Outside the Frame: Remixing at SXSW

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Amanda HirschFreelance writer Amanda Hirsch, former editorial director of PBS Interactive, blogs about documentaries and the Web in her weekly column, Outside the Frame. Amanda is attending South by Southwest this week.

In Monday’s Austin American Statesman, columnist Michael Barnes asks if SXSW’s Interactive and Film tracks ought to be combined next year. Interestingly, Barnes’ argument is, in large part, status-driven: this year, for the first time, the Interactive parties are cooler than the Film ones. The nerds have turned into hipsters who know how to have a good time.

Status — it came up in a discussion I was having yesterday with a fellow writer here at the fest. I wondered, as I often do, why more filmmakers don’t embrace the creative potential of the Web? Perhaps, my colleague ventured, it was a matter of status: there’s more cachet in saying, “I’m a filmmaker,” or “I just got a 3-picture deal with Sony,” than, “I just launched a Web series.”

He also noted that makers of one kind of media don’t typically rush to embrace new forms as soon as they hit the market — for example, few filmmakers embraced television when it first arrived on the scene. Of course, there are always pioneers, and this year, there’s Brett Gaylor, the director of Rip! A Remix Manifesto, a doc here at SXSW. Gaylor not only made a film about Internet-driven remix culture, he’s counting on that culture to take his film and run with it, slicing and dicing it together with other media in an unpredictable series of reinterpretations, or “mash-ups.” Here’s the trailer:

The film features popular remix artist and musician Girl Talk and Web culture icons Lawrence Lessig and Cory Doctorow , and it is more a joyful celebration of remix artistry than an in-depth exploration of complex copyright laws. I found myself wishing for the journalistic chops of, say, FRONTLINE to complement Rip‘s energy and edgy aesthetic. But then, I’m free to make that version of the film myself — that’s the beauty of what Gaylor calls “open-source filmmaking.” For anyone who thinks adding a feedback button to a website constitutes audience interaction — this filmmaker has called your bluff.

Still, not everyone wants to make their own movie — so I wish that Gaylor had taken the time to present copyright law in a more even fashion, trusting viewers to draw their own conclusions instead of guiding us, Michael Moore-style, to root for one side (remix artists) and vilify the other (those enforcing current copyright law). For example, as someone asked at the screening Sunday night: How does compensation for creators of original works fit into Gaylor’s vision of a remix-friendly culture? It’s easy to get an audience at South-by to boo Viacom, but I’m not sure that ultimately, this will be the film that moves the discussion forward.

Then again, maybe Rip‘s strong point of view is just what’s needed to spark discussion.
Related links:

  • The Rip! A Remix Manifesto website
  • Brett Gaylor’s Open Source Cinema website
  • Amanda Hirsch
    Amanda Hirsch
    Amanda Hirsch is former editorial director of PBS Interactive.