As Puma and the Channel 4 Britdoc Foundation announce a major financing partnership for independent documentary production, I thought it would be interesting to comment a little on the shifting balance of power and the level of convergence between the commercial and the more indy or artistically driven world's of visual storytelling. Like any agreement between art and commerce it can have both it's harmonious marriages and it's complicated relationships, some of which I hope to touch on here.
Harmony Korine's latest short film 'Act Da Fool' commissioned by fashion house Proenza Schouler is, along with Spike Jonze's 'I am Here', a perfect example of how brands and advertisers are more and more investing in directors, photographers and musicians to create standalone projects that associate their products with an already successful creative brand: the talent itself.
As the nature of film financing for independent projects seems in continual flux, advertisers are increasingly keen to fill this gap in the market by investing in projects that can capitalize on the brand strength of the creatives themselves or to create campaigns that tap into hot social issues and activist agendas.
This NY Times article on the subject harks back to the original BMW 'The Hire' series of short films that was among the first to let auteur filmmakers such as Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, Ang Lee and John Woo step outside of the traditional constraints of the thirty second TV spot or the Hollywood system and produce works that followed their unique visions.
Korine himself in conversation with Boards magazine states that this financial investment in his creative output is something of a no-brainer:
"When I was young, when I first started making movies, I would sometimes get asked to do spots but I was more focused on making movies, really. Time passed, films take so long to make and also because I write my movies, the actual process just takes a long time. I enjoy making things and so I like the idea of beginning and finishing a project and having that immediacy."
'Act Da Fool' sees Korine at his idiosyncratic best, choosing as his location for this piece:
"The projects of Nashville. A school for the blind. A school for kleptomaniacs."
I personally think that both Korine's film and Jonze's are unequivocal successes and feel that the brands involved in these respective campaigns have positioned themselves perfectly within these two projects; almost as modern day Medici's for the Youtube generation. These projects are fun and the end result is good enough that the idea of being sold a product isn't at the forefront of my mind while I'm watching the film. It's a win win.
I'm slightly more concerned when brands try to take this approach into the realm of documentary and by extension into people's real lives. Whether Puma will be happy to fund documentary projects that are political, overtly controversial or chose to play it safe in their venture with Channel 4 remains to be seen but it's interesting that the initial excitement about the recent, Malick inspired Levis 'Go Forth' campaign has begun to wane as some dissenting voices are emerging towards Levi's efforts to be agents of social change in the community where the ad was shot, Braddock, PA.
While the Times reports that 'Levi Strauss executives plan to put their money where their pants are, donating more than a million dollars over a two-year period to assist Braddock in renovating a community center and further developing an urban farming program', the official 'Go Forth' website has published page simply entitled 'The Facts' that would appear to attempt to clarify the fine line that Levi's have chosen to tread between championing a cause and selling a product.
From what I can see the denim manufacturer has a good level of transparency about it's community activities in the town and their intentions seem to be genuine, one simply hopes that when next season's campaign rolls around the 'Pioneers' of Braddock, PA won't be making the trip to hip New York vintage stores to trade their free designer work wear in for some hard cash.
Either way it's a cool project and it makes for interesting times and offering fantastic funding opportunities for perennially struggling artists to flex their muscles in a variety of storytelling media can only be a good thing.