Sunday, August 5, 2018

With everyone calling for diversity in film, why aren't all the outlets really searching out the diverse voices struggling to be heard?

I know I’m going to pick a fight here but it’s something that is pissing me off and while I know part of the answer, but I still have to ask this.

To most of my fellow film writers who are demanding that producers and studios give us more diverse voices-I have to ask- why aren’t you really writing on the voices that are out there? Why aren’t you covering the small festivals that either highlight the diverse voices specifically or which are just cool enough to program them without having to be prodded? Why aren’t you looking for the overlooked voices and bringing them to the forefront without waiting for the major festivals to bring them to you?

Understand that I am not saying there is enough diversity, there isn’t. What I am doing is saying that that many of the people I know who are calling for more diversity are not always making any effort to highlight the few voices who are crying out in the wilderness. My fellow writers, especially the ones with the bigger readership and at bigger outlets are not covering the wonderful, largely hidden, films that are out there unless they are programmed at Toronto or New York or Berlin or Tribeca or Cannes or any of the other big festivals. Big fests are all well and good but there are other beautiful voices out there, of the sort you are demanding to be heard, just outside of the big spotlights but you aren't listening to them.

Now I know, and completely understand, that many writers are being hobbled by editors and publishers who only want the big films and the big festivals on their pages. I have been told by pretty much everyone who writes that they would cover the smaller films and the smaller fests but that if they did the pieces would be rejected. I know you are fighting an uphill battle but at the same time the notion of diversity is a hot topic so why can’t you sell your editors on a piece about the voices trying to be heard? Why not go out and find four or five or six films at various festivals and tie them together in one piece about the people fighting against the odds to be heard? Why aren’t you doing some leg work, seeing a bunch of films and then banking them until you can post a full piece?

One piece from in one of the larger outlets will open doors because it will put the fests and the films on people’s radar. One piece begins to get the word out.

Admittedly it is easy for me to say since Unseen Films is mine and I can cover whatever I want. If a film interests me I will cover it. I don’t have to fight with an editor, I simply write the piece and put it up. I don’t have to worry about numbers I just worry about good films…

…and the funny thing is that by covering the small films and the ones by not straight white males from Hollywood the readership of Unseen Films has steadily climbed. Despite what the editors of the larger outlets think, people do want to read about films that have different voices. Here at Unseen the pieces that are getting the most hits are the films that are not getting the mainstream spotlights. Why? Because no one is talking about them and people want to hear about the films. (If I do a major release very few people will read my piece)

Now before I get called out, I am not claiming to be a bastion of complete diversity. What I cover is based entirely what comes my way. I pick the films based upon what is thrown at me via PR people and festival and art house programming. If it’s not put on the menu I can’t choose it. I know I can do more, but what I and my fellow writers at Unseen Films are doing is more than most outlets are doing. However where other people are sticking to a limited big fest, big release menu, we are looking everywhere we can for good films and unheard voices.

Simply put: More people need to be covering the smaller fests and smaller films. Publications need to do more than putting festivals like the Asian American International Film Festival, or Kew Gardens Festival of Cinema or Women Texas Film Festival on a list of events for the week. They should send a reporter to cover it. If they can’t send someone- ask for screening links. Post pieces- get the films and their filmmakers noticed and before people’s eyes.

Writers also should also be willing to engage directly with the filmmakers. Because some of the filmmakers trying to break into the mainstream may not have a publicist or distributor they may not be able to get word out. Filmmakers often have to fight to get their films seen and writers should help if they can.

My advice to my fellow writers is is if a director of a small film contacts you about seeing or reviewing their film take the time and do so. While this is important with any film it is even more important with the filmmakers who ethnically a minority or a gay or a woman or a combination. If you want to highlight diversity then start the conversation with the people who you want brought into the circle. If you can’t directly help them with coverage of their film then send them to someone who might be willing to take a look.

Way back when I started Unseen Films I was contacted by Chinese filmmaker Chun-Yi Hsieh who was at NYU and had a film in Tribeca. He insisted that I needed to see his film BRAID. He was right I did need to see it. Seven years on he is making feature films that are being played all over the world. I know I probably had nothing to do with it, but had I not said yes I would have missed out on a voice that is now part of world cinema.

Since then I’ve discovered the work of one of my favorite animators Kim Noce because her friend and fellow animator Shawn Clarke sent her my way. I recently discovered Irina Varina because she contacted me because her film US, FOREVER AGO is playing in this year's Kew Gardens. As a result I saw one of the best films of 2018 simply because I said yes to a filmmaker.

You may be wondering why I am going on about getting coverage for more diverse films and the answer is simple- if we can get the conversation started in the press and on online then we can not only get the studios to either pick up the small films for release but also give people a shot a directing the big films. We need to start the conversation so people start looking for the films and asking for more. We need to open the eyes of the public so they start to know there are films out there. We, as writers, can’t assume that people will be able to find the films without some sort of pointer.

What we as writers also have to do is break through the classifications of black or female or LGBT or Asian or whatever and let people know that the films are not just about one segment of society but everyone. Yes, some films will speak more to one segment of society than another but more often than not they transcend narrow classification to be something more. For example Wolfe Video which specializes in films with LGBT subjects, is actually releasing films which are just great stories. Seriously, some of the best romances that I’ve seen in the last few years have come from their catalog. Love transcends all and a great love story is great regardless of who the lovers are- I mean why did CALL ME BY YOUR NAME resonate so much with everyone? Because the emotion and truth transcends orientation.

In a world of hatred, mistrust and division we need to bring people together. What better way of doing that then seeing our differences and our similarities by way of cinema? The variety of human experience is both limitlessly diverse and universal. We are all one species and while the details of our lives differ we all are still the same in other ways. We need to see those differences and similarities so we can understand the world and ourselves.

To that end, as the producers and studios too slowly integrate film and TV, we in the press need to start a conversation. We need to make sure that people know that there are all these great films out there from all sorts of filmmakers. We need to get the conversation going so the producers don’t see color, gender, orientation or ethnicity but great filmmakers- many of whom are out there and need to be heard.

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