Looking over the wreckage of the last three years, Fields Festival almost doesn’t seem real, like the whole experience was a wonderful fever dream that was somehow imprinted on many of our memories. In 2014 and 2016, Baltimore’s independent and avant-garde music scene was uprooted and placed at Camp Ramblewood in Darlington, Maryland, and hundreds of people came along for a full weekend of camping that included music, performance art, poetry, theater, comedy and, yes, incredible pool parties.
Future Islands, Dan Deacon, The Sun Ra Arkestra, Wolf Eyes, TT The Artist, Ed Schrader’s Music Beat, Lower Dens, Princess Nokia, Abdu Ali and Pictureplane are just some of the artists who performed at the second and (for now) final edition in 2016. And really, that’s only scratching the surface.
But unlike the massive big bank-sponsored rock festivals most common today, Fields was too organic and do-it-yourself to be corporate, too welcoming and familiar to feel like anything other than a communal gathering. Even if you didn’t know many people there, you probably recognized a lot of the attendees from seeing them around the city.
Now, nearly three years later, we have the definitive document of that experience, the 91-minute documentary “Fields,” directed by Danielle Criqui. With the help of six other cinematographers, Criqui captured the whole thing, from setup on Friday to the final performance after the deluge on Sunday. Now, after Criqui edited down some 24 hours of footage and screened cuts for festival co-founders Stewart Mostofsky and Amanda Schmidt, “Fields” will premiere at the Parkway Theatre on Aug. 4.
I sat down with Criqui, who is leaving Baltimore later this month to study film production at UCLA, to talk about the Fields Festival experience, the challenges of trying to capture some 200 acts and more.
Baltimore Fishbowl: People saw the Facebook event for this premiere pop up, and the reaction of a lot of my friends was, Oh my God am I going to be in this? Should they be worried?
Danielle Criqui: [laughs] No. I mean I think that I did my best to show the festival in the best light. People were wearing yellow wristbands if they didn’t want to be filmed. And so I made note of that while editing the film.
BFB: But for the people who didn’t have a wristband, was the focus on the crowd as much as the music? Or is it mostly the music?
DC: Yeah, it’s the performances, art installations. There are a couple of interviews with people that were willing to talk to the camera. But it’s mostly from the perspective of a camp-goer, someone at the festival wandering the campgrounds, kind of getting pieces of the performances. It’s kind of like you’re a fly on the wall of the festival.
BFB: Did you go to the first one, in 2014?
DC: I did. Yeah.
BFB: Is that when you decided, Oh if they do this again, I need to capture this?
DC: Well, so the first one happened, and then Stew and Amanda kind of realized, We don’t really have a lot of documentation of this. And so when they were organizing the second one, they formed a bunch of committees of people to head up different departments to kind of break up the tasks.
They approached me to be the manager of documentation. At first we were thinking about having people photograph it, maybe some sound recordings. I grew up watching the Woodstock doc and “Monterey Pop” a lot, and I kind of came back with, What if we make a doc?
They were, thankfully, interested, and I convinced six really talented cinematographers to join me. And we shot from setup to the very last performance on Sunday night. Which is crazy that they did that [laughs].
We had a lot of footage, it was a lot to comb through. But I condensed it down to an hour and 31 minutes. It’s a linear look at the festival, so it begins with the setup, campers arriving, the buildup to the crazy pool party with the whirlpool. And then it goes into Saturday, and all the rain on Sunday. I wanted the viewers to feel like they were on that ride.
BFB: Why do you think it was important to the organizers to have this documented?
DC: I think it’s a really special moment in Baltimore history and in our community. Baltimore’s obviously put on the map for our DIY scene for a reason; there’s a lot of really magical, talented people here. And I think in a lot of ways Fields was like the culmination of celebrating that community.
It’s changed a lot in the last few years. I’m not sure if a festival like that could happen today. Through the internet, counterculture isn’t quite about being physically present anymore. I think a lot of it is more online.
So getting everybody together and going into the woods and having a three-day celebration is really important, and documenting that was something that everyone wanted to do.
BFB: How much footage did you amass with all those cameras?
DC: It was like a terabyte basically [laughs]. It was a lot. It was probably 24 hours of footage. The cinematographers were amazing, they just like filmed all day.
BFB: I know what it was like just trying to make a schedule as someone who was there. I can only imagine what it was like for you and your cinematographers trying to capture it all.
DC: There’s over 200 performances and there were seven of us. There’s no way we could get everything. Obviously, we’d want to have like two cameras on certain performances to get more dynamic footage. So in the end, what got into the film, it came down to what had the best sound and what had the best camera angles. And what translated the best of film, because some things are amazing in person but didn’t really work out well on film.
BFB: And so you got this footage. What was the process of paring that down and getting to a finished movie?
DC: Well, it was pretty intimidating to try to be the person that constructed the final archive of this thing that meant so many different things to different artists and people that attended the festival. So that was kind of a big task. It went through a lot of cuts. Stew, Amanda and I watched several different versions of it, and we wanted it to be something we all were happy with.
BFB: What do you hope someone who didn’t go, or maybe has never even heard of Fields Festival prior to this film, would take from the documentary?
DC: I think it’s an interesting look at different ways to live your life. A lot of people have no idea that communities like that exist. Like Jeff Carey’s set, I think for a lot of people it would be confusing that a bunch of people would willingly stand in a room with a stack of strobes and listen to noise music.
But in our community that’s something a lot of people seek out, it’s something that they really enjoy. Seeing such a large group of people being uninhibited and letting their freak flag fly for a weekend, it’s something not a lot of people get to do.
BFB: Do you have concrete plans for what will happen with the movie after it screens at the Parkway?
DC: Well, I’m actually going to graduate school and moving like five days after the screening.
BFB: Oh wow.
DC: So that was one of the reasons that it was kind of like, I cannot leave Baltimore without finishing this project. It’s been this big push to have it happen.
I will be submitting it to film festivals. You know, because I’ve been in the film for so long, it’s hard for me to gauge if a person who has never heard of Baltimore, doesn’t know anything about DIY scenes, would be interested in this. I think it’s very special and I think it represents a solid moment in time that was very much worth archiving–even if it was just for our specific community. Totally worth it. But I would love to share it with other people.
This interview has been edited for clarity and condensed.
“Fields” screens at the Parkway Theatre on Aug. 8 at 7 p.m. Watch the trailer below.
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