Do More Cuts Mean Less Shoots?

Sweeping NEA cutbacks leave Texas filmmakers scrambling for funding

Katie Cocionos, who used to run SWAMP and now acts as managing director for the nonprofit Austin Film Society, offers another concern: that in the absence of a Media Arts fund, and an Independent Production Fund in particular, the NEA will fund work mostly by people they've already heard of -- particularly higher-profile artists who live and work in Washington, New York and Los Angeles -- and bypass artists in middle-America who'd prefer to stay regional.

"Now that the IPF is gone, there are no grants available at the NEA for experimental films, short films and a lot of smaller-scale, more inventive documentaries," she says. "If you're doing offbeat work that isn't strictly old-fashioned fictional narrative, or a narrative-style documentary, then the NEA in Washington is off limits to you. It always has been really -- only now, or course, there's really no other alternative."

"It's nothing short of a disaster, an instant decimation of local film and videomakers," says Linklater, whose NEA-assisted Slacker kick-started his career. In addition to his work as a feature filmmaker, Linklater serves as director of the nonprofit Austin Film Society, which helps fund independent, experimental movies, primarily by artists who live and work in Texas' capital.

"The Austin Film Society has never been able to get through the door at the NEA in Washington," Linklater says. "The idea that we can get money from the NEA with no regional re-grant funds available, just by applying directly to D.C., is a big, fat joke."

Spokesperson Dare repeats Alexander's assurance that the NEA in Washington will be receptive to offbeat work, even by untried and obscure and unconventional artists. "I think it's a mistake to say this decision means the NEA won't be interested in regional voices anymore," he says. "Having a reputation in Los Angeles or New York or Washington won't be an advantage. It's still the quality of the work that counts."

Dare says that filmmakers and videomakers outraged with the NEA cuts fail to see the bigger, more disturbing picture: that the organization has been whittled away by Congress for years, and that it's time for artists to express support for the NEA, not hammer away at individual funding decisions.

"There are people in Congress from both parties who have been after this agency for symbolic reasons for years and years," Dare says. "But the tone of film and videomakers who call us to complain has changed somewhat since last month's elections. They're not calling just to complain anymore -- at least not as regularly. Instead, they're mostly calling to say, 'What can I do to express support for you guys and maybe discourage more things like this from happening?' The issue used to be, me, me, me. Now it's us, us, us. And I think that's definitely the approach to take."

Dallas filmmaker Andy Anderson, however, is not convinced. "What the NEA has to say in its defense is just a corporate line written by a corporate mentality," Anderson says. "It's a government variation on, What's Good for GM is Good for You. I don't want to see the organization disappear, either, but bringing that issue up is a diversion. The real issue, and what is most disturbing about this situation, is that the people the National Endowment for the Arts was created to help are the very same people they've been steadily slamming the door on in the last few years. I can't help thinking that this decision wasn't random. It was premeditated. It occurred because the re-grants program was a little program -- little grants to little people. And that's what made it easy to eliminate.

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