Monday, March 26, 2007

Ann Arbor, Censorship and Advocacy

The Ann Arbor Film Festival recently announced a small crisis – in that their state government is threatening to pull their funding due to supposedly “indecent” material being shown (Ann Arbor ends up rejecting the funding to maintain its integrity). There’s not been much on the film blogs about this, although Gabe Wardell wrote a nice summary recently, and Ann Arbor itself has mentioned the issues in a series of advertisements on IndieWire. The Ann Arbor website sums up the issue as well, so I won’t dwell on the details here.

This is quite disconcerting, although not unexpected. It also brings up another reason to mourn the loss of AIVF. Back in the day (long ago, I realize), AIVF would have quickly been rallying the troops in defense of this festival, as well as helping other nonprofits think about these issues and how to prepare for similar attacks. Even in their later stages (close to death) they had staff who would at least make sure the issue was known to all their members. None of the current nonprofits, mine included, have risen to fill this void. Part of this is because we are glacially moving ships, slow to raise the funds needed to cover the work of advocacy. Part of it is because Foundations aren’t funding this work anymore. But, I suspect, part of it is that most of us are too busy raising sponsorship dollars to worry about anything else but our own survival, and/or simply don’t have interest. It’s a sad state of affairs when fest organizers will attend, and bloggers blog incessantly about, a film festival summit that teaches more cities how to open fests and raise money, but none can get bothered to organize about some truly fundamental issues of concern to them all. I’m just as guilty, because blogging doesn’t always equal advocacy – but it seems like we need a conversation about this serious gap in the field.

Gabe also mentioned the little controversy started by the American Family Foundation over the NEA’s funding of Sundance. The NEA had only funded the Institute for its educational Labs program, not the festival, but Wildmon’s group tried to claim that the NEA had funded two controversial films as well as their screenings (by sponsoring the festival, which it hadn’t done). The NEA sent out a press statement clarifying that they were being attacked for something they didn’t do, but I imagine the zealots didn’t notice the distinction. What’s most worrying here is that the NEA didn’t seem to take the time to also argue that they do fund festivals and support freedom of speech, expression and creativity. Would be nice, but they probably feel they are attacked enough that they can’t be too vigorous in their defense of the arts. Once again, an advocacy need on behalf of the field that is missing. It seems to me that Sundance themselves could take on this role in these particular instances. I don’t think they should become an advocacy organization in general, but as the largest film fest in the US, they could have an impact by publicly affirming the underlying principles of which all these fests are a part, and by even rising to the NEA’s defense. Redford’s name carries. It’s not in their general mission, but they could be a powerful member of a coalition at least. Anyway, the point remains the same- we’ve got some needs that aren’t being addressed by any of the existing organizations (including mine) at this time.

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