Operating within the framework that the Occupy movement needs to speak for itself and cannot rely on the mainstream media to provide activists with a balanced portrayal, one New York filmmaker has created a website that is now being dubbed "The Huffington Post" for the Occupy Wall Street movement.
What is perhaps most ironic about this moniker, however, is that many consider the Huffington Post's overall coverage of the Occupy movement to have generally been favorable thus far.
Regardless, a contingent of concerned citizen journalists and film directors saw a void they claim needed to be filled. Enter Occupy.com, a non-profit news-aggregation site which promises to provide a dedicated platform to all things Occupy. With the help of Hollywood backing, the site launched early this week to much fanfare as a party held at a trendy Manhattan bar marked Occupy's arrival to the web. So high was the anticipation among activists in fact, that New York Magazine reported "the line was half-a block long" by the time the venue had reached full capacity.
According to Occupy.com's "About Us" section, the site is an independent non-profit consisting of "a small but growing group of dedicated occupiers working in solidarity with the movement."
Offering an open invitation to journalists, musicians, photographers, painters, filmmakers, poets, game developers, cartoonists and podcasters, Occupy.com states it is "striving to become an open platform, where everyone can post and everyone can curate."
A glance at the "Read" section of Occupy.com offers fairly predictable content. Features on the upcoming Occupy May Day demonstrations, as well as stories on general strikes occurring in Spain, race and gender issues within in the Occupy movement and a "letter from the student walkout for Trayvon Martin," are currently available online. The site also features a series of links to promotional affiliates including an Occupy media pamphlet series by renown Antisemite and Holocaust denier, Noam Chomsky.
The site, staffed by six editors, was spearheaded by David Sauvage. Interestingly, Sauvage also happens to be a protege of controversial documentarian and movie director Davis Guggenheim, who recently came under fire for his 17-minute-ling "docu-ganda" heaping effusive praise on President Obama while offering no criticism to provide balance.
A portion from Sauvage's bio reads:
Before Occupy, David made the documentary “Carissa,” about a young woman who turned her life around. The film was Executive Produced by David’s mentor, Academy Award-winning Davis Guggenheim, and licensed to Current TV. David’s next films “Kweisi” and “Soundcheck,” explorations of poetry and jazz fusion respectively, engage viewers through original combinations of animation, music and graphics. [...] On the commercial side, David has directed pieces for clients that have included Maybelline, Bon Appetit Magazine, Nivea for Men, Hugo Boss and the Wall Street Journal (irony noted). David has an MBA from UCLA and a BA from Columbia University.
But despite his seemingly well honed directorial skill set, Occupy.com still required funding that, for reasons unknown, was not provided by Sauvage's mentor or even Current TV. Instead, seed-money for the operation was provided by 61-year-old Hollywood producer and lawyer Larry Taubman, who purchased the Occupy.com domain name for a hefty yet undisclosed amount. Poking fun at this obvious irony, media watchdog group MRC dubbed the endeavor: "Occupy.com -- A gift from the 1 percent."
Sauvage launched his career by producing a television commercial for WSJ, the glossy magazine of the Wall Street Journal. But the 31-year old, who has been involved with Occupy Wall Street from its very beginning, caught Taubman's eye only after directing an Occupy promotional spot entitled "Occupy Together!"
The video is featured below:
"I'd been waiting for when that next generation was going to arise and basically reclaim their future," Taubman told Josh Harkinson with the progressive website Mother Jones.
"It was very clear that the Occupy movement needed a way in which it could speak for itself, and without having to do it through the lens of other media."
Interestingly, Harkinson learned of the site's impending launch via a public-relations firm "that has also represented Dolce & Gabbana, Dona Karan, and Bergdorf Goodman" -- companies not exactly related to what one would consider part of the Occupy-crowd. The author went on to write:
The following week, I met Sauvage and his partners at the Awareness Experiment, an event at New York's über-hip Bowery Hotel that brought occupiers together with a crowd of supermodels, socialites, and celebrities including Sean Lennon, Penn Badgley of Gossip Girl, and Zoe Kravitz (daughter of Lenny and a star of X-Men First Class).
Yet such an elite cast of characters hardly seems to fit with Occupy's overriding, anti-capitalist, anti-materialistic agenda. According to the MJ report, this is precisely Sauvage's point as he seeks to market his site to those outside the Occupy movement, more so than to those inside the movement. The goal, according to Sauvage, is to show outsiders what Occupiers are truly all about.
Decision by committee... or not?
What is perhaps most ironic about Occupy.com and its founders is the site's entire management structure and operating style. As noted in Mother Jones, the site "is not beholden to the General Assembly, the Occupy movement's fractious consensus-based decision-making body."
Michael Levitin, formerly a foreign correspondent for Newsweek and Forbes is overseeing Occupy.com's text-based content. Levitin, who co-founded the pun-intended "Occupied Wall Street Journal," ceded that "having a group that is small enough and efficient enough to get things done kind of required an isolation from the time-consuming, consensus-based process that the rest of the movement was working with."
In other words, Occupy.com's editorial board functions as it would in any privately held business whose management retains independent discretion and in this case, editorial autonomy. It is this very autonomy that allegedly has certain Occupiers worried:
One early collaborator, the filmmaker Katie Davison, told me she parted ways with Occupy.com in part due to concerns that it was "concentrating too much power in the hands of the curators." (She still counts herself as a supporter.) "Some are worried" that the site is too "top down," notes a veteran OWS organizer who asked not to be named, "but are willing to give it a chance."
Sauvage claims he is acutely aware of the push-back and will do all he can to assuage the fears of naysayers. Occupy.com states it is supported "by a combination of donations and volunteerism" and that while there is "no GA or Spokes Council overseeing us" they are "morally accountable to the movement as a whole."