Arrived back from more or less six months on the road, with a small bit having to do with film festivals, screenings and the other chores of the filmmaker life, and settled into my “home” in Butte, and began the final work on two new films – ones mostly shot last September, and November. Features. Both looking pretty good.
The trip involved a number of screenings, of older work and new. For the most part the audiences were sparse, and talk with those showing them suggested this is now the norm. To my glance the audiences were also generally rather older. White hair or none. None of this was a surprise for me – I’d been noticing this trend for a decade and more. I have my thoughts on it, of course, and shortly I’ll be writing in more depth at http://www.jonjost.wordpress.com.
For the moment though, in anticipation of completing these new films (and proceeding on to the other 3 or 4 awaiting editing to completion, not to mention shooting some others and preparing others, along with the Mt. Everest of photography to tend to, painting when the weather shifts, and recording some music), I decided to go ahead and do something I’ve been considering for a while. Today wrote the following letter to the Locarno festival, and sent along the same to the Venice festival.
As a past guest of your festival – long ago in the 70’s, and more recently (!) with OUI/NON in 2003, I write to say a few things.
Having made films for now 51 years, and having watched with others the drastic changes in the world of cinema I have decided for myself a few things:
1. I will not fill out festival entry forms, pay entry fees, or other things time and energy consuming; I will inform festivals of new work and if they wish to see it they can do so on-line (Vimeo with password), or pay for a DVD or preferably BluRay to be sent to see it properly.
2. As for the kind of work I do there is no longer even the hint of a “market” and festivals have become more or less the default “market,” when my work is shown I will need some kind of payment. A ticket/hotel for some place I might want to go; or money.
I know this may sound arrogant or whatever you wish to call it. So be it.
I am continuing to make work – by my estimation, and that of some others, certainly up with my best, and hopefully even better. This year’s Coming to Terms is certainly one of my best. (Ask Mark Rappaport, or Jonathan Rosenbaum.) Still I’ll be lucky if several thousand people, world-wide, ever see it.
I have two new films virtually finished:
BLUE STRAIT, likely around 80-85 minutes, about a middle-aged gay couple breaking up (though this is hardly a “story” film.)
GENTRY COUNTY STORIES, close to 90 minutes, an exploration in genre, literature, story-telling.
If you are interested in seeing, let me know.
I have no idea how this will be received by the festivals – perhaps they will actually understand, and if not generally, then at least individually, make a change. Or perhaps they will regard it as the whining of a disconsolate old filmmaker fallen from the day’s fashions. Perhaps they’ll wonder why my secretary can’t do these things, not comprehending that I have no secretary and never did, and that the simple process of filling out ill-designed entry forms is far more hassle than they imagine. Or myriad other things. I’ll have to wait and see.
The simple reality from their side is that there are thousands of people willing to go through the hoops chancing for the brass ring, so if my little kvetch irritates them, it’s no problem for them. From my side it is that whether my film (and I) go to a festival, it will make little difference in tangible terms – perhaps 50 or 500 people will see it; perhaps someone will write something about it. But almost certain, in the tsunami of films cranked out these days, it will be swept away and out of view and consciousness in a matter of weeks or a month or two. And I won’t accrue a penny. There will be no “sale.” At best I can scribble that the film showed in festival X. For others it may be that the applause of an audience, or positive words from viewers provides “something” but in my case it really isn’t so. I need no pats on the back or words of encouragement. I need to make a very modest “living.”
In the next week or so I hope to post a longer, more considered essay on where things seem to stand with regard to this kind of cinema in the current world, and whether there is any more seeming point to it at all. As you can imagine, I have my doubts.
Note: I am in process of setting up a VOD Vimeo channel of my work. Not being Hollywood or able to anticipate high numbers, my price is $10 to stream, $20 to download. First one up is Angel City from 1976. You can buy DVDs for $30+ shipping and processing by PayPal, and BluRay disks for more (I recommend for the HD films and a few others.)
[An update now on June 10 2104: neither the Locarno festival, nor the Venice festival gave me any response to my letter. In the case of Venice, I know its director, Alberto Barbera, personally, and addressed to him, along with his staff, my letter. Whether this signals that my never-more-than-modest leverage with festivals is now in the minus range (some time ago I was instrumental in getting Joao Pedro Rodriguez' film O Fantom into the Venice competition when Barbera was director earlier, in 2002 or so), or whether raising the topic of the, uh, well, exploitation of filmmakers in the name of "supporting" them was too hot a matter, or whether my missive was lost in the shuffle, I don't know. No information at all is not exactly a useful standpoint for speculation - I "know" only that neither festival sent me a word in response, which, at minimum in my view, was "rude."]