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The Finger Lakes Environmental Film Festival from the interns' point of view
Sunday, March 25, 2012
Blog posting written by Ian Carsia, Cinema and Photography '14, FLEFF Intern, Hamilton, NJ
Jim Miller has previously served as the Director of Development for The Shooting Gallery, the prestigious independent film company responsible for Sling Blade and You Can Count on Me. He has also served as Head of Acquisitions for Cinema Park Distribution.
For the past six years, Jim has worked as Executive Director of Brave New Films, a non-profit film company that focuses on social justice issues.
This spring, Jim took a call from me to ask about the film and its presentation at FLEFF.
Koch Brothers Exposed is directed by Robert Greenwald and inspired by Jane Mayer's expose on billionaire brothers Charles and David Koch from The New Yorker.
The film explores the extent of the political, economic, and social influence of the Koch family on everything from laws that suppress voter rights, to buying off politicians, to pushing for re-segregation.
Just as interesting and relevant as the film's content, however, is Brave New Films' unique advertising and exhibition strategy.
"We did a documentary several years ago called Outfoxed," says Jim, "And a lot of people really enjoyed the film. But the feedback that we heard was that people would watch the film and just be very upset and not know where to take that anger and what to do to make a difference.
"So, from there forward, we decided with the pieces that we did that we would have an action component."
This action component sees Brave New Films encouraging audiences to hold their own private screenings of the film in their own homes. Along with buying the film, individuals can download an 'action guide' so that they can discuss ways of fighting back against the influence of the Koch brothers.
"We've done a number of house screenings before, but with [Koch Brothers Exposed] we're partnering with a number of different non-profit organizations"--
Up to thirty, including the NAACP and Democracy for America.
--"and each of them are writing up a couple of paragraphs or a page of things that people can do."
On the uniqueness of this strategy and effort when compared to major studio social and political documentaries, Jim praises the film Food, Inc. and its action strategy, using their website in conjunction with the film.
Ultimately, however, the reason many documentaries fail to focus on action comes down to a very basic schism in the "bottom-line."
"I think the issue is between most film companies and ours is we're really a non-profit organization first and a film company second.
"Most of the pieces that we do are shorter, 3-to-5 minutes, YouTube, viral-types of pieces that have action components. And it's rare that we'll do, these days, a full-length documentary.
"But we're fortunate in the fact, since we are a non-profit, we don't have to worry about making a profit on our work."
Brave New Films' non-profit model can sometimes feel overwhelming.
"But there's so many heartbreaking stories and situations that you run into as we're putting these together...I mean that becomes overwhelming...We don't have to live a lot of the nightmares that these people have been threw...But that does help to understand that, "Hey, I have a job here, and my job is to make sure that these stories are not ongoing."
It helps that, in the years since Jim's graduation from Ithaca College, the means to make a film have become much more accessible.
"I mean, when I was at Ithaca it wasn't, the film explosion that happened through Sundance and through so many of the other great festivals, wasn't possible when I was going to school because making a movie was a lot more difficult."
This is part of what draws Jim to FLEFF.
"Well, I just love film festivals, first of all," he says, laughing. "It's like a candy store for me...I just love watching the different points of view that people have and also the evolving technology...So, I'm just looking forward to seeing the creativity."
As advice to college students looking to break into cinema and activism, Jim stresses passion and commitment.
"I think the filmmakers that I know that have been the most successful have been successful because they ahve the passion for filmmaking and for the specific subject.
"Especially documentary filmmaking, because you can spend two, three, five years making a documentary. It is a painstaking process, but if you have the passion for it, it's what makes the piece a work of art."