February 6, 2003 Episode 34: Talking Pictures

Thousands of film lovers will come out this week in Victoria to enjoy watching and talking about independent filmsFilm Festivals are popping up all over the world as filmmaking becomes more technically and financially accessible.  

This week with spoke with two documentary filmmakers who are debuting their films at the Victoria Independent Film and Video Festival.  Sherry LePage will be showing From Baghdad to Peace Country, a film that follows Canadian Artist Deryk Houston's creative journey as he uses his art to cope with the devastation he observed in Iraq due to UN sanctions.  Tony Snowsill will be showing Criminal Acts, a film about a special inmate theatre group operating for 21 years at Victoria's William Head Prison.  Both these films are timely and controversial examinations of socially relevant issues. 

Dianne Searle is the director of MediaNet, a Victoria collective dedicated to assisting film and video makers in their efforts to learn more about filmmaking and to find inexpensive ways to make their films.  Searle talks with us about the ways in which digital technologies are changing filmmaking, including providing ways for video production to become a witness to the social and political events surrounding us.  

Finally, we discuss collectives, social networks and government funding as the means to combat cultural domination by the Hollywood oligopoly.  Technological advances have the potential to subvert what seems to be a growing trend towards homogeneous films and videos.  Can digital technology provide a way for small cultural producers to influence and change society?  We discuss the social context to these technologies. 



The ninth annual Victoria Independent Film and Video Festival will be held February 7th through February 16th. Last year, over 11,000 people attended the festival. This year, 700 films were considered in assembling the program of over 40 feature films and over 100 shorts. In reaction to what many perceive to be a homogeneity among Hollywood films, independent film festivals have been growing in locations all over the world. Festival Director Kathy Kay explains the importance of having festivals such as Victoria's:

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We took some time this week to think about film as cultural production. We were especially intrigued about how digital technology is making filmmaking more accessible and blurring the boundary between high and low culture. Every part of the filmmaking process from inception to distribution seems to be affected by new technologies. Creation of films and videos is less expensive and less challenging because of the technology. Differences in distribution seem cosmetic nowadays. Videocassettes explore the space between the two media, with titles that seem to draw upon film paradigms, titles that seem to draw upon television paradigms, and titles that are a departure from either tradition. The existence of commercial announcements does not suffice to explain the distinction. Cable television channels exist that show no commercials at all. Stations that show commercials sometimes show less than the CRTC limit of twelve minutes per hour would permit. Simultaneously, films shown in theaters are always prefaced by previews for other movies and sometimes prefaced by advertisements for other products, especially those on hand at the theater's concession stands. (Never mind the product shots in the films themselves!) As a practical matter, pieces nominally produced for cinema distribution are often intended by their makers for release to video before the majority of the population of North America has had a chance to see them on the big screen: are such efforts best described as mostly theater or as mostly video?

This is not to say that challenges can no longer be found for filmmakers. Money is still part of the equation, and money for the arts is tighter than it was 40 years ago in both the US and Canada. Making socially relevant films, experimental films and controversial films remains a struggle. But social supports do exist to aid filmmakers in producing and distributing films outside of the Hollywood oligopoly.

We spoke with two of the filmmakers who will be debuting their films this week at the festival. Sherry LePage and Tony Snowsill both reside in Victoria. LePage's From Baghdad to Peace Country and Snowsill's Criminal Acts are both funded by the National Film Board of Canada. We spoke with them about the challenges of making controversial and socially relevant documentaries, how support from the Film Board helped them and what it is like to have world premieres of their films in their hometown. We also spoke with Dianne Searle, the executive director of MediaNet, one of at least two film and video collectives in Victoria, which offer filmmakers a chance to learn more about filmmaking, create films and videos and network with others in the industry. Searle discusses with us the democratization of filmmaking and the effects advances in new technologies are having on the industry. Don't touch that dial and stay tuned for an episode about filmmaking we call, "Talking Pictures."

copyright by Pattie Thomas and Carl Wilkerson 2002


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