Indie Film Blogger Road Trip

A few months ago, just as I was finishing the manuscript of my book, Sujewa Ekanayake swung through Fayetteville to interview me for his forthcoming documentary, Indie Film Blogger Road Trip (IFBRT). Now, just as I am finishing copyedits on the book, Sujewa has been kind enough to allow me to be one of the first people to screen a rough cut of the film. I won’t pretend to review IFBRT. Obviously, I’m not an objective observer. But I am interested in talking about my experience of being filmed and then watching myself onscreen, as well as some of the questions the film raised for me as a blogger who happens to write about independent film.I’ll admit that the first time I watched the segments in which I appear, late last night, my first reaction was to grimace in discomfort. Do my hands really move like that? Do I really have that big of a gut? I now know why so many actors find it difficult to watch film clips of themselves when they play at awards shows. And I was watching the film alone on the very futon where I was interviewed a few months earlier. But after watching my scenes again, I felt a little better. Yes, my fingers seemed to be twitching madly during certain moments, but not as much as I initially remembered, and I ended up chalking up the appearance of a gut to a bad shirt choice. Not much I can do about that. Wear a more flattering shirt next time, of course. I liked the messy hair, though.

I’ll also admit that I was surprised at the answers that Sujewa chose to include. Given that I’m not living in a big city, it made sense for Sujewa to give me room to discuss the fact that blogging allows me to continue to feel at least somewhat connected to film cultures that are geographically distant but remain available, albeit in mediated form, on the web. But for whatever reason, I spent a few minutes talking about the role that blogging had played in organizing documentary filmmakers and artists in protesting new rules instituted by Mayor Michael Bloomberg that would have severely restricted the right to film in New York City. Now I don’t have any issues with Sujewa’s decision to use the comments, and I think the story is an important one, but it seems like an odd story coming from me, as if I was describing something I read, or maybe saw, not something in which I was a participant.

Which brings up a question for me. I wonder how other interviewees make sense of the experience of watching themselves onscreen, or about the kinds of things that make it into the film. As I mentioned in my original blog entry on being interviewed, Sujewa left my apartment with quite a bit of footage, and while I’m reasonably content with what appeared in the film, it is impossible for me not to think about what else Sujewa might have done with the film–or with the footage that he left on the virtual cutting room floor (we need a better metaphor to describe unused footage in the age of digital filming and editing, but I digress). In short, as I watched Sujewa’s film the first time, I found myself wanting to assume the director’s chair, to retell the story of film blogging in my own way, making my first viewing of IFBRT a rather frustrating experience.

But as I watched the last few minutes of IFBRT tonight, my fully copyedited manuscript sitting neatly in front of me on my coffee table, I found myself thinking about the place of a document such as Sujewa’s film in the current media landscape. One of the questions that seemed to persist was whether blogging would continue as an important cultural form in promoting and consuming indie films, and the consensus seemed to be that it would, in fact, persist. However, as more and more of my online activity migrates to Facebook and Twitter, where I can talk about everyday banalities and have random conversations with friends, both near and far, in 140 characters or less, I’m left to wonder how all of that new sociability will affect longer forms such as blogging–and yes, I realize the oddity of referring to blogging as a “longer form.” Jenny asked a really useful question about this media transition recently: “What’s your social software of choice right now?” I still like blogging and find it to be a useful space for working out ideas, but my recent breathless anxiety about the 2008 election and this semester’s nonstop flurry of activity have left me wanting to write short state of the psyche posts, not long, overly detailed film reviews or manifestos about indie cinema.

At the same time, Sujewa is attentive to the various ways that all of his interviewees are invested in blogging as an activity, even if, as Anthony Kaufman confesses at one point, we don’t always like doing it or like what it has done to film and entertainment journalism. Other bloggers complicate the perception that the indie film community is a completely inclusive, utopian space. As Judy Wajcman observes in her excellent book, TechnoFeminism, “networks create not merely insiders, but also outsiders, the partially enrolled, and those who refuse to be enrolled” (42-43). Melissa Silverstein, for example, took the time to challenge the “all boys club” tendency of many blogging communities, while Armando Valle pointed out that indie festivals often have less room for genre pics such as low-budget horror films. To Sujewa’s great credit, he took great care to ensure that he presented a multi-faceted and diverse portrait of the blogging community, while also acknowleding the ways that we sometimes fail to be fully inclusive. In addition to all that, it was certainly fun to see so many of the bloggers I’ve been reading, in some cases, for several years and to get some history of film blogging from people, such as Kaufman and S.T. VanAirsdale, who have (like myself) been practicing the fine art of film blogging for some time.

Obviously, because I am in the film, I can’t fully distance myself from it, and I have to wonder how it will play for people outside the circle of this specific slice of indie film culture. One of the maddeningly unanswered questions of the film is what counts as “indie.” Another might be what counts as “blogging.” Perhaps because these questions are impossible to answer in any concise way. IFBRT concentrates on what might later seem like a relatively narrow slice of the history of both “indie” and “blogging,” in that many of us, including myself (although my comments about the subject didn’t make it into the film) were relatively fixated on what was typically described as the indie film crisis of 2008, which makes me wonder what it would have meant to do this documentary as a series of impressions, following the ebb and flow of indie and blogging practices as our technologies change, as our social protocols change, and even as the movies themselves change. No matter what, I very much enjoyed being a part of the project and hope that Sujewa has success with it. Even if my hands were manically twitching the entire time I was onscreen.

11 Comments »

  1. Mike Everleth Said,

    November 17, 2008 @ 1:11 pm

    I haven’t read Wajcman’s book, but I really like that quote you pulled out. For my site Bad Lit, I decided to focus it exclusively on “underground” films because a) I love them; and b) there didn’t seem to be any other websites covering a certain type of indie filmmaking in detail. There still aren’t any besides mine that I know of.

    Also, although I use WordPress to create the site, I’ve never thought of it as a “blog.” To me, it’s a news and review site. Is the term “blog” a frame of mind or the description of the software used to create a site? Maybe “blogging” as a frame of mind will become obsolete because of Twitter and such, but “blogging” by using certain softwares won’t.

  2. Sujewa Said,

    November 17, 2008 @ 1:51 pm

    For the doc a blog was basically an internet journal – in this case journals/blogs that focused on indie film & related matters. We also talked about people who use indie film blogs for their work (programming films, etc.), even if they themselves were not bloggers. There isn’t the time or the money to cover the supergigantic field of indie film related media in its entirety – so I focused on a variety of bloggers who were available to me to visit & interview in a given period of time (summer of ’08, east coast). Hopefully the doc, & discussions about it, will also benefit sites & blogs that deal with indie film but are not featured in or mentioned in the doc – I think that will happen – due to the magic of linking, comments, etc.

  3. Chuck Said,

    November 17, 2008 @ 1:58 pm

    The Wajcman book is pretty good. She does some of the more interesting work I’ve seen on technology and gender. The vagueness with which blogging is defined is something that has bothered me for a while, and it goes well beyond this film. You’re right, Mike, to point out that using blogging software doesn’t make something a blog. And I’m a little skeptical of characterizing writing on the web associated with major publications, such as the New York Times blogs as blogs. Arguably, part of it is the editorial process (i.e., having an editor), but that lack of precision can be frustrating (even when I’m guilty of it myself).

  4. Noralil Ryan Fores Said,

    November 17, 2008 @ 10:07 pm

    I’ve a fancy I’ll feel the same way seeing myself on camera, Chuck, my thoughts too noting every instance of now blush-introducing effervescence, candor or random arm flailing. Those eccentricities are all beautiful though, at least I’m sure I’ll find yours quite beautiful about you.

    As for your notes here, they’ve made me more than excited to see the film soon myself. There are always unanswered questions in this field. I’m hoping the rest of you have at least a handful of the answers.

    Thanks for the post. It’s more than appreciated.

  5. Chuck Said,

    November 17, 2008 @ 11:45 pm

    Thanks for the kind words about the post. Now that I’ve adjusted to seeing myself on screen, I think I’m more preoccupied with the general question of how documentary subjects experiences themselves as “authors” of the film. Or how their (our?) image of themselves converges or diverges with what they see on screen.

    I’m looking forward to seeing your response to the film.

  6. The Chutry Experiment » Documenting Film Criticism Said,

    November 25, 2008 @ 11:04 am

    [...] a day or so after writing about my experience of watching myself in Sujewa’s documentary about indie film bloggers, I came [...]

  7. Sujewa Ekanayake Said,

    December 20, 2008 @ 2:20 am

    Hey Chuck,

    Just posted the first 9 minutes of the doc at youtube & at my blog, here’s the link to share with any of your readers who are interested:

    http://diyfilmmaker.blogspot.com/2008/12/happy-holidays-opening-9-minutes-from.html

    Thanks!

    - Sujewa

  8. Chuck Said,

    December 20, 2008 @ 10:38 am

    Thanks for the update. I’ll likely try to write a general links post later and include a link then.

  9. The Chutry Experiment » Tuesday Movie Links Said,

    January 6, 2009 @ 1:52 pm

    [...] in the film–my world premiere!–I abstained from reviewing it, but I did write about the uncanny experience of seeing myself as a documentary subject a few weeks [...]

  10. The Chutry Experiment » Indie Film Bloggers Revisited Said,

    February 18, 2009 @ 5:47 pm

    [...] it’s somewhat disheartening to have to express my disappointment in IFBRT.  In my original “reaction” to being in the film, I tried to keep my criticisms somewhat muted, simply because I wanted to [...]

  11. A DIY Filmmaker Sujewa Weekend Said,

    August 4, 2010 @ 3:59 pm

    [...] Carolina and talks with Chuck Tryon of Chutry Experiment (see Chuck’s write up of the film here), and even deeper into the South to Atlanta where he meets up with Noralil Ryan Fores of ShortEnd [...]

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