The purpose of this conference was to create a 'national network' of state-subsidized production - distribution - exhibition co-ops, all managed via Canada Council funding policies and during the Liberal-era of 'Canada stand together' multi-regional nationalisms.
This manifesto contains assertions (e.g. 'quota' on foreign films, separation of 'film art' from other medias, restrictions against 'commercial films') that would not be supported by the author in (XAR) in 2004.
It is historically relevant (as background) to the Cineworks history 'A Personal History' by Peg Campbell as well as the histories of Association of Canadian Film Artists (ACFA) and the personal XAR history of Opsis and Film Studies at SFU.
March 28, 1980
The following Manifesto has not been commissioned by any political or cultural 'party', and does not represent the ideology and aims of any vested-interest group. It is written with the intention of solicit your support and efforts (which should be directed) at ensuring the survival of cinema arts.
The cine-arts are currently under renewed attack by such diverse factions as the commercial-commodity interests, government bureaucracies in search of an 'industry', Marxist critical organs, and economic—cultural accountants' that would haveyou believe, that art is a prohibitive expense in times of economic recession, that it is a 'luxury' or that it is an 'elitist' preoccupation. Current socio-cultural pressures would have the artists align themselves along fashionable and expedient schools of thought! practice and/or ideology, thereby ensuring survival'. The tendency toward alignment is not new - - it usually occurs in times of desperation. But if a bargain is to be struck, let it be first amongst ourselves, and not in the form of convenience (i.e., 'regionalism' and its accompanying bureaucracies), but in the form of commitments.
Art is undoubtedly a multi-national/ideological endeavor, and its survival largely depends on cooperation, lobbying, and the presence of self-critical communication(s). Its cultural validation is not simply dependent on box-office receipts and/or public relations. We have seen throughout recorded history the nature of its complex integration. Thus, there are no simple solutions to this contemporary crisis. But I wish to be clear on certain points as presented in the text. The artist is a part of a heterogeneous (and disorganized) 'class', engaged (as it were) in a struggle with highly organized and self-serving institutions and bureaucracies (i.e., galleries, funding organizations, distributors and exhibitors, and cine-propagandists-publishers). Many (equally) self-interested artists will balk at the notion of a class distinction, and will see their efforts limited only by their own xeroxed self-promotion and conditions 'beyond' their own control (i.e., the rising cost of silver). It's time they woke up and saw that this self-interest and estrangement is ineffectual, tempor ary, and naive. The estrangement of the artist is in fact one of the prime causes (as exemplified over the past decades) for the proliferation of the critic-dominated 'schools of expression', subjective gallery-curatorial practices, and general apathy on the part of the public.
This text is therefore written in the spirit of calling attention to issues that confront us in our immediate and long-term endeavors. You are encouraged to annotate, comment, and respond to the contents. The Canada Council's policies toward film are the focus of many of the points presented. Rather than worrying about 'biting the hand that feeds' (and our diet is indeed minimal), it is hoped that your support for these positions will be directed as an overt response to the Council's Visual Arts Section, as well as to government legislative-regulatory bodies, and institutions of a related nature.
Exploitation and Control
The economic and cultural exploitation of the film-artist has reached appalling proportions. The individual and/or collective artist, whose work is plagiarized as commercial 'technique', or exported as cultural commodity, has little control over these conditions.
Art as economic commodity is a familiar condition. Film-artists are manipulated by cliques of producers, bankers, gallery owners, and pseudo— critics to aspire to fortune via fame. Even the deceased are 'resurrected' and their work (and biographies) garners more profits. In its most blatant populist form, the commercial ('big budget') film sector promotes an elite of 'stars', directors, and reviewers, hands out awards (Academy, Cannes, etc.) and rates value by weekly box-office receipts. Similarly, and not to be out done, cliques of craft specialists (IATSE, etc.) entrench themselves into the works under the banner of 'professionalism'. Populist entertainment is escalated to the highest pedestal of cultural accomplishment, and all film-artists are encouraged to follow this example.
Art as cultural commodity is a more subtle condition. The determination of 'value' (and hence fame) is in the hands of quasi-curators, media sympathizers, government bureaucrats, and art historians with an outlook for historical precedents and cultural 'patterns'. The work is exported to a variety of film festivals with, little or no renumeration to the film-artist and a facade of 'accomplishment' for the festival organizers. The juries are usually comprised of film-maker/critic elites, the audiences are minimal. And the net result at the end of this circuit is either temporal 'fame' or 'obscurity', with little possibility of reaching a wider public. (How many film-makers have aspired to master this 'formula'!)
Art as ideological commodity is a currently fashionable preoccupation, to be witnessed amongst both the 'left' and the 'right'. This preoccupation commodifies art into an object-tool applicable to the selling of a life-style. The commercial-ad agencies are a well known exploiter of art. But competing with Hollywood monopolists, various leftist ideologues attempt to secure control of the 'means of production, distribution, and exhibition' of all work under their implied jurisdiction by maintaining through ideological coersion that the main priority of any artistic endeavor is that of propaganda and education of the'masses'. Art is thus only a tool of didacticism, ordinarily (as in the case of Formalism) to be disdained, inevitably to be rejected. This form of dogmatism has firmly entrenched itself in the current and abundant discourse on film theory, criticism, and analysis.
All of the above systems are basically self-serving, monopolistic, and engage in varying forms of censorship; all of the above systems operate under exclusive ideas as to what constitutes cultureand the 'masses' and what their diet (i.e., entertainment, education, enlightenment, agit-propaganda) should be.
An end to this repression!
Ideology and the Arts
Prior to further discussion and analysis of institutions related to cine-art, or presentation of tactical approaches towards these problems, a brief discussion of ideology and morality must be forthcoming. Ideology (in its widest sense, 'the integrated assertions, theories, and aims that constitute a sociopolitical program') has always existed in the arts in the forms of 'personal' (albeit fragmented) or 'provisional' (e.g., Surrealist) ideologies. For the 'personal' artist (i.e., the sole auteur, 'from beginning to end'), collective ideology has been historically an anathema, in violation of individuated expression. Likewise, 'social determinism' has been seen as an impediment to the 'freedom of creation'. Forced collectivization of personal ideologies has historically been evidenced by Theocratic, Fascist, or Communist regimes. In its most vulgar forms (as represented in the previous section) ideologies of exploitation-epression victimize the artist-worker. Borrowing an ideological framework from 'external' sources (e.g., Transcendentalist, Psycho-analytical, Marxst, Capitalist) only results in a provisional formulation, one that contends 'optimally' with prevailing conditions and relies on acceptable rationale.
Are we then to reject all facets of 'external' ideology? No. The survival of the arts depends on its ability to integrate within a collective humanity. We should reject vulgarity, dogmatism, self-interest, greed and exploitation. We cannot afford to divorce ourselves from the progressive ideals of mankind; neither should we fall prey to reactionary posturings. Can an ideological stance be proposed for the arts? Only one that is pro visional, and containing the following possible assertions:
The film-artist must be concerned with the moral relationship that his/her endeavors have to the institutions within which he/she expresses his/her work.
That the work conducted does not come about through the subjugation or exploitation of co-workers or audience; that the work is not couched in mis-representation and usury.
That a revolutionary art form is one that overthrows archaic systems of aesthetic expression, not by reaction or de-construction of anachronisms, but by the creation of unique, innovative and explicit aesthetic-ideological propositions that transcend the status quo.
That veneration of the past be displaced by a discourse with the present and future. An end to the cultism of 'masterpieces'!
That the quasi-deification of personalities come to an end, along with parochialisms, and subjective (e.g., 'home movies' as art) symbolic-value systems.
That professionalism in the arts (and the accompanying stratification of skills) be abandoned in favor of a progressive (class-less) artistry of both a personal and collective nature.
That all artists are responsible for the creation and perpetuation of critical discourses on art.
That the commodification of film-art (i.e., a film as object for commercial transaction) be seen as an archaic, repugnant, condition; that all measures be taken to organize a funding-production-distriution network that replaces commodity with communication and experence.
That all hoarding, speculation on art, cease and be seen for what it is: usury and exploitation.
Tactics and the Cine-Institutions
"Are we then to give our work out for free?" you may ask. Without any renumeration? For many of us, in fact, this has been the case. As a provisional measure, many resort to rentals of prints (or print sales) as a form of limited livelihood; many resort to seeking grants, or obtaining work in a related field. The rental or sale of prints is a semi-commodification (as distinct from the sale of an original painting or sculpture) to be seen as a justifiable survival measure in a society that does not support (by and large) the film-artist. For years, film-artists not content with giving their work up 'for free' to gallery interests, or the CBC, or film festival interests, have had to act unilaterally. Their withdrawal from these forms of exploitation -- administrators still being paid for 'administering' the work -- was ineffective, since there were many waiting auteurs eager for prompt 'exposure'. The facts are clear: unilateral efforts can do little to change an economic system that perpetuates commodity fixations. The artists must organize. If we live and work in an economic system which acknowledges worth by monetary transaction, then as a provisional measure we must constitute an effective front which is capable of representation, lobbying, and bargaining with an intention of implementing change.
The following possibilities are available:
A National (if not International) front of film-artists (a union of workers, as it were) must be created with a mandate to negotiate a base honorarium-fee for work presented in galleries or broadcast.
Artists should be made aware of which institutions are agreeable to this base fee, and institutions not in agreement should be boycotted.
The (above proposed) National Representation should be created with a mandate to lobby for legislative reform (in terms of quota/tax - to be discussed below), and international representation.
A brief re-assessment of cine-institutions, and tactics for implementing change, may be useful at this point.
The commercial sector operates by assessing the worth of the film by its marketability and ability to garner profit via mass ticket sales. The controlling interests for distribution-exhibition (for example, Odeon and Famous Players) are inter—related with the controlling interests (large Hollywood studios) for production. It is common for film-makers to secure distribution arrangements prior to production. These inter—relationships comprise monopolies, currently dominated by U.S. banking interests. But it matters littleif the monopolists are U.S., European, Japanese or Canadian. The issue of Canadian Nationalist interests, though politically viable for short-term opportunists, is no issue in terms of film-cultural representation for the arts. The current Canadian Government position on feature-film co-production (via the Canadian Film Development Corporation) is one that mirrors the U.S. capitalist-commodity oriented institutions of 'big-time' film-making, complete with a select clique of producers, directors, stars, and craft-henchmen. What, if anything, can the film-artist hope for? A chance to show a few shorts? A chance to become another lackey in the 'big industry'? A Nationalist quota system whereby all of the Canadian Feature Film immitators of Hollywood now take the place of the immitated? What then?
What has to be supported, by government, and by royalties on the current total tax write-off on film investments and profits made by the commercial sector, is the growth of art cinema houses, distributors, and production facilities!
The argument against the above, traditionally, has been that art should pay for itself -- that it must compete, on an equal footing, with its exploit ative counterpart. This argument is nonsense. The film culture of Canada (or any place for that matter) is rooted not in industry (or mass propaganda) but in aesthetic discovery by way of experiment, by way of short films, by innovative cinema practice. The artistic innovations that the commercial sector has so successfully exploited should now return in the form of a royalty-tax on the commercial sector.
The growth of art-cinema houses will take time. In the interim, and as a provisional measure, a temporary quota on imported films should be implemented to encourage the exhibition of cinema-art.
The government sector, most notably the National Film Board, C.B.C., C.F.D.C., and the Canada Council (for the Arts), currently operates by accommodation to a variety of regional-social-community-corporate and political patronage groups, with a resultant tokenism for the cine-arts. Government-funded galleries, cinematheques, and production/craft co-ops are equally and by-and-large tokenist in terms of film art, substituting 'classics' and a diet of historical films for any major representation of current filmic art. In the past four years, the Canada Council, tradition ally, the grant-funding institution for film-art, has displayed a dominant trend towards the funding of a craft-film industry in Canada. Commercial film producers, screenwriters, and 'alternative' film craftsmen now populate film juries. At the recent Canada Council Colloquium on Film, the term 'alternative cinema' was used as a rallying point. It seems, as represented by the various special-interest groups present, that this category includes virtually every imaginable cinematic enterprise that sits outside of the big-budget commercial sector, or the NFB and CBC. Everyone who hasn't made it 'big' is part of 'alternative cinema'. Film artists, however, and not to be confused with "recording artists", were minimally represented. It seems that this new government policy towards film is one of supporting a melange of crafts, with a diminishing support for the art.
The emphasis in this text is on the plight of the cinema-arts. The terminology (and usage) should perhaps be clarified. The arts are indeed discernible from the crafts, though not divorced entirely from them. But, where the crafts concern themselves with technical skills (e.g., craft of sound recording, lighting, editing) and cine-linguistic acumen (e.g., scripting, story-boarding, editing), the arts attempt to fundamentally reshape the entire expressive domain (i.e., structural, formal, cine-linguistic, narrative, ideological, perceptual) of the cinematic experience.
An end to anachronisms masquerading as avant-garde!
At the same time, we should at once realize that film-as-art is not solely the domain of what is generally known as 'experimental' or 'structural-materialist' or 'formalist' or 'personal' film. The cine-arts are in a proess of revolutionizing the film medium by integrating the vanguard forms and concerns along pathways yet to be fully catalogued. But for the purposes of simple discourse, the term 'experimental' (and that is to say, inclusive also of dramatic and documentary modes of expression) will have to suffice as being synonymous with film-as-art. We can readily see that this category is yet to be fully delivered to careful scrutiny and exorcised of pretentious mediocrity, but these tasks lay also before us. We can also readily see that the orthodox / antiquated Marxist notion that art 'has been responsible for the transmission of the values of the exploiting class in any historical period and will therefore disappear when a truly socialist society has been achieved' is an analysis less applicable to experimental film than it is to craft-commercial film 'art'.
In keeping with the above concerns, the following demands are voiced to the Canada Council:
The undersigned wishes to express support for the points made in this letter.
Vancouver Film History Essays