Interview by Kourosh Ziabari and Ahmadreza Tavassoli
The Cinema Verite International Documentary Film Festival, which was held in Iran on the third week of October 2008, was undoubtedly an occasional opportunity for documentary filmmakers from 75 countries worldwide to congregate for a landmark event and share their precious artistic experiences together and become acquainted with the obscured and disputatious culture of Iran.
The festival, which was inaugurated by the Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance of Islamic Republic of Iran, has hosted a stack of artists, journalists, filmmakers and analysts from US; which is not in an official friendly and impartial stance toward Iran these days, though is considered as a close cultural and scientific ally of Iran on behalf of its independent and non-governmental organizations and communities.
Shannon Kelley, who is the Director of Programming of the Morelia International Film Festival in Morelia (Mexico), was among the guests who attended the festival from the United States and attracted many reporters, audiences and festival curators, as well.
Kelley is an independent movie consultant and has worked for the Sundance Film Festival as Associate Short Film Programmer since 1997; where presently she is serving as the Festival Senior Consultant to the Documentary Program.
The following is the text of interview with Shannon Kelley where we discussed a variety of art-related topics and explored her perceptions of being in Iran to attend the 2008 Cinema Verite Film Festival for the very first time.
You are promoting yourself as an "independent" movie consultant; however nowadays, being independent is made difficult and the political lobbies do not tolerate your being non-aligned to them, even if you are not political at all. In other words, the state-affiliated powers are trying their best to abuse all of the artistic, cultural, religious, and social means to fulfill their desires and plans. What to do if somebody wants to resist against them and not to be stymied by them, too?
There are different ways to understand "independence." None of us enters the world entirely free, and it's because of this that the stories we tell can be potentially interesting. My use of "independence" in this case refers to film artists who work without the financial or logistical support, nor any commitment, from a distributor, and thus, without any guarantee of their film ever being widely seen. Such artists assume tremendous risk and act on personal commitment, as opposed to artists whose risk is ameliorated by someone else, and who may - if they choose- depend on the commitments of the sponsor or the job, without having to generate a commitment of their own.
I'm not sure every state entity is out to get artists or co-opt their work. In some cases they have so much contempt for the arts they ignore them entirely. This can create an interesting space, or vacuum, in which to speak. One has to be resourceful and artful to do so, but then, that's a recipe for good filmmaking anyway.
So it seems that you don't provide technical and special consultations, but help the directors to develop strategies and programs for a successful production and output. Would you please explain the details of such strategies? Are they somehow related to the content of movies, or "how-to"s for attracting more audience?
This can be very simple. Deciding which festivals are priorities, and which distributors may be especially important to a project, and when the approach to a particular festival, company or person should take place, in what order, and at what pace.
Should you show your rough cut? Should you give away your premiere to this or that festival? Such decisions have real consequences that impact the life of a film. Should you adapt your filmmaking to these parameters? There may be compromises you don't mind making; you simply should be conscious of every compromise. Also, you may choose to concentrate on one project as opposed to another, based on the availability of resources or apparent prospects.
One should always make a movie one believes in, but it is well also to look out for yourself and your career. Taking care of yourself is a good way to take care of your film. If you cannot survive, your film probably cannot be realized.
Having all you said in mind, which is the paramount, in your view; the public approach and prosperity of a movie or the loyalty of producer and director to principles and essentials? Do you call a movie with the less tickets sold and more professional virtues as successful? Can we estimate the values of a movie by considering its attractiveness on the booth?
These are entirely relative values, because it depends whom you ask. "Popular" movies have their place; something is happening between members of a public at a movie that they "like." but I concentrate on supporting the vision of artists who have something new and risky to offer. Such a person, and such a project, simply offers the promise of a previously unknown breakthrough in conversation or even consciousness. It's just the most interesting area of film culture, to my way of thinking. And it can, occasionally, lead to "box office success," so one need not necessarily choose between the distinctions you mention.
But we see that most of the modern generation filmmakers, under the flag of giant media companies, assume it is necessary to add violence and immorality to movies for gaining the public fortune and obtaining more spectators, purchasing more tickets and reaching more profits.