A letter describing a hopeful landscape against a backdrop of war and fire

Xcèntric programme November 2010 - January 2011

Loïc Díaz-Ronda

Dear Xcèntric,

You ask me to talk about the crisis and the low-budget films that could represent a response to the sinister situation besetting us. However, this latest depression bears so much relation to the end of history, decadence and countless other morbid ideas, that it seems to me quite sterile for thinking about our present and particularly about what interests you and me—that is, the delightful art of images, from Méliès to Domingo, from Brakhage to Varda, and from Svankmajer to Weerasethakul.

I do not deny the reality of many creators, often confused with the equally unstable situation of many others, nor do I deny the existence of this latest high-profile media terror discourse. Yet its obsessive repetition seeks only to conceal the intensification of a war that began at the end of the last century. That the most ideologized sectors of the culture industry should be in a hurry to stamp us out, poor dissenters that we are, and that their governments should withdraw the resources that for years we struggled for, is indeed lamentable, but it comes as no surprise.

As for me, I lost interest in cinema’s official Zone some time ago, because it is no easy task to respect an institution that refuses to allow the bravest films access to the subsidy system, in which mediocre producers and directors impose their law on boards and commissions, where the nation’s greatest laurels are given to dubious comic actors, and where Godard and Erice, to name the major exponents, have become the minority in their own parties.

The most positive thing about this supposed blight—the crisis—lies in its potential to confound the strategies of cultural marketing that reign even in the temperate currents of well-intentioned art-house film, conceived for segments of the market. Personal, free, independent, experimental film really has no market, and this very fact should protect it from bargaining and degrading concessions. This kind of film does not expect salvation from an industry that frequently plunders it, or from a State which mostly, thanks be, ignores it. Rather than having to meet the expectations of consumers, it draws its strength from its own ingenuity, from its ability to transform the lead of its limitations into a gold of real possibilities and to endlessly create new narratives.

In some respects, contrary to many contemporary discourses and despite the fact that the film institution is suffering from sclerosis, today’s scene is full of promising signs. At international level, there is a very lively alternative non-fiction film scene that defines itself in terms of its ec-centricity as an aesthetic stance and also as a social ethic. Further, the audiovisual community has created for itself, at least in Europe, a combative infrastructure made up of a few excellent festivals, hyperactive online reviews, arts centres, underground initiatives and even efficient distribution platforms. I do not think that the new vicissitudes of the old crisis can stop this movement.

Accordingly, if we are to continue making good films, surely it would be a good idea to look not for answers to the crisis but for alternatives to traditional ways of seeing and going about things. But how? Which way should we be looking? I confess that I do not have the slightest idea, but I do see very clearly what we should not be doing.

Above all, the heterodoxy I am thinking of has nothing to do with your suit of clothes: you can be a classical dissenter while being surrounded by mass cinema. Yet many temptations lie in wait for our generation: the temptation of producing film for filmmakers, isolated from real life, endlessly questioning the history of the medium and images of the past. The last thing I want to do is to be an apologist for a body of film by hermits, magi or outcasts, merely for consumption by small groups of the initiated.

Finally, another barrier is fragmentation and the search for an illusory legitimacy. We have to form part of something, promote a sense of community in spite of our discrepancies. Otherwise we will simply be one part more of the economy of “access”, now as a select sector of the communication or design industry. I am concerned at the present-day tendency of some individuals to set themselves up as “experts”, to be mere self-promoting entrepreneurs, to become part of the cultural elite or high-class set, which are often mistaken for each other. For me, this means he resignation of our cinema, as well as a vital lack of commitment. To quote the philosopher Michel Serres, ultimately, “only those who are excluded create”. Whether or not you agree with this statement, it entails something that is quite unavoidable: we have to take risks. The haven of semi-nocturnal peace offered by the dark film theatre has never protected anyone from the fires and wars devastating the world beyond its walls.

As alternative Buddhists say: Meditate and Destroy…

With my warmest wishes,