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August 27, 2007

Comments

Noralil Ryan Fores

Do you think the environments actively sheltered by the filmmakers themselves, or rather actively sheltered by the inactivity of the filmmaker's characters to reach outside their oft-insular communities? I can't see either point really.

I assume in approaching these films that the filmmakers are working with their friends--without cognizance to race, sexual preference or religion. In fact Joe Swanberg has directly said as much in past interviews. In my eyes, this is a great indication that the lack of prejudice with which these filmmakers were nutured presses them to make films simply about interesting people.

It's seems an unfair charge to lay this burden on these filmmakers' heads, particularly because they've been--to their benefit and also to their chagrin--lumped into a movement.

Forcing a "people's perspective" on a group of artists who are merely trying to speak for themselves seems unjust to me. Perhaps this is a narrow-minded view, but individual intentions are important. I just think this group is trying to make good films however they can.

AJ Schnack

I don't think that the filmmakers are sheltered at all. In fact, they are reaching out in all kinds of interesting and creative ways. It's the characters in the films that I was referring to. Apologies for the lack of clarity on my part.

Sujewa

Hey AJ,

Nice to hear from you on this topic.

I was just thinking (like an hour ago) about the isolationism (kind of) thing that the US has gone through recently & how someone could argue that m-core movies reflect that kind of pulling away from anything remotely "other" - whether it is done intentionally or not. maybe the lack of engagement with "others" by m-core filmmakers is a response to the serious times that we live in - war on terror, foreign military adventures & all that. maybe for some people it is easier not to have any symbols of "otherness" in the visual/mental landscape.

filmmakers are not simple people (regardless of what they themselves say or what apologists for them say) - they think hard about things & they are very resourceful. specially young indie filmmakers. otherwise indie film would not exist - real indie film that is.
the m-core group are not "naive country folk" or something - all hail from major metropolitan areas or have spent time in those - definitely with all their film fest travels. if they wanted to cast some minority actors or non-actors in their movies, it would not have been able to do so. specially with Hanah - it had a real budget from what i hear ($50K to $100K).

reflection of ethnic diversity is not a priority for them, and that's cool - artists can do whatever they want. but what about the rest of the industry/scene that raises these artists to a prominent level? why are they also not concerned with reflecting the world as it exists - full of all kinds of people/different backgrounds, colors, etc.

or, let me put this in another way. why is m-core the only bunch of real indie filmmakers being celebrated right now by the collective forces of film festivals, media, distribution companies? (i am thinking that it is because m-core is an easy thing to sell to lots of "white" people) why weren't indie filmmakers like Gene Cajayon, Greg Pak, director of Charlotte Sometimes (title?) not celebrated as a group - they knew each other, worked on or at least in some ways helped each other out, made good real indie films, etc. Also, for all we know, there are tons of great, diverse, political, fiction filmmaking pockets out there in the fests or being self-distributed, but the collective light of the scene/industry is not shining on them.

my critique is not just about the m-core filmmakers, it is also about an industry/scene that should be engaged in issues of diversity, opportunity, politics, etc. as it has been in the past, as it should be because it claims to be independent (and it is independent from Hollywood)/progressive/liberal/concerned with justice, etc. what happens when indie fiction film loses interest in the real world, and also important issues? well, for one, the doc filmmakers pick up the slack (a good thing by the way). for another, we end up celebrating "movements" like m-core, which is as progressive & "dangerous" (to certain negative social habits) as an average teen drama on the WB (but with less entertainment value).

the DIY practices of m-core filmmakers is great, i am a fan of that. and as individuals they seem very cool, i have met & interacted with several of them. but, personally, as an audience member, i am not digging the fact that all their movies do not have much ethnic diversity. also, i am not digging the fact that the entire indie film scene/industry is not going out of its way to search for, find, & discover & celebrate (or even cultivate as Dentler has cultivated Swanberg's talent & work over the years) minority & female filmmakers. much Hollywood filmmaking is hopelessly out of touch, far removed from real life, has always been. and that's why the indie film scene/industry came into being in the early 80's. indie films' appeal to me has been that it is engaged in/with life to a much greater degree than Hollywood. and i think the scene/industry is not making things better by not celebrating filmmakers who reflect diversity in their films. yes, i expect, other than wild creativity & whatever else, some section of the indie film scene to be engaged in making things (society) better by dealing with important issues in creative ways. in the past, as you've pointed out, the indie film acts that have been celebrated by the scene/industry had that kind of a social engagement/justice/concerned with diversity & opportunity to all/many - even in passing - type of thing going on (John Sayles, Jim Jarmusch - mostly between the lines, Spike Lee - very directly & loudly, and more recently Greg Pak, also Jon Moritsugu; his Scumrock is a good example, Greg Araki definitely).

anyway, something like that :) we'll have this conversation in person at some point soon. arguments re: certain social situations are difficult to pin down clearly in this one way communication method/in comments.

and thanks for checking out my post & being interested in the topic.

- sujewa

Sujewa

the line "if they wanted to cast some minority actors or non-actors in their movies, it would not have been able to do so."

should read: "if they wanted to cast some minority actors or non-actors in their movies, it would not have been difficult to do so"

thanks.

- sujewa

David Lowery

I think AJ (and Tom Hall, by proxy, who notes that many of the films not included in the New Talkies series but come from within the same circle of talent do include minority characters) are on point here in their assesment of the situation, Sujewa. And while your comments about the industry, cottage and otherwise, are certainly considerable points, I don't think it's necessarily a case of socio-economic-gender profiling - it's more of a synergistic confluence. Could this have happened to a group of Asian filmmakers or African American filmmakers? Sure. There have certainly been groups of them who have, as you pointed out, known and worked together in the recent past. Had they wished to exploit their creative comraderie, I'm sure they could have found plenty of sympathetic parties and done just that. Audience of all backgrounds are certainly open to variety - it just has to be brought to them (it's not 100% comparable, but take the J-horror wave as an example - there was a successful niche that was successfully exploited to audiences all across the socio-economic spectrum). And judging by the reaction of some of the filmmakers linked under the Mumblecore banner, being promoted as a group isn't necessarily such a great thing.

Of course, I say all this while happening to be a white male, who does think it's somewhat odd that some notable female filmmakers were left out of the New Talkies series. But regardless, I think the danger of your argument is that it's come incredibly close on multiple occasions to a demand for a nonexistant and entirely unnecessary quota to be filled. All the filmmakers you cite as positive examples definitely had lots of good reasons to cast minority actors, but being PC was not one of them.

Sujewa

Hey David L.,

"But regardless, I think the danger of your argument is that it's come incredibly close on multiple occasions to a demand for a nonexistant and entirely unnecessary quota to be filled."

I do not think getting access to press, distribution, festival support, investors, etc. is unnecessary for minority filmmakers for developing their careers. Those things are very necessary, as they are necessary for "white" indie filmmakers. Thus the call for the industry to do more re: including minority filmmakers. Not sure what exactly you mean by PC; but what I am talking about is not about a gesture of niceness, but an actual change - a broadening - of what kinds of filmmakers get promoted (both "white" & everyone else also). When this thing does happen - a more inclusive industry is built, it will be economically a plus for the entire industry, & also a plus for audience members.

On the other hand, minority filmmaking is going to go up - numbers wise - no matter what due to cheap access to production. And eventually, once a separate & profitable self-distributed minority films industry is built manistream/"white" companies & press will become interested - as it has with many minority cultural products & movements in the US - the amount of $s to be made will be just too great to ignore. But, I am calling for skipping the 10 or so years between now and that development and for indie film festivals, media, distributors, financiers to actively look for minority talent to promote & support right now; promote & support as they have done with mumblecore filmmakers, & other "white" indie filmmakers for a couple of decades now.

- Sujewa

Sujewa

And David L., here is another "white" filmmaker's opinion on the need for the indie film industry to diversify (include more minority talent, from an iW article on the topic, link at my blog, a post from today 8/28):

" And later in the same article, here's director Jim McKay on the topic:

" "There probably aren't a lack of people of color pursuing jobs, but there are certainly an excess of people of whiteness in hiring positions -- and they are hiring their own," noted filmmaker and producer Jim McKay. Continuing he added, "Spike Lee single-handedly did more for the integration of the industry (and to bring non-whites in) than anyone in the modern history of film. And the real shame is that no one has carried the torch -- if everyone committed to doing a quarter of what Spike did in terms of hiring, things would change radically. But people are lazy. And selfish. And cowardly." " "

- Sujewa

David Lowery

On the one hand, you're very on point about the industry needing to recognize and promote minority filmmakers. But I think you need to pick your battles, Sujewa, because your argument is unnecessarily divided and thereby weakened, and you're spending far too much time splitting hairs.

What I mean when I say PC is that your failure to see why these Whitey McWhite filmmakers don't include minorities is a few steps away from demanding that they do -- it's political pressure.

My last film had a cast made up entirely of white people. One of my friends is half black, half Asian. I wanted her to be in it. When she wasn't able to make it, I didn't scramble to find another minority actress. I just got someone else. Who happened to be white.

That's the prinicpal by which I cast my movies. I get people who are right for the part and who I want to work with. I think all these Mumblecore filmmakers operate on the same principal. It's color blind.

And you can go ahead and hold the industry and the behind-the-scenes folks to different standards, as you've outlined above, but don't forget that some of the key people who made this New Talkies thing happen in the first place are in fact minorities. I think this has been brought up to you multiple times, at which points you stated that your argument is about the cast. So get your stories straight, keep fighting the good fight, and try to see the forest for the trees when necessary.

Sujewa

Hey David L,

Re: "What I mean when I say PC is that your failure to see why these Whitey McWhite filmmakers don't include minorities is a few steps away from demanding that they do -- it's political pressure."

Well, that's pretty much exactly what I am pointing out - for some reason or another, half a dozen directors have made films w/ very, very little minority presence in their movies/casts - in a country full of all kinds of minorities. This has pretty much been the case throughtout the history of mainstream American filmmaking - Hollywood, indie, indiewood, etc. There is always a reason given, but the end result is almost no minorities on the screen.

Of course the solution is for more directors - including minority directors - to make movies featuring minority & multi-ethnic casts - and that is being done. However, so far in the '00s - the potent combination of fest support, media support, distributor support has not been given to these directors as they have been given to M-core directors. As M-core is now a mainstream thing, I think it is totally fine to point out a significant way in which they are not reflecting current life; specially since such exclusion of minorities has gone on for decades in the US film world.

Yes, I know, it is getting better in Hollywood & indiewood to some degree. But there is a long way to go.

I just find the fact that the M-core group does not have any friends who are minority directors or did not have any friends who are minorities/minority actors to collaborate with to be kind of baffling; since media making scenes in big to medium size cities, also at film festivals, & on the web features/includes many minority filmmakers, actors, & people who are interested in working on or being in movies.

Yes, I am applying "political pressure" as you say - although I don't think it is political in a classical sense - maybe social or audience preference request - to at least have these directors who are going to be making more movies in the future (since they - at least a handful of them at the moment - are being well supported by various institutions that makes it possible for them to make & distribute movies) think about why they did not have significant minority presence in their movies in the past & if that topic is relevant to their other, upcoming movies.

Like I said in my original post at my blog, 100 million minorities in the US should equal more representation of non-"whites" in mainstream film & indie film. It would be a good thing for several reasons (wider ticket sales perhaps, greater employment & career building opportunities to more people from different backgrounds, social harmony, etc.)

Also, the generational label is being applied to M-core filmmakers in promoting their work. Well, why is it OK that they only represent a slice of the generation? Is the current 20's - 30's set completely without any non-"white" people? We both know that the answer is no.

Re:
"I think all these Mumblecore filmmakers operate on the same principal. It's color blind." Not sure about that one. I recall reading a Swanberg interview last year where he said something like he does not feel comfortable doing stories about minorities or something like that, I will have to look for it, it was on the web.

Re: "but don't forget that some of the key people who made this New Talkies thing happen in the first place are in fact minorities"

Really. That's news to me. Who are these people that you speak of?
Swanberg? Bujalski? Katz? In what ways are they ethnic minorities in the US? they look "white" to me, and the complaint is that film & indie film has not included enough non-"white"/dark skinned people, and still refuses to do so - even at the ultra-low/no budget level (though this refusal is explained away - there is always a different reason I guess; but the end result is the same).

I would have been more excited about watching your new movie had you included a minority actor in it. Not to say that I am going to skip it, but, it would have been better for me as an audience member. It might still be a great movie, but will be, according to my experience on Earth & America - lacking an important social detail - reflection of human ethnic/physical diversity.

- Sujewa

Tom

Hey all...

This argument is good to have, I think, but totally pointed in the wrong direction. What I don't get is why, Sujewa, you're not holding everyone up to the same standard to which you are holding micro-budget, DIY film makers? Andrew Bujalski has roles for women (his protagonist in Funny Ha Ha is a woman) and women of color (Seung-Min Lee's Sara is a love interest of Justin Rice's Alan in Mutual Appreciation) in his films. Craig Zobel get an incredible performance from Kene Holliday as Clarence and has several parts for women and children of color in Great World Of Sound, Zack Godshall's Low and Behold stars Eddie Rouse (who has also starred in David Gordon Green's films) in a terrific performance, and David Gordon Green's George Washington, featuring a large cast of non-professional African American children, was probably the foundation for the DIY aesthetic and community around which the current movement is built.

What about In Between Days by So Yong Kim, which fits precisely within the new DIY aesthetic and is one of my favorite films of this past year? How about The Motel, by Michael Kang? Or Somebodies by Hadji (which I was lucky enough to play at my film festival in 2006)? Or the upcomg Munyurangabo, by Lee Issac Chung and shot in Rwanda using non-actors? How about Year Of The Fish by David Kaplan or Dark Matter (which will never be seen now for its echoes of the Virginia Tech killings) by Shi-Zheng Chen?

I think you're taking a very very myopic view here, Sujewa. You're taking an artificial category, created by someone else (that is, this idea of 'mumblecore' which, I think, is not even a legitimate category) and then, in classic straw man fashion, taking people to task because you place them in the category you've created.

The reality is that American independent film is far more diverse than European cinema, is far more reflective of people of color and women than Hollywood ever was or will be. How can it be that three guys, Aaron Katz, Joe Swanberg and Andrew Bujalski, have to carry the burden of your political expectations despite the fact that, as I point out in my own piece about the current crop of DIY cinema, the whole essence of this new wave of inarticulateness is due precisely to the fact of the unspeakable burden of personal politics?

I think you have a legitimate point in there somewhere; It's obvious that, proportionately speaking, there are not enough stories being told from a diverse range of viewpoints, be they political, race-based, gender-based, or based upon sexual orientation. But why is
that Joe Swanberg's fault, and why is it his battle to fight? Because if you ask me, I'd much rather see In Between Days than watch Joe Swanberg or Aaron Katz take on the life of an Asian-American teenager in some bunk, jive-ass riff on a community they do not know.

More cameras in the hands of the people? Yes. But let's not lose sight of the fact that you're being unfair by creating your own standard and then taking people to task for not fitting your arbitrary selection. The scope of DIY film is far larger and more diverse than you are making it out to be. I am personally grateful for the diversity (which includes all of these terrific filmmakers).


Sujewa

Hey David L.,

I found that quote from Swanberg re: him being uncomfortable writing roles for minorities (from an '06 interview at GreenCine), I wrote about it here:

http://diyfilmmaker.blogspot.com/2007/08/this-is-swanberg-quote-from-06-that-got.html

- Sujewa

Sujewa

Tom,

My post re: lack of minority presence in Mumblecore films specifically points to the fest at IFC Center - The New Talkies: Generation DIY. I have seen several of the features being shown there - LOL, Puffy, Mutual App, Hannah, DPUSA, etc., and save for the role of the DJ in Mutual App, there are no minority actors or non-actors in those movies (as far as I know, have not seen every single one of the movies). The same way, as far as I know, all the directors that are a part of the fest are "white", and all of them might be male also.
But I did not make the gender thing an issue, I was mostly concerned about the lack of dark skinned minority presence in the M-core films being shown at IFC Center. Why is the IFC Center series significant - because it is a well publicized event w/ mainstream and oodles of indie film press coverage & w/ Hannah going out to, you know, probably many thousands of homes initially through the IFC Channel/First Take - Mumblecore is now a mainstream culture relevent thing.

I have always been interested in the topic of minority presence in American film - from Hollywood, indiewood, to now real indie as it crosses the border into greater visibility.

I know of, and have written about, several minority directors who have made low budget DV movies with minority & multi-ethnic characters/casts in some cases - Greg Pak, Jon Moritsugu, Gene Cajayon and of course on the non-minority front Mike Tully, Zobel, etc., but those films & those filmmakers were not the topic of discussion last week when all of us, and NYTimes were writing about the Gen DIY series.

You assumed that my specific post re: the Gen DIY series slice of Mumblecore is a post about all recent low budget DV filmmaking, that, in fact, was not the case. See proof at my blog: http://www.diyfilmmaker.blogspot.com/. Scroll down a couple of entries & read the post that starts "American minority @ 100 million...".

As always, nice discussing things with you. Also, it was cool to meet you at the blogger meet up on 8/23.

- Sujewa

Tom

OK, so you're pissed at John Vanco and Harris Drew for their selective programming at the IFC Center then? You should also give a shout out to Regal Cinemas, Lowes and the other huge national chains that would never show any of the films I previosuly listed, let alone Killer Of Sheep, which the IFC Center championed in re-release. Its sorta ridiculous, Sujewa, to expect these films to be all things to all people. Again, artificial category (The movies playing this week at the IFC Center called mumblecore... how much more myopic does it get?), a very narrow-minded complaint can't see the forest for the artificial trees, in my opinion.

Good meeting you, too.
Tom

Sujewa

And now, a point by point response to Tom's comment (my response in para):

"Hi Sujewa,"

(Hey Tom)

"I left this same exact comment over at AJ's blog, but I wanted to follow up here as well."

(cool)

"This argument is good to have, I think, but totally pointed in the wrong direction. What I don't get is why, Sujewa, you're not holding everyone up to the same standard to which you are holding micro-budget, DIY film makers?"

(as far as I know, I am)

"Andrew Bujalski has roles for women (his protagonist in Funny Ha Ha is a woman)"

(that's cool)

"and women of color (Seung-Min Lee's Sara is a love interest of Justin Rice's Alan in Mutual Appreciation) in his films."

(I have mentioned that fact before)

"Craig Zobel get an incredible performance from Kene Holliday as Clarence and has several parts for women and children of color in Great World Of Sound,"

(GWOS is not a part of the Gen DIY fest, was not getting a ton of press when I wrote the post re: lack of minority presence in M-core movies)

"Zack Godshall's Low and Behold stars Eddie Rouse (who has also starred in David Gordon Green's films) in a terrific performance,"

(cool, have not seen it yet)

"and David Gordon Green's George Washington, featuring a large cast of non-professional African American children, was probably the foundation for the DIY aesthetic and community around which the current movement is built."

(Dogme 95 is what popularized DV filmmaking, it is cool however that Green made GW)

"What about In Between Days by So Yong Kim,"

(not a part of the Gen DIY fest and not typically considered - in articles/press - to be a part of M-core)

"which fits precisely within the new DIY aesthetic and is one of my favorite films of this past year?"

(cool)

"How about The Motel, by Michael Kang? Or Somebodies by Hadji (which I was lucky enough to play at my film festival in 2006)? Or the upcomg Munyurangabo, by Lee Issac Chung and shot in Rwanda using non-actors? How about Year Of The Fish by David Kaplan or Dark Matter (which will never be seen now for its echoes of the Virginia Tech killings) by Shi-Zheng Chen?"

(none of those films were a part of the Gen DIY fest, also not considered to be a part of the M-core scene/movement)

"I think you're taking a very very myopic view here, Sujewa."

(wrong Tom, I think you did not read my post last week re: this issue too carefully)

"You're taking an artificial category, created by someone else (that is, this idea of 'mumblecore' which, I think, is not even a legitimate category)"

(the category is not artificial anymore - M-core filmmakers refer to it in interviews, mainstream media writes about it, it is a real category, there is even a chart by one of the Benten guys as to who belonged to it a few months ago)

"and then, in classic straw man fashion, taking people to task because you place them in the category you've created."

(i did not create the category. and, there are not very many non-"white" actors or non-"white" filmmakers (none) in m-core filmmakers highlighted in the Gen DIY fest)

"The reality is that American independent film is far more diverse than European cinema,"

(yeah, i know about the diversity of American film as a whole. America is also more diverse than Europe in many significant ways, also more integrated)

"is far more reflective of people of color and women than Hollywood ever was or will be."

(not true at the moment)

"How can it be that three guys, Aaron Katz, Joe Swanberg and Andrew Bujalski, have to carry the burden of your political expectations"

(it is an indie film audience member expectation, let's not confuse this with real politics, this is not as significant as that. those three guys are the most celebrated - along with the Duplass bros - of the m-core gang at the moment, and are a part of the Gen DIY series - the most visible of all M-core screening events)

"despite the fact that, as I point out in my own piece about the current crop of DIY cinema, the whole essence of this new wave of inarticulateness is due precisely to the fact of the unspeakable burden of personal politics?"

(the "unspeakable burden of personal politics" is not limited to "white" people only)

"I think you have a legitimate point in there somewhere;"

(true)

"It's obvious that, proportionately speaking, there are not enough stories being told from a diverse range of viewpoints,"

(true)

"be they political, race-based, gender-based, or based upon sexual orientation. But why is
that Joe Swanberg's fault,"

(it isn't, i am only holding Swanberg responsible for his own work only)

"and why is it his battle to fight?"

(it isn't totally, but, as a somewhat well know American independent film director now, any issue that concerns that sector of the industry will be of relevance to Swanberg from certain perspectives)

"Because if you ask me, I'd much rather see In Between Days than watch Joe Swanberg or Aaron Katz take on the life of an Asian-American teenager in some bunk, jive-ass riff on a community they do not know."

(it is possible for Swanberg or Katz to make a good movie about an Asian-American teenager, as it is possible for an Asian-American to make a good movie about hipster indie filmmakers - as Jon Moritsugu has done in Scumrock, and it is possible for a "white" filmmaker to make a good film about a couple of young Japanese tourists - as Jarmusch has done in Mystery Train, the human experience & good reflection of which is not controlled by the political or tribal labels of race or ethnicity, rather by talent & skill & desire to reflect)

"More cameras in the hands of the people? Yes. But let's not lose sight of the fact that you're being unfair by creating your own standard and then taking people to task for not fitting your arbitrary selection."

(the standard of integration being a good thing, also reflection of societal diversity being a good thing is a widely held standard at this point in the US)

"The scope of DIY film is far larger and more diverse than you are making it out to be."

(i know very well about the diversity in DIY film, as I am a part of that diversity, however, I was pointing out the lack of diversity in the Gen DIY slice of Mumblecore)

"I am personally grateful for the diversity (which includes all of these terrific filmmakers)."

(i am also a big fan of diversity, and the celebration of which or non-"white" artists getting as much press & opportunities as "white" artists)

Tom

Hey again Sujewa,

I just want to say that I don’t take this personally and relish the opportunity to discuss these issues, so let’s try again… I’ll skip the parts where we seem to agree (if I can) and I’m going to move some things around out of original sequence for the sake of clarifying my points.


>>Point 1: You are artificially creating a very narrow set of parameters for your argument, parameters which do not fit the reality of what is happening.

Me: "Craig Zobel get an incredible performance from Kene Holliday as Clarence and has several parts for women and children of color in Great World Of Sound,"

Sujewa: GWOS is not a part of the Gen DIY fest, was not getting a ton of press when I wrote the post re: lack of minority presence in M-core movies.

>>Well, it got plenty of press at Sundance and will get more when it’s actually released in theaters in a few weeks, but OK. Great World of Sound may or may not count because you don’t know it. Let’s move on…

Me: “You're taking an artificial category, created by someone else (that is, this idea of 'mumblecore' which, I think, is not even a legitimate category)"

Sujewa: the category is not artificial anymore - M-core filmmakers refer to it in interviews, mainstream media writes about it, it is a real category, there is even a chart by one of the Benten guys as to who belonged to it a few months ago.

Me: and David Gordon Green's George Washington, featuring a large cast of non-professional African American children, was probably the foundation for the DIY aesthetic and community around which the current movement is built.

Sujewa: Dogme 95 is what popularized DV film making, it is cool however that Green made GW

>> Well, which is it? Aaron Hillis’ silly little map, which includes Craig Zobel, Michael Tully, David Gordon Green who, if you know about these filmmakers, has given many of them experience on the sets of his films—or is it the seven films that the IFC Center has selected, only one of which you were in town to see? The press that a major TV network’s film distribution arm was able to generate for a films series at its flagship theater defines the broad array of young, 20-something American filmmakers working in DIY how again? Pick your argument. Which category is it; The artificial chart that is a map of social relations more so than cinematic similarity, or the seven films John Vanco and Harris Drew assembled at the IFC Center? What about the very similar program at Harvard earlier in the year that included In Between Days? I’m going to put the Dogme comment aside because that is simply not true in the case of the movies you’re arguing against (although it may be an inspiration for you.)

Let’s move on…


Me: “Zack Godshall's Low and Behold stars Eddie Rouse (who has also starred in David Gordon Green's films) in a terrific performance,"

Sujewa: cool, have not seen it yet

>>Ok, so you don’t know it but since it’s not at IFC Center this week it doesn’t fit. Gotcha.

Me: "What about In Between Days by So Yong Kim,"

Sujewa: not a part of the Gen DIY fest and not typically considered - in articles/press - to be a part of M-core

>>Hit the brakes here. You’re wrong about that one. You’re letting the work of other people (“the press?” “the media?”) define things for you. In Between Days has a lot in common with the seven films (or so) at the IFC Center. Again, why are you obsessed with these few films on one screen in New York? What is the REALITY? The reality is its far more diverse than you’re willing to admit. I stand by what I said; this is all straw man and is intellectually dishonest.

Me: How about The Motel, by Michael Kang? Or Somebodies by Hadji (which I was lucky enough to play at my film festival in 2006)? Or the upcomg Munyurangabo, by Lee Issac Chung and shot in Rwanda using non-actors? How about Year Of The Fish by David Kaplan or Dark Matter (which will never be seen now for its echoes of the Virginia Tech killings) by Shi-Zheng Chen?"

Sujewa: none of those films were a part of the Gen DIY fest, also not considered to be a part of the M-core scene/movement

>>But are they a part of this discussion? Absolutely, because I refuse to accept your empty, false premise that somehow these films are not part of the same movement as the ‘New Talkies’ films; Broaden your umbrella and see the forest for the trees; The distinctions you are making are being made because of programming choices by a single theater in Manhattan and the press it generated and none of that has much at all to do with the reality of independent filmmaking. The handheld and improvised qualities that define many of these films is an aesthetic commonality between many many more films than what have been programmed at the IFC Center this week. Which makes your later points about the lack of diversity and equality of opportunity specious because you don’t recognize that the films I listed above have far more in common with one another than you’re willing to concede because you’re fixated on the IFC Center series.

Sujewa: i did not create the category. and, there are not very many non-"white" actors or non-"white" filmmakers (none) in m-core filmmakers highlighted in the Gen DIY fest)

Me: “(Independent Film) is far more reflective of people of color and women than Hollywood ever was or will be."

Sujewa: not true at the moment

>>You can’t be serious? If you’re reducing the world of independent film to this myopic category you’ve created (be serious, no one else in the world would argue that what’s playing at the IFC Center in a programmed series is somehow representative of independent film as whole), then you’re simply wrong. If you think Hollywood is more inclusive than independent film as a whole, and is far more reflective of the concerns of people of color, queer culture and women than independent film, I’m not sure where to go from here.

Me: "despite the fact that, as I point out in my own piece about the current crop of DIY cinema, the whole essence of this new wave of inarticulateness is due precisely to the fact of the unspeakable burden of personal politics?"

Sujewa: the "unspeakable burden of personal politics" is not limited to "white" people only

>>Who said it was? My point was that for our generation, this inarticulateness about and apathy toward politics in film is a symptom of the burden adding such issues will bring to the films. In other words, if you’re going to make a film about race, for example, or that deals with racial issues, the burden of “Race In America” is a big one and you better not fuck around with it. You better say what you have to say and say it properly, because you’re carrying a lot of baggage. The same with Iraq, or gender or labor or homophobia; If you can’t say everything that needs to be said, sometimes it is better to say nothing at all.

Me: “and why is it (Joe Swanberg’s) battle to fight?"

Sujewa: it isn't totally, but, as a somewhat well know American independent film director now, any issue that concerns that sector of the industry will be of relevance to Swanberg from certain perspectives

>>And as a human being, anything that happens in the universe will be of relevance to Swanberg from certain perspectives. Sujewa, what are you talking about? You’re saying that Joe Swanberg has a responsibility to talk about every issue “that concerns that sector of the industry” (i.e. independent film directors?) What certain perspectives are you talking about? Should Joe make movies about gay women of color if he has no experience or understanding of the experience of those characters (I use that example as the opposite of straight white male)? If that’s the case, why shouldn’t you be holding Rose Troche’s feet to the fire for not telling the story of straight white men in her films? Because that’s not how art works.

It’s interesting that in your postings on this subject you mention Jim McKay; I was at a great screening at MoMA of Our Song when it came out in 2000. The cast was all in attendance; it was a real celebratory mood. And the first question from the audience that night was from an African-American woman who asked Jim McKay what right he had telling stories that had nothing to do with him and his history; Why wasn’t he leaving the story of working-class African-Americans for African-American people to tell? She was booed by the all African-American cast in attendance, but McKay took the question quite seriously, saying that the concerns of the working-class African American community were in fact his concerns and that he had every right to tell that story since, to this point in history, no one else had. Which leads me to…

Sujewa: it is possible for Swanberg or Katz to make a good movie about an Asian-American teenager, as it is possible for an Asian-American to make a good movie about hipster indie filmmakers - as Jon Moritsugu has done in Scumrock, and it is possible for a "white" filmmaker to make a good film about a couple of young Japanese tourists - as Jarmusch has done in Mystery Train, the human experience & good reflection of which is not controlled by the political or tribal labels of race or ethnicity, rather by talent & skill & desire to reflect.

>>Here again, we diverge. If you want to point to an example of a white filmmaker not taking the concerns of race seriously enough, you can draw a straight line to Jarmusch (which, by the way, is also fine by me). I love his films, which aren’t really about racial identity so much as a hip co-opting of racial difference as a point of Regan-era “cool” (and as such are terrific) but, unlike McKay, are not about race with a capital ‘R’. Now, the fact that Jarmusch casts a wide-array of races for roles adds a level of problematic issues to his films that are just the type of thing this generation of DIY looks to avoid. To take a more foreign example, was Nobuhiro Suwa, a Japanese director working in France, able to make a film about a bourgeoisie Fremch couple in A Perfect Couple? Certainly! Do I believe Katz and and Swanberg could make a Mystery Train? Certainly. But because they have not done so is not a sign of their irresponsibility toward people of color.

What about Martin Scorsese? The Farrelly Brothers? Judd Apatow? Chris Nolan? Steven Spielberg? Paul Schrader? David Cronenberg? Atom Egoyan? George Lucas?

Pick your battles, Sujewa. And when you do, at least be honest about it by playing fair.

Best, Tom

Sujewa

My response to Tom's latest is at my blog, too lengthy of a post to copy & post again - at: http://www.diyfilmmaker.blogspot.com/, in the 8/28 post re: Swanberg.

- Sujewa

Sujewa

Ooops, that should read the 8/29 post re: Swanberg. Here is the direct URL:

http://diyfilmmaker.blogspot.com/2007/08/this-is-swanberg-quote-from-06-that-got.html

Also, I made a new post today re: the existence of a couple of Mumblecore films, outside of the Gen DIY series, that do have significant minority presence, as Tom has pointed out earlier.

- Sujewa

Chris

AJ,
You write that these films "...reflected a kind of forced insularity, the cocooning of the familiar that many embrace in their lives... the lack of diversity almost seems to partly be the point."

In saying this, I think you are too quick in your defense of M-core (and other) filmmakers. When Sujewa and others complain about a lack of dark-skinned characters (especially lead actors and actresses), it's way too easy to say "well, maybe that's the filmmaker's point..." Why would including minority talent take away from the fact that the characters are insular, sheltered, or lost in this world?

As Sujewa has pointed out, Swanberg has himself admitted to his own forced insularity -- his decision to live in an all-white hipster community. Bravo to him for making films reflecting that community; shame on him (and anyone else) for refusing to step out of it.

Let's not excuse filmmakers for their omissions. If they want to become defensive about it (e.g. Mike Tully) that's their business. But let's call it as it is -- we as filmmakers continue to work in an industry and an environment that rewards those who operate in the status quo, and ignores those who won't.

Sujewa

Hey Chris,

Thanks for the comment here & at my blog. Nice to have you join the discussion.

- Sujewa

aaron

"As Sujewa has pointed out, Swanberg has himself admitted to his own forced insularity -- his decision to live in an all-white hipster community. Bravo to him for making films reflecting that community; shame on him (and anyone else) for refusing to step out of it."

this, for me, sums it up. a common complaint against hipsters, for example, is that they only hang out w/ other hipsters, i.e., they're snobby, insular, etc. so what is the difference between a group of snobby, insulated hipsters only hanging out w/ each other and swanberg, et. al. choosing only to associate/make films about white, middle- to upper-class "indie" twentysomethings?

i used to work at a zine distro/store in portland, so this whole aesthetic/scene is very familiar to me. needless to say, i *was* the only non-white person around. truth be told, i didn't really notice it till one day when my boss (who is white) mentioned that a lot of the scene/diy/indie kiddies (read: your stock "mumblecore" type) who came into our store always eyed me suspiciously. which was funny since *i* was the one working there. what did they think i was going to do? steal from my place of employment? ironic, considering that i'd be willing to bet that at least 80% of our customers there were unemployed and living off mommy and daddy's dime.

so what bothers me about "mumblecore" (other than the fact that they're kind of lifeless, safe, boring movies (where's the dirt? the grime? the passion? the muck of living?)) is that, like the zine/diy/indie crowd i was involved w/ in portland, you expect a certain degree of progressive liberalism, but the reality is that these people are very sheltered, stunted, uncultured kids who may have gone to college, but are strikingly ignorant about the world. if that's what you wanna be, cool, but why dress yourself up as some alternative? to what? we're all ignorant, but why be complacent about it? this is but one of the things that separates cassavetes from swanberg, bujalski, et. al. (a comparison that's breakdancing on my last nerve)-- cassavetes made films about *other people.* his films were populated w/ people from all walks of life, because he knew that, ultimately, problems are problems and everyone deals w/ the same shit: disease, anxiety, love, hatred, death. superficially, you could say that "shadows" is "about" race, but you're missing the point. what is the subtext to "mumblecore"? that black or asian or working-class white people are aliens who have weird, alien problems that are totally unfathomable to sxsw contingent?

as far as mainstream directors like nolan, scorsese, etc. who are supposedly only making white, middle- to upper-class movies (someone should tell morgan freeman this), uh, no they're not. but even if they were, i thought the whole point of an "indie" movement was to offer an alternative? but the racial and class make-up is but one concern of mine when it comes to "mumblecore"; it's just that, so far, it's been the most publicized gripe. i find it very telling that a recent interview w/ swanberg revelead that one of his favorite movies is "that thing you do!"; in addition, he confesses that he really just wants to make romantic comedies. aw. how adorable. but that's what "mumblecore" is, isn't it? humorless romantic comedy. er, no thanks. again, i ask, alternative to what?

and speaking of comedy gold:

"It’s interesting that in your postings on this subject you mention Jim McKay; I was at a great screening at MoMA of Our Song when it came out in 2000. The cast was all in attendance; it was a real celebratory mood. And the first question from the audience that night was from an African-American woman who asked Jim McKay what right he had telling stories that had nothing to do with him and his history; Why wasn’t he leaving the story of working-class African-Americans for African-American people to tell? She was booed by the all African-American cast in attendance . . . "

this is SO TRUE because one black person *can* speak for all black people! we're magickal that way. brilliant.

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