Woodstock Film Festival Trailblazer Acceptance Speech

I am receiving an award tonight. This is my acceptance speech.

WOODSTOCK TRAILBLAZER AWARD SPEECH

10/2/09

I’m honored to be invited to join all of you at this great celebration of film, music, and community. I want to truly thank Meira, Laurent, and Nikki and all of the volunteers and sponsors who make this festival – and all festivals -- happen. We wouldn’t have events like this without you. Thank you.

Can you imagine this world of ours without evens like this one, without films like the ones being screened here? I can, and of course you all can, because we have all lived when we were without – and we know it could very easily happen again.

I’ve been called many things in my life, but tonight I am being called a “Trailblazer”. I work really hard and have been really fortunate and because of those two things I have had the privilege of making about 60 films with some of the greatest directors of our time and I have dreams of making at least that many more with even better filmmakers with even more engaged audiences in the years ahead.

My drive to get so much done comes from being able to remember when I didn’t have the opportunities that I do now, opportunities not just to make such work, but even just to see such movies – and particularly to discuss such films, to participate in that incredible thing when a shared experience brings people closer together. My drive comes from not wanting that opportunity to be missed by others or myself.

I like to think that tonight’s honor partially comes from my commitment to truth, both in terms of content and in terms of process, my commitment to emotional and experiential truth, to the presentation of our complex reality and desires, to the portrayal of our world in such a way that we aren’t diminished or denigrated or spoken down to but instead are portrayed in ways that recognize s the expansive nature and deep community that truly defines all of us.

But lately, when people talk to me about “trailblazing” -- and well, don't they always...! – It’s not because of the work I’ve done in the past, the films I’ve made, or any innovations I have been part of – it’s because of what I am doing right now when I haven’t been able to make movies. It’s about what I have been doing because I am afraid we might lose this glorious and diverse and ambitious film culture – a community that has blossomed over the last two decades both here in Woodstock and all over the globe. We might lose both that community and the opportunity to evolve it into a true force for social change if we don’t all start to act in new ways.

People think of film as an art form, movies as an entertainment. An independent producer from an earlier era, Walter Wanger, spoke of movies as ambassadors, cultural ambassadors. In my experience I’ve felt movies are more like community organizers. (And I should note that I was one, and in fact, I once almost very happily worked for ACORN, but that's another story...) A movie’s ability to:

Bring us together

Expand our horizons

Encourage our dreams

Recognize our commonalities

Motivate our actions

Ignite our passions, and

Unite us as a community

is unrivaled. But it is also a power that is all too rarely unleashed. I am so inspired by the potential now before us. I don’t want us to squander it.

I want to ask you all to do something. Imagine the world you’d like, or at least imagine this world being closer to something you like. Look at these simple tools we have before us: films, the Internet, and you. Please recognize what you can now do with them, the power that they contain.

Isn’t it time that we all act? The economy is the toilet, corporations are in control, the gates and access are closing down, but we still have these three things – film, Internet, and community – and I still believe they can change the world.

For the past year I have been striving to set the example of what I am speaking about. One year ago, I used the Internet only for emails and to read newspapers for free. I had never blogged, twittered, been on a social network.

Now I have several blogs, am completely wired, and have thousands of friends and followers who feed me with hope, information, and knowledge. I have hundreds of NEW friends who now work with me building at truly free film culture that is diverse, vibrant, and open to all, a culture driven by participation on all sides, and united in its mission to get good work seen, appreciated and utilized by audiences who choose and act, ones that don’t surrender on impulse to the diet of mediocre drivel that is forced fed to us by what is euphemistically called our entertainment industry.

There is constant chatter by these lucky ones who have “jobs” in the film industry about crisis, but I don’t see a crisis in the same way they do. I see a golden age blooming with more great artists than ever before pushing and pulling the work they love to a deeply engaged and participatory audience.

And that is what I am really here to do tonight: to ask you – this incredible and legendary community – to go one step further, to take the love and appreciation you have for ambitious and humanist cinema, to use the skills you have for community building, to use these tools we all have available to us, and to simply spread the love further out into the world.

Our culture is under siege by the very apparatus that currently delivers this culture to us. But is an easy thing to change. Our fear of the future may still out weigh the pain of the present when it comes to culture, but the price is too high for us to continue to wait.

Write, blog, post, and twitter about the things you enjoy and the reasons why. Become the filter and curator for your family and friends. Don’t allow superficial responses to deeply considered work to permeate further. Don’t wait for the things you want and appreciate to come to you; there is a vibrant community of filmmakers out there eager to bring their work directly to you and discuss it via Skype or iChat or that good old face to face with whatever group you organize. Just reach out! The pleasure that the Woodstock Film Festival brings you each fall can extend through out the year.

Our "indie film" trail has now come to a crossroads. The road to the summit will not be cut by filmmakers alone, but equally drawn by the audience that recognizes how vital a diverse culture truly is.

· We won’t unlock the full potential for narrative unless we break the wall between art and commerce, the project and its marketing, and as artists engage not just in content and production, but also in discovery, promotion, and appreciation.

· We won’t have artists who can afford to create and engage unless we compensate them fully and shed this notion that content should be free but we should pay huge fortunes for the hardware that stores them.

· We won’t have a way to access and offer truly independent work if we don’t have a free and open Internet – true net neutrality.

· We won’t be able to find the unique and personal work, if we don’t all take on the responsibility of curating for our family and friends.

· We won’t have an exhibition industry if we don’t make a point of getting out of homes and sitting together in the dark to enjoy movies on the big screen.

· We won’t have that exhibition industry if we don’t just simply stop showing movies but instead return to putting on a real show.

· We won’t have anyone but the rich making movies in this country if we don’t have affordable education and health care.

Wherever we sit we have to accept the responsibility to promote, enhance, and participate in the culture -- and the apparatus that delivers it – that we want, and to expand the community that already understands this. It means all of us regularly discussing all of these things I raised. Sure, it is a great pleasure to see and talk about films, but it is also now very much a political act and a necessary act.

We all must engage in this way on a regular basis. Lend a hand. Take those five minutes in the morning and those ten at night and spread the good word: there is great work out there and you have seen it. Don’t settle for cats playing the piano, kids speaking at high speeds, or robots battling each other. Demand more.

I stand here tonight because no one likes to hike alone. I know you are all trailblazers and it will take many roads to find our way out of the woods and to that mountaintop. But this mountain is scalable and it is climbable in a very… big… way –- a way that is going to continue to change our world in wonderful and wondrous ways.

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This piece has now been picked up by a few other spots. I truly appreciate the support:

Tribeca Film Festival

Film News Briefs

And referenced here:

Indiewire: Is there a doctor in the house?