I had such an amazing first trip to the Camden International Film Festival which is now one of my favorite festivals. Shout out to Ben Fowlie and Sean Flynn and the entire CIFF staff for a great fest - the perfect combination of incredible films, intimate gatherings and fun dance parties (I posted a video from the silent hurricane disco to Instagram last week). It was easy to reconnect with old and new compatriots - while preparing for a hurricane - (that ended up unfortunately cancelling the live North Points Pitch - 15 min into the introductions the lights went out - they went on to record them and upload them for online viewing - but disappointing for the participants after all that prep (and hats off to CIFF for all the prep/mentoring that they give the pitch participants)). The Distribution Town Hall (additional shout out to Abby Sun) which was my primary motivation for getting me to Camden was also disrupted - but then reconvened in two locations. A report is being prepared by the Sara Archambault of Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics, and Public Policy (one of the sponsors of the town hall) which I hope to share as soon as its completed.
As part of my preparation, I read Chokepoint Capitalism by Rebecca Giblin and Cory Doctorow which is a must read for any artist wanting to understand better how we got where we are - and to take part in solutions. I was turned onto the book by Cory's interview on this episode of Gaslit Nation which has a quick summary of their argument - so a good entry level drug. While most of their focus is on writers and musicians - he does deal with video creators a bit with an excellent chapter on YouTube. However the problems we are facing are equally shared by all artists and nearly everything discussed in the book is applicable to indie film. More on this below.
Back to Camden - one of the highlights of the festival was Keith Wilson's performance "Moore for Sale" (bottom left photo) I love documentary as performace (pioneered by Sam Green whose work I love and others) and Keith's event was funny, engaging, thought provoking and profound. He said during the performance that it was going to be the only time it would ever be performed - but I think myself and a few others have hopefully convinced him otherwise. I was acquainted with Frank Moore since he was at many of the punk rock shows I was at in SF in the early 80s. His story is so incredible it should known by so many more and I feel Keith's performance is the perfect vehicle for this.
Here a quote that summarizes Giblin's and Doctorow's thesis as to where we are at: "Our exploration shows corporations have strategically achieved the conditions they need to take control of creative markets and use them to shake down creators: anticircumvention laws, vertical and horizontal integration, high costs of market entry, captured regulators, opaque accounting, and the power t o aggregate copyrights on an industrial scale and wield them against the very people they are ostensibly meant to protect. Combined with antitrust's blinkered focus on consumer welfare and the neoliberal economic dogma that a company's only purpose is to increase profits and maximize shareholder value, the outcome is inevitable: ever bigger corporations squeezing out an ever bigger share. That's why the choice between Big Tech and Big Content is no choice at all. Whomever creators throw their lot in with, they'll get essentially the same deal: the least the industry can get away with, and the promise it will be ratcheted downward whenever it's possible to do so."
The hopeful aspect of the book is that it not only lays out the problems that media artists face, but half of the book discusses potential solutions. Giblin and Doctorow encourage us to dream big and create plans that might seem unrealistic but are what should happen - by creating "ideas lying around." They argue that eventually there are crises (like the one we are in now) and the right has always been good about having these "ideas lying around" for those crises. For example neoliberal icons Milton Friedman and Robert Bork proposed ideas in the 60s and 70s that people thought were crazy and would never happen - and now we are suffering under the imposition of those ideas and resluting policies throughout the west and beyond. So we should think big. They illustrate number of ideas (some from adjacent industries) that can serve as inspirations.
One idea I found intriguing is laid out in Chapter 16 on Radical Inoperability. A small example of what they mean by this (this concept is related to a broader "right to repair" campaign going on now) is requiring streamers and others to put links back to artists' pages to give people an option of connecting with and supporting the artist. They give an example from music: What if Spotify was required to provide an artist's Bandcamp link whenever that artist is mentioned? What if Amazon was required to provide a link back to your website - along with alternative ways to consume your content that might benefit you?
Giblen and Doctorow suggest a two prong approach - one through government initiatives and regulation - like stricter enforcement of anti-trust regulations - shout out to the Biden administration for appointing activist heads of the FTC and antitrust division of the Justice Department who are now prosecuting Amazon and Google respectively. But it also takes organizing - and grass roots solutions. Very excited for the pending resolution of the WGA strike - but where is the documentary union? (I know the DPA is doing research and learn-ins about this).
Would love to hear your thoughts. Take a read and give me a shout.
BAY AREA THEATRICAL: KEYS BAGS NAMES WORDS
Keys Bags Names Words, the wonderful documentary about Alzheimer's and Dementia we are releasing had a sold out premiere 200+ at the Vogue in SF and huge attendances in NYC, Berkeley and Sebastopol. We are now over 100 screenings in 28 countries in the next month.
Find community screenings near you or sign up to host a screening here: