Indie Films, Blogs and New Journalism

Katharine Round, who is an awesome filmmaker and a founder of the brilliant Docheads network posted a link to a recent article in Screen Daily on indie film funding which included this quote from Jess Search, the Chief Exec of Britdoc:

“independent film-makers are the rebels, the thought-leaders, the intellectuals, the troublemakers, taking the place of what used to happen with print journalism and television.”

Adam Curtis touched on this point at DocFest when he said that he was expecting the emergence of a movement similar to New Journalism, but that TV wouldn’t be the medium. TV can be so hidebound by convention and a desire not to upset anybody that challenging ideas struggle to get through, but it’s not dead yet, and I’m not sure that independent film is really offering the alternative that is being talked up here. Some of the most stimulating stuff of recent times has been made by people like Adam himself and Jonathan Meades through the traditional route. Are there independent films offering much of the calibre of Meades’ latest creative docs based on the story of the Algerian Pieds Noirs or indeed of Curtis’ recent work?
A big problem with the piecemeal funding model discussed in the article, broadly speaking bringing in outside corporate and NGO funders, is one similar to the problem with academic journals- there’s a publication bias. Everyone wants to get on board with positive films, so stories about bad things happening can get pushed to the side in the scramble for funding; a case in point is The Interrupters.

It has an uplifting storyline and comforting message and there’s no doubt it is a well made film, but it is socially responsible to put out a documentary which will leave audiences with a misleadingly clean impression of the murky relationship between public funding and gangs in Chicago?
I think a lot of this comes down to a lack of diversity in the broadcast/indie film world. Lots of people with similar background, education, politics and attitude. Every time you hear somebody talk about wanting to hear ‘unheard voices’ in a film, you know exactly what they want, whose voice you’ll hear, and what they’ll be saying.

My own experiences with the tremendous anti science bias of media insiders has been sobering, but oddly, it extends to hating religion too, in favour of a sort of mishmash of New Age anti authoritarianism which doesn’t bear much scrutiny. What is so frustrating is that, returning to Adam Curtis’ remarks, these attitudes were exposed and rejected by the first wave of New Journalism back in the 1970s. Compare The Interrupters’ rather soppy music heavy approach with the surgically efficient and ruthlessly satirical writing of Tom Wolfe on the same topic, or the essay that I can’t imagine many UK media types have read judging by their unblushing faces, The Me Decade.

My own feeling is that the next wave of innovation in ways to inform us about the world will be found in blogs, where radical and challenging ways of telling us about the world are flourishing. Doc film seems in danger of, if anything, being left behind.

UPDATE: Katharine responds on Facebook, plus my response:


  • Katharine Round

    Interesting post, Michael. Although I agree that the piecemeal approach of the independent route is far from ideal, I have to disagree that all of the interesting films of recent times have come through broadcast TV. For me, good films break through onto television in spite of the system rather than because of it. Excellent films like the End of the LIne, Hell and Back Again, You’ve Been Trumped and many many more would have been unlikely broadcast prospects yet provide the kind of debate and creative, risk-taking filmmaking it desperately needs. I’m not saying good films aren’t made for TV – they are – but they tend to be from the either the same voices or formatted/made tabloid so they can be stomached by an audience that is assumed to desire such tosh.
    about an hour ago · Unlike ·  1
  • Michael Story

    Those are good examples of what the best of indie docs can do and we certainly agree that TV can stifle creative filmmaking, but I worry that the piecemeal indie funding model risks only putting forward films whose editorial perspectives already enjoy widespread support. Does anybody not think that Donald Trump is unpleasant, that the current Afghan War will be another slow and bloody failure, or that overfishing is a problem? Those are all great films to stimulate and entertain an audience, but what of films who premise is not certain to meet with approval?
    What I would like to see is a third option- one where films can be made untabloided and dumbed down (safe from the dread hands of the TV establishment) and without the need to reinforce the preconceptions of audiences (well meaning indie funders). Maybe we need to start something along the lines of the MacArthur genius grants. Award money to people rather than specific projects, then let them pursue their ideas.
    The kind of films I really love are ones where we get to see how the world looks to people outside of the norm, and I don’t mean the film student’s classic tactic of finding the nearest down and out at the bus stop and running cello music under their musings. Recently I saw an article about Africans living in London, among whom was a group of refugees from the Biafran War, still clinging to a four decades old dream of a nation which only existed for three years. The writer brushed over their story a bit but it made me think what an amazing doc that could be, to see what life would be like for people in that farcical and tragic situation- exactly the kind of project which would be considered too esoteric by TV yet lacking a simplistic political message to tempt the indie crowd.
    You’ve got me rambling again, and on a Saturday night too!
    4 minutes ago · Like

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