Sunday, 9 August 2009

A Response to the Kid In The Front Row: What impact can we have as filmmakers? And with impact, do we have responsibility?

Over on his blog, the Kid In the Front Row has written a post entitled 'What impact can we have as filmmakers? And with impact, do we have responsibility?', in which he asks the following questions:
What is the maximum impact we can have as filmmakers? Can films really change lives? Can they make us act for social change? Can they change us for the better?
As the post has been written to encourage debate, I thought that I would write a post detailing some of my own thoughts in reply to these questions, as well as commenting briefly on The Kid's own post.

Essentially, The Kid's answers to these questions (as I understand them) focus on how films can change people in the sense of our political and social ideas, or, in other words, the way that film can affect us (or indeed manipulate us) to change our views in a somewhat 'practical' sense. To put it another way, The Kid is, whether intentionally or not, discussing the role of film as propaganda. Personally, I do not believe that audiences are necessarily susceptible to indoctrination (for want of a better word) through cinema, but I do believe that 'campaign' films can be dangerous if they go unchecked, especially when they offer very biased views. To take a recent example, there was a Channel Four documentary which put forth the idea that climate change doesn't exist, a view which was readily adopted verbatim by several people I know. So here is a practical example of a film (or, in this case, a television documentary) having a direct impact on people and explicitly influencing their views in life, and therefore their behaviour. As I said before, however, I don't necessary believe that films themselves have the power to change people outright, and I would suggest that the people I know who are now so rigid in stating their denial of climate change probably had this belief before seeing the programme. (If they didn't, surely the most the programme would have done would have been to spur them into conducting further research? Though perhaps I am overestimating the strength of the human spirit in my belief that people cannot be so easily influenced!).

For my own answers to these questions, I would take a slightly different approach, and I hope it's not an approach which is at odds with the original questions. To me, film can have a huge impact on our lives in a way which, perhaps, can be referred to as spiritual. I'm not sure that spiritual is a great term for it, just as practical probably isn't the right term to discuss the effects that I've spoken about above but hopefully these terms, at the least, make sense in the context of this post. So, what do I mean by spiritual? Well, I'm thinking of the way that certain films – such as, say, those by Bergman, Tarkovsky, or Haneke – make us think about the world around us, and our approach towards it (for instance, by exploring responses to violence, religion or grief). By making us think about a diverse range of philosophical and ethical concerns, these filmmakers provoke responses which change us as people, and they do so not by propaganda, but by provoking reactions and making us look inside ourselves in order to find new facets of understanding about our existence and our approach towards the world in which we live. In this way, I would argue, filmmakers can have a huge impact on their viewers, and can indeed change them 'for the better'.

So the difference between what I see as essentially propaganda, and what I see as films which can provoke change within us, is that the former promotes a message and tries to persuade us that this message is right, whereas the latter ask us questions which open us up to our own responses and allow us to find our own 'meaning', our own 'message'. As both a filmmaker and a film fan, I would suggest that the latter is a far better – and more morally responsible – way to elicit change within the viewer.

Before finishing, I'm aware that many would argue that a filmmaker such as Haneke should fall into the former category and not the latter, but I would respond that although his films often have a very clear authorial 'message' to them, they convey this message in such a way as to provoke the viewer into her or his own response to the message, rather than simply expecting the viewer to soak it up wholeheartedly and unquestioningly.

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Wednesday, 5 August 2009

Narrative in Cinema

The other day I was out with a friend of mine and I said something rather flippantly, not thinking much of it at the time (it was just a part of our conversation). But having thought about it for a few more days, I wonder if there actually is some truth to what I said. My basic point was this: narrative cinema is dying out because arthouse filmmakers have effectively moved beyond narrative in an attempt to find greater meaning and insight, while mainstream filmmakers have, quite simply, forgotten how to tell a story. Obviously it's a bit of a rash generalisation – and it depends on how you define 'narrative' – but I wonder if there's something to it. Feel free to leave me a comment and tell me what you think.

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