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Sub-Genre Media Newsletter:
Weekly musings on indie film, media, branded content and related items from Brian Newman.

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November 16, 2022

Last week, I went to two memorials for loved ones. One was both personal and professional -the NYC “Un-Memorial” for Jess Search, and the other being more personal - for a dear Aunt of mine. But both brought home for me the importance of community, and how we need to build it and nurture it, and how some people and fields do it better than others. 
The latter memorial for my Aunt was in a small town outside of Raleigh, NC where she and my Uncle (who survives her) ran a grocery store that served its local community particularly well. The store was started by my grandfather, and for years it was the only place in town where you could get farm fresh produce along with anything else you needed. Over time, it became like a true family run Whole Foods, continuing to serve its local community as the town grew and changed. In fact, I remain convinced that many of the changes you’ve seen at bigger grocery stores were fed by corporate spies visiting my Uncle and Aunt’s store and copying what they did on a bigger scale (appropriate perhaps because that Uncle had been an actual spy before, but that’s another story). 
That funeral was a testament to community – my Uncle received visitors and well-wishers for hours because the store had brought together the community for so long. It had served both customers and its employees so well that it made the community better and stronger. And it changed with the times to better serve its community. I won’t bore you with all of the innovations and changes since few of you probably work in the grocery business, but those changes were also what kept it relevant to the community, and helped make the community a vibrant place with choices of where to shop other than Whole Foods, or Walmart or Amazon, which is not common in every small town, and in itself, that’s a model for the film business too – to have places where you can build community around connecting quality to consumers (audiences) instead of junk, know the business owner, support a better ecosystem and be healthier as a result of it all.
The un-memorial for Jess Search was also a testament to community. In fact, at that evening’s more festive (i.e., drinks were served) event, I even heard filmmakers exclaiming – “see, we really are a community,” and they were right. And in many ways, Jess Search and her colleagues at Doc Society (formerly known as Britdoc) have helped to build that community. What’s amazing is how many other people in the doc space have been and are doing the same – I’m thinking of the work of places like Firelight, BGDM, the D-Word, the Color Congress, but also festivals like Full Frame, Camden, Big Sky, True/False – this list could go on to many smaller groups (Working Films or A-Docs) and larger (Sundance or CPH:DOX) and it’s a testament to how vibrant it is that I will get called out for sure for not mentioning at least ten or twenty other great community building organizations in the doc space (this list is especially US centric, apologies already…). 
The documentary community is also coming together in multiple different ways right now to address some of the “crisis” in the distribution of those docs. I can see real solutions on the horizon, and these are almost all a direct result of the vibrancy of this community.  As a quick aside, this is also true in the brands & film space on a smaller scale – the BrandStorytelling conferences and community have been slowly building a tight community around people in that space, and especially when it comes to our own crises – the need for more diversity in the space, or better metrics, or better ways to have impact – all of those are being worked on by the community. 
And I guess you can say this was a big part of the success of the recent strikes. The community – of writers and then of actors – banded together, stuck/struck together and that made for positive change. But aside from that, we are missing this sense of community in the narrative/fiction and broader arthouse or specialized film world.  We do have one piece of that puzzle – film festivals and the better arthouse cinema exhibitors have built great communities for their local audiences to watch films, and discuss them, etc. Again, I could list events from small to big – Montclair, Blackstar, Locarno, and on and on. And yes, the industry community gathers at some of these events, especially the bigger ones like Cannes and Sundance, and you can get a small sense of being part of a community.

But I don’t think we can find that same sense of a community that is working together to build something better on the industry/filmmaker side of things in any ongoing, meaningful way that is similar to that of the doc community. And I think that’s why the crises we face in that world are going to prove more intractable (again) than those of the doc world. Back in the day, you could point to initiatives by places like AIVF, IFP, and even regional film organizations like IMAGE (which I used to run, so I am biased), Film Arts Foundation, etc. – but nothing like those orgs really exist anymore (outside of docs). The closest thing is probably the Sundance Labs and Catalyst, but those are very elite programs (in a good way), and we can’t expect Sundance alone to save our field – even if people try to push that on them every other day. 
But I think one possible solution here is to build more bridges between the doc community and the rest of “specialized” film (scare quotes because I don’t love the term). I have a hunch the audience actually loves both – film lovers just love many types of films, and the problems are not dissimilar – heck, even the budgets have become near equals these days. But the scenes are too bifurcated somehow, which is weird. I keep seeing proposals for the next Netflix of docs, usually built by some consortium made up of the doc community I mentioned above. But the reality is, we should be jointly building the community that can solve for all quality films. And it doesn’t have to look like Walmart. My Uncle and Aunt’s store solved for the people who wanted a wide variety of food (and flowers, and…), and they didn’t have to become Whole Foods, either.  If we focus on the needs of our entire community, we might just find better and lasting success.

Note: No newsletter next week - eat some (Tofu) Turkey instead.

Stuff I'm Reading

How the Sweater-Vest Slasher Blew Up Hollywood: The NYT dropped a pretty big article examining the real story behind David Zaslav's take-over of Warners, and how the debt he piled onto the company is destined to kill it, while he keeps finding ways to enrich himself. It's pretty sickening to read, especially because having heard some stories from others in the company, I don't think the NYT really dig far enough into just how bad things really are - but this is the best we'll probably get on this story until it entirely blows up on everyone. Check out the full story by Jonathan Mahler, James B. Stewart and Benjamin Mullin here. (BN)

AI Gives New Life To French Icon In Animated Film, “Edith”: Warner Music Entertainment is developing its first-ever AI animated film, “Edith,” a biographical portrayal of Edith Piaf, an iconic French artist synonymous with female empowerment and renowned for “La Vie en rose.” Employing AI trained on hundreds of audio clips and images, some dating back 80+ years, the project aims to authentically recreate her voice and image. “It is such a delicate balancing act when combining new technology with heritage artists, and it was imperative to us that we worked closely with Edith’s estate and handled this project with the utmost respect (Alain Veille, Warner Music France CEO).” Executors of Piaf’s estate add that “through this film we’ll be able to show the real side of Edith – her joyful personality, her humour, and her unwavering spirit.” Matt Grobar for Deadline brings us the news. (GSH)

Branded Content
Are Brands The Future of Cinema?: Of course not, but they'll be a part of it, as they've been for some time. But that's the provocative title used for my podcast interview with Alexander Miller over at Locarno Meets, from the Locarno Film Festival. I sat down with Alexander at the festival in August, and we spoke about the good and the bad of working with brands, and the future of the space. We also spoke about many other issues in the film world. As I mentioned when the Locarno Meets series launched, I found Alexander to be one of the better informed podcast hosts, and he has many other great interviews, so check out the rest of the series here. My episode can be listened to on Spotify; it will be up on Apple Podcasts soon, but that link isn't working today. Note: my hair looks crazy in that photo as I think I had just been swimming at the Lido Locarno! (BN)

BrandStorytelling's 11 Projects Setting the Tone: Check out BrandStorytelling’s list of 11 projects that are setting the tone for the future of Branded Content. No. 3 on their list is John Deere’s “Gaining Ground: The Fight For Black Land,” a documentary about Black landowners’ reclaiming of their agricultural legacy (note: John Deere is working with Sub-Genre on another amazing doc about volunteer firefighters in the U.S). Also on BrandStorytelling’s list is Ben & Jerry x Vox Creative’s “Into the Mix,” a Podcast which brings listeners compelling stories of the struggles and successes of everyday people. Whatsapp made a short film called “We Are Ayenda” about members of the Afghanistan Youth Women’s National Football Team’s escape from the Taliban, revealing a story of survival, sisterhood, and the human right to privacy (we're also working with the production company of this one, Modern Arts). Head to this Forbes article by Jordan Kelley (BrandStorytelling Content Director) for eight other impressive branded projects, which will all be awarded at their upcoming conference. (GSH)

Meta Seeks Transparency in Advertisers’ AI Use: Beginning next year, Meta will require advertisers on Facebook and Instagram to disclose potentially misleading AI-altered content in political, electoral, or social issue ads. The policy covers realistic but false depictions of individuals in images, videos, or audio, and comes just a few days after Meta announced they were banning political campaigns and groups from using its new slate of generative AI ad-products. Check out Makenna Kelly’s piece for TheVerge for more info. (GSH)


Introducing Fortnite’s First Indigenous Land Map: In an effort to engage and educate younger generations on social-environmental challenges facing indigenous communities in Brazil, Leo Burnett Tailor Made partnered with e-sports team Hero Base, SOS Amazônia, and the Federation of the Huni Kuĩ Peoples of Acre to create “O Mapa Originário,” the first map of indigenous Brazilian lands in the popular video game, Fortnite. Players can expel illegal miners, ward off land grabbers, clean up the rivers, reforest, and protect the biome. “This is our reality. We hope this game makes people join us in the fight" (Kui spokesperson). Ellen Ormesher for TheDrum has the news and you can use Leo Burnett’s YouTube link to check out the videogame trailer. My takeaway: The bridging of gaming and activism is something I’m eager to see develop, especially given the pace at which the industry is growing. In the future, it would be amazing to see in-game activations that have real-world impacts (ie. if a gamer fishes 500 pieces of trash out of the virtual river, one real-life team is deployed to clean out the same river). (GSH)

Economic Impact of Arts and Culture on Local Businesses: National advocacy and research organization Americans for the Arts released its sixth report on Arts & Economic Prosperity (AEP6) last month, an inclusive study that represented arts and cultural activity in 373 diverse communities and regions in all 50 states. Here’re some key insights: (1) The nonprofit arts and culture sector generated $151.7 billion of economic activity last year – $73.3 billion in spending by arts and culture organizations and $78.4 billion in event-related expenditures by audiences; (2) The industry supported over 2.6 million jobs; (3) 86% of attendees to arts/culture events said they “would feel a great sense of loss if this activity or venue were no longer available.”; (4) Attendees at arts events spend an average of $38.46 per person with local merchants (restaurants/bars near the event…etc) beyond the cost of admission; (5) One third of arts/culture attendees travel from outside the country and spend an average of $60.57. Find more details at Timothy J. McClimon’s piece for Forbes or download the AEP6 report here. (GSH)

GSH = Articles written by Sub-Genre's Gabriel Schillinger-Hyman, not Brian Newman (BN)
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