Uniqueness in the Age of Global Aesthetics – Katia Shannon

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Filmmakers are encouraged to develop a distinguishable aesthetic to pierce through the clutter. But it might be harder than ever to achieve. Where you are from and what your films should look like, are not interdependant anymore. That’s exciting, but the globalization of aesthetics is both a brilliant opportunity and a trap.

If you look back in history, artistic movements refer to a specific aesthetic practice, at a time and place. Pre-Raphaelite, Impressionist, Fauvist, Abstract Expressionist aesthetics all evoke a particular period in history as well as a centre of power where artists could converge to exchange ideas and aesthetics. In film, think of the ‘French New Wave’, ‘German Expressionism’ or ‘Direct Cinema’… The filmmaker’s place defined the style of the art and films people expected.

If a filmmaker’s voice is born out of their world view, what happens when everyone is looking through the lens of an algorithmic curation of similar things?

The filmmaker from a Mexican village can see the world, digitally, through the same lens as the filmmaker in Dubai. A film student in Shanghai can look at the work of a film student in New York as if they were classmates. The ‘place’ as a centre of power has given way to a digital communion. People are digitally arranging their content consumption by interest type or category rather than by what is available around them and ‘in real life’.

While being able to monitor the artistic pulse across the entire world is thrilling, are we converging towards a vague aesthetic uniformity? What obtains critical acclaim or garners millions of ‘likes’is more transparent and trackable than ever. Filmmakers pay attention to that information as a barometer of current taste, perhaps to the detriment a more local — or personal — aesthetic. Maybe partly because of the complex financing landscape and the eer present goal of breaking through, filmmakers are at risk of slowly syncing themselves to what others are producing, consciously or unconsciously.

If the globalization of aesthetics comes at the expense of unique and diverse voices, we’re creating an echo chamber rather than a conversation. Is there a way to encourage pollination of aesthetic ideas without the entire world making content that looks increasingly similar?

Here’s where I think valuing your own culture can help foster a distinct aesthetic. I grew up in Quebec, where it is impossible to miss the Quebecois’ proactive desire to nurture a culturally distinct society. Through its majorly French cultural scene, a self-generated star-system and a little politics, the 7+ million French Quebecers have limited the influence of the 360 million anglophones around them and created a vibrant cultural ecosystem. The use of French establishes the culture, and the culture preserves the language.

This time of imposed stillness during the COVID-19 pandemic makes consideration of the globalization of aesthetics even more relevant.

It is the oxymoron of having a limitless digital visual access to the world, yet a very narrow physical one. Quarantines used to prevent the circulation of aesthetic ideas because art movements needed people to gather, observe, critique and digest. Now, our artistic influences travel faster than ever before. ‘See it, like it, share it, swipe, next.’ We are partaking for the first time in history, in a mass social-isolation effort that does not stop us from sharing our visual aesthetics beyond the borders of isolation. It has encouraged and cemented our ability to do so in a digital way, forcing a collective re-examination of our sense of place and the art it creates.

‘Gen X Romantics’ or ‘Millenial Post-Digital Uncertainty’ anyone?

Decades from now, will we be able to identify aesthetic movements that revolve around a time and place? Will there be a ‘New Quebecois Cinema’, ‘Indigenous New Wave’ or ‘British Post-Digital Cinema’? If the place is less defined, than identifying, honoring and preserving diverse cultural voices is as important as ever — or more so.

The challenge lies in embracing the opportunity of a cross-cultural digital dialogue while recognizing what makes your world view unique and inimitable. The good news is, that it’s already around you, beckoning for attention.

ABOUT KATIA SHANNON: Determined to take her family to Walt Disney World, Katia took her first plunge into film aged 9. Targeting the grand prize of $500, she wrote the winning script for a national contest run by the CBC (Radio-Canada). Produced in 35 mm, Un accident inoubliable opened the Carrousel international du film de Rimouski. Katia later graduated from Concordia University in Montréal with a BFA in Film Production and an award for outstanding achievement in filmmaking. Fuelled by a love for passionate stories of human endeavour and inspired by the worlds of photography, painting and dance; Katia’s films, have been selected at numerous festivals including the Calgary International Film Festival, Whistler Film Festival, Air Canada EnRoute Film Festival and Fastnet Film Festival. Standstill is her latest short film currently on the festival circuit.

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