Have camera, will shoot
Jan 31 2014
It takes more than just accessible technology to create meaningful content
The movement left its mark all over the world, including filmmakers in the US in the late 60s and early 70s who came to be known as the ‘New Hollywood’ — Martin Scorsese, Francis Ford Coppola, Brian De Palma, Dennis Hopper and several others. Its impact was even felt in India in the films of Mrinal Sen and other young filmmakers around that time, many of them graduates of FTII. Even a classically inclined director like Satyajit Ray, who otherwise was sceptical of undue experimentations, acknowledged its influence on his oeuvre and singled out Godard’s Breathless and Truffaut’s 400 Blows as major inspirations. The movement and its varied styles continue to inspire contemporary filmmakers even today like Quentin Tarantino, amongst others.
What was so special about the movement that continues to inspire generations even after 50 years since its inception? The reasons are not far to seek: Its freewheeling style — use of hand held cameras, jump cuts, natural lights, depiction of recognisable characters in real identifiable situations, and shooting on actual locations within limited budgets — suddenly liberated cinema from the confines of a strict studio system that relied on a very structured methodology and use of stars. Young filmmakers, eager to tell new stories and share it with audiences, suddenly discovered that filmmaking could be accessible and they could experiment with a new language.
But even then, you needed a minimum technology whose cost was prohibitive. Video was yet to come into the market and film stock was expensive. The arrival of the cheap and lightweight Super-8 camera led to an independent movement in the 70s and 80s where young filmmakers began making short experimental films which were showcased in college campuses and private screenings but hardly left any indelible mark. The efforts were amateurish and most of them were intellectually pretentious.
But in the past decade, with the advent of digital technology that has ushered in a revolution, filmmaking has suddenly become democratised. Anybody can lay his hand on low priced DSLR cameras that have flooded the market and turn into a filmmaker.
And therein lies the danger — anybody can turn into a filmmaker today! At an age where the attention span of the youth flits between different social medias at a lightning speed, the teenager is no longer focused on anything particular. And if he wants to be a filmmaker, he seeks the quickest way out to achieve his dreams, forgetting that it takes years to hone a skill, and a certain experience in life and understanding of it are necessary before one can become a filmmaker. The process is painstaking and rigorous and there is no shortcut to expertise.
Most of the films made by such young filmmakers lack an understanding of the vital contradictions of society, superficial in their approach of any problem and rely heavily on mood and fancy angles. The multiple avenues where such films are showcased are dictated by business interests, sponsored mostly by camera companies and hence, content becomes the least priority.
Technology cannot change stories and emotions. Form alone cannot sustain the audiences’ interest; it has to be balanced by meaningful content. Experiments need to be grounded on tradition: if one were to break the rules, one has to know the rules — and the passage is never smooth. As Roman Polanski put it succinctly in his autobiography, a journey of a filmmaker is a ‘shuttle between feast and famine.’ The idea is to keep on learning which most young filmmakers, in their hurry to achieve success, don’t pay heed to.
(Ranjan Das is a Mumbai-based independent filmmaker, film instructor and writer)