It was a great gift running into my old friend D at Silverdocs. Not only is it wonderful to have a companion for the week when you are expecting to be solo (especially one who says things like “Oh Ceerock, I’ve missed that laugh…”), but also because it turns out he is now well-connected. After we chatted a bit he stood up and said “Are you ready to meet a lot of people?” And he wasn’t kidding. I met many people and did much more socializing than I would have if I’d been on my own. But the way he introduced me was always amusing. He may be well-connected, but he is not at all wired. He is yet another of my friends who doesn’t understand (or care about) blogs. He introduced me to Eugene Hernandez of indieWire, for example, and I said to him “I’m a blogger.” Simultaneously Eugene lit up and said “Really? Which one? I love bloggers!” while D said “Oh don’t be so modest … she also writes for Cineaste.”
A theme that seemed to emerge at the festival, at least in discussions with filmmakers and film subjects, was art vs. commerce. I spoke to South African filmmaker Khalo Matabane (Story of a Beautiful Country), who told me he had just shot a TV commercial and felt ashamed at how easy it was, how little he had to care for it, and how much money he got for it. I said that many artists use these kinds of commercial projects to subsidize the art that they really care about, and brought in the example of John Cassavetes, the “father” of indie film, who pioneered that business model by taking crappy but well-paying acting jobs in Hollywood to finance his wholly self-made films. But Khalo would not be consoled. “It stamps my soul,” he said.
The next day, on the aforementioned comedy panel (which, in in addition to Brian Posehn and Zach the great, included Paul Provenza, Gilbert Godfried, Judy Gold, and Fred Willard), the discussion turned to the commercial success the comedians have had in sitcoms and other TV shows. Posehn (who was on Just Shoot Me and who is possibly the most well-adjusted comedian I have ever seen) saw no problem with the kind of schizo art/commercial approach to work. “You do stand-up to save your soul, and you take other gigs to pay the bills.”
And I previously mentioned Penelope Spheeris’ struggles with her commercial success. She even said in her keynote address that she hates money and doesn’t understand why anyone would want it, it’s only given her more headaches than she had when she was poor. She at times preached the “do exactly what you want and don’t think about money,” gospel, and at other times sounded like a Hollywood pro telling the filmmakers in the audience not to ever start a film before having the money and plan in place for distribution. But even though she seemed pained about her commercial success, the millions it gave her have now positioned her to make exactly the film she wants. Soul-stamp or no.