At this time of the year, many of us reflect on the year that was and look forward to the year to come.
For me (and I’ll cut to the chase here): 2014 was all about the revealing of the truly corrupt and ugly nature of old power structures. The lesson was there in my professional life as I battled to finish my second film in a way that felt true and authentic to me. It was there in my home country of Scotland when they had a referendum for independence that was squashed by the conjoining of oil, financial, corporate and political powers all seeking to maintain the crooked status quo. It was there in the murder of unarmed Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, and the subsequent decision by a grand jury not to indict the cop who killed him. It was there in the so-called “Torture Report”. It was there in the “sad and sickening” (-Ava DuVernay) leaked emails of the big guns of Sony. It was there in the statistics of how many women or people of color directed movies this year, essentially unchanged for thirty years.
Everywhere I looked, everywhere I tried to find a different narrative, something encouraging: I found the same. The old holders of power are not letting go. In many cases, they won’t even acknowledge there’s a problem. And they hoodwink the public however they can so they can maintain the same, sick set up which ultimately means that power and money stays in the hands of very few, and that the voices, needs, and wishes of the many are denied.
The effect of this hammering message on me has been simple: shit has got to change.
For too long, I’ve accepted the dominant system as the one I want to participate in – which is odd, considering my background. Previously working as yoga teacher and then as a screenwriter, I made my first film, Obselidia, off the grid, without support from any established system or company. It was a radical act of self-empowerment and self-expression. Had I sought funding from a traditional source, I guarantee the resulting film would neither be so unique nor so beloved; if it had been made at all, the oddness of it would have been watered down – and yet it’s the oddness that gives it its particular power.
Strangely though, after the film was accepted to Sundance, I started playing again by the rules. Taking meetings, working with a manager, strategizing conventional ways to get my second film off the ground. The result of this is that I’ve spent the best part of the last two years making my second movie, and learning an awful lot about how I don’t want to make a movie.
Fortunately I know there is another way to make a movie – the way that I made Obselidia. A way that is creative, enriching, open hearted and open minded. A way that I think also gives you, the artist or creator, the best chance of making something great, something that can connect deeply with an audience, something that is authentic and true. And so, with Chris Byrne, I launched the Rebel Heart Film Workshop so that I could share that way, so that others will be empowered to make great choices whether its their first movie or their seventh.
In 2014, simply put: the paradigm shifted for me, and I awakened to a vision of a new model of possibility for artists like myself working in movies today.
A few thoughts on the new model:
The new model is dependent upon grassroots community, not upon approval from the powers that be.
The new model is based on inclusivity and generosity, on modesty and kindness, not on ego, greed or the desire for power or control.
The new model is made possible by technological developments – in terms of being able to raise funds (thank you Kickstarter, Indiegogo and beautiful Seed and Spark), produce quality work for lower amounts, as well as to distribute work to audiences in a way that financially benefits the filmmaker in a meaningful way (hello VHX, and Vimeo on Demand). Technology is also vital in building community – I was slow to catch on to this; for years I was a reluctant user of Facebook and a stranger to Twitter. I’m now endeavoring to move out of my comfort zone, and to my surprise, even though still new to it, I have found that I’m loving engaging more in social media. Through Twitterchats (like the fabulous #filmcurious one hosted by Seed&Spark), I feel like I’m connecting with my true tribe. What took me so long to come to the party?! Attachment to the old models…ha! Enough of them. Time for shit to change.
The new model can succeed only if enough of us choose to participate in it in a meaningful and heartfelt way. To reject the status quo, to embolden ourselves and our fellow filmmakers and friends. To live, work and consume according to our true values. To make better films ourselves, the best we are able to do, raising the bar ever higher, and higher, and to support the work of other rebels however we can. To engage, to educate and inspire. To work our asses off, to be bold, to be fearless, to be open to learning and at the same time, to openly share our knowledge, information, experience and time.
Are you ready to do that?
This is not merely about making films. This is about embracing filmmaking as an art form that has the power to change the world, and stepping up to that plate. The films we watch don’t just reflect our reality, they create it, and we need to own that and be responsible for it, as much as we are able.
The new model is about a profound revolution. Personal, professional, societal, global.
If like me, you’re tired of the narrative you’ve been watching play out this past year, if you too have found yourself thinking ,“shit has got to change,” then think about this: power is not given. Not ever. It’s taken. If you have dreamt of making a movie, this is the year to do it. Do not wait any longer for someone to give you permission, to give you power. Give yourself permission, take your power, and join the revolution.
Happy new year. Let’s make 2015 one to remember.
PS. See you on Twitter!