I am very pleased to hear that The Artist, a silent film – the first one since 1929 – for winning an oscar this year to both best film and best music. Why? I am going to explain shamelessly the selfish reasons!
The Artist as an idea is an inspiration on the persistance from the director and producers to materialize a vision and a lesson for all that success is volatile and unpredictable. However overcoming difficulties working from integrity and conviction sooner or later the miracle can happen.
However a question remains, should a contemporary silent film would have made such a hit? is it part of the success that the film is celebrating a film and therefore made sense – albeit risky – to make it silent? As in Hugo of Scorsese there is somehow an element of nostalgia for an era that is gone. No doubt that both films are moving and fantastic, but the question is the same. Is there any space in the crowded marketplace for a contemporary feature film that doesn’t deal with the silent era but it is contemporary but silent? How is the audience is going to take it? could it be an arthouse experiment for few, a blockbuster for the masses?
For years since I founded Big Bang Lab in 2008, producing and facilitating the learning opportunities of silent films. However the term silent put lots of people off as back then it was not a cool thing to do. The answer I had was always. Is there an audience for that? Are still people making silent movies?
With a vision of creating a new experience of cinema and understanding beyond language barriers we saw new opportunities to the creation of new silent films and a good way to engage at a new level of creativity. We did it and experimented in many ways from re-creating a narrative with no words using film archives or using a technology word – a mash up – in learning settings for instance with Unseen Voices, silent film project about the kindertransport and holocaust which eventually won a special jury mention at the European Medea awards for the innovative use of media in education. Young people from a secondary music school in Brent, London met survivors and created a film to learn about their reading fully aware that they were cheating the audience as any work of art is artificially created, by doing that they learnt about the power of media and propaganda as we saw the commissioned film by Hitler on Theresienstadt concentration camp.
Other via we explored is how contemporary silent films can combine both archive and new footage and trascend cultures as a tool that allows to deal with difficult issues and make them accessible. In 2009 I had the privilege of producing a silent film in Delhi with disadvantaged children re-using archives and shooting, participating in the creation of a new music score and tackling at the same time issues such as waste management or accessibility to classical music education and connexion with heritage through creativity. That project became a stepstone in my evolving concept of cultural social responsibility, realizing the potential of a new understanding of creative heritage in the digital and global world we live now. We explored new territories to revitalize a medium of silent film and the power of music from both creative, talent development and social impact perspectives. At a personal level it was a transformative project, a two way learning process of tolerance from which I feel privileged. Otherwise how can you explain that the film Berlin, symphony of a great city was the starting point for children in Delhi to start questioning their city and creating awareness of their environment without being dismissed as a waste of tim? It wasn’t!
New contemporary digital films can engage audiences at another level. And with silent films is how we launched Big Bang Lab with the programme Invitation to a Journey including new music for Germaine Dullac’s film Invitation au voyage (1927), the event with a celebration and conversation with the audience who in the end performed live music with balloons to the iconic Segundo de Chomon’s El Hotel Electrico.
What can we gain and what we lose with no language driven cinema? Films that have a narrative created beyond words but with high quality production and artistic values? What is the role of the music soundtrack in a silent film?
I am passionate about giving a rebirth of a spiritual value to music that unfortunately is becoming a commodity! we are passionate at Big Bang Lab to engage and nurture new young talents in new forms of collaborative in both music and film, creating opportunities and a space to realize their visions.
The Oscar for The Artist is only good news for us and for all of a niche community that are involved in promoting a screen heritage through music or creating new language of cinema, new audiences that have to complete the inevitable but with whom we are co-creating stories, experiences that makes us to think and be entertained. Because we respect audiences we are certain that the dialogue with our audience is crucial to create that empathy that not all success come in a box, that we can’t always expect to apply a formula to film production when the product doesn’t start with vision and integrity as opposed to please the masses. We believe there are opportunities to work with our audiences and don’t expect that they are ready to be brainwashed about criteria of value.
THE FUTURE IS NOW With that business to consumer position with a social enterprise mind I am very pleased to have received a travel grant from the British Council as part of the Connections Through Culture’s programme between India and UK. Our goal is to establish contacts at all levels to produce a double programme of old and contemporary silent film with music interventions from both classical traditions, looking at new languages and forms of expression. We will continue with this programme what we started back in 2009 with Delhi City Symphony.
We have created a channel on vimeo open to any filmmaker to submit their contemporary silent films and we are very pleased to hear the interest from the community. To discover new films visit http://vimeo.com/channels/silentfilms