Project: Who is Vermin Supreme?
Deadline: Monday, September 3
Why it’s good: Filmmaker Stephen Onderick first met alt-candidate/political troll Vermin Supreme while shooting footage for Indymedia at Chicago’s NATO Summit protests. After assuming at first that Vermin was just an amusing sideshow, Onderick became fascinated by the man’s satirical approach to campaigning.
To Onderick, Vermin Supreme’s prankster style has much in common with political groups that have gotten a lot of attention in the past few years: the Occupy movement and “hacktivist” organization Anonymous.
“The funny thing about Vermin is that he resonates in ways that goes far beyond the obvious silliness, but I think we have very little understanding of why he does,” Onderick explains. “In a very interesting way, Vermin’s career prefigures the hacktivist group Anonymous. Vermin was trolling long before the term existed and was engaging in this kind of culture-jamming decades before the vast majority of the population even had a working concept they could use to understand it.”
Onderick continues: “I’m interested in the extent to which this kind of truth found at the end of the trail of nihilistic exhaustion, this realization that one has power through pranks–I’m interested in how that leads to action, and specifically how that’s been feeding into political movements lately. How going out of your way for a laugh, and maybe doing so out of a sense of despair, could lead to something like Occupy, which really was a sort of worldwide awakening.”
It’s obvious from what the filmmaker says about Vermin that this documentary won’t be poking fun from a position of ironic detachment–he’s truly bought in and become mesmerized by his subject. Onderick has already cashed in his own savings bonds to tell this story, which is why Kickstarter is the next step.
“I think both of us realized there was a certain affinity between us from the start,” Onderick says. “The film is called ‘Who Is Vermin Supreme?’ because I still really, honestly don’t know. I know more about him than most people do, but he’s still a mystery.”
Rewards: “My friend Mike suggested to me that we try to give away ’ephemera’ relating to Vermin,” Onderick explains. “Objects that are tied to him in a sentimental way, as opposed to regular old promotional T-shirts and things–though we do have some of those, and they’re going to be cool. I left Vermin a phone message about that, and I think he liked the fact that I used the word ‘ephemera,’ so he came up with all these clever and totally crazy ideas for what we might reward people with.”
Don’t doubt the intriguing possibilities of that ephemera: Rewards include, Onderick says, “mystery grab bags that Vermin’s going to put together with objects he has around the house, Vermin’s unreleased musical album, and an old Russian piece of paper that I found amongst Vermin’s tapes.” Giving at one of several donation levels can earn you a bust of Vermin himself made by museum model-maker Christian Hanson, and if you’re brave enough and have an extra $10,000, you can hire Vermin to do odd jobs at home for you.
Kickstarter success so far: “I was really surprised by the outpouring of support that came in from the get-go. There are thousands of people who want to see this film happen,” Onderick says. “Unfortunately, a lot of them are broke, which is all the more reason this story should be told. Of course I want to challenge this paradigm in which money is the ultimate arbiter of reality, of what can be made, or seen, of what rises to the top and what gets brushed under the rug.”
Last word: “Two years ago, Vermin Supreme didn’t ‘matter’ in terms of mass communications because the collective consciousness hadn’t caught up with him yet,” Onderick says. “Two years ago, a lot of what I’m talking about here wouldn’t have ‘mattered’ in any public sense, in any way that could be spread around and disseminated beyond certain receptive communities, but now people are becoming more willing to listen to these ideas.”