The take-home message is that we cannot allow ourselves to become complacent, either before the election or after it. We must hold Obama's feet to the fire on these issues, and the time to do that is now -- because, as Scahill pointed out, after the election, he doesn't need us anymore. Don't allow excitement about Obama's candidacy lull you into complacency -- as we saw in his heartbreaking capitulation on the FISA bill, if he is left to his own devices, Obama will play it safe. It is up to us to ensure that he is not left to his own devices, to ensure that there is constant pressure on him to do the right thing on Gitmo, on Habeas, on torture, on military contractors (who are, by the way, providing Obama's security in Afghanistan), on executive privilege, on the rule of law.
This being a blogger conference, naturally there is embedable webcast video, so y'all can watch for yourselves.
Larry Lessig (skip the painfully lame introductions and fast-forward straight to Lessig's speech, which starts about 6 minutes in):
The remarkable new documentary Trouble The Water (dir. Tia Lessin and Carl Deal) screened last night at Netroots Nation. It tells the story of Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath from the point of view of Kimberly Rivers Roberts and Scott Roberts, a pair of New Orleans street hustlers. Some of the most gripping footage was shot by Kim herself -- she had bought a video camera on the street for $20 the week before Katrina, and began filming herself and her 9th Ward neighbors as, unable to evacuate, they prepared to face the storm. She continued filming during the hurricane and as the nearby levees topped and her city flooded. Following a harrowing exodus, Kim and Scott met Tia Lessin and Carl Deal in a central Louisiana Red Cross shelter. These two Brooklyn-based filmmakers had originally planned to shoot a film about the Louisiana National Guard, examining how their deployment overseas crippled the response to Katrina's devastation. But while these issues and others still lurk in the background, Trouble The Water is, at its core, a disarmingly intimate portrait of Kim and Scott and the way their lives and the lives of those around them are transformed by the aftermath of the storm.
The emotional core of the film comes in a tremendous scene where Kim, who had recorded some homemade hiphop tracks under the name Black Kold Madina, discovers that her Memphis cousin has the only surviving copy of her CD. She throws the disc on the boombox and raps along to her track "Amazing," her pre-Katrina lyrics taking on tremendous new resonance in light of what we've seen her go through. The audience at the screening burst out in spontaneous applause at the end of Kim's performance -- I am betting this happens a lot.
Trouble The Water opens August 22 in NYC and LA. Fercrissakes go. Everyone needs to see this film.
One thing I discovered at yesterday's film panel is that The Big Buy (Mark Birnbaum & Jim Schermbeck's 2006 movie about Tom DeLay's Congressional shenanigans) has an awesome noir-jazz soundtrack, courtesy of Dallas-based composers John Bryant and Frank Hames. There's even a music video (with footage from the tracking session interspersed with clips from the film) included as a DVD extra, which they showed during the panel. Unfortunately, the video doesn't seem to be online, but here's a clip that begins with the title theme:
As you might expect, there's not a whole lot of artstalk happening here at Netroots Nation -- it's a long way from NPAC, both geographically and philosophically. (Honestly, though, if we are actually serious about building momentum for a national arts policy or cabinet-level Secretary of Culture position, then we should probably have some kind of presence at this conference.) There is, however, a small but notable contingent of filmmakers (including a surprise appearance by this Oscar-winning documentarian), severaldocumentaryscreenings, and a string of panels devoted to discussion of film and online video. This makes sense -- there's been a real surge of interest in documentary films over the past decade, as technology has radically reduced the barriers to entry and enabled alternative modes of distribution.
One recurring topic in this conversation involved the massive technology-driven changes in the film industry in recent years -- changes that, like the transformations in the music industry, are both exciting and terrifying. On the one hand, there are now unprecedented opportunities for independent filmmakers to get their work out there -- as one panelist pointed out, anyone can buy a Flip video camera for $100, shoot a documentary, and upload it to YouTube. On the other hand, much of the existing institutional support for documentary films has gone by the wayside -- Paul Stekler observed that 35 years ago, all of the panelists would have had steady jobs making documentaries at PBS -- that level of institutional investment just doesn't exist anymore. In fact, Mark Bimbaum's latest project, Stop The Presses, is about the looming crisis in the newspaper business, which is on track for a music-industry scale collapse.
The panelists observed that (as you might expect) most film and network TV execs are shockingly ignorant about viral video, BitTorrent, and the other technological developments that are transforming their industry, although they are now desperately trying to catch up. There was some concern about how the new types of delivery affect the reception of a work -- there is, after all, a huge difference between an active, collective, powerfully emotional experience like going out to see a film in a theatre, versus watching the same content on a computer or on your iPhone. Everyone recognized the importance of getting the work out to a broad audience and feeding the hunger for new ideas, but no one seems certain how newly emerging formats will affect content -- or how they will affect the bottom line. The traditional model for documentary filmmakers is to try to generate buzz around film festival screenings and ideally some kind of limited (inevitably money-losing) theatrical release, then use that momentum to try to drive DVD sales. But what happens to that revenue stream when the DVD format goes the way of the CD? Some filmmakers are experimenting with house-party screenings and the like, and it's clear there are more opportunities than ever to tell new stories and begin new conversations -- but there are also serious questions about long-term sustainability.