Tuesday, April 20, 2010
Storming the gates, or can't we all just get along
Ok, anyone who’s worked in this business for more than say, a year, will laugh hysterically at the cat-herding thought of corralling that many movie geeks towards doing anything other than watching cinema. They can’t agree on what’s good and what sucks, much less what to suppress and what is genius. They seem to all agree on avoiding sunlight, but beyond that, no such cabal of gatekeepers exists folks.
Alright, there’s some truth to the whole gate-keeper argument. There is someone (many someone’s, actually) who has to weed through those 3000+ submissions to Sundance, and someone else who has to weed through the accepted films to figure out which ones might find an audience in New York City, much less in Topeka. You can choose to call them gate-keepers, but I like to think of them as shit-strainers - a big industry protecting me from all the crap out there. These poor souls watch more than 500 films a year on average, only ten or twenty of which might be worth me ever seeing, and for all that thank-less work, all they get is a bunch of name-calling in the blog-o-spheres (I could link to ten articles in the last week that are somehow related to this, but you’ve probably read them already).
We should be giving them a medal.
Perhaps, just maybe, we should refer to all of them as curators. You know, those magical elves who everyone (including me sometimes) proclaims are the future of finding content online. That’s what they do - they watch a bunch of stuff and decide what is good and what’s bad, and guess what - sometimes they are wrong - sometimes, they program crap, sometimes they miss or don’t understand some hidden gem. Sometimes they only take a film into their fest to appease some agent, to fuck some actress or to please some sponsor. Sometimes they all speak to one another at a bar, diss some film and none of them program it. Likewise, all of us DIY folks will spread the word about some KickStarter campaign for some film by someone we’ve never met, just because they followed us on Twitter and it will often lead to one more bad film getting made.
Let’s face it folks, all of this is, unfortunately, what humans do. If it weren’t for all these humans, I’d have taken over the world already, but hey - that’s what we’re stuck with: A bunch of imperfect human beings just trying to make, distribute and exhibit something that audiences might actually care enough about to pay for it, and tell someone else to do the same.
You know, back in the day, Jonas Mekas was upset that the gate-keepers weren’t showing the films of the American avant-garde that he loved so much. He bitched a little, but he also built Anthology Film Archives - he curated films for others with taste like him. He also, with many others, helped educate people as to why they should care about these films. Instead of just bitching about rejection and gatekeepers, he simply built a new gate.
None of this destroyed the tyranny of the system, but it was a positive reaction to the need for an alternative. We have the ability today to design our own new systems of curation - to build audiences around films in ways that have never been done before. Sure, film festivals (and others) could improve what they do, but likewise, those of us upset with the system could do a better job of improving it ourselves. I think it starts with curation, but I also think it starts with a bit of honesty - not every film deserves to get programmed at Sundance or screened at the Angelika (ok, no one should have to suffer that venue). Curators of all stripes, are a necessary part of the system. Calling them all gate-keepers just belittles the fact that we need curation, and that with creative curation, we can open the gates ourselves.
It seems to me that perhaps we might lower the collective blood pressure out there just a bit, take a breath and try to enjoy reinventing the business - each in our own distinctive way. It might just get fun.