Brett Gaylor’s Open Source Cinema: A Revolution in the Making
Once a complicated and expensive profession to pursue, filmmaking is now open to the public. Digital media and collaboration tools have given people the ability to remotely work together on new projects and effortlessly build on the works of others. Consequently, a remix culture has emerged, spawned by the controversial birth of the mashup – an innovative hybrid art form that defies standard copyright laws by remixing old content into something new. Some established artists have protested having their work integrated into these “criminal” creations while others have invited public participation and harnessed the creative power of the crowd in their works. Regardless of what the laws state, the reality is that millions are participating in the open source movement and joining what has been called the “copyfight” for free culture.
As one of Canada’s first videobloggers and a pioneer in the open source movement, filmmaker Brett Gaylor has helped build groundbreaking participatory media projects and unique online communities. Working for the Montreal-based production company EyeSteelFilm since 2001, Brett served as the web producer for Homeless Nation, a project that works to bridge the digital divide and offer those Canadians without Internet access the dedicated resources and space they need to participate in online culture. As a producer, Brett organised the videos posted by some of the website’s 3600 registered users to help tell the story of those living on the streets. Even before Homeless Nation went live in 2006, Brett began working on another participatory project, which was designed to help people share resources and collaborate on films. The website for Open Source Cinema launched in beta in 2004 and functioned as a repository for all the footage of Brett’s feature documentary, which he called Basement Tapes. After years of developing the site on Drupal, EyeSteelFilm recently incorporated the technology of Kaltura, a new open source video platform that offers powerful tools for online media management and collaboration.
All the media uploaded onto Open Source Cinema is available under Creative Commons licensing. Founded by law professor Lawrence Lessig, Creative Commons is a non-profit organisation that is spearheading the copyleft movement to increase the number of works that are in the public domain or available for others to legally build upon and share. With Creative Commons, artists can change the copyright terms assigned to their work from “All Rights Reserved” to “Some Rights Reserved”. By granting users more freedom, artists support the open source movement and enrich the collective culture. As a legal self-help service, the site provides free form-based rights documents that creators can adapt and use however they see fit. Creative Commons is complimented by repository websites, like Archive.org, which offer free web space to those willing to assign Creative Commons licensing and allow others to legally download and use their works.
When Brett licensed his work under Creative Commons, he took the copyright liberties one step further, making sure his audience understood that not only were they allowed to use his movie footage however they wanted, but they were encouraged to transform it into their own new creations. In fact, Brett designed the Open Source Cinema platform with the intention of integrating his audience’s remixed footage into his completed feature documentary, which he now calls RiP: A Remix Manifesto. Open Source Cinema hosts the feature, co-produced by EyeSteelFilm and the National Film Board of Canada (NFB), in chapters, or “wikifilms”, that are open to the public and subject to a process of continual revision. Users can bring in any media they want to remix the videos on the Open Source Cinema website or add to the film’s soundtrack at the CC Mixter site. These user contributions are then incorporated into the feature film with little worry of legal threat, as Brett rightly claims fair use for all copyrighted material used in the film.
Though it serves the film’s manifesto, having no clearance for its copyrighted content makes RiP a risky acquisition for any distributor. But rather than courting traditional distributors, Brett partnered with the alternative, Austin-based B-Side Entertainment, which has served the independent film community for the past four years. Initially helping filmmakers with the resources they needed to self-distribute their films, B-Side has recently expanded its services and launched the successful Roll Your Own Screening programme for the film Super High Me, which resulted in more than 1,000 grassroots screening events in over 850 cities across the United States – causing the film to become the widest single day opening for a documentary, ever. Headed by CEO Chris Hymes, B-Side will release RiP under the company’s new distribution arm in New York. Launching the first “open source film tour”, beginning 15 May, B-Side will permit anyone, anywhere in the United States, to host a public screening of the film for free – and let them charge admission. The website explains, “Show the original, or mash it up and show your own version. You can charge whatever admission you like and keep 100% of the proceeds.” In addition to the film’s alternative theatrical release, the film has secured multiple international multi-platform distribution deals and has partnered with the DVD distributor Disinformation for its home video release in the United States.
Through producing RiP: A Remix Revolution, Brett established the Open Source Cinema space where audiences and filmmakers could create films together. It took years and contributions from hundreds of individuals to make the final feature, which continues to develop through the remix process. After its high profile screening at the International Documentary Film Festival Amsterdam, RiP won the 2008 IDFA Audience Award. It then went on sell out its U.S. premiere at SXSW in Austin. The latest remixed version, RiP 2.0, won the Edward Jones Audience Award at the Ann Arbor Film Fesival, where the film debuted in its original remix form, RiP 1.1, the previous year. There is still the promise of more versions to come as new audiences discover what Brett calls “the world’s first open source documentary”. Ultimately, the film serves as a visualisation of Brett’s manifesto – that “film can’t be a closed argument, it has to be opened up to the community at large. The argument will continue to grow with our culture. This is not dogma. This is evolution.”
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