Wednesday, August 13, 2008

The Lifeboat We Call Community

(reprinted from FA Magazine - August 2008)

Community. It is a word I've been hearing bandied about far too frequently these days with the proliferation of social networking sites and the ubiquity of online life. (Is Al-Queda on Facebook, yet?) But even beyond the internet world, there is something about the general uneasiness of the current global climate (literal and figurative) that is making people feel like they need to cling together to find comfort and strength.

But at what benefit and at what cost? Since Filmmakers Alliance was, is and will always be about community, I do have a vested interest in making sure that the word "community" does not lose it's importance and value - does not become diluted to meaninglessness in the same sad way as "independent film". I suppose there's nothing I, or we at FA, can do about it, if this does become the case. But we can keep the discourse alive and remind people what community really means beyond it being a purposeless buzzword that's been co-opted for commercial use.

Let's just start by making a basic cost/benefit analysis. We'll do it grocery list-style for maximum simplicity and clarity.

Benefits of Community

The healthy organization of social interaction
Connections to meaningful professional and personal contacts
Communal support for personal expression
The aggregation of like-minded individuals
Accessing of creative and life resources outside of one's own warehouse of resources
Accessing of meaningful insight and information outside of one's own scope of experience
Shared life experiences and purpose
The ability to create community subsets more specifically suited to one's needs
A familial sense of belonging
The creation of projects impossible for a single individual

Costs of Community

The dysfunctional organization of social interaction
The aggregation of like-minded individuals
Imposition of community will on individuality
Imposition of community values and aesthetics on individual expression
Exposure to community judgement/criticism
Exposure to a lot of extraneous junk
Exposure to lots of fucking weirdos and/or annoying, useless people

Cleary, the benefits of community win out over the costs by a significant margin. I know this is a simple-minded summation, but it nicely suits my biased perspective. However, here's one major additional benefit that an elective community like FA (or any online community) has: it's optional.

If you don't like the community you're in, you can try to change it. If you can't change it, you can leave it. You can even start your own community and impose your will on lots of other people if your messianic impulses so compel you. In any event, it's important to know that you can explore the positives of community without being bound to the negatives of them.

And the potential benefits far outweigh the risks - if simply because you can always walk away from those risks. Filmmaking, under normal circumstances, is a communal, collaborative experience. As is film viewing. Every part of the process, from creation to presentation. benefits from community, some kind of community - probably more so than most creative endeavors and certainly more than most online "communities" which can often be nothing more than gathering places for expressing ego and dysfunction. Creating a good film demands education about the practicalities of production and the aesthetic possibilities of the medium. It also demands the putting together of many little pieces and the gathering of talents. It demands resources, connections, communicaton, information and revelation. And it demands a little bit of luck. All of that (except the luck, perhaps) exists for you in community. And much of it can even exist in an online community.

In 2009, Filmmakers Alliance will launch its Global Initiative, which is a fancy way of saying that we are globalizing the work that FA has been doing since 1993 through a soon-to-be-launched website. It won't be exactly the same, of course, as the hands-on, face-to-face work we've been doing in Los Angeles, but will be a sort of one-stop-internet-shopping for all things filmmaking - from education to exhibition to the professional management of your filmmaking lives. And on top of that, the site will indeed support the creation of hands-on, face-to-face collectives like ours throughout the world. It will be the sum of many filmmaking sites with a little Google, Facebook, Craigslist, Wikipedia, Ebay, Evite, IMDB/Withoutabox, YouTube and Hulu thrown in the mix.

We are launching globally - with purpose - not just to send winks and pokes or create a platform for out-sized egos. Our purpose is to provide all of the tools and resources we can imagine and create by which filmmakers can gain the most benefit from community and enrich their off-line, real-world, filmmaking lives. We are attacking this goal with a tripodal platform of support that includes EDUCATION, EMPOWERMENT and EXPOSURE. And woven in through all of that will be messaging and direction that educates and motivates filmmakers to do work of impactful social relevance and/or high aesthetic ambition. And it will reward those who are already doing that kind of work. But here's the best part: the site will be structured in the way that it is fluid and malleable with its course of development to be determined by the filmmakers/users themselves. Filmmakers will be able to write applications for the site (like Facebook) and contribute information (like Wikipedia), but will also be able to upload/share resources, issue creative challenges, and directly contribute to each other's work. It is our goal to exploit the full benefit of community in the most specific kind of ways using the latest web technologies. And hopefully, those technologies will build upon themselves through user contributions so that the site is a fluid, ever-evolving community that is always in step with filmmakers' needs.

I'm pretty proud of how Filmmakers Alliance has applied the concept of community. What we've done in our off-line, real-world work has been vibrant and prolific and we plan to continue nurturing that vibrancy. But now we have an amazing new way to feed that energy. For the most part, the web has defined community as a place to aggregate marketing opportunities. We are going to bring back its true meaning and make manifest its most meaningful benefits. And we very much hope you will join us in this mission. Community will not just be a lifeboat, it will be a cruise ship, taking us to the filmmaking destinations that await us.

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