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RiP: A Remix Manifesto
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by Jason Whyte

"A fascinating, important documentary on our digital age."
5 stars

Brett Gaylor’s fascinating documentary on the digital age, rights management, fair use, and – most importantly -- how mashup sensation Gregg Gillis (aka Girl Talk) figures into all of it, could have been your standard, run of the mill documentary featuring a slew of talking heads and narration. That is here, to be sure, but it is done at such a high energy level with such dramatic care and passion that it makes the film an exciting event not to be missed.

Gaylor knows how to have a good time. He’s partied with Girl Talk, loves big fun stories and has no problem taking the viewer for a ride. When I watched the film at last winter’s Whistler Film Festival, Gaylor had no problem asking the audience to get involved with the screening of the film, to respond out loud to the events as they happen. The result was almost a party atmosphere…for a Canadian documentary no less. The level of audience participation didn’t reach the cinematic nadir of watching “Dance of the Dead” theatrically last year, but it was close. “RIP” works, and exactly at how Gaylor gets his point across. He also wows us with beautifully shot footage of Girl Talk performing, as well as wherever else he sets his camera up all over the world.

There are several elements to “RIP”, but it mostly focuses on the idea of fair use of technology in the day and age. The future is NOW, we can do whatever we want online and through other various means. There are copyrights on everything from music to movies, and there appear to be two sides to the equation. There are those that have the right to hold property on their music, but they are also having understandable restraint on filmmakers, musicians and various other elements of the media industry.

(A recent example is another festival favorite, Sita Sings The Blues, a wonderful animated film that SHOULD have come out this year, but was forced to go online distribution because a few of its songs are under copyright…and by who, nobody knows. The paperwork would take forever.)

“RIP” is divided into a few chapters chronicling the rise of media and how access to forms of entertainment, music and information have impacted these industries. While there are some laws and protection in place that may do some good, there’s another topic of “Fair Use” that the film argues is essential to the freedom of expression and creativity we have as humans.

Throughout the film, we intercut to the previously mentioned Gregg Gillis. If you haven’t heard of Girl Talk, do look him up sometime (you can download his album on his official website…by donation). His idea of music is to take elements from familiar songs and remix them, but doing so in crazy, unique ways. Lyrics from one song get matched up with beats from another song, sometimes sped up, sometimes not. I find this music absolutely brilliant. It’s the kind of dance music I’ve been waiting all my life for; matching what is familiar in my musicial subconscious but making something new and exciting out of it, giving the works new life. If anything, this is a tribute to the joy of listening and experiencing music, and if anything will promote the original works and hopefully cause more album sales.

What Gillis has done, however, is create a friction between some of the musicians and the companies holding copyright on their property. This isn’t just replacing every seventh note of a song, rather it is previously recorded music being used in a wholly different way, for profit. Gaylor and Gillis argue otherwise, as this music is absolutely within fair use guidelines. And if you have seen a Girl Talk show or seen pictures of his gigs, this music is causing a sensation. People from all ages and backgrounds have fallen in love with this music. I’m one of them.

“RIP” is full of these kinds of stories, but there’s a small chapter that I must mention. A young girl is caught with sharing 24 songs on her computer, of which she was fined $225,000. She is not a wealthy person and per the condition of the fine, she must give at least 25% of her earnings back to the government to pay off the debt. Essentially, her life is ruined, and what exactly does this prove?

In another instance, Disney figures into the equation. At one point in the film, we watch a high school in a small town under duress as they are forced to remove their Mickey Mouse murals from their school walls as they are under copyright infringment. Does the school have to get into business with Disney now, and who really cares about that silly mouse anyway?

The film is wise at giving us a lot to think about while making the experience of watching it so entertaining. All year I see so many documentaries fail to ignite their audiences, for whatever reason. It could be a lack of passion on the project, or too many talking heads that really just aren’t that interesting. You can tell that Gaylor is not only very experienced with this material, but he knows how to make a piece of entertainment, which is always something we need to see more of.

Not to give anything away, but it’s also nice to see a documentary end on a note of hope, that change is absolutely possible and we can all work towards solving the problem (Does that remind you of a particular leader who made such a stirring speech recently?). In this single but uplifting sequence, we are given a place in the world where these kind of iron-clad, hammered down rules don’t exist, and the film asks you to ponder what these kind of rules actually do to our society. We see so much freedom and love in this sequence…why can’t we have this everywhere? Whatever the case, it is something to give us to think about as we leave, and the joy of watching “RIP: A Remix Manifesto” is that every moment of it just works, and works very well.

Note: RIP A Remix Manifesto is being released by the company Kino Smith in Canada, (A US release plan is coming, says Gaylor) and shortly afterwards you will be able to download the film and remix it yourself. Whatever you do, don’t just download this movie. Seek it out, pay for a ticket and enjoy the experience of the film with an audience. That’s how all good films should be seen.

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originally posted: 03/12/09 19:41:55
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2009 South By Southwest Film Festival For more in the 2009 South By Southwest Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2009 SILVERDOCS Documentary Festival For more in the 2009 SILVERDOCS Documentary Festival series, click here.

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  DVD: 30-Jun-2009



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