April 20, 2006
This was the week of the CINE AWARDS and I am currently President
of the organization. In my personal opinion, next to the Emmys,
the CINE Award is the most prestigious general award given
to programs in film and video. The work this year was superb,
with Master Awards going to the television movie FAITH OF
OUR FATHERS from A&E and another to CONTROL ROOM, the
thought provoking documentary which chronicled life inside
Al Jazeera during the early days of the current Iraqi war.
The lifetime honoree was Albert Maysles, an elfin sprite
of an eighty year old, who is full of passion for what he
does and exudes an energy and enthusiasm that is inspiring.
At an age when very few humans are thinking about their next
mountain to climb, Albert Maysles is planning a dozen new
projects, easily consuming another decade or two.
The student award was won by an extraordinary thoughtful
film out of California, MARTYR, which looks at the psychology
of the suicide bomber. The evening helped me remember all
the reasons why the film and video art form is so important
and so powerful. It also reminded me of how difficult it is
to create good work today. I have attended a number of conferences
of late and one of the recurring themes was that while the
plethora of cable networks have created more slots for programs,
the demanding network necessities for volume has created,
in many places, a factory atmosphere for filmmakers. It feels
that some networks are asking producers to turn out the video
equivalent of the Model T, vast amount of product that looks
basically the same.
Now television, I dont think, can ever be really a
Ford factory yet there is a feeling of discouragement that
is running rampant among many producers of video content;
a sense of diminished creativity, the Golden Age
of cable now gone. If they were at all, they were the late
1980s and the 1990s, when network executives felt
the freedom to encourage creativity and a bit of idiosyncrasy.
Cable networks could be quirky in those days when the rules
were being written and formulas had not yet been codified.
And it is why many producers are turning to the net with their
quirky projects, idiosyncratic ideas and artistic visions
that can not now find their way onto any network television.
As someone who works regularly with producers, helping nurture
their ideas, it is difficult to have to say to earnest men
and women that there is no place to sell their vision; that
there are few buyers for thoughtful documentaries. All the
movement to a common center has been driven by economic necessities,
the demands cable networks have these days for steady ratings
and ratings growth, driven by complicated and aggressive business
plans conceived when ratings and subscribers were growing
Those days are gone and harder economic realities have set
in. Cable networks now face the challenges that broadcast
networks faced a dozen years ago, competition from other networks
and from new technologies. The infatuation that young men
and women have with the net is posing problems for cable that
were not clearly anticipated and with which they are now struggling.
Hence, homogeneity and celebrity are rampant...
After the CINE Awards, I went to a meeting at the National
Press Club in Washington, D.C. While waiting, my colleague
and I observed a bank of television screens tuned to all the
news networks. His comment to me: the country is at war, there
is a shake up happening at the White House, we have an oil
crisis descending and every one of these sets is telling us
that Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes have just had a baby girl
and that someone has been arrested in the Natalee Holloway
It was a thought that echoed in my mind later in the day
when I was leaving DC on the train. It was difficult to find
a copy of TIME in the midst of all the celebrity driven magazines
cluttering the newsstands. As I paid for my finally located
newsmagazine, I wondered if we had as a nation become like
Nero, fiddling while our Rome burns