Categories
Behind the Scenes

Editing a Documentary Feature Film. For the First Time.

It’s been a long while that we haven’t posted anything here. And there is a reason for that. Soon after our last blog post, about Katherine’s thoughts on the Corona pandemic, and what it means for wellbeing economics, we launched into editing mode: We closed the doors behind us (sort of … it wasn’t really hard anyway, because Corona), sat down and finally approached our terrabytes of footage, in order to start assembling this vast collection of material into a story that people will hopefully relate to, feel, understand, follow, be moved and inspired by.

A tall order. But gladly, we have help. Last year, we started collaborating with a team of experienced film makers from Hamburg, and they are now coaching us in the editing process.

Which sounds great. Which actually is great. But it doesn’t necessarily feel great — at least at the start: In April, I put together a first draft of what I thought the first fifteen minutes of our film could look like. It was a fairly rough sketch, but I thought it would be a good starting point for the development. Turned out that it wasn’t. The team in Hamburg explained to me with very kind words — and in a very long two-hour phone conference — that what I had made could probably live on YouTube, with its activist stance and rough & tumble explanatory ‘teacher’ tone. But it certainly was not going to work in the cinema, or really anywhere else where people expect a truly engaging cinematic experience that provokes thought and engages on an emotional level.

I was in a bad mood for about a week after the phone call.

I could not make sense of many of the things the guys had talked about: layered storytelling … associative space for the viewer … designing complexity. They seemed like abstract ideas, incredibly theoretical — I had not been to film school, no one had taught me how to think in these terms, and I could not connect them to our material, to the story of our two protagonists.

But then I started watching more documentaries and tried to keep these concepts and ideas in mind, mapping them onto what I was seeing. At the same time, we did another interview with our protagonist Lorenzo Fioramonti, about his feelings regarding the pandemic and his political ideas. I was slowly getting a grip on these theoretical film concepts, when suddenly some of Lorenzo’s words — he was very candid about the way he saw the state of affairs — and a couple of shots from Italy from Autumn last year began morphing together in my mind. And all of a sudden I had a hunch about how the film could start in a different way, and transmit more of the emotional state that this film project is borne out of. I put this together, and started to sort of riff on that approach. And the feedback from Hamburg suddenly sounded very different. Now they were saying ‘this is beginning to look cinematic.’ It felt like I had cracked a secret, like I had passed through a kind of conceptual door, and now I had a better understanding of what my job was.

And it has been that process ever since. I assemble more and more footage, fine tune it with Nick, we polish it, and then we show it to our colleagues. And then a long — sometimes more, sometimes less detailed — feedback session ensues, which is sometimes painful, sometimes controversial, but always constructive, and it allows me to carry on, polish more, and start building the next sequences.

The only downside is that there is hardly anything we can talk about here on the blog. Or show. Currently, we truly live deep down in the mine of our story, shaping and reshaping the film almost every day, and trying to figure out everything — from the most minute details (‘should we change this one word in the voice-over?’) to massive structural questions (‘can we tell Katherine’s and Lorenzo’s stories in parallel, or should it happen one after the other?’). And this part of the job will probably continue until the end of the year. If all goes well.

It’s an incredible journey, and incredibly enjoyable. Editing film is an addictive activity. At the same time, it can sometimes also eat you up. It takes over your whole body when you are enaging with film material of such quantities on such an intense level.

But I love it, and I am grateful that I get to have this experience, and that I get such amazing help. I will look back one day and know that this was one of the best times of my life. When I made my first feature-length film.

Categories
Gross Domestic Product Introduction

On Economic Growth As A Concept.

I just read the text “Economic growth: a short history of a controversial idea” by Gareth Dale — and thought that some of its points merit mentioning here, as they relate to the core issue of our film project: the unhealthy obsession of most governments with GDP Growth, and how to end it.

Dale’s text is all about where this idea came from, originally.

The first key point he is making is rejecting Elias Canetti’s “will to grow”, which posits that the desire to (economically) “grow” — in other words, to accumulate “more” — is a human quality that sits inside our DNA. From wanting your child to grow, to wanting your power to grow, to wanting your riches to grow, to wanting your farm to grow, this is just how we are made, we always want more.

But Dale disagrees and says that Canetti is throwing things together that don’t belong together:

Canetti’s ‘will to grow’ doesn’t withstand scrutiny. The diverse behaviours he describes can’t be reduced to a single logic. The ‘will’ behind creating babies is quite unlike the will to accumulate acreage or gold. And the latter is relatively recent. For much of the human story, societies were nomadic or semi-nomadic, and organised in immediate-return systems. Stashes of food were set aside to tide the group over for days or weeks, but long-term storage was impractical. The accumulation of possessions would hamper mobility. The measures that such societies used to reduce the risks of scarcity centred not on accumulating stores of goods but on knowledge of the environment, and interpersonal relationships (borrowing, sharing, and so on).

The next crucial point he is making is about data. It was only possible for humans to “want more” once they were able to properly count what they had. In other words, the development of statistical tools plays a key role for instilling this idea that we could “have more tomorrow” than we have today. This links directly to the discussion we experienced at the OECD Forum in South Korea, about new measurements and their political implications. Dale writes:

The same centuries experienced a revolution in statistics. In the England of 1600, the growth paradigm could scarcely have existed. No one knew the nation’s income, or even its territory or population. By 1700 all these had been calculated, at least in some rough measure, and as new data arrived England’s ‘material progress’ could be charted. Simultaneously, the usage of ‘growth’ had extended from the natural and concrete toward abstract phenomena: the growth of England’s colonies in Virginia and Barbados, the ‘growth of trade,’ and suchlike.

And as the advancement of science and the development of colonialism went hand in hand, the colonialists had a whole host of new quantitative questions to answer:

How profitable is this tract of land, and its denizens? How can they be made more profitable? Answering such questions was enabled by modern accounting techniques, with their sharper definition of such abstractions as profit and capital.

In other word, “growth of the economy” needed a lot of inventions before it could even be thought. And the idea was heavily based on thinking that originated from the development of colonialism. In the new colonies, it seemed even more important than anywhere else to count and “grow” the new properties that were being accumulated.

And what was the result of all that? A very simple story about how people evolved from barbarism to civilisation. Barbarism was the lifestyles of the people that colonialists found wherever their greed took them, civilisation was the way of living and counting and robbing and thinking in property terms that the colonialists brought. Since the invading nations were the “more advanced ones”, that gave them “the right” to control and harrass the others. And economic growth was always part of the story:

Through its marriage to progress and development, in the belief that social advance requires a steady upward ratchet in national income, growth gained its ideological heft.

And this takes us into the twentieth century. The idea of economic growth turned into a global competition and race, for power, influence and promises to the electorate. And in the fight between the political systems of the Cold War, it became the tool for everything:

Growth was firmly established everywhere: in the state-capitalist economies of the ‘Second World,’ the market economies of the West, and the postcolonial world too. It became part of the economic-cultural furniture, and played a decisive part in binding ‘civil society’ into capitalist hegemonic structures — with social democratic parties and trade unions crucial binding agents. It came to be seen as the key metric of national progress and as a magic wand to achieve all sorts of goals: to abolish the danger of returning to depression, to sweeten class antagonisms, to reduce the gap between ‘developed’ and ‘developing’ countries, to carve a path to international recognition, and so on.

And then to me, the most interesting conclusion can be found in the penultimate paragraph:

Growth, although the result of social relations among people, assumes the veneer of objective necessity. The growth paradigm elides the exploitative process of accumulation, portraying it instead as a process in the general interest.

It’s actually an incredible sleight of hand: The accumulation of wealth is redefined as the primary public interest. We are lead to believe that as long as a massive accumulation of capital happens, somehow everyone will be better off. Even though it’s overwhelmingly a narrow group of people benefiting from this type of accumulation. Because ever since the TINA years, so much taxation has been dismantled, bit by bit.

Not too long ago, this whole idea was also referred to as the “Trickle-Down-Effect” — an effect that doesn’t actually work in the real world. Just because the rich get richer doesn’t mean the rest are better off. Quite the contrary. Unless we rethink the way we distribute access to capital and resources: Wellbeing Economies.