The press has made much lately out of the current delulge of American films addressing social issues. This year's list of Academy Award nominees (and winners) reads like a laundry list of current hot topics on the American political landscape. Whether the filmmakers are outwardly trying to influence the political agenda or just making a statement about our times, there seems to be a growing public awareness of the power of film to affect change. What was missing from the list of Oscar contenders, however, was a major blockbuster film. (This fact too, has been widely reported by the entertainment press.) The limited viewership of these films necessarily curtails their social impact. Rather than opening minds and encouraging unity, these films seem to have appealed largely to very distinct and divided audiences.
In her moving acceptance speech, TED Prize winner, Jehane Noujaim described her wish for using film to bring people together in a more meaningful way. Jehane is the award-winning filmmaker behind Control Room and Startup.com. Jehane's wish is to create a worldwide cinema event for one day each year with programming that highlights the themes of unity, the common ties that bind us into a global culture, a film festival called "Pangea Cinema, the day the world comes together." "Pangea" refers to the single land mass that broke up millions of years ago to create the disparate continents we know today.
Pangea Cinema is still very much in the brainstorming phase but the hope is to develop the idea well beyond the act of showing films. The goal is to invite the viewers of these films to join a global conversation about the issues that affect us all.
This will attract even fewer people than Capote. Guaranteed.
"The limited viewership of these films necessarily curtails their social impact. Rather than opening minds and encouraging unity, these films seem to have appealed largely to very distinct and divided audiences."
Maybe because the viewers disagree with the message? Or maybe they just don't like being preached to.
I applaud filmakers attempts to present new points of view. But they should take care not to be too preachy. Fahrenheit 911 was well recieved by the left but it alienated people on the right with its overly partisan tone. Whereas a documentary like the Power of Nightmares may not have given the "choir" the robust Bush bashing sermon they wanted it probably would have done a better job of swaying people on the "other" side.
I like Jehane's project and hope she can garner support and make this event a success. The International Day of Peace (Sept 21) is a natural day to hold it. Then, uniting all the film festivals all over the world to sponsor it, well, sounds pretty obvious. Just do it!
I'm feeling a little dense -- I'm having a hard time envisioning what this "worldwide cinema event for one day each year" would actually look like. Would it mean that the same films get shown in cities all around the world on the same day?
Forgive me if my post was unclear. The idea is to program a day of cinema (the same films) to be shown worldwide on one day. These films are not intended to push a particular political agenda but to bring people together by reminding us that we're not all that different. We can only be good global citizens if we have a broader understanding of other cultures. Chris Anderson noted your question directly in his email to the TED list:
What films would you show? There couldn't possibly be films that would appeal to different cultures around the world.
The evidence of countless global blockbusters suggests otherwise. Our cultures are different. But we're all humans sharing, at heart, a universal set of hopes, fears and desires. Indeed that's the whole point. This day would celebrate film-makers who find a way of awakening the things that unite us, that reveal our common humanity. Of course there are many issues to be thought about regarding the programming. One possibility is to choose two or three anchor films but have them surrounded by other shorter material that varies region by region. Jehane will be heading the content selection committee and a huge effort will be undertaken to make sure we choose the right films.
Your comment that "Our cultures are different. But we're all humans sharing, at heart, a universal set of hopes, fears and desires" reminded me of the speech given at the Oscars by the director of the best foreign film, Tsotsi (at least I think it was the director). He said something to the effect that "You call us foreign films, but our films are all the same. Your stories are our stories. And our stories are your stories." I'm sure he was much more eloquent than this, but this was the essence of his message.
I agree with both you and with Chris Anderson. As an avid viewer of foreign films, I sometimes run across films from other countries that are hard for me to understand, as an American with my life experience and cultural contexts. And yet, I'm also continually surprised at how accessible many others are -- from a South Korean thriller to a German black comedy to an Argentinian con movie.
I like this idea. I'm sure as with all such enterprises, it will start modestly at the beginning, with its share of nay-sayers. And then five or ten years down the line, it will be so successful and institutionalized that it wouldn't occur to anyone not to have it.
I just don't see how this would be implemented yet -- I think you're on the way to an idea, but you have to consider the delivery system. How is this different than a social issues film festival? Because it's held simultaneously around the world rather than traveling? Given the power of media delivery sites like Current.tv and YouTube and Google Video, I think you'd have more success aligning these kinds of websites and creating a day of social awareness -- then you have a built-in audience, an extensive online reach, and you're not pursuing the same film festival going crowd. Alternatively, working with someone like Apple to distribute social issue films via iTunes could reach a huge market and pull a lot of press.
Paul, that's a really good point! Jehane's wish certainly is in the nascent stage right now and as I noted in my post, the tream is looking for ideas. I imagine the distribution will require a combination of both traditional and digital formats, keeping in mind that the needs of the audience will vary from country to country. You should email your thoughts!d