sujewa films nyc

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Being an independent filmmaker at a time of serious & numerous conflicts in an underdeveloped world

I think a few months ago I read something like the "earth is flat" type theory when it comes to doing business at this point in time on this planet. Due to improved communication, cooperation between countries, increased trade & greater openness some companies believe that they are no longer competing within their own countries or localities only but that they are, or that they can, compete with any other company in the world in going after customers anywhere in the world. In a sense, many old boundaries in many places have come down, pretty much everyone -openly or quietly - has embraced some type of capitalism as being essential for maintaining a healthy economy. On that item, the world is one country.

If we take a look at this one country we see few spots of great prosperity with law & order, individual rights - off the top of my head I'll say those few spots include: the US, Canada, "old" Europe (France, Germany, England, etc.), Japan, Australia. That leaves several hundred other countries and billions of people who are not living a very comfortable existence on this planet - for a variety of reasons.

As a filmmaker, an artist, I am a type of person who leans towards the well being of people as opposed to suffering of people or indifference to the fate & state of fellow humans. In order to make movies you have to care about people, and when you care about people you learn about them and you begin to really care about them- beyond the care required by the job. Then you begin to see disturbing & sad things. Such as: there are no really good, insurmountable reasons for the vast poverty & misery & conflicts & violence in this world. Yet, obviously the poverty, misery, chaos, destruction exists, so maybe there are good reasons to why this world is the way it is and I can't see them or comprehend them. But, being the upbeat & resourceful type of person I see myself as being, I am going to lean towards my first observation in going forward: that there are no good reasons for the misery in this world, and the situation is fixable.

If the world is now flat for certain businesses, the world has always been very flat for storytellers. I remember reading ancient Roman & Greek stories as a kid in Sri Lanka, even though the general cultural climate of the place at that time was mostly antagonistic towards anything "western" (while, at the same time, many enjoyed "western" products & entertainment even while they complained about the "evils" of the west).

Even though colonialism & domestic narratives/theories have given the west & all things western a bad name in many places of this world, as I walk around & think in the US - a western/European offshoot place (and for many, the great symbol of the west) I do see many things that exist in this nation & culture that would be very useful world wide, such as: a great respect for the individual; individual needs, freedom, liberties, rights, etc., a focus on functionality over tradition ("if it works, and if it works better than what has worked in the past, we'll go w/it, regardless of what alien country or culture it came from"), comparatively vast respect for law & order - very few people are ever "above the law" here, and never/very rarely forever. Of course nothing is fixed and there is a daily debate re: commerce vs. individual rights, laws & safety vs. individual freedoms, and there are, to relatively small degrees, all the usual ills of humans; crime, disease, poverty, etc. here. But by and large, the US would be a paradise - in certain important ways -for many people who live in comparatively brutal places on this planet.

On the down side, as demonstrated by certain tragic foreign policy decisions taken over the last few decades, some in the US do not understand the common humanity that exists in other, far away, poorer & alien looking countries & cultures, or fail to recognize it because war maybe profitable. Or war may seem like the quickest way to fix a problem (it rarely is). But even on that point, there is hope here, because the "warrior class" & their business partners are ultimately subordinate to civilian authority.

So here I am, a US filmmaker, an independent filmmaker - a filmmaker who is not restrained by Hollywood limits (for both better and for worse - not being restrained by Hollywood limits also means not having the Hollywood resources), who is aware to some basic degree I think/I hope about the complexity & the tragedy of this world - the needless suffering on all sides - many with material suffering and some with spiritual/emotional suffering, and many with both - nearing a solid adult human age (I'll be 35 in December) and looking over my options on how I will use the filmmaking & self-distribution & marketing skills I've acquired over the last 15 or so years (since I started on the indie filmmaking path in '91) to both make movies/tell stories and help make this world a better place.

Even with the little peer support, some critical support, and the tiny audience I have now (Date Number One has been seen by over 550 people in America - and at least 1 person in Germany :) - since May '06) I am in a very privileged position compared to billions of people on this planet. Or, I have a lot of good things.

And kind of like the way that old saying goes, a lot is expected of those who are given/who have acquired a lot.

So, how am I going to both 1) make & distribute entertaining movies, make a living, and 2) help make this world a better place - since being a filmmaker gives me both the knowledge of the reality/a significant reality of the world & gives me a means with which to say something/do something about it?

Maybe the entertainment and activism will have to be two separate lines of work. Pure entertainment through the movies, and pure activism, humanitarian work done when not making & selling movies - but perhaps using some of the resources & connections & access & skills acquired through movie making.

This is something that I will have to think about and come to an agreement with myself on over the next few months, & make concrete plans re:, before I start what I consider to be the full-on adult years of my life - the 35 and over years.

I post these thoughts here in case another indie filmmaker or two heads down this same path and comes to similar intersections - actually, probably many do, all the time. Maybe some ideas written here will be useful to them, and maybe they'll share some ideas that are useful to me.

The complex question with no one answer is: what are some of the best ways to exist as a US based independent filmmaker at a time of serious & numerous conflicts in an underdeveloped world?

The filmmakers & photographers who are currently fighting the proposed NYC filming & permit rules are doing something very useful I'd say - their work favors the preservation of liberties for all residents & visitors to NYC. And the need that NYC feels for the new rules may have come from the state of conflict that exists in the world right now.

At the recent Date Number One run in Kensington several audience members in their 50's & 60's commented enthusiastically that the movie was the first time that they saw characters/people from many different ethnic/national backgrounds getting along with no or very little regard to their diversity - and they thought that was a positive, useful, and realistic thing. Perhaps I will expand on that approach & do some work to make "aliens" seem less alien to some American viewers, and also to some non-American viewers, in future movies I make.

The earth maybe flat for some businesses, and I believe that the earth is flat for good stories & storytellers - or that filmmakers/storytellers are not only competing for local audiences but that their stories affect/can affect the global audience - people all over the world. I can see US indie/doc filmmaker Jennifer Fox's "Flying: Confessions of a Free Woman" having an effect world wide because 1) the movie deals with a universal issue -how to deal with cultural & gender expectations, and 2) the movie incorporates people from various places in the world as characters. Maybe as US businesses are competing with businesses anywhere, US storytellers/filmmakers are competing with stories/narratives/myths everywhere. I think culture is transmitted in part through stories, so perhaps positive stories that incorporate certain places and people may have a positive effect on those places and people. Something to think about.

Anyway, the original question is a big question, lots to think about, but I am excited about tackling it.

Got any ideas on what American/US based indie filmmakers can do to make this world a better place?

- Sujewa

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