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Qualities Of Better Films #1 of 31: Ambition

In terms of the filmmakers who create them, some films are challenges; some are proofs. In the Challenges, the filmmaker is hoping to discover things, hoping to learn things in the process. In a Proof Film, the filmmaker is showing the audience what she or he knows. With a Challenge, the audience is aligned with the movie, trying to discern whether the filmmaker will meet the challenge; whereas with a Proof, the audience is dictated to, watching something unfold according to a recognizable formula. A Challenge is involving, whereas a Proof is a passive experience for the audience. Ambition is to go to places you have never gone before with the hope that you will discover something positive in the process—a challenge and not a proof.

There are so many films that have already been made, and made again, and then made yet again. Many films of the past had the opportunity to get there first—to be the first to portray a particular type of character, explore a genre or a style, to tell a story in a particular way. The ambitious filmmaker will never be content to walk in others ‘first steps. It is not enough to simply provide an update. Repeats are just an attempt to provide more products for current tastes, driven by profit, not ambition.

There is always more that can be done—more nuance provided, a different perspective offered. With ambition, one asks how a situation can be read differently, more fully. Ambition embraces the edict to “make strange”, to unlock the oddness in normality. Ambition exposes the wonder in the every day, forbids us to take our situation for granted.

Ambitious film goes beyond the engineering that a Proof is. Emotions and tensions are easily manipulated by an engineered film. It is a challenge to create work that is both surprising and inevitable. With an ambitious film, one that is successful, we are pulled through the unknown only to recognize—to know again—what we inherently know. An ambitious work will make us both know and recognize. An engineered film just reconfirms an unquestioned position.

Ambitious film will do more than just give the audience what it wants. To simply provide is all but to pander. Ambitious film takes us into new ground where we question ourselves and our place.

A great film should be more than proof of what the filmmaker knows. Did the filmmaker reach higher than themselves and then place themselves where no planning could guarantee success? This challenge could have been a logistical one or one based on editing or scale of the idea or anything that makes them work without a net—but a challenge, not a proof, a challenge to go where the solution and the result is not yet known.

— Ted Hope

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