May 26, 2011 / Filmwell
Kenji Koiso has his summer vacation all planned out: he and his friend Sakuma have …
April 23, 2009
This spate of small essays on the topic of filmmakers distributing their own films by whatever means was born in a recent flurry of Twitter exchanges about the question. What are the boundaries of self-promotion? What is the relationship between audience and distribution? How do festivals shape the production of cinema? These aren’t questions that the average filmgoer ever has to wrestle with, but the answers do actually trickle down in a very tangible way through the trends of availability that control the DVD market and festival circuit.
Alejandro Adams’ introduction frames the entries well:
“The superficial formality of this enterprise obscures the fact that maintaining an “appropriate” context for the exchange of ideas is growing less tenable. Twitter itself is possibly the worst context for the expression of a complex thought—an aphoristic attractiveness masks a sometimes egregious lack of exactitude—but that doesn’t deter those who feel compelled to speak their minds. As tensions subsided that afternoon and I began to recruit these disparate voices, Reid Gershbein noted, ‘The film community isn’t a group with the same goals, just the same demons.’ An inexact but useful thought—I can’t help but wonder whether the spirit of that observation is refuted or reinforced in the contributions below.”
Throughout the entries you will find exhortations to “embrace digital distribution” and “tribal marketing,” create public funding, “Kill the Auteur. Long Live the Entrepreneur,” “take the orthodox route,” and other surprisingly practical aphorisms.
Noah Harlan makes the observation that: “Technology has democratized many of the methods, from editing and coloring to publicity and exhibition, but it has not democratized the skill-set needed to effectively do those jobs.” Or as Whaley says: “Shimmering like a mirage in the distance is the seductive idea that the “democratization” of the tools will soon replicate itself in a decentralized free market of small players.”
Tony Comstock tells filmmakers: “…to find film festivals and other curated cinematic events that see their mission as serving an audience. You’re not going to see that in most of the festival hype.” (cough… Flickerings… ahem)
At the very least, this collection of small essays is a peek into the troubled world of independent filmmaking. I have seen the positive effects of things like tribal marketing and digital distribution, but the fact is that the festival system is often mercurial and nepotist, opting for trends that fit Sundance buzz or marketing patterns over the generation of new talent. Will digital distribution venues begin to gain the same sort of cache enjoyed by the festival circuit? What if The Auteurs or Netflix were to hold streaming festivals of emerging talent? (Someone should write a story about a filmmaker who becomes popular and famous by showing their work online. They have ten films on their IMDB page, but have never actually shown a frame of cinema on anything larger than an 19 inch monitor. It is an odd proposition.)
I do know that writing about film works. Writing about smaller films that haven’t yet found their audience works even better. It is a tried and trusted historic practice. I can empathize will all the concerns outlined in this recent dialogue, and some of the solutions look like good directions to head. But just to toss in my two cents: We also need more amateur film writers. Not amateur in the modern sense of the term, but in its root lexical sense – people that do things simply because they love doing them. And maybe “more” is the wrong qualifier. We could insert “concerted,” “connected,” “engaged,” etc… This is the way to counteract Whaley’s apocalyptic vision of the independent market:
Ours is a market flooded with mediocrities, if not execrable garbage; even a very good film made by a promising young talent stands very little chance of finding an audience unless some miracle occurs. It can feel a bit like trying to sell a brand-new Cadillac in a vast junkyard—the buyer will never know the Caddy is there because it is obscured by thousands of rusted-out Pintos. A bit of empathy, please, for the brave souls who give their lives to the pursuit of such employment.
The critic is the person that by sheer reflex knows where the Cadillacs are, and is willing to draw a map.