Why Artistic Freedom Matters: Bringing Order into Chaos


    Article by director Katarzyna Klimkiewicz, who sits on the board of FERA, and Danish director Ida Grøn, deputy head of The Association of Danish Film Directors.

    A hungry person cannot be fed by a film, a sick person cannot be cured by it. Cinema is by some considered luxury, something extra not necessary for survival. For others cinema is just a given part of popular culture in modern society. So why do we as film directors so desperately fight for our projects when we often meet the point of view that our work is not a real necessity? That the support to art and culture should be cut in favor of other crucial things.

    As kids we demand fairy tales, scary stories with happy endings, sagas about overcoming dangers, and epics about love. And we crave more. We all need stories. Why is that? Stories help us make order in the chaos we experience in our world: the multitude of events and stimuli, emotions and discoveries. Stories interpret the world. They give us a point of reference. They might not be essential for our physical survival but a diverse range of stories help us to be in the world, to feel part, to be seen, heard and understood.

    Stories are one of the most powerful tools to captivate crowds, therefore they can be a dangerous tool. A well-told story can start a revolution. Lech Walesa jumped over the wall of a Shipyard and started a story of a simple worker who is not afraid. It inspired millions and resulted in the falling of the wall in Berlin. Claude Cahun and Marcel Moore made poetic resistance during the WW2 with small demoralising notes, “paper bullets”, which they sneaked into the occupying troops’ pockets and left the impression that it was the work of a large organised partizan movement. This was the work of art. 

    The more consistent the story, the stronger its impact. The more it is repeated, the more true it seems. It can only be challenged by a different story, a different interpretation of past or current or even coming events.

    Stories, in this respect, are much more than entertainment that we buy as a relief, to avoid thinking about everything that tires and frustrates us. Even if we choose only to watch stories for entertainment we are still influenced by them. We might, for example, have unrealistic expectations of love relations because we grew up with rosy “Hollywood” love stories, and that affects our lives on and on. But stories are also a kind of dialogue with our inner worlds and imagination; they connect to us and give us a sense of community, cohesion and belonging, while they train our ability to reflect.

    If we, as a society, lose the freedom to tell multiple different (also contradicting) stories, we will only remain consumers being fed by a few powerful feeders who decide the menu, which is based on our past clicks: mainly salt, sugar, fat and alcohol. If we go to an extreme, in order to make a point, this means that we lose access to our collective subconscious and the power to self-determine.

    The question is if we should or really want to hand over the responsibility for leading our societies through stories to financiers who, in the pursuit of profit, lose sight of our humanity? Who might be based and originate outside of our continent with values not culturally rooted in Europe.

    The bigger your territory, the more land you own, the more power you have. Of course. Also over the land around yours and often also on politics affecting your land. The biggest landowner and richest person of Scotland, Anders, owns 1.14% of Scotland through his company WildLand Limited. 89,000 hectares of land in the scenic North, including around 13 castles, while he is rooted in his motherland Denmark. He contributes with a lot of good for the area: preserving the Highland nature, which has been more or less shaved from trees for centuries, supporting the thinning local communities, recreating old stone fences, refurbishing the castles in a respectful although similar luxury Scandinavian-back-to-nature manner.

    So why are many locals still not convinced? Because the independent communities, independent crofts, become highly dependent and influenced by the values of a few hands, which can potentially lobby politics effectively. The land can change hands and suddenly other values rule. And what is the full perspective of Anders’ business plan? They react to his support and control of route 500 bringing tsunamis of tourists up the Highlands wrapping the peaceful idyllic scenery in surround sound of thundering camper vans and motorbikes coming in waves from the single track road which is falling apart, although the Highland also needs tourists for economic thriving. They are afraid of the uncertain future perspectives. 

    While Anders seem to be committed to the moral obligation towards the local communities, only legislation can ensure a diverse community by limiting how much land foreign private landowners can own. Legislation can foster good opportunities for small independent crofters.

    As with the land, the danger is when storytelling is dominated and curated by few. Stories reflecting mainly the values of those few in control of the technologies and streamers. A kind of “monochromisation”.

    Films are an attempt to bring order to the chaos of experiences. We shouldn’t let the world be explained to us mainly by artificial intelligence whose strength and power we cannot yet understand or curated mainly by a few hands controlling international streaming platforms. We shouldn’t let profit overshadow other human needs, but secure easy access to multiple stories produced and directed independently. We shouldn’t risk being taken over by a narrative in which we cease to be a subject and in which we no longer have anything to say. Therefore artistic freedom is important to defend not only for artists but for everyone who believes in democracy. As democracy in its essence is diversity. And we need to defend it now as it may soon be too late.

    Therefore we as directors and representatives of many directors in Europe are obliged to shout out loudly when we see a crucial limitation of our artistic freedom happening. When you want control of a society the cultural sector, the soul of a community/society, is historically often the first one taken over. It is the task of the European Parliament to secure legislation that protects a healthy level of independence, artistic freedom for a thriving democracy without being blinded by the magic forest of tech and profit. A hungry person cannot be fed by a film, a sick person cannot be cured by it. But in a thriving democracy there are a minimum of hungry and sick persons and a diversity of films which mirror us for healthy reflection. It is our all’s task to vote at the elections for a thriving democracy. 

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