Before The Economic Collapse, Before The Obama Change, And Before The Sky Is Falling, I was just thinking, looking, and wondering, how come it wasn't different?
I consider myself an art-house filmmaker and filmgoer. I am not so much interested in the farm league of independent film, as you astutely put it, nor am I interested in the new media methods of storytelling. I don't even consider myself a storyteller. I see it more specifically and will try to be clear: art-house narrative feature filmmaker--there is a story involved, but with images and sounds overriding plot or character even, seeking the advancement of the film language through means exclusive to the the cinema. I will try not to separate myself as a viewer from as a filmmaker when I write this--I will try to keep my interests aligned and speak of my opinions as such, as they cannot be mutually exclusive in the pursuit of personal expression. Thus I assume there are other viewers and filmmakers with ideas on the same wavelength about what a film can be. (I know Lance Hammer is one filmmaker).
From my self-described perspective, I can think of two or three themes of the discussions as a whole these days, which arose in this dinner as well, that I think are off-putting to some art-house/auteur oriented filmmakers and thus maybe inhibiting growth and development in this area:- 1 -
When it becomes implied that new media dictates the content, I feel art-house filmmakers feel repressed or excluded–just as they would in a studio or other non-independent world. If we're not careful, these discussions can lead to a message that something rather than the artist's vision should be dictating the form, story and style of a film. Some of these discussions then become advocates of an anti-auteur film culture--suddenly we're supposed to contradict the intentions of our career, or single film, or carefully nourished ideas on how a story can be told, or what stories are told. Contradictions which are essentially the nemesis of the independent filmmaker.
Stephen Raphael is right--there is a still a market for feature films as they are if they are as good as Ballast, and as long as discussions veer off into talks of how a film has to become an everlasting exposè into is myriad characters' lives, providing alternate and unlimited content and so on, filmmakers and people like myself and Raphael will feel outcast and resistant. The beauty of Ballast and the films I cherish is their restraint. It goes back to something Bresson said: it's what we don't learn of characters that often makes them intriguing. To cast aside these ideas of restraint may be seen as nullifying film culture, language, and style of the past 100 years. The film many of us love and cherish IS in fact that passive thing that seems to be getting a bad rap the way the term elite has. Passive is not a negative term by default, and just as many people do not play fantasy football yet watch the game.
I've spent my adult life working to be a feature length narrative filmmaker with these ideals, and to hear that artistic path is no longer viable doesn't automatically transform my ambition into being a webisode maker or a professional crowdsourcer who creates something in whatever media is new solely to feed an audience. Those things aren't interesting to me personally, and if it's a question of adapt or die, well, if what I love doing has to go away then what's the point in adapting? If I transform into the storyteller using whatever media and marketing is the next big thing, then I'm doing something I don't enjoy, and no audience will enjoy it either. We have to nurture and respect an artist's choices and passions.
Musical content didn't change because of the internet. Before and after there was a market for albums-pop, classical, jazz, hip hop, world, ambient, etc. Singles were always most popular, but all the internet did was ease access to one's taste. The internet makes it easier to find the single and preview it, but I think the majority of people who recognize the artistic merit of an album will then gravitate towards experiencing that work as a whole. Those who did not care for albums and just wanted Top 40 have it better. Radiohead fans don't care about owning just the single, they want the album, and the internet didn't change that, nor did the internet nullify the album as an artistic expression. That market is still there. That part of the music/film analogy fits with films nicely. Too much talk focuses on altering one's content when it should focus on distro.
There is still a market for feature films in their entirety between theatrical and ancillary outlets. I am only 28 and know plenty others and know there are teenagers who, like me, enjoy uncut feature length art films, so the market is not disappearing anytime soon. Too much of this talk assumes that. Too much talk is of the vanishing market and the falling sky in content. The market is vanishing because most films are over-budgeted, thus the market to recoup these funds is vanishing. I don't think it's because no one wants to watch films in their entirety. The emergence of television must have created similar discussions--the assumption that all must now make and aspire to television instead of how can film embrace its differences from television. The art film audience often enjoys these films because they can run counter to the lifestyle of absorbing six IMs and 50 emails (as mentioned at the dinner) and real-time stocks and daily breaking news events on CNN, (as Christopher Buckley recently mentioned)--endless filler and distractions disguised as content. An acute audience, often those arthouse films are seeking, are likely people who are aware of the rapid lifestyle and seeking a world of alternate leisure to counteract it. Art-house films have always been counter-programming to something, and the more they stay focused on that characteristic the better the films will be, and then the stronger the audiences will be.
The point should be made right away and strictly adhered to that the content and the art-house film will always have a market and all this discussion is done so in a way to validate these films rather than dictating their form or content. It's taking too long to get there and there is too much dwelling on the alternate storytelling methods.