“My film is not about Juggalos. It is a Juggalo,” says filmmaker Scott Cummings (BA ’01), adapting Francis Ford Coppola’s famous quote about his sprawling epic “Apocalypse Now.” (“My movie is not about Vietnam. My movie is Vietnam.”)
Cummings’ experimental short films have played at selective international film festivals and noted national galleries, like the Museum of Modern Art. His new film, “Buffalo Juggalos,” has garnered wide critical acclaim, including winning the 2014 American Film Institute Festival’s Grand Jury Award for “Live Action Short” and landing its creator on Filmmaker Magazine’s “25 New Faces of Independent Film.”
Juggalos are hardcore fans of the long-running hip-hop duo Insane Clown Posse (ICP). Sharing the horror movie-style imagery popularized by their heroes—clown face paint, tattoos and a logo of a man running with a hatchet—they have an anything-goes attitude that values personal freedom and resists labels. While Juggalos passionately defend themselves as a family that accepts people from all walks of life, the penchant of some members for violence and mayhem has gotten the group classified as a dangerous gang by the FBI.
Inspired by a Village Voice feature on Juggalo culture, Cummings returned to his Rust Belt roots for five months to embed himself in Western New York’s tightknit Juggalo community. The NYC-based filmmaker was also eager to make a film in Buffalo. “I think right now independent filmmakers are looking for places that are a bit less obvious than New York and LA,” he explains. “I was really inspired by what has happened with Baltimore because of David Simon, Matt Porterfield and John Waters. I hoped maybe I could contribute to similarly mythologizing Buffalo.”
While filming, Cummings gained a deep appreciation for his subjects. “They were the opposite of what many see as stereotypes of ‘white trash’; they were anti-racist, sex-positive and open-minded,” Cummings says. “Mostly, I was surprised at how open and generous they were.”
“Buffalo Juggalos” is not a documentary. There’s no dialogue and no ICP music is featured. Rather, Cummings weaves together 30 impressionistic, one-minute scenes to form a potent narrative. Scenes of everyday life—pushing a child on a swing, riding a motorcycle, braiding one another’s hair—are vivid and surreal.
The film also stages some of the more shocking activities that Juggalos have been known to engage in, including acts of vandalism and group sex. “Sometimes I just told them to stare at the camera. Sometimes there was complex choreography,” says Cummings. “Very few scenes were improvised on the spot, but we were always open.”
Cummings is currently developing another film about Juggalo culture and also is working on, in his words, “a top-secret, crazy project with another misunderstood group of people.” He won’t disclose the topic, but that’s okay with us; we’re all in for the wild ride.