I don’t get pissed off much by hypocrisy anymore, not nearly as much as I did when I was in high school. Having lived through two decades since then filled with plenty of it in work and life and love, I’ve come to see putting up with hypocrisy as a price you pay for being left in some semblance of peace. But sometimes I see stuff so egregious I get pissed off and want to write about it. That’s what happened a few couple weeks ago.
It started with this article on the New York Times’ Sinosphere blog.
The article–titled “‘Cinema on the Edge’ to Take Chinese Movies to New York”–seems simple enough. It tells how government authorities shut down an independent film festival about a year ago in Beijing. Three foreigners–all with deep ties to the Mainland China film scene–subsequently decided to hold the festival in New York City and the festival is actually going on there right now under the title “Cinema on the Edge!” (the exclamation point is not my exaggeration)–a full month of screenings and other niceties.
Some of the films look pretty okay–lot of documentaries, something by Ai Weiwei (because there is always something by Ai Weiwei), a lot of political stuff, a few features. All things that would be nice to watch. So far nothing worth getting riled up about here.
But then I started noticing some of the quotes in the piece about their motivations for doing the festival in New York.
Shelly Kraicer: “Seeing the empty shelves where they once had a giant collection of DVDs of experimental films and archives of their printed materials was shocking.”
Karin Chien: “My hope is to raise awareness around what is happening with independent film in China.”
Festival curator Wang Hongwei: “Films are made to be watched by audiences …. the organizers had not abandoned their hope of bringing the films to the audiences that perhaps matter most: the Chinese people.”
By this time I was wondering why the fuck bother to move it to New York City? It’ll just be a shitshow love-in of people moaning about how fucked up things are in China while WhatsApping each other with directions to the restaurant where they have reservations at 9pm sharp. I’ve been to these kinds of screenings in the west and it’s all hand-wringing and self-massage and “aren’t I glad I’m me” bullshit followed by some hearty mutual masturbation and some “aren’t we glad we’re us” type pontificating.
But that’s not nearly enough to piss anyone off. That’s completely normal. That’s grad school. Rather, it was another small fact slipped into the piece: “The organizers have set up a Kickstarter page to raise money for program booklets and for the filmmakers and organizers to travel to New York.”
Oh really! I went to the Kickstarter page. They swept up over USD15,000. Not a bad haul. You could pay for a few long boozy weekends at decent hotels in mid-town. You could fly in a few of your filmmaker pals. You could print up a nice festival book with photos and essays. Or, crazy thought here, you could take every single one of those films and host them on a URL for about 100 years and still have enough money left over to buy beers for everyone afterward.
And, in fact, wouldn’t that be a better way to actually achieve the stated goals?
Kraicer could get over his shock by using his miraculous web browser to open the URL and see all the stuff he’s been worrying about. Karin could write emails to all the people whose awareness she wants to raise and include that URL with some words like “Look! This is what’s happening with independent film in China! Check it out, yo!” And finally Wang Hongwei could manage to achieve his dream of having actual Chinese people see the stuff. I bet if he Wechatted that link into his Moments, 100,000 people would know about it 24 hours, 1,000,000 in a week.
Worried about the filmmakers not being properly compensated for their IP? Don’t be! If the films were saleable, they would already have been slumming around the edges of much bigger festivals looking for distributors to pick them up. And because they were made without proper permits, they’ll never see the inside of a movie theater in China. BUT if you’re STILL worried about it, fine, let’s put up a little paywall for each movie, a buck a view or something. Proceeds go to the filmmakers. That is basically what Karin Chien does on her dGenerate Films website anyway. I got no problem paying a buck or two to watch some films.
Oh, but good lord, what if the government blocks the IP address? Well, my friends, there are such things as VPNs. There are even Chinese VPNs. Chinese people know about VPNs and even if they don’t use them as much as I hope they would, they are perfectly capable of using them when they want to.
The fact is, though, that none of this sturm and drang has anything to do with getting more people to watch these films. It’s just about getting other people to fund a nice New York get-together for this “tribe” that means so much to J.P. Sniadecki, one of the festival organizers.
It’s bad enough that intellectuals and academics blather incessantly that what they are doing is for the good of everybody, that what they are doing is crucial for emancipation of slaves and workers and Chinese people and the subaltern of the world. It’s not. But when they jump on Kickstarter and start scamming people 50 bucks at a time, howling about the unfairness of it all like some blind beggar in Sanlitun, I have to call bullshit.
Dear Shelly, Karin, J.P. and the whole BIFF crew, put the films online. It’s not hard. I’ll show you how to do it if you need help.