But is it art?

The Cinema for Social Change program offers a global snapshot of citizen activism. Many of the urgent stories shown in these films could only be laid bare thanks to the high availablity of digital camera’s. Last Monday, Richard Peña gave a workshop on this subject to a room full of engaged students and festival guests.

The spacious lecture hall of the TUMO Center, also the home of the Ukrainian Poetic Cinema program during the festival, was filled with the next generation of mediamakers, ready to soak up this spirited talk entitled eFilm aesthetics after the digital revolutionf. Peña, a professor of Film Studies at Columbia University, started with a historical analysis of how film had to battle the status quo to become eartf, before the political question ‘who decides what is art?’ came to the fore in the 1970s.


In Peña’s view, ”Everything is film, there is no distinction. From Andy Warhol to Steven Spielberg, it’s all cinema. There are only correct and incorrect criteria to judge them by. Donft blame Parajanov for not portraying a realistic image of Armenia, it was not his aim!”

The development of film aesthetic, Peña said, depends on the discussions we have about it. In that vein, he invited his young audience to discuss who actually decides on these criteria today. “Nowadays the means of film production and distribution have become digital and affordable”, Peña asserted. “Everyone in this room can make a feature film. That’s great!” However, the freedom digitization has brought does not mean that every movie will be ‘good’. “In 1985 there were about 50 independent films produced per year in the US, and only five of them were good. In 1995 there were about 500, but still only 10 were good.” This is the downside of the digital revolution, Peña explained. “Another symptom of easily being able to make a film, is that documentary makers are becoming sloppy. They don’t really ‘shoot’ their stories anymore, since the digital camera allows them to record endlessly.”

On the upside, the internet gives room for independent communities finding their own meaning and aesthetic, which means that exciting new interpretations of what cinema could be are opening up. Cameras fit in your pocket and the internet is transgressing borders ever more radically. Peña referred to how the modern-day film technology emancipated Palestinian filmmakers from dominant interpretations set by others. It offered them the freedom to redefine their identity independently – through film.

Peña acknowledged that these kinds of movements have always been part of cinema history. But the broad access to online media means that these niche movements are more visible than ever. Peña will address this in-depth during his Master Class on 17 July, which will deal with independent African cinema of the 1930s and 1940s. “It’s an interesting example of people who, even though they are oppressed in many ways, were simply making their own cinema. Creating their own vision in a time when images of African Americans were really racist.” NH

Written for the festival daily of the Golden Apricot Film Festival,  2014 Yerevan (Armenia) / daily #3– 16th of july 2014


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