Our Obligation To Share

There are so many things that we need to do in order to make independent film a sustainable and vibrant culture and industry. That said, we are in a better place to do that than ever before. For the first time in our culture, we can say that that vision is dependent on no one else other than those who participate in it. The question is whether we are up for the challenge.

This post was originally conceived for and posted -- in a slightly different form -- on Sundance's new filmmaker-to-filmmaker site Artist Services.

There is no denying that the Indie Film World has changed. In many ways, “independence” is a true option now – in every step of the process. Yet, we certainly have a long way to go in achieving that dream.

We all strive for quality, funding, access, distribution, marketing in creating our films and reaching audiences with them. These aspects all keep getting better. We have been finding answers – incredibly great solutions – regularly as of late. But let’s be honest here: we want more and we need it fast. Despite the improvements, the increase in participants and the fracturing of the marketplace (two great occurrences, in my opinion) unfortunately also make it harder to earn a living or sustain a community than ever before. We have to do something about it.

I have tremendous faith that both our indie film culture and community will continue to get better – but that faith is conditional. My faith is in people, and by that, my faith is in the extension from the individual to the general: community. My delight and frustration come from the same source, these people, for it is inherent for such a great and diverse group to have disagreements: We don’t all want and need the same thing (thankfully, again).

What I want -- and what we need -- from everyone is both action and a change in behavior. I love to do things, to get things done, to generate even more – we can make this world a better place. We can improve our films. We can build our audiences and strengthen our community.

The challenge is whether it matters enough to us, that we can invest the time to create something truly free -- beyond which we call "independent". Sometimes I fear it doesn't matter enough to us because we have not yet embraced the simple concepts that can get us there. Maybe we don't want the responsibility that is required to truly own our work (figuratively and literally). Maybe it feels better to blame others (aka The System) for our inability to do better and really reach people with our work. But if it does matter and we accept the responsibility, we must embrace transparency.

Transparency does not end with data. It doesn’t even start there. Transparency begins with us. Transparency is a process, a behavior. By definition, it is an openness to share – share not only our successes, but also our process and all it entails. It seems we have had a lot of trouble committing to this openness.

Sharing our failures is perhaps both the greatest need and greatest challenge. We learn more from our mistakes than anything else. Yet throughout the two decades of this rise of indie film that we have all enjoyed, we have allowed our failures to vanish uncharted and unanalyzed. We have the tools to record our failures, to share them, and to learn from them. We cannot continue to allow this opportunity to grow to escape us. The sustainability of our community and careers depends on it.

Transparency also requires us to share both our process and our feelings about that process. We are not alone. As much as creativity is often a solitary process – at least in the early stages – the ability to get it done, discovered, appreciated and presented, is anything but. As we have not yet mastered the art (and never will, thankfully) of the form that represents all the Pillars Of Cinema, we will always be frustrated -- but that frustration need not stall us. If we can learn to share that frustration, to utilize that to build hope that these challenges can be met, we will not be demoralized. We will not feel alienated. We will recognize and learn how to depend on our community. We have to do it.

A Truly Free Film Movement requires “direct to fan” and “direct to artist” engagement. Communication is not a one-way flow. Nor is communication a flow brought about via a tube from artist to fan or vice versa. It is a flow that loops in the community, embraces it for all it is, warts and all. It cannot, nor should it be, an echo chamber of agreement. It is a river made up of many individuals and many communities, full of disagreements and opposing needs. Most of all, though, it must be characterized by this willingness to share.

Think about the world you want. Think about how you can now actually earn a living doing what you love. Think about how you get there and how you can sustain it. It is all more possible than ever before. I cannot imagine that such thoughts could lead you to any other process than one of sharing. Sharing leads to engagement – which then prompts action. Wonder why you aren’t getting more done? Perhaps because you aren’t sharing. Let’s make this blog benefit us all. Let’s allow it to truly build something. It all begins with your sharing: Contribute. Comment. Spread. Be part of something great.

I keep To Do Lists. Many of them. I will never complete them all. I try to develop good habits that become something close to rituals. I try to introduce the people I know to each other. I try to give new voices the platform to inform others, and join with them in community endeavors. I try to take the conversation further. I don’t think my way is the only way or even the best way for others. I make it a point to read what others write, and try to join the conversation. I make it a point to watch new work, and have a screening series to share it with others. To me, each of these activities is part of what it means to be an independent filmmaker vested in his community.

Until this week, none of the independent support organizations functioned as a true community – with a flow of communication between all participants. These organizations, as helpful as they are, function mostly as service and access providers, without doing all that is necessary to foster communication. With the launch of the Sundance Community blog we have the opportunity to truly share -- or at least those that are alumni of the festival do. I have done my best to make this blog a community hub for all indie filmmakers, offering it up as a soap box for many. I am sure there are many other similar sites (and I wish I could learn of them. Please let me know if you know of them) where creators and their facilitators share common concerns and search for solutions. The question still is what are we going to do with this opportunity to communicate?

Hopefully we will have leaders, voices of authority, that can help launch and direct conversations. Hopefully, we will have participants that make it part of their practice to join conversations and take them further. Someone always needs to step forward. And someone else needs to suggest a new path. Everyone needs to find the courage to shoulder the responsibility that is community building, for it is from that vantage point that we can see the mountaintop that is sustainability.

I get discouraged sometimes by the time it takes to manage this blog. I get discouraged by how slow people are to participate in change, to take risks, to participate in community endeavors -- even sometimes at the temporary delay of their personal goals, but I WILL MAKE THE COMMITMENT TO BE A REGULAR PARTICPANT IN THE COMMUNITY, BUT I NEED YOU TO DO THE SAME. WILL YOU PLEASE JOIN ME? Or at least continue to participate?