Sunday, January 10, 2010
The Ethics of Indies
It's absolutely essential that independent animators promote their own films. An interesting by-product of this is that the more successful indies get, the likelier they will have opportunities to curate screenings and programs where they become the barometers of taste, deciding which filmmakers make the cut and which one's don't. Is this an ethical dilemma? I know a few filmmakers who believe so, but, I'm not so sure.
On the plus side, when an indie develops the clout and connections to create new venues to screen animated films, it throws a spotlight on the other included filmmakers who benefit from the exposure. This is a gain for the programming filmmaker too, because by including other indies in the event, it helps ensure a larger audience.
Part of me asks, if not an indie filmmaker programing such an event, who would? Who else would have such a knowledge of animators and their films? A festival programmer is the easy answer. But, festival programmers already do that, through the more democratic and less biased method of a jury or selection committee. There are a few other non-filmmaker and non-festival programmer types who know the scene well enough to program screenings of indie animation, but without having a film in the mix themselves, it's not as likely that these folks could devote the time and energy to doing so on a regular basis.
On the negative side, some argue that the animators producing and programming their own events are playing favorites or shutting some artists out. But, I think that's too easy a criticism to make. To program such an event is to automatically narrow down selections. The top (most prolific and most awarded) independent animators in New York City happen to work with adult themes, making edgy films with subjects of humor, sex, and violence. So, when they program events, you can be sure that they are going to round out the film list with similarly themed works. That seems pretty natural to me. Besides, it would be quite odd to wedge in an indie children's film into such a program.
If the top indie animators have a certain power over the scene, it is one that they have earned simply by working harder than everyone else. And, not just harder in that they make more films more often. They also work equally hard promoting those films.
So, is this an ethical dilemma? Whatever the answer, nobody can deny that some stellar filmmakers of yesterday and today have not received the attention they deserve. There's no single easy way to fix that injustice, but as a move in the right direction, ASIFA-East is planning at least two retrospective screenings per year (from now on) to help re-introduce the community to some amazing talents. Stay tuned for more details.