Is the Audience Always Right?

EDITORIAL. At the Danish Film Institute from time to time we consider introducing a reverse audience award, that is, an award to the audience. The award would go to the movie audience that has the curiosity, courage and energy to seek out challenging movie experiences. An audience of people ready to take a chance and dig deep into their pockets without knowing exactly where the film will take them: perhaps it's a film with unknown actors, from an unknown place, telling stories in other images and other voices than we are used to seeing and hearing. That audience exists and deserves to be honoured.

Unfortunately, there are times when such an audience is hard to spot. Looking at the Danish box office returns from the last couple of years, there is little reason to boast that Danes are the world's most courageous moviegoers. Too often we tend to go for the familiar and the entertaining. And understandably so. The box office results are appreciated and the income benefits the industry, but where does that leave the development of the art form?

"While respect for the audience is good, it must never lead to timidity about challenging it."

"While respect for the audience is good, it must never lead to timidity about challenging it."

We in the film industry have an obligation to look beyond the next financial report. This may seem like a provocative statement to make at a time when large sections of the industry are gasping for air, but at least we, the public funding bodies, must have the courage to insist, bearing in mind that a lack of innovation and an unwillingness to take risks undercuts both the art of cinema and the long-term viability of the film industry.

One of my favourite TV shows, "The West Wing", has a character quote a 19th-century French politician who watched a crowd run by and exclaimed, "There go my people. I must find out where they're going so I can lead them." A parallel today is the marketing claim that "The user is king." But if "the king" doesn't move, maybe it makes more sense to learn from a powerful, innovative brand like Apple that has the audacity to put out products assuming that consumers are going to think they are cool. Without asking them first.

It's good that directors and others are showing a growing interest in audiences and their habits, but scanning last year's box-office list and trying to ape the biggest blockbusters simply isn't god enough. While respect for the audience is good, it must never lead to timidity about challenging it. We should learn from moviegoers' behaviour and cajole, push and, if necessary, coerce them to show openness and courage. And we should make it easy for the audience, with lots of interacting windows and platforms.

Finally, we must make room for and protect those artists and merchants who dare to go their own way, however unruly they may seem – and no matter how strange the films are. And then perhaps we should get around to introducing that award.