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Thursday, November 23, 2006

Race & Indie Film (part 1? probably, no doubt :)

The following is an excerpt from a recent interview I did with Aaron Katz, the director of the indie drama Dance Party, USA. We got off the topic of his film & started talking about race & the indie film scene for a bit. Here is that portion of the interview:

" Sujewa: It was cool hanging out with Stacy Schoolfield, a producer of the currently self-distributed flick Jumping Off Bridges, last night in Silver Spring, MD. We talked for a moment about the apparent low number of women & minorities in key positions in indie film production & distribution. I think the numbers are going up, but with the DV revolution I expected them to go up much quicker - since the cost of entry is now low & films can be made with just 1-5 or so crew members & very little equipment. Why do you think at the moment it seems like US indie film is mostly a liberal "white" male thing (not that there is anything wrong with that)? The indie film scene does not seem as diverse as the music scene.

Aaron: The film business has never been nearly as diverse as the music business. I can count American minority filmmakers prior to 1960 that I've heard of on the fingers of one hand. On the other hand black people are responsible for creating half of, or even more than half of, American music genres of the 20th century. Obviously this comes in part from the fact that minorities have had much less access to wealth. You don't need a lot of money to make music. Now, as you said, the price of entry into film has recently become low, but traditionally the price of entry has been very high. It takes time for the idea that you need all this expensive stuff and all these highly paid crew people to wear off. There's still this unnecessary mystique around film production that there's not around music. Really I think minorities, women, and liberal white guys alike are just now discovering what's possible.

Sujewa: David Lowery & also Pioneer's blog has grouped yourself, Joe Swanberg, Andrew Bujalski, & the Duplass brothers together as a new low-budget filmmaking movement. One thing I noticed about all of your good/interesting/excellent movies is the lack of minority/non-"white" characters in lead roles (except the supporting role of the DJ in Mutual Appreciation, if I recall correctly). How do you think that came about? Is it because you guys don't have any minority/non-"white" friends that are into filmmaking (since you use a lot of your friends in your low budget movies)? As an audience member what is interesting to me about indie film is seeing people that you do not see a lot in Hollywood movies on the screen (post-Down By Law Jarmusch movies are a good example, also the queer film movement), in non-stereotypical roles.

Aaron: I've definitely noticed this and tried to figure out what it's all about. For me it's circumstantial. Had, say, a black guy or a Japanese girl come in to audition and they were better actors than a white guy or white girl I would have cast them. I had imagined Gus, the main character in Dance Party, as a white kid in advance. In part because the guy he was based on is white, but if a black guy came in and he was great I would have figured out what that changed and gone with it. As long as we're talking about the issues of race in independent filmmaking, I'd be curious to get your take on it.

Sujewa: The indie filmmaking scene is getting more diverse - but there is a long way to go. Most people - indie film fans - will only be able to identify a handful of currently active indie filmmakers from minority backgrounds at this point. But, also at this point in time, the tools/the means of production & distribution are more accessible than ever - so all kinds of people who were shut out of filmmaking in the past can now try it - thanks to the digital production revolution, the internet as a cheap publicity tool, the growing interest in self-distribution, DVD players everywhere, etc. I think within 5 years there will be many more minority indie filmmakers - just sheer quantity wise - & out of that should come some excellent filmmakers - film is a hard art to master, takes a lot of work, failures & attempts. I think US indie film is generally open to ethnic diversity. At least I have not felt any hard resistance against my new film from the US indie film scene because I am a filmmaker from an ethnic minority group. I think at the moment Hollywood may be more diverse ethnically, but pretty soon I believe the US indie filmmaking arena will be much more diverse than Hollywood - which will affect Hollywood soon after - because the indie arena is a place most filmmakers like to pass through on their way to Hollywood."

Blogreaders, feel free to chime in on this topic through the Comments below (but behave; clean language & well thought out & relevant arguments only, other stuff will not be allowed through). Thanks.

- Sujewa

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