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The Seed&Spark Blog

Towards a Poor Cinema, Part II

June 5, 2015

• James Kaelan

This article was originally published on brightideasmag.com
 
In my private theorizing, I have imagined the ideal film collective as a small group dedicated to the production of one film (or a succession of films): a writer/director/editor; a creative producer/co-director/co-writer/co-editor; a cinematographer; and a producer of marketing and distribution, hell bent on communicating the group’s vision to the world, and getting the film seen.
 
Having spent some time recently, though, at the Sarasota Film Festival with Leah Meyerhoff, founder of Film Fatales, I’ve realized that my rigid, almost militaristic conception of a film collective is by no means the only format. I’d like to think that the four-person collective isn’t chauvanist; but it’s certainly patriarchal—even if the leader were a woman. On the other hand, Meyerhoff’s collectivist tactic—receptive and malleable—is decidedly feminist.
 
Film Fatales, which Meyerhoff founded in early 2013, as their website states, is “a collective of female filmmakers who have directed at least one feature narrative or documentary film and meet regularly to support each other, collaborate on projects, and discuss topics in film.”
 
The aim is general. Fewer than five percent of films released by Hollywood studios in 2014 were directed by women. And Film Fatales works to draw attention to that gross underrepresentation, while simultaneously raising the visibility of the women who—were they to choose a career in the commercial movie system—should be helming projects in equal proportion to men.
 
Meyerhoff, who directed the SXSW-premiering I Believe in Unicorns opening theatrically May 29th, has used her film’s prodigious festival run as a platform for amplifying Film Fatales’ political message. Hardly a week has gone by since March 2014 that Meyerhoff hasn’t been at a festival—from Austin, TX, to Wroclaw, Poland—supporting Unicorns, and leading a panel of women directors in a discussion about gender parity in film.
 
 
“Film Fatales is a peer mentoring system and burgeoning social movement,” Meyerhoff says. “Instead of waiting for permission to make our films, we are green-lighting them ourselves and collectively getting them made and seen. We are creating the world we want to live in.”
 
For our purposes, though, Film Fatales provides a markedly different model for the film collective. As founder of the original New York chapter, Meyerhoff is the closest thing the organization has to a leader. But with major chapters in Los Angeles and Toronto, and satellites orbiting as far from Brooklyn as Sao Paulo and Sydney, Fatales is, by design, decentralized. If Fatales can’t exist without Meyerhoff, it’s a failure.
 
In order to compare Film Fatales with our bounded (and still theoretical) collective, it’s time to draw some analogies and coin some terms!
 
The solitary auteur (a myth, of course; no art form is more collaborative than film), is like a noble gas: stable but unreceptive, and incapable of forming compounds. The collective structure presented at the beginning of this article, comprised of a fixed core of indispensable players, could be thought of—to borrow again from chemistry—as a covalent collective: Like two Hydrogen atoms sharing their electrons with Oxygen, a covalent collective is as stable as a molecule of water. The Fatales model, to stretch this metaphor to the breaking point, could be thought of as an ionic collective: United by an electrostatic attraction, like Sodium and Chlorine (the building blocks of table salt), members of an ionic collective are capable of dissolving and recombining to form infinite iterations of the same compound.
 
This chemical analogy isn’t perfect, of course. Within an isotopic category, atoms are interchangeable. Hydrogen is always Hydrogen, and Sodium is always Sodium. In film, a Cinematographer is not equal to another Cinematographer just because both know how to pick a lens and light a scene. Therefore it’s impossible to objectively evaluate the efficacy of a covalent collective in comparison to an ionic collective—especially as it relates to production.
 
An ionic film collective is more flexible. The same raw materials can produce an almost infinite combination of directors/producers/cinematographers/composers/etc, resulting in a wider spectrum of films. Conversely, a covalent collective is more rigid. And the spectrum of films it’s capable of producing is narrower. But a truly harmonious covalent collective, with its indivisible bonds, is more predictable—and therefore more efficient—on a film set, whereas, an ionic collective, newly formed in response to the energy influx of a project toward which the various members feel inconsistent allegiance, is more susceptible to chaos.
 
Where an ionic collective like Film Fatales is demonstrably superior, though, is on the periphery of a production.
 
Film Fatales utilizes the skills (and available time) of a large number of women to fill positions on film sets. But its incomparable power manifests in the promotion of the work produced within the collective. A woman in Fatales might use the network to hire a cinematographer for her second feature, but then when that film reaches the festival circuit—or gets a conventional theatrical release in LA, as members Jennifer Prediger and Jess Weixler’s Apartment Troubles did in April 2015—Fatales support the screenings broadly across social media, and show up in person to buy tickets.
 
 
A covalent collective of four, though arguably more valuable at the production stage (a battle-tested, tight-knit group that speaks in a common shorthand greatly reduces the occurrence of weak link saboteurs), also has considerably less ability to amplify its message than a ionic collective of 40—or 400.
 
In an ideal world, then, a vast number of ideologically-aligned covalent collectives—like individual water molecules—would combine forces to spread a cohesive message while retaining individuality. Or perhaps the inherent insolubility of a covalent collective ensures homogeneity and egotistical tribalism, thus in the long run proving the ionic collective’s innate malleability superior.
 
The exciting part is, we don’t yet know! Which is why, over the coming months, we’ll use this platform to interrogate the different manifestations of the film collective, and see if we can’t determine the ideal, stable model.
 
So, if you have federated—loosely or rigidly—with one or more people into a shared-effort film collective, tell us your story! And if you’re a woman who’s directed a feature film, get in contact with your local Film Fatales chapter!!

Read more by

James Kaelan

Editor-in-Chief of BRIGHT IDEAS magazine.

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