I’m very proud to say that I was part of a nonfiction blogging community that did some stellar reporting from the incredible Silverdocs festival in Silver Spring last week. Because of the jam-packed program, it was a good thing to have all hands on deck to catch everything. The folks at indiewire, of course, have some of the most comprehensive coverage and plenty of links to other blogs (under the On the Web section) for more specific information on the films, attendant conference sessions, awards ceremony and other special announcements from the Silverdocs camp.
I attended the DocAgora event on Friday. Peter Wintonick, an all-around brilliant guy who reminded me of the great Mexican artist, Diego Rivera, is the co-founder of this process on new forms, new platforms and new ways of funding socially engaged documentary content for the Web 2.0 world. Structured on the model of ancient Greek public debate, the afternoon was given over to some of the most forward-thinking minds in this “wild west frontier” of new media. DocAgora is a community debate that has been staged at major documentary festivals and conferences around the world in the past year, places like HotDocs in Toronto and IDFA. It’s a formal conversation staged to create a forum to showcase and think about strategies for using media creatively for public knowledge and instilling action-oriented solutions for creating change in the world.
The proposition was as follows: “Given that New Media has redefined the meaning of Public: the wall between public and commercial media no longer exists.” The latest Technorati report on the blogosphere indicates that there are over 70 million blogs living on the World Wide Web, impacting the reach and scope of social media companies and the overall media marketplace. Independent press and media makers are banding together to create a public-driven distribution space for content. But it’s the value of that content and its quick availability that will continue to determine what serves the marketplace, as well as the public. How does the public trust what it’s getting? The documentary community continues to be concerned with producing content that contributes to learning on a cultural and global level and wants to continue to believe in a value system that contains core values such as “substance,” “idealism,” “civility,” “generosity,” and “cultural inspiration.” Sounds quite lofty and idealistic, eh?
While intellectually appealing, my thoughts kept turning to all the documentary filmmakers I know, including yours truly, who still have the onus of relying on ourselves to find and raise money for projects. I agree that there needs to be a shift in terms of public consumption of media. How realistic it is to depend on the big media companies, all of whom have bottomless funds to produce any kind of content they desire, to truly support the values that we all hope are paramount (“public media used for public knowledge and action” in the words of Professor Pat Aufderheide) remains to be seen. It’s pretty thick going for the independent filmmaker and we all realize to a person (even those filmmakers with high-visibility award-winning projects) that DIY distribution and marketing are vital to getting your film seen by those audiences for which you made the piece in the first place. Peter Broderick has been a huge proponent and “godfather” for many filmmakers on this front—one person who’s been ahead of this wave for quite a while. Even in the guise of making the most of the World Wide Web in marketing and distribution scenarios, it seems like the same models are being applied to a platform that has unlimited possibilities. In speaking with other filmmakers throughout the fest, the same frustrations about finding money to make a film and finish it and finding financial support for a sales and distribution strategy that makes sense still exist. Becoming savvy in the ways of DIY everything is more essential than ever.
We’re talking, I think, about a “Public” that’s one big social network—a universal myspace without the schlock and worthless personal pandering that doesn’t really contribute anything except a bit of titillation and a YouTube gang bang for a millisecond. Distracting, to say the least, in a world that really could use some focus on “media that matters.” It’s just really time for that to become important, not in conversation or intellectual debate, but in practical, artistic expression. This is what continues to inspire me.
In its Special Edition on Africa issue back in September 2005, National Geographic Magazine's cover headline read, “Whatever you thought, think again.” Now, in this month’s issue of Vanity Fair, the continent of Africa is being celebrated--literally. With the leadership, vision and work of the famous folk featured in the issue, the world is re-thinking its view on this continent, that just by virtue of the sheer heft of its landmass, has become the litmus for what the world needs to focus on right now—universal health, the eradication of poverty, the eradication of genocide, and the children--always the children, the future of the planet. The reason I’m bringing this up in the context of what I’ve been writing about is this: I think whatever your stance on the issues inherent in rapidly changing ways of creating, using, disseminating and absorbing media, Bono’s Guest Editor’s Letter “Message 2U” should be required reading. In just two columns of text, I think he speaks to how we all share a common purpose. And because we have the privilege of living in this technologically magical era, now is a really good time to step up to more creative, more artful ways of communicating with one another.
It’s just not possible for me to absorb another cover story on Britney or Paris. I’m sure they’re lovely girls, but I really want them to go away. And I want the media and the public to stop caring about the shenanigans and neuroses of those girls and their ilk—it’s a waste of our precious time and energy.
So it is with the documentary community and why these are the people I want to hang out with. There is a theme, a pattern, a common thread in the things we talk about when we talk about making movies. To a filmmaker, the subjects we find (or more times than not, find us) and the ways in which we discover we can make a difference through our art, is the gateway through which we can pass on a more positive legacy, one filled with hope and true human progress—the type of progress that starts from the inside out.
Lofty and idealistic? Yeah, let's go there.