indie cinema – Antenna Responses to Media and Culture Thu, 30 Mar 2017 23:48:47 +0000 en-US hourly 1 The Visibility and Invisibility of Chinese Independent Films Thu, 27 Aug 2015 11:00:22 +0000 Post by Sabrina Q. Yu, Newcastle University

This post continues the ongoing From Nottingham and Beyond” series, with contributions from faculty and alumni of the University of Nottingham’s Department of Culture, Film and Media. This week’s contributor, Sabrina Qiong Yu, completed her PhD in the department in 2008.

poster for Black Coal, Thin Ice (白日焰火) (Diao Yinan, 2014)

poster for Black Coal, Thin Ice (白日焰火) (Diao Yinan, 2014)

At the recent Locarno International Film Festival, 26-year-old Chinese director Bi Gan won Best Emerging Director as well as Special Mention for the First Feature award. Five years ago, Locarno awarded its top prize, the Golden Leopard, to another previously unknown Chinese director, Li Hongqi. In 2014, Berlin’s Golden Bear went to Black Coal, Thin Ice (2014), directed by Diao Yinan. These three directors share a common identity in China—independent filmmaker—and their award-winning works are often labeled as independent films. But the term “independent” in the Chinese context is quite slippery and under-defined, and in fact is becoming increasingly controversial and sensitive.

In their 2006 book, Paul Pickowicz and Yingjin Zhang refer to a discrepancy in the precise language used to characterize non-state filmmaking in China. They note that “‘underground’ is a term preferred by overseas media and embodies expectations of the subversive function of this alternative film culture in contemporary China,”[1] while Chinese filmmakers, media and scholarship all favor “independent,” “not necessarily due to censorship pressures.”[2] However, the situation has now taken an interesting turn. “Independent” has become a politically sensitive term and easily draws attention from the authorities. Consequently, Chinese media, scholars and many indie filmmakers carefully avoid the term, just as the label “underground” met with disfavor a decade ago. Apart from a few collections of interviews with indie filmmakers and the very limited number of articles written mostly by indie-circle insiders, indie films are out of sight in Chinese scholarship. It is even harder for the term to appear on official media, especially after the authorities’ forceful shutdown of or severe interference with nationwide indie film festivals since 2012.

poster for Kaili Blues (路边野餐) (Bi Gan, 2015)

poster for Kaili Blues (路边野餐) (Bi Gan, 2015)

In the past couple of years, in my numerous formal or informal discussions with Mainland Chinese scholars, film officials and practitioners, I notice behind various attitudes towards indie films—which include disdain, caution and criticism—there is something in common; that is, unfamiliarity with indie films. The general impression of indie films remains tied to the work of first-generation indie filmmakers emerging in the 1990s such as Wang Xiaoshuai and Jia Zhangke, now having mostly gone above ground and renewed their identity as arthouse directors. The situation is similar in Western scholarship on Chinese film. Compared to Chinese-language scholarship, there is much more discussion of Chinese indie films (and particularly of indie documentaries) in English-language criticism, but this discussion is largely confined to the work of the early and more established indie filmmakers. Indie films springing up during the past ten to fifteen years have not received much academic attention, largely due to the very limited access to such films.

Generally, even knowledgeable parties hold a set of fixed ideas about Chinese indie films. Firstly, indie films are often regarded as low quality because of low budgets, the use of DV and amateur actors. A common perception, from both inside and outside of China, is that indie films are not up to an implicit professional standard and lack aesthetic value. This preconception can partly explain why many Chinese scholars are reluctant to pay attention to indie films. Probably due to a similar judgment, Western scholars and critics discuss Chinese indie films mainly from anthropological and sociological perspectives, rather than focusing on their aesthetic features.

poster for Winter Vacation (寒假) (Li Hongqi, 2010)

poster for Winter Vacation (寒假) (Li Hongqi, 2010)

In the Chinese context, indie films usually refer to the films not approved by government censors. Unsurprisingly, another familiar charge leveled at indie films within China relates to their avowedly gloomy tone and depressing representation of reality, even if not touching on sensitive or taboo subjects. This represents the opinion on indie films within a wider public in China. Indie films are often blamed for their lack of “positive energy,” a term heavily promoted by mainstream ideology. Western critics hold a much more positive attitude towards Chinese indie films, but show a similarly stereotypical view. Although the labels “underground film” and “dissident film” have been gradually phased out in Western writing on Chinese indie films, the attention to these films still largely lies in their supposed free expression and courageous handling of forbidden or marginalized subjects. In the West, Chinese indie films are discussed mainly in terms of their confrontation with censorship, and indie filmmakers still carry the currency of anti-authority. In a word, indie films are highly politicized both in China and the West.

The third often-heard accusation on Chinese indie films is that they cater to the West, based on the fact that indie films, from the outset, have been supported by Western film festivals and festival-related funds. Excluded from domestic film distribution and exhibition systems, a few indie film pioneers have paved a road to success for numerous Chinese indie filmmakers to follow; that is, to gain awards and reputation at international film festivals and then get opportunities and funds for their future film projects. Indie films are hence given a name—festival films—both in Chinese and English critical discourse. Although the label of “banned film in China” once added extra cultural capital to some indie films and won them sympathy at international film festivals, it is imprudent to claim that indie films are made only for the West. Indeed, I would argue that deep-rooted biases towards, or at least a partial view of, indie films result from an ignorance of the richness and dynamics in Chinese indie films as well as a failure to keep up with fast-developing and highly creative indie filmmaking in contemporary China. While the term of “independent” is quite visible in certain contexts, Chinese indie films themselves are largely invisible.

poster for River Road (家在水草丰茂的地方)(Li Ruijun, 2014)

poster for River Road (家在水草丰茂的地方)(Li Ruijun, 2014)

I do not have space here to survey the lengthy debate on definitions of indie films or to provide an overview of Chinese indie filmmaking in the 21st century. Instead, I simply want to point out that the above three clichéd perceptions of Chinese indie films are easily challenged by the reality of indie filmmaking. The numerous awards Chinese indie films won at different international film festivals in recent years speak to the artistic quality of these films. Despite the restrictions in all aspects of film production, indie filmmakers offer the most exciting experiments and inventions for contemporary Chinese cinema, in sharp contrast to those commercially successful but artistically banal mainstream films that have contributed to Mainland China’s box-office miracle in the past few years. In recent indie filmmaking, although a strong interest in marginalized or sensitive subjects still exists, more attention has been paid to the changing society and to ordinary Chinese people who are faced with all sorts of tremendous changes (for example, Li Ruijun’s “earth trilogy”—The Old Donkey [2010], Flying with the Crane [2012] and River Road [2014]—which explore the issue of the inheritance of traditions). Neither indulging in the dark side of the society nor presenting the visual evidence of a corrupted and chaotic country can justify the diverse topics of contemporary Chinese indie films. Finally, while international film festivals and film funds still attract Chinese indie filmmakers, more venues for the production, distribution and exhibition of indie films have emerged in the past fifteen years, including numerous domestic indie film festivals and exhibitions committed to showing indie work, and some domestic film companies such as Heaven Pictures Group that promote and support high-quality indie films. Furthermore, more and more indie films now seek approval from censors in order to reach a wider audience. The definition and scope of Chinese indie films are becoming increasingly unstable and complex. Notably lacking industrial support and suffering from ideological control, Chinese indie films are nonetheless writing a new chapter in the history of Chinese cinema, and undoubtedly deserve more critical attention.


[1] Paul G. Pickowicz and Yingjin Zhang (eds.), From Underground to Independent: Alternative Film Culture in Contemporary China (Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2006), pp. viii-ix.

[2] Ibid, p. ix.


What Are You Missing? Mar 20-April 2 Sun, 03 Apr 2011 14:00:14 +0000 Ten (or more) media industry news items you might have missed recently:

1. Music recommendation engines have mostly flopped with users, and Google has pulled its music search feature to tinker with it. In the meantime, perhaps Google’s new +1 button will help with music searching and recommending, while the music industry itself is freaking out about Amazon’s cloud service, as labels are mad that Amazon hasn’t secured licensing rights for this use (some of the same issues that have kept Spotify from coming to the US), and Apple and Google are keeping an eye on this for their own future cloud plans. A bonus for Canadian readers: Canada beat the US again in digital music growth! 01 Canada!

2. Blockbuster is shuttering more than 150 stores as it awaits auction this week, with Carl Icahn and Dish Network as possible buyers. Netflix is probably chuckling at that, as its shares went up and it nears a big deal to stream Miramax films. And while Netflix is concerned about data caps in Canada, enough to reduce streaming video quality there, it maybe doesn’t have to worry about the Amazon cloud service, nor are movie studios as perturbed as music labels are by Amazon’s cloud (yet).

3. The role of film festivals and arthouse cinemas is changing as online distribution grows in prominence. Also likely to grow is online movie ticket purchasing through services like Groupon; some wonder if differential ticket pricing would help grow theater attendance; and, as our waistlines continue to grow, at least we won’t have to be reminded of the calories we’re consuming in movie theater popcorn, thanks to an FDA ruling. But the biggest challenge theater owners have now is premium video-on-demand rentals, whose imminent launching angers the National Association of Theater Owners. The underlying message from studios to theater owners at the recent CinemaCon was basically “Quit yer bitchin’ and get with the digital program,” which is sure to go over well.

4. The Writers Guild and the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers struck a contract deal, no strike needed, even though it doesn’t offer everything the WGA wanted (note: Variety paywalled article), and some members, who still have to vote on it, think it’s a bad deal (note: NSFW Kurt Sutter tweet). Meanwhile, Michigan has decided its film production tax credits are a bad deal, and filmmakers are fleeing as a result, while Georgia decided to keep theirs.

5. Nielsen has studied the placement of gaming consoles in the home, determining that the Wii rules the living room, while the Xbox dominates in the kids’ bedroom. In terms of games, Guitar Hero 3 tops a list of best-selling games from this generation, and The Weinstein Company hopes to make future lists with video game versions of some of its library titles, mostly horror films like Scream.

6. Burma has banned Skype, while China’s censorship of electronic communication continues to tighten, and Google is especially in its crosshairs. Google is funding development of technologies to detect such censorship, and the US government has given the BBC World Service money to help combat it. But lest we think censorship is only a problem elsewhere, we should take note that the ACLU is fighting to stop schools from blocking LGBT websites.

7. File-sharing music piracy in the US has declined, with 9% of internet users now using P2P services to download. Some point to the shutdown of Limewire as a direct catalyst for the decline; others disagree. Either way, a London School of Economics study claims that file-sharing isn’t responsible for the record industry’s collapse. From the film perspective, new MPAA head Chris Dodd sees things differently, saying that piracy is the single biggest threat to the survival of the movie industry, as DVD piracy in places like China is running wild. So the solution, I guess, is to demand IP addresses of individual downloaders and to totally get that one guy who uploaded Wolverine. Take that, China!

8. David Carr insists we need to recognize Google as a media company, and it’s certainly made the WAYM links a lot lately. Here’s more: Google has picked Kansas City as its fiber network test market, gotten probation for the bad Buzz, been accused of antitrust violations by Microsoft, and added the +1 button; Google Street View has been deemed legal in Germany and got fined in France; and Google Books lost a key court case, which further delays the dream of a universal digital library.

9. Some random internet bits: AOL is consolidating content sites, Dropbox is making money, Groupon is getting sued, Reddit is creeping us out, Firefox 4 is being downloaded a lot, LinkedIn has reached 100 million, and PayPal has new competition, plus check where your state ranks in internet access speed.

10. Some good News for TV Majors links from the past two weeks: Mad Men Agreement, TWC Fight & TWC Pulls Channels, Peabody Awards, Viewing By Race, Profanity Appeals Pause, Internet TV Standards, New Football PlaysStarz Delay for Netflix, Showtime Pulling From Netflix, Mogul Salaries, BBC Cuts.


]]> 2
What Are You Missing? November 7-20 Sun, 21 Nov 2010 15:53:38 +0000 Ten (or more) media industry stories you might have missed recently:

1. Call of Duty: Black Ops crushed sales records both in the U.S. and overseas, marking it as the biggest entertainment launch in history. The Kinect has sold pretty well thus far, though Microsoft is looking beyond sales and toward the value of targeted advertising via the system. Also looking beyond game sales, James DeRosa wants game packagers to be more cognizant of environmental impact, Tetris may have value in post-traumatic stress disorder therapy, and Nintendo wants to trademark a phrase (“It’s on like Donkey Kong”).

2. A number of stories related to free speech and social media this fortnight: the National Labor Relations Board ruled that you’re allowed to complain about your boss on your Facebook Wall (oh, it’s on like Donkey Kong™); the Air Force has told troops to be very careful with their use of location-sharing services; a British man who joked on Twitter about bombing an airport has been fined, though Twitter fans are mostly on his side; and a Chinese woman has been sent to a labor camp because of a tweet that the government condemned for disturbing social order (there’s probably a Kanye West Twitter reference to be made here, but the story is really too awful to accommodate that).

3. Some striking Facebook stats: the social media service is used every day by more than 250 million people, one study says as much as one-fourth of internet page views are of Facebook, the company is worth $41 billion, and Facebook is now the third largest internet business, behind Google and Amazon and just ahead of EBay, with the addition of email possibly pushing it even higher. And while some still question Facebook’s current revenue generation, its ad-targeting potential should make Google worry about maintaining its #1 spot (and thus its awesome raises) in the future.

4. Contrary to its usual aversion to launching anything original, Hollywood is trying out a few new things: Atlanta, untested novelists, Bollywoodflying coach. (Fittingly, this is the shortest entry ever in WAYM history.)

5. Though it’s apparently been around since May, some are just now noticing that Disney has launched an online movie site, part of a broader move Disney and the other movie studios are making toward digital distribution. Domino effects of digital distribution are already evident, from Technicolor closing a film printing plant to AMC starting an in-theater restaurant service. Meanwhile, the Weinstein Company is fighting to drag the MPAA ratings system into the 21st Century.

6. Amazon has launched a online scheme to help new screenwriters develop films, but some say a glance at the fine print of the deal reveals that this is actually an insult to aspiring filmmakers. The Oscar short list for Best Documentary Feature has insulted a few worthy films left out, while the nominated creators of Restrepo have made a powerful documentary short about one of the film’s subjects who just received the Medal of Honor. Powerfully worthy of awards and medals in characterizing how Iran’s cultural repression is insulting to humanity is Jafar Panahi’s defense of filmmaking and art.

7. is left with only question marks, Reddit has gone officially political, Firefox is blowing out six birthday candles, Tumblr is growing fast (though it’s been sidetracked by a showdown with 4Chan), and YouTube is receiving 35 hours of video uploads every minute. But 23% of American households don’t give a crap about any of that, because they don’t visit these sites or anything else on the internet, and unfortunately, the digital divide keeps growing.

8. Lime Wire, shut down for piracy, now has a pirate version running, so the RIAA is going after that one too (but not Girl Talk, so that won’t be on like Donkey Kong). Contrarily, Robbert van Ooijen claims that piracy is good for innovation, plus it’s apparent that the RIAA is good for Cracked humor. There’s an overzealous anti-piracy bill in Congress, though it has stalled for now, while one law professor says we should be more afraid of Apple than anything else when it comes to internet freedom.

9. Warner Music Group keeps losing money, but CEO Edgar Bronfman Jr. is optimistic about future possibilities, which might include a bid for EMI. EMI milked the Beatles cash cow via iTunes, which didn’t draw the internet love Apple wanted but did draw big sales and reinforced iTunes’ dominance to the consternation of some, who want iTunes to fix its problems already.

10. Good News for TV Majors links from the past two weeks: Profanity Up, Conan Coverage, NewTeeVee Live, Google Assures Nets, AMC Ends Rubicon, Conservative & Liberal TV, NBC Midseason Schedule, Private Practice’s Rape Storyline, Terriers Plea, Olbermann & O’Reilly Respond to Koppel, Over-the-Top Issues, Retrans Reform Hearing, Fox Midseason Schedule, Good TVeets (now on Twitter!).


What Are You Missing? Oct 10-23 Sun, 24 Oct 2010 15:11:53 +0000 Ten (or more) media industry stories you might have missed recently:

1. Jeff Price has launched a six-part series looking at the state of the music industry, from revenue to piracy and everything in between. Former UK music exec Rob Dickens suggests radically lowering the price of music to save it from piracy and boost revenue, an idea which Ian S. Port agrees with and insists won’t devalue music. Google is testing a new search engine designed to curb digital music piracy in India, but the music industry doesn’t think Google is doing enough to fight piracy.

2. Google is trying to keep up with Apple in mobile activations, but despite Google’s impressive revenue results lately, Henry Blodget insists the company is just a one-trick pony of search wonders. Pretty good trick, though, like Google Instant, which is garnering fans, if not more revenue. Google has figured out another trick: avoiding paying taxes thanks to a complicated overseas scheme.

3. Apple has tons of cash laying around, so if I was the 9-year-old iPod, I’d ask for a really expensive birthday present (maybe an iPad?). It’s still too early to tell if the iPad will make a ton of cash from magazine and newspaper sales but apps sales for Apple devices have reached the 7 billion mark, and a Nielsen study shows consumers increasingly connected to such devices. Apple needs to watch out, though, because its fart app supremacy may be in jeopardy. (I’d bet the 9-year-old has suggestions for improvement there.)

4. New York Times ad dollars have declined, as have magazine launches this year, and online advertising is thriving, but UK journalist Peter Preston says the evidence just isn’t there to prove that the internet is killing print. Also counter to what most would assume, a market analyst study claims that hard news generates more ad revenue online than LiLo news. And I’m sure we’d all be in much better moods for clicking on ads if newspapers could figure out better ways to counter abusive commenters.

5. The Weinstein Co. has hired a new production president, who will hopefully get them back on the award-winning track. Weinstein Co. does have a few films nominated for the Gotham Awards, which apparently hosts a great party. The Weinsteins can fill hours of cocktail conversation at the party with tales of their battle against an NC-17 rating for Blue Valentine. Also a good Gotham Awards party conversation starter: the MPAA ratings and male nudity. If Ken Loach shows up at the party, be sure to have a big drink handy; he might talk your ear off about how cinema has been debased by Hollywood and TV.

6. The two studio news stories I haven’t linked to lately because I got bored of hearing about them have now threatened to become one: MGM and Lionsgate. Hearing nothing but glowing praise for Pixar can get a little boring, but here comes a little bad press to shake things up: accusations of sexism for the firing of its first female director. Steven Zeitchik has some info on movies you’ll never hear from again, and you’ll likely be hearing more about 3D sound — literally! Ha! See what I did there?

7. Netflix this, Netflix that, Netflix the other. Blockbuster? Not so much. Sorry ‘bout that, DVDs and video stores. And sorry studios, you coulda had a piece of that.

8. Redbox is entering the video game rental business, while game sales continue to decline, and EA’s stock price took a hit allegedly due to negative Medal of Honor reviews. Maybe EA should follow the Kinect’s lead and have Oprah give it away to her audience; I’d buy stock in whatever it is that makes people act like that. But such passion raises a question: should game developers be swayed by fan input?

9. Twitter is popular in Brazil, but not at the Washington Post, and Twitter is more popular than Facebook for click-throughs. Facebook Places has not hurt the popularity of Foursquare yet, nor has The Social Network hurt Facebook’s popularity. And internet popularity might be measured more by social networking than searching soon, as long as we’re not measuring popularity by actual profits.

10. Some good News for TV Majors links from the last two weeks: Ratings Delineation, Mad Men finale reviews and good tweets, Cable & Satellite Future, Albrecht Profile, BBC Freezing the Fee, Over-the-Top Competitors, Glee Cast in GQ, Quitting Cable, Networks Block Google, Creator Demands.


What Are You Missing? May 24-June 5 Sun, 06 Jun 2010 14:26:44 +0000 Ten (or more) media industry stories you might have missed recently:

1. James Poniewozik describes the literary and political joys of satirical Twitter accounts, such as @BPGlobalPR, whose anonymous editor has brilliantly skewered corporate-speak. Such must-reads have helped Twitter as a company, which in the past six months has doubled its staff and its collection of cool office doodads. It’s also growing fast as a video source, though it has irked some by banishing third-party ad networks. Finally, HubSpot has just about every Twitter infographic you could ever want or even imagine.

2. Things were much calmer for Facebook this fortnight as CEO Mark Zuckerberg announced a few privacy changes (and placated Pakistan), but Pete Cashmore says the privacy war is far from over. The Quit Facebook Day didn’t see too many quit Facebook, but Tom Spring says it’s the negative PR that really mattered, not the quitting. Facebook is still comfortably atop Google’s list of most-visited sites and is still the most popular i-Phone app, but Collin Douma gives us a glimpse at the next Facebook freakout coming: the prospect of Facebook charging for use.

3. Good news/bad news for Apple: The Department of Justice is investigating the anti-competitive practices of iTunes and possibly more, but Apple finally toppled Microsoft for the title of most valuable technology company. Cutting it down the middle, Reid Rosefelt says CEO Steve Jobs is just like Kim Jong-il but in a sort of good way. Plus, Jobs says he’s got the answer for saving the media business; I’m betting Kim Jong-il doesn’t. I also bet Kim never inspired the creation of a dating site.

4. Nicholas Carr says we need to stop dropping hyperlinks into sentences (um…darn), but Scott Berkun proposes a few counter-arguments (yay!). Speaking of links, it’s looking like Digg is dying. And as far as the blogosphere, Frederic Lardinois offers a few infographics detailing the demographics of bloggers; nearly 30% reside in the U.S., and the gender split is even. And as far as other stories related to the internet that I wanted to fit in somewhere, Sarah Lacey reports on how a Southeast Asian newspaper is dealing with the digital revolution, Ryan Chittum describes how the online paywall helps out the print Irish Times, and Pepsi says they plan to turn much more to social media marketing than traditional methods of advertising.

5. One study says that 4% of video gamers qualify as extreme, which means they play upwards of 50 hours a week; the average is 13 hours. I personally spent a good chunk of time playing’s Pac-Man game last week, but despite the claim that office productivity declined measurably thanks to the game, Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry says that without it, we still would have been wasting our time some other way. Maybe we can waste it in better ways: J. Matthew Zoss interviews a pair of game designers about how to build satisfying gameplay around moral issues.

6. A survey indicates that 33% of musicians don’t have health insurance; Nancy Pelosi says health care reform will help. I assume Lady Gaga has the money for good coverage; she said she doesn’t even mind if fans illegally download her music because she makes plenty enough from touring. I bet she’d be bothered if a politician appropriated “Bad Romance” though (insert Mark Souder joke here), and numerous politicians have recently been taken to task, or even court, for using music in their campaigns without proper permission or licensing.

7. A lot of negative Hollywood news: AMC has closed the U.S.’s first-ever megaplex (though some might see that as a positive); theater ticket prices are soaring; May’s tentpoles sunk (and stunk), and Memorial Day weekend was a box office bust (Prince of Persia disappointed, proof for David Cox that video game movies never work); the Weinsteins’ bid for Miramax fell through; producers everywhere are reeling; Guillermo del Toro has quit The Hobbit; the summer films are overwhelming white already, but many freaked out at the suggestion of Donald Glover as Spiderman; and Brett Ratner is throwing around words like “edgy” in connection with his planned Snow White movie. The one bright spot you can always find in Hollywood? Pixar.

8. Brian Brooks highlights the must-see Cannes entries, and Eugene Hernandez recaps the business side of Cannes. The Village Voice assesses the post-Miramax crop of indie distributors, and the LA Times focuses in on Focus Features, one of the few remaining specialty distributors owned by a major. Chris Thilk says high-end indies are getting a lot of play this summer, while John Bradburn calls for grassroots “film gigging,” akin to low-fi, DIY music touring.

9. On the business side of DVD, Nielsen assesses the current impact of DVD rental kiosks, while Netflix sees DVD-by-mail peaking in 2013, expecting that streaming will take over thereafter. On the cinephilia side of DVD, Jonathan Rosenbaum considers DVD’s impact on the collective viewing experience, while Paul Synder wonders how streaming might affect such viewing and accessibility issues.

10. The best News for TV Majors links of the fortnight: Season Summaries, Lost Engagement, Buzz vs. Ratings, Upcoming Retrans Fights, Survivor Contracts, CNN Revenue, The TV Times, Emmy Nomination Eligibility Lists, Showrunner Panel, Zucker’s Exit Deal.


What Are You Missing? May 9-May 23 Sun, 23 May 2010 18:58:19 +0000 Ten (or more) media industry stories you might have missed recently:

1. The Cannes Film Festival’s major award winners were just announced, with Apichatpong “Joe” Weerasethakul’s Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives taking the Palme d’Or (and thus you can add Thailand to this chart of past Palme d’Or winners by country). Mike D’Angelo says Cannes got that right, a critics’ poll on the best and worst films had Uncle Boonme in second place, and indieWire’s film report card gave it a B+. Overall, the Cannes lineup has been judged merely so-so and distribution deals were slow to develop. The usual glamour was there, though, and there was plenty of off-screen news, from Woody Allen’s presser to Jean-Luc Godard’s refusal to explain his impenetrable Film Socialisme to protests over the film Outside the Law to outrage at Jafar Panahi’s imprisonment. With some questioning whether anyone cares about Cannes anymore, David Poland asked at the start of the festival if Cannes still matters; Eugene Hernandez answered yes, and at least on indieWIRE’s list of fifty leading festivals, Cannes is still #1.

2. Ted Hope offers 38 ways the American film industry is failing cinema (Brian Newman responds to one), plus some added reflections and thoughts on the value of cinema. A profile of indie producer Michael London explains how he’s dealing with new industry realities, and Guillermo del Toro proposes short films as an industry savior, while Mynette Louie says microbudget filmmaking is decidedly not a savior. African cinema could use a savior, as theaters are dwindling, but at least Nigerian cinema (Nollywood) is thriving, and African filmmaking was relatively well-represented at Cannes.

3. In Hollywood news, Bob Kerrey is expected to head up the MPAA, Marc Cuban is suing Paramount for millions over fraudulent accounting, and NPR featured a story on just such creative Hollywood accounting in connection with Gone in 60 Seconds. Elsewhere, Britain’s Hammer Studios plans to develop swankier horror films (figuratively and literally: Hilary Swank will be in one) and, inevitably, a 3D horror film. The latter will annoy Francis Ford Coppola, but James Cameron will say told you so. And in an attempt to foster U.S. box office success, the Indian film Kites will be distributed in two versions, one a traditional Bollywood romantic drama with extended dance sequences and the other a Brett Ratner recut that basically drops all the Bollywood bits (*sigh*).

4. A court ruled against file-sharing service LimeWire for copyright infringement, and PirateBay was briefly sidelined by court injunctions, but defiantly carries on. Nintendo is going after illegal game copiers and The Hurt Locker’s producers are going after illegal downloaders. One of those producers, Nicholas Chartier, is quite outspoken against illegal downloaders, which isn’t going over so well with some. Chartier should have a chat with British actor Peter Serafinowicz, who says he even steals movies he’s in. Steve Safran thinks maybe the only way to out-pirate the pirates is to get first-run films into our homes sooner.

5. You probably haven’t missed much of Facebook’s privacy mess, considering it even made the cover of Time. But here’s a condensation of the fallout (yes, this is a condensation; there was a lot of it): Some are responding in defense of Facebook or saying who cares or at least defending the value of publicness in some measure; writing thoughtful essays about the issues involved; demanding that Facebook as a company itself be more public and transparent; creeping us out with infographics; mocking those who don’t seem to realize that their very personal info is public (the folks featured there really need to use some privacy scan tools); working on Facebook alternatives; proposing a bill of privacy rights for social media; and calling for us to delete our Facebook accounts on May 31 or at least stay away from them on June 6. So far, Facebook has only promised to simply its privacy settings. As if the privacy backlash wasn’t enough for Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg to account for already, this fortnight also saw user data from Facebook and other social networks sent to advertisers without user permission; Zuckerberg embarrassed by old IMs, sparking demands for him to speak up about his current beliefs (while others say the attacks on Zuckerberg have gotten out of hand); Zuckerberg accused of securities fraud; and info leaked about Aaron Sorkin’s Facebook movie The Social Network in which Zuckerberg doesn’t come off so well (the phrase “sex maniac” certainly caught my eye). But wait, there’s more: Pakistan banned Facebook because of the Everybody Draw Mohammed Day movement. You know you’re having problems when both Pakistan and the ACLU are mad at you. Any good news for Facebook? Nike likes it.

6. Twitter has high hopes for its new advertising system, others are intrigued by the future possibilities of using Twitter for precise opinion polling, and Twitter reworked its trending topics algorithm to make it less Biebery, but Adam Ostrow said there’s more work to be done. Similarly, David Carr is frustrated by hit-generating, Google-luring headlines online. Vaguely related (I just had to fit it in somewhere): Harry McCracken has a great analysis of the word “fanboy” as a tech world put-down.

7. YouTube has turned five years old (a birthday which Conan O’Brien celebrated by picking out his favorite clips), and touts that its viewership now exceeds that of prime-time network TV. But Simon Dumenco claims that the latest YouTube sensation, Greyson Chance, owes more to TV than YouTube for his virality, while says it beats YouTube in time spent on the site.  Across its next five years, YouTube is hoping to foster more professional and profitable content. They might want to work on more professional corporate communication, too.

8. April saw yet another plunge in video game sales, while a report suggests game companies could pick up sales by better serving older and disabled gamers. Looking for more money itself, EA Sports announced a plan to charge gamers to play used games online. Given that nearly half of gamer money spent reportedly goes to used and online games, it sounds like a shrewd move. Meanwhile, MySpace hopes that online gaming will help turn things around for them, movie studios are turning to online gaming to generate greater audience involvement, and you can help fund Indie Game: The Movie. Thinking beyond money, game companies are going green and are also being called on to support fair labor practices.

9. Last week was the worst for album sales since 1991, and last year, a mere 2% of the albums released accounted for 91% of sales. In terms of online distribution, Leor Galil is frustrated that iTunes gets so many exclusive releases, so he might be happy with the news that Google looks ready to take on iTunes, and he should also check out Mashable’s list of seven sites for discovering new music.

10. The best News for TV Majors links of the fortnight: Law & Order Acting, TV=Art, Introducing Google TV, Upfronts Summaries: NBC, Fox, ABC, CBS, The CW, Sitcom Trends, Boycott Call, Content Power Ratings, Finale Advice, Lost Music, Mad Men & Women, Activities During Ads, FCC Waiver for Movie Studios


]]> 2
What Are You Missing, April 25-May 8 Sun, 09 May 2010 13:59:19 +0000 Ten (or more) media industry stories you might have missed recently.

1. The Supreme Court will consider if the sale of violent video games to children should be outlawed, thus deciding if video games are more like movies or more like pornography. Millions of Boy Scouts await the ruling with great interest. This debate is playing out elsewhere: Rob Fahey says concern in the UK about video game effects has died down in recent years (replaced, of course, by concern over social media effects), while in Australia, gamemakers are frustrated that the highest age rating is 15+, and they feel that without the addition of an 18+ rating, they have to censor their content for adult gamers.

2. paidContent has a striking chart of the decline of music sales, but Glenn Peoples at Billboard says this is similar to a dip in the 1980s and, like then, sales will rise again with innovation. Gordon Smith says it’s the internet, not radio, at fault for music’s decline; We All Make Music considers the challenges musicians have with promoting themselves over the net; and fans debate whether the indie band Grizzly Bear writing an ad for a commercial is selling out or just doing what has to be done.

3. New York Magazine’s Logan Hill observes that the internet is taking music videos in audacious new directions, and Vulture provides a list of 14 music video directors to watch. A number of music videos grabbed attention this fortnight: Christina Aguilera released a Lady Gaga-esque video for “Not Myself Tonight”; Miley Cyrus got dirrty in “Can’t Be Tamed”, and M.I.A. got people talking and even yanked from YouTube with “Born Free”.

4. Mashable showcases a social media stats video that contains some grabbers, like that if Facebook was a country, it would be the third largest country in the world. Given what Facebook has been doing to its privacy settings in recent years (which Matt McKeon puts in a striking image form), I don’t want to live in that country. Tim Jones looks at how deceptive Facebook’s interfaces are, and while Jeff Jarvis says Facebook actually has an opportunity to turn around the privacy outrage by actually listening to it, Ryan Singel calls for the creation of an alternative to Facebook.

5. Christopher Mims says Twitter is the future of news, but it’s looking like a lot of people will go uninformed in the future, then, as a study says 87% of Americans are aware of Twitter, but only 7% use it. Teens in particular say they hate it and the celebrities who use it. 17-year-old Arya Zarifi says in the latter article, “It’s something for adults who feel like it makes them hip or something.” Arya, I use Twitter; I don’t feel like it makes me hip or something. However, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off being played out on Twitter, now that’s hip. Or something.

6. Apple didn’t come off so well this fortnight. There was the lost iPhone debacle, Apple’s shutdown of the Lala music service, which the AV Club says makes it that much more likely that iTunes “will one day control all the music in the world,” and the Ellen incident. What also got techie keyboards tapping was Steve Jobs’ dismissal of Flash. Dan Rayburn accuses Jobs of being disingenuous, while Christina Warren says it’s not Apple but HTML5 which is dooming Flash, with Scribd’s ditching of Flash for HTML5 as an example.

7. In Hollywood news, Kevin Maher explains Hollywood’s 1980s remake obsession (at least we don’t have to worry about any more Rambos); Matt Zoller Seitz stirred up a lot of dust with his anti-comic book movie position; and studios are ramping up cross-promotional efforts. In indie news, Anthony Kaufman wonders where the under-30 audience for indie cinema is, Michael Cieply looks at the process of rebuilding indie cinema, and Peter Knegt found six cases where indie documentary distribution has gone right, but Michael Moore fears for the future of documentary with a recent federal court ruling. In film criticism is dead news, Pete Hammond says theaters and studios can’t survive without critics.

8. Movie Gallery is shuttering its doors, while Bloomberg’s Tiffany Kary says it appears bond holders expect Blockbuster will go that way too, but one man thinks he can save Blockbuster. Redbox rentals are shooting up, and Chuck Tryon responds to a Redbox publicity piece about the  labor involved in keep Redboxes running.

9. Megan McArdle considers the theory that file-sharing is killing the entertainment industry, while Nate Anderson reports on a study that says file-sharers are the industry’s biggest customers and also points to India as the most consumer-friendly copyright country. The US has dropped further down on that list with the FCC ruling that lets the MPAA enforce the blockage of copying capabilities for first-run video-on-demand movies. Cory Doctorow says this is a ridiculous decision that opens to door for corporate control over all of our electronic devices in the future; David Poland is not so outraged.

10. The best News for TV Majors links of the fortnight: FCC Internet Control; Lost Ending; TV Future; CBS & CNN; Soap Lessons; Dramas Dominate; Economist Series; MSNBC Following FNC Lesson; FlowTV Conference; Gender Imbalance; Sets Statistics; Reclaiming the Multi-Cam; Sports on Cable.


]]> 2
What Are You Missing? March 1-13 Sun, 14 Mar 2010 14:27:48 +0000 Ten (or more) media industry stories you might have missed recently:

1. The upside and downside of Twitter and celebrity: Conan O’Brien turned to Twitter to entertain us (thus becoming what he once mocked). He then used Twitter to turn one woman’s life upside down, and she charmed us all by channeling her sudden fame into good causes. But Twitter doesn’t always have such delightful results, as evidenced by the fact that Academy Awards ceremony co-producer Adam Shankman chose actors like Zac Efron and Miley Cyrus to present at the Oscars because Twitter followers told him to. Where’s Fail Whale when you need it?

2. The viral video of the fortnight was OK Go’s Rube Goldbergian “This Too Shall Pass.” It’s sponsored by State Farm, which dismays some (I assume Sarah Polley wouldn’t approve) who also point out that Honda and others did this first. Regardless, it looks cool, and Wired found out how they pulled it off. By the way, there was a previous video for “This Too Shall Pass” involving the Notre Dame marching band, but you likely missed it due to ridiculous embedding restrictions. There’s a very important lesson in there, internet. In fact, OK Go has since left its record label EMI over the issue. Viral video runners-up: SNL presidents, Avatar/Pocahontas mashup, Mean Disney Girls, the Russian singer, Battlestar GalacticaSabotage video.

3. Jesse Thomas composed a fascinating “State of the Internet” video, featuring such facts as that 247 billion emails are sent each day, but 81% of them are spam. And Zaheer Ahmed Khan has a fun list of Internet firsts, like the first item sold on eBay: broken laser pointer, purchased by a collector (?) for $14.83. Who could have predicted then what sites Twitter, Facebook, Linked In would be worth now? Speaking of internet firsts and future loads of money, Business Insider’s Nicholas Carlson has the contentious story of the founding of Facebook.

4. Scholar Thomas Doherty says film criticism is dead, and (not dead) film critic Richard Schickel seems inclined to agree, having said during a recent panel discussion, “I don’t know honestly the function of reviewing anything.” Chuck Tryon disagrees with Doherty, as does Jim Emerson, and Keith Uhlich pulls no punches in depicting what he thinks of Schickel. Meanwhile, (not dead) film critic Armond White once allegedly kinda sorta said he wished filmmaker Noah Baumbach was never born, but I’m not sure whether the resulting kerfuffle qualifies as film criticism dead or film criticism alive.

5. Doherty can amend his article with the news that Variety has kicked to the curb its last remaining salaried (but not dead) film critic, Todd McCarthy, as well as its last theater critic. Former Variety columnist Anne Thompson says the trade has cut its lifeblood, (not dead) film critic Roger Ebert gives the move an impassioned thumbs down, (not dead) film critic David Edelstein remembers the way Variety used to be, and McCarthy himself offers some thoughts. Best headline, from the LA Times: Variety Lays an Egg. Variety also has a lawsuit to deal with in regard to a negative film review. Variety’s defense? Film criticism is dead.

6. Bloomberg’s BusinessWeek detailed the decline of Miramax, and in its wake, Levi Shapiro points to The Messenger as a new example for indie cinema to follow, while Paramount is trying a new approach with producing “micro-budget” films. With the studio infrastructure for indie cinema broken down otherwise, film festivals might be ever more important in taking up the slack, if they can do it right and especially properly utilize both online distribution and marketing. In that regard, Lion’s Gate is trying to take advantage of social media marketing for its April release of Kick Ass, and is succeeding with its online distribution of low-budget videos, though their indie fare is decidedly lowbrow, rather Hurt Locker territory.

7. Iranian filmmaker Jafar Panah (The Mirror, The Circle, Offside) was arrested in a government crackdown on dissidents. Countryman and international art cinema icon Abbas Kiarostami has decried this development, the LA (Not Dead) Film Critics Association has expressed its dismay, and you can too via an online petition. For more on the broader context, The Believer Magazine has a revealing report on filmgoing and filmmaking in Iran.

8. Speaking of The Hurt Locker, hooray for Kathryn Bigelow’s Best Director Oscar, which New York Times (not dead) film critic Manohla Dargis was thrilled about. However, Rachel Abramowitz offers the cold slap of reality in her LA Times piece about the ongoing challenges for women in Hollywood. The other woman everyone fell for at the Oscars was Gabourey Sidibe, and Feminista Files blogger Erika Kennedy detailed the insulting backstory of her Oscar dress saga and defended Sidibe as a role model. Howard Stern should give that a read.

9.  In DVD news, an Indiana prosecutor wants only G movies in Redbox kiosks, Blockbuster is going back to imposing late fees, and the MPAA had small win in their big fight against DVD copying software, but this chart of DVD sales struggles will make them unhappy. Disney has  shortened the Alice in Wonderland DVD release window, but speculation that Hurt Locker’s post-Best Picture difficulties with booking theaters are due to the film being out on DVD might give other studios pause (literally!).

10. My favorite News for TV Majors story links: There Will Be Retrans, CNN Fears Facebook, Flushing Measurements, TiVo News, Indecency Backlog, Cable Channel Fees, Exec Interviews, Viacom & Hulu Break Up, Old Spice Ad, and NCIS Fandom.


]]> 1