Tuesday, May 26, 2009

The Ultimate Prize

What is the proper role of the state in supporting art and culture?
Of the three types of Contemporary filmmakers operating outside the Hollywood mainstream, film critic David Stratton writes in The Australian of how you can find all three in the recently concluded Cannes Film Festival.

Of these three types, the classicists, noisy sensationalists and grim realists, it is obvious in which camp Stratton sits. After disparaging the jury led by Isabelle Hupert for “strange programming” choices and “the most bizarre and inappropriate awards in the history of the festival” (referring to the noisy sensationalists and grim realists), he delights in the fact that “fortunately the Camera d'Or award - for Best First Feature in any section - was judged by a different jury, and Samson and Delilah was the well-deserved winner, confirming its critical support in Australia” (in which he probably sees he played a major part). Stratton is a voice for the old guard of classical cinema.

With regards to the so-called sensationalist/realist school, apart from indie greats Quentin Tarantino and Ang Lee (who have reached Hollywood mainstream status), Channel News Asia reports that
It was a case of coming out of the shadows for the creative minds behind dark and disturbing Asian movies that became the brightest stars at Cannes. The gathering of film luminaries gave recognition to cult directors from China and Korea, as well as controversial Filipino auteur Brillante Mendoza.

The blood-and-gore tale about vampire love entitled "Thirst", saw South Korea's Park Chan-wook taking home the festival's Jury Prize as joint winner. This was his secondfrom the festival after "Old Boy" in 2004.

A China entry made in secret on unexpectedly graphic gay love movie, "Spring Fever", won best screenplay for outlawed director Lou Ye.

As for Brillante Mendoza, one of the most divisive directors at the 12-day movie bonanza, got the best director prize for a gritty look at violence in "Kinatay", which means "butchered" and shows the slow dissection of a prostitute with blunt kitchen knives.
The fact of the matter is, no matter what your taste in art is, whether you prefer subtle depictions of events set in World War II Europe or go for a warts and all portrayal of social reality or slasher type horror flicks, the right set of policies towards cultural and economic vibrance at the local level, be it in Cannes, Sydney or Shanghai, is the ultimate prize. In this regard the state can perform one of the following functions: it be an active patron (and censor) of the arts, or show benign neglect by relegating itself to the role of sponsor to mostly industry-led collective action.

In much of developing Asia, especially in authoritarian regimes where the media is controlled, art and culture, particularly of the classical form often thrives with the backing of the state, as was the case in Russia and other former Soviet Republics. Lurking in the shadows, however, you will always find subversive voices that challenge the mainstream on their own, with no backing from either the state or major corporations.

With the democratisation of film production that digital technology affords, it is now possible for these voices to come out and find an audience for their stories in the global village. Unseemly and unsettling their themes might be, these unschooled artists won’t need encouragement or sponsorship to let their voices be heard. They are already used to being heaped with ridicule and repressive censorship by now.

1 comment:

  1. The problems is that it is one thing the state supports culture but how much does culture then owe the state be it the glorification of the Soviet or Nazi propaganda ideal or whatever state. The relationship can too easily become art being intellectually dominated by the state but when does art find the space to create without support?