Youth meet Youth
Sleeping Nights Awake by Project Moonshine
Are a group of teens even ready to generate a dialogue about what it’s like to live in Reno? Sure, they are. Michael Albright formed Project Moonshine in 2006 as a method for local high schoolers to create their own vernacular vision of Reno through film.
One of those projects is Sleeping Nights Awake, a documentary based around the band Sonic Youth during its 2006 summer appearance in Reno. The film, shot by the first Project Moonshine group of Reno high school students, features band interviews, behind-the-scenes concert footage and some basketball shenanigans involving lead singer Thurston Moore.
Making its Reno debut in Wingfield Park on July 27, the well-edited documentary still feels raw, in keeping with its goal of achieving abraded, realtime footage.
“A lot of kids have misconceptions about documentaries,” says Albright. “They associate it with Ken Burns or a style of filmmaking that feels boring.”
Reno though, as most of its denizens realize, is anything but boring.
That’s one idea Albright thought young people could show through documentaries.
“I wanted to do some work with youth that was interactive with the city—to encourage a new approach of looking at Reno,” says Albright.
Project Moonshiners capture Moore talking about not being able to get a seat at the always-crowded Pho 777 and settling for Golden Flower instead—a restaurant which, incidentally, kicks ass, according to him. Moore asks audience members if they had seen the Bareback! casino show. “We tried to get tickets to that, man. That shit was sold out!” Moore also issues some minor feedback about a Reno buffet visit, or, to use his interestingly phonetic version of the word, “boo-fay.”
Charlie Hayes, one of the “original seven” Project Moonshiners, says he and his fellow filmmakers did some reading—and listening—to prepare themselves for filming, but not so much that it tainted the spontaneity of the work.
“I first heard about the band a year or so before, but once we knew we were going to film them, everyone did a little bit of reading up on them and listening to a few albums,” says Hayes. “It’s important to have both the freedom from preconceptions about a subject and have knowledge enough to be able to delve.”
These young filmmakers capture the experience of the Sonic Youth show from start to end, in well-paced clips rendered in black-and-white that feel like snapshots of letters pressed into newsprint—live songs and interviews converted into the visual currency of celluloid.
Echoes of the sensibility behind the film are felt in the Sonic Youth band members’ interview sessions.
“When we first started … we really took what we heard other people doing and kind of the spirit of that and just came together as individuals to see what we came up with,” Kim Gordon, who sings and plays bass and guitar for the band, says in the film. “It was really just about expression.”
“I uh, like Reno,” says Moore on camera. “I haven’t seen much of it … I would like to see more home life.”
That seems to be the prevailing idea behind Project Moonshine.
[In the interest of full disclosure: Brad Bynum, who has since become arts editor at the RN&R, was assistant director on this film.]