The films at the True West Film Festival may have come from all over the West, but the discussion at the Saturday panel Flapjacks and Filmmakers had a decidedly local appeal. To an ample morning crowd at the Kulture Klatsch, speakers Heather Rae (True West cofounder and producer of Trudell), Travis Wilkerson (Who Killed Cock Robin?) Calum Grant (Ever Since the World Ended), Sundance programmer Bird Runningwater and local icons Andrew Ellis (Small Pond Films) and Greg Bayne (cofounder of both True West and Revival Pictures) provided a rousing roundup of independent filmmaking tips, funding warnings and, just for fun, a little chest-pounding.
Digital video (DV) is the topic du jour (and by all accounts, will be for decades to come), so appropriately, much of the discussion hovered around the opportunities in filming and post-production created by novel technologies. From affordable DVD production to filming hours of tape for the price of 10 minutes of film, DV allows filmmakers to do so much for so little that they often describe the process with the righteous indignation of a political revolutionary. Case in point: "My Molotov cocktail," declared Grant to healthy applause, "comes in the form of a three-chip digital camera."
That said, with the talk of affordability came an oft-voiced complaint in the era of DV: namely, that as filmmaking has become more affordable to film and edit, an overabundance of bad films have flooded the market, to the detriment of legitimate or "passionate" filmmakers. How does one tell the right from the shite, you ask? As with any developing artistic medium, the experienced are often distinguishable by the complaints emanating from their pancake holes. Wilkerson voiced this concern by saying, among other barbs "if [they are] not meaningful, then more films won't be useful," and "everyone can write, but there are few good books."
Anyone who has spent time around filmmakers, musicians or artists of any meager acclaim has probably heard these ideas expressed before, and likewise, anyone who has spent a few evenings watching small, self-funded independent cinema will agree that they are not without some accuracy. However, both as an independent film fan and as a critic who occasionally enjoys verbally rending a poorly conceived piece of screen-fungus, I failed to see the usefulness (to use Wilkerson's term) in vaguely deriding bad-art-in-general at a first-time independent festival. I suspect we all know (sorry if this is a surprise to anyone) that bad films exist, and that they are often in the majority. In a crowd containing more potential and developing filmmakers than established ones, however, Wilkerson (and to a lesser extent, Grant) would have better served the cause of encouraging budding talent by leaving his alpha-male display in Montana.
Aside from these few questionable moments, however, the filmmaking summit was on the whole quite uplifting in its message. Hearing Ellis, Bayne and Wilkerson explain how their affection for a specific locale, be it Boise or Butte, led them to nurture a regional cinematic community rather than bailing to L.A. or New York is both compelling and hopeful. Equally encouraging is Runningwater's assurance that festivals like Sundance are striving to "reach out" to places like Idaho because "we need stories from your region, your area, your experience because this is the real world and a lot of people ... would like to see it on the big screen." A strong sense of place and geography is crucial to the staying power of excellent contemporary filmmaking, from Jared Hess's Napoleon Dynamite to anything by the Coens, and the minds behind True West should be applauded for encouraging this sentiment both verbally and cinematically.