The uneasy dance between artists, many who view themselves as independent and politically correct, and corporations and governments, the majority of which these same artists deem corrupt, was broadcast live over cable TV as part of the 2004 Sundance Film Festival's closing night awards.
Part of a festival-long marketing blitz a few notches shy of Super Bowl hysteria, the stars of the show were corporate sponsors Volkswagen of America, Hewlett Packard, Entertainment Weekly, LG Electronics and Coca-Cola. Every award, every moment, had a sponsorship label attached to it.
The campy effect would have been hilarious if the reality weren't so discouraging. Corporate giving to the nonprofit Sundance Film Festival is one thing — corporate giving as a means to appropriating Sundance for relentless marketing and promotion of new products is something less charitable.
The situation isn't unique to Sundance. Just about every arts organization in every town has to put out its tin cup, hopeful that someone, anyone, friend or foe, will provide much-needed funds.
When The Corporation, a scathingly detailed political documentary about the history and social dominance of corporations, was awarded Sundance's Audience Award for Best Documentary in the World Cinema section, co-director Mark Achbar and author and co-screenwriter Joel Bakan took to the stage flashing their Corporation T-shirts ready to make mischief.
Achbar made a point to recognize all the corporate sponsors at the festival and emphasize that what little corporate funding his Canadian film received was due to a government mandate. Bakan poked fun at the 2000 U.S. presidential election, emphasizing that their festival victory wasn't bought.
While awards hosts Jake Gyllenhaal and Zooey Deschanel watched blank-faced from off-stage, the audience between the shiny stage and the teleprompter screen in the back of the gymnasium room laughed heartily. The agitation from Achbar and Balkan was welcome and dead on.
John Cameron Mitchell, director and star of the 2001 Sundance hit Hedwig and the Angry Inch, followed Achbar and Bakan onstage as an awards presenter and promptly played the role of sponsor apologist.
"It's not fair to generalize all corporations as bad," Mitchell told the crowd and everyone watching on TV. "There are wonderful people working in corporations trapped in a situation they do not want to be in. Just like we're trapped in a government we do not want any part of."
What Mitchell didn't say after his anti-Bush slam — what no liberal artist likes to admit — is that most everyone will gladly accept federal government funding. Desperate times call for desperate measures.
When a Jan. 29 news release announced an $18 million increase to the National Endowment to the Arts (NEA) to fund American Masterpieces: Three Centuries of Artistic Genius, a large-scale tour of American visual and performance art, the underlying statement is that the Bush Administra-tion doesn't view the NEA as a wasteful federal program. Tossing any congratulatory Hip-Hip-Hoorays aside, artists will take the money because they need it.
Local critics of the city of Cincinnati, its pumped-up mayor and troublesome police force face the same credibility issues as NEA recipients when applying for the Small Arts Organization Grant. (Applications are available now and due March 15, 2004.) There's little happening at City Hall to their satisfaction, but they'll still take city grant money.
The ideal is that people, mayors or presidents, governments and businesses can change, maybe for the better. The movies prove it.
Longtime enforcer and director Clint Eastwood overturns his Dirty Harry persona with the anti-vigilante movie Mystic River. Granted, a bloody act of vigilantism is the key moment in this movie, but it's by far Eastwood's greatest plea for a nonviolent resolution to a violent act.
Eastwood is in Oscar contention for Mystic River. If he wins, California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger should present the award.
With regard to recent events, Schwarzenegger is the poster child of outrageous possibilities.