Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Answers to questions raised by Christopher Campbell's Spout review of Indie Film Blogger Road Trip

Spout blog's Christopher Campbell has a long review of Indie Film Blogger Road Trip, and the review poses many questions about the doc, & also presents a few items that I'd like to offer my opinion on, so, here goes:

"Only a handful of people were in attendance for last night’s world premiere of blogger/filmmaker Sujewa Ekanayake’s new documentary Indie Film Blogger Road Trip at NYC’s Anthology Film Archives."

There were about 20 people in attendance. Most I talked to found the doc to be interesting for various reasons (some will be writing about their takes on the doc soon, will post links here). It would of course have been nice to have more people at the show, but, the doc is a special interest project & thus the turnout was not a surprise & I am always glad to have even just 1 audience member at a screening (& have them enjoy the film - in the case of last night's IFBRT screening, most did - so, a successful event).

"Because really, what is the point of watching a film about writers about films?"

Writing about film, specially the emerging world of writing about films on blogs - D.I.Y. art journalism in one sense - is a new & interesting development - specially useful for indie filmmakers. Film blogs cover more work than traditional print reviews, and are more accessible to filmmakers (just send an e-mail or post a comment). So, for anyone who wants to find out more about the blogging scene & get to know over a dozen individual film bloggers outside of what is accessible at their blogs, IFBRT would be a worthwhile film.

"Even with the film blogosphere’s reputation for insularity Ekanayake’s doc has no purpose, because its subject matter and content are already well documented on blogs."

By bringing subjects discussed at various blogs over the course of months or years into the outside world, in one place/object (the film) - it is possible (or maybe possible for some) to think about & react to those subjects in a more manageable way. In most cases people outside of the readership of many blogs never hear about subjects discussed & conversations had at that blog. IFBRT is a gateway to those discussions, an introduction to people who are not familiar with some blogs, & also captures the ideas in another format (video - with images of people speaking, with being able to hear their words) - which may be useful to some people who find the blog format too "cold" - there is a significant difference, I think, in how we react to the spoken word vs. how we react to text read on a computer screen. Also, looking ahead to the future, IFBRT is a snapshot of ideas & concerns held by several bloggers in the summer of 2008 - & could be useful in following the progress, development, change in the film blogging world.

"And anything new that might be discussed, any new questions that might be raised would also be more appropriately written about on the web. The film’s largest offense, though, is that it doesn’t even seem to have an intended purpose."

The purpose is to reflect the existence of a new & unique creative community. Which may lead people to ask what else could be done with the indie film blogging world - such as greater networking, helping to build the infrastructure necessary for truly independent film production & distribution. At present most indie filmmakers are reliant on the idea of Hollywood or indiewood acceptance for making a career out of filmmaking - which comes with traditional media coverage & acceptance. Blogs offer, and could offer in a greater way, an alternative to the largely inaccessible world of Hollywood, Indiewood, & film festivals. If filmmakers & others interested in creating better alternatives to Hollywood were to recognize the potential value of independent, accessible media, they may assist in developing certain film blogs - through advertising, funding, etc. - which would lead to strengthening & expanding an avenue (a blog/blogger) that real independent filmmakers have for accessing the public or just people who follow that blog.

"It does not actually attempt to offer anything new to the discourse on film blogging."

True, but there are plenty of old & under-appreciated & under-utilized ideas present in the doc. One that comes to mind is the one mentioned by Tambay Obenson - of creating a blog network for African-American film bloggers or for people who write about African themed films. Certainly not a new idea, but still one that has not been brought to life.

"Nor does it have any sort of cohesive thesis regarding any preexisting discourse."

One preexisting concern that is discussed throughout the film is the idea of the film blogging community - is the indie film blogging world an actual community or is it just a loosely connected world of individuals promoting movies they like & also themselves/their own film work? Answers vary from blogger to blogger, but the discussion could point to something that I already mentioned above, if it is not already a real community - we might want to think about making it one, because there would be many cultural benefits to such an endeavor. It would be useful to have many places where non-Hollywood films are discussed from several perspectives or it would be useful to have several versions of the indieWIRE blogs page or the Spout community pages - paying attention to movies, makers, ideas that do not get a lot of play in either of those places.

"The doc is simply a series of long, mostly uncut interviews with film bloggers."

Not true. Each subject was interviewed for over an hour. The scenes presented in the film were carefully selected to reflect many concerns, preoccupations of the indie film blogging scene.

"It’s not even necessarily a sufficient profile of the film blog community, in a “Meet the Bloggers” kind of way."

It definitely has a "Meet the Bloggers" quality. Not sure why Campbell thinks that aspect of the film is not sufficient. The entire film consists of interviews with film bloggers - where both personal & work related (mostly work related, but with more nuance than at a blog post) items are discussed.

"As far as Ekanayake’s skill as a filmmaker, there’d be too much to itemize in criticizing his lack of such (though Michael Tully does a nice job)."

Subjects are clearly visible, their audio is clear & audible. Beyond that, "filmmaking excellence" is a matter of taste. I guess there are many creative ways to shoot interviews, I opted for a simple one that does not distract from paying attention to the subjects.

"Of course, there really isn’t a lot that’s worth quoting from the film, anyway. This may partly be my own subjective attitude on the issue of talking about blogging, which I believe to be an irrelevant distraction from actually talking about film, which is arguably already inessential in the grand scheme of life (any blogger whose word usage has been the focus of criticism on another film blog can surely see the meaninglessness of criticism in general, let alone criticism of criticism specifically, even if he might be hypocritical in stating this)."

For people who are not interested in or excited about both the current reality of the indie film blog world & its future potentials, sitting through IFBRT would be hard work. Criticism is very useful for art/entertainment - both as a possible tool of creating change in the medium and also there is a publicity/$s value to articles written about movies & other art/entertainmnet work.

"The most interesting interview in the film is with ShortEnd Magazine’s Noralil Ryan Fores, who discusses the significance and minority position of female film bloggers. Part of what makes her segment appealing is that, of all the interviewees, she seems to be the one least interrupted by the loudly self-absorbed Ekanayake (probably because just before her interview, in the film’s most egoistical segment, the filmmaker is seen being interviewed by her)."

This is definitely a perception issue - all the interview segments are conversations - where both the subject and I discuss various items related to blogging. Sometimes it is necessary to insert a question into the discussion to further clarify & develop an idea, and sometimes it is not. On the self-absorbed charge - artists or creators of anything do have to spend a lot of time thinking about the world, which includes paying attention to ideas held by oneself - such self-absorption is necessary for making most art/entertainment. Fores & all other interview subjects were asked questions as necessary, when necessary.

"If I had to pick out Indie Film Blogger Road Trip’s biggest failure in terms of its apparent intent, I’d again point out how small the audience was at the film’s premiere."

Low attendance at one screening does not mean that eventually the film will not be seen by many people. The 9 minute clip from IFBRT posted on YouTube at present has over 3000 views.

"(also, Anthology’s calendar didn’t even mention the screening)."

The premiere was a special event/a DIY screening produced by me, not part of regular Anthology programming, thus it was not listed on the calendar. The venue, however, was excellent & the staff were great to work with. The projected image & sound were also very good - so I would highly recommend AFA to filmmakers interested in NYC venues for showing their work.

So, ultimately, IFBRT is not for people who are not fans of the indie film blog world. And since Campbell was assigned the task of attending the screening and it was not something that he chose to do out of interest in the subject, that probably affected how he reacted to the doc. Others, less self-hating film bloggers (i am half-joking when i use that phrase in this context by the way) & people interested in the subject, should check out the doc for themselves & decide if there is anything valuable in it. The opportunities for doing so will be many in the near future - screenings are being set up in various cities for rest of '09, plus DVD availability, streaming & video-on-demand availability, are all coming soon.

Here is the link to IFBRT's site/blog for keeping track of distribution news.

- Sujewa

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