I raised my hand a lot in grade school. Didn’t always know the answer but so pumped engaging on the questions. One day, I found myself in the hallway with the teacher explaining that my class-mates were bullying me because they were jealous. Jealous? Of me? “WHY would ANYONE be jealous of me?”
Raising my hand was a symptom of raising myself, surviving an abusive home, so my self esteem wasn’t always strong. I guess my hand raised in class was a plea to the multiverse, a signal for some lifeguard somewhere that I wanted to learn. To swim, not drown.
“Never stop raising your hand” my teacher said in a fervent, personal way. Even at that young age I understood someone must have laughed at her, tried to thwart her. She was warning me never to give in to the bullies as I would only betray myself. Her kindness and humanity, her warning about never limiting my own “possibility,” her willingness to be vulnerable yet strong were the underlying lessons.
CUT TO :
A few years later, I’ve been skipped grades and I’m the youngest kid in high school. Now I’m summoned to the principals’ office. Never been in any principals’ office, like, EVER. He’s yelling at me. My offense? I got accepted into early enrollment for University. I’m skipping the last years of high school, the diploma and the prom because University is offering me full scholarship. This principal guy is yelling at me because his school is “losing money” due to my leaving early. WTF.
CUT TO :
A few years later, I’m still raising my hand.
Dear Honorable Members of Congress,
Dear Honorable Executive Branch,
Everyone who cares about Art, Democracy, Civilization and Food,
Rescuing Independent Artists,
An Endangered Species,
Gentrification Of Culture
President Biden described America in one word : POSSIBILITY. I’m addressing you because I believe we have succumbed to a dominance/superiority based bully culture thwarting our possibility.
DISTRIBUTION of Movies is Like BEEF … or Generally, FOOD
It may seem odd, but I’m referencing Senator Jon Testers’ Montana bill, protecting small meat producers from the monopoly of mega-distributors here. Obstruction & lack of fairness in distribution opportunities for independent artists is oddly similar to that of beef/food. This also reeks from our nations’ dependence on oil and victimization at the hands of conservative obstructionism including the supremacist misogyny, racism & homophobia on display in the current state of the so-called Supreme Court.
Like Ben Franklin, influenced by the “Enlightenment,” we can push back the Dark Ages by unlocking that forbidden door embracing the heart of our resistance, choosing disobedience over dogma, lest we become willing victims of so many contemporary “blue-beards.”
The parallels to distribution of film, music, arts, humanities & other cultural “products” (among our greatest “exports” like Democracy) could not be more pressing as we approach upcoming elections. Of course, the big-money-media dominance problem likely stems from an antitrust problem that maintains artificial hierarchies of false superiority, so deeply entrenched, for so long, in the highly influential cultural “media products” we all consume daily (and export too) which has infected our global cultural psyche, railroaded political discourse into a reality show circus and left us, the planet, where we are today.
I am trying to share what you may not know about the day to day details affecting the soul of an independent artists’ life, the vocation, the “calling” of culture-making. I’m trying to build a case for some possible solutions that might help us all.
I’m an independent artist who founded my own SustainableStudiO™️ where we make movies, music & publishing about social & climate justice themes with diverse crews. When a small independent filmmaker, like myself, used her meager savings along with some angel investments to make a tiny highly innovative movie & album with a diverse all female crew and then went “begging” to several film distributors, their response-echo was invariably :
“we (the distributors) do not accept unsolicited submissions
from producers we have not worked with in the past.”
So, these distributors are admitting, in writing, the insanity : that if a filmmaker like me, has not distributed a movie with them before, there is NO WAY to distribute my independently made, non-corporate film in any of the major American cinema or global marketplaces and get paid fairly in order to continue to do my own life’s work. The entertainment industry is arguably among our most lucrative ( for the few ) & exported sources of “American made product.” Or, is it ?
We Need a Thriving Artist Community Of Non-Billionaires
Distributor responses like these, were most devastating from so called (imposters) “indie” distributors who held out promise to those of us creating fresh projects unaware that status quo is already busy buying up all the possibilities while portraying themselves to the public as though they themselves are “indies,” thieving from actual independent artists like myself, as we scrape together pennies in spite of the “gentrification of culture.”
“Gentrification of Culture”
“ Independent Artists are ‘First Responders’ to the Soul of Culture
Early on I recognized that my culture valued me as a “baby-maker” far more than it valued what I consider my “babies” : my works of art. Authentic independent artists need breathing room and respect, in the same way parents with young kids, senior citizens or students, are understood and valued in this culture. Yes this may seem a radical idea but guys, people have paid millions for the progeny of Van Gogh, Picasso, et. al … How about affording some grace for living artists? How about a similar tax structure for artists, like the great director John Huston initiated in Ireland?
Why are Corporate Entities allowed to appropriate / impersonate the important role of artists in culture? We have quietly slipped into an Entertainment Oligarchy where manufactured superiority rules. This “Dominance / Supremacist Fiscal Model” also reflects our dependence on the oil industry and victimhood to Conservative Obstructionism. This is us, in the fun-house fascist mirror we seem to find so fascinating. Lordy I hope we don’t find out for real. Popular culture tends to deride the “starving artist.” I’m asking us to consider, who is getting the last laugh and at what expense to democracy, freedom, civilization, the planet ?
Recently 60 minutes did a story about Wall Street taking over housing and making it almost impossible for people to own homes or pay rent in the 21st Century. The story aired on March 20, 2022. I’ve personally experienced the horrors of gentrification, when my own tiny sustainable, hand-built studio located in a sleepy little beach neighborhood was targeted by developers. We fought back. I’m asking us all to do the same.
Corporate talking heads blithely spout false equivalencies and casually endorse products like books, movies and other entertainment products on the so-called “news.” Our culture has long been indoctrinated into worshiping money and dominance, so we no longer show respect for authentic artists not “so-called-curated” by corporate gate-keepers. To me, that means we have lost respect for ourselves, doomed to be groomed in the worship of the corporation.
A compromised culture incubated, birthed, indoctrinated into gentrification
and “worshiping at the altar of wealth” will logically elevate notions like “superiority” and “dominance” at the expense of the necessary humanities that celebrate non-transactional human behaviors and values necessary to healthy culture and democracy. I am advocating for non-corporate, authentic independent artists but also for the simple concept of “truth.”
Who writes the A-List?
We need to support “artists for artist’s sake” which is to say “liberty” “freedom” and the “pursuit of happiness” for their own sake too. We need to secure “UNCURATED” yet remunerative spaces, for the artist in society. Europe and Canada maintain a healthy respect for artists, why can’t we?
Please help us all stay independent from the Cultural Industrial Complex, let’s create a “farmers’ market” for indie films & music. Let’s have an online space where seasoned directors & producers can directly communicate with newcomers like me. Let’s not limit our own possibilities, betray ourselves. Let us “raise our hands” in the global classroom, ask questions, not settle for the candidate, or the movie or album with the biggest budget, the loudest voice, the most cruel derisionor worse, the indifference of apathy.
Big money media is so dominant over every screen, from big screens to cell-phones, that they are literally “authoring” – “dictating” not just our thoughts, but the very process of thinking. We need new common sense thinking and action addressing culture-making by independent artists – and also – the mechanics of why we need to vote for ourselves.
The independent artist, unowned, like a public servant who does not answer to big money, is never beholden to big money corporate conglomerates
and therefore represents the deep “infrastructure” of the soul of our nation,
without which, we collapse deeper into the transactional, corporate, oligarchical reality show culture that got us where we are today.
So Let’s make the possibility of a better tomorrow possible. “
” After the first minute, I knew this would not be an LA – guns – and – car – crash film.
There was artistry, care and attention to detail, but most of all an homage to intelligence – allowing the audience to think for themselves. Cali dares us to sit and watch or else, just – turn on a re – run of, say… “Columbo”. I kept writing as I watched in response, not out of criticism, but, tracking, as a witness. As in any art form – that refuses to be told – I let go and it took me back to where all art should take us: to love, to oneself and forgiveness for the natural sin of guilt.
The dreamy woman, almost asleep on the stern of the boat is not just the character, she IS the film maker, her subconscious streaming, inviting us into the pre – sleep dream that we all understand, like T. S. Elliot’s “Love Song Of J. Alfred Proofrock”:
“Let us go then, you and I,
When the evening is spread out against the sky,
Like a patient etherized upon a table…”
The woman dreaming on the boat is our abraxas or the horizon line before the sun drops to the darkness of another day or, the light that explains, prepares us for the events and responsibilities of the agenda’s we all set for ourselves, during the waking hours. She could be a surfer girl or the beauty who zips by on blades along the promenade in Venice, leaving those in her wake, cranking necks to watch her disappear into the anonymous crowd.
But, Cali never allows us to look away. At times she gazed straight into the camera, definitely, stating, without fear or apology – that she knew we were there. We all knew why she was there. Her personal strength and as the character’s – evolves: committed, palpable, specific and alive placing us, on the other side of the proscenium yet – in her thrall. It is a comfort to the viewer – we do not have to worry.
Wings was beautiful. So simple and true; thoughtful, at times, funny but slightly repentant as the handsome old man next to the clock with no hands. I never thought I could feel sympathy for a deity but he made me realize that even God recognized that there was a new sheriff in town and – it wasn’t John Wayne.
Something happens to us. We have to dare to accept the intricacies, the subtle nuance of the literate dialogue, scenes that would rival Brecht, Pirandello or a French Film Auteur’s like Jean – Luc Godard, invoked from the 1950’s. It was no “he – said, she – listens”, conventional scenes out of a Syd Fields plot – point script designed to “sell” to the “suits”. It demanded that “attention must be paid”, with distinct references to literature, history, art, dance and music. At times the film makes fun of the Greecian conventions of “Beginning, Middle and End”. Cali knew you were keeping score, thinking you were a step ahead. No, she knew. Poof! “Doc” makes mention of the structure of the film, alluding to story development – or lack thereof. Just sit back and accept it, on its own structure. (Cali’s music, her singing, her lyrics with Wings playing the instruments underneath, throughout, seemed to mix naturally into the feast like herbs directly plucked from the garden).
But horror and fear, a subtle reference to a Snub Nose 38, all co – mingled with the proud, personal denial of one’s own racism and the ever – present fear of one’s own sexuality, a topic that pinches us into squeamishness and denial for those of us brought up in the “goodness” of the puritanical Judeo/Christian tradition. No! Throw all that out! You’re on your own…
I rarely think about films after I’ve seen them once. I’ve watched “La Strada” a hundred times and will watch again – any time it’s offered. And I know I will cry at the end. I know it. I access something about myself every time I find out “she passed away”. The same applies to “Cool Hand Luke” when Newman plays a banjo to his mother’s death. “Waiting for Godot” never allows me to “think clearly” but I will rush to get a ticket to see it again.
If I am honest and willing to have the courage to see into my own fears, “Eve N God This Female Is Not Yet Rated” helped explain the inexorable pull to sexual jealousy, possessive impulses of the women I’ve known and loved. I recognize, with regret, any rights I might have imposed on their thoughts and feelings, that I could invoke on their desires, on nature or on humanity itself – especially when it comes to love. No one has the right to climb into the hypothalamus of someone else’s brain and tell that 3 pound organ that those pleasure impulses, those electrical charges of desire are within the purview of another, not in spite of marital commitment, but – in the nurturing of the those lucky enough to wake up in the morning and say, “ I love you – but I don’t own you”. In a strange way, the experience “liberated” me from the fear of sexual possession. The universe knows what it wants from us all and, sometimes – we simply must – just, get out of the way.
This film would be in demand, played on a loop in NYC art houses, women’s movements, LGBTQ community and anyone who thinks they are better than the ones they stand next to, in line, at the DMV. Men who think they are “MEN”! – Oh, really?
It takes astonishing courage to step out of the confines of linear expectations, walk alone into the woods with just a True North compass; to launch a small, single – woman sailboat into the Pacific, living out of the sea. Or – to make a film, in LA, with a beggars budget and, yet, have it all become so intellectually gratifying and allowing us to think on it long after.
Gary Swanson’s show business career began in the circus as a Steel Pier High Diver in Atlantic City. He moved to NYC and became a contract player on Day Time TV show “Somerset” leading to a life – long career as film, TV and theater actor. He’s written for numerous magazines, taught masters programs. He still acts, directs, writes and produces. His political barnburner, If You Can Keep It, is in development. He lives by the Atlantic in Montauk, NY.