Just Make Media!

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Monday, February 12, 2007

REFOCUS: THE STATE OF MEDIA IN MINNESOTA


After we faced the prospect last year about this time of the Oak Street Cinema closing, the staff of Minnesota Film Arts (MFA) being let go and possibly the complete loss of our 25 plus years of Minneapolis St. Paul International Film Festival the picture looked grim. Was the writing on the wall?

The fact the dismall prognosis was being written all over the country, not just here in Minnesota. Brian Newman, a New York media center visionary could see the furure and it looked grim for non-profit media arts organizations around the country. AIVF was failing. And a whole bunch of revival house cinemas were closing. The IFP national franchise was breaking apart, chapters closing, and they were all changing their names in the attempt to break from past identities and feuding that has plagued them in recent years. Here in Minnesota former rivals at Oak Street and UFilm become partners were now biting at each others throats, exchanging accusations and, come on let's admit it, they were throwing snowballs at each other over in Dinkytown at the Varsity Theater community meeting on the future of MFA! Not a pretty sight.

And I remember the day Chuck Olson walked in the door at IFP and proclaimed, "It has never been better for indie makers!"

While these old venerated institutions in the media arts community were facing either renewal or death, out there in the ether(net) new horizons await for those who are not embroiled in these old battles. Chuck Olson can see it. Juan Antonio and Cristina "the Chasing Windmill" folks can see it. How will the community adapt?

Yes, it is time for the media artists to embrace the future and think seriously about how we do things together. How we create. How we collaborate. The places from where production orignates and the destination where our works are going. The phrase I keep hearing over and over is the train has already left the station and is speeding down the tracks. Either we get on the train or let it pass us by.

There is no lack of quality talent in Minnesota. Or as entertainment attorney Dan Satorius says, there is plenty of talent here and quite probably more than in Austin, Portland, or Miami. In Texas they point to Ethan Hawk, Richard Linklater and Robert Rodriguez as the talented triad that built the city into one of the leading indie film centers in the nation. Our list is longer.

But the train is running down the track and the future leaders in the indie film movement are not cutting super 8 films with razor blades and hot gluing the splices together like Linklater did with his first film. All the rules are changing and they are sweeping the media industry. More and more, we are seeing a convergence of artistic sensibilities as well as mediums and technologies. Nobody can avoid it or if they do they will run the risk of wasting up on the shore like dead fish with mercury poison.

Film distribution is changing. Film production is changing. Film itself has changed.

And thus, if you look at the old models and notions of "media access centers" and "revival house cinema" we are in the midst of a radical revolution in culture. If you look at the constituency of 40-year-old plus who used to be the patrons of the old non-profit cinema you will see them installing home theaters in their basement or rec room and a collection of classic movies that rival Ted Turner.

If you look at the generation of 20-somethings, their media viewing experiences have been completely transformed and the idea of "media access" is ancient if not unknown to them. The kids edit their films on their Powerbooks. Given them a free editing bench somewhere and they would rather say home and do it.

In this light the leadership in the media industry need to re-examin their charters and purpose and reinvent their methods.

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