Defining Socially Conscious Film Making

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DOES THE END JUSTIFY THE MEANS? HOW DO WE DEFINE "SOCIALLY CONSCIOUS" FILMMAKING? Two accountants recently told me that the IRS is questioning (as they tended to do so years ago) whether filmmakers are hobbyists or professionals. They determine this on the basis of whether or not profits are made on a sustainable basis. Most obviously, one of the main issues facing our industry is supply and demand—too many people willing to work for low wages in an industry in which there is too little demand in comparison to what is produced. Certainly, the indie doc economy has been impacted by oversupply, due in part by lower barriers to entry created by myriad of technological changes, and an ever-changing media landscape. But given that we operate as members of a ‘progressive’ community, should our industry be held to a higher standard than simply succumbing to predominant market forces? If not, how can professional careers be sustained? Maybe they cannot. Perhaps independent doc filmmaking will parallel higher education employment. As NPR reported today, college instructors are increasingly hired as adjunct professors and being paid as much as babysitters in major urban areas, all while tuitions skyrocket. (I taught a graduate class at Columbia for a semester…we didn’t do it for the pay.) Fearing being ‘black-listed’, adjuncts have kept silent until now. NPR noted that a coalition is forming among low paid workers such as fast food workers—groups who often seek government assistance to make ends meet. For many years now I have felt that the doc community operates in such a way that it is untrue to progressive ideals in both word and deed. How many filmmakers can afford to pay employees proper compensation, health insurance o... ... middle of paper ... ... write write and we can talk talk talk but who REALLY knows how our industry functions until we have hard data. Besides, filmmakers are so reluctant to talk so as not to disclose their own tightly held, valuable relationships/connections, or out of fear of being labeled trouble-makers/whiners and thus running the risk of being discredited. All the while, non-filmmaker industry colleagues and stakeholders have much to loose if they ruffle feathers. Why put business relationships and friendships at risk? Why should anyone stick her/his head out of the foxhole if it is going to get shot? In an effort to begin the process of gaining support for an analysis of our field that would yield data for the basis of discussion, I am working on putting together a task force—The Indie Doc Sustainability Task Force. We can talk more tomorrow but this issue runs deep and wide.
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