The Next Evolution in Advanced Film Styles

It is worth insisting that the strategies and styles deployed in documentary, like those of narrative film, change; they have a history. And they have changed for much the same reasons: the dominant modes of expository discourse change; the arena of ideological contestation shifts. The comfortably accepted realism of one generation seems like artifice to the next. New strategies must constantly be fabricated to re-present “things as they are” and still others to contest this very representation. –Bill Nichols, “The Voice of Documentary”

MC Escher - Hand with Reflecting Sphere

MC Escher – Hand with Reflecting Spher

Since reading Lord of the Flies in ninth grade I have been obsessed with the idea of allegory–of encoding one meaning within another, like Russian nesting dolls.  Analogy, allegory, simile, metaphor… to learn is to build from analogy.  The brain creates narratives to describe direct experiences through analogy; for example:

Pain : Your Body :: Whatever Behavior I am Doing : You (Your Survival).

So what if you simply increase the complexity of analogies to the point where you have to reference the system itself that is thinking in order to contextualize a point?  An observer becomes aware of his own observing activity when the complexity of his collective brain connections reaches a critical mass.  At this point, moviegoers are very familiar with cinema language and narrative conventions.  We are well aware of what’s going to “come next” in a formulaic film.  So what will be the next for filmmaking?  How do we continue making films that thrill, inspire, and stimulate whole populations?

After over 100 years of exposure to cinema, audiences are primed for the next level of movie experiences.  Some folks in Hollywood have interpreted this to mean IMAX, 3-D, CGI, and extra-long, convoluted story lines.  There’s even talk of building movie theaters whose seats jolt around based on action on the screen, and Smell-o-vision.  Yet as all these technological bells and whistles are tacked on to your moviegoing experience, stories become more and more impoverished–Hollywood now produces mainly stories based on only on franchises: sequels, prequels, and remakes.  As the costs to produce these high-tech movies skyrocket into the hundreds of millions of dollars, Hollywood becomes more hesitant to produce original content, thus stifling fresh, perhaps simpler ideas… meanwhile, those increases in movie spending is passed off to the consumer, in form of crazy high ticket prices.  Is this really what innovation looks like?

I see cinematic innovation a little differently. I believe a film’s story is enhanced when the story effectively refers to the assumptions of its audience–when the audience’s expectations become a factor in the story’s development.  When a film draws attention to its frame, its medium, it by extension draws attention to our expectations of that that medium.  This further draws on our historical exposure to and immersion in the evolution of film language, which further draws into light our social and cultural constructions of meaning — our “reality” — that is embedded in each one of us.  Documentaries and avant garde narrative films from the likes of Christopher Nolan, Darren Aronofsky, and Charlie Kaufman do much to challenge our projections of a normal, predictable world, by challenging our expectations for a film and a meaningful film narrative.  You can refer to the film, and yet still the film can morph from that process.  This is, essentially, how creating new film products over time “locks in” certain style and narrative standards (like the close-up and parallel cutting, for example), while simultaneously opening up new possibilities for innovation in the films that follow.  In this way, film evolves.

Film is a highly technical and petroleum-based medium, but at its roots it is not a new medium.  At its roots, film is a sophisticated form of performance and storytelling, which are archaic (no negative connotation) methods of communication that are foundational to the way we relate to the world.  The function of sharing stories is to encode social values — that’s why, even in elaborate fantasies, the underlying structure of the story will often involve archetypes like hero, villain, mentor, and so forth.

Some have argued that even the quality of the movie theater environment — in a dark room with other rapt bodies, gazing at a flickering screen — harkens to our biological history of gathering around campfires to share crucial survival information through storytelling.  All the Hollywood film industry is doing (with its billion-dollar budgets, fanatic celebrity culture, and massive exploitation of humans and environment) is telling the same damn Hero’s Journey story in fancy dressing.  Though I’m not one to deny that film is a profoundly beautiful and sophisticated artform, it is also just a means for delivering simple stories, dressed way, way up.  Even as the stylization and technical delivery of these films seems limitless in expansion, somehow, the underlying stories seem ever more shallow.

When a society’s values are shifting as they are right now, we storytellers are pressured to tell meaningful stories.  We need new kinds of film, new stories encoding our new meanings.  I draw my inspiration from the reflexive (self-referencing) narrative and documentary films which in the last ten years have expanded into new dimensions of self-reference, subjective narratives, and non-chronological construction of narratives.  Reflexivity in the film form appeals to me intuitively because this artistic movement of drawing additional meaning into the story from the film’s own construction seems to me to mirror our society’s growing awareness of how our industrial, economic and social actions have widespread, dispersed ecological affects that can end up negatively impacting us in complex ways, even on a global scale.  Reflecting on our big and small life choices, we may discover startling consequences that are tied back to our own little narrative in a way that reshapes us.

My film Sust Enable: The Metamentary is firmly aligned with this movement in filmmaking.  Lots of film theory research and creative development over the past three years has afforded me a strong yet flexible film “container” that will as fully as possible represent its core question “What does sustainability mean?”on all levels of the film’s creation.  The design for Sust Enable: The Metamentary is well-researched and thoughtfully crafted… but what will go in the container?  What defines our current debates about sustainability?
How might this container have to flex beyond known bounds, in order to effectively contain such world-changing questions?  How might film not only be more effectively reflexive, but more inclusive, more participatory, centered on audience-empowerment instead of audience-numbing?
At The Sust Enable Project, we are committed to seeing these questions through; to asking more of the film medium and more of the filmmaking industry.  We want to facilitate people defining their own stories, not to have the same old stories told for them.  This intention is embedded in our productive design, too–we are looking for partners in this ambitious task.  Though we are decidedly not casting for heros or villains, we are currently looking for talented, compassionate, forward-thinking filmmakers and mediamakers to join us, in dynamically modeling a successful, sustainable film and filmmaking protocol on the diverse sustainable successes emerging on our amazing planet.  The socio-economic trend for “infinite growth” will not bear out in the long run, nor can it bear out in our film industry and cinematic technologies either–it becomes unworkably inaccessible, for both filmmakers and film consumers.  Since it cannot grow forever, now is the time to apply our creativity to make film a little more reflexive, a little more provocative, a little more rooted… a little more real.
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Expanding the social function of storytelling

At the Evolver Convergence two weekends ago, Daniel Pinchbeck uttered a line that has been echoing in my head ever since.  I’m paraphrasing here, but it was something close to “perhaps the reason for storytelling in cultures is about coordinating behavior.”

Coordinating behavior.  Wow.  Whether in a primitive, small-scale human hunter-gatherer clan, or our massive industrial globalized sprawling society, we tell stories not merely to transmit information critical to survival, but to coordinate our behavior relating to the information.  Stories aren’t just “I found a herd of buffalo–come this way.”  Stories have moral conflicts, often represented by contrasting characters, and they have problem solving (conflict and resolution).  Stories are built on our built-in process to make analogies–stories may even be allegories, which recursively tell two stories at once.  Our stories have models for action embedded in them.  Through our ability to relate emotionally, we imagine ourselves in the place of the hero, and we learn, through the drama of the story, what we ought to do to succeed.

The story of how we, as humanity, might achieve sustainability may not star a single hero.  It may not have an obvious villain.  Since we are the ones that made this mess, and the ones who are compelled to clean it up, maybe the (hi)story of how we might actually orchestrate such a change in behavior requires a hard, deep look at ourselves–at our natures as the source of incredible creativity, profound compassion, and devastating greed.  Thus, our new stories may look drastically different than they ever have. Continue reading

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Sea Change for Sust Enable

Hello everyone,

It is my joy to share with you today some new direction for Sust Enable: The Metamentary.

If you are wondering “what has Sust Enable been up to lately?,” I appreciate your curiosity!  The Sust Enable project has evolved through many phases, just like any growing organism.  It has been in a dormant period lately, as we had to honestly assess our capacity as an all-volunteer, micro-budget endeavor.  Sust Enable is about to emerge from a dormant phase, but it is certainly not dead, or even ailing.  It has merely been thoughtfully evolving, same as ever.

The film’s main mission has always been to try to embody sustainability as effectively as possible at all levels of the film’s creation, and thus to serve as an educational model and empowerment tool.  This film is going to try to live up to its working title of “metamentary” by going “beyond” traditional cinema structures and devices (building on, not hating on, I’d like to note!) and innovating a more sophisticated, holistic model of filmmaking, film style, and storytelling–as justified, of course, by our film’s expansive, slippery subject matter.  In this effort to embody sustainability as best we can, at times, the Sust Enable project has:

  • adopted a radically inclusive collective production structure;
  • held Community Feedback Sessions which morphed into Sustainability Jams, where people shared practical sustainable lifestyle skills and shared their perspectives on what sustainability means;
  • employed online collaborative devices to maintain collaboration between all volunteer stakeholders;
  • and we have gone through many different visions of what the film would look like.

And in this ongoing process, I have sheared away a lot of what Sust Enable is not, and discovered amazing insight into what Sust Enable is.

Sust Enable is a very special project.  As its Director, I have recognized that for me to hold the complex vision for what Sust Enable needs to be, my ambitious artistic standards exceed my drive and abilities as Producer.  One thing I have learned is that I need an experienced, highly creative production team to bring this project to life. Continue reading

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A Letter to Our Fans, Friends and Family

To Everyone Who Has Supported Us,

THANK YOU for helping to make Sust Enable: The Metamentary possible!

Thank you for believing in our commitment to a holistically sustainable film, thank you for wanting to join us on this journey to discover deep truths about sustainability, thank you for sharing this message with your friends. You are an integral part of the dialog we are hoping to create through our film.

Lots of things have been happening. I have some big news to share…

  • Sust Enable: The Metamentary will be officially kicking off production on July 30, 2011 with an interview with author Charles Eisenstein. Charles is the author of “Sacred Economics,” “The Ascent of Humanity,” and is a popular contributor to RealitySandwich.com. He is in the process of writing a “meta-book” that incorporates comments and critiques from readers into the book’s story. Check him out at www.charleseisenstein.com.
  • We have also just made a big purchase of the film’s main video camera! This is a commitment toward starting production, and I’m very proud of our decision. We will continue to explore how buying and renting film equipment contributes to unsustainable systems. Please explore our NEW and improved blog-style website for our ongoing reflections on our process.
  • Our first ever Sustainability Jam on July 14 was a wonderful success, with about 20 people turning out to learn about jam and sauerkraut making. Video and photo gallery coming soon! Stay tuned on our website to find out what the next Sustainability Jam will be about, or suggest a topic! Always the 2nd & 4th Thursdays, 7-9pm.

And in preparation for production, Sust Enable is hiring for crew positions! Please get in contact with us if you would like to volunteer or work for Sust Enable by emailing sust.enable@gmail.com.

We have come a long way since the naive Sust Enable episode series in 2008. After three years of development, I couldn’t be more proud of how far this project has come. But we still are shy of our $5,000 that will truly help us be ready for our production launch. Please share this site with your friends and encourage them to donate! We are dedicated to a flexible, transparent and inclusive filmmaking process. We believe that by committing to a sustainable process, we ensure that we can tell the fullest possible story about what sustainability may mean. Your engagement at this time is critical!

THANK YOU!

Sincerely,
Caroline & The Metamentary Crew

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