(April 24, 2013 - Source: Jemal Countess/Getty Images North America)
By Sean Dunne and Joshua Handler
Recently I've been disturbed by the amount of people who don't seek out independent films, non-English-language films, and classics. So, I asked some of the most exciting and original voices in modern cinema to submit responses to a few questions about why/if they think indies/non-English-language films/classics are important to view, and how those films have been influential on their careers.
The responses below are from Sean Dunne, best known for producing and directing Oxyana, winner of the 2013 Tribeca Film Festival's Best New Documentary Director Award and Best Documentary Feature - Special Jury Mention. Dunne was also nominated for an Emmy for his work on POV.
Do you feel that it is important for aspiring filmmakers and filmgoers to view independent and world cinema and why (if you don't feel it is important, please tell me why)?
For me, when I was an aspiring filmmaker, watching indie films became a way of life. I tried to watch everything, good, bad, and in between because each film increased my understanding. Traditional Hollywood films limit our scope of what’s possible - it all seems so big and unobtainable and unrelatable. It’s when I turned to world cinema and indies that I began to see the possibilities, even with small budgets, to do great things. Discovering these films continues to be a huge source of inspiration for my projects.
I can also easily indulge in the flipside of that argument which is to say that, for some, the influence of constantly consuming films rather than making them is detrimental to their ultimate creative goals. They get overwhelmed with the sheer amount of ideas that have already been explored in this form and that begins to create an overreliance on tried and true devices or, worse, might discourage someone from exploring filmmaking in the first place. This reminds me of something I heard Terrance McKenna speak about during a talk on creativity…
“We have to create culture, don't watch TV, don't read magazines, don't even listen to NPR. Create your own roadshow. The nexus of space and time where you are now is the most immediate sector of your universe, and if you're worrying about Michael Jackson or Bill Clinton or somebody else, then you are disempowered, you're giving it all away to icons, icons which are maintained by an electronic media so that you want to dress like X or have lips like Y. This is shit-brained, this kind of thinking. That is all cultural diversion, and what is real is you and your friends and your associations, your highs, your orgasms, your hopes, your plans, your fears. And we are told 'no', we're unimportant, we're peripheral. 'Get a degree, get a job, get a this, get a that.' And then you're a player, you don't want to even play in that game. You want to reclaim your mind and get it out of the hands of the cultural engineers who want to turn you into a half-baked moron consuming all this trash that's being manufactured out of the bones of a dying world.”
Do you believe that it is important for aspiring filmmakers and filmgoers to view films of the past and why (if you don't feel that it is important, please tell why)?
I didn’t go to film school, no one would have me, so I did the next best thing which was to study film criticism and history. All of a sudden I was exposed to another way of thinking about film. I developed a more critical eye and a keen sense of what spoke to me about any given film. I was beginning to develop taste, and that’s enormously important for an aspiring filmmaker; know what you like and why you like it. So, by spending college studying the work of the greats, what I was really doing was learning another language…cinema. That changed everything for me.
How did viewing indies, classics, and/or films from around the world help/influence you when creating OXYANA?
When preparing to make a film I try to keep a focused list of films I want to revisit throughout the process. Starting early in the process I like to have my producer, editor, DP, and myself watch films that hover around the same themes we’re exploring. For Oxyana, I remember being highly inspired by a screening of Harlan County, USA by Barbara Kopple, as it gave historical context to what we would be filming during Oxyana. My editor and I also consistently referenced Errol Morris’ first film, Vernon, Florida, while we were in post. For us, having these films that we’ve all seen in preparation for the making of ours helps establish a reference point that we can draw examples and inspiration from throughout the process.
What's one American indie (narrative or documentary) and one non-English-language film (narrative or documentary) that you would recommend film-lovers or young/aspiring filmmakers see?
There is no American indie voice quite like Ross McElwee. I highly recommend anything he has done, but for sake of this interview, I’d say start with his newest one, Photographic Memory.
In terms of non-English language, Wong Kar-wai has always been a big influence on me. Again, all of his work is outstanding, but check out Happy Together.From the Mouths of Filmmakers continues on Wednesday.