Another Curmudgeon Says Let Indiewood Hurry Up & Die

Jim McKay, who once was called by Variety "America's own Ken Loach", responded to my recent email blast and has kindly agreed to go public with it:

"even the A-list auteurs' star-filled agency-backed packages are failing to find US buyers at Cannes"???

I don't see this as cause for alarm, I see this as cause for celebration.

I mean, look at that sentence. What could be more diametrically opposed to small, independent filmmaking than stars, agencies, and packaging?!?

The root of this whole problem goes back to the indie-fication of Hollywood and the fact that small films have found themselves competing with bigger ones for casting, financing, and, worst of all, Oscar recognition. Small films should never have had to compare themselves with these products or compete against them at festivals or in the box office. And yet this is where the "Indie Film" phenomena ultimately landed.

We must stop seeing ourselves through the lens of 1) Hollywood and 2) Indiewood. The first is a system completely outside the realm of what small filmmakers create. The second is actually a non-existent planet that for a small time differentiated itself from Hollywood but is now just a sub-folder. Many of the great American filmmaking veterans, the ones who have spent their careers making small films, exist completely outside these worlds. Rob Nilsson, Jon Jost, Nina Menkes, Victor Nunez, Yvonne Rainer.... Let's start looking at how they do it, comparing the state of things for young filmmakers with the state of things for these makers. We'll probably learn a little about how to create and survive and I bet things will also look a lot more rosy in comparison.....

Let the Cannes/Sundance/Tribeca house burn down.
Or let it just do whatever it's gonna do. But I think we need to stop looking at the bigger system as something that exists in the same universe as films like the ones you listed.

The sky is not falling, the sky is opening up.
We've spent the last ten years eating filet mignon when rice and beans taste just as good. We've been flying first class instead of driving in the van with the band. No shit - steak and warm mixed nuts are lovely. It was nice while it lasted. But things have changed and we can change with them (for most of us, back to the way we always did it in the first place - much more challenging when you start becoming an old fuck like me) or we can just quit or sell out or buy in.
The fact is, now that the economy has crashed people will finally start making films for less money and with less bullshit attached and stop trying to play the Hollywood or, just as bad, Indiewood game. And in the future, just like in the past, really good films will still have a tough time getting made. And getting seen. And making their money back.
But there is one maxim that will never cease to apply: great work will ALWAYS, always find its way. It may not make a lot of money, it may call for extreme or inventive means of distribution, it will almost never be seen by the masses. But great work will continue to be seen and appreciated and maybe now more than ever, the means to spread the word about and gain access to this work is on the brink of discovery.

I know we're saying pretty much the same thing. And I love how you're actually doing something about it. Providing a space for people to share information, taking part in a community.... all this is great and also pretty much all we can do right now as the system makes its seismic shift. While the glass might be half empty of money, I believe it's half full with creativity. Which strikes me as a pretty ridiculously optimistic thing for a cynical guy who hasn't made a feature in 5 years and is coasting into middle-aged curmudgeonhood. And yet, there it is.

keep on keepin' on.


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).