MOVIES | “Media” Mike Hazard climbs a “Cold Mountain” with portrait of Chinese poet Han Shan


Mike Hazard, a.k.a. “Media Mike,” is a Twin Cities film artist of consequence. Premiering at the Minnesota Public Library on October 1st is his newest, Cold Mountain. It’s a half-hour study of Tang Dynasty Chinese poet Han Shan, also known as “Cold Mountain.”

Eugene McCarthy: I’m Sorry I Was Right, a poetic portrait of the late poet and politician from Watkins, Minnesota is Hazard’s best-known work. It won Best Documentary Short at the Great Plains Film Festival in Nebraska and the Fargo Film Festival in North Dakota, was featured on PBS, and won The D.L. Mabery award—Minnesota’s Oscar—for best short film of the year in 2001. Performance/spoken-word ace and political gadfly David Daniels makes a brief appearance in I’m Sorry I Was Right. He says, “[It] is a tremendous portrait of possibly the greatest Senator in Minnesota history and a giant in American politics.”

Jim Northrup: With Reservations offers a half-hour portrait of the Ojibwe writer. It took Best Short in the Native American category at the Fargo Film Festival, Best Show at Red Earth Film in Oklahoma, and was telecast on PBS. The Magic Green School Bus: Paul Wellstone was broadcast over public television in Minnesota and North Dakota. Mr. Respect: Tiger Jack Rosenbloom was featured at 1999 Silver Images Film Festival.

Filmed in China, America and Japan, co-directed by Mike Hazard and Deb Wallwork, Cold Mountain focuses on an eccentric man of spirituality who wrote poems for everyone, not only the elite. A sample of his work, from about 1,200 years ago, as translated by Gary Snyder. “I can’t stand these bird songs/ Now I’ll go rest in my straw shack/ The cherry flowers are scarlet/ The willow shoots up feathery./ Morning sun drives over blue peaks Bright clouds wash green ponds./ Who knows that I’m out of the dusty world /Climbing the southern slope of Cold Mountain?”

Deb Wallwork says that “Cold Mountain is a rollicking, tasty film filled with poetry, colorful characters, Zen wisdom, and witty commentary. The film gives us glimpses of that mysterious—some say crazy, some say enlightened—figure, Han Shan, who left the dusty world to become a hermit and a poet, and in so doing wrote the intimate and inspired lines that speak to us today.”

Mike Hazard adds, “One way to look at the film is to see that everyone in the film is channeling the spirit of Han Shan. The Mandarin of Jin Hua, the trickster animations of John Akre, the street singer, the rice thrashers, the Butterfly Woman, the four poetical guides, the monks in the temple kitchen, the bats in the cave, Gao Hong’s pipa, even the cicadas compose a richly layered portrait of Cold Mountain.”

Mike Hazard’s films are part of the The Center for International Education (CIE) catalog of off-th-beaten-track successes. Artist-in-Residence at CIE, Hazard also owns the place. The organization was his dad’s idea in 1972, before Mike incorporated it in 1974.

You started, didn’t you, when your father took you out of school to help with his documentary on John Brown? How much school did you miss? What impact did learning about John Brown have on you?
I was 12 when my Dad took me to Harper’s Ferry so I only missed school for a couple days. John Brown remains a lifelong influence, having just read W.E.B. Du Bois’ biography. I work to make media that liberates in many senses of the word. Of course, my dad’s sense of radical democracy began and grounded that sense of justice.

How experienced were you at that point?
I had had no filmmaking experience. Still, the same year I had another profound experience with film, seeing Dead Birds. In the end, I was fated to become a filmmaker.

What’s your history at CIE?
I worked as a volunteer and occasional independent contractor—when we found
grants for specific projects—until 1999. It then seemed possible to dare become its first employee. Up to [then] it was a virtual company before that was common. I am its only employee. We have a great board.

What’s the process like, co-directing instead of doing it all yourself?
All movies are collaborations. The auteur myth of the director is just that, a myth. Good media work results from the work of many hands and minds. Deb Wallwork and I are partners on this film and companions in real life. Life and art are one.

How’d Cold Mountain come about?
The film was a commission. Jim Lenfestey’s enthusiasm for Han Shan led to his burning desire to visit the cave and temple where the poet lived and wrote. Because he also wants the whole world to know about the wonder of Cold Mountain, he raised the funds for my travel and the film’s production.

Why, of all the available subjects, this one?
I love Han Shan for the way he embraces and writes about the whole world, from war’s sorrows to humans being human to the beauty of nature. I also enjoy his good humor and the way he tweaks authorities. In addition, the mysteries and music of his poetry sing.

What’s next?
Deb and I are working on a new film about an organic farm called Dirty Work.

The premiere event is “A View of Cold Mountain” at the Minneapolis Public Library, 300 Nicollet Mall, 7 p.m., Thursday, October 1. Poet Jim Lenfestey will begin, discussing his 2006 pilgrimage to China and reading from his book, A Cartload of Scrolls: 100 Poems in the Manner of T’ang Dynasty Poet Han Shan. Mike Hazard and Deb Wallwork will be present to answer questions after the screening of Cold Mountain.

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