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Love’s Labor Lost

Alot of what AIVF did was to create an interface between very diverse communities of independent media makers and audiences that work structurally through the realms of public television. Not just public TV a la NPR and PBS, but also public access to media spaces like Collective for Living Cinema, Film/Video Arts, Millennium, and Anthology. It circulated a lot of people through those spaces who could then claim some kind of relationship as a community. AIVF acted as a kind of hinge between all the different spaces and vectors of activity.

As those vectors of activity morphed and changed, you saw that, structurally, the identity
of AIVF came under increasing pressure. First off it came under pressure from the more careerist portion of that community, like me, people who entered the marketplace as the so-called independent film scene became a market, and the vector where the lines crossed started coming closer to the independent film market.

There was also this transmigration to the internet of a lot of the knowledge base and conversations. AIVF never had the capital; it certainly had the will, but it never had the working capital to integrate itself into a digital environment. One of the reasons for that was that AIVF could never sell its goods to the corporations that were replacing community groups. So it didn’t have a rationale for corporate support.

The only alternative was ratcheting up the organization as a pure digital play, which I think, in many ways, was antithetical to the kind of notion of human contact and community that drove AIVF. The idea that people actually mingle was still part of the culture of the organization, but given all these circumstances, this really hampered it. The second opportunity was always present and part of the culture, but it never became AIVF’s raison d’etre: This was activism. AIVF never made its focus media activism, and it never transformed into a more articulate and informed media activist group that really was engaged in the politics of things like the Telecommunications Act of 1996.

After the ITVS fight, the membership saw real substantial results from a real political organization that leveraged its visibility and knowledge and its vocal relationship with structures of power in DC. The ITVS battle showed that we could succeed, and it created standards for success that were both exciting as well as disappointing. AIVF never became a venue for those kinds of debates.

Part of the problem has to do with locating a concept of professionalism. On the one hand, AIVF was an organization that facilitated the training and socialization of media makers into a professionalization process. It helped people who wanted to make activist media that was of a certain—and here’s where the problem is—level of accomplishment (i.e. had some kind of economic logic that allowed for the makers to support themselves while doing it.) So the demands for support: “We deserve to get paid for our work,” and “We deserve a place on the PBS landscape,” were simultaneous, and in some ways neutralized what was happening with the rise of cheap digital video and video activism. So now you have two very competitive ideas about independent media: one that rightfully says that we should do this well and apply standards of professionalism, and the other one that says, just pick up a fucking digital video camera and join the parade; get it online; get a MySpace page or whatever. How do you reconcile those two things especially with institutional logic?

I still think that the potential demise of AIVF is precisely the argument for why it is needed. The new challenge is finding what could possibly bring together this incredibly diverse range of communities all doing independent media. What could help them band together to create a community that actually intervenes successfully and pinpoints ways that they all agree, even instinctively? A lot of what AIVF got done and done well
was the result of unarticulated, untheorized, and undiscussed needs. It just kind of happened.

The problem is that a lot of the steps that need to get done require some kind of policy wonk thinking. What is happening right now in terms of internet access and what telephone companies are going to try to do to the internet is astonishing. It’s astonishing that all of us aren’t totally together on this, that there isn’t one place to go where we can speak out. Maybe it’s going to take another round or two for the digital marketplace to organize itself in a way that people start to see themselves as publishers
of their work and as having an investment in that. But by the time that happens, it may be a little late in the day.

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