San Fransisco Film Festival fights on

The oldest film festival in the nation is hanging on by a thread.  In its 57th year, they don’t have very much extra money.  7 of the premieres debuting were made with funds from the San Fransisco film society, something I’m beginning to notice.  Oakland has a few festivals, one set aside strictly for films made by local filmmakers, and Sundance wants to push their labs.

This is really starting to bother me.  Someone makes a great film, a festival wants it, it plays. Hooray.  I worry that those days are going away or may even be gone already.

Regardless, the festival is now in its first year without two of its directors, Graham Leggat and Billham Ray, who died within the past year, and the new Executive Director is Noah Cowan.

“I don’t really believe that red-carpet-driven and sales-driven festivals are the future of our media,” he said. “The ones that exist are great, and they’re serving a useful function. But we need to find a way of engaging audiences in film.”

For Cowan, the celebrity and industry aspects of festivals are more of a hindrance. “Both of those tendencies in film festivals serve to alienate audiences from the intimate experience of watching a movie,” he said. “We’re working really hard to figure out different structures, different methods of how you might bring a communal festive flavor back to a major urban film festival.”

Inspiring, yes.  I just feel discouraged, like film festival programs are only about money.  I like to believe there can be a nice balance between money and art.  Maybe its naive hope.


Five Star: What is it?

At the Tribecca Film Festival, Five Star runs in competition and blurs the lines between fact and fiction.  It shares a documentary feel while running in the narrative category and is still entirely scripted.  About his film, Keith Miller says,

One of the first questions people ask about “Five Star” is, “How much of it is scripted?” I began to think about the interesting underlying question there, which seems to be, What is real here? For me, the question ends up pointing directly to what interests me in this mode of storytelling, which is essentially political. When we talk about truth, fiction, and reality, etc., we are immediately talking about contested sites of ownership: Who owns this truth? Is it the writer and director or the characters? And by extension, who has the right to claim that supposed truth?”

We covered a lot of these in documentary film class, the meaning of truth, and it turned out to be a lot harder to define than one might expect.  Yes, the camera shows what happens, but also in a way forces a perspective between the frames.  Luckily, the filmmakers have control to possibly manipulate the audience to feel closer to how he/she wants; it just depends on how convincing the argument on screen is to make more likely that the audience will buy it.

Ron Howard is still better than you

Ron Howard has been in the bizz for a long time.  Ever since the days of Andy Griffith, he has went on to direct superb movies and smash hits.  In a recent IndieWire interview, he went over a few tidbits regarding how he got where he is today and how he views the ever changing marketplace.  The main point he hammered is his embrace of new and developing technology:

“Why fight technology at all? The audience is always gonna tell you what they like best. And you, as a storyteller, as a communicator, are going to be required to adjust to that. Your taste, your aesthetic, is certainly going to influence that, and you may choose to diffuse that, maybe decline using that format. But to actually decry, to sort of say ‘we should lobby against it…’ You know, we’re all just doing things and absorbing stories in a different way. At the end of the day, I am a storyteller. And if I think the story has value and I think it’s interesting, then my next job is trying to understand out how to best tell the story, and now, what format? Because there’s no shame in turning around and saying ‘Yes, I like to make movies, but you know where this would really live? The internet.”

That being said, he thinks it is a shame when he sees people watching movies on their smart phone.  Yes, it is personal preference, but shouldn’t we hold ourselves to a certain standard when watching movies?  Some people might not feel that way, but I do and so does Ron Howard. He was quoted as saying television is at an all time high, and for drama I would highly agree with him.  The greatest sitcoms I believe ended with the new century.

“Well, on one hand, digital technology is so exciting for me. While I don’t consider myself a techie at all, I love the fact that I can get so much closer to what’s in my mind on the screen than I ever could before. And there was always this gap, and that gap is narrowing to the point where, [Robert Zemeckis] was quoted as saying ‘We can no longer dazzle people, it’s back to story. And it has to be character and it has to be story.’ I love that.”


I find that rather inspiring.

AGFA Fights to Restore Films You’ve Never Seen

The American Genre Film Archive has started a project  not unique in concept, but in the details.  Many believe in the preserving films and restoring them for the future, but this Kickstarter campaign asks for help to keep exploitation movies and genre films preserved.  These are not blockbuster or critically acclaimed films, but films made purely for entertainment purposes, some so rare there is only a single print remaining.

“By any means necessary, we need to watch movies on film, because that’s why God created cinema,” says AGFA advisory board member Nicolas Winding Refn. “The American Genre Film Archive has begun a mission to preserve what I consider the greatest art form God has given us.”

The campaign offers backers some interesting perks, such as tickets to a screening of Craig Denny’s “The Astrologer” (the first film the AGFA plans to digitally restore), a real astrology reading, a shelf named in the donor’s honor at the archive and even the chance to program a Weird Wednesday or Terror Tuesday at the Alamo Drafthouse.

“There are a lot of ways that you can contribute to make this goal a reality, from just a few dollars to a significant contribution,” says AGFA board member and Alamo CEO/Founder Tim League. “One particular perk I think some of our regulars will like: You can host a screening of any AGFA film for you and 40 of your friends complete with beer and popcorn. If you contribute at this level you get an awesome movie party and will feel great knowing your fun is preserving our American genre film legacy.”

If the AGFA reaches its goal by the May 30 deadline, countless digital transfers of titles that would otherwise be extinct will get the chance to be shared with audiences that they unfortunately never received back in their day.”

This is a seemingly rare restoration project that reminds how many movies go unnoticed and how much film changes through history.  It was easier to secure funding for these films back when made, and now everything has so many channels, it has become quite complicated.  It is what it is, but it is important to keep safe as many films as possible, for historical and entertainment purposes.


Channel Surfing Netflix

It used to be a service from the mail.  With the growing power of the internet, it became predominately streaming.  Now, a computer may not even be necessary.

“Netflix successfully made the transition from mailing red envelopes with DVDs to streaming directly to consumers. Now the company has made deals with three cable operators to launch on their services through an app on TiVO DVRs.

“Now, watching Netflix is as easy as changing the channel,” David Isenberg, Atlantic Broadband’s chief marketing and strategy officer, said in a statement. Atlantic Broadband is one of three small cable operators which made deals with Netflix. The others are RCN and Grande. Together, they serve around 700,000 consumers — but it’s a sign that Netflix is open and even eager for more of these kinds of pacts.

In its first-quarter earnings call on Monday, Netflix said it had plans to launch its first pay TV integration in the U.S. They’ve already made similar deals in Europe to provide Netflix to cable subscribers through TiVO set-tops.

Under the new arrangement, customers will be able to access Netflix as long as they subscribe to the TiVO DVR service and to Netflix.”

Does this mean anything on Netflix can be shown on TV?  They don’t have enough original content to have their own channel, but they have recently acquired a rather large group of high quality films.  Are the events related? I would suspect so.

Locke – Successful Film Experiment

Director Steven Knight teamed up with actor Tom Hardy on an idea: simple movie about a normal, everyday man who has to face a problem.  Show it in real time, follow the rules set before hand, and have it done in 2 weeks.  The result was Locke, a film going from festival to festival gathering acclaim all around, and one that I personally viewed at Sundance.  In an interview describing the process, it was revealed that the director said action and the entire 90 minute movie was filmed and acted out before “cut.”

The movie was great, but I write about this because I think it is a good sign for independent filmmakers and artists.  Movies have been done in real time before, but they do not come out very often and especially not with such high acclaim and success.  Tom Hardy is a superstar, being in a few of the most lucrative films ever made, but to step aside and make something for the art’s sake of it on such a small scale should really inspire those trying to break in and hold onto their creativity.

“Everybody said, ‘No you can’t make that [movie] — it’s too simple,” Knight recalled. “But because we had time constraints, it was easily arguable to just shoot it. So we put three cameras in the car, and just set off and did it, almost naively, chronologically from beginning to end every night, almost as if it was a theater piece.”

Despite the tight shooting schedule and challenging nature of the shoot, Knight called the film “charmed from the beginning.” “In terms of budget, in terms of everything it worked. It was a burst of excitement and energy, and I think that translates onto the screen.”

Still, Hardy did have some reservations about the process. “It was quite an elaborate leap,” Hardy said. “It began as a 30-page script that turned to 90-pages. That wasn’t the concern. [The concern] was, can we shoot it to a level at which we could all be happy, to a high standard with makes it a worthy endeavor?”

Creativity in the film industry is still a necessity.  Not everything has been done; new combinations of ideas lend themselves to what could be something great.  Of course, the issue is still getting it financed and produced, but creativity doesn’t have to stop with the script.

Net Neutrality – Call to Arms

” Net Neutrality is the idea that all consumers should have equal access to any legal content on the internet and that no company should get priority access to faster internet service to share content with consumers.
But on Wednesday, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) said it would allow companies to pay service providers for faster “lanes” to provide video and other content to consumers — a threat to the idea of Net Neutrality and a ruling likely to benefit big companies such as Disney and Netflix.
Below, Dan Aronson, chief technical officer at Fandor, the streaming film service headed by Ted Hope, explains why Net Neutrality matters to filmmakers. You can read his full post here.
“If only filmmakers could simply make great films and have them seen by their eager fans.”

Charlie Chaplin, Mary Pickford, Douglas Fairbanks and D.W. Griffith banded together to form United Artists nearly a hundred years ago,  with hopes of controlling their own work and liberating it from the studios’ grip. Filmmakers today face similar challenges in gaining control of their work from faceless commercial entities.

While there are, of course, more opportunities for creating work than ever before, filmmakers are also increasingly facing roadblocks to getting that work seen by the public. This is where Net Neutrality comes into play.

The past generation has seen an explosion in the volume of content consumed over the Internet, accompanied by a lack of infrastructure to support the flow of that information.

If there isn’t enough bandwidth for all of the content that a set of subscribers to an ISP (such as Comcast, Verizon, AT&T, etc.) require, then the ISP either has to build additional bandwidth or ration the existing bandwidth. A lack of bandwidth to support video streaming manifests for the viewer as “buffering” messages and stuttering playback. These pauses deliver a disappointing experience for the viewer and it can (and will) cause them to seek out a better option. Net Neutrality is important because it affects how and when this rationing occurs.

If viewers are already paying for content, they will be hard-pressed to pay a second time to optimize the viewing of that content.  At the same time, any content provider (including Fandor) wants to make sure that their customers have the best experience possible and don’t leave the service due to poor quality viewing. The natural progression of rationing is not pretty: those services that have greatest ability to pay will have their content favored by the ISPs.

If only filmmakers could simply make great films and have them seen by their eager fans. If only viewers could choose which films they wanted to watch and not have that choice made for them by the companies they pay to deliver content. There’s much to think about when it comes to the control of art and its flow to the public. Unfortunately, as was true a hundred years ago, power still belongs to those that have the money or resources to organize. The Internet has created an amazing opportunity to easily connect people with shared interests. In this case, it’s not just the artists who need to unite, it’s the viewers. The more informed we all are about what the challenges are, the more organized we can be to confront them. ”

Taken from IndieWire