THE RAINBOW EXPERIMENT, Christina Kallas’ award-winning ensemble film, a post-modern whodunnit set in a New York City high school when a student is permanently injured during a science experiment on school grounds, will be released nation-wide On Demand on December 7 and on BluRay/DVD on December 11. It will also have a limited theatrical release, starting in Los Angeles at the Arena Cinelounge beginning that same weekend. Get tickets here.
Christina Kallas is currently crowdfunding her third feature film Paris is in Harlem. In her guest essay for #DirectedbyWomen the filmmaker is making a great case for why to crowdfund.
This week I launched a crowdfunding for my next film. It is a feature film again, and I see it as the third in my New York Trilogy—the first two being 42 Seconds of Happiness and The Rainbow Experiment. There is more than New York which connects the three films. They are all about the current moment, its power dynamics and its dysfunctionality. And they are all using a collective protagonist and nonlinearity to create an experience beyond telling a story. 42 Seconds of Happiness aims at recreating the experience of how a single moment of crisis can make us reconnect. The Rainbow Experiment aims at the experience of compassion through the simultaneous apprehension of everyone partaking in a traumatic incident. With Paris is in Harlem I have set my heart on recreating the most beautiful of all experiences—how music makes us connect back together.
When I tell people I am doing a Crowdfunder, they are surprised. Isn’t that my third feature film in only three years, and didn’t my first two both get distribution and have award-winning festival runs, both domestically and internationally? Why would I rely on crowdfunding to kickstart my third film?
First of all, I believe in crowdfunding as a basis for audience building. Platforms like Seed&Spark, which I am using in this case, allow you to present your film at an early stage, to get your core followers and supporters who will then spread the word and act as a ripple effect once the film is out. Second, I am experiencing some amazing discourse while working on this film, and I would like to share that discourse with a wider audience. To me the process is just as important as the result. Third: I could theoretically aim for more traditional ways of early-stage funding but I would then also have to make the traditional compromises in terms of casting, auditioning, locking the screenplay long before I shoot etc. The reason my films have found distribution and have had remarkable festival runs is because they are the films they are, and they are the films they are because I made them the way I did—and that would not work well with the limitations of our current system.
I am lucky to have producers in my corner who understand that—the extraordinary Allison Vanore, who produced my first two films with me, and now Josh Mandel, also the producer of filmmakers like Nathan Silver and Mark Jackson. Josh is a curating producer, someone who loves cinema, understands and knows cinema and will go to great lengths to make it happen. He picks filmmakers who have a signature he wants to support and he protects them from the traps of our funding and distribution system which he understands all too well. And he is there for the long term—as are the directors he works with.
So I am a filmmaker who cannot be categorized, making films which cannot be categorized, in America—which is leading the world in selling the idea of money as the only currency and as a stamp of approval. Does that mean I am forever stuck in low budget? And is there value in what I do? Or is there only value in my work if my films are easily marketable so that some big corporation can make as much money as possible by spending as little money as possible? Is money the only currency we understand and the only currency we want to trade in? It has been for a very long time now. So how is that working for us?
These are questions I am struggling with as I am trying not to lose my chutzpah—and please believe me, there are moments when I am very close to giving up. But then I cannot. There’s always tomorrow. And tomorrow I keep going. Something always keeps me going.
‘Don’t allow yourself to be tricked into thinking that the way things are is the way the world must work and that in the end selling is what everyone must do. Try not to.’ Charlie Kaufman said that. And Bergman: ‘Film as music. No art passes our conscience in the way film does, and goes directly to our feelings, deep down into the dark rooms of our souls.’ I am a big admirer of Charlie Kaufman and Ingmar Bergman.
Cinema is art. Or it can be. And it is true, art is not regarded very highly in our current system. But it hasn’t always been like that. In Ancient Greece, theater was considered a civilizing force, a way to educate the audience in civilizing emotions and so help them function as a society. During the Renaissance art kept its importance in a different way. Kings, popes, and the wealthy provided patronage to musicians, painters, and sculptors. Artists as diverse and important as Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo, William Shakespeare and so on all sought and enjoyed the support of patrons. Patrons used patronage of the arts to endorse their political ambitions, social positions, and prestige. Artistic patronage was even used to “cleanse” wealth that was perceived as ill-gotten—imagine how much money would be available today if that was still the way we thought! It was only with the rise of bourgeois and capitalist social forms in the middle 19th century that European culture moved away from its patronage system to the more publicly supported system of museums and theaters, and to the idea of selling to mass audiences that is so familiar in the contemporary world. Today we know patronage only as the use of state resources to reward individuals who go into politics for their electoral support. Why do we consider it important that our politicians are sponsored but our artists have to sell and comply with the taste of a few gatekeepers who base what they think the audience wants on what it has wanted in the past? And can you imagine the Renaissance without the patronage system? Would it have ever been?
One could argue that things are different in Europe. This, however, is not entirely true. The elaborate European subsidies system has different hurdles, extreme bureaucracy being just one of them, which also makes it difficult for arthouse directors to exist, unless of course they belong to the few household names—mostly male, mostly from an older generation. Again, a few gatekeepers decide what will get made, based on what worked in the past, which is the defining factor here as well. The European film subsidies are no patrons.
I have been on both sides of the game for many years. I have sat on or headed committees distributing European subsidy money, and I have written and produced a number of feature films using European subsidy money. A few years ago, I shifted exclusively to writing and directing in a way that would give me absolute creative freedom, defying the rules of commercial filmmaking that in my eyes are not to the advantage of groundbreaking work. My process entails extensive work with my actors prior to principal photography and an approach to writing that allows it to stay relevant and organic. This leads to the kind of performances my films have been praised for, as it respects the actor’s process and as the actors become the characters—well before a single frame is shot. This also allows for complex storytelling that is pushing the envelope of cinematic language.
My films are mainstream in terms of their stories but still extending the limits of what is considered acceptable. I have been operating in the margins of our system, where I believe art can be made, but I am interested in reaching an audience which is as large as possible. This does not have to be a contradiction in itself.
So yes, I believe there is value in my work—money value but not only. And I believe in crowdfunding as a powerful tool to build an audience. The crowd is my collective patron, and a proof that there is an audience for a film. In a way it is like a test preview—and I love test previews as they protect you from becoming self-indulgent. After all, a filmmaker should be able to open a window or two for others to see the world and themselves in a new light, and to challenge the way we feel and the way we think. Anything less is just self–indulgence and intellectual masturbation.
Last November Christina took time to converse about her innovative filmmaking style with #DirectedbyWomen. Read the complete Pushing the Cinematic Language and Narrative conversation here.
You can follow Christina on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. Follow The Rainbow Experiment on Facebook and Instagram. Follow Paris is in Harlem on Facebook and Instagram. Follow the Writers Improv Studio on Facebook.
Visit the Paris is in Harlem project page on Seed&Spark to follow, explore the numerous incentives around writing and filmmaking, and join the campaign!