22 Jun 2016

How to deal with rejections?

During the professional life of an underground/alternative filmmaker, there is an almost inevitable challenge, that is perhaps one of the, most important in their career: rejection. But what does this actually mean? How should one react to it, and what are the ways of dealing with it?

It used to be the case that the studio-system/major-art-organisation were the gatekeepers of cinema, charged with the responsibility of keeping out underground films. Film festivals were a way around that, but now they have become gatekeepers as well. There are exceptions, but for the most part if you don’t know how to play the game, if you’re not connected, or if your movie doesn’t deal with horrific slogans relating to the sociopolitical agenda of the day (which change like fashion trends), your odds of making it on the festival circuit are a lot worse than you may think. Basically, what get screened comes down to the taste of programmers and curators. In my experience, even after many years of submitting, proposing, and dealing with them I still haven’t got the slightest idea what type of films they take in and bring to the silver screen. Naturally and obviously they prefer films that are accessible, less formally challenging, concept being eveything, films that have one or more news bulletin-style reflections on societal issues, and some quality that will serve to expand the audience. In the end, it all boil down to the satisfaction of the audience, and one simply cannot programme works that disturb this equilibrium – never. How can you fight against that? The conformist, conservative machine produces too strong a current to swim against. So what can a struggling underground filmmaker do?

When I make a film and edit it at home, I only ever think about the big silver screen, imagining playback in a proper theatrical cinema. Based on that, I set my aesthetics and measurements for a dark space with good seats, just like any other traditional screening context. However, when the film is complete and I return once again to the reality of possible screening options, I soon come to the realisation that the choices are extremely limited, and rarely consist of screening in an actual cinema. Therefore I – we – have to gravitate towards a gallery space, art venue, or very small underground space. Generating an autonomous system of presentation is extremely important. This is something that the gate keepers can’t stand; it really disturbs them, because they expect everything to pass through their filtration systems. Therefore such activities are not only vital for filmmakers, but they are a necessity because challenging the system, or committing what is seen in the gatekeepers’ eyes as a minor act of anarchy or crime, is healthy in such an extreme society.

I have come to realise that this is THE ONLY type of film I can make, and I simply could not change that even if I wanted to; I have no choice. My ideas and thinking just happen to be very close to experimental cinema but this does not mean that I completely approve of everything that this practice includes. I love the WHOLE CINEMA as one entity, and I pick and choose fragments and aesthetics from its entire history. Therefore, I prefer to belong to ‘cinema’ itself rather than just ‘experimental cinema’. In my experience you are always given two choices: one is the path worn down over time by the feet of many travellers, and the other path is the unknown. I prefer to go for the latter. My instinct requires that I must only make film with DIGITAL media and I must master it fully, seeking ultimately to present the cinema of the future. Cinema is changing radically and a great many possibilities will emerge, hence you must ONLY make the film that YOU can make, even if distributing them are extremely hard.  

Unfortunately many people, for whatever strange and absurd reasons, do not want you to be active and progressive. These people will never support or help you, even in the slightest way. DO NOT TRUST anyone beyond your own work and a handful of trustworthy collaborators who you have engaged with over a noteworthy period of time. In the end it is this fruitful engagement that makes everything worthwhile. Keep on making films, and screen them publicly without paying attention to all the negative energy. You will SEE the difference.

“Try to Altar Everything” Genesis P-Orridge

Rouzbeh Rashidi