Dazzling EyeSteel doc rethinks copyright

'It's nice to be at a festival like IDFA with a piece of art,' says Brett Gaylor, the justifiably proud director of RiP...

AMSTERDAM — ‘It’s nice to be at a festival like IDFA with a piece of art,’ says Brett Gaylor, the justifiably proud director of RiP: A Remix Manifesto — a genre-shattering work that looks more like the hottest improvisations of a late-night VJ than a documentary but which, nonetheless, is laced throughout with a serious exploration of the role of copyright in the new media age.

That is, with the downloading of everything from film to texts to music becoming prevalent throughout society, and media conglomerates trying to criminalize behavior that audiences relish, how can creators react?

A coproduction of EyeSteelFilm and the National Film Board, RiP features club music/mash-up sensation Girl Talk and Creative Commons guru Lawrence Lessig as the provocative spokespeople for a way out of the dilemma.

Mixing hot dance scenes of hipsters rocking to the ‘pirated’ recreations of Girl Talk with clips of oldsters/activists like Lessig and Brazilian Gilberto Gil justifying the fair use of material, RiP is a sensational, in-your-face piece that has galvanized crowds viewing the film at IDFA into a near-frenzy.

While the look of RiP is cutting-edge, the roots of the film lie in classic documentaries, according to EyeSteel founder Daniel Cross. ‘Film has got to be made from a place of passion and personal commitment,’ says Cross, who doubles as a film professor at Concordia University. When the film stalled creatively, ‘Brett and I drank and talked intensely one day until he came up with a way of expressing himself personally.’

The result was Gaylor’s manifesto, which structures the film. The director recites: ‘Number one: Creativity always builds on the past. Number two: The past will always try to control the future. Number three: Our future is becoming less free. Number four: To build something free, you must limit the control of the past.’

The same philosophy galvanized IDFA’s acclaimed pitch Forum when Gaylor, Cross and RiP producer Mila Aung-Thwin presented Open Source Cinema. The concept is to create ‘a suite of modules… [that] will facilitate collaborative editing, submission of user-generation content, viral marketing of documentary films, and the power to act and change the issues that documentaries explore.’

Using RiP as the first open-source doc, the EyeSteel crew invited broadcasters, filmmakers and audience members to participate in the re-creation of, and addition to, the existing film.

Will a thousand RiPs bloom? The response to the pitch was best expressed by Cara Mertes, director of the Sundance Institute’s documentary program, who said, ‘This is the most provocative idea [at the Forum]. It disturbs everything. But what am I buying? A website?’

The only other majority-owned Canadian pitch at the Forum was also delivered by EyeSteel. Last Train Home is a more traditional documentary, partially shot, directed by Lixin Fan and produced by Cross and Aung-Thwin, all of whom participated in the award-winning Up the Yangtze.

Fan has been documenting a Chinese family of migrant factory workers for more than a year. He proposes to follow the Zhangs this Chinese New Year, when, along with over 100 million workers, they will return home for the most important holiday in their culture. At a time when factories are failing and the land has been maltreated, Fan expects to see dramatic events unfold in the Zhang family — and throughout Chinese society.