How Not To Occupy Sundance

Obviously this blog is sympathetic to the larger goals of the 99 percent movement. But sometimes, I’ve got my tactical disagreements, and such is the case with what appears to be the messaging of an Occupy Sundance counterfestival that’ll be taking place in Park City when I get there.

First, I don’t think it makes a lot of sense to compare the festival’s acceptance rates (about 1 percent of films make it in) to the 99 percent-1 percent divide. Unless you can document that the 1 percent of movies that got in have some sort of unfair, cronyistic advantage that let them get in despite the fact that they’re not the kind of movies people want to see (which, if that argument is to be made, make it), there isn’t really a legitimate unfairness argument to be made here. Sundance has a limited capacity for the number of films it can screen and the number of locations it can screen them at and still be a coherent festival. Some indies, like Bachelorette or John Dies at the End, are going to have a bigger draw for audiences. That’s not evidence of some sort of plutocracy: it’s a capacity and market demand fact. Having artistic criteria and needing to make the event financially successful (Sundance is, after all, a non-profit) isn’t inherently a promoter of inequality or unfairness.

I do agree with Occupy Sundance organizer Daniel J. Harris that “Submitting your debut film to multiple festivals in the USA, is costly, grueling and a gamble.” But that seems like an argument to found more legitimate festivals, to organize a mentoring program that helps first-time indie filmmakers get critiques from old festival hands to improve their pitches, or a pool that can provide entrance fee money for filmmakers in need. I’m less compelled by his argument that “Pitching tents in the snow, and yelling cine-Marxist agitprop is always a better way to promote your film than by being co-opted by The Man. Hell, globally everyone is pissed off at anyone with authority, is it not time someone made a statement or is it maybe Americans filmmakers have nothing really left to say?” But maybe I’m wrong to believe that we can’t capture a bit more of Hollywood for ourselves.

Second, it’s pretty bizarre to me that an Occupy film festival would think it was sending a smart progressive message by featuring in its lineup Steven Greenstreet’s Hot Chicks of Occupy Wall Street. When he launched the tumblr that inspired the film, Jill at Feministe did a nice job of explaining why Greenstreet’s so-called promotion of the movement was so creepy given the problems women have faced staying safe in the encampments. Given the issues women face gaining employment in key storymaking roles in Hollywood, there’s something pretty depressing about Occupy Sundance giving screening space to someone with less-than-revolutionary ideas about women and gender — especially since of the movies it appears to be featuring, just one of the six is by a woman. Sometimes the occupation looks like the thing it’s trying to occupy. But I’ll see in Park City for myself.