Father & Daughter Film Report

...when agenda overpowers story.

We live in a world where it seems everyone has an agenda. Now there's nothing wrong with having a list of things one wishes to be done. Except when it overrides principle.

An agenda is OK in politics until to over rides the principle of ethics. An agenda is OK in film, until it overrides the principle of storytelling.  And this, sadly, is a problem seen in many films...not only at SXSW, but in many other festivals as well.

Rather than pick apart a bunch of films at SXSW & sound like a bitch session, allow us to share some recent history illustrating how having an AGENDA affected film making in (the now defunct) communist East Germany DESTROYED storytelling.

Having lived in Germany in the 1980's & next door Poland in the 1990's, the cultural impact of film & TV on the people of East Germany was revealed when learning the #1 TV show in this dystopian country was actually illegal to watch
After WWII, Germany was divided in two, communist East Germany & a free market West Germany.  They were united in 1989 when communism in the Easter Bloc - and the Berlin Wall - fell. 

When something is illegal in a communist state, no matter how trivia, you usually get thrown in jail for a long time. Back then in East Germany it was very easy to get turned in for just about anything since it was later discovered that half of the population was being paid by the government to spy on the other half.

(This was the pre-Facebook era, remember...)

Even more shocking was learning what TV show nearly every East German was risking jail in order to watch, 
an American soap opera called 


"What?" I would say. "You risked going to jail to watch that...?" 

"You don't understand," they would respond, "...it was the only entertainment we had."

Now I knew the East Germans had all kinds of TV shows just like we do - game shows, doctor shows, detective shows, war movies - why were these not entertaining?

It turns out many East German TV shows were not very entertaining because of a very heavy agenda, an agenda where all stories promoted a cause or message, and the message being: communism is great.  Of course, any time a government has to spent all its energy, time, & money telling you how great it is, that's a clear signal that it’s probably not.

Why did the East Germany government make it illegal to watch Dallas?  Many reasons. One was simply having a show about this Texas oil family did not help the communist narrative of life being great at a time they are standing in line for several hours just to get a few cucumbers and tomatoes. After all that and then come home to see the Ewing family having a Thanksgiving dinner?  Not a good image for the narrative.

Eating Thanksgiving dinner on Dallas

Waiting in line for a few vegetables in East Germany

However, having such a heavy handed narrative or agenda was not only difficult to cover up since it was a lie, it also made it more difficult to tell a story in an entertaining way.  For example, just like most places, there were plenty of police shows in communist East Germany:

The incorruptible East German policeman.  

...except in these police shows all of the cops were totally good, since you had to be a communist party member to be one...and the narrative was everyone in the party is good, without any political or character fault.

Which means no drama.

The viewing habits of most East Germans was to only watch the opening of a TV show just to see the premise - no need to see the rest of the show - everyone already knew how the show was going to end, with the narrative, of course:  

Communism is always triumphant... Communism is the best....Communism is...

In other words, the agenda made the film predictable.

Even the ancient Greeks taught us drama comes from conflict, both external and internal...and even better when one has to deal with both: issues with the outside world and those within ourselves.

It was said Linda Gray could turn on the tears at will as Sue Ellen Ewing on the set of Dallas.

This internal conflict is what was missing in a lot of films shown at SXSW for many were so involved in putting their external narrative, cause, or agenda up front they lost the true element that makes a story entertaining.  Drama. Personal drama.  Drama we can feel inside, not some idea or political cause that the agenda marches to.