Friday, September 21, 2007

what is a political film?, part II: the possibility of political film

The problem of left-wing political film is as much a question of distribution as production: the very forces of global capital that are the rightful object of revolutionary critique in our moment control the distribution apparatus even more tightly than they control the technologies of production, and, moreover, their monopoly on distribution can be purchased only in exchange for marketplace profit, a limitation that corrupts and co-opts political film before it begins or else serves to strangle it in the cradle. Brechtian innovation of the sort that Godard turned to after the failures of 1968 strikes me as ultimately the wrong direction; in the gears of the mass culture machine even (and perhaps especially) the Brechtian “political film” is reduced to yet another commodity to be marketed to a particular sort of niche demographic.

The Internet certainly suggests itself here as a type of Utopian free space insofar as technological innovation, the declining price of computers and digital cameras, and new distribution formats like YouTube and Google Video allow for films to be made by people outside the culture industry and distributed widely at low cost. (The 9/11 Truth movement, wrongheaded and counterproductive as it may be, serves as a useful model of the way networked modes of distribution can spread information to a large number of people quickly and effortlessly, as well as draw out throngs of volunteer revolutionaries.) As useful a tool as YouTube is, however, access barriers to the Internet—class most importantly, but also corporate ownership and control of the technology needed to access these sites and the ease of censorship through such devices as “nanny programs” or the so-called Great Firewall of China—give us good reason not to pin all our revolutionary hopes on YouTube.

What is needed, I think, is more thinking along the lines of Jorge Sanjinés’s “Problems of Form and Content in Revolutionary Cinema,” which goes a long way towards thinking through the problem of production and distribution entirely free from both governmental and corporate interference through the development of strategies of rhizomatic creation and distribution, emphasizing mass engagement, alternative modes of funding and publicity, and organized screenings in communities and populations that the usual distribution chain and its YouTube alternative both continue to ignore. Further development and enactment of such strategies of distribution alongside production is the only hope I can see for truly political, truly resistant films to thrive outside of dependence on either corporate largess or the beneficence of billionaire leftists.