Sunday, November 8, 2009

Flyway Transmission Two: Ink

For my second installment of posts about the Flyway Film Festival, I would like to write about Ink.

Ink was shown Friday night, to a packed room upstairs in the Stockholm Historic Opera House as the final film of the opening night's festivities. The Director and Producer - Jamin and Kiowa Winans - were both in attendance, along with the two lead actors - Chris Kelly and Quinn Hunchar.

Ink - like the other films I was fortunate enough to see - is a small triumph. It's creativity thumbing its nose in the face of financial limitation, its spirit easily overcoming the considerable obstacles its tiny budget must have presented. This is all the more impressive because Ink is such an ambitious movie: a dark science-fiction fairy-tale about a species of horrific nightmare-feeding Incubi and the Storytellers, guardian angels that balance the presence of the Incubi in the universe - and the family drama at the center of it all. These creatures and forces are portrayed with imagery that is alternately chilling and plastically diabolical and warm and spiritually sensual - as they battle for a little girl whose soul has been forcibly taken, the soul of a wounded father who has tried with all his might to let his go, and the spirit of a mother who will sacrifice her soul to heal them both.

The technical aspects of this film are nothing short of remarkable: there are elaborately staged and tightly edited fight sequences and limbo-like half-worlds that hide within the fabric of our daily lives. There's a breath-takingly orchestrated ballet illustrating the seemingly unrelated interactions that make up the physical world and a blind wandering spirit who surfs their rhythms like a spider on its web, inserting himself like a kindly monkey wrench into the sequence of events when needed, to guide the course of randomness to a better place. The film also makes judicious use of lighting, filters and effects to give every thread of the narrative its own unique environmental feel.

My only criticism is small: for the first half it's not completely clear what the story is (which is good), but once the story is clear - to me it seems to take a little longer than is needed to be resolved. However, I think this is a challenge that must always be met when dealing with a story so allegorical. Creating a story that takes place both in the real world of its characters and simultaneously in the timeless, lyrical world of their inner-emotion and symbolism is risky in that the same story is being told twice. In this respect, Ink has done much better than its more high-profile contemporaries.

There is also an element of melodrama (as was mentioned to me by one fellow viewer), especially in how the family relationship is depicted. However, if - like me - you are or have been the parent of an 8-year old girl you already know that melodrama is just part of the package. We all struggle to influence our world, the child does this in ways that are more black and white like a fairy-tale with obvious heroes and villains - and the adults often struggle in shades of grey, trying in vain to not be the child anymore but to be the hero - yet often feeling like the villain. The child gets ignored and is heartbroken; the adult is heartbroken and ignores the child. Melodrama is necessary for a story of this type, and is no less sincere because of it. This film was especially synchronous with my own sometimes melodramatic family life: our 8-year old - like the scene-stealing Quinn Hunchar in the film - is named Emma. And like the father Chris Kelly portrays, I've found myself sometimes unable to connect with the imaginary world my daughter creates so effortlessly - even though I can so clearly remember having the same ability as her when I was her age. Even more personally ominous to me, was when father John tells his daughter Emma, with equal amounts of antagonism, guilt, and jealousy, "I've worked 80 hours this week, what have you done?" egad, my skin was fairly crawling - for I've said that exact same thing to my Emma before (Gulp!). I can pay this aspect of the film no higher compliment than to say that while watching it, my wife and I had to fight the urge to hop on a plane and hurry home to just give our daughter a hug.

I found out today from a post at Ink's Facebook page, that Ink has become the most heavily downloaded film on Pirate Bay this weekend (over 100,000 times), and while I've already weighed in on the excellent discussion occurring in the comment section - I'd like to take some time to expand on my comments regarding the issue of piracy here. We should know soon if for Ink this will be a blessing or curse - but I'm going to go ahead and put my money on the blessing. I think this weekend Ink has accomplished something profound that I'm still trying to grasp: that Ink has been illegally downloaded over 100,000 times in one weekend means that it has been accepted by the world on the sheer strength and quality of the film itself. It's on the verge of going completely viral not because of some clever marketing campaign (ahem, Paranormal Activity, cough-cough), Ink is going viral because it's so good. And while some rush to defend the film-makers' rights and complain that the pirates are stealing money from them - to a point I agree, but I also don't think it quite translates so literally. There's a hole in the logic of the argument: not all of these downloads can equal a lost sale because no money has been exchanged. And what I mean by that is that if this film were not available free (albeit, illegally) this massive and sudden outbreak of an audience would simply not have happened. How many downloads would have occurred if there had been a cost for the downloader involved? And how many sales of the DVD, Blu-Ray or T-Shirt occurred as a direct result of the illegal downloads in question?

Don't get me wrong, I'm not entirely on either side here. Some have said "if only the film-makers could have gotten a dollar or two from each download" and I whole-heartedly agree, but it also would most likely have prevented this same audience from spontaneously developing. Indeed, the makers of Ink would be no richer - and in audience size much poorer. This brings me full-circle to the comment I originally posted at Ink's Facebook page: "Night of the Living Dead had the title changed at the last moment, neglecting to include a copyright notice when they did. As a result, Romero's company lost control - but within a couple of years it had been shown all over the world by theaters and TV stations alike who didn't have to pay for the content - ultimately making Romero into a legend whose film had been seen by millions and millions of people instead of somebody who made an awesome but forgotten little horror film that never got noticed by the general public."

Photo: Jamin Winans (center) with Flyway Curators Rick and Diana Vaicius

Some say the studio / theater / distribution chain is a broken and out-dated model, and that's especially true in the case of a film like Ink that in all likelihood would never have been green-lit by Hollywood (although I fear before the dust settles, as Jeffrey Coghlan predicted the next morning - we'll probably see a mega-budget Hollywood remake of Ink in the years to come). So I hope this piracy helps point a new direction - freeing us from that broken model that brings us Matthew McConaughey abominations instead of Ink: that an independent film can be made with such resonance that it can bypass that system but still find another way of connecting with the viewing public like a stream reaching the sea. I feel Ink's sudden viral popularity is an indication of cultural embrace and achieving that was the hard part. I'm sure financial success will follow. I'm sure the minds that were creative enough to make this wonderful film will find a way to parlay this burst of attention into something even bigger. They certainly deserve it and I wish them nothing but the best.

In the meantime, Ink DVDs, Blu-Rays and t-shirts can all be purchased here. I'll be doing the same and I hope you do, too.

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