CIFF Diary: Day 10 - Social Media: Spreading the Word

10/16 - At the last of three panels I would attend at the fest, the CIFF assembled film makers who have had experience and success in using social media to promote their work to talk about the role social networking and fundraising sites are having on film culture.  The panel included Xan Aranda, director of Andrew Bird:  Fever Year, which premiered at the fest the previous evening; Rider Strong, who was screening his short film Method at the fest;  Ky Dickens, director of the documentary Fish Out of Water; and Kristen Kaza, who co-directs Yellow Wing Productions, which she co-founded with Dickens in 2007. The panel was mediated by Stephen Gossett, who is the managing editor of the Chicago culture guide Flavorpill Chicago.

Social Media panel:  Gossett, Kaza, Dickens, Strong, and Aranda 
The panel attempted to get at how social media is changing the nature of how films are funded, shot, distributed, and appreciated.  As the panel shared their experiences and insight, I kept recalling Aranda's post Fever Year Q & A the previous evening, within which she made an eloquent statement in praise of her paying audience and in support of the collective cinema experience, as she reminded us of the power of sitting beneath a projected film that is larger than yourself.  In a time when our attention is so consistently drawn to smaller and smaller screens, there is an interesting divide between the ways in which our "smart phones" simultaneously benefit the world of the film maker, while also being a threat to the overall experience of film.  As Aranda reminded us the night before, Andrew Bird is going to sound like shit on your iphone.  But, on the panel Sunday morning, we were reminded by all of the film makers that as a means to raise funds on sites like "Kickstarter" and "Indie GoGo," or as a way to create waves of communication and interest in your project through social media sites, the current technology shift must be embraced.  Personally, as a kid who grew up in a rural area, and for whom it was a challenge to find the fringe culture artifacts that fascinated me (recording "the Pirate" FM radio that faintly wafted over from Iowa on Sunday nights;  dubbing VHS of "Night Flight" episodes for friends), I rejoice in the current access that artists and activists have to their specific, niche audiences.  The ability for people to have more varied access to the media they care about--to even fund the media they care about--is a powerful thing, and works hand-in-hand with the current movement against corporate structures.

Protesters occupy Chicago during the CIFF
In the new media landscape, Kaza and Dickens are able to tap into the LGBT community in a much more pervasive way than they would have been able to 15 years ago.  Their film, Fish Out of Water, which uses animation, narrative, and historical analysis to deconstruct the seven bible verses used to condemn homosexuality, is thankfully reaching the increasingly far reaches of the internet, and, ideally, giving hope and a sense of interconnectedness to those who need to tap into that message.  Likewise, in a less politicized way, Strong also expressed the benefits of social media in accessing his niche audience, tapping into the "ComicCon" crowd with his new short film The Dungeon Master.  Ultimately, one of the most sober reminders on the shifting nature of the social media landscape came from Aranda, who works with Kartemquin films, the documentary production company that recently produced Steve James' The Interrupters.  She reminded us that Kartemquin films, whose legendary documentary work focuses mainly on social issues as examined through everyday human drama, used to refer to themselves as "New Media."  From the conclusions of this panel, film making is still an important part of the "New Media" landscape, and the channels of access and funding are widening.    

Up Next:  The much-hyped SXSW favorite Natural Selection.


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