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artisanal film reviews | by maryann johanson

question of the day: Is the rise of the geek a good thing for movies, or a bad thing? (Or is it too early to tell?)

The Guardian’s Catherine Shoard is at SXSW, the geek- and indie-oriented film festival in Austin, from where she files a disturbing report:

Geek movies rule the roost, partly because their consumers are so omnipresent: the thick-set, dense-bearded, logo T-shirted, hooting, whooping, white, apparently heterosexual thirtysomethings with fingers locked to keypad. Someone once told me that when they used to lecture in a women’s college in America in the 50s, his words were barely audible over all the knitting. At SXSW, it’s tapping – even smartphones, in such quantity, can be surprisingly clattery.

Directors of genre films love premiering here because these lads are, in the words of British director Joe Cornish – whose comedy horror Attack the Block was lapped up – “film champions, rather than film critics. If they don’t like something, they just won’t write about it.”

It’s not news that directors love non-sceptical flattery. But don’t underestimate the power of bloggers pleading the fifth. It’s a symbiotic relationship – because he’s now a publisher, too, the fanboy is the tastemaker. And if he doesn’t write about your film, it exists a little less.

Nor is it news that, as professional critics dwindle, power has passed to audiences. But it’s not just audiences in general. It is the most energetic members who dominate, because it’s not just headcount that matters, but the will to participate. So it’s exactly that noisy tapping that enables the fanboy to shape the future in his image.

This is to whom Hollywood is now unabashedly catering. In case there was any doubt.

It’s not all bad news, though:

At the other end of the spectrum, too, in the world of low-budget indie dramas and documentaries, SXSW shows the slackening grip of the elite on what gets greenlit. The nurturing of self-expression, as well as the collapse of the cost of entry into this world through the advent of digital cameras, means self- and crowd-funding is now commonplace, while an education at film school is not.

SXSW also bears witness to a transformation in the way stuff gets consumed. Rights are now divvied up for download and streaming in the way they used to be for European territories. Theatrical and TV runs have become irrelevant to many projects, designed to be accessed online, often on the move. This means the short film is enjoying an unexpected resurgence. Mainstream film-makers are increasingly interested – Spike Jonze and Harmony Korine both have mini-movies here. The midnight shorts programme has proved one of the hottest tickets in town.

So, there is some flowering of creativity to be found in this new movie environment. But can those low-budget indies ever really have any chance of competing in a world where Harry Knowles has Quentin Tarantino on speed-dial? I mean, low-budget indies are low-budget indies because Hollywood doesn’t want to pour money into them, and no amount of praise from AICN is going to get a 3,000-screen North American release for a film that the suits in Hollywood don’t want to push. Are the geeks directing Hollywood, or is Hollywood just learning how to better use the geeks?

Is the rise of the geek a good thing for movies, or a bad thing? (Or is it too early to tell?)

(If you have a suggestion for a QOTD, feel free to email me. Responses to this QOTD sent by email will be ignored; please post your responses here.)



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