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AFI FEST: The Most Encouraging and Discouraging Filmmaking Trends

Indie directors reveal the most exciting and depressing aspects of filmmaking in 2016.

Anita Rocha da Silveira

Director of “Kill Me Please,” Anita Rocha da Silveira

Bruno Mello

There are many paradoxes to being an indie filmmaker in 2016. Never has it been easier to make a quality movie, while at the same time it’s never been harder to maintain a stable career as a movie director. Equipment, viewing habit and the world are all rapidly changing, resulting in both opening and narrowing the opportunities for creative expression.

IndieWire checked in with the indie directors behind the “New Auteurs” and “American Independent” feature films at this year’s AFI FEST and asked: What is the most exciting and discouraging thing happening in filmmaking today?

READ MORE: 13 Lessons From Making a Film Festival Breakout: AFI Fest Directors Share Their Tips

Asaph Polonsky, “One Week and a Day”

Encouraging: That the miniseries “Olive Kitteridge” exists.

Discouraging: In Israel, where I made “One Week and a Day,” the Prime Minster, Bibi Netanyahu is now trying to shut down (before it even opened) a new public TV channel that can bring quality content because he’s afraid of what the channel’s news will report about him.

Felipe Guerrero, “Oscuro animal”

Encouraging: The possibility of making films or expressing oneself through images and sounds on the spot is something I find positive, although this has generated an overproduction that doesn’t allow for determining exactly the state of evolution of a language, if indeed there is one. Non-fiction filmmaking will always be where cinema best grows in terms of the search for new narrative.

I don’t think we’re yet at the point of an aesthetic earthquake like that of the first half of the twentieth century. But what if we are, and we don’t realize it, given the amount of noise and overproduction?

Asaph Polonsky

Asaph Polonsky

Vered Adir

Anita Rocha da Silveira, “Kill Me Please”

Encouraging: The discussion about gender equality. When I started working on movie sets in 2006, this topic was almost a taboo, but now at least we can talk about it without being seen as “crazy,” or hearing that “sexism doesn’t exist.” And I hope that some years from now we can see more and more women as directors, DPs, producers etc.

Discouraging: The end of movie theaters. I don’t think they will disappear completely, but times are changing, especially in countries like Brazil, where the tickets are very expensive, yet the cinemas are not investing in the best digital projection and sound system in order to provide a greater experience.

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Kris Avedisian, “Donald Cried”

Encouraging: Technology.

Discouraging: Technology.

Mbithi Masya, “Kati Kati”

Encouraging: I think the most exciting thing happening right now is the democratization of the medium of film. We are beginning to see and hear many more voices from around the world using the medium to tell their stories. And with the internet we also have unprecedented access to these stories. Distribution still has some ways to go, but it’s all exciting.

Discouraging: I’m too young to the medium to have seen or encountered anything really discouraging.

"Kati Kati"

“Kati Kati”

One Fine Day Films

Nicolas Pesce, “The Eyes Of My Mother”

Encouraging: It’s exciting to see horror films get weirder and more cult. There’s an audience who wants more interesting more atmospheric genre films and that’s really exciting.

Discouraging: Sci-fi has been turned into robot schlock. It took a while, but sci-fi has now fallen to the wayside as horror had once done. Every sci-fi movie is robots or city-crushing aliens. Gone are the days of the thoughtful and pensive “Solaris” or “Soylent Green,” films that used the genre as window dressing for philosophy, a disguise to make dense philosophical ideas more digestible.

READ MORE: AFI FEST 2016 – What Cameras Were Used to Shoot This Year’s Films

Maud Alpi, “Still Life”

Encouraging: The power of cameras as a democratic witness in human struggles, but also in the non-human world, not only to denounce but also to document the lives of beings we would not be able to meet otherwise. I am fascinated by the thousands of films on the internet that witness a great diversity of behaviors, shapes of life, and individual emotions.

Discouraging: Maybe, at least in France, it is the discrepancy between the great tools we have to make beautiful and diverse films, and the rigidity of the distribution.

"Still Life"

“Still Life”

Maud Alpi, Mezzanine Films

Josh Locy, “Hunter Gatherer”

Encouraging: Everyone can make a film. We are at the beginning of a new phase in film history — fresh voices and new perspectives can get out there because there is a market for them and avenues for them to be seen. Audiences have gotten smarter and are demanding fully developed stories with fully realized characters — the bar is being raised at every step

Discouraging: NOTHING IS DISCOURAGING!! — those things that could be interpreted as discouraging only help to define my voice and make better films. Because the medium has become more democratized, there are a LOT of films out there so as filmmakers we have to keep asking questions of our work and keep pressing to make films that stand out from the rest. This makes for better work.

READ MORE: ‘Moonlight’ Glow – Creating the Bold Color and Contrast of Barry Jenkins’ Emotional Landscape

Sarah Adina Smith, “Buster’s Mal Heart”

Encouraging: Virtual reality is incredibly exciting, especially in a time when we’ve all but lost a “captive” audience. VR experiences are a different beast than films and the medium is so new it’s the wild wild west. A lot of filmmakers and game designers are trying to figure out how to tell stories for that format right now and I can’t wait to see what the future holds.

Discouraging: There’s a supersaturation of content on the market (most of it not great) and it drives down prices and budgets. It also erodes trust with audiences, particularly the younger generation… which only further drives down prices and budgets.

There are so many other incredibly interesting things people could be watching, we need to give audiences a real reason to go to the theater. We need to speak to their souls again. I think movies, like concerts, can be the equivalent of a modern temple. We need to bring back some of that reverence by providing experiences that warrant it.

director Sarah Adina Smith

director Sarah Adina Smith

Daniel Bergeron

Tim Sutton, “Dark Night”

Encouraging: That Apichatpong Weerasethakul and PT Anderson both have at least five films to go and Yorgos Lanthimos might have ten. From opposite ends of the cinematic spectrum and industry, these are three directors who will stand in history as masters of the craft from my generation. What doesn’t excite me is the trend that TV is god and cinema is a bad word. There are so many bad shows out there flooding VOD that it makes me sometimes just want to, gasp, read.

Discouraging: Tent Pole Theory — a distribution strategy that keeps meaningful films out of the public eye and forces mediocre or bad movies onto the mainstream — which only pushes audiences further into their phones or deeper onto their couches to gorge on episodes of whatever show people are talking about at the moment so we can all avoid our lives – man, why am I sounding so anti TV? I love “Bob’s Burgers!”

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Logan Sandler, “Live Cargo”

Encouraging: Right now, it seems that there are so many new viewing platforms available for audiences to utilize. It’s exciting to be able to have such a wide potential outreach with a film.

Discouraging: There are too many re-makes, prequels, and sequels.

Tim Sutton

Tim Sutton

Caspar Newbolt

Dash Shaw, “My Entire High School Sinking into the Sea”

Encouraging: The tools are very accessible. You just have to be creative. Before, it seemed like you’d have to be rich to make a movie. I’m sure being rich still helps a lot. But, I think we’re slowly approaching a point where the tools are so ubiquitous that it’s like pen and paper. Then the questions become “how talented is this person? How awesome is this person’s vision?”

Discouraging: Apparently, people aren’t seeing many independent films in the theater anymore. That’s what I hear, anyway… I still go to see them!

Houda Benyamina, “Divines”

Encouraging: The most exciting part in cinema is when the substance is able to make us think about ourselves, about the world and when the style reinvents itself and becomes a big show.

Discouraging: What I find unfair and often repetitive is that poor people’s tragedies have less impact than rich and dominant people’s tragedies, as if their lives were more valuable than the poor ones. And “Titanic” asks marvelously this very old question.

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