Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Viva Les Amis

My good friend Nancy Higgins recently screened her film Viva Les Amis as part of a showcase put together by my other friends at SXSW. The film is a great look at something that seems to happen everywhere - the replacing of a great cafe by a Starbucks. Well, it's not that simple. Les Amis was a cafe in Austin, Texas that was the quinessential college town cafe - run by quirky characters, worked at by drunks serving cheap food to other drunks and providing a place for slackers, punks and probably some students to hang out.

And it was slackers - in fact, Linklater's Slacker featured the cafe prominently. As the town got less weird, contrary to the current shirts proclaiming to "Keep Austin Weird," the cafe eventually closed down. High rents being a major part of the problem. Today, a Starbucks sits on the site.

No, Starbucks didn't force them out, but like so many other places, they benefitted from the changing demographics of the town. What makes this film great is that Nancy doesn't just play to the stereotype of the evils of gentrification, changing populations and green logos. She explores what the cafe meant to residents, but she also takes time to get to know the new employees of Starbucks. They are much more sober, but also have better health care, than the workers from Les Amis. She also fashions a film that becomes interesting to others than Austinites or Slacker fans. The film is about the dying of a culture, the changes that inevitably face any town that starts to grow and serves as a testament to the importance of the smaller things in life. It's great regional cinema - little films that say big things by focusing on something seemingly insignificant.

The film was recently programmed in Austin at the Alamo, and in Orlando at the Global Peace Film Festival. You can purchase the DVD, or just watch the clips online, but either way - you should check out this film.

Monday, October 09, 2006

YouTube Googlized

TechCrunch reports that the rumored sale of YouTube to Google is complete - in an all stock deal worth 1.65 Million. While many people, like Mark Cuban, wonder whether YouTube is worth such a price, you have to believe that Google spent millions in legal fees just contemplating whether this deal would land them in court and - if so - whether they could win any lawsuits. When Google announced the Google Book Project, the Author's Guild and others were quick to sue. My old friend from Atlanta, Joe Beck, is defending that case, and I'm willing to bet he'll win - he won for the Wind Done Gone, and in some ways that may have been more difficult. I'm sure that many a distributor will sue Google - its what you do when you are dying and scared - but I don't think Google scares easily.

It may be too much to dream, but I hope that the content industries start to wake up and realize that everyone will benefit from some changes to the rights-control-regime. Some money is better than no money, and could possibly be mo' money. I don't believe that advertising alone can support all video, we've seen how that works with TV - not everything gets supported, so there are definite tiers. But we also learned that people will pay for good content (HBO), and we've even seen that people will pay for what they can get for free with video (through sales of TV shows). While YouTube will probably always have illegally posted material, it also shows a demand - for content that's hard to find, for content made outside the system, etc. I bet Google could figure out a variation of the ideas proposed by Terry Fisher in Promises to Keep. Perhaps some combination of free, taxes or license fees for certain copyrights and fee-based video.

More thoughts on this soon, but this will be one of the more interesting business developments for film/video in years. Maybe this will get me posting more often than the once a month average I've had this summer.