I think we can all agree that 2020 was indeed a dumpster fire of a year. A pandemic, a failed white supremacist coup, economic uncertainty – 2020 was really the sort of year to make you want to curl up in a ball and set a wake-up call for “whenever the world gets its act together.”

But for a performance artist, activist and filmmaker/provocateur, a whole lot of chaos is a call to action. Strange, loud, aggressively button-pushing action. “2020: The Dumpster Fire” is Boston-based filmmaker Rod Webber’s documentary of that no good, very bad year and, more specifically, of an activist’s role in both standing witness to an entire year’s worth of often dangerous unrest and in creating a little creative unrest of his own.

Produced by South Portland’s Nathan Oliver through his NO Productions film company, “2020: The Dumpster Fire” follows Webber as he inserts himself into everything from presidential campaign rallies (for Donald Trump, Joe Biden, Bernie Sanders, Tulsi Gabbard and others) to Black Lives Matter marches to the streets of Boston, where Webber and several accomplices staged a (fake) bloody ritual in which Webber tore out and ate Trump’s heart.

Webber gets arrested a lot, something Mainer Oliver says he can appreciate, considering the message that Webber is trying to convey.

“Rod’s been raided by the FBI, which was hilarious,” said Oliver, noting that Webber’s film shows the point at which Webber, film camera still running, asks the agents if he can put his pants on. Citing Webber’s $20,000 victory in a lawsuit against the Trump campaign for manhandling Webber out of a Trump rally in 2016, Oliver states that it’s Webber’s strategy to now tell potential apprehenders, “Trump paid me $20,000 – do you have 20 grand to spare?”

For Oliver, who describes himself as “very middle-of-the-road, politically,” Webber’s attention-grabbing stunts are attractive because, “Rod’s one of those people you don’t meet a lot, someone who finds himself, in a participatory way, in the right place at the right time.” Of course, when you’re toting your camera into the heart of what Oliver rightly calls “one of the most chaotic years in American history,” the right place and time often means putting yourself in a position to get hurt by some very angry people.

In “2020: The Dumpster Fire” (the first 10 minutes of which are available for free online), we see Webber and his crew being attacked (verbally) by noted conservative kook Alex Jones and (physically) by white supremacist so-called “Proud Boys” on the streets on Providence, Rhode Island. All in the service of, according to producer Oliver, speaking truth to power, no matter who wields it. “For Rod, anyone who looks for the position of power, he’s saying, I’m part of that package, too, and nobody’s above it.”

For Oliver, whose directorial feature, the cult horror flick “Lady Psycho Killer” previously profiled in this column, finding such a timely and provocative film for NO Productions (alongside California-based studio Buffalo 8) was good business and good fun. “Rod has this very sardonic, Gen-X-type humor, and it’s a breath of fresh air. What’s really fun is going through the Google archives and just looking up Rod’s name. Putting politics aside for a moment, it’s just ridiculously entertaining. That’s his goal – he’s a shouter, and that’s off-putting for some people.”

Whether symbolically disemboweling a sitting president, scrawling satirical messages on high-profile public targets, or getting unsuspecting figures (like disgraced right-wing former Arizona Sheriff Joe Arpaio) to unwittingly play into his satirical games, Rod Webber is part of the long history of American confrontational comedy. As Webber himself narrates in “2020: The Dumpster Fire,” “If you don’t have piles of cash, you’ve got to use spectacle, humor and trolling to call out (expletive).” (Oliver points to the Borat-style sequence where Webber, hyping up a MAGA crowd undercover, ultimately gets a whole lot of people to chant something extremely questionable about their chosen leader.)

According to Webber, “2020: The Dumpster Fire” is a testament to his willingness to hold accountable those people – be they politicians on either side, media figures or dangerously violent white supremacists – who’d prefer only to be known on their own, carefully manufactured terms. Speaking to Webber’s presence at Black Lives Matter protests or those at Occupy Wall Street and Standing Rock, Oliver notes, “He’s in a weird place where he doesn’t have context, and doesn’t try to provide it, either. He’s saying ‘This is what happened here,’ and showing things that the media narrative leaves out.”

As for the busy Oliver, the near future sees his NO Productions planning everything from work with Maine filmmaker Josiah Pitchforth to a deeply personal project about his mother’s time as an Air Force major and nurse, to a self-financed horror anthology. Meanwhile, his “Lady Psycho Killer” (featuring screen legend Malcolm McDowell, among others) can be streamed on Tubi, and the Oliver-produced “2020: The Dumpster Fire” will be released into the world in December. “Not bad for a small guy in Maine,” Oliver said, proudly, and I have to agree.

Watch the first 10 minutes of “2020: The Dumpster Fire” on YouTube and keep an eye on NO Productions’ website, noprogear.com, for full release details. You can learn more about Rod Webber’s work at rodwebber.com.

Dennis Perkins is a freelance writer who lives in Auburn with his wife and cat.


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