When reporter Sarah Henry’s Berkeleyside article appeared and was reposted and retweeted the morning after the Sunday PFA screening, the dialogue we had started about school food moved online. Among the many comments about the Berkeley school lunch program – complaining, attacking, defending and explaining - a few commentators just said thanks to the chefs for making this program work each day for their kids.
To my surprise, these online discussions spread and kept on going for another three days. The flow of commentary was intense and partisan, giving me new story ideas for the long form film still to be completed. As author Sara Miles said, “Anywhere there’s food, spirit and matter intersect.”
Now that Lunch Love Community is let loose online, Sophie and I as independent filmmakers and artists hold no power over the way in which the webisodes can be used or repurposed. Their status as precious objects, to be sold, bought, or controlled has vanished. On the Internet, we’ve traded ownership for free-ranging access to dialogue and action. My reality is that my documentary work grows now in the context of an expansive conversation that knows no limits, and where the distinction between process and product is continuously dissolving.
Yet, the webisodes have become more valuable than I’d thought possible, inviting real life involvement beyond a click: from reading a blog, to watching a short film, going to a meeting, signing on to a committee, and creating a new local policy that could affect thousands of students. Sophie calls the webisodes “tools” for anyone to use as they wish. In this evolving media economy, documentary is becoming a downloadable app to sharpen focus and provoke change.
The movement of media online will be in flux for a long time to come. As collaborator and best friend forever, the Internet comes with a price, one whose mercurial and startling needs and desires demand constant attention, exploration, and energy.
Designer Bruce Mau, author of An Incomplete Manifesto for Growth, said that now “it’s our job to jump fences and cross fields.” Digital culture, with its openings and obstacles, has obliged me to make radical changes in how I create my media work. I make mistakes faster and correct them even faster, and I connect my work to forces way outside the screen, the theater, and narrow assumptions.
After the Pacific Film Archive screening I saw how Lunch Love Community reflects its subject both in process and spirit. The physicality, the drama and the fragility of the real, and to many, imperfect Berkeley School Lunch Program – an institutional service fighting to exist within a system of precarious and uncertain resources draws me back to the intersection of food, matter and spirit. Its magic comes from its “wabi,” the flaws that reveal the human touch and the striving to do good.
Conflict is no longer only constructed in the narrative of a documentary’s structure. It now spills out way beyond the screen. How we engage with critics, blogger journalists, commentators and passionate participants will reveal new relationships to non-fiction filmmaking and its transformation emerging now on the Internet.
In my experience, it is every documentary filmmaker’s aspiration to transform consciousness by presenting alternative ways of seeing or doing things in life as it is actually lived and struggled over. When there is an audience to speaks its mind to you, around you, and beyond you, that emulsion you have worked so hard to blend together will hold, lose its delicate fragility, and become more potent than you had ever imagined it to be.