Doc makers say unique voices being silenced by rights battles
Last Updated: Sunday, April 27, 2008 | 2:36 PM ET
Documentary filmmakers say it's getting tougher to make independent productions because of growing restrictions on what images and sounds they can use.
The battle over rights issues was a hot topic of discussion at Toronto's Hot Docs Film Festival, where a session last week about fair use was packed with filmmakers from around the world.
'Half of my budget is rights clearances, if you can get them.'—Toronto filmmaker Stuart Samuels
Many filmmakers fear they'll soon no longer be able to fully document our pop culture and mixed media age because of the high cost of using footage and sound, and the consolidation of rights to this material in a few hands.
Toronto filmmaker Stuart Samuels has been working on a documentary called 27, which mixes archival footage of the lives of Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix and Jim Morrison.
It hasn't been easy, he told CBC News.
"What's changing now is everyone is much more understanding that copyright or the products they own mean money," he said.
"The prices right now are all relevant. Half of my budget is rights clearances, if you can get them."
Image archives and sound libraries are getting snapped up by larger companies and consolidated in a few hands.
It's both more difficult and more expensive to get rights, Samuels said. Yet without the keen eye of documentarians to parse pop culture, the age of media could become a monoculture, he said.
"Because of the consolidation, what you're having are intellectual ghettos in a sense," he said. "So the Murdoch group has this stuff, and these studios are going here. So what they do is make in-house documentaries that have the pretense of objectivity but are basically restricted by 'what you own is what you see.'"
Even more difficult in EU
Italian filmmaker Marco Visalberghi says overlapping laws and sky-high costs have made documentary creation difficult in the European Union.
Anything covered with copyright "belongs to the big libraries that cost a fortune," he said.
"Freedom of speech is basically impossible in this world that is made up of pictures."
As a result, directors are abandoning anything with a hint of pop culture content, Visalberghi told fellow filmmakers in Toronto.
Filmmaker Brett Gaylor ran into the clearance quicksand working on a film about copyright.
"We tried to get a clip of Arnold Schwarzenegger dropping a puck on a NHL game, because Schwarzenegger came up to Canada to lobby the government about outlawing camcorders in movie theatres," he said.
"But CBC wouldn't release it unless the NHL agreed. And the NHL wouldn't release it unless Arnold Schwarzenegger agreed."
Schwarzenegger didn't agree and the clip was never used.
Creative Commons one way to share
Gaynor is backing a Creative Commons for documentary makers — a source of footage and sounds that is not controlled by a major corporation.
His website opensourcecinema.org promotes sharing among filmmakers.
Many Canadian documentary makers are getting on board the Creative Commons movement, which involves filmmakers making their work available to others and setting the terms for reuse of their own work.
Samuels says its necessary for filmmakers to have the freedom to put archival images and material together in new ways.
"If we don't dissect and deconstruct our pop culture about how it is and how it influences us and changes us, then basically we're one big channel. We're one global village, but we're all singing the same note."With files from Eli Glasner
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