sujewa films nyc

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

This is the Swanberg quote (from '06) that got me thinking critically about Mumblecore and minorities

Since I've been catching all manner of heat from friends, fellow indie filmmakers, & friends of Mumblecore re: pointing out (in this post) that there is a significant lack of minority (dark skinned people was my specific complaint) participation in Mumblecore (even though the US reportedly has over 100 million minorities) I thought about why I even thought of this topic in the first place (in relation to this one group of ultra-indie/low/"no" budget/DIY filmmakers - filmmakers who I often write positive things about re: their DIYness). Then I remembered (while responding to a comment by David Lowery at AJ Schnack's blog today) something I read last year; a quote from an interview with Joe Swanberg (who I otherwise think is cool, I talked to him briefly when I went to see his movie Hannah Takes the Stairs premiere in NYC last week, and even this quote has many possible interpretations, but this was what was - in part/a significant item - on my mind, no doubt, re: thinking about this whole topic of ethnic diversity & Mumblecore).

From an interview at GreenCine:

Swanberg: "In a similar vein, I'm uncomfortable writing roles for women or minorities - I don't feel it's my place - and all the actresses in my films write their own material. I refuse to include a token minority simply because my characters are all white. It's not about seclusion, it's just a reflection of the white, hipster neighborhood I live in."

Read the whole interview here, so that there is more context - maybe.

I think that it is unfortunate for minority actors that Swanberg feels uncomfortable writing roles for minorities. Also I think it is unfortunate for minority actors that many of the Mumblecore directors - for one reason or another - have been unable or unwilling to cast minority actors or friends in their movies thus far. As an indie film consumer & a non-"white" person, I like movies that have multi-ethnic casting. And Mumblecore is now mainstream news, thus this complaint. Maybe things will change for the better, maybe not. And also, more minority indie filmmakers might start making more movies soon, & more mainstream media/fests/distributors/theater programmers will start working with them/raising their profile/getting them NYC runs at fine indie houses & arrange for NYTimes press - so this lack-of-diversity-in-indie-film issue might go away, maybe not, we'll see how things ago.

- Sujewa

13 comments:

Tom Hall said...

Hi Sujewa,

I left this same exact comment over at AJ's blog, but I wanted to follow up here as well.

This argument is good to have, I think, but totally pointed in the wrong direction. What I don't get is why, Sujewa, you're not holding everyone up to the same standard to which you are holding micro-budget, DIY film makers? Andrew Bujalski has roles for women (his protagonist in Funny Ha Ha is a woman) and women of color (Seung-Min Lee's Sara is a love interest of Justin Rice's Alan in Mutual Appreciation) in his films. Craig Zobel get an incredible performance from Kene Holliday as Clarence and has several parts for women and children of color in Great World Of Sound, Zack Godshall's Low and Behold stars Eddie Rouse (who has also starred in David Gordon Green's films) in a terrific performance, and David Gordon Green's George Washington, featuring a large cast of non-professional African American children, was probably the foundation for the DIY aesthetic and community around which the current movement is built.

What about In Between Days by So Yong Kim, which fits precisely within the new DIY aesthetic and is one of my favorite films of this past year? How about The Motel, by Michael Kang? Or Somebodies by Hadji (which I was lucky enough to play at my film festival in 2006)? Or the upcomg Munyurangabo, by Lee Issac Chung and shot in Rwanda using non-actors? How about Year Of The Fish by David Kaplan or Dark Matter (which will never be seen now for its echoes of the Virginia Tech killings) by Shi-Zheng Chen?

I think you're taking a very very myopic view here, Sujewa. You're taking an artificial category, created by someone else (that is, this idea of 'mumblecore' which, I think, is not even a legitimate category) and then, in classic straw man fashion, taking people to task because you place them in the category you've created.

The reality is that American independent film is far more diverse than European cinema, is far more reflective of people of color and women than Hollywood ever was or will be. How can it be that three guys, Aaron Katz, Joe Swanberg and Andrew Bujalski, have to carry the burden of your political expectations despite the fact that, as I point out in my own piece about the current crop of DIY cinema, the whole essence of this new wave of inarticulateness is due precisely to the fact of the unspeakable burden of personal politics?

I think you have a legitimate point in there somewhere; It's obvious that, proportionately speaking, there are not enough stories being told from a diverse range of viewpoints, be they political, race-based, gender-based, or based upon sexual orientation. But why is
that Joe Swanberg's fault, and why is it his battle to fight? Because if you ask me, I'd much rather see In Between Days than watch Joe Swanberg or Aaron Katz take on the life of an Asian-American teenager in some bunk, jive-ass riff on a community they do not know.

More cameras in the hands of the people? Yes. But let's not lose sight of the fact that you're being unfair by creating your own standard and then taking people to task for not fitting your arbitrary selection. The scope of DIY film is far larger and more diverse than you are making it out to be. I am personally grateful for the diversity (which includes all of these terrific filmmakers).

The Sujewa said...

Hey Tom,

Here is the response to the comment you left at AJ's blog, I posted it there also/this is a copy:

"Tom,

My post re: lack of minority presence in Mumblecore films specifically points to the fest at IFC Center - The New Talkies: Generation DIY. I have seen several of the features being shown there - LOL, Puffy, Mutual App, Hannah, DPUSA, etc., and save for the role of the DJ in Mutual App, there are no minority actors or non-actors in those movies (as far as I know, have not seen every single one of the movies). The same way, as far as I know, all the directors that are a part of the fest are "white", and all of them might be male also.
But I did not make the gender thing an issue, I was mostly concerned about the lack of dark skinned minority presence in the M-core films being shown at IFC Center. Why is the IFC Center series significant - because it is a well publicized event w/ mainstream and oodles of indie film press coverage & w/ Hannah going out to, you know, probably many thousands of homes initially through the IFC Channel/First Take - Mumblecore is now a mainstream culture relevent thing.

I have always been interested in the topic of minority presence in American film - from Hollywood, indiewood, to now real indie as it crosses the border into greater visibility.

I know of, and have written about, several minority directors who have made low budget DV movies with minority & multi-ethnic characters/casts in some cases - Greg Pak, Jon Moritsugu, Gene Cajayon and of course on the non-minority front Mike Tully, Zobel, etc., but those films & those filmmakers were not the topic of discussion last week when all of us, and NYTimes were writing about the Gen DIY series.

You assumed that my specific post re: the Gen DIY series slice of Mumblecore is a post about all recent low budget DV filmmaking, that, in fact, was not the case. See proof at my blog: http://www.diyfilmmaker.blogspot.com/. Scroll down a couple of entries & read the post that starts "American minority @ 100 million...".

As always, nice discussing things with you. Also, it was cool to meet you at the blogger meet up on 8/23.

- Sujewa"

The Sujewa said...

And now, a point by point response to Tom's comment (my response in para):

"Hi Sujewa,"

(Hey Tom)

"I left this same exact comment over at AJ's blog, but I wanted to follow up here as well."

(cool)

"This argument is good to have, I think, but totally pointed in the wrong direction. What I don't get is why, Sujewa, you're not holding everyone up to the same standard to which you are holding micro-budget, DIY film makers?"

(as far as I know, I am)

"Andrew Bujalski has roles for women (his protagonist in Funny Ha Ha is a woman)"

(that's cool)

"and women of color (Seung-Min Lee's Sara is a love interest of Justin Rice's Alan in Mutual Appreciation) in his films."

(I have mentioned that fact before)

"Craig Zobel get an incredible performance from Kene Holliday as Clarence and has several parts for women and children of color in Great World Of Sound,"

(GWOS is not a part of the Gen DIY fest, was not getting a ton of press when I wrote the post re: lack of minority presence in M-core movies)

"Zack Godshall's Low and Behold stars Eddie Rouse (who has also starred in David Gordon Green's films) in a terrific performance,"

(cool, have not seen it yet)

"and David Gordon Green's George Washington, featuring a large cast of non-professional African American children, was probably the foundation for the DIY aesthetic and community around which the current movement is built."

(Dogme 95 is what popularized DV filmmaking, it is cool however that Green made GW)

"What about In Between Days by So Yong Kim,"

(not a part of the Gen DIY fest and not typically considered - in articles/press - to be a part of M-core)

"which fits precisely within the new DIY aesthetic and is one of my favorite films of this past year?"

(cool)

"How about The Motel, by Michael Kang? Or Somebodies by Hadji (which I was lucky enough to play at my film festival in 2006)? Or the upcomg Munyurangabo, by Lee Issac Chung and shot in Rwanda using non-actors? How about Year Of The Fish by David Kaplan or Dark Matter (which will never be seen now for its echoes of the Virginia Tech killings) by Shi-Zheng Chen?"

(none of those films were a part of the Gen DIY fest, also not considered to be a part of the M-core scene/movement)

"I think you're taking a very very myopic view here, Sujewa."

(wrong Tom, I think you did not read my post last week re: this issue too carefully)

"You're taking an artificial category, created by someone else (that is, this idea of 'mumblecore' which, I think, is not even a legitimate category)"

(the category is not artificial anymore - M-core filmmakers refer to it in interviews, mainstream media writes about it, it is a real category, there is even a chart by one of the Benten guys as to who belonged to it a few months ago)

"and then, in classic straw man fashion, taking people to task because you place them in the category you've created."

(i did not create the category. and, there are not very many non-"white" actors or non-"white" filmmakers (none) in m-core filmmakers highlighted in the Gen DIY fest)

"The reality is that American independent film is far more diverse than European cinema,"

(yeah, i know about the diversity of American film as a whole. America is also more diverse than Europe in many significant ways, also more integrated)

"is far more reflective of people of color and women than Hollywood ever was or will be."

(not true at the moment)

"How can it be that three guys, Aaron Katz, Joe Swanberg and Andrew Bujalski, have to carry the burden of your political expectations"

(it is an indie film audience member expectation, let's not confuse this with real politics, this is not as significant as that. those three guys are the most celebrated - along with the Duplass bros - of the m-core gang at the moment, and are a part of the Gen DIY series - the most visible of all M-core screening events)

"despite the fact that, as I point out in my own piece about the current crop of DIY cinema, the whole essence of this new wave of inarticulateness is due precisely to the fact of the unspeakable burden of personal politics?"

(the "unspeakable burden of personal politics" is not limited to "white" people only)

"I think you have a legitimate point in there somewhere;"

(true)

"It's obvious that, proportionately speaking, there are not enough stories being told from a diverse range of viewpoints,"

(true)

"be they political, race-based, gender-based, or based upon sexual orientation. But why is
that Joe Swanberg's fault,"

(it isn't, i am only holding Swanberg responsible for his own work only)

"and why is it his battle to fight?"

(it isn't totally, but, as a somewhat well know American independent film director now, any issue that concerns that sector of the industry will be of relevance to Swanberg from certain perspectives)

"Because if you ask me, I'd much rather see In Between Days than watch Joe Swanberg or Aaron Katz take on the life of an Asian-American teenager in some bunk, jive-ass riff on a community they do not know."

(it is possible for Swanberg or Katz to make a good movie about an Asian-American teenager, as it is possible for an Asian-American to make a good movie about hipster indie filmmakers - as Jon Moritsugu has done in Scumrock, and it is possible for a "white" filmmaker to make a good film about a couple of young Japanese tourists - as Jarmusch has done in Mystery Train, the human experience & good reflection of which is not controlled by the political or tribal labels of race or ethnicity, rather by talent & skill & desire to reflect)

"More cameras in the hands of the people? Yes. But let's not lose sight of the fact that you're being unfair by creating your own standard and then taking people to task for not fitting your arbitrary selection."

(the standard of integration being a good thing, also reflection of societal diversity being a good thing is a widely held standard at this point in the US)

"The scope of DIY film is far larger and more diverse than you are making it out to be."

(i know very well about the diversity in DIY film, as I am a part of that diversity, however, I was pointing out the lack of diversity in the Gen DIY slice of Mumblecore)

"I am personally grateful for the diversity (which includes all of these terrific filmmakers)."

(i am also a big fan of diversity, and the celebration of which or non-"white" artists getting as much press & opportunities as "white" artists)

Tom said...

Hey again Sujewa,

I just want to say that I don’t take this personally and relish the opportunity to discuss these issues, so let’s try again… I’ll skip the parts where we seem to agree (if I can) and I’m going to move some things around out of original sequence for the sake of clarifying my points.


>>Point 1: You are artificially creating a very narrow set of parameters for your argument, parameters which do not fit the reality of what is happening.

Me: "Craig Zobel get an incredible performance from Kene Holliday as Clarence and has several parts for women and children of color in Great World Of Sound,"

Sujewa: GWOS is not a part of the Gen DIY fest, was not getting a ton of press when I wrote the post re: lack of minority presence in M-core movies.

>>Well, it got plenty of press at Sundance and will get more when it’s actually released in theaters in a few weeks, but OK. Great World of Sound may or may not count because you don’t know it. Let’s move on…

Me: “You're taking an artificial category, created by someone else (that is, this idea of 'mumblecore' which, I think, is not even a legitimate category)"

Sujewa: the category is not artificial anymore - M-core filmmakers refer to it in interviews, mainstream media writes about it, it is a real category, there is even a chart by one of the Benten guys as to who belonged to it a few months ago.

Me: and David Gordon Green's George Washington, featuring a large cast of non-professional African American children, was probably the foundation for the DIY aesthetic and community around which the current movement is built.

Sujewa: Dogme 95 is what popularized DV film making, it is cool however that Green made GW

>> Well, which is it? Aaron Hillis’ silly little map, which includes Craig Zobel, Michael Tully, David Gordon Green who, if you know about these filmmakers, has given many of them experience on the sets of his films—or is it the seven films that the IFC Center has selected, only one of which you were in town to see? The press that a major TV network’s film distribution arm was able to generate for a films series at its flagship theater defines the broad array of young, 20-something American filmmakers working in DIY how again? Pick your argument. Which category is it; The artificial chart that is a map of social relations more so than cinematic similarity, or the seven films John Vanco and Harris Drew assembled at the IFC Center? What about the very similar program at Harvard earlier in the year that included In Between Days? I’m going to put the Dogme comment aside because that is simply not true in the case of the movies you’re arguing against (although it may be an inspiration for you.)

Let’s move on…


Me: “Zack Godshall's Low and Behold stars Eddie Rouse (who has also starred in David Gordon Green's films) in a terrific performance,"

Sujewa: cool, have not seen it yet

>>Ok, so you don’t know it but since it’s not at IFC Center this week it doesn’t fit. Gotcha.

Me: "What about In Between Days by So Yong Kim,"

Sujewa: not a part of the Gen DIY fest and not typically considered - in articles/press - to be a part of M-core

>>Hit the brakes here. You’re wrong about that one. You’re letting the work of other people (“the press?” “the media?”) define things for you. In Between Days has a lot in common with the seven films (or so) at the IFC Center. Again, why are you obsessed with these few films on one screen in New York? What is the REALITY? The reality is its far more diverse than you’re willing to admit. I stand by what I said; this is all straw man and is intellectually dishonest.

Me: How about The Motel, by Michael Kang? Or Somebodies by Hadji (which I was lucky enough to play at my film festival in 2006)? Or the upcomg Munyurangabo, by Lee Issac Chung and shot in Rwanda using non-actors? How about Year Of The Fish by David Kaplan or Dark Matter (which will never be seen now for its echoes of the Virginia Tech killings) by Shi-Zheng Chen?"

Sujewa: none of those films were a part of the Gen DIY fest, also not considered to be a part of the M-core scene/movement

>>But are they a part of this discussion? Absolutely, because I refuse to accept your empty, false premise that somehow these films are not part of the same movement as the ‘New Talkies’ films; Broaden your umbrella and see the forest for the trees; The distinctions you are making are being made because of programming choices by a single theater in Manhattan and the press it generated and none of that has much at all to do with the reality of independent filmmaking. The handheld and improvised qualities that define many of these films is an aesthetic commonality between many many more films than what have been programmed at the IFC Center this week. Which makes your later points about the lack of diversity and equality of opportunity specious because you don’t recognize that the films I listed above have far more in common with one another than you’re willing to concede because you’re fixated on the IFC Center series.

Sujewa: i did not create the category. and, there are not very many non-"white" actors or non-"white" filmmakers (none) in m-core filmmakers highlighted in the Gen DIY fest)

Me: “(Independent Film) is far more reflective of people of color and women than Hollywood ever was or will be."

Sujewa: not true at the moment

>>You can’t be serious? If you’re reducing the world of independent film to this myopic category you’ve created (be serious, no one else in the world would argue that what’s playing at the IFC Center in a programmed series is somehow representative of independent film as whole), then you’re simply wrong. If you think Hollywood is more inclusive than independent film as a whole, and is far more reflective of the concerns of people of color, queer culture and women than independent film, I’m not sure where to go from here.

Me: "despite the fact that, as I point out in my own piece about the current crop of DIY cinema, the whole essence of this new wave of inarticulateness is due precisely to the fact of the unspeakable burden of personal politics?"

Sujewa: the "unspeakable burden of personal politics" is not limited to "white" people only

>>Who said it was? My point was that for our generation, this inarticulateness about and apathy toward politics in film is a symptom of the burden adding such issues will bring to the films. In other words, if you’re going to make a film about race, for example, or that deals with racial issues, the burden of “Race In America” is a big one and you better not fuck around with it. You better say what you have to say and say it properly, because you’re carrying a lot of baggage. The same with Iraq, or gender or labor or homophobia; If you can’t say everything that needs to be said, sometimes it is better to say nothing at all.

Me: “and why is it (Joe Swanberg’s) battle to fight?"

Sujewa: it isn't totally, but, as a somewhat well know American independent film director now, any issue that concerns that sector of the industry will be of relevance to Swanberg from certain perspectives

>>And as a human being, anything that happens in the universe will be of relevance to Swanberg from certain perspectives. Sujewa, what are you talking about? You’re saying that Joe Swanberg has a responsibility to talk about every issue “that concerns that sector of the industry” (i.e. independent film directors?) What certain perspectives are you talking about? Should Joe make movies about gay women of color if he has no experience or understanding of the experience of those characters (I use that example as the opposite of straight white male)? If that’s the case, why shouldn’t you be holding Rose Troche’s feet to the fire for not telling the story of straight white men in her films? Because that’s not how art works.

It’s interesting that in your postings on this subject you mention Jim McKay; I was at a great screening at MoMA of Our Song when it came out in 2000. The cast was all in attendance; it was a real celebratory mood. And the first question from the audience that night was from an African-American woman who asked Jim McKay what right he had telling stories that had nothing to do with him and his history; Why wasn’t he leaving the story of working-class African-Americans for African-American people to tell? She was booed by the all African-American cast in attendance, but McKay took the question quite seriously, saying that the concerns of the working-class African American community were in fact his concerns and that he had every right to tell that story since, to this point in history, no one else had. Which leads me to…

Sujewa: it is possible for Swanberg or Katz to make a good movie about an Asian-American teenager, as it is possible for an Asian-American to make a good movie about hipster indie filmmakers - as Jon Moritsugu has done in Scumrock, and it is possible for a "white" filmmaker to make a good film about a couple of young Japanese tourists - as Jarmusch has done in Mystery Train, the human experience & good reflection of which is not controlled by the political or tribal labels of race or ethnicity, rather by talent & skill & desire to reflect.

>>Here again, we diverge. If you want to point to an example of a white filmmaker not taking the concerns of race seriously enough, you can draw a straight line to Jarmusch (which, by the way, is also fine by me). I love his films, which aren’t really about racial identity so much as a hip co-opting of racial difference as a point of Regan-era “cool” (and as such are terrific) but, unlike McKay, are not about race with a capital ‘R’. Now, the fact that Jarmusch casts a wide-array of races for roles adds a level of problematic issues to his films that are just the type of thing this generation of DIY looks to avoid. To take a more foreign example, was Nobuhiro Suwa, a Japanese director working in France, able to make a film about a bourgeoisie Fremch couple in A Perfect Couple? Certainly! Do I believe Katz and and Swanberg could make a Mystery Train? Certainly. But because they have not done so is not a sign of their irresponsibility toward people of color.

What about Martin Scorsese? The Farrelly Brothers? Judd Apatow? Chris Nolan? Steven Spielberg? Paul Schrader? David Cronenberg? Atom Egoyan? George Lucas?

Pick your battles, Sujewa. And when you do, at least be honest about it by playing fair.

Best, Tom

Anonymous said...

Look, the lack of diversity in indie cinema is obviously a MUCH bigger issue than just those few Mumblecorps filmmakers (my preference) lumped- many against their will- in to a single group.

If you look at the programmers, acquisition/distribution execs, critics and journalists- heck, even the collection of bloggers collected at iw- with very few exceptions its a white community. It is just so much more than just getting cameras in the hands of people of color- in fact I think that might be the easiest par (but it's a start).

On another note, I can't help but recall dinner table conversations after Hustle and Flow came out. Despite the fact that the film was produced by Stephanie Allain and John Singleton and had a majority Black cast I remember several conversations about why it took a white guy to make the movie- despite the fact that Craig Brewer is from Memphis and knows the hip hop community there. I guess I'm saying that sometimes you're damned if you do, damned if you don't.

At the same time, I do think it is important to recognize indie minorities who are making films that may not fit in to the traditional art house/amerindie mold. It's been mentioned elsewhere, but why aren't we welcoming the Tyler Perrys, Hadjiis (would LOVE for him to have a blog on iw) and the Will Packers into the indie fold? From a DIY perspective is anyone more indie than Master P?

I hope this conversation continues.

The Sujewa said...

Hey Tom,

My new comments are in [brackets].

Hey again Sujewa,

I just want to say that I don’t take this personally and relish the opportunity to discuss these issues, so let’s try again… I’ll skip the parts where we seem to agree (if I can) and I’m going to move some things around out of original sequence for the sake of clarifying my points.


>>Point 1: You are artificially creating a very narrow set of parameters for your argument, parameters which do not fit the reality of what is happening.

Me: "Craig Zobel get an incredible performance from Kene Holliday as Clarence and has several parts for women and children of color in Great World Of Sound,"

Sujewa: GWOS is not a part of the Gen DIY fest, was not getting a ton of press when I wrote the post re: lack of minority presence in M-core movies.

>>Well, it got plenty of press at Sundance and will get more when it’s actually released in theaters in a few weeks, but OK. Great World of Sound may or may not count because you don’t know it. Let’s move on…

[OK. GWOS is not a part of the Gen DIY fest at IFC, my post re: lack of minority presence in mumblecore is about - primarily the Gen DIY fest]

Me: “You're taking an artificial category, created by someone else (that is, this idea of 'mumblecore' which, I think, is not even a legitimate category)"

Sujewa: the category is not artificial anymore - M-core filmmakers refer to it in interviews, mainstream media writes about it, it is a real category, there is even a chart by one of the Benten guys as to who belonged to it a few months ago.

Me: and David Gordon Green's George Washington, featuring a large cast of non-professional African American children, was probably the foundation for the DIY aesthetic and community around which the current movement is built.

Sujewa: Dogme 95 is what popularized DV film making, it is cool however that Green made GW

>> Well, which is it? Aaron Hillis’ silly little map, which includes Craig Zobel, Michael Tully, David Gordon Green who, if you know about these filmmakers, has given many of them experience on the sets of his films—or is it the seven films that the IFC Center has selected, only one of which you were in town to see?

[Tom, as I've said earlier, I have seen the following movies playing at the Gen DIY fest- on DVD & in previous theatrical play: Puffy Chair, Mutual Appreciation, Funny Ha Ha, LOL, Kissing On The Mouth, Dance Party USA, Hannah Takes the Stairs - that's some of the major output by m-core thus far, definitely the bulk of the Gen DIY fest]

The press that a major TV network’s film distribution arm was able to generate for a films series at its flagship theater defines the broad array of young, 20-something American filmmakers working in DIY how again?

[that's the press more of the world reads -thus, relevant]

Pick your argument. Which category is it; The artificial chart that is a map of social relations more so than cinematic similarity,

[why is that chart artificial? - it seems like a real chart that connects the dots between some of the m-core movies & players]

or the seven films John Vanco and Harris Drew assembled at the IFC Center?

[the recent post is about, as I've said several times, about the Gen DIY series at the IFC Center - the widely presented face of M-core for the moment]

What about the very similar program at Harvard earlier in the year that included In Between Days?

[having In Between Days in that program was cool. however, that program did not get the same kind of press attention as the Gen DIY fest]

I’m going to put the Dogme comment aside because that is simply not true in the case of the movies you’re arguing against (although it may be an inspiration for you.)

[without Dogme making it cool -professional acceptance in H-wood, fests, with critics, etc.-to shoot on DV, many of the filmmakers we are discussing probably would not have started using DV - along with hundreds of others]

Let’s move on…

[OK]

Me: “Zack Godshall's Low and Behold stars Eddie Rouse (who has also starred in David Gordon Green's films) in a terrific performance,"

Sujewa: cool, have not seen it yet

>>Ok, so you don’t know it but since it’s not at IFC Center this week it doesn’t fit. Gotcha.

[yup, my post is about the Gen DIY series at IFC]

Me: "What about In Between Days by So Yong Kim,"

Sujewa: not a part of the Gen DIY fest and not typically considered - in articles/press - to be a part of M-core

>>Hit the brakes here. You’re wrong about that one. You’re letting the work of other people (“the press?” “the media?”) define things for you.

[Gen DIY/Mumblecore is presented as a thing through the fest at IFC by press to people - that is what I am talking about]

In Between Days has a lot in common with the seven films (or so) at the IFC Center.

[OK]

Again, why are you obsessed with these few films on one screen in New York?

[they are on screen in New York, are getting major press, and there are no minority directors included in a festival labeled Generation DIY when, as you pointed out several times now, in America there are minority directors whose work should & could have been included in the fest. I would add Greg Pak's Robot Stories & Moritsugu's Scumrock to the line up,to begin with]

What is the REALITY?

[the Gen DIY fest at IFC is real, thus a part of reality]

The reality is its far more diverse than you’re willing to admit.

[my critique of the Gen DIY series is based on the fact there is a lot of diversity in DIY filmmaking right now;but the films that are getting the press & screens are largely ones by "white" males featuring mostly a "white"cast]

I stand by what I said; this is all straw man and is intellectually dishonest.

[believe what you want, does not matter to me]

Me: How about The Motel, by Michael Kang? Or Somebodies by Hadji (which I was lucky enough to play at my film festival in 2006)? Or the upcomg Munyurangabo, by Lee Issac Chung and shot in Rwanda using non-actors? How about Year Of The Fish by David Kaplan or Dark Matter (which will never be seen now for its echoes of the Virginia Tech killings) by Shi-Zheng Chen?"

Sujewa: none of those films were a part of the Gen DIY fest, also not considered to be a part of the M-core scene/movement

>>But are they a part of this discussion?

[yes, beyond the Gen DIY fest, they are a part of the discussion]

Absolutely, because I refuse to accept your empty, false premise that somehow these films are not part of the same movement as the ‘New Talkies’ films;

[that's fine, your refusal to accept anything is not that important to me]

Broaden your umbrella and see the forest for the trees; The distinctions you are making are being made because of programming choices by a single theater in Manhattan and the press it generated and none of that has much at all to do with the reality of independent filmmaking.

[this single theater/one series got the most press in recent memory for these types of films, thus, important]

The handheld and improvised qualities that define many of these films is an aesthetic commonality between many many more films than what have been programmed at the IFC Center this week.

[of course, hand held & improvised goes all the way back to the 60's]

Which makes your later points about the lack of diversity and equality of opportunity specious because you don’t recognize that the films I listed above have far more in common with one another than you’re willing to concede because you’re fixated on the IFC Center series.

[my post at my blog re:lack of diversity in m-core deals primarily with the Gen DIY series because in terms of publicity & public perception, that event is more important than a lot of the smaller screenings of many indie movies done in the last few years]

Sujewa: i did not create the category. and, there are not very many non-"white" actors or non-"white" filmmakers (none) in m-core filmmakers highlighted in the Gen DIY fest)

Me: “(Independent Film) is far more reflective of people of color and women than Hollywood ever was or will be."

Sujewa: not true at the moment

>>You can’t be serious?

[yes. lots of- or-quite a bit of African-American presence in Hollywood films recently, and of course Jackie Chan & other martial arts folks for a few years now, Harold & Kumar, Reno 911 movie, etc.]

If you’re reducing the world of independent film to this myopic category you’ve created (be serious, no one else in the world would argue that what’s playing at the IFC Center in a programmed series is somehow representative of independent film as whole),

[the Gen DIY series is not the entire world of indie film]

then you’re simply wrong. If you think Hollywood is more inclusive than independent film as a whole, and is far more reflective of the concerns of people of color, queer culture and women than independent film, I’m not sure where to go from here.

[H-wood movies get wider distribution & press, thus, they are important in that sense, compared to diverse movies that only play in fests & much of the general public does not get to encounter- though, that may change soon w/ First Take type programs]

Me: "despite the fact that, as I point out in my own piece about the current crop of DIY cinema, the whole essence of this new wave of inarticulateness is due precisely to the fact of the unspeakable burden of personal politics?"

Sujewa: the "unspeakable burden of personal politics" is not limited to "white" people only

>>Who said it was? My point was that for our generation, this inarticulateness about and apathy toward politics in film is a symptom of the burden adding such issues will bring to the films. In other words, if you’re going to make a film about race,

[the critique is about lack of minority actors, and lack of minority directors in the Gen DIY series, I did not say anyone had to make a movie about race]

for example, or that deals with racial issues, the burden of “Race In America” is a big one and you better not fuck around with it.

[it is just another type, people should, and have been, "fucking around with it"' exmaple: Crash]

You better say what you have to say and say it properly, because you’re carrying a lot of baggage.

[attempting to deal with a difficult issue is applauded oftenly even if conclusions drawn are not wholly satisfactory to experts on that issue]

The same with Iraq, or gender or labor or homophobia; If you can’t say everything that needs to be said, sometimes it is better to say nothing at all.

[i disagree on that. anyway, a separate issue- my critique is about the lack of minority actors & directors in the Gen DIY series]

Me: “and why is it (Joe Swanberg’s) battle to fight?"

Sujewa: it isn't totally, but, as a somewhat well know American independent film director now, any issue that concerns that sector of the industry will be of relevance to Swanberg from certain perspectives

>>And as a human being, anything that happens in the universe will be of relevance to Swanberg from certain perspectives.

[i guess, if you want to go that broad]

Sujewa, what are you talking about? You’re saying that Joe Swanberg has a responsibility to talk about every issue “that concerns that sector of the industry” (i.e. independent film directors?) What certain perspectives are you talking about? Should Joe make movies about gay women of color if he has no experience or understanding of the experience of those characters (I use that example as the opposite of straight white male)? If that’s the case, why shouldn’t you be holding Rose Troche’s feet to the fire for not telling the story of straight white men in her films? Because that’s not how art works.

[I have seen all of Joes features - the 3 so far- all roles could have been played by minority actors,there is nothing exclusively "white" about the roles in those movies]

It’s interesting that in your postings on this subject you mention Jim McKay; I was at a great screening at MoMA of Our Song when it came out in 2000. The cast was all in attendance; it was a real celebratory mood. And the first question from the audience that night was from an African-American woman who asked Jim McKay what right he had telling stories that had nothing to do with him and his history;

[that happens]

Why wasn’t he leaving the story of working-class African-Americans for African-American people to tell?

[anyone can tell any story]

She was booed by the all African-American cast in attendance, but McKay took the question quite seriously, saying that the concerns of the working-class African American community were in fact his concerns and that he had every right to tell that story since, to this point in history, no one else had.

[i agree with that]

Which leads me to…

Sujewa: it is possible for Swanberg or Katz to make a good movie about an Asian-American teenager, as it is possible for an Asian-American to make a good movie about hipster indie filmmakers - as Jon Moritsugu has done in Scumrock, and it is possible for a "white" filmmaker to make a good film about a couple of young Japanese tourists - as Jarmusch has done in Mystery Train, the human experience & good reflection of which is not controlled by the political or tribal labels of race or ethnicity, rather by talent & skill & desire to reflect.

>>Here again, we diverge. If you want to point to an example of a white filmmaker not taking the concerns of race seriously enough, you can draw a straight line to Jarmusch (which, by the way, is also fine by me). I love his films, which aren’t really about racial identity so much as a hip co-opting of racial difference as a point of Regan-era “cool” (and as such are terrific) but, unlike McKay, are not about race with a capital ‘R’. Now, the fact that Jarmusch casts a wide-array of races for roles adds a level of problematic issues to his films that are just the type of thing this generation of DIY looks to avoid. To take a more foreign example, was Nobuhiro Suwa, a Japanese director working in France, able to make a film about a bourgeoisie Fremch couple in A Perfect Couple? Certainly! Do I believe Katz and and Swanberg could make a Mystery Train? Certainly. But because they have not done so is not a sign of their irresponsibility toward people of color.

[facts: Jarmusch movies feature minority actors, Gen DIY series do not (save for that 1 role in Mutual App that we mentioned already]

What about Martin Scorsese? The Farrelly Brothers? Judd Apatow? Chris Nolan? Steven Spielberg? Paul Schrader? David Cronenberg? Atom Egoyan? George Lucas?

[what about them?]

Pick your battles, Sujewa. And when you do, at least be honest about it by playing fair.

[battles have been picked, actions are being conducted honestly & fairly, just because I do not agree with you does not mean that my views and actions are incorrect]

Best, Tom

[likewise, later on]

Matthew said...

Why are we carping on the race thing, when a film doesnt' have to be a smorgasboard of ideas, it really just has to have its own goal.

I don't understand our desires as a culture to force art to have a sociology lesson in it. What about our minds and hearts and souls? Aren't they all the same color inside?

I think this is a by-product of our collective inarticulateness and difficulty writing about the truly subtle accomplishments of art - its just easier to write about the sociological aspects of a film, and we get carried away, asking the facts to fit our easily articulated theory.

The problem if there is one, is that none of these people know any people of color enough to feel comfortable writing characters representing them - but that's not the film's fault, its the cultures. A much bigger issue than one or ten indie DIY DV films shot in apartments might ever address (though I guess Shadows, Cassavetes first masterpiece might be the ultimate counter-example - but even that film is great for more than just its 'race' surface reading). But if these guys wanted to make a film about that kidn of cultural critique, it wouldn't be these films.

Slight as these films may be, I suggest we take them on their own terms, and not ask them to satisfy our somewhat arbitrary desires to have them reflect our own personal issues.

The Sujewa said...

Hey Anonymous,

Re: comment that starts with "Look, the lack of diversity in indie cinema is obviously a MUCH bigger issue than just those few Mumblecorps filmmakers...", start using your real name or a fake name so that we can easily tell you apart from other Anonymous comments that may show up here. Thanks.

- Sujewa

The Sujewa said...

Hey Mathew,

Re: "I suggest we take them on their own terms, and not ask them to satisfy our somewhat arbitrary desires to have them reflect our own personal issues."

Nope - lack of minority presence in American film has been a huge problem since film affects how people in this society see one another. Also, due to the popularity of American films world wide, how American directors deal with or not deal with diversity & minority/dark skinned characters have an effect on the lives of many people around the world - including my own. Thus, I am always going to be looking at how US filmmakers are dealing with ethnic diversity, since, much of the time, they have not even reflected the fact that it exists.

There are of course many other reasons to like a movie. But when I am spending my time & or money on a movie, my preferences come into play when making a choice to watch one movie over another.

- Sujewa

Matthew said...

I agree to a certain extent but I think the real issue is that a "lack of minority presence in America" PERIOD is the real issue here, and I don't think we can require all art to address such superficial issues as that. I say superficial just because there are more things that unite humans than divide them. If films could be seen as investigations of our souls, of our imaginations, our consciousnesses, our opening ouselves up to growth in these wider deeper areas would result in a world where people naturally treat each other as human beings and not as types or races or groups.

We might as well ask why these guys didn't make their films in Spanish - because they don't speak Spanish. This is what they know. Maybe its not good on an artistic level, but I generally object to sociological readings of art - not that they aren't produts of their time, of course they are in those sociological ways, its just to me that those parts are the least important aspects of any good work.

I can't disagree that these films reflect a greater issue of our American culture, its just seemingly unfair to me to expect every film to be a sociological examination rather than an emotional or imaginative one - the level at which we're all the same. It seems to me that this well-meaning expectation keeps people thinking of each other in those reductive ways (race, religion, nationality, etc) and doesn't neccesarily do anything to solve the problem it rightly raises.

Then again, I'm white.

Thanks in any case for the discussion.

The Sujewa said...

Hey Matthew,

Re: "I agree to a certain extent but I think the real issue is that a "lack of minority presence in America" PERIOD is the real issue here"

There are plenty of minorities/non-"whites" in America. Again, I'll cite that 100 million figure from the San Fran Chronicle article - that is 1 in 3 out of the total population. However, Hollywood 'till about the mid-1980's & then indiewood (although their track record is better than Hollywood's) & now some ultra-indie DIY filmmakers are not interested in showing audiences the fact that the US is very diverse - ethnically, skin color wise, however you want to label it.

M-core movies have been appreciated for positive elements that they do contain, quite often, at this blog. Including the fact that a group of ultra-indie/no budget filmmmakers have been able to pull major press attention their way. So, it is not as if the only discussion we are having all the time is about the lack of minority presence in M-core movies.

Re: "We might as well ask why these guys didn't make their films in Spanish - because they don't speak Spanish. This is what they know." So what you are saying here is that the experience of a human in America who is classified as "white" is so completely different than someone who is classified as non-"white" that it would be impossible for a "white" filmmaker to create a character/or cast a role for a minority actor. That I do not agree with. Good writers & filmmakers should be able to - and are - place people other than themselves in their art/entertainment work.

However, given the history of racism it may be easier to market & sell a movie featuring an all "white" cast to lots of people in America thus many productions have taken that route. This is a comment re: the film industry as a whole, not just or not necessarily about the handful of M-core filmmakers in discussion.

Re: "Then again, I'm white." I'll tell you something that might shock you, "white" is only a label, for the most part, and an inconsistent label at that. Who has received "white" priviledges in US society has changed over the years. Some "white" looking people were not given that primary treatment at various points - Irish at one point, Italians at one point, Jews at one point, etc.
So, don't believe that your "white" identity is something that will significantly make it unable for you to understand perspectives & experiences of people that do not look like you but live in the same space & time.

- Sujewa

Amanda said...

Swanberg's saying that he is "uncomfortable" writing roles for women and minorities because he does not think it's "his place" reminds me how Jane Austen handled the task of writing dialogue for members of the opposite sex. If you look through Austen's novels, you will not find a single scene in which male characters speak to each other without a female present. Austen thought that as it was impossible for her to know how men spoke in all-male company, she could not write all-male dialogue. But that did not stop her from creating believable, complex male characters or writing marvelous dialogue for them.

The idea that you have to be a particular sex or race or sexual orientation to write about characters with those traits is pure hooey. Identity Politics and the cult of "authenticity" sometimes set up artificial barriers in people's minds, as seems to be the case with Swanberg. Dude, women and minorities are not such alien creatures that you cannot possibly comprehend them. Let go of your bogus white male guilt!

Anonymous said...

I stumbled onto this blog after watching a couple of m-core films at IFC. Movements are usually defined by people other than filmmakers (journalists, critics, festivals); I don't think you're wrong for defining this movement according to what you've already read.

IFC's selection is somewhat homogeneous, and that's what mumblecore is. I disagree that DIY, improvisation, and handheld define this movement; it is equally about self-deprecation and a tongue-in-cheek exploration of meaningless living.

I also read that the movement seems to be mostly white, but I could very well imagine any American twenty-something hipster making these films, whatever the color. Another NYTimes article from last year mentioned that American minority directors are making DIY films in exotic locations. I'd be curious as to why this difference exists, and not so much about Swanberg's lack of minority friends.

The real tragedy to me is the lack of seriousness in Mumblecore; it speaks to the greater American problem of petty narcissism within a time of true crisis.

BREAKTHROUGH WEEKEND Teaser Trailer

DATE NUMBER ONE on Vimeo VOD

Indie Film Blogger Road Trip

ad - wifi doorbells from rintercom

NEW WiFi Doorbells from Rintercom - amazing deals on a great product


call us for great prices on wifi doorbell intercoms & similar items! we sell wholesale to builders. also retail to individual users.

we have several wifi doorbell intercoms starting at $180. see various products & prices here - http://www.rintercom.com/blank-1

WiFi Doorbell Intercom
Monitor your doorsteps at anytime and anywhere from your smartphone or tablet
Receive Instant Alerts everytime a visitor presses your doorbell
No App charges or monthly maintenance fees
Using the ControlCam App you can see the live feed video and have a two-way conversation as well as recording both videos and photos.
With any electronic lock or magnetic lock you can unlock the door using the App.

more info here - http://www.rintercom.com/

or visit our showroom in brooklyn!

*
similar to skybell wifi doorbell, ring wifi doorbell, door bird wifi doorbells

At DIY Filmmaker Blog's Facebook Page

Followers

BREAKTHROUGH WEEKEND Teaser Trailer on Vimeo

Breakthrough Weekend teaser trailer on YouTube

Good Reads