Amy Oden’s “From the Back of the Room” is a D.I.Y. doc about punk feminism & social change

By on August 12, 2019

Washington D.C.-based producer/director Amy Oden’s From the Back of the Room (2011) is a D.I.Y. doc about punk feminism and social change, chronicling the contributions women have been making to the punk, hardcore and D.I.Y. movements over the past several decades, long before the Riot Grrl movement began.

Watch From the Back of the Room — the Washington City Paper called it “an exhaustive, diverse, and thoughtful meditation on women in the punk community” — now on Night Flight Plus.

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Oden — who, in addition to directing and producing film/video projects, has also played in bands like Starve and Hot Mess, and served as an organizer for C.L.I.T. Fest (the acronym stands for “Combating Latent Inequality Together”) — began going to punk shows in her sophomore year of high school, back in the mid-’90s.

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She soon began to notice the way that popular culture exploits people, and women in particular, something she was already learning about in her classes at school.

She also became interested in video production and media, and was soon combining her two main interests — D.I.Y. punk rock and media studies — on music-related video projects which were extensions of her very personal feminist perspectives.

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Amy “KC/DC” Oden

One of her early projects was titled Killing Us Softly, in which Oden showed how the use of women in advertising (particularly for alcohol and tobacco products) were profoundly detrimental and providing the wrong types of unhealthy images.

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Among her more important projects — initially started for a class in school that was being offered but later pulled from the schedule — was her exploration of the local Washington D.C. hardcore punk scene for a 2004 documentary After the Salad Days, which she has said “was just an excuse to do some really investigative things in my local scene.”

“…I was thinking about who the pillars in that specific community and that sub-genre were,” she once said, “and who I thought was important to talk to.”

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After the Salad Days took about nine months to complete, and she and two other women who worked on the project together successfully lobbied to get the class reinstated for the three of them.

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It was an ugly incident at a local D.C. show that drove Oden — nicknamed “”KC/DC,” which is often shortened to just “KC” — to make From the Back of the Room, which she co-produced with Brian Kruglak, sharing the editing responsibilities with James Branscome.

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A woman who was being treated inappropriately at a concert and being pushed around told a male friend of hers that she didn’t want to participate in the local punk scene anymore, feeling heartbroken about what happened.

The male friend had already been involved in collective organizing for feminist events in the D.C. area, and felt he had to do something, so he got in touch with Oden, and the project took off from there.

Read more about From the Back of the Room below.

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Beginning in 2006 — after graduating with a B.A. in Broadcast Journalism from the University of Maryland College Park and just prior to pursuing a Masters of Arts degree in Women’s Studies and Media at The George Washington University — Oden spent the next four years traveling across the U.S. and Canada to interview notable female punk rockers and others associated with the D.I.Y. hardcore scenes.

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Exploring issues such as race, gender, sexuality queerness, motherhood, class, and activism, Oden’s film features interviews with over thirty women from across the country, ages seventeen to forty years old, including female musicians like Kathleen Hanna of Bikini Kill/Le Tigre, Anna Joy Springer of Blatz, and Allison Wolfe of Bratmobile, as well as zinesters, artists, promoters, and roadies.

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She has said she was surprised by the diversity of opinions from within the punk community, and their stories, many of which ended up in the finished documentary.

These interviews are inter-cut with lots of grainy and mosh-heavy live show footage.

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From the Back of the Room — financed via Kickstarter and D.C.-area benefit shows — was released in August 2011 to generally critical praise, not to mention being embraced by the punk/hardcore/D.I.Y. community at large.

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Bruise Violet

In 2016, Sight & Sound said that From the Back of the Room “diverges from the relatively concise, location-specific, media-friendly story of early-90s Riot Grrrl with its articulate participants and manifestos, putting the movement in the wider context of women’s involvement in DIY music.”

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When asked by Minneapolis, Minnesota’s City Pages about separating the ’90s-era mainstream Riot Grrrl movement from her primary subject, Oden said this:

“I’m definitely interested in paying respect to Riot Grrrl, but it’s not something that has defined my experience. I think the film started as a catalog of women in DIY, but at some point I realized the distinction had to be made that not all women are Riot Grrrls. It’s very reductive to call us all that.”

She added: “That’s the beauty of DIY culture: it has the ability to demystify things like playing in bands or creating zines. I want people to talk about how gender affects their daily life, and to be able to acknowledge the diversity of experiences other folks have. I hope the film can get some of these conversations started.”

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According to her LinkedIn profile, since February 2016 Amy Oden has been working at Maryland Public Television’s Digital Studios, where she produces, writes and edits original online videos and creates web content.

Watch From the Back of the Room and other Punk Docs & Concert Films on Night Flight Plus.

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About Bryan Thomas

Bryan Thomas has been a freelancing writer/critic for All Music Guide, and a contributor to Launch, Music Connection, Big Takeover and numerous other publications and entertainment websites, blogs and zines, most of them long gone. He's written more than sixty sets of liner notes. He’s also worked for over twenty years at mostly reissue record labels -- prior to that he worked in bookstores and record stores, going all the way back to the original vinyl daze. He lives in the Miracle Mile neighborhood of Los Angeles, CA.