It Could Be Getting So Much Better All The Time #8: The Return Of The Amateur

Filmmaker Jay Anania encourages us to return to the love of doing:

I can only speak about what I think is the state of 'independent' film, the films themselves, and what they seem like. For it is the films themselves that must be the beginning of whatever the future holds. I will speak of it idealistically, for to do otherwise would negate the very purpose of having the conversation at all.

Putting aside, for the moment, Ted’s belief that too many films are being made (and I suggest putting it aside because there is simply no way to stem the impulse to make a film when you actually can, and everybody these days actually can), I would argue that there is a seemingly contradictory need for both humility and ambition amongst independent filmmakers.

First, ‘ambition’: Independent films must ambitiously return to its original dream of high and even exalted artistic hopes, a compelling and selfless desire to advance the art form, find new ways of telling, celebrate the purely visual aspect of film viewing. I am confident when the lights go off in a theatre (or the FBI warning leaves the screen on a home viewing), if I have a sense that the filmmaker is trying, successfully or not, to make work that can take a legitimate place amongst serious music, literature, painting, etc. Why in the world not?

On the other sad hand, the not-so-truly-independent film, no matter how 'other' it calls itself, is often simply trying to sneak a place, it seems, amongst other films, bigger films, measured often by their commercial success, or the social advancement accorded its makers.

By ‘humility’ I mean that filmmakers should modestly steer very clear of the commercial (and social) arrogance of presuming/hoping that their small works will lead to access to the privileged and moneyed corridors of the mainstream industry (what Ted means, I think, by ‘crossover’ ambitions). They can, of course, crossover, but nothing is more deadening than having such imagined access as the primary reason for making a film. No matter how passionately many filmmakers talk about their Vision, too often the overriding impulse is to garner admiration from bigwigs who can finance bigger films, and the attendant, supposed, freedom this will bring for future work. I would argue that this future work is already devoid of inspiration, as it is based upon a filmmaker whose work was made, at least in some measure, in order to secure career options, rather than having been made out of a serious, undeniable urge to craft a particular film, regardless, totally regardless, of its career implications.

So, ‘humility’ in this context, is a profound and complete abandonment of this careerism. A truly independent film is made with blissful indifference to what it might bring the maker in terms of money and status. It is made in the spirit of the amateur, a word that derives from the Latin amator, lover. An amateur, in this usage, is not someone who does something in an untrained way. Rather, it is someone who does something for the love of doing it, the thing itself. Lest one worries about ‘amateurish’ ineptness of craft, I would argue, in fact, that the craft of this kind of amateur is at the very least, commensurate with the craft of the professional, as it is the work a filmmaker who is concerned only with the work on its own terms. This bodes well for the quality of the making.

To be sure, money changes hands in order for a film to be made, and I believe that every director, no matter how ‘independent’ should assume a responsibility to those giving the money that allows them to make their work. However, both producer and director should operate with trust that a film made very well, as inventively as possible, will be the film most likely to justify the investment. To not have such trust is to take the initial steps down a slippery path toward the crass and manipulative.