MCN Columnists
Kim Voynar

By Kim Voynar

Of Indie Film and Insularity

This Thanksgiving weekend, as I ponder my abundant blessings, one of the things I’m most thankful for is having a job that allows me not only to watch a lot of movies, but to see many of them at film festivals far and wide.

As I write this, over the past couple years we’ve seen fewer critics making it to the major fests as their outlets cut corners or disappear entirely, and seen evidence of attempts to cut costs and adjust around having fewer sponsors at many festivals. And all this makes me nervous for the future of film festivals, and for the independent filmmakers who rely upon them to get their films seen by more people than their network of friends and family.

In an article for Prospect Magazine, Brian Eno ponders the death of “uncool,” positing that the increased global accessibility of the ideas and styles of different cultures that’s common in today’s internet-based, highly connected world has led to a culture where people are “cherry-picking whatever makes sense to them” from a variety of sources. Eno futher posits that this is a good thing, because as people become acclimated to selecting their cultural influences from various sources, they will start to do the same with other socio-political ideas.

Not only do I agree with Eno’s position on this, I think it has some broader implications for the necessity of the continued existence of independent film and film festivals, even in today’s belt-tightened economic climate. Film festivals, particularly when they are well and diversely programmed, are slivers of a cinematic Utopia where ideas can be gleaned from a wide array of cultures and mindsets. But where would film festivals be without the buffet of interesting independent films from a variety of cultures to offer their audiences?  We need independent films, and the film festivals that serve them up to audiences, as an antidote to the insularity that makes us see our own views as “right” and everyone else’s as “wrong.”

Even those of us who consider ourselves fortunate to live in big cities can suffer from insularity if we rarely venture outside our own yard; I have many friends in New York City who consider themselves worldly and sophisticated, but whose circle of friends, and even acquaintences, look mostly just like them. I know New Yorkers who never step a toe outside of Manhattan or Brooklyn if they aren’t traveling for work, preferring their safe havens to exploring the multicultural mysteries of the vast city in which they live. Insularity is just as bad if you live in New York as it is if you live in a small town in the Deep South.

Exposure to the ideas and perspectives of other people and cultures through all the arts — literature, paintings, sculpture, books, dance, theater and, yes, film — creates a sense of understanding that can help bridge gaps of understanding, create a sense of curiosity about the other that leads to exploration of ideas outside our own heads. Art also helps us see the commonalities we share.

We may have different ideas of what “God” means, but perhaps we can find common ground on what it means to love another person: a parent, a partner, a child. “You” may live in the heart of the hustle and bustle of Manhattan, “they” may may live in remotest Kazakhstan, but through a little independent film that wends its way through film festivals, you may find that you share a common human spirit, a desire to partner with another, a longing for love. I may live immersed in the liberal, urban culture of Seattle, you may live in conservative, rural Mississipi, but together at a film festival, we may find we share a love of film, and through that mutual passion we may find other areas of common ground on which to build a friendship.

Hollywood is too insular in and of itself; studios know only how to make one kind of film, really: that which they think will make millions of dollars. They do this over and over, and sometimes the results aren’t bad, and sometimes they are wretched, but mostly they show us versions of what we already know rather than exposing us to new ideas, new ways of thinking or viewing the world.

Studios are the big manufacturers of the movie world, creating from templates that appeal to the broadest segment of their possible audience, whereas independent filmmakers around the world are the struggling, starving artists laboring out of love and passion for their work, bringing us slices of their lives, their views, and the worlds of their subjects. Independent filmmakers allow us as their audience to peek through the curtains into lives that aren’t our own. So I, like Eno, celebrate the death of the “uncool,” rejoice in the accessibility of film from other cultures that makes it possible for me, — a totally uncool 40-something, separated mother of five and grandmother of one — to explore ideas that, I hope, will broaden my worldview, perhaps even change me for the better.

Happy Thanksgiving weekend to all the independent filmmakers out there, and may you continue to make films that give the cinephiles of the world cause to be thankful.

– Kim Voynar
November 27, 2009

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It shows how out of it I was in trying to be in it, acknowledging that I was out of it to myself, and then thinking, “Okay, how do I stop being out of it? Well, I get some legitimate illogical narrative ideas” — some novel, you know?

So I decided on three writers that I might be able to option their material and get some producer, or myself as producer, and then get some writer to do a screenplay on it, and maybe make a movie.

And so the three projects were “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep,” “Naked Lunch” and a collection of Bukowski. Which, in 1975, forget it — I mean, that was nuts. Hollywood would not touch any of that, but I was looking for something commercial, and I thought that all of these things were coming.

There would be no Blade Runner if there was no Ray Bradbury. I couldn’t find Philip K. Dick. His agent didn’t even know where he was. And so I gave up.

I was walking down the street and I ran into Bradbury — he directed a play that I was going to do as an actor, so we know each other, but he yelled “hi” — and I’d forgot who he was.

So at my girlfriend Barbara Hershey’s urging — I was with her at that moment — she said, “Talk to him! That guy really wants to talk to you,” and I said “No, fuck him,” and keep walking.

But then I did, and then I realized who it was, and I thought, “Wait, he’s in that realm, maybe he knows Philip K. Dick.” I said, “You know a guy named—” “Yeah, sure — you want his phone number?”

My friend paid my rent for a year while I wrote, because it turned out we couldn’t get a writer. My friends kept on me about, well, if you can’t get a writer, then you write.”
~ Hampton Fancher

“That was the most disappointing thing to me in how this thing was played. Is that I’m on the phone with you now, after all that’s been said, and the fundamental distinction between what James is dealing with in these other cases is not actually brought to the fore. The fundamental difference is that James Franco didn’t seek to use his position to have sex with anyone. There’s not a case of that. He wasn’t using his position or status to try to solicit a sexual favor from anyone. If he had — if that were what the accusation involved — the show would not have gone on. We would have folded up shop and we would have not completed the show. Because then it would have been the same as Harvey Weinstein, or Les Moonves, or any of these cases that are fundamental to this new paradigm. Did you not notice that? Why did you not notice that? Is that not something notable to say, journalistically? Because nobody could find the voice to say it. I’m not just being rhetorical. Why is it that you and the other critics, none of you could find the voice to say, “You know, it’s not this, it’s that”? Because — let me go on and speak further to this. If you go back to the L.A. Times piece, that’s what it lacked. That’s what they were not able to deliver. The one example in the five that involved an issue of a sexual act was between James and a woman he was dating, who he was not working with. There was no professional dynamic in any capacity.

~ David Simon