 presidential campaign, has been shown at several film festivals funded by the NEA over the past two years.
For spending tax dollars on film expositions that many taxpayers would find repulsive, the National Endowment for the Arts earns this week's Golden Hammer, a distinction given by The Washington Times to examples of questionable taxpayer spending.
On its website, the endowment says these film festivals are "exemplary projects" that give the public an opportunity to "experience and participate in the arts."
So far, film festivals from Miami to Maine and Seattle to San Diego received federal funding. The Indie Grits Festival in Columbia, S.C., received $50,000 from taxpayers. The Cleveland Film Festival raked in $40,000. A Hispanic film competition in Chicago garnered a $25,000 grant, while $15,000 went to a silent film festival in San Francisco. The Atlanta Jewish Film Festival and the South Asian International Film Festival received $10,000 each.
In addition to subsidizing film festivals that show works featuring scenes that many taxpayers would consider sexually explicit or gratuitously violent, the government also gave tax dollars to screen films with clear political messages, as well.
The Environmental Film Festival, which takes place every spring in Washington, D.C., got $15,000 from NEA last year to celebrate environmental extremism on the big screen.
The event featured "Extreme Realities," which is intended to provoke global warming hysteria; "Backyard," an attack on fracking; and "GMO OMG," a film that criticizes the modern farming methods crucial to providing food to developing countries.
The Florida Film Festival in Maitland used its $10,000 handout from the NEA to screen "Yield," a film in which pictures of decaying roadkill are edited to look like they're moving, as well as "Pineal Warriors," in which a hip-hop legend is kidnapped by a race of interdimensional geckos, according to the festival's program.
"Wetlands," which Vulture, New York magazine's entertainment website, called "Sundance's crassest movie" was screened at the Florida Film Festival as well. The film follows Helen, a 17-year-old girl, through a series of shocking and disturbing sexual situations, including masturbating with various vegetables, rubbing her genitals on a filthy toilet seat and sharing used feminine products with other girls.
Henry Maldonado, president of the Florida Film Festival, said proper steps are taken to ensure more risque films are seen by only mature audiences.
"Films that are experimenting with content that has the potential to surprise or blindside our viewers (and those are very few), get scheduled at times where their audiences will both find them and attend. Some of our most popular screenings are well into the evening where not only do our customers know what to expect, but they sell out every time," Mr. Maldonado said.
When asked how he would respond to taxpayers whose dollars are being used to support a film festival screening movies that may be offensive or objectionable to them, Mr. Maldonado declared, "Let the filmmakers be free, and we at the theater will take on the responsibility for our audience.
"In the end, I firmly believe that Americans do not want, will not accept censorship, and to leave these decisions to us, the movie-going public."
Total funding of National Endowment for the Arts is up more than 10 percent over the last fiscal year. As a result, taxpayer spending on film festivals is expected to easily top last year's $845,000 price tag.
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