Saturday, September 15, 2012

TIFF 2012: Artifact

I've been a solid 30 SECONDS TO MARS fan ever since I stumbled upon their self-titled first CD (2002), and have followed them closely for ten years now. I love their music, their passion and especially their attention to fans.

So imagine my surprise and delight at seeing ARTIFACT on the TIFF bill this year. I immediately snapped up two tickets (for myself and my gf who is also a huge fan) and fit the premiere screening into my schedule. So we trundled down to the Ryerson last night for the screening and excitedly buzzed in line about the band and the subject of the documentary, which documents their long battle with EMI who was suing them for $30,000,000, while simultaneously telling the story of the making of their third album (THIS IS WAR).

The very first thing you'll notice about ARTIFACT is that it is a very, very polished documentary above and beyond all else. Well assembled, edited (by Shelby Siegel, Stefanie Visser, Daniel Hernandez, Ishai Setton), scored, and paced the entire endeavor works really well for even those who don't know about the band, as a significant marker in the long, recent forced evolution of the record business. It tells the story of dinosaur corporate business folk who basically screw the artist at every turn, and that's the business model: Screwing the artist. It's just something that is apparently accepted, albeit grudgingly on the part of struggling bands who just want to play music. In ARTIFACT you will also see how when a giant corporation who takes control of flagging EMI, they end up not having a clue about how to run it.

It showcases that 30 STM were present at the apex of the influx of digital music, the advent of the single returning (no longer having to buy a whole album to get the song you love), and especially during the fast evolution of the idea that the Record Label business model no longer applied, leaving record companies hemorrhaging money. Ultimately very informative about just how the record industry (used to) work, how the company would front a decent sized fee and then proceed to take nearly every penny of the profit for themselves, leaving most bands in debt. I'd rather not spoil too much of the film but sufficed to say you will walk out of it with a MUCH clearer understanding of exactly how the industry (used to) work. I say "used to" because the film touches on some of the bigger changes in the industry, like Amanda Palmer's (one of my faves) recent Kickstarter success for her THEATRE IS EVIL album and tour. That shows that things ARE, however slowly, changing. It just so happens that when 30STM began fighting EMI, this sort of thing (crowdfunding) didn't exist yet so they were on the front lines of a war of attrition and the suits at the top of EMI were attempting to mentally and physically drain them of their will to fight.

Various musicians, ex-EMI executives, and other folk from the industry weigh in throughout the film to help tell the story. It's Jared, Shannon and Tomo who really tell the story on the ground floor though. Every single beat of emotion, upset, anger and elation is on display here, laid bare for the audience. Also on display is the absolute, drive that Jared and Co. have in them about music. It wasn't just about making the record, it was about something higher. Something attainable, but only at great cost. There are quiet moments with Jared tinkling at a piano after a decidedly hard phone call, or Shannon succumbing to his drums till they become an extension of him and you can actually FEEL what he feels, or even Tomo shouting his upset into a rock that is cast off a cliff into the sun-sinking dusk. It...resonates. Not just for me as a fan of 30STM, but I think it resonates for everyone and how music affects us on a mental level. It can make you feel joy, or anguish, or even stillness, and that is also on display in ARTIFACT.

Probably one of the best documentaries I've seen in a long time, and certainly the best music doc I've ever seen. Produced by Jared Leto, and Emma Ludbrook, it's important, it's informative, and most of all it's entertaining. The film got a well deserved standing ovation after the screening (which was the 1st ever screening), Jared and Shannon taking the stage afterwards for a wonderful, funny and endearing Q & A. I proudly stood up (my gf keeps gushing about how she held her hand out and both Jared and Shannon five-d her) and applauded with everyone else. They DESERVE that praise. This is a documentary that should be seen by everyone. As fans we have a responsibility to be educated about how these bands we idolize, about their struggle, and about where exactly our money goes when it leaves our hands. It shows how human they are, and how they approach music the way we approach anything that we are passionate about.

If anything it made me an even bigger fan of 30STM. I don't know that this is possible for this, Echelon member, white seraphim wristband owning devout disciple...but I can try. What I hope comes of this is that this documentary stands as a grounding stone for the FUTURE of music. I want this to be a call to fans that things need to change and while Jared, Shannon and Tomo do so from the inside, we can do so from the outside by being aware of how we lend our support.

An absolute triumph of documentary film making, if you missed ARTIFACT then I hope you go out of your way to see it when it comes out after the Festival. You won't be disappointed and maybe, just maybe you can help affect the future of music.

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