Indie and its Negotiations

Originally Published July 4, 2016. Originally Titled: “The Last Post Ever About “Indie”” (I’m still doing edits on this)

Over the past years, the so-called Independent scene has been mostly dependent to financing bodies run by the same people who (almost) serve the same intentions as the people from the Big industry. Some of these financing bodies are themselves under the wing of big production companies. Cinema One Originals, for their merit in honesty, has declared that they are not an Independent outfit – but just the same: those who submit to them are the same people, same hopefuls, who dreams of creating a film under their own terms, with disregard to all these other constraints on deadline, budget, and other creative decision, big or small, imposed by festival’s organizers, screening committees and “creative consultants”.

Lav Diaz echoed McLuhan on his declaration years ago of liberation via the digital medium: the digital as the new message. Contemporaries even wrote scriptures for this liberation theology; Roxlee’s 10 Commandments and Khavn’s manifestos – all breathing energetic words for a digital cinema revolution. Khavn even equated the much prophesized movement to be close to Punk, if not, become Punk itself. But as all “punk” movements, the digital “indie” of the 2000s has suffered the same fate as Punk music and has become the thing they most hated.

Punk “fundamentalists” hated how “punk” has become mere style, an aesthetic, a fashion. What was before the music that could be done by anyone, musically knowledgeable or not, has become music by people fixated with notes and words and not with the culture, lifestyle and everything that made its existence possible including its politics. From this point on, a lot no longer just play “punk” music with just 3 chord – it also needs to be written beautifully and has appropriated certain sensibilities – often times of the romantic or of the nihilist (or of the nihilist-romantic) – which, in most cases, also of the bourgeois. It is from this appropriation of “Punk” into Formalism that “Indie” was born. Incidentally, this might have happened only few years before the fall of Berlin Wall – the global symbolic acceptance of capitalism and liberal free-market as the general form of world economy and culture: the beginning of the Post-Modern world. “Indie”, then, became a moniker for all counter-cultures born out (of death) of “punk” appropriated with free-market sensibility, then, years later, the moniker became a “genre”, a brand.

The story continues on and all counter-cultures that have emerged suffered same fate. The “Indie” movement became “Indie” music – “Indie” punk and even “Indie” pop. “Indie” pop was probably the worst thing that any Punk “fundamentalist” of the 70s and 80s could possibly dream of.

The “Digital Independent Cinema” movement was not excluded. Filipino “Indie” Films suffered much homogeneity, standardization and market valuations as “Indie” music to the point that everything has “flattened”. Everything returned to a generalized Form, and as one of these film financing bodies’ festival’s slogan says, “Kwento pa rin ang Hari” (“story is still the king”), again, removing any other progressive and revolutionary potential of the medium. The movement died before it was born, but the market is alive, albeit, breathing alongside the old Feudal Cinema-industry.

The scriptures of Digital Liberation Theology were written in contrast with cinema production with Celluloid. But Celluloid died. The market favored technological developments for digital equipment and these developments proved the writers of the scriptures wrong, that technology has liberated us. The global market made technology to betray this promise of liberation and the tools of creation become more costly than before.

The global cinema-technological culture shifted towards producing the same films only with different shooting and screening format. SD and SSD storage replaced film reels which has resulted to extended working hours to most workers of the cinema as it gave unlimited chances for retakes, reshoots, and more sequence shoots per day which leaves no room for mistakes. The new cinema is the “Cinema of Perfection”. This very perfection of the images homogenized not just the screening copy (format, codec, whatever), but also the way of production. The scriptures are now outdated, the Digital Liberation Church has died, with most of its movers before either have their films produced by big production outfits now or does their day job either writing or directing for TV and occasionally, make films in market standards. Khavn retains his punk attitude, with some of his films negotiated with a foreign production company. Roxlee takes care of his kids and occasionally revisits his on-going projects in the sidelines – he’s probably the only one who remains Punk from all of them.

The market still grows, “Indie”, the void left by the dead Digital Liberation Church, continues to broaden its scope. While no one’s been saying the word now as openly as before, it persists, as far as the mainstream media’s consciousness. Everything produced outside the big studios; the “mainstream” studios are “Indie”. Honor Thy Father is Indie. Heneral Luna is Indie. Cinemalaya, CinemaOne, Cine Filipino films are still considered “Indie”. And, incidentally, with the propulsion and insistence of then-President Benigno Aquino III’s Public-Private Partnership program, a new term in Filipino Cinema has been coined which has generated as much praise and cringe from its audience and commentators – “Maindie”. “Maindie”, for a period of time, became a brand which Big Studios brag about ensuring “quality” outputs due to their acquisition of talents from the pool of the “Indie” crowd. The term is short lived, but the concept still persists. And much stronger now.

Poet and critic Edel Garcellano once said that the Philippine Cinema Industry is in dire need of reviewers. The need was indeed, filled. What was once a little circle of academic intellectuals and showbiz insiders who write about local cinema widened with the help of internet by the turn of the millennium. Thus, the new reviewers has been homogenized along with the homogenization of the country’s Cinema-Industry itself. As a  support for this new order of cinema, reviewers have become market-guides. The new reviewers almost react viscerally to every template, to the form, to brands. Criticism is still almost nonexistent.

Nothing new has happened. There’s no such thing as a “New Wave”. The more creative artist-filmmakers are still on the borders, or enjoying their exploits from foreign funders, still on the borders. On the center are the new prophets of the new Cinema-Market, of “Maindie”, generating new cultures, new decadence, and new pacifying methods; these people range from Filmmakers to Film Reviewers. Mind you, most of these are the same people who have criticized the industry years before of “dumbing down” the Filipino audience, whereas, they still dumb down people, just with different stupidities. These are the same people, sitting on their high horses, who force their own sensibilities to a wider audience supposing that these are better values than theirs, with much arrogance and craft mastery. This is the very inverse of the “Punk” sensibility. Garcellano couldn’t have said it better as it is valid in the Cinema Industry as it is in the poetry scene:

“It is not without a distorted logic of its own that most formalists who venture into the historical epic would inevitably articulate, by reduction, the neo-fascist tendencies in their own vision of existential-historical moments, mistaking their class-delineated sentiments for a universal reality of society itself.”

Those who shout for a “free(-market)” cinema, the “Indie”, inclusive of their “craft mastery” requirements and their bureaucracy, are the same people who actually represses the craft, the craftsman, and the audience. Allowing and promoting only works which cater their own sensibilities. Now, the mark of a “free” man, the “Indie” label, is something everyone can wear, but only with their approval.

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