An Oscar for the Internet

It is not one of the most glamorous categories, and for that reason, it ends up being more interesting. The Oscar for best short film documentary went to “Inocente,” a story about an illegal immigrant artist, undocumented and homeless for 15 years in California.

Persecuted by immigration, Inocente has lived homeless for the last nine years. Her father was deported for domestic abuse. Her mother lost herself to alcoholism; one time she took her to a bridge to try to jump, along with her three brothers. Despite all that, she struggles in the streets for her dream to become an artist.

Through her story, the documentary makers, Sean and Andrea Fine, not only address the problem of illegal migration, but also that of homeless children in the United States: One in every 45 American children is homeless, which represents a dramatic increase of 40 percent since the economic crisis exploded in 2008.

The Fines were able to complete the production and editing of their 40-minute documentary. But, it being an independent project of no commercial purpose, they no longer had money to take copies out in different formats and to distribute them in international competitions. They also needed money to create a website that would provide information about the film, its authors, the delicate subjects it deals with and opening dates in different places. Lastly, they needed to design, produce and distribute the poster to promote the film.

And here is when the Internet comes into the mix. The Fines resorted to Kickstarter, a famous crowd-funding site — or, as they tend to translate it, “financiamento en masa.” The problem with the translation is that is not really “the mass” that funds in crowd funding. Instead, what Kickstarter and similar sites allow is that a small community of interests can contribute money for projects that they sympathize with, in exchange for more symbolic compensations.

For example, Inocente’s goal was to get $50,000 in a month; they got $52,527 from only 294 people. Those 294 people are hardly a mass, but they got in net income much more than most Peruvian movies get in gross income, even those with commercial aspirations.

This is possible because the Internet allows the formation of specific niches of people with certain interests. Thanks to the network, there are communities of people with anything in common: from the most delirious sexual perversions to fanatic followers of My Little Pony, and including, of course, those 300 people that want to see a documentary about a young immigrant artist in the streets of San Diego.

The possibility of reaching exactly people so interested in a subject that they are willing to give more than usual to a project (half of the contributors gave less than $100 in exchange for a “thank you,” a DVD of the short film or a polo shirt) is exclusive to the Internet. But it is also exclusive to environments that encourage monetary transactions online and on Internet-based projects that have legal and fiscal support. The Oscar “Inocente” received is an example of the possibilities the Internet gives us, but also of the limitations to which our local order binds us.

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