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Andy Smetanka

June 15, 2011

Filmmaker Andy Smetanka is the guy you bump into while running errands and your brief conversation has your brain cooking all day long. He’s a font of information with a wry smile and easy sense of humor. He was always the guy that was doing amazing stuff while you were watching Roseanne reruns. Andy is a brilliant filmmaker, writer, and musician. Technically, we didn’t ask Andy to write his own bio, but what he sent us was so damn perfect, so perfectly Andy, that we had to include it here:

Andy Smetanka has lived in Minnesota, Montana, Finland and Sweden for a total of 40 years. In the pre-digital era, he published six (maybe seven) issues of Shat Upon, the smudgy fanzine of record for the Missoula, MT rock scene from 1995-1999. More recently, his super 8 silhouette animation has appeared in music videos for the Decemberists and in several feature films, including newer movies by his cinematic mentor Guy Maddin. He is currently shooting a Missoula silhouette animation and preparing figures for his silhouette pornography debut. Smetanka, his wife Joanna and their two boys are live-in caretakers on the Moon-Randolph Homestead in the grassy hills north of Missoula.

Told you. 12 Questions readers: Andy Smetanka!

1. What is your hometown.

I’ve lived in Missoula for 20 years but I still claim Billings as my hometown because I like to identify myself with a tougher, more jerky-scented version of Montana. But I don’t have family or close friends there anymore. It’s 340 miles away and I have only been there twice in the last 12 years. 

2. With what fictional character do you most identify?

Now that I have kids, I spend more time on water slides than I have in the last quarter-century, and being on top of a water slide always reminds me of how much I wanted to be James Bond or Indiana Jones growing up, how desperately I longed for action and intrigue and making-out and missions of any sort. 

3. In the movie of your life, cast an actor to play you.

A handful of people have told me over the years that I remind them of Willem Dafoe. When I posted a picture of him during Doppelganger week or whatever on Facebook, people lost their damn fool minds. But actually I insist on playing myself in any feature film version of my life, and I’m sure there will be several. Select scenes will have Hitchcock-type cameo appearances by real-life former girlfriends, a few of whom are Swedish and have aged quite nicely. 

4. What work of art speaks to your soul?

I’ve never been good with “desert island” lists. For record albums, it changes every week, but over the course of a year it’s probably Big Star, the Stands or the Coral a combined 40 percent of the time. The book that speaks to my soul in Stentorian bagpipe-blasts is “The Rings of Saturn” by W.G. Sebald. It’s essentially a walking tour of rundown coastal Britain with lengthy digressions about the history of desolate places the author visits, but Sebald’s voice is a completely entrancing. His books have the same goofy-gas narcotic effect on me that Barry Lopez did when I was 17.

The movie with which I feel the closest psychic kinship is “Careful” by Guy Maddin. The first time I saw it, it was like some gland in my brain that had just been lying there limp my whole life had swelled up and was squirting a new psychedelic enzyme all over the place. I was 27. I kind of wore out my love for the movie by watching it too many times (at least 125), but I am extremely proud to be one of a select few people in the world on its strange and beautiful frequency. 

5. What books are you currently reading or recommending?

I’m currently struggling with “To Conquer Hell,” a nonfiction book about Americans in the Battle of the Argonne in 1918. It’s excellent but brutal and depressing, full of the same incredibly futile wasting of human life that characterizes every other WWI history. Twenty-five thousand American soldiers were killed in a couple months (contrast this with fatalities in our more recent wars), but it’s not something you hear about very often. I read that Steven Spielberg is releasing a WWI movie late this year, which makes me think a huge surge of centennial interest  is around the corner. With the very last veterans dead, some at ridiculous old ages, I’m interested to see if Spielberg extends his Greatest Generation hegemony over modern war cinema to include WWI, or if he decides it’s not worth it because WWI now lacks the necessary “living history” he had in WWII vets when he made “Saving Private Ryan.”

Anyway, it’s a good book but I wouldn’t exactly recommend it. I’m only finishing it out of a grim sense of duty. It leaves me tossing and turning in my sleep thinking about my sons, who are two and five. 

6. What song or album is currently in heavy rotation on your iPod?

“Van Occupanther” by Midlake. I cannot stop listening to it. My iPod is essentially a distillation of 50-75 songs I need to hear at least once a week for general well-being, tucked into a bigger hipster-friendly playlist carefully selected to impress my hot twenty-something female coworkers. 

7. What’s the last movie that made you cry?

Can’t think of one. But I cry EVERY time I listen to “In the Aeroplane Over the Sea” by Neutral Milk Hotel. Also, seeing a Cadbury egg―yes, a creme-filled Cadbury chocolate egg in colored foil―fills me with a sudden deep melancholy. No idea why. 

8.  Cat person or dog person?

No preference: I like both. However, I’d say I generally prefer cat owners to dog owners, if only because I have yet to find myself in a shouting match with a cat owner whose unleashed pet has just destroyed three of my chickens. We had one of our goats get killed by a dog when we weren’t around. No dog owner ever thinks their dog would do such a thing. 

9. What is more important, truth or kindness?

My head says truth, my heart says kindness. I still put some store by that  ol’ dichotomy, though I still don’t know which organ to trust. 

10.    How do you define sin?

I can’t stand deliberate cruelty. There’s something to greed and sloth and prodigality and whatnot, but if there’s divine punishment awaiting anyone when we die, I hope it’s people who intentionally cause harm or distress to others who don’t deserve it. And those Wall Street bastards! Though I haven’t bought a hardcore record in years, in my mind I am forever yelling crust-punk lyrics at bloated plutocrats in a raw Belgian accent. 

11.    How do you define virtue?

At this very moment, I have no idea what matters in the end or what I’m supposed to want out of being on Earth. If there’s a virtue I would like to see more people embody, it’s making do with less, or rather doing more with less. 

12.   Design your headstone: What does it say? What does it look like?

I want my ashes scattered in our apple orchard and a decent-sized rock doused with hard cider and placed somewhere where it will be quickly overgrown with leafy climbing things. But I always liked the idea of a Flipper song as an epitaph: “Ha ha ha.” 

Bonus Question: Who would you like to see answer these 12 Questions?

Yale Kaul or Guy Maddin


Andy’s Youtube Channel
Moon Randolph Homestead 

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