July 2001

Cineworks, Vancouver's only independent filmmakers' society, will probably need five new board members (out of nine) at the next AGM tentatively scheduled for September 5. This means that the entire direction and structure of Cineworks is up for grabs.

Cineworks is in need of serious renewal. As film and video technologies have converged in the last few years, and the Canada Council and other funders have taken that opportunity to merge their decision-making processes along the same lines, Cineworks' role has come increasingly into question.

Cineworks has digital video editing systems, though they are designed to be compatible with film productions. They also have 16mm camera and editing equipment newly supplemented with a digital video camera. Why has Cineworks gone video? Why not just throw in the thankless fundraising towel and hand the town over to Video In?

My answer is quite emphatic. Cineworks works on a Film Industry model, ie 19th-century industrial social structures involving various crew departments - camera, editing, lights, sets, etc - each with its head and working on down to the lowliest assistants. The above-the-line personnel are roughly a cross of middle managers with artists and represent the old upper class to the crew's working class.

It's a model which allows for very large projects to work smoothly, it's scaleable and adaptable to all sorts of films, and perhaps most importantly, it's the type of structure that pleases huge funders with millions of bucks to sling around. The modularity makes it easy to swing deals and packages. Cineworks tries to guide fledgling filmmakers up this dizzy spiral with their vision, independence and sanity intact.

On the other hand, video artists have approached production from an altogether different angle. The wucka-wucka of market hucksterism is relegated to lowest priority. Their social structure is about artists, or simply people, talking to one another, rather than Cineworks' ideal of producers, directors, cinematographers and actors etc having their specific roles in society which overlap only in exceptional cases (and these overlaps disappear mechanically as the budgets get bigger).

While video attacks from a grassroots / low budget high ground - providing a cheap, mobile, fast and furious communication tool for underserved minorities, women, etc., cinema injects high art and individual vision into the stratosphere of the dominant communications structure.

It's a bourgeois conceit, to be sure, but such a two-pronged attack as led by Video In and Cineworks is the stuff of which Paris 68 or Seattle 99 were made. Avant-garde video shows up the falseness of the mainstream and gets this message everywhere in a flash, while Cinema provides a marketable but meaningful option to the media gatekeepers who would otherwise claim that mass-distribution precludes truth or even honesty.

Certainly, these video-film social distinctions are just as important as the technical distinctions - the expenses of film, the immediacy of video, etc - which have already all but vanished; film per se is being logistically squeezed into the dangerous middle ground between digitally-shot Star Wars and Hi-8 Rodney King.

Recently, Cineworks has engaged in creeping restructuring. There are now two staff members dedicated to equipment support, and two to administration. The entire social / programming arm - Salons, workshops, outreach, screenings, publicity - has become a secondary duty. But without this social aspect - including an activist Board who can carve a fierce niche for Cineworks in the cluttered media landscape - there's not much point running an equipment house and calling it a Society.

Cineworks needs to address this changing reality and find a new mission - or a bold restatement of its old one - before the arts funding bodies take this opportunity away from us. There is a major Cineworks overhaul process planned for the fall, under the auspices of the BC ArtsPOD program, and the new Board will definitely have a ground-floor office in the New Cineworks.