The documentary Pirate Radio USA is an enjoyable if somewhat strident look at the world of pirate radio, in which do-it-yourself radio afficianados build their own (illegal) mini-stations and broadcast at ultra-low frequencies (called microcasting). The film strives to use pirate radio's legal difficulties to paint a larger picture about the disintegration of American rights and the influence of mainstream media and large corporations.

Pirate Radio USA is an unabashadly personal and partisan film --the filmmakers aren't afraid to appear on-camera to tell you what they think. Director and longtime radio pirate Jeff Pearson periodically narrates the film with help from Mary Jones on a stylized set that is actually a working pirate radio station, in their on-air personas of DJ Him and DJ Her. (The station set does not get raided by the FCC, which is fortunate but would have made the film even more interesting.) Pearson is engaging and amusing even when he gets a bit ranty about the FCC. He's got that Morgan Spurlock-style narration down pat.

The budget of Pirate Radio USA must not have been much bigger than that of one of the radio communities it profiles -- for example, cities are portrayed by crude yet cute plastic models. The Seattle model involves a big Starbucks coffee mug, of course. The models fit in nicely with the overall retro look and feel of the movie -- the filmmakers often use older stock footage in the public domain to illustrate their points, especially when discussing the history of low-frequency radio. (At Austin Film Festival, the documentary screened in the tiny theater at The Hideout, an independently owned coffeeshop, which provided the perfect setting.)
categories Reviews, Cinematical