As its supporters have it, Kickstarter is an initiative just made for our austere moment: at last, they cry, a brand that makes spreadsheets sexy, panhandling productive. As anyone who’s ever thrown in a fiver for a pal’s ill-fated Bobby Davro biopic will know, the company’s model has at the very least been shrewdly formulated. Cash-strapped creatives pitch projects online with an eye to raising public backing; we chip in, and get the feature, short or video game anticipated, or – if the minimum target isn’t raised – our money back. It’s a no-win-no-fee way of crowdfunding, hive-minding and exit-polling all at once.
The Kickstarter Film Fest, which concluded its first UK run this past weekend, fell at the end of a tricky year for the company. Blogger Ken Hoinsky’s hands-on seduction treatise “Above the Game: A Guide to Getting Awesome with Women” and multi-millionaire Zach Braff’s autobiographical drama Wish I Was Here – general response: I wish I weren’t – hinted the company’s anything-goes model had become open to exploitation. Some, too, have equated the fiscal prudence of this methodology with a wider artistic conservatism. Shouldn’t art be about more than mere book-balancing? Aren’t Kickstarter’s greenlit projects, by definition, safe bets?
Saturday night’s showcase event at London’s Prince Charles Cinema suggested possibly not, and that the company still has plenty to be proud about. Take the support it generated for Gillian Robespierre’s quietly radical comedy Obvious Child, whose IMDb keywords (“abortion”, “reproductive rights”, “peeing in street”) presumably precluded even the modest studio backing afforded to the comparatively timid Juno. The company’s logo similarly adorns this year’s Sundance documentary prize-winner, the sincere poverty study Rich Hill, and the short films of Planet Money, an NPR spin-off that rigorously and ingeniously illustrate how the world works.
In such cases, Kickstarter functions as a virtual sibling to such progressively minded mini-studios as Jeff Skoll’s Participant Media or Megan Ellison’s Annapurna Pictures. It’s enabled both neophytes like Mike Flanagan (whose unsettling Kickstarted debut Absentia prefigured this year’s effective multiplex horror Oculus) and indie veteran Alexandre Rockwell (In the Soup), whose crowdsourced comeback Little Feet suggests what a Jim Jarmusch kids’ film might be like. (While pushing a stuffed mallard round, our pint-sized magician hero turns to his pal, a tubby sort in a sailor’s cap, and remarks “Best thing is you don’t have to feed him.”)
Sometimes its users are clearly just taking a punt. 846 optimists chipped in for Andrew Harmer’s The Fitzroy, a British variant on Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s early, grubby fantasias. Shown back-to-back, the trailer for David Sandberg’s VHS-influenced Kung Fury, about an 80s cop sent back in time to defeat Hitler (a.k.a. the Kung Führer), and the project video for Kyle Rankin’s Night of the Living Deb demonstrated how even sales pitches have become more inventive under the company’s aegis: the former offers far richer visual and comedic pickings than 2012’s crowdfunded Nazis-on-the-moon saga Iron Sky, while the latter sees Rankin’s read-through with star Ray Wise (Twin Peaks) interrupted by a zombie apocalypse.
Doubtless hundreds more splatterfests await a greenlight, but relatively few organisations can also claim to have facilitated documentaries on Indian puppeteers (Tomorrow We Disappear) and Finnish cowboys (Aatsinki), Michael Snow-like experimenta (Jeff Frost’s Circle of Abstract Ritual) and a stopmotion co-directed by an 11-year-old (Trinity and Barry Andersson’s Me & Ewe). Amid this deluge of digital diversity, there were glimpses of somebody literally sticking their neck on the line – as in First to Fall, Rachel Beth Anderson and Tim Gruca’s close-range report on Libyan freedom fighters. (Truly, the recoil from rocket launchers is something to behold.)
The night’s crowdpleaser, however, came from closer to home: snippets of Aardman’s All New Adventures of Morph, still winding up the hapless Chas, yet now getting down with the kids – turning his clay hands to DJing and stand-up – without the naff Cowell-courting of, say, Postman Pat: The Movie. Though these, too, raised economic questions – should Aardman, lately attached to Sony and StudioCanal, really be soliciting public coin to finance its webisodes? – the throwback chuckles they sparked reminded us a safe bet can itself be a thing of joy. Kickstarter may just have found a posterboy less whitebread than Zach Braff: crafty, creative, adaptable Morph.
Absentia and Oculus are now available on DVD.
Absentia and Oculus are now available on DVD.