As revealed by the blatant bias of my recent blog on politics in film, I am a creature of the left. I doubt this is either a surprise or a problem for you, chances are you think of yourself the same way. However the simple left/right binary is a broken clock when used to explain 21st century politics; no surprise for a metaphor that casts back to the aisles of a church in revolutionary Paris. There was a time when your work all but dictated your political alignment, but now? What does filmmaking make you now?
My lazy guess is that most of you would consider yourself neither socially or politically conservative. Also we’re artists and likely started our careers poor and that alone probably means it took us all fewer mental gymnastics to feel like we’re on the side of the hard done by mass. Except art and socialism only fit together when viewed on a wide shot. Most art is focused around the individual expression of the artist’s experience. Aren’t we the difficult ones who spell team with an I? Isn’t the only reason most of us don’t feel at home amongst right wingers their instinct to judge success by wealth? Aren’t artists just capitalists who don’t make money? Or if you prefer, capitalists are artists who don’t make anyone happy…
As a life long co-author of work I am not a fan of auteur theory. I have only known success through working with people. My brother and I did not take the increasingly ubiquitous “a film by” credit on Nina Forever because by the time we were writing titles it was clear that the work was a reflection of a joint effort by us, our producer, our crew and our astonishing cast of actors. However, I must admit I struggled with the decision to close American Honey with “a film by” followed by a list of the film’s entire cast and crew, none credited by role. At first glance this is a bold expression of equality, though it did mean I only took away the names I already knew, Andrea Arnold, Robbie Ryan BSC and Shia LeBouef. Most of all I can think of no film in recent years so utterly authored as American Honey, a film where Arnold’s brilliance burns through every instant. Isn’t portraying this as some product of a group workshop disingenuous?
As a filmmaker it is easy to mistake yourself for something other than the manager of a small to medium sized business but seen from a helicopter shot aren’t we Thatcher’s favourite children? Filmmakers are entrepreneurs taking huge financial risks in the hope of making money by selling distraction and dreams. It is ironic that so many of us obdurately insist on considering ourselves other than arch-individualists, passionate in our defence of society yet unable to position ourselves anywhere but outside it, watching.
But perhaps this is the century of the outsider. From that position you can see that films are best made not by individuals or by committees. A film is best built through collaboration around a shared purpose in a process that enables and needs individual brilliance to shine. Crucially no film is made for utility. No one needs your new film, even if they later come to wonder how they lived without it.
This is how art works and in a future increasingly defined by the automation of work and the atomisation of populations, shouldn’t we all try and live lives of this nature? Straddling the exhausted binary of before, outsiders who build our days around reminding each other of how we are differently the same as every other outsider we share the planet with?