Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Collectively Speaking "...One For All"

The following is reprinted from FA Magazine's January 09 "Collectively Speaking" column:


"Unus pro omnibus, omnes pro uno" is a Latin phrase that means "One for all, all for one" in English. In its inverted state, it is known as being the motto of Alexandre Dumas' Three Musketeers as well as the Three Stooges. Also, it is apparently the traditional motto of Switzerland. Who knew?

It is also the core concept behind Filmmakers Alliance - actually, collectivism, in general. All this is obvious to anyone who has ever been a meaningful part of Filmmakers Alliance. But what continually confounds me is how difficult it is for many other independent filmmakers to see how powerful this concept is to them in their own filmmaking lives.

Well, in truth, most indie filmmakers seem to have no problem grasping half of the concept. "All For One....Me!" seems to be the defining modification they've made to the concept, essentially transforming it into a complete energetic contradiction. Now, it's not that this self-absorbed approach to filmmaking is without benefit. Films do need a sort of authorship (although I do not fully embrace the "auteur theory"), a guiding aesthetic vision. And sometimes these more self-absorbed types have a determination, drive and focus that defies limitation.

On the downside, such self-servitude can also defy imagination - limiting creative vision and obscuring awareness of that which doesn't immediately seem to serve them. As I've said ad nauseum, filmmaking is a collaborative experience. It is a community endeavor - a community of artisans and/or creative professionals brought together in service of a common creative purpose. Everybody brings something to the table that adds to the development and realization of the film...and thus, the potential success of the film. And that communal energy is even more present in the exhibition of the film. What is an audience if not a community brought together for a singular, shared experience. But the concept of communalism is still, nonetheless, difficult for many independent filmmakers to grasp. To them, they are making the film and everyone else is simply "helping". They write in a vacuum, edit in a vacuum and, at times, aggressively discourage creative contributions from anyone else. And of course, when they are not working on their own films, they spend precious little time being in service to any other filmmaker. In the end, people are only useful to them when they need them - in producing the film (cast and crew) and showing it (audiences).


I know this all sounds very negative, but I'm simply trying to shed some light on a challenging truth that is absent from much discourse in the wake of Ted Hope's amazing state of the union address on independent film (reprinted in this issue), and the subsequent discussions/arguments about the "death" of Independent film. Of course, it is difficult to explore any discussions about independent film when there is no longer any consensus agreement on what "independent" film actually means. But by any commonly-embraced definition, I strongly believe that independent film cannot, and will not, ever die. As long as there is a single film that displays fresh creative energy and/or was made without regard for ANY institutional agenda, Independent Film is alive. And those kinds of films will simply never cease to exist.

But sadly, those films are, and have always been, an anomaly. There is not a culture that supports that kind of filmmaking. They are made despite the prevailing filmmaking paradigms, not because of them. So, on another level, I couldn't agree more with Ted Hope's assertion that "Indie Film" has never truly existed. The term "Independent Film" was once a perfectly benign catch-all phrase to describe films made outside of the commercial mainstream until it was cleverly co-opted and bastardized by that commercial mainstream. Ironically, it is now that very same commercial mainstream announcing Independent Film's death because they can't figure out a way to make money from it consistently.

But maybe those commercial mainstream folk did us a favor by trampling all over the term "independent film". Because, as Hope says, filmmaking on any level has never been truly "independent". It is NOT independent of cinematic grammar. It is NOT independent of cinematic history. It is NOT independent of creative collaboration. It is NOT independent of technical/practical support and innovation. It is NOT independent of audience reaction. It is NOT independent of word-of-mouth and other marketing support. Even by commercial mainstream's bastardized definition, Independent Film was NOT EVER independent of the foolhardy dreams of fame and success (and mainstream validation). No, "Independent Film" is a sexy phantom. This is why Hope prefers to eschew the term completely and use the term Truly Free Film.

Whatever term you use, the concept people like Ted Hope are striving to maintain and the thing for which they dream of creating a supportive infrastructure, is nothing more, or less, than Singular Creative Expression - or, in a word, originality. And that is a word that is far, far more difficult to achieve than it is to bandy about in everyday conversation. That is because, as Hope says, originality demands a freedom of thought that bares great risk and responsibility. It also demands a slightly counter-intuitive process. Meaning, to experience true freedom, originality and independence, we have to acknowledge and, in key ways, embrace their contradictions - connectivity, familiarity and dependence.

It is our responsibility as filmmakers to understand those things to which we've connected ourselves so that we can know which things/ideas we need to let go and which we need to hold onto for dear life. It is our responsibility as filmmakers to know what exists around us and what has come before it so that we can know our place in it all and in what direction we must evolve creatively (and otherwise). It is our responsibility as filmmakers to recognize and appreciate how much we depend on the larger community to sustain us on nearly all levels so that we can clearly see the affect on the whole of each individual contribution - especially our own.

Of course, this last point is the one I am repeatedly striking home with this column. And it is one Mr. Hope also strikes repeatedly in his address. Our independence demands our absolute dependence on each other - literally lending a hand (or strong back), challenging each other creatively, sharing information and resources, providing connections, introducing tech innovations to each other, banding together to protect the power and possibilities of the internet, watching and even buying (shocking!) each others' films and much more I've certainly overlooked or have yet to imagine. There is no one to do it for us. And you are short-sheeting yourself if you want to just grab what you can and contribute nothing. We are living in a time when new technologies have made the possibilities limitless for filmmakers wanting to do truly independent, truly free, truly original work. To realize that potential, you must take on its risks and responsibilities. Which means asking yourself the key question: "How am I contributing to the future I want to create?". Hopefully, the answer will always lead you to the second half of FA's rallying cry "....One For All!"


1 comment:

  1. Very nice post Jacques! Of course, I couldn't agree with you more. It's exciting to think of everyone truly sharing information, getting the word on out on what they love and why, generally making sure that the good work gets made, made as well as it can, and discovered and promoted by the like-minded supporters. It can be done. And it can be done right now. And if that is done, then the future is wide open. If it is not, then, it's just going to get harder and harder.