Joan Jett and The Blackhearts Bad Reputation Nation

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Indie-Rock Godmother Joan Jett Emcees Indie-Film Series


Maryland Public Television, Thursdays from April 20 to June 1, 10 P.M.

Good Reputation: Joan Jett filmed her Independent Eye host segments between network-TV acting gigs.

To be honest, it's a little hard to imagine Joan Jett -- rock legend, Oriole fan numero uno, and host of the upcoming season of Maryland Public Television's Independent Eye -- going mano a mano with Chuck Norris.

Not that she doesn't look like she could take him -- in her recently shot Independent Eye segments, in which she introduces mostly regional indie films and videos, Jett sports a freshly shorn scalp, tattoos, her trademark punk threads, and a general aura of Dead Seriousness. All these trappings hint that the very cordial, tremendously sincere Jett has a wild side, and maybe, just maybe, she's keeping her own vintage bottle of whup-ass under wraps, preparing to uncork it for a special occasion.

So she could no doubt hold her own against Norris, and she's doing just that by playing a ruthless contract killer in the upcoming season finale of his CBS show, Walker: Texas Ranger. It just seems that Jett is the least likely person to turn up on the Tiffany Network's long-running action/adventure series. Then again, few would have pegged her for an indie-film buff either.

Actually, Jett -- calling from the general vicinity of the Walker set in Texas early this month -- comes clean when asked about what she thinks of Independent Eye's upcoming season, the series' sixth and her second hosting it.

"I did not get a chance to see the films," the Rockville-raised rocker admits without embarrassment, adding that she does "wanna see what's going on in Maryland." Jett shot her intro segments in a day or two of filming at the Charles Theatre, just prior to her Walker gig. She cites the logistical challenges of a booked-up acting schedule (she's also landed a part on a pilot for Fox in an as-yet-untitled program created by the producers of The Sopranos and The Larry Sanders Show) as an entirely plausible reason for not checking out the Independent Eye roster.

During this season, the seven-week film-and-video showcase features everything from full-length feature films and documentaries to abstract shorts, animation, and music videos. Eye producer Elliot Wiley says the show attracts submissions from all over the country, but he estimates that about 95 percent of the program's content reflects the work of filmmakers based in the Baltimore-Washington corridor.

This year the series coincides with a proliferation of local film festivals. (The program is officially linked with the upcoming Maryland Film Festival in Baltimore and the Rosebud Film Festival in Northern Virginia.) Some Eye selections have already made the rounds on the festival circuit, but Wiley notes that television helps them reach a larger audience.

This is Wiley's fourth year producing Eye, and he says that while the films chosen for the series must be of broadcast quality technically and must meet some minimal criteria in terms of content (i.e., no gratuitous sex or graphic violence), there's no connecting theme among the selections. The series kicks off with the feature-length Do You Wanna Dance?, a sweet semiautobiographical film by Los Angeles native Robert Krantz about a dance instructor sentenced to community service which involves teaching moves to Greek parishioners at a Catholic Church.

In the moving Survival Skills: A Series of Portraits (airing June 1), some Baltimore teenagers contributed footage for their biographical segments in collaboration with directors Gin Ferrara and Rebecca Yenawine. The documentary short was created as a part of the youths' participation in Kids on the Hill, an after-school arts program in Reservoir Hill. Other regional highlights among this year's 25 selections is a music video for the Washington ska band the Pietasters by Arlington, Va., director Marcos Navarro (airing April 27).

Jett says she feels solidarity with Eye's scrappy independent filmmakers and their DIY ethic. In the early '80s, the ex-member of the Runaways, unable to score a record contract with major labels, began releasing albums on her own label, Blackheart Records, at a time when indie rock was a rarity. She released a string of hits, including the chart-topping anthem "I Love Rock 'n' Roll" and the punky "Bad Reputation" (reborn last fall as the theme song of NBC's just-canceled cult fave Freaks and Geeks).

"I think it's a good idea to have other [channels] than the major labels and major studios to put out art. I think you get a more pure art form," Jett says. "The money will come if it's supposed to."

The rocker/actress/emcee has a full dance card this year. At the time of her City Paper interview, she was slated to head to Los Angeles to perform at the upcoming Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation Awards. She'll be rocking Trinidad next, then touring the United States all summer. But she says she was glad she could squeeze Independent Eye into her jam-packed schedule: "I had a great time doing it."

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April 29,2017
Millersville, PA
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