Judgement Day: Crowds, Courts, and Constructive Criticism
- Posted: 5th May 2011
- Category: Articles
- Tags: east end film festival,  marc isaacs,  10x10,  crowd funding,  jez lewis
Tales from the back row of Documentary Day at the East End Film Festival
by Matt Strachan
Documentary Day – the East End Film Festival’s doc-dedicated industry programme – turned out to be a day of judgement, of sorts. Not the Last, fortunately – it’s unlikely God would choose Brick Lane on a chilly Tuesday for that, and surely not days away from the headline-hogging Royal Wedding. But judgement, in one form or another, bubbled beneath the surface of the sessions, whether overtly in Marc Isaacs’ Outside the Court, implicitly in the panel discussion about crowd funding, or constructively in DFG’s very own project development workshop 10x10.
To add meat to the bones of a fairly self-explanatory title (it doesn’t get much more literal than this), Marc Isaacs spent three months outside Highbury Magistrates Court for his latest film Outside the Court. Interacting with those forced to interact with the law, and penetrating the problems and personalities at the core of their crimes much more effectively than the justice system seems to be able to, Isaacs – in a substantial deviation from the ‘house style’ he has developed since his 2001 debut Lift – uses more than one camera and goes beyond the confines of intimate confessional to formally include himself in the frame on occasions. A conscious decision, made to further convey the idea of judgement that inevitably permeates the entire film, it detracts surprisingly little from what makes the director’s work so watchable in the first place – great characters, revealed in rare depth, to a filmmaker they sense they can trust.
Trust in, and judgement of, the filmmaker are fundamentals underpinning one of the industry’s most popular panel discussion topics of recent years – crowd funding. Now reaching a maturity confirmed by the proliferation of websites offering crowd funding services (We Fund and Sponsume were represented on this particular panel, relative newbies compared to early entrants IndieGoGo and Kickstarter), the concept seems to have shifted in the filmmaking community consciousness from great saviour to useful top-up tool – a way to oil the wheels rather than buy the wheels themselves. And as the IndieGoGo glow begins to dim, revealing its actual source, crowd funding feels more and more like fancy Web 2.0 lingo for a traditional tripartite at the core of modern business – the relationship between marketing, social engagement, and money. As panellist Lauren Simpson – producer of upcoming doc Just Do It – proves, with the right approach funds can be sourced from the crowd directly, without the need for a crowd corralling middleman. With such middlemen clearly on the rise it’s crucial we make sure there’s more oiling of wheels than greasing of palms.
Refreshingly devoid of oil, grease, or money (and its metaphors) of any kind, DFG’s free project development workshop 10x10 peddles purely in feedback – good, bad, but hopefully always constructive. A unique opportunity for filmmakers to screen up to 10 minutes of their non-fiction works-in-progress, and receive 10 minutes of unfettered audience response in return, it provides that other crucial element – alongside money – that abounds in studio or broadcast infrastructures, but is in distinctly short supply at the independent level: the opportunity of a second, third and fourth opinion; the thoughts of an unbiased audience during post-production. 10x10 manages to provide an invaluable service that documentary filmmakers would be foolish not to take full advantage of.
So certainly not the Last, but a day of judgement nonetheless. And as much as that word proffers negative connotations, it’s ultimately a crucial thread that runs throughout documentary filmmaking. From tapping into the crowd and convincing them to put money where mouths are, through engaging an audience early for their vital views, to creating content that illuminates, analyses and ideally changes the opinions of others, documentary is a veritable melting pot of judgement. It’s no wonder that Documentary Day, any day, would turn out to be a judgement day.
The East End Film Festival runs annually in April/May across East London.
Outside the Court – Marc Isaacs, UK 2011, 60 mins
The next 10x10 workshop is at Sheffield Doc/Fest.
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