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2 or 3 Things About The (Future of) Cinema that I learned from Godard

September 14, 2022

Godard has died – by assisted suicide at the age of 91 on Tuesday – and the tributes and analyses of his life and career are hitting everywhere, showing his profound influence on the cinema and culture. This wasn’t what I planned to write for today, and I had another article set to run early this morning, but something in me wouldn’t let me run the news without giving some sort of tribute to Godard, because he’s one of the reasons I fell in love with film, and continue to be obsessed with certain aspects of it today. If you want a real tribute that focuses more closely on his art and influence, I highly recommend this piece by Manohla Dargis in the NYT. But here’s 2 or 3 things I’m thinking today about the future of cinema as I reflect on Godard. And for those of you who aren’t as familiar with Godard’s work, my title is a pretty obvious tribute to my favorite film of his - Deux ou trois choses que je sais d'elle – from 1967, which I studied intensely as part of my MA thesis many moons ago.
  1. Beg, borrow, steal to make the film – Godard didn’t let a lack of funds stop him from making films. He didn’t come from poverty. In fact, he was born to a wealthy family, but they wouldn’t support his film career, and he didn’t have the money to make films, so he stole it. From anyone and everyone, including the magazine where he worked and from his friends. Not that I’m advocating for stealing from your friends – ok, maybe I am – but filmmakers need to let nothing stop them from making their films. There’s no excuse anymore – everyone has a camera in their pocket, and creativity can come from anywhere.
  2. Be prolific – Godard made more films than I can count. He was constantly making new films, and also worked in other media, and was constantly creating. Like many, if not most, of my favorite artists, he was just always working, always experimenting. And this means some were failures – in his case, artistically and often critically and financially. But he kept surprising us to the end, because he seemed to breathe cinema and couldn’t stop breathing. Good artists are often prolific, and good cinema will come in the future from those who churn out the work.
  3. Embrace technology – Godard was making TV before it was cool. In fact, when it was very uncool, especially among the “auteurs,” which was a term he helped establish. He was still experimenting with it late in life – making perhaps the only interesting 3-D film, and embracing digital technology as well. Today, as we get advances in things as wild as AI making art, and even films, artists need to embrace these tools, and be part of the advance guard in using the tech, and using it in formally new ways.
  4. Break the rules – You can’t talk about Godard without mentioning things like the jump-cut and other creative ways that he broke the rules. It’s hard to notice today, when such rule-breaking has become the norm, and has been thoroughly co-opted by even the most commercial of cinemas, and even actual commercials. But today, a lot of cinema can seem pretty polished and uninventive, formally. There are tons of exceptions, I know, but there remains too little of the formal experimentation that one used to expect from the Nouvelle Vague. 
  5. Future voices will likely come from current, young critics. Many people in the film world are often baffled by my enthusiasm for TikTok, and especially for #filmtiktok. But I’m excited by it because the (usually) young critics using it to make visual essays on film (and this is also being done on YouTube and other platforms), remind me of the critics from Cahiers du Cinema. They are engaging critically with the cinema, it’s past and present. And I’m convinced some of them will be the ones who make its future. Kinda like Kogonada has already done.
  6. The importance of curation and mentoring – To a great extent, we wouldn’t have Godard or the rest of the New Wave, if we didn’t have Henri Langlois and the Cinémathèque Française he founded. His curation and celebration of cinema is what taught Godard and the others the importance of cinema, and a new way of looking at it and making it. Their defense of him led to the Spring of ’68, which was also a crucial moment in the future of cinema. This is one reason that film festivals, societies and arthouses remain important to the future of the field. But many more of them need to embrace that leadership role in their curation in a similar manner to Langlois, as opposed to just focusing on bringing the same old stuff to their town that every other fest is doing (many already do this now, of course).
  7. Be political (but perhaps not too political). Godard was always political in his films; indeed all films are political. But he became more and more associated with it as he matured and especially post-68. To the point that he estranged himself from many in the field and even some of his biggest fans had trouble following him artistically as he became more political. That’s the part of his work that I admire the most, and wish more filmmakers would embrace it more fully – and this doesn’t mean just making a doc about a political issue, which has become about all that we get anymore. But I also have to admit – it’s why he became more and more obscure outside of the core of cinephiles. The lesson is clear that one can become too extreme for even one’s fellow cultural snobs. Luckily for Godard, he was famous enough and rich enough by that point not to care. But his actual impact on politics lessened as he became more political. That said, boy do we need more political bomb-throwing as we live through the artistic and cultural embrace of high capitalism that we see today (and which I participate in regularly). It was refreshing to see Laura Poitras lobbing not just cinematic but also verbal bombs at the establishment at TIFF. We need more provocateurs, and they need to be not just in subject, but in form, and in how artists approach the establishment, and Godard gave us a pretty good lesson in all of those.
 I probably have a thousand more thoughts about film and Godard, but those are the ones that came to mind in the past 24 hrs as I processed the passing of another cinematic legend.

I'm teaching an online/zoom class on Sept 22nd through NYFA on film distribution. Note - I am doing this because I get asked by filmmakers for consultation on this stuff all the time, and I don't actually consult with filmmakers directly on distribution (only brands), and can't take all of those call requests. So this class isn't me trying to get new clients/get filmmakers to pay me for more advice, but is instead my way to consolidate all of that advice into one seminar, at a low cost, with a nonprofit that I like. Here's the description from the NYFA website:

The indie and arthouse film distribution landscape is constantly changing, but is perhaps more in flux now due to the recent pandemic, the streaming wars, and the shaky global economy.

This workshop will focus on the current state of the industry—how it seems to be working, some generally tried and true best practices for getting your film distributed to an audience. We'll cover different approaches to everything from film festivals and sales/marketing to theatrical, event-based releasing, streaming, and the rise of FAST and AVOD options.

We'll also look at recent changes and what that means for traditional indie financing, how to break through the noise in a crowded marketplace, and what changes might be on the horizon.

Event Breakdown

What: Film Distribution Today: The Basics, Recent Changes and What Might Be Next

When: September 22, 6:00 PM to 7:30 PM EDT

Where: Online via Zoom Webinar

Audience: Any Filmmaker

Cost: $15 for NYFA-affiliated artists (Fiscally Sponsored, NYSCA/NYFA Artist Fellows, Immigrant Artist Mentoring Program Artists, NYC Women's Fund, etc.) and $20 for the general public

Register: Click here to register. You will receive an email with information about how to access this webinar two days before the event. You may attend the session(s) using either a Mac or PC computer (with speakers), standard phone, smartphone, or tablet device. This webinar takes place on Zoom. Strong wifi or hard-wired Internet connection is preferred. 

Questions: Email sponsorship@nyfa.org

Recording: This presentation portion of this meeting will be recorded and shared with all previously-registered participants after the session concludes. The recording will be available for viewing up to 30 days after the scheduled date and will not be available for download. A recording of this event will not be available for purchase after the event registration closes. 

Stuff I'm Reading

Film
 
At the Academy Museum, a resurrection of Black film history and Academy Museum’s Show on Black Cinema Raises Questions About Who It’s For:  “Regeneration: Black Cinema 1898-1971” is an exhibit on Black filmmaking that recently opened at Los Angeles’ Academy Museum of Motion Pictures. Centered around Black directors  and actors that made a mark on cinema up until the civil rights movement, the exhibit explores the duality of Black cinema – as a medium of pure entertainment vs. as a tool for political and social empowerment. “Viewers [also] learn how Black artists have navigated a medium that… [was] often deployed in direct opposition to them,” writes Ann Holiday for the Washington Post. But the Academy Museum’s show on Black cinema raises questions about who it’s for, says Manhole Dargis at the NYT. Though the exhibition is “impressive for the depth of its scholarship…. “the exhibition tends to invoke racism in generalized terms and as a widely understood problem, leaving too many specifics of Hollywood’s foundational role in reproducing that racism to your imagination,” Manohla Dargis concludes. Learn more about the exhibition and check out some great stills in both pieces by Holiday and Dargis. (GSH)

Streaming TV is having an existential crisis, and viewers can tell: We’re pretty deep into the streaming wars and basically no one is happy about where we are. “The early promise of the streaming years was a fantasy and/or a lie,” writes comedian Adam Conover. On the one hand we have a community of creators who are anxious that their show or movie will be deleted on an executive’s whim, a fear compounded by the fact that in our DVD-less, digital age, viewers might never be able to access their work again. What’s more, creators of color who were just starting to see opportunities thanks to funding and outreach by streaming giants, find themselves discarded (for instance, HBO Max let go 13 POC individuals in charge of developing shows, resulting in less diversity behind and in front of the camera). And finally, what’s revealed to creators who pitch shows for a living is a MONOPSONY – essentially a monopoly in reverse, a monopsony is a market situation where there is only one buyer (i.e. “if you sell salami, and there is only one sandwich shop around to buy it”). 

On the other hand we have viewers who’re paying too much – nearly as much as Cable TV – and realize that over half of what they’ve been paying for is total crap (after all, the quality of content will naturally decline as streamers find ways to cut costs and increase profits). The irony of it all is that streaming was a substitute for Cable, though now all we want is a service that bundles all the content providers together under one plan (sound familiar?). As a result, we’re seeing an increase in digital piracy – over 350,000 new members joined the subreddit r/piracy in Jan 2021. 

The takeaway is simple: Streaming TV is having an existential crisis. Titles go missing, programming is less ambitious, subscribers are paying too much, and creators aren’t getting paid enough. The Washington Post’s Travis M. Andrews has the story. (GSH)
Branded Content
 

Gaming and movies are fusing more than ever – here’s how advertisers can capitalize: There were an estimated 2 billion gamers in 2015. Today, we’re at 3.24 billion. With a passionate and growing audience, we’ll see more than just an increase in crossovers between gaming, TV, and film. “Just imagine if these mediums grow even closer, enhancing the transmedia experience for a whole new generation of consumers,” writes Kristen Howarth for TheDrum. We can expect more experiences like Black Mirror: Bandersnatch (and more sophisticated evolutions of the ‘choose your adventure’ model), especially as Netflix is converging gaming and TV on their mobile app. Transmedia opportunities will become the norm thanks to the metaverse – Roblox is already set to air a TV show and Fortnite is featuring their 4th film festival in-game. THE TAKEAWAY: The term “gamer” will be obsolete soon. Haworth writes, “There will come a day where the term “gamer” will become outdated and obsolete. Gaming is already well on its way to becoming an integral part of our global cultural fabric… [and we can expect] the advertising industry to follow suit, much as it has for the big screen.” (GSH)


What If Consumers Do Not Need The Metaverse?: What if the metaverse doesn’t actually address consumer needs? Forbes author Benjamin Voyer cites the 3D printer and Google Glasses as revolutionary pieces of technology that just never really made it to the mass market and explains that “as powerful and manipulative as marketing can seemingly be, needs are [hard] to create.” In addition to struggling with consumer needs, metaverse and metatech companies will be challenged by consumers and governments wary of how their personal data is being (mis)used. “The metaverse is thus unlikely to benefit from an initial euphoric period of consumers sharing everything and anything personal in their new virtual world – something Facebook and other early social media platforms enjoyed.” So, does our future lie in the metaverse as Meta promises, or will real consumer needs, privacy concerns, and heightened metatech competition slow down or put a halt to the adoption and implementation of new technology? Check out Forbes to learn more. (GSH)
 

Working With Creators of Color for The First Time? Adjust Your KPIs: Taking the first step to hire/work with creators of color is extremely important, but once you/your brand does, how can you set up diverse creators for success? Adweek’s Annelise Campbell has some tips: (1) Don’t bring just an influencer/creator of color onto your roster for a one-off project. Repetition, frequency, and familiarity are key, and will actually bring business. (2) “Use working with diverse creators for the first time as an opportunity to learn more about their audiences and how they perform” and start prioritizing communities that you’ve overlooked…. then, invest in them! (3) Creative freedom is important – let diverse creators communicate with their audiences in the ways that they know work best, and turn to community stakeholders/representatives for answers about speaking to their audiences authentically. (4) Adjust and identify your KPIs and understand that your results may look different. Check out Campbell’s Adweek piece for more detail. (GSH)

Miscellany:

Could the Internet Archive Go Out Like Napster?: The Internet Archives versus Big Publishers saga continues. We’ve written about the ongoing lawsuit in greater detail before (see Sub-Genre Newsletter 5 Ways Brands Can Make Better Films (7/28/2022), but here’s the gist of it: At the onset of the pandemic teachers and librarians convinced a non-profit called the Internet Archive to become a National Emergency Library and temporarily loan out an unlimited number of eBooks to libraries. A few months later, major publishing houses sued the Internet Archive for “grossly exceed[ing]” what libraries are allowed to do and argued that the Internet Archive was taking away income from authors. On the other side, it’s argued that the lawsuit “is simply an attempt by publishers to grow their e-Book market and force libraries to pay costly licensing agreements that help a publisher’s bottom line” (legal director of the Electronic Frontier Foundation). 
 

The lawsuit was initially about the Internet Archive’s National Emergency Library, but that shut down in June of 2020. So why is the case still open? The director of the Harvard Open Access Project explained that it’s because “publishers want to block controlled digital lending”, and now, even authors who’d protested the archive appear to be backing away from the battle. If the Internet Archive does loes the case, it will mean “[a] blow to the techno-optimistic, quasi-libertarian vision that governed the web’s early years: virtual spaces free from elite control and disruption, an online society based on sharing and discourse over profit (Stephen Witt, tech reporter and author).” There’s a lot of nuance to unpack here, so give Nitish Pahwa and Emma Wallenbrock’s comprehensive Slate piece “Could the Internet Archive Go Out Like Napster?” - read it for the whole scoop.  (GSH, H/T ReDef)


GSH = Articles written by Sub-Genre's Gabriel Schillinger-Hyman, not Brian Newman (BN)
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