Thursday, January 26, 2006
Living Tomorrow's Film History Today

I need to learn to stop paying attention to the Sundance Film Festival. It's just too disheartening, and it puts me in a surly mood.

Documentaries are the big thing this year, apparently. They kinda were last year, too, but that was the leading edge that nobody saw coming -- this year, it's all about the bandwagon. Doubtless there are a couple of worthy films in the lineup, and doubtless a couple of long-ignored, long-suffering, deserving filmmakers are finally getting a modicum of sweet, fleeting validation. Happy, lucky them.

I was talking docs eight years ago. I was talking docs again three years ago. I still love documentary film; I remain a devoted admirer of the genre. I'm just sayin' -- I was here back when the self-serving assholes who make up the majority of Sundance attendees were still denouncing the form as hopelessly uncommercial.

And this isn't the first time this has happened -- I think I can claim a degree of prescience throughout my creative life. In the heady days of 1995, I affirmed the enormous potential of the antipodean film industry -- that was before the Matrix shot in Sydney, before Star Wars followed them south, before anybody outside New Zealand but a geeky few had ever heard of Peter Jackson. Was I right? Fuck yes I was right. Admittedly, the fulfillment on one half of the prediction -- that the industry was ripe for a boom -- apparently destroyed any chance of the other, more important half of the prediction being likewise fulfilled -- that an interesting regional cinema would emerge more robustly than it had existed in the past. Australian film in particular is strange and fascinating -- being so removed from the rest of the world has led to unusual evolution in more than just the flora and fauna. But now all they care about is being a coarse pastiche of Hollywood.

In another life, I'd be raking in cash hand-over-fist; I can smell a turkey from a mile away, and I've got a good eye for seeing things coming before others do, even if only in this one little corner of the culture. Instead I'm hanging out here, making my sad little predictions to people in ones and twos, and feeling put out when five or ten years down the line, we all sit down and nod, "yep, turns out you were right after all."

But this is anecdotal evidence. Shall we try something a little more concrete? I'll make a fresh prediction, and five to ten years from today, we can revist and see if I was right; twenty years hence, we can really find out. Somebody make a note.

Ready? Ahem...

"Independent film" is over, dead, floating in its bowl. It's actually been gone for a few years now, but nobody would admit it because we all preferred to Believe the Dream. Time having passed, however, the smell of stagnation and putrifaction is becoming undeniable. Within a year or two, even the slowest among us will realize that the indie's day has come and gone.

Which is not to say that filmmaking will not still take place independently of the industry -- indeed, that will become immensely more common; so common, in fact, that it ceases to bear mentioning. There will then follow a period of aimless drifting -- Hollywood grasping frantically to any passing crap that floats within reach, and the culture at large moving on to some other medium -- a solid video game-based zeitgeist seems likely. Whatever it is, all the preening dilettantes and would-be Tarantinos will drop filmmaking like a lump of lukewarm dogshit and run towards whatever fresh steaming pile they see first. In the film world, deep-seated malaise will set in.

Underneath, however, things will be afoot. Relieved of the burden of a million talentless hacks who were looking for notoriety and money more than an artform, the rest of us will get back to work. From the wreckage of the Oughts (riddled as they were with cloying patriotism, intolerance, corruption, violence, and all-purpose stupidity) a taste will develop for Truth and Meaning and Insight. There'll be a new vogue for the Old Masters of cinema -- people will rent Dovzhenko and Dreyer films in unprecedented numbers. The typical film-enthusiast's understanding will deepen sufficiently to allow for innovative, challenging work to find a degree of admiration; people will increasingly dig genuine complexity, and will learn the difference between it and the condescension of cheap gimmicks and "quirkiness." Artisanal filmmakers will emerge, fostered by the complete re-evolution of the economic and social foundation of film that has taken place in the meantime. (Think: studios floundering while digital technology helps individuals learn how to get by with less.) By the time we hit, oh, say 2025, things'll really be cooking again. It'll be like France in the 50s, and we'll finally get some truly cool American movies on our screens.

Corollary predictions:

1. We'll see a surge in third-world filmmaking. Africa will begin producing some of the most interesting new filmmakers; directors from India will rock our worlds.

2. The antipodean film industry will founder, and subsequently will miraculously re-discover its cinematic roots.

3. Canadian film will become as respected as British television.

4. Short films will become hugely popular in their own right.

5. Abstraction will finally get some respect.

So, just my bitter/hopeful fantasy? Or the Way of the Future?

I guess we'll find out, huh?
7:13 PM ::
Amy :: permalink