Rise: The Story of Rave Outlaw Disco Donnie only tells part of Estopinal's legend. The film, documenting the "Zoolu" parties held at the State Palace during Mardi Gras weekend, was already in the editing stage by the summer of 2000, when the DEA raided the State Palace Theatre. "I really wanted to interview Donnie and keep going," says director Julie Drazen, "but I couldn't. I was under pressure because Donnie had become my friend."
The film was nearly finished by the end of 2000, but Drazen and producer Summer Forest Hoeckel sat on the project for fear its contents would damage Estopinal's case. Eventually, they made a special section on the case for the DVD release of the film, due out next month.
A Brooklyn-based filmmaker and DJ, Drazen, 33, had finished making a film about the Dutch rave scene titled Digital Overdose when she learned about the Freebass Society parties. "I heard there were whole parades going through these parties," recalls Drazen, "it sounded like an amazing juxtaposition." She set out to make a short film when she began shooting during Mardi Gras 1999, but the DVD version of Rise runs a feature-length 70 minutes, not including its four bonus sections.
Rise weaves a montage of images of the State Palace raves with more visible elements of Mardi Gras, juxtaposing laser lights, digital images and glitter-laden ravers with parade floats, public nudity and evangelists. The film follows Estopinal from a West Bank bar to a Jackson Square tarot card reading, through the crowd on the Canal Street sidewalk and even into a backstage bathroom, where he takes a call from a bouncer at the front door. Throughout the film, characters from ravers to DJs praise Estopinal and his parties. In one series of cut-aways, two of Estopinal's friends recount an incident when they were literally knee-deep in money while working in a ticket both at one of his parties.
The film also follows two ravers named "Colin" and "Jenny" through the process of going out to a State Palace party. They decide what to wear, how to get there and whether or not to take Ecstasy (Colin says no, Jenny says maybe). More eccentric character sketches include close-ups on a cross-dressing "rave performer" named Goddess and a costumed ex-stripper wearing a neon green wig.
"The documentary is crap," says one local rave scene insider. "Those people are not really a part of our scene, and there's no such thing as a 'rave performer.'" Drazen says the film is meant to depict the wider international rave phenomenon and the realm of possibilities it presents. "The fact that these parties happened during Mardi Gras is unique, but I wanted the film to be more global, to show what raves are about using this as an example."
The Rise project also yielded a CD featuring sound bites from the film and tracks from many artists who performed at State Palace parties. (A portion of proceeds from CD sales benefit the Electronic Music Defense and Education Fund, or EM:DEF.) Released by Los Angeles-based Utensil Recordings and spearheaded by music consultant and superstar techno DJ Josh Wink, the soundtrack includes tracks by Thievery Corporation, the Crystal Method, Charles Feelgood and DJ QBert. Liner notes by DJ Tommie Sunshine proclaim, "No one in America has kept the heady ideals of the early rave scene intact like Disco Donnie," and praises Estopinal for "fighting for our constitutional right to dance the night away to the music of our choice." -- Diettinger