Scientific Study Proves That Indie Films Make Youths Smarter

Well, it would be nice if such a study existed, but I guess everyone figures "why bother to fund what we already know". Ahem... Classical music sales did skyrocket though when a study found it made kids smarter. The state of Georgia even passed a law providing classical music CDs for every newborn child. Imagine that, with each new spawn, parents would be given a copy of Hal Hartley's entire catalogue. Harvey Pekar could be come a household name if the standard baby gift was American Splendor. Okay, maybe such greats as Ballast, Wendy & Lucy, Goodbye Solo and the such may not be so good for teen psyches, but hey Stranger Than Paradise is still a good primer in on studied cool and Primer will surely drive a few truly innovative business ideas (and innovative filmmaking at that).

But isn't it time that we all came up with some good plans to encourage greater appreciation? I am all in favor helping to up the ante in terms of originality, resonance, artistry, and ambition -- and I do believe that better films yields more better films along with greater attendance and all related windfalls -- but I also believe that the more auteur related films someone consumes or is even exposed to, the more they want to experience more of the same. Where's the indie film promotion corner in our public libraries? Where's the list of recommend films for high school curriculums? Anyone care to start these projects, or is everyone to busy writing their screenplays? I can't believe anyone is still dreaming of fame or fortune and the reality of the hardship of the life of creative individual in this country is well known -- so what's the hold up to such action? Isn't it in our interest to encourage deeper appreciation of the art and craft we have given our lives to?

Email Blast: Good Movies And What You Can Do To Save Them

Periodically I send out email blasts to various film folk and some actual film enthusiasts.  I resort to the blast because there still is a certain breed of people that don't seem to do much web surfing.  They want their news delivered and they haven't mastered RSS feeds or Feed Burner subscriptions (I know, I know, no one likes to enter their email address, but...).  It usually is a recap of much of what I have previously written here, perhaps with a few Twitter posts thrown in.   Since many are industry types, I need to stir them up a bit.  I sent the following out yesterday afternoon.  Here it is for your reading pleasure.

I have been asked why I stopped doing these email blasts; was it that everything is now okay in Indieland or was it that good movies stopped coming out? Did the lack of blasts = no news to report? I am happy (okay, sort of happy, sort of really really frustrated) to report that none of that is the case.

The good news is a week doesn't go by now when I don't see at least one film that really impresses me (Goodbye Solo, Treeless Mountain, Star Trek, The Exploding Girl, We Live In Public, Made In China, Humpday, The Yes Men Fix The World, Sugar, In A Dream, Tulpan, Hunger), but the unfortunate flip side is that it is rarely in a commercial theater that I see these films anymore. It's bad that it has become increasingly hard to read about such films (please check out HammerToNail) as papers and magazines fire critics and give less space to ambitious work. The really horrible reality is the trickle down is going to reduce & effect the films you see for years to come completely altering the movies that get made and find their way to your eyeballs.

The next few years' culture dose is corroding rapidly away as I type and your diet is about to get really limited and hyper-specific. Trust me, as someone who has tried this with other such essentials like food -- even if it is delivered right to your door, you don't want the same meal on a regular basis, particularly when they can't source or afford the best and most unique ingrediants. Filmmaking is going on a horribly bland diet that is not good for anyone.

Now if I was really good, I would tell you how we can all solve this by working together. But I am not. I need your help for that -- and that is a hard thing to both get and then to use.

I stopped doing email blasts as I thought the blogging would give more people access and thus I would get more input, but I am now not believing that is the case. On TrulyFreeFilm, I have spent the year speaking of solutions for Indieville, but what I always find people prefer to hear about the problems. On TheseAreThoseThings, I have attempted to curate a little corner of pop culture, but it's hard to get people to participate. On TheNextGoodIdea, I've hoped to publicize the things that are making this world a better place step by step. I lost steam at InfoWantsToBeFree hoping to highlight the issues that shaped our media-mindscape, as I was encouraged to build it and others would join, but that just wasn't so. And yes, there is the one I do with my son, for the young 'uns too: BowlOfNoses. I would love it if you chose to subscribe to these blogs so I could believe they were valuable to you -- or maybe I need to recognize the opposite.

So today, I blast out with a statement of the obvious: Art FIlm culture will dwindle down further to a bloody flatline unless you start to act to preserve it. Everyone sees it, but what are we going to do about it? This is urgent. Really urgent. More good films are going undistributed than ever before.

Mainstream news media has started reporting on Indie's presumed death. This is the first time that in twenty years I think that MainstreamMedia looked at Indie without naming it Weinstien, Sloss, or Sundance or that wasn't during the Oscar season I believe (okay, so I exaggerate for the sake of emphasis, but you know what I am saying). In prepping for what was my first live broadcast appearance (what? you didn't yet look at that earlier link? just click on it now), I tried to consider what were the problems facing Indie film, and in less time than it took to write with this email, I came up with 38 Problems. Thirty Eight. And that was easy. Read them. Ponder. Link. Distribute. Add to the list. To kill the beast, we must name the beast.

But the situation is worse than what I just wrote. If you missed it Hollywood Reporter did an article how even the A-list auteurs' star-filled agency-backed packages are failing to find US buyers at Cannes on Sunday:

And that's not the only one. Foreign sales acquisitions have fallen. Festival funding is drying up. Places to push the message out, like newspapers and magazines, are folding. And is anything taking their place? I have been twittering similar stuff for a long time. What? You are not on Twitter yet? Forget about what others have said; Twitter is a great filter, a curating tool. I have found a film project through it, music to listen too, art to see, books to read, and issues to respond to. Forget the folks who Twit about what they... eat. Follow the ones I follow. Heck, follow me. It's simple and free and I dig it.

It's funny. I wrote this blast for a clear reason. The title still sticks, even if the answer never made it to print. I have now gone on too long to burden you with such further details. That will have to be another blast. Or blog post (where you will miss it if you don't subscribe). I am sure you have some ideas for solutions, or evidence to the contrary. Let me know them. I will blast about them. Or I would be happy to have you post on any of the blogs. Let me know.

But don't despair. Trauma generally breeds action. As a species, we've generally demonstrated we don't act until the pain of the present becomes greater than the fear of the future and the unknown. I think we are there -- maybe not at the bottom, but with a little imagination we can now see the bottom or at least guess the depth. And there are reasons to look up (many of which have been chronicled on TFF): as has been said by others "The theatrical market is healthy; the economic model is not healthy.". A better delivery system has been found, albeit by the bootleggers, but hopefully someone -- and someone with a commitment for equal access and equal opportunity -- will learn how to monetize it.

In the meantime, please go see some films. Tell your friends, family, fans, and followers why you liked them. Tell them to see them. Curate. Facebook about them. Take culture into your hands. Bring people together. Tell the media you care about culture and want it covered.

Maybe come here me talk about all this stuff. I am doing an event 5/28 for NY Foundation For The Arts. Please come.

Thanks for reading. And watching. But don't fiddle. Our culture is burning.


Two Great Films Not To Miss

I had been wanting to post about a couple of films I've seen and was really impressed by -- but time has been short and I haven't been able to do a lot of things I had hoped.  So when I got an email from director Jim McKay urging me to check out the two films I wanted to post about, well, I thought why not let him tell you about them instead of me.

Hey, folks -

I'm a little bit late on this one, but I finally got out to see it last night and if you're in New York it's still playing at the great IFC Center and if you're not, it's either on its way to you or on IFC On Demand...

The movie is HUNGER and it's British artist/director Steve McQueen's first feature film about the IRA's early 80's in-prison protests (no clothes, no wash, and, ultimately, hunger strikes) and Bobby Sands' role in them.

The film has qualities about it that can come only from a) an artist from outside the film world and/or b) a (first-time) director who is either unaware or unconcerned about "the rules" and has the artistic integrity to insist upon a method of storytelling that is powerful and unique. A perfect film? No. A very complete and confident vision that will shock, inspire, and move you? Yes, absolutely.

Characters are explored who then disappear from the story altogether, other main characters aren't introduced until late in the film, there's a jump in time toward the beginning of the film but then that doesn't become a motif and the device is not repeated.... All things that in the U.S. film-making system would've raised red flags of narrative concern from investors, producers, and all the other people whose job it is to make sure a creator makes a film that will be "marketable" (of course 90% of these movies tank anyway....). It's interesting that another visual artist-turned-filmmaker, Julian Schnabel, has also become one of our more important filmmakers - these are artists who are used to making work for themselves and not for studios or financiers or bean-counters. And the work shows a boldness and independence that is often missing from the typical new narrative filmmaker. Let us give thanks for filmmakers who say "screw you" to those who might say "but that isn't the way things are done."

The film is definitely hard to watch at times - violence, torture, etc - but especially now, in the era of Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo, it's the kind of stuff that we need to be reminded of and need to make ourselves watch. And for all its inherent artsiness, it's also a fiercely political film that calls up all the anger and bitterness toward Margaret Thatcher that would in later years inspire Morrissey to ask in his song Margaret on the Guillotine "Oh, when will you die?" and Elvis Costello to sing "When they finally put you in the ground, I'll stand on the grave and tramp the dirt down." The film made me very, very angry. In a great way. And I can't stop thinking about it.

Because of the subject matter, I put off seeing this film for a bit, which was a mistake. I highly recommend it.



(PS: I also saw Goodbye Solo this past week and thought it was great. I'm about to head out of town and can't summon up the time or brain power to write about it right now, but I will when I return but in the meantime, put it at the top of your must-see list).