Sunday September 19th, as part of Independent Film Week, the IFP invited me to a "Cage Match" with Jeff Lipsky on Indie Film's relationship with youth culture. The discussion was spurred on by a post of mine "Can Truly Free Film Appeal To Youth Culture ," and the robust discussion everyone had in our comments section to that post, and then still further by discussions on Filmmaker Mag Blog and Anthony Kaufman's column. It was a good discussion before IFP even proposed the CageMatch, but I appreciated the opportunity to give it more thought.
You might have missed it but it's been summed up pretty well by Robert McLellan on GlobalShift.org (thanks to Shari Candler for tipping me to that), Ingrid Koop on the FilmmakerMag Blog, and Eugene Hernandez at Indiewire (although I don't agree, or believe I said, that Indie Film is aimed at white women over the age of 45 -- although they are the dominant audience -- but that we have to prevent Indie Film from being the province of the privileged, old, and white (i.e. me!)). Jeff and I could have blabbed for hours. I have plenty more to say on the issue.
As both a community and an industry, it is critical we look at both the creative infrastructure, and societal factors for answers to why we have so failed to develop the alternative and youth sectors. Every other cultural form has a robust young adult sector that is defined both by it's innovation and opposition -- yet in film that is the exception and not the rule.
To me the issue comes down to the fact that unless Indie Film appeals to the under 30's, Indie Film will continue to marginalize itself into the realm of elitist culture like Chamber Orchestras and Ballet. Indie Film as a form is already problematic in the way it self-censors and regurgitates last year's success stories; it needs to be reinvented from within. We need to encourage and reward rebellion -- plus it's fun, and makes great cinema.
There is often the tendency to essentially blame the audience, but I am a believer that American audiences are like the March Hare and "like what they get" (in a future post, I will attempt to demonstrate why blaming the audience is lazy finger pointing). The issue is not the consumption and appreciation patterns, but the lack of leadership to push for something unique from our creative communities.
What is it that Alternative Youth Culture wants from Indie Film Culture but can't find on the menu? Granted, as someone pushing 50 I may not be qualified to answer (and I hope some people more of the age of which I speak raise their voices), but I think the answers are numerous (I have sixteen off the top of my head -- and I am sure you can add more). They feel to me to be relatively timeless, as true to me back at age 20 as they are now to the folks that intern with me. They deal with both content, and context:
- immediacy; relevancy to the world we are living in right here right now
- controvercy; extremism; intensity; content that is not watered down or safe
- honesty; truthful emotions, not engineered ones
- Respect for the audience that doesn't talk down to them
- Transparency in the process, an attitude and an aesthetic that allows all to see how they too can get it done
- Diversity of voices in accessible content, a commitment to be different from the rest, but a willingness to be part of a specific community -- and not a general audience
- A social component; a live event before or after the screening -- something that offers that random interaction with that person you don't know quite yet but you know loves the same thing that you do (i.e. community building events)
- constant reminders of what they appreciate, what they want to belong to -- akin to hearing your favorite song on the radio, again and again, or being in the space that you know your parents would never want you to be or being surrounded by people that hate and love much what you feel similar about
- access for discovery; it's not just a new algorithm we need; software alone can not solve the problem -- how do we find and then immediately experience or possess MORE of what we want when we finally find it; we want to know what our friends know; you hang out in a bar with good music, not just because you like the music and the people, but so you can discover more of what you like.
- access to the creators; Musicians feel like they came from the community to which they perform to; their audience gets to know them in a way that can't be said for filmmakers. Filmmakers need to embrace "film gigging" as a necessary component of some aesthetic choices.
- reactionary attitude and focus towards the world at large, not just the industry/culture they partake in. If Mumblecore is the dominant strand of current alternative youth culture in film what is it reacting against beyond the Hollywood style of filmmaking? There is a whole world out there that is ready to take a whole lot of abuse. Give the people something different; show us what we could become (for better and for worse).
- accessibility to the creative process; it is often said that anyone can make music AND record a song these days, yet there remain perceived economic barriers to creating film work.
- relatable voices and relevant voices; to want to participate, you need to feel you belong. Who are the filmmakers who are part of the under 30 generation? How can Indie Film be more than something for old, white, and privileged? This comes from both the top and bottom, lifting and pushing.
- How can the community demonstrate they belong? Our industry does not produce objects that demonstrate one's love for cinema and its culture? Where are the fetish objects that can be more than a t-shirt?
- Communities need help to coalesce. Help those who want to help you. Young people give themselves to scenes and causes that matter to them; it is a badge of honor to help expand the things you care about it, but how does someone help Alternative Youth Culture Indie Film if they want to bring it to their neighborhood? We currently aren't making it easy.
- Certain aesthetic approaches encourage participation; others curtail it. There is a preciousness that dominates in Indie Film, that presumably is predominately derived from how difficult it is to be prolific. Right now, most films unfold like they are a proof and not an exploration -- and to compound matters, they are a proof of something we already have realized long ago. Each film feels like it may be the artists' last. Each one relishes that it is "a film by...". If artists want participation from the community they believe they are part of, they need to get over the arrogant posturing, and admit -- through their work -- that we are all learning as we go along.