TAOS TALKING PICTURES CONFERENCE #1
Let me quickly introduce our panelists, then we're going to see a video, we'll turn off the lights please, no necking... and then we'll address some general questions--necking is for people who are old enough to remember what that was. So, in order here, we have a truly stellar panel.
First we have , he is Director of Technology Studies and programs at the Freedom Forum Media Studies Center at Columbia University. He has served as Vice President of News Programming at National Public Radio; Manager of Network Radio and Television News for CBS News; News Director of the ABC News Westinghouse Satellite News Channel and as an Executive Producer for Quincy Jones Productions.
Next we have , Advertising Columnist for the New York Village Voice, she's the author of the book called The Sponsored Life: Ads, TV and American Culture. In her collection of essays which are adapted from her Village Voice column, Ms Savan dissects hundreds of contemporary commercials and points out the mechanisms they use to manipulate us. She should have a particularly incisive commentary on the video I'm going to show shortly, given what I just read about you.
Next we have , he is writer, producer, director, editor, cinematographer on the film Imagining Indians. He is a Hopi and the Hopi are part of the Pueblo. He is an independent producer who has been making films for twelve years. His work is often an investigation into the commercial forces which serve to exploit the sacred aspects of Native American culture and that undermine the authenticity of tribal rituals. His films portray a culture in which information is earned and inherited through ritual and ceremony and is not a commodity which can be bought at any cost.
Next we have . Fay Kanin is Vice President of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences and Chair of the Foreign Film Executive Committee. She was four term President of the Academy, only one of two women who have ever occupied that position. I don't know who is currently in charge, but maybe they'll do a better program next year--I don't know if she'd agree or not, but. She is on the Board of Trustees of the American film Institute, Co-chairs its Center for Film and Video preservation. Also Chairs the National Film Preservation Board; a writer, producer stage, screen and television her films have won awards in every field.
Next we have . He is the Chair of the Moving Image Arts Department in the College of Santa Fe; the producer of an Academy Award winning student film, Crossroads/ South Africa ; Repoman; Director of Powwow Highway and former President of Production at Samuel Goldwyn, Company. He has always had a strong force on promoting Independent film making and is the driving force behind establishing an alternative film community in Santa Fe.
Next is the infamous and famous , who we have already mentioned once. A former television writer, producer and consultant for the film industry. She is Executive Director and Co-founder of the Downs Media Education Center. She founded the National Media Literacy Project and in 1993 instituted the nations first state wide Media Literacy Program in New Mexico. Let me make my own little comment because I know her best on the panel of the people there. There is, I think, unquestionably no one more responsible for the current more advanced state of media education in New Mexico than is D D. She is also, in my esteemed opinion, a brilliant and innovative media educator. She does a lot of very clever things that no one else has thought of before.
Lastly, and maybe even leastly--we're not sure yet. We have . He is mostly a film Producer and among them are The Princess Bride, When Harry Met Sally, Misery, Boyz 'n The Hood, Poetic Justice, and A Boy Called Hate. In these most recent: Boyz 'n The Hood and A Boy Called Hate there is a rumor in Hollywood that you are making too many films with the word "boy" in the title, but--never too many--okay.
Well, that's about it. We can go home now. Uh, if we can dim the lights, we thought we'd start--uh, let me explain what I brought in here. This is just a way to start things. I thought we might all have the same media text in common to bounce off of a little bit today. It doesn't mean we have to stay with it, and I think this is very interesting, in fact, most of the panelists, if they've seen it; I don't think they've studied it when they saw it.
This is about six minutes from the half time show of this most recent year's Super Bowl, which is arguably one of the large, secular holidays in America. And let me note a couple of things-- I don't want to tip too much because let me point out that in media education, at least I think among the people who are fairly knowledgeable about how to do media education. It is generally thought that it is best when first exploring a text that the panelists or the teacher does not lay out too clear a frame about what the interpretation might or should be. The idea is let the audience interpret, let's see what different interpretations are there. But, I'm going to violate this rule a little bit. Let me just say a couple of things about this.
Supposedly, this half time show in the game itself was seen by seven hundred fifty million people around the world, just a quarter billion short of the Academy Award audience. You'll notice the sound isn't going to be very good unfortunately. It's a cross promotion between Indiana Jones, which is a new ride as I understand it in Universal Studios or Disney World--Disney World in Florida, and Doritos-- They're getting all these big cross promotions with the Democratic Party and so on. And let me point out, I'll give you a hint what you might be looking for in here from my point of view, there is a notion in media education and also in media studies that's been around for a number of decades that ideology is most powerful and most persuasive and most penetrates our common sense understandings of things precisely at those times when we don't perceive the message as being ideological. And so if you see a campaign ad and you know it's a campaign ad, you're more likely to analyze it and think about it. However, if something is just imbedded in the middle of the Super Bowl half time show, or it's a movie like An Officer and a Gentleman, it's just an entertainment product, right? But obviously, there's ideology in these films-- and not always intentional.
Let me make it clear, I'm not saying that the ideology that you might perceive in here is intentional, it's an outgrowth of the nature of common sense understandings of the culture we inhabit. So, look at who the heroes are, look at who the victims are here, think about seven hundred fifty million people watching this world wide and if we can have the lights, I'll just crank this thing up.
Now, in formal media education circles I would never say the following, but the "vomitorium" is right... But I think in also keeping with the model of media education is that it is part of the education reform movement which is supposed to breakdown in part the notion that the people up here have all the answers or the teachers have the answers and the students are there to take notes and listen, so I'd prefer that if there are some comments from the audience to start and if Karen, you have that microphone, would someone like to make any observation about what they've just seen?
And to go to the question of who's responsible for the media impact on society, I think that's a really critical thing to think about. Is it the responsibility of the producer of the Super Bowl half time extravaganza to do something as someone said earlier, "politically correct?" Is it the job of the producer in Hollywood to make sure that we don't reinforce and perpetuate stereotypes like that? How do you know when you're creating a film, how do you know? You know for a fact that a lot of yourself is going to get in there, but the reality is that most filmmaking is a real group project. It takes a lot of people to bring something to the screen. Everybody involved in that is going to have a bit of themselves there. A bit of their vision. Of course the amount of that depends differently.
We are really fortunate today to have on this panel, several film makers who have, by their work, exhibited a tremendous amount of compassion for society and a sense of responsibility about the messages both overt and subliminal that are in their films. And, I would like to ask the film makers on the panel how they get positive value messages on the screen, considering the state of the political economy in Hollywood.
Entertainment, it's here in the Pueblos. I have to explain that by a story that we--an event in 1984, we made a run through the pueblos from Taos, from here to Hopi. It was in celebration of the Pueblo Revolt, the first organized revolt against Europeans in 1680. And we organized it as a run. Now running is not just an unimportant activity. It's ceremonial, it's ritual. And so, each village we entered, we were treated differently.
In the case of Santo Domingo, which is a very conservative village, downstream near Albuquerque, we experienced a lot of confusion. There was a lot of dust in the air and we knew that we were not just running as a physical exercise. So they confused us there, and led us away from their important areas. We shouldn't have been running at that time through that village. So we clearly have those distinctions in these pueblos, what's entertainment and what's not.
What we are doing--and those of you who are knowledgeable, who live around here know, it looks like the village is open, the tours here to Taos Pueblo--but it's another way of confusion--creating a mask. And it's as deliberate as some of the villages being closed. We, far out west in Arizona, I think we're more liberal. We're more accessible, but recently, we too are closing down and we are closing down deliberately to the non-Native people. We feel that is the only way to control people who come to be entertained and that's not the purpose of what looks like, might look like entertainment to most people. So we're closing down.
So when we talk about positive messages, I think that that's kind of a misnomer, I think no film maker really goes into making a movie with the intention of meeting the criteria that is set up as to what is a positive or appropriate or correct message. I think you say what it is that you are moved to say and you use the medium to try to express that.
Now obviously, that comes down to who it is that gets to say what it is that they want to say. And the mechanisms that are at work in Hollywood to do that tend to be kind of reproducing mechanisms. In other words, those who have been successful the terms that Hollywood works, which is essentially box office, get to do it a lot. Those who are not, get to do it less frequently. Which is why I think the most interesting and powerful side of film making in this country, is independent film making because primarily, independent films do not have to meet the criteria that is set by the Hollywood system although it would be naive and silly to think that independent film makers don't have to go out there and recoup the investment that's made in a project.
I remember that when I did Powwow Highway, there were a lot of people who thought that scenes that were in the movie which showed Indians on the res' drinking and doing drugs and what have you would not send a "quote" "positive" message out. Well, I spent several months at the res' up in Montana, the Cheyenne reservation, and 85% of the people are unemployed. Most people don't have indoor toilets. There is almost 90% drug and alcohol addiction up there and that's a reality. That's the reality of what people live in and my interest in that story was about these two guys, one who is very political and one who is very spiritual, who were able to create something for themselves in the context of that reality. So, maybe in some people's opinion I was not sending out a positive message about Indian People because I showed people holding, clutching brown bagged bottles of alcohol, but that's the way it is.
I think very often you have to look ultimately to what it is that you are trying to say, and what it is that you are personally trying to express, and let the chips fall where they may.