By Ted Hope | Hope for Film October 5, 2011 at 12:29PM
In this Age Of SuperAbundance one of the things we need more than anything is trusted filters. How do we prioritize what to watch? How to discover new work? How do we escape our echo chambers to be reminded of how expansive our taste really is?
We need folks whom we trust to lead us to where we would not go on our own. Ideally, these people will do more than just lead us to good work; they will expand our mind, and widen our social circles. But where are they?
Historically speaking we have depended on our critics and arts institutions to work as our curators. One of the shortcomings of this relationship is that is geographically focused -- and we really no longer are. Similarly, historic curators are historically plagued by having to offer consistency to their locally-based community; they need to stay employed and the locals have influence with the institution. It has been rare that curators are rewarded by experimentation or risk taking.
The local arthouse theater, where they still exist, and when they can afford to innovate or even maintain, generally must balance film education with mass audience taste. They have to listen to the large distributors, routinely do their bidding, in order to gain access --or even hoped for access -- to the top revenue producing titles. They get penalized if they don't maintain the full week run. If they can afford to drop the $150K needed to convert to digital projection, still can offer the wide variety that digital transmission promises without risking disrupting the fragile relationships with their top suppliers. The battle for survival makes a varied diet of cinematic variety almost impossible to maintain.
In this Interconnected Age, we can depend on a much wider range of tastemakers, influencers, and early adopters. Curating, when freed from a revenue-based judgement, can take risks and even shift focus from pure entertainment to education and discovery. The hopes of the rapid blossoming of a new curatorial class that I've carried in this interconnected age seem to outweigh the reality. I am surprised that as far down the social networking path as we are, the new curator clan has not yet truly emerged. Or have they and I just am too blindly focused on my own things to notice?
We get trapped in our limited circle of tastes partially due to consumption of single focused content. When we look at film blogs to learn about films, we focus on the type of film we already know we like. This is also true for any art form -- our tastes lead us to more of the same. What was great about the newspaper, and local record shops and repertory houses, as they led us out of our common paths and encouraged us to try out new things. The forums of old, in having to reach a wide audience, could not afford to be single format or genre focused -- but on the interwebs that singularity is rewarded. Maybe it is the volume of the anonymous commenters on blogs, but generally speaking I seem to find only more of the same from most websites. And I want more than that. I want to be surprised. I want to be led in new directions. And I think others do too.
Maybe it only requires greater access to our social graph, or greater transparency as to our friends' tastes. Facebook took a big step in this direction the other week, but it is too early to tell whether this will just become more noise. The even bigger step is denied stateside by an antiquated law created when a Supreme Court judge was embarrassed by his porno preferences. I don't want to hear from EVERYONE who is my "friend". I don't even want to know about what everyone whose taste is applicable to my own thinks I should watch. I want to be led forward.
Who expends my taste and my knowledge these days? Luckily I live in NYC, where taste & individual style remain currencies that are traded on side economies. On top of that, in our city of light, the darkened room is a hallowed hall; cinema -- in its purest form -- is still worshipped by a sturdy crew whose passion for the communal and large outweigh convenience or price point. But even with all NYC has to offer, I am not just reliant for curation for those in my proximity. The internet brings me to far off lands, and blogs that offer a wider range of things tend to do it best for me. I am often led to consume new things by those who specialize interests that diverge from my core passions. If someone is a good writer and clearly displays passion (and in an articulate way), I tend to jump.
On the strictly film front, I adore CineFamily in Los Angeles. As I have said before, they make we wish I was in LA (and I have dedicated my life to not being there). They add value to the movies they show. Hadrian Belove and his team write wonderful posts about the films they show. They don't take things too seriously, never tredding down the elitist path that plague NYC's film centers. Cinefamily cuts their own trailers, and they rock. They pair their movies expertly. They bring in guests on a regular basis. THEY MAKE EACH MOVIE AN EVENT. On my Pleasure Planet, CineFamily is in every city on every world.
Film festivals and film societies will probably always be our chief curators of film content, but.... the problem with festivals and societies is that they have to appeal to a general audience. Like Hollywood movies, they tend to lack the WTF element, which to me, is what makes something a once-in-a-lifetime experience. I like insanity in my programming -- and I hate when it gets ghetto-ized into the midnight slot. I like my craziness in mid-afternoon. Every year when the New York Asian Film Festival comes to NYC, I wish I could find more time in my life. I would love to be able to be able to attend more of their movies. If the litmus test of a curator is "would I subscribe to a channel that had all their programming all the time?", then NYAFF is winning big time.
Queer/Art/Film is a monthly series here in NYC at the IFC center is a great series with a great audience, run by Ira Sachs and Adam Baran. They have a film presented by a different artist each month who then talks about why they love it. The crowd is a highly knowledgeable group of film aficionados, and the conversation afterwards is often as good as the films.
And although I don't exactly have an arm's length distance, I still must recommend Michael Tully at HammerToNail (a website I helped found). HTN's focus still remains primarily under $1M budgeted American narrative, but it has expanded. I am frequently tipped to new talent by Tully's eloquent and passionate embrace of the under-seen.
And while I am on the subject of things I am already involved with, I think there is real potential in curated content offerings, particularly when they bring additional value. I am on the advisory board of Fandor, a streaming site & community that only has about 15% overlap with Netflix. When I talk to the Fandor team about their plans to involve the community I get excited about the potential there. I also get jazzed by the potential of new platforms (like Prescreen) and longtime practioneers (like Snag -- owner of Indiewire)-- now streaming narratives too -- to help audiences to discover new work -- particularly when they use expanding social engagement tools and practices. As these platforms add in real curatorial voices, armed with both authority and accessibility, they will gain in both value and utility.
But it is not the film only sites that do most of my "pointing". Maybe it is because I work in film, but the film sites, still feel like work to me (albeit a labor I love). To get the real pleasure of transgression and good 'ol timewasting, I have to drift into a different set of curators. They don't usually recommend films per se, but they go into topics which lead me to search out a different sort of film than I usually do. Among those I gravitate to are:
Netted by The Webbies - Everyday there is something available on The Net that will make your life better. Don't you want to know about it?
In terms of "culture" only, but who's interest expand beyond film, and have been doing a good job of tipping lately...
Very Short List
I'd love to know who you like and follow as curators, so please comment.
The real question though, is what can we do to further the appreciation and celebration of curators? How can we give them greater prominence? How do we make sure they don't get lost in the noise. The truth is I don't need to discover new movies. I have preselected more than enough titles to satisfy me, even at my peak consumption rate, well past my life expectancy rate. I need curators who enrich the experience for me. I need curators who enhance the social relevancy of my consumption. I want a value-add from my filters.