Before this essay crumbles into incessant ranting, I would like to state smack at the beginning that its springboard, the occasion for its penning, is the excellent First Person Cinema: Up Close and Personal series currently showing at the Little Theatre. Filled with small, personal documentaries (Lucia Small's My Father, the Genius and Marlo Poras' Mai's America are definite standouts that you can catch this week and next), the series showcases everything promising and necessary about the rise of digital filmmaking. Go see what you can. Seriously. You won't be disappointed.

That said, here's the thing: Though I'm well aware that as a writer for an alternative rag such as this one I should be an avid proponent of the democratization of art, an emphatic cheerleader for personal expression (et cetera, et cetera), digital filmmaking nonetheless gives me the heebie-jeebies. Why? Because I can't shake the theory that filmmaking, as an art form, should not be an easy endeavor.

Agree or disagree, whichever--but as one of those obsessive cinedopes who feels movies are the utmost of art forms, the thought of the masses picking up $2K Panasonics and spackling together their "vision" (i.e., a knockoff of the latest indie darling), or, worse, some mundane and utterly uninteresting component of their existence passed off as a documentary, does not register high on the level-of-interest meter. In fact, more often than not, it's outright annoying. And though the Little Theatre's First Person series certainly avoids this pitfall (again: go see it), alarm bells still manage to ring.

Is this just snobbery on my part? Perhaps. But I'd like to point out that art has a history of being completely marginalized by mass production. An example? Take a gander at porn. Or even music--how many shithole bands are currently putting the finishing touches on their debut CD? How many have ProTooled their songs to death, crutching themselves on the ease of technology in an effort to sound better than they are, or ever will be for that matter? Exactly. I thought so.

But this ease-hampering-art scenario is not just the fault of technology. There are also the cases of poetry (how many hacks have you witnessed who call themselves poets?) and prose (how many "writers" have you met?) and journalism (how many weblogs and zines and snotty weekly newspapers who employ inept scribblers with the last name Steinbacher have you read?). Again, I thought so.

The ease with which art is created is usually in exact correlation with its lacking as art. Just because people are able to create art--just because they can string some rhyming words together, or blunder through four chords, or slap some colors together in the shape of an angel wounded by globalization--doesn't mean they always should. It is much, much easier to call yourself an artist than to actually be an artist. On this we should all be able to agree.

Which brings me back to digital filmmaking, and my aforementioned heebie-jeebies about it. Now that the technology is available, and digital films are gaining a wider acceptance (see Gary Winick's heavily promoted/superduperstupid Tadpole), more and more "auteurs" are cranking out films. The result is a growing clutter. Evidence: How many films does Sundance (and Slamdance and Telluride and even SIFF) turn away each year? Hundreds? Thousands? And what about the films it does showcase? How many of them actually blossom post-festival? Not many. Supply has already sprinted past demand.

But, you may be saying, there's always been a lot of terrible movies. And you're right. But setting aside the usual Hollywood trash, just look at what's happened to "indie" cinema since sex, lies, and videotape. Think about all the shitty indie movies you've sat through over the years at festivals or otherwise. Now think about how many more are looming on the horizon with digital films becoming more and more prevalent.

In the coming years, the clutter of cheaply produced, terrible/inept/merely average films is going to be staggering. You think Hollywood produces nothing but shit? I'll see you at SIFF in 2006.

But all this said, First Person is definitely worth a showcase before your peepers. In a very real sense, by integrating the medium and the message, it counter-argues this entire rant. Go and enjoy and pray that I'm wrong about this whole digital-killing-cinema threat, because if you love cinema, you better hope I am.