Violence and Hatred in the Internet in Response to one innocuous eleven-minute Film shot in Northern Portugal

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I’m an independent filmmaker, and I made an 11-min. digital short called MINI DRIVER PROJECT in Northern Portugal in the fall of 2000. Basically, it’s about a woman named Mini Driver (M-i-n-i, not like the actress, M-i-n-n-i-e) who drives an Austin-Mini. She lives a solitary life and is stuck in a routine until one day her path crosses that of a dark, handsome V.W. Driver. It deals with the themes of loneliness, isolation and taking risks in life. It also deals with what we expect, stereotypically, of men and women, and it plays with the audience’s expectations in modern media story-telling. Nothing controversial at all. Well, the film had its global premiere in Feb. 2001, on a well-known film site that is partnered with a major search engine and electronic mail conglomerate. I suppose I am very naive, and I suppose I should have thicker skin, being a filmmaker and a thirteen-year veteran of the performing unions, but what has happened with this exposure has been shocking and confusing. The ‘pros’ of the experience have been that anyone can see the film 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

I don’t have to mail tapes to particular film studio executives or worry about the differences in tape format between the U.S. and foreign countries. I’ve gotten invitations to film festivals, requests for interviews and lovely notes from total strangers who have seen the film and ‘met’ me through my bio there and wanted to congratulate me and tell me how much the film touched them. On the other hand, the ‘cons’ of the experience have been that anyone can see the film 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and this particular site makes these viewers both the projectionist and a published critic! I’ve gotten strange notes about my film having no sound, no dialogue, and people damning me for their WindowsMedia Player breakdowns or railing against me for not providing the film in Quicktime…these are all issues they have with their particular computers or with their download experience, but they think, “She made the film. She has control over everything!” Then, there are the “critiques”. Well, real film critics usually have at least a degree in English, but these people can’t even spell, except for four-letter words and threats of bodily harm, which they communicate quite clearly. I’ve gotten so that I can’t even visit my film’s page because it’s like reading my name and phone number on a bathroom wall!

The Vice President of this well-known film site called me the other day and said they were monitoring my page closely and deleting pornographic posts and those that were personally nasty and had nothing to do with the film. I told him I wasn’t sure what he was talking about because I couldn’t even look at the page anymore. He said that if it was any consolation, “…all women and minorities who have films on our site have to endure these sorts of attacks.” It did make me feel better in a strange way…misery loves company…But, how sad to live in a society where we all comefrom women, but we hate them so much! It makes no sense. It’s the deepest form of self-hatred I can imagine…hating and acting out against a sex that gave you your very origin! The other interesting thing about the hate critiques and hate mail has been that these people, for hating me and my film so much, are very interested in my background. They click on the bio button; they visit the film’s promotional site. They hate, yet they spend a lot of time on me and my project. Now, I don’t know about you, but I ignore the things I dislike…I immerse myself in the things I enjoy, like or love. I’m reminded of the lyrics of a song (I think it’s a Pretenders’ tune), “There’s a thin line between love and hate…” We can’t graffiti on people’s property, but we can graffiti their film page or their personal site’s guest book. It’s all anonymous, the haters think. The site owners can trace servers and e-mail addresses, but the haters can just log in from an internet cafe or a library, change their screen names and ‘publish’ their hatred again. I think it’s affecting our social dialogue in this country in that few people really listen anymore…Have you tuned into radio talk shows or the Sunday morning political shows lately? The guests just rant and spew, which leads to more ranting and spewing, when the ‘listener’ can finally get a word in. People used to measure words and make thoughtful responses. Has this new frontier in freedom of speech become a license to hate? To abandon reason and basic manners?

Dawn Westlake

Los Angeles, CA

First published February 17, 2001

Revised for Kurzfilmmagazin October 23, 2002

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