Mumble In The Jungle: Who Really Won The Swanberg-Faraci Fantastic Fest Debate?
It's hard to say who really won, or if nobody won, or if everyone won last night when filmmaker Joe Swanberg (LOL, Hannah Takes The Stairs) and Badass Digest critic Devin Faraci took their creative differences to the boxing ring at the Fantastic Debates, an annual Fantastic Fest highlight that combines traditional debate with actual fisticuffs. Technically, their topic of debate was "Mumblecore is catshit and is giving a bad name to independent films," though given Swanberg's position as the micro-indie movement's poster child, the fight got personal as soon as it began.
Faraci had the audience going early with opening remarks (full transcript below) laced with pointed barbs that had the capacity crowd cheering. "[Mumblecore] is a bunch of middle class white kids whining about their ennui, about their middle class white lives in front of a camera, without a script, without good actors," he proclaimed. "Here’s what you need to make a mumblecore movie: A sense of entitlement, white skin, and Greta Gerwig."
It's safe to say Faraci's anti-mumblecore attack/not-so-friendly roast had the support of the audience, but to his credit, Swanberg (who had no films in the fest and flew in for the debate) deftly countered. "True to form I haven’t prepared notes like Devin," he began, turning the focus back on Faraci. "Maybe us mumblecore filmmakers are making movies from the heart that are connecting with you in a way that makes you a little bit uncomfortable."
Faraci nailed exactly what so many film-watchers dislike about mumblecore films — the unscripted, self-obsessed feeling of privileged white hipsterism that dominates them — but while he had the audience's minds, Swanberg captured their hearts with the best counter-argument he could have used.
"When you use your voice to try and squash people who are young, who are just coming up, who are figuring out the kind of filmmaker they want to be and the kinds of films they want to make," said Swanberg, "all you’re doing is discouraging creative people from becoming who they are."
It was a passionate, personal, highly entertaining exchange of ideas and philosophies about film and filmmaking filled with complexities of the critic-artist relationship as old as time. And then they entered the ring.
Although Faraci and Swanberg were preceded by dueling twin sister filmmakers Jen and Sylvia Soska (American Mary) who kicked each other while dressed as Mortal Kombat characters, and were followed by the night's title card between Fantastic Fest founder Tim League and actual Tae Kwan Do Grandmaster/motivational speaker/Miami Connection star Y.K. Kim, the critic-filmmaker bout was the best, and most alarming, of the night. Punches landed hard. Contact lenses were lost. In an event traditionally more tongue-in-cheek sideshow than serious fight, Faraci hit the mat but kept going for two rounds with Swanberg, who had director Ti West as his cornerman and wore a shirt that read "The Silver Bullet," a nod to one of his own films and a symbolic weapon for taking down certain hirsute mythological creatures.
What started out as a wildly entertaining exchange of barbs turned harrowing as the physical match wore on. But neither contender pulled any punches, at the podium or in the ring, Fantastic Fest got its best Debate in memory, and this morning Faraci and Swanberg's intellectual bout is as much the talk of the fest as their knock-down rumble. In any case, the two bruisers made up after hours, somewhat, in true Fantastic Fest fashion. I guess that's a win-win for everyone?
Read the full transcript below.
Joe, I really want to thank you for coming down to Austin, Texas to talk. I understand that last night you and your wife wanted to have some Chinese food, and Magnolia is now releasing that into 100 theaters next weekend. I’m here not because I hate Joe Swanberg – that’s just a plus – but because I love independent cinema. I love indie movies! They’re the beating heart of film. This is the best, the brightest, our greatest directors from Oscar Micheaux to Roger Corman to Dennis Hopper to Katherine Bigelow, Richard Linklater, Paul Thomas Anderson’s independent cinema. These are people without big means, these are people with big dreams, big visions – and usually, take note, a script. Even Cassavetes who didn’t have the scripts had these amazing actors, incredibly trained naturalistic actors whose qualifications were much more than just being willing to simulate sex onscreen with the director. You are the opposite of everything that’s great about indie film. It’s the laziest form of filmmaking. It’s a bunch of middle class white kids whining about their ennui, about their middle class white lives in front of a camera, without a script, without good actors. Here’s what you need to make a mumblecore movie: A sense of entitlement, white skin, and Greta Gerwig. To me, the word “core” at the end of mumblecore sounds like it should be something punk rock, something amazing, something edgy, instead of the blandest, most self-indulgent bullshit and only at the narcissists who make it. Your audience, pretty much, is you.
Well, true to form I haven’t prepared notes like Devin. I heard you use the word “lazy” just now yet also it seems to be the case that I’ve made more movies than almost any American filmmaker so that seems to be a contradiction. Additionally, if my audience is just me why do I make a living as a filmmaker and why do you seem to have seen so many of my films? Maybe you recognize yourself in those movies, Devin. Maybe us mumblecore filmmakers are making movies from the heart that are connecting with you in a way that makes you a little bit uncomfortable, possibly in your underpants area. Maybe they’re a little too familiar. Maybe the awkward fumblings of the sexual scenes hit a little too close to home, so rather than embrace these films you put up a wall of defense. I also heard you mention Roger Corman, another filmmaker who in his time was accused of being lazy, amateurish, sloppy, all these things – now he’s a hero of yours. Maybe you’ve got to give these mumblecore movies another 25 years before you see the true impact they make. Mostly, I’m out there doing it, Devin. I’m making movies. I’m getting my friends together with no money, we’re going out there and doing it, we’re putting ourselves on the line for shitheads like you to take cheap shots from behind your computer! There wouldn’t be a you without a me, Devin.
You’re right, you have made more films than most American filmmakers. Hitler killed more Jews than most other people. True, your early films were full of your heart, and your soul, and your dick, and then you moved past short subjects into longer movies. It is important that people keep making movies. I do agree that having no money should never be a roadblock for any filmmaker out there. Having no talent, that’s a whole other matter entirely.
I’m going to ignore the cheap shots. You know, we both came of age in a really amazing time when the technology has allowed me to have a voice and the technology has allowed you to have a voice. And I think that, unfortunately, when you use your voice to try and squash people who are young, who are just coming up, who are figuring out the kind of filmmaker they want to be and the kinds of films they want to make, all you’re doing is discouraging creative people from becoming who they are. I think the next time you see a movie that you really hate, you might want to reflect on it for more than 25 minutes before you write a review. You write reviews faster than I make movies.
I do agree, I think that young filmmakers out there who are working hard should be supported, they should have places like Fantastic Fest to come and show the work they’re doing. It doesn’t mean that every single thought that they ever had has to become a 65-minute motion picture. At the end of the day I think making movies isn't just about getting your friends together and turning a camera on. It's about creating something that speaks to people, something that has a soul, something that has narrative. I think you need to have one of these things: amazing craft, amazing script, amazing actors. At this point, when Kevin Smith is beating you in all three of those, I don't know what to say. But I do want to say, Joe, I do respect that you came down here. This is not easy, this is not your crowd. I think this was very big of you. And I look forward to punching you right in the face in a couple minutes.
I don't have much to say Devin, except that I'm going to be making a lot more films for the rest of my life, most of them you'll be watching. I'll never read another word you write. I think you've demonstrated an incredibly close-minded view of what cinema can be, by referencing just script, or just narrative, or just those things. I think you have a lot to learn. I'm excited for you to learn it. Mostly I'm excited to put the gloves on and beat the shit out of you.