The following article first appeared as an editorial in the final issue of Cantrills Filmnotes.
Because of the close connection with our magazine’s current theme, “The Short Film – A Media Non-Issue?”, but also to mark the occasion of the Cantrill’s European tour, I asked Arthur and Corinne Cantrill for permission to publish the article under www.shortfilm.de.
The editorial seems very pertinent to me at the present time, not only as a farewell to a distinguished publication that managed to promulgate an understanding of film as art, but also for the critical view it provides of current developments, which, above and beyond the specific context of Australian film politics, appear to be taking a similar course on an international level.
Reinhard W. Wolf (editor)
»Multiple issue 93-100 marks the end of Cantrills Filmnotes. The Industry and Cultural Development Branch of the Australian Film Commission, which has assisted the magazine since issue #45/46 (1984), withdrew its funding towards printing/production costs after issue #91/92, giving circulation figures as the reason. There was never any payment towards our editorial work, nor for contributors. The subscription and sales income falls far short of covering production costs, and we would not consider returning to only black and white printing, or cheap forms of presentation, nor were we interested in putting the magazine online.
Over the 30 years of publication we have been motivated by the belief that Cantrills Filmnotes was an important documentation of independent/experimental/personal film work – a journal of record that served filmmakers in an important way. It was an opportunity for them to write or be interviewed about their work, to design its presentation in the magazine, to have it documented with many stills, and to know that their work would be read about all over the world, from South America to India, from Poland to Indonesia.
Cantrills Filmnotes represented a part of the Australian film community in a very important way, and the minimal funding we received from the AFC towards the production of the magazine was a support for Australian filmmakers, in an enduring form. Now that funding has been withdrawn it is important that we close down the magazine – to keep it going would be to give the illusion that there is a vibrant film culture here, supported by the establishment, when actually any vibrancy is only that of individuals. To continue the magazine would be to bring distinction to Australian society, which would be inappropriate. This society does not support a dynamic cultural life. Our magazine has been a brilliant banner for Australian film culture, and by now closing it down, we hope that people will realise how barren the official film scene actually is. Now readers can negotiate a passage between the Scylla and Charybdis of IF and Mesh!!
It is an occasion of mixed sadness and relief. Withdrawal of support by the AFC may be one more indication of the impoverished cultural situation in Australia now, but after 30 years of publishing the magazine in our spare time it has become a burden we’re glad to relinquish so that we concentrate our energies on our real work: filmmaking. This may also give us the opportunity to reclaim our home from the warehouse for the magazine it has become over the years!
When we first began publishing Cantrills Filmnotes in 1971, it was something spontaneous, casual, pleasurable, even fun. Over the following years we were excited by the films being made, and being able to document them in the magazine, although it was frustrating having to cover films such as The Mystical Rose, Corpse and many others in black and white, and it is a regret that we were unable to move into colour printing before 1986. However, in recent years we have felt so pressured by the funding bureaucracy of the ICD/AFC, and so disappointed by the tone and climate of independent filmmaking, that there has been little pleasure and certainly no fun in publishing the magazine.
During the lastfew years our dealings with the ICD Branch have become intolerable – their negativity towards the magazine, towards film in general, have been discouraging. It seems to us that the ICD wants to control and shape film culture from above, through the organisations and activities it funds. In our case, the amount of funding received for the magazine was so minor that it could not buy control. In recent years we have observed the way film culture organisations have been wrecked by administrators and committees trying to second guess what the ICD wanted, trying to please, trying to dance to their tune. We have seen the rise of the mediocre through these organisations – of a certain type of new media arts administrator, tailor-made to meet the ICD agenda. (We note the absence of AFC and other arts bureaucracies staff at independent film screenings – they may be seen at festival opening nights.)
At a higher level, the ICD/AFC and other arts bodies try to please the political masters in Canberra, deceived by theillusion that multi-media will stimulate The Economy, international trade and other such chimera.
In the area of funding for filmmaking, we have observed the loss of creative time and spirit among those who make efforts to apply for funding, whether they receive it or not. We made a decision many years ago not to apply for funding for our films, to save time and to be free of any form of control or interference in our real work.
We would like to comment on the film/cultural scene in Australia, as we see it now – a situation that has made it very difficult to continue working with any confidence. The deepest blow to our belief in a civilised film culture was the destruction of the National Film Lending Collection in 1996 by the National Library of Australia – the secretive manner in which thousands and thousands of prints were ‘culled’ and destroyed in obscene haste – with many accidents and unintended disasters, and the remnants of the Collection transferred from National administration to provincialcontrol by Cinemedia in Melbourne, an organisation which for many years has pushed its own film collection into the background while it operates a community video shopfront. The dominant message one gets from Cinemedia is that film use is to be discouraged, the collection should be digitised and put online, so that students can sit at their computers and analyse snippets of the great works of cinema via some visual approximation of film.
And then there is the mind-numbing ghastliness of the film scene as it now is – aided, abetted and funded by the ICD/AFC and other funding bodies – the Tropfests, Flickerfests, Revelations, the blatherings of Experimenta – all driven by PR hype, catch phrases, gimmicks, spin, the debasement of language, and badly designed, lavish printing, to hide the underlying emptiness. We have seen the mushrooming of sponsors’ logos for every event. A recent film festival had a solid two pages of logos in the program book. (It’s a relief to be able to publish this final issue of Cantrills Filmnotes without any logo on the title page!)
Language is being gutted of meaning – this is how films are being promoted by one of our major film festivals: ‘Astounding documentary’ – ‘stunning new musical’ – ‘bizarre and fascinating’ – ‘steamy encounters’ – ‘cutting edge programme’ – ‘mesmerising history’ – ‘a trashy treasure’ – ‘legendary director speaks’ – ‘knockout first feature’, and so on and so on and so on. The festivals want to be taken seriously as as promoting cinema as an art form, while adopting the cheapest forms of publicity, and they are funded to behave in this way!
But this is simplistic stuff compared with the upmarket pretensions of the media ‘art’ scene. Remember Voice Jam & Videotape, which played on the fact that controversial theatre director Barrie Kosky had curated a small group of videos as vehicles for composers.
The time limit given to the video makers to produce the work was plain degrading – another version of the ‘white gloves’ formula. The actual program wasso thin that it had to be run twice – each video with a second different sound-track – to scrape through to the barest acceptable running time. The biggest selling point of the event was not the work itself, or even Barrie Kosky, but the venue – the 19th century Melbourne Salvation Army Temple which we were all very keen to see. Again, excessive publicity, printing and PR hype.
Or, more recently, the lavishly promoted ‘Manifesto’ by Experimenta – notable for the barren design of the publicity material for questionable events, and the sheer cost of the printing. The film program, masquerading as ‘Zen Cinema’ (could as easily be called ‘Wen Cinema’, ‘Hen Cinema’, ‘Ben Cinema’ or ‘Yen Cinema’, as language has ceased to mean anything in the hands of the PR spin doctors), was a confused ragbag of ‘names’ – Brakhage, Anger, Conner, Lye, Deren, Duchamp, George Kuchar. All good filmmakers, but how does this disparate group of films come to be categorised as ‘Zen Cinema’? Was the connecting factor that the printswere borrowed from the old NLA collection so that no fees had to be paid to the filmmakers? If so, a more appropriate title for the program would have been ‘El Cheapo Cinema’. Was it called ‘Zen Cinema’ to play on the hankering for the ‘other’, the exotic? In any case, what does it matter? No-one cares, everyone will have moved on to another job soon, and therefore no-one is accountable/answerable for their actions?
If we look back to the independent film/cultural scene of the late 1960s early 1970s ? a time when film/media were not taught anywhere in Australia, before the funding juggernaut crushed the scene, before academic theory shaped work, we look back to a time of extraordinary vibrancy and diversity – so many strong individuals following their own lines of investigation. Thirty years later, there is a handful of such people still working (see Cantrills Filmnotes issues) but overwhelmingly we have people who cannot imagine undertaking any work without institutional funding, trying to devise work which can be seen as fitting the arts bureaucracy conceptions of what is ‘safe’ to fund; people for whom every activity is CV material and whose work is cycled and re?cycled from one funded event to another – people who spend more and more of their time composing funding applications! In such a cultural environment ART IS DEAD.
Then there is the hard-nosed promotion by film teaching institutions of their students as budding directors, when the reality is that most will end up as functionaries in the film industry, working in predictable well-worn ways, imitating trends from other countries; learning the most important lesson: compromise, and learning always to pay second fiddle to overseas films and artists.
In such a climate of mediocrity we decline to publish Cantrills Filmnotes.
The final, and quite unexpected blow to any idea of continuing with Cantrills Filmnotes was the recent decision by Australia Post to withdraw Surface Mail for printed matter, obliging us to pay full Air Mail Letter rate on the magazine for overseas subscribers – $9.00 instead of $3.50 – another case of economic rationalism undermining the free exchange of ideas.
We wish to state our deep appreciation of the support we have received from subscribers, and from contributors whose efforts have been the heart and soul of the magazine.«
Arthur & Corinne Cantrill
(An article from Cantrills Filmnotes, issue #93-100, December1999/January 2000)
ps. There are copies of all back issues available, starting with Cantrills Filmnotes #1, 1971