"None of us realized the potency yet of this medium -- how many homes it was going to, what kind of affect it was having on people and so forth. I think everybody who works in the visual medium would love to have that kind of innocence again."
Among the many converging currents revealed in and explored by the Rotterdam Film Festival's newly inaugurated sidebar Changing Channels was the tendency of big screen directors to have a go at small screen auteurism. The progenitors of this trend are usually identified in directors such as David Lynch in America ("Twin Peaks"), Lars von Trier ("The Kingdom") and Rainer Werner Fassbinder before him ("Berlin Alexanderplatz") in Europe. Unacknowledged in this genealogical effort are luminaries of post-war American cinema like Robert Altman, Arthur Penn, Sam Peckinpah, Sidney Lumet and others who actually cut their sharp teeth in television before landing on the big screen.
With their daily lives usually marked by short-term flexibility and an uncertain future, contemporary audiences seem to appreciate the solid and long-term narratives of TV series. As existential linearity recedes on the horizon of our precarious lives, a serialized drama can provide a critical compendium on the dynamics of a struggling society -- think of "Breaking Bad," with its deconstruction of the American family and its ethical and financial unsustainability. And this goes well beyond the American frontiers, with quality TV setting up outposts in country as diverse and distant from each other as France and Japan, Chile and Czech Republic, as the Rotterdam program revealed.
The Rotterdam sidebar was organized in three subsections that illustrated both emerging and established trends as well as the different productive regimes behind them. A “Web Lounge” -- designed and built by Dutch-American artist Summer Wood -- sitting in the foyer of one of the festival venues offered non-stop web series. Three distinct “TV Nights” screened assorted works in double bills, usually walking the blurring line between TV and web, while a more “conventional” “Series and Marathons” was dedicated to the partial or complete screening of shows made for television. Far from being three separate and compartmentalized sections, their hybrid content was indicative of the ongoing exchange between different formats and platforms.
Unsurprisingly, web series were home to millennial' anxieties and circular existentialisms. Pained by the (hopefully) terminal stages of western individualism, the vast majority of internet creativity on display at the web lounge was plagued by self-pitiful characters. Caught in the irrelevance of lives of pathetic privilege, effected by social media syndromes and malfunctioning social lives, the characters-cum-creators of web series find in irony their ultimate shield and straightjacket. "Broad City," "The Misadventures of an Awkward Black Girl," "The Slope" and "I Hate Being Single" are all underpinned by the abovementioned, unimaginative predicament: middle class, creative types with no or unpaid jobs, living a life of unrelenting indeterminacy yet not even remotely intent on finding a meaning or purpose, wallow in their hip misery.