Participatory documentary reflects on the ownership of ideas 

By Karen Herland

At one point during RiP: A Remix Manifesto an official from the U.S. copyright office watches mesmerized as mash-up DJ Girl Talk cuts and pastes single notes from an Elvis Costello song to create a new beat.

Brett Gaylor’s documentary on copyright as an attempt by the past to control the future premiered this month. Magnifying glass

Brett Gaylor’s documentary on copyright as an attempt by the past to control the future premiered this month.

"It's taking something that was and turning it into something it wasn't," she says, somewhat amazed. That is the practice at the heart of Brett Gaylor's film, which opened at the Festival du nouveau cinéma last week.

How legal is Girl Talk's mash-up? "It depends whose it is, and how upset they are," continues the bureaucrat. The film suggests that it also depends on how much muscle and money they have.

Remix explores Folk Art 2.0, Gaylor's term for the potential of the "first media literate generation who can take all the world's culture and remake it." The movie pits those who grew up traveling the information superhighway against those who see ideas as a potential supermarket.

Gaylor argues that copyright now does not serve the producer as neatly as it serves the corporations who distribute the work, and maintain the rights to it, often for decades after the actual artist is long gone.

Gaylor explains how technological innovations from the printing press to the VCR have all provoked readjustments about how those rights are recognized. The digital age means movies can appear on your computer, your TV and your iPod as well as at your multiplex. That flexibility has pushed the envelope, and those with the power are pushing back.

Gaylor has been developing his film online at "I would post raw footage as the film progressed, people would remix that and I would include it. Then they would send original video, photos, music, story ideas, etc." explained Gaylor about the process. Matt Soar's intermedia class even rotoscoped some footage of Girl Talk as their contribution. (Journal, May 8). Gaylor's also collected footage from other films, news media and the internet.

"That's completely illegal," says Lawrence Lessig, the legal guru who developed the creative commons and whose latest book, titled simply Remix, is available in the campus bookstore, when Gaylor shows him clips from the movie in progress. Though he does point out, "if you were writing an essay, you could quote people from your culture to make your point, why not do the same thing with film?"

Gaylor began dreaming about how to make the film when he graduated from film production in 2001. He got funding, and began working on the project in earnest in 2006. The first cut was finished hours before the first screening.

Remix is a co-production between EyeSteelFilms and the National Film Board. During the film festival, Gaylor invited anyone in the audience who had worked on the film up on the stage. about 40 people joined him. "We have an intern from Concordia right now. The Concordia connection in the film is huge — I'd say more than 60% of the film crew graduated from Concordia. Our office is full of Concordia people — and I got my start because of Concordia — I did an internship with Daniel Cross for credit while I was studying Film Production, and we became collaborators from then onward."

At another point in the film, an official is addressing a group of young people, outlining the potential fines and risks they court if they download stuff off the internet. As the potential costs mount, one of the kids raises his hand and articulates the question you know Gaylor wants to ask, "Isn't that a little overboard?"

To see clips, reactions or news about the film:


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