Ken Burns' Anger, or: Connecting the Dots between AIVF, Showtime, and Smithsonian

Over the last couple of weeks the Association of Independent Video and Filmmakers (AIVF) has only raised $11,000 of the $75,000 they need to weather their current financial crisis. Things could turn around but, as it stands, it's looking dark. There are arguments, of course, that AIVF has outlived its relevance:

- AIVF has long provided useful resources and information to independent filmmakers. Now, with the internet, such information is easily (and freely) available to anyone.

- AIVF created (or at least aimed to create) networks of filmmakers. Now, with the explosion of film festivals around the country and internet discussion forums (plus newer developments like IndieWIRE's IndieLoop) filmmakers can connect without needing organizational support.

Shouldn't we be happy that we don't need an organization to supply these things anymore? I think so.

Still, one vital way that the Association of Independent Film & Videomakers has distinguished itself amidst a crowded landscape of film, video, and media arts non-profit organizations has been through its public advocacy work. (For example, AIVF was instrumental in the creation of ITVS.) I'm concerned that this is where AIVF's death -- if it indeed dies -- will be felt most strongly.

For example, I am reminded of the importance of AIVF's advocacy work when I recently read about the Smithsonian's exclusive licensing of its archives to Showtime. Anthony Kaufman covers the story on his blog, and offers a way to protest. Ken Burns (quoted in the NY Times) sums the situation up:

I find this deal terrifying...It feels like the Smithsonian has essentially optioned America's attic to one company, and to have access to that attic, we would have to be signed off with, and perhaps co-opted by, that entity.

Of course, in healthier days AIVF -- because of its non-profit status, because it is a national member organization, because it represents all types of filmmakers -- would be uniquely qualified to lobby against this selling off of America's cultural resources to the highest bidder. AIVF has done this work in the past, and it would probably be very effective at reversing, or at least drawing substantial critical inquiries, into the deal. Yet AIVF's current financial crisis is preventing them from doing so.

How will the cultural landscape change if/when AIVF ceases to exist? Is it possible that some new advocacy group can be formed if AIVF shuts its doors? The only certainty is that this won't be the last time that someone attempts to make public cultural resources exclusive to a for-profit corporation.

For now, if the Smithsonian-Showtime deal makes you angry (or you simply want to know more), read this fine post at Daily Kos. If you want to help save AIVF, click here.

ADDENDUM: Eugene Hernandez writes about an AIVF discussion that went down last night in New York. I was at that meeting. It was a good conversation, and it led me to further refine my opinons on the AIVF situation...hence my posting today. Though some other people at that meeting possibly share my views, my writing (as usual) only speaks for me.