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Wednesday, August 22, 2007

They may not have a lot of Color at the moment, but, the methods of the Mumblecore filmmakers are relevant to up and coming minority filmmakers

Many have questioned me both openly and privately as to why I blog about Mumblecore (be it positively, negatively, or ambivalently, based on the exact Mumble-topic at hand) when they are, for the most part, not an ethnically diverse movement/group.

There are several reasons for writing about Mumblecore, some too esoteric & distracting-for-the-topic-at-hand (such as my "theory of no race"), but there is one very good, relevant to minority, foreign, & third-world/emerging world filmmakers reason to keep an eye on the Mumblescene; they have, using easily doable techniques (more on that below) overcome limitations and obstacles that keep people (including minorities) from making & distributing movies.

But before we go too far let's tackle an objection/excuse that some minority filmmakers have put forth re: the success (a relative thing in indie film, but getting 2 weeks or so for their films at the IFC Center & oodles of press qualifies as a success for me) of Mumblecore; that being that the Mumblecore filmmakers are able to do what they have done only because they are "white".

I would say that this is not so. Although I can't think of a similar filmmaking group that is either heavily multi-ethnic or a collection of individuals from one or two minority groups, there does exist a significant number of well known & supported (by audiences & institutions) minority filmmakers in film/indie film. To name a few; Ang Lee, Spike Lee, Wayne Wang, Mira Nair, Jon Moritsugu, Robert Rodriguez, Greg Pak, Gene Cajayon, James Spooner. Were several minority filmmakers to get in touch with each other and decide to promote themselves under a group label, with the help of their blogger & film festival programmer friends, that act alone would guarantee extra publicity and opportunities for the filmmakers, as it has to Mumblecore filmmakers - I believe.

But before various individual minority filmmakers can get to the point of forming coalitions, films have to be made, here Mumblecore points to some great ideas:

- shoot cheap; Mumblecore movies - features - have been made for less than $5,000
- use what you have easy access to - yourself, your stuff, your friends, your city, etc.
- promote yourself; several Mumblecore filmmakers have blogged/or do & keep interested people updated with their MySpace pages
- make it fun & nice - even though one may not be a fan of a given Mumblecore title, in press the filmmakers sound like a bunch of fun/nice people to hang out with; which attracts people, including press people who want to explore that angle in their articles
- self-distribute - the most successful Mumblecore movies so far have engaged in self-distribution to various degrees. at least, judging by their past, most Mumblecore filmmakers are not opposed to or uncomfortable with self-distribution
- be willing to experiment both creatively & distribution business decision making wise; work with start-ups or try working with novel ways to attempt to generate revenue from your movie

There are of course countless other indie filmmakers who have done/do the things that Mumblecore filmmakers do to get their work done & out, but at the moment the indie spotlight is on this one group, and this is a good time to grab some tips & think about adapting them to your own needs - whether you are a minority filmmaker, a female filmmaker, a poor filmmaker, whatever.

Even though the works may be of various creative & entertainment value, and even though at the moment the group is heavily "white" & male, keeping an eye on Mumblecore is valuable to other indie filmmakers because they (Mumblecore) are low budget filmmakers and their story/how they do things offers ideas that might be useful to filmmakers of various ethnic backgrounds & genders & even nationalities in getting their own films made & out.

- Sujewa

2 comments:

mr dobie said...

I'm glad you've focused on how useful the 'mumblecore' blueprint for making movies can be. Personally I think this should be the blueprint for many minority filmmakers, minorities should stop chasing a 35mm Hollywood or even 'indie' model of production that is almost for them impossible to attain.

'Mumblecore proves you can raise a four figure budget, get a small crew, hustle a good digital camera and good microphone/sound recording setup and shoot. When you've made the film, wince at your mistakes, move on to the next film and eliminate those mistakes. These films won't have the glamour of a Hollywood or big 'indie' project but they may be more entertaining and interesting, after all many people today find low cost clips on You Tube more compelling than what is often the crap that turns up at their cinema; I would certainly watch The Puffy Chair over Spiderman 3.

However minority filmmakers must be clear that the attention that is given to 'mumblecore' is unlikely to happen to them and their films. I live in London in the UK and have seen a couple of 'mumblecore' movies. 'Mumblecore' is basically low cost, white middle class, romantic comedy/drama and critics love this stuff because it depicts a group similar to their own or one they have emerged from. That's why 'mumblecore' is getting press in the NY Times and in The Guardian in London; it's the latest hip white film movement, remember Dogme 95?

Mind you no reason why minorities can't ride a wave of media interest too, remember the USA black film and Queer film booms of the 1990's? There could be a diy film, 21st century black film boom or queer film boom or whatever. Minorities have to make these diy films and see what develops.

mr dobie

The Sujewa said...

Hi Mr Dobie,

Thanks for the long & considered comment. We pretty much agree - except I think that there is a significant number of film bloggers & writers in other media who are open to films featuring & or by non-"white" filmmakers - so I don't think ultra-indie flicks by minority filmmakers will face a hip "white" film writer obstacle. Even if there is resistance by some critics & media, being DIY & self-distributing will allow the filmmakers to keep going, & building a fan base. And once enough people want a product, all manner of doors will open up, whether the gate keepers actually personally like the work/can relate to the work or not.

Greg Pak's & Jon Moritsugu's films get positive press from a diverse group of film writers, not just Asian-American ones, so I think there is definitely a film writing audience that is not bothered by the ethnicity or the gender of the filmmaker - at least in America. In some cases the ethnic diversity behind the camera might even be a plus, a selling point. If I recall correctly, the total minority population of the US is around 100 million now (saw that on a USA Today headline a couple of months ago), I bet all the diversity in that large number can support quite a few no/lo budget filmmakers from a minority background or who use minority actors.

- Sujewa

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