Independent Cinema Is Not Over; All These “New People” Are Here.

by Wendy Levy | reprinted from Medium

It’s 7AM on a Tuesday morning in August in the middle of the coronavirus pandemic and I am so pissed that I am stopping all I’m supposed to be doing to rage against a Hollywood machine that is way more dangerous than we imagine.

Recent articles in The Guardian and Variety have given voice (again) to a white male-driven narrative that demonstrates just how quickly those in power rush to protect their thrones, decimate creative disruption, and act like crybabies.

On July 29, Variety published Director Oren Moverman on the Future of Movies: ‘Independent Cinema, as We Know It, is Over. by Owen Glieberman, and on August 10, Steve Rose’s piece, Sundance, sunset: is the death of indie cinema imminent? appeared in The Guardian.

Underlying my anger at this moment is the devastation of the last six months of death and dying, of a US government doing all it can for the last four years to undercut the humanity of this nation, and our democracy. The ups and downs of 2020 have led me to alternating states of despair and hope. I am lifted up by the community organizing and far-reaching activism of Black Lives Matter, MeToo, the Poor People’s Campaign, Climate Justice, and Immigrant’s Rights. We have so much to fight for.

Today, I am furious over the words of Owen Glieberman, Oren Moverman, and Steve Rose — three men I do not know, but who have collectively demonstrated how the industry I both love and hate defaults to the traditional racist/sexist/classist power structures as quickly as possible after a disruption, deploying and elevating white male pundits to silence the forces and voices of change.

“It’s very clear that independent cinema, as we know it and as we love it, is over.”

“And what of Sundance itself? The Mecca of indie film-making is starting to look more like a sanctuary. “

Dudes. Who are you to issue proclamations like this? Do you actively seek to diminish the hopes and dreams of emerging artists and reveal yourselves as dinosaurs and colonizers? Do you think you can unjustly minimize the efforts of multiple generations of visionary filmmakers and creative leaders who have worked through Sundance and so many other organizations to face head-on the inequality and degradation that is embedded in this industry? Some of us work tirelessly to foster innovation, collaboration, mentorship, and the sheer power of story to heal and reimagine the world we live in, the world we occupy. Sundance is a values-driven institution; it has lifted up many of us for so many years, bringing together extraordinary minds, cultures and spirits to explore what it means to be a storyteller, what it means to address and respond to our own shortcomings and challenges, and to encourage, support and connect us as a community — way beyond what is indicated by an opening weekend box office or a 6-figure Netflix deal.

Mecca/Sanctuary. Interesting choice of words Steve Rose uses to critique and denigrate a vibrant and important cultural institution like Sundance. Amidst the pandemic, helping to mitigate the struggles of small and mid-sized community media arts organizations across this country and around the world, and as both the Festival and the Institute face their own layoffs and reorganization — Sundance has been doing the work of galvanizing the independent media field, gathering creative leaders, being there for the struggle, coordinating support networks, resources and emergency grants to the field, running labs, workshops and virtual screenings and offering transparency around their own challenges and the retooling of the 2021 Festival in the face of the pandemic.

Rose also stresses that Oren Moverman has proclaimed “the death of Independent filmmaking as we know it.” As who knows it? As the privileged white boys with homes to mortgage and credit cards to max out in order to make their movie? Good riddance to that. Long live equal opportunity independent storytelling, long live inclusive and high quality arts education in public schools, long live sustainable jobs for media artists and filmmakers in and outside of Hollywood, long live a film industry with less hierarchy and more collaboration where artists who actually do the work are recognized for their contributions, and long live the institutions and organizations that gather around artists to support the bold stories that reflect and define our world and help reimagine our collective future. In the face of pandemic culture, and the struggles we all face to connect and be in proximity to one another, we need these stories and these artists more than ever.

And one last note, Owen Gleiberman.

I’m calling you out for exchanges like this:

The aftermath of the murder of George Floyd has provoked an incredible reckoning in America, and in the entertainment industry. Do you see this moment as having a lasting impact on movies?

Yes. Very much so. I think that’s one place where I’ve noticed that the change is real, and it doesn’t feel like it’s short-term. From what I’m seeing, there’s a real reckoning, there’s a real shifting of perspectives and of operational efforts.

And this:

And maybe that, and also the post-#MeToo universe, feeds into the other changes you’re talking about.

Absolutely. One of the things I like about what we do is that all these things sort of interact. Because there are all these new people coming in, all these new perspectives finally getting their full due. And out of that, new things will come.

It is unacceptable to reference the murder of George Floyd by police as a single, out-of-context event that has “provoked an incredible reckoning in America and in the entertainment industry.” What is this incredible reckoning? There has been no “incredible reckoning” with racism. It is beyond dehumanizing to reference George Floyd’s murder apart from the history and persistence of anti-black racism that pervades this country and our industry — and to pose a question about an “incredible reckoning” that is undefined and in fact, non-existent. It is clear from Oren Moverman’s non-response that he had nothing specific to add to your question. This kind of exchange is indicative of how our industry is already attempting to default as quickly as possible to business-as-usual, to get past the “race conversation” without actually dealing with it or working to repair the brokenness of the system.

And please, Owen, never again use the phrase “post-#MeToo universe.” We are NOT post-#MeToo. We are NOT post-#MeToo. And you do not get to say when we are.

And when Oren Moverman says to you that “all these things sort of interact” and “all these new people are coming in” and you just leave it there, you end there… that silence is deafening. All these “new” people? All these new people. All of us women and black and brown people coming in. Native people, coming in. Watch out, disabled people are here. Queer people, we are coming in. OMG. All these new people. All these new people. All these new people.

Praise be. This is the hope for the future of our storytelling. This is the hope for the beloved sanctuaries and meccas that hold our field together and tend to our artists and our communities. Listen up industry. Do not deny Michaela Coel the rights to her own damn story. Do not listen to our ideas, reject them one day and steal and develop them the next. Do not pay women less than men. Do not overlook BIPOC staff for promotion. Do not proclaim our movements are over when they are just beginning.

Wendy Levy is the Executive Director of The Alliance for Media Arts + Culture, and former Senior Consultant for the Sundance Institute.