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Kim Voynar

By Kim Voynar

Wish List for the Future of Indie Film

Out of the blue, I woke up this morning thinking about Alexis Tioseco and Nika Bohinc . Maybe I was pondering on this whole AOL/HuffPo thing, and even more about The AOL Way and how it tries to reduce into Powerpoint slides geared toward traffic and keywords how writers should write, and how editors should assign stories.

If you’re a part of the independent film community, you surely at least have heard the names Alexis Tioseco and Nika Bohinc. Maybe you’d never heard of either of them, or read anything either critic wrote, before they were murdered in their home in the Philippines on September 1, 2009. So far as I know, their killers still have not been found.

Alexis wrote with the kind of passion about cinema that you can’t generate with keywords and traffic stats. He was brilliant and thoughtful and sometimes his writing could be searing, but it was never without a purpose and it sure as hell wasn’t based on a list of keywords. He lambasted me roundly once via a passionate email, for a piece I wrote about Brillante Mendoza’s Serbis. I still don’t agree with him about that film or about Mendoza, but man, could he defend his point of view eloquently.

Alexis was 28 years old when he died, but he left behind a legacy of intelligent, beautiful writing that many critics will never achieve in a lifetime of writing about film. It’s positively crushing to think of all the many brilliant things Alexis and Nika will never write, the creativity that would have flowed from their partnership and their shared love of cinema, the films they will never have a chance to see and debate voraciously and defend or attack with passion and a style of writing that achieves a level of artistry all its own.

One of the things Alexis left behind — his legacy, in a way, though he couldn’t have known it when he wrote it — was a wish list for Philippine cinema, which was, apart from Nika, his single greatest burning passion.

I’ve linked to it here because so much of what Alexis wrote in this wish list applies to independent film generally, and also because although he is gone now, his writing and his ideas and his passion should not be lost. Here are some of my favorites from his wish list (in bold), to which I’ve appended my own thoughts:

I wish younger filmmakers would understand: Lino Brocka compromised when he had to because he had to, and perhaps even, at times, too much. You are living in a different time. The excuse that Brocka made more than 60 films therefore you can afford your own mediocre ones does not hold water.

I wish younger independent filmmakers would understand that you do not have to compromise, you can make kind of movies you want to make, even on a small budget. There are too many filmmakers who succeed in achieving this for a small budget or lack of experience to be your excuse. If you don’t know how to make your movie look the way you want it to, figure it out. Stop making excuses.

I wish the Manunuri actually cared about Philippine cinema today.

I wish more of the Manunuri actually reviewed films instead of just giving out awards.

I wish the Young Critics Circle were actually young.

I wish the Young Critics Circle were actually critics.

… Gosh almighy, this applies to a lot of American critics’ groups as well. Our job, at least a big part of it, is to honestly, intellectually critique cinema, to uphold the art form, to educate and inform about films. To raise the bar, not to celebrate the lowest watermark. To praise the best in cinema, not just the biggest films with the biggest marketing budgets and box office. Alexis understood this so much more than a lot of writers do.

I wish more non-filmmakers from the Philippines would get to travel to festivals.

I wish film were taught in high schools.

I wish we had more film lovers and less bureaucrats in important positions in the field of cinema.

Yes, yes, and yes. This gets to the heart of some ideas I’ve been percolating myself about both the roles of independent, international cinema , educational outreach, and regional film festivals in breaking cycles of ignorance and insularity. Alexis was a lover of film from a very young age. By the time of his death, at just 28, he knew more about cinema than most adults. He sure as hell knew more about Filipino cinema than I ever will. I still learn from going back and reading what he wrote.

I wish someone would gather everything he wrote — including the heart-wrenching love letter he write to Nika when she hadn’t yet decided to join him in the Philippines. It was published in Rogue, I think around July 2008, but I can no longer find it online. But damn, it was beautiful.

Reaching kids when their minds are fresh and open to new ideas, showing them there is an entire world of cinema out there that they never see ads for on Nickelodeon or the Disney Channel, opening their minds to watching films with subtitles, discussing films with them as if they are intelligent enough to handle it (because they are) … I believe there is a key role for the regional festivals in educational outreach. And that it behooves both festivals and the indie film community in general to beef up the way in which they outreach to young people.

They are the next generation of filmmakers and of lovers of cinema. They are the ones who will be filling arthouse theaters to see good films, if we reach out to them and show them all that cinema can be. Somewhere out there, there are kids who will grow to feel passionately about cinema, to study and learn about it and believe in it, and someday, to write about film the way Alexis did.

They are out there. And they sure as hell won’t be writing based on what Powerpoint decks of bullshit sales and traffic bullet points tell them to write about.

Talk about a dystopian nightmare. Imagine seriously for a moment if that’s really the future. If the information that’s put out there for you to learn from and absorb is nothing more than a bunch of fucking selling points put together by some goddamn marketing schmucks and bean counters dictating what you write based on the illiterate masses and their obsession with boobs and plastic surgery and explosions and reality TV and all things banal. If all the films made (and God knows there are enough of them already) are based on the same kind of ideas that shape The AOL Way.

Heaven help the future of independent film, film criticism and all writing about cinema if that’s what we all become.

Update: Thank you a million times over to Josh, who posted a live link to Alexis’ letter to Nika, “The Letter I Would Love to Read to You in Person.”

I swear, I cry like a baby every time I read this. It so tragically, movingly encapsulates all that the film world lost when Alexis and Nika were killed.

And also … Ben Slater added a link to this terrific roundup of Alexis’ writings that are still available online, which he posted to Criticine, Alexis’ website. I came across it this morning when I woke up wanting to write about Alexis and read many of the pieces linked to there, and I’d intended to link to it in this piece. So a huge mea culpa for neglecting to include it to begin with, but more to the point:

You want to write about film? Go and read some of Alexis’ fine, fine writing to get schooled on how to formulate your thoughts on cinema with both intellect and passion. He wrote profoundly well — truly, some of his writing just humbles me — and you will learn more about Philippine cinema (and its relation to Filipino culture) than you ever knew you needed to know. Thank you, Ben, for sharing that link.

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4 Responses to “Wish List for the Future of Indie Film”

  1. Josh says:

    The letter is here:

    What a wonderful column; thank you.

  2. Ben Slater says:

    You might want to look at this round-up of links to his writing online. As you point out, the link to the letter needs updating.

    Criticine was Alexis’ website as I’m sure you know.

  3. Patrick says:

    Very nicely written article. Maybe try to figure out how some of the things are your wish list can be actionable. Indie film is changing more than most people know and that is a good thing.

  4. Kim Voynar says:

    Patrick, I couldn’t agree more. It’s changing rapidly, new models are evolving all the time, and I am actively engaged in several different threads of working with various people on instituting positive change. It’s an exciting time.

    What items are on your own wish list, and how would you implement them?

Quote Unquotesee all »

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