Film Initiative’s Isabelle Fauvel fears that films will no longer have any flavour.
Not so long ago, tomatoes had flavour. Does the younger generation even know that?
True, tomatoes were not graded, some were pretty ugly, greengrocers could not stock them for long in case they began to spoil and it was risky to transport them because they were so fragile. Fragile, less beautiful to look at but full of flavour, fragrant and rich in vitamins, without those chemical products that, alas, eradicate not only texture and taste but also our organisms.
I am talking about tomatoes today because I am afraid for films, afraid that films will no longer have any flavour or, worse, become a vector for the dominant culture and political correctness.
Thinking about this, even if I have been working in my own way on writing and development for the last 20 years, my head often spins on realising that this genuine desire to make a work echo the wishes of those who are behind it as closely as possible can lead to dangerous practices, both in the short and long term.
Indeed, for all those who confuse maieutics with eugenics, accompanying a cinematic writing project, a talent or a desire for cinema can soon lead to a calibration of the work so that films, like tomatoes, can fit in the crates, flattering the eye of the audience at first sight, and enriching the industrialists who transport them more easily…
Yet accompanying a work resides in the capacity of those undertaking such a task - script editor, co-writer or producers - to question the original text and the desire for cinema of the person at the origin of the project, to consider the initial promises, to guide it towards what can be done and not towards what must be done according to more or less accepted criteria. Without all that, the work no longer belongs to anyone and, like tomatoes, the film loses its flavour, character, fragrance and personality.
The current interventionism is a poison and certain gurus who establish rules that they believe lead to success are to the cinema what pesticides are to agriculture.
In this process, it’s no longer the desire for cinema that we question but rather the will to make yet another film for a market whose rules escape us, for otherwise we would have hit-makers, yet they do not exist.
In recent years, we have seen the damage caused by the appearance of rules and recipes that are supposed to have proved their worth, damage that has not contributed to the rise in the number of blockbusters that are written according to the prescribed rules promised to those who follow them to the letter.
So yes, true, films are better written technically, genuine page-turners as the American expression puts it, but this facility is often the first step towards mediocrity and blandness, imposed by the wrong guide or the wrong reader who simply corrects everything that does not correspond to the rules of dramatic art (revised and corrected by those who mix Aristotle and Truby in the same sentence).
This blandness, be it in so-called art-house works or even in movies for the mass audience, leads to eugenics in the field of cinematic creativity.
And the paradox here is that in the cinema, unlike in high-yield tomato farming, the industry does not necessarily grow richer from these new practices as films do not cost any less and, apart from a few exceptions, do not make more money.
At a time when the lack of audacity and standardisation have struck a large number of other industries, both within and outside the cultural sector, the key question that we need to ask is if we want the films that inspire us to work in the cinema to be forced to wait for an organic label to exist on or return to the market. A market whose demands are all too often twisted, interpreted and fantasised, a market that is now also a goal for both writers and directors who sometimes go even further than their producers along this path to commercial salvation.
What is the role of the artist in modern society if - as Jonathan Nossiter reminds us in his new film - he is no longer there to “call into question the power systems”? The obsession with the box-office is gaining ground along with, as he clearly states, “the impression that we, as artists and journalists, have abdicated our role as dissenters and discoverers of unexpected beauty”.
True, it is fundamental to keep the audience in mind but that is rarely the case. Instead, the focus is on the handful of deciders and their readers that need to be seduced to the extent of betraying oneself, to the extent of prostituting oneself without even knowing if these deciders and their readers have the expectations ascribed to them.
Each one incriminates the other on this path, and the issue of cinema is no longer really referred to.
Of course, even back when tomatoes had taste, some lived under glass, others had very scant sunshine, while a third group blossomed in the best spots and the difference was in the plate and on the price tag.
In a similar manner, films will not all become great works and even masterpieces just because the creative process is called into question once again when necessary, but vigilance in the field of development is henceforth necessary if we don’t wish to see the Monsanto of film production rear its head.
20 years ago, writers easily confused collaboration and interventionism, thinking that working in a team from the development stage would hamper their freedom.
Today we have almost reached the opposite extreme with endless differing opinions and the standards of dramatic art revised and corrected by those who turn them into reassuring textbooks solicited as an assurance of success or, at the very least, as a key to enter the much-vaunted market.
As the years pass, we lose all common sense and, in going from one extreme to the other, it becomes harder and harder to oppose the powerful swing movement underway. Harder, yes, but still possible, since other fields have shown us the monsters engendered by the obsession with the market to the detriment of common sense.
The fate of tomatoes, now threatened with becoming square, must inspire the vigilance that we need to demonstrate if we do not want future generations to forget that films once had flavour too…
Isabelle Fauvel founded Initiative Film in 1993. You can find out more about their work here.