A few months back I was given the pleasure of working on CNN's short form documentary, and Vimeo Staff pick 'Hard Ship'. It tells the story of three paralyzed men taking up one of sailing’s most grueling challenges—a 750 mile race to Alaska through some of the most treacherous and remote waters on the planet. With no motors allowed and many miles from any help, the competition can be too dangerous for the world’s most fearless sailors.
In 2016, being an aspiring hip hop artist is just part of being a teenager. But what if you had the chance to take it to a whole other level—to work with a real band and perform in a real venue? That's what Found Sound Nation provides for students from BCAM, Brooklyn Community Arts & Media High School, in Bed-Stuy.
Produced by Hover Pictures and Found Sound Nation
Director: Ethan Goldwater
Cinematographer: Tyler Pakstis
Camera: Derek Saffe
Editor: Allie Straim
Sound mix: Ezra Tenenbaum
Today I’d like to play teacher, go back to my college days and briefly discuss the way in which one of my favorite genres, documentary, came to be. I see it as an organic process, no one person formed it and nobody set out to form it. The infancy of filmmaking truly surrounded actualities and I find it interesting to study the different factors that came together to create the documentary, and what defines it as a genre.
Film is a medium that came with the wave of modernity in the early 20th century and people began to believe based on visuals of factorial evidence. If one sees a tree on film, then it is a tree, and if the tree is moving it means that there is wind causing the swaying. Here in this example lies the issue, most people have come to the agreement that documentary is supposed to portray at least some aspects of truth, but how much manipulation can a filmmaker put into their work and still call it a documentary? The trees could have been manipulated to sway by the production crew for that shot, but does that make it inaccurate? They very well could have been blown on their own, and I think that within certain parameters, the amount of manipulation allowed is to be determined by individuals.
In her book Documentary Film, Patricia Aufderheide discusses the main players in the eventual creation of “documentary” in the chapter “Founders”. Early on we have Louis and Auguste Lumière, two brothers from France who after attending an exhibition of Thomas Edison and William K.L. Dickson’s Kinetoscope, eventually created the Cinématographe, one of the first modern film cameras of the time. They filmed scenes of everyday life like the famous “Exiting the Factory” and “Arrival of a Train,” somewhat self-explanatory films. What was interesting about the figures Aufderheide introduces to the reader though, is their opinion on how real, ‘real’ is.
Robert Flaherty, explorer and director of Nanook of the North (1922) staged aspects of his film, he joined actualities and the art of storytelling. His expeditions to Port Harrison, Northern Quebec and his contact with the Inuit people were altered on film to represent a more nostalgic time versus a true reality of the current Inuit culture. It can be seen as a doc because it still represents reality though not all aspects of this new portrayal were true. John Grierson on the other hand who coined the word “documentary” made films that intertwined art with political and social reform, having no intention of giving a feel of nostalgia like many of Flaherty’s films. Grierson used a separatist strategy, he saw it as an educational duty rather than an fully artful appreciation of the form.
I could go on, and on, but whether you see a documentary as having a camera act as a fly on the wall filming life go by, using it docs as an educational representation, or as a tool for social change, it’s the most interactive and diverse film genre there is. Documentary can make a statement, it can teach, it can make change! But this isn’t class and I’ll rap it up. The many points of view of pioneer filmmakers around the world have helped influence the expectations and ideas about documentaries today, and without their experimentation we wouldn’t be as advanced in film technique as we are now. Go watch some docs!
Here is a link to Nanook of the North
Here is a link to the Lumière brother’s “Exiting the Factory” (1895)
--This one is brief and real a window into the past!
In my past blogs I’ve had some general discussion about some of the genres that make up the film industry. I think the time has come to narrow in on my true fascination and admittedly new love, documentary. We all have our favorites, for years my guilty pleasure consisted of horror and slasher films, not the most popular genre! And though there is a special place in my heart for the films of Eli Roth and Wes Craven, for a year now, documentary has pushed its way into my life and won me over.
I refuse to give up my devotion to the horror movie club, but I have found further substance within the film industry while witnessing the art of documentary film making. Following my 5 month internship earlier this year at Florentine Films, working on a project about Jackie Robinson, I realized that not only can docs entertain, but they can teach and move you. I also happen to think documentary filmmakers are total bad assess, there is no clear and laid out path for them while making a film and I’m guessing they probably don’t have a nice food spread during their shoots. It takes a drive and a lot of guts to get out there and tell a story with the sensibility and rawness of real life. Even if the story they tell takes the use of archival records and footage, tracking these components down, figuring out the licensing, all the office work that lacks the glamour of Hollywood is no easy task!
I digress. I’d like to talk a bit about a documentary I saw a few years ago that follows the tradition of cinema verité.
[Visit this video to learn a bit about what cinema verité is! The woman speaks about a specific film, but she also discusses some truths about cinema verité]
Trouble in the Water, a film from 2008, opened my eyes to some close up realities about Hurricane Katrina that I never thought I would see before. A New York Times’ movie review by Manohla Dargis praised the film, arguing that having the lively Kimberly Roberts and her husband Scott as the focal point adds a very real and organic feel to the film. Those who were featured in the documentary were truly experiencing the effects of Hurricane Katrina and were not just talking heads set up in the perfect lighting in a safe area for a calm interview. What was shown to the audience was Katrina happening in real time with actual footage of the storm right at the center by a videographer with a whole lot to loose. Dargis explains how Kimberly was lucky to run into filmmakers Carl Deal and Tia Lessin at a recovery center who brought Kimberly and Scott back to the wreckage after a few weeks and followed them on their journey to recovery.
The interviews that were included were not that of high-ups or CEOs, but from the lower class of predominantly black citizens of New Orleans and those who were on the ground to witness the events and aftermath of Katrina. I think that point-of-view gives a better insight to the realities of situation, and not a sugarcoated look that may otherwise be presented to an audience. Kimberly and her companions walk the abandoned streets and talk to the US soldiers who were sent to aid the situation. They really made me feel like there hadn’t been enough of an emphasis on the aid and rescue effort, which appears to be the underlying theme of the film. Trouble in the Water does a great job of showing the individual experiences of the Katrina victims as well as covering the long term issues that came along with the storm. There does not need to be an opinion forced upon you while watching this film, the live footage really speaks for itself. Check it out!
I’ll See You In My Dreams, the narrative feature that was near the close of the 2015 Sarasota Film Festival for example, falls into the category of the romantic dromedy. Yes you are reading correctly, the romantic dromedy, a close cousin of the romantic comedy, has become a warm and relished genre of film. With more heart and less fatuous content, what I like to refer to as rom-droms, have found their way into a copious amount of reputable film festivals. I would love to talk about a few of the narrative films that fall into this genre and were being featured during the last few days of the Sarasota Film Festival this year, an event that I covered while it was running. Whether reading this during, or after the festival, I remain confident that they are quality films that deserve your attention.
I’ll See You In My Dreams, unlike many romantic comedies targets a more mature audience with a sense of humor that differs from the variety of unfledged movies steered toward high school and college aged viewers. Though humor and love are themes commonly blended in film, I’ll See You In My Dreams explores romance through the lens of a retired schoolteacher played by Blythe Danner, rather than from the standpoint of an inexperienced-in-life adolescent. It is a refreshing and original experience to see Danner’s character, Carol Peterson, thrown into a new perspective on romance and how she adapts to the way life changes as a widow and a retiree. This unconventional point of view makes this film a winner.
Belgian director David Lambert's second feature All Yours (Je Suis A Toi), also premiering on the Sarasota Film Festival’s second to last day is another film I would categorize as a romantic dromedy. The offbeat and eccentric storyline strays from the Americanized version of how we perceive love. With themes of homosexuality, polysexuality and prostitution, this atypical and foreign romantic dromedy is very unique. Conventionality is not in the description of All Yours and for a new and different take on relationships and feelings around the world, this would be a great film to explore further.
Not all romantic comedies or romantic dromedies follow the same template. Films under these labels may maintain an essence of comedy, drama, and romance but these themes are all intertwined into an incredible amount of distinctive and fascinating pieces of original art. There were a plethora of other “romantic dromedies” that were featured in the Sarasota Film Festival this year and are still worth seeking out independently. Just a few examples are listed but are by no means the only ones-- The Road Within, Uncertain Terms, Funny Bunny, Felix And Meira (Félix et Meira), Adult Beginners, Across The Sea (Deniz Seviyesi).
The making of a film requires a collaboration of people and networks, it is an in-depth and complex process that results in an abundance of diverse outcomes. All those who are involved in the making of a film are incredibly important, but it is the director who acts as the glue that holds the project together. I am going to piggyback off my last entry about the director as an auteur, an artist, like those involved in the French New Wave, and discuss a slightly more modern approach to the idea of what we think of when we hear the term ‘director’. Every director’s influence on a project is very contrasting, from simply organizing the set and production, to being the creative energy that changes the entire outcome of a film. Every director has their own flavor and workflow, which is amazing because it allows for the release of a variety of new and different film strains every year.
Not every director has the ability to effectively transmit their innovative and creative vision to film, but many have succeeded in putting out something great, and doing it more than once. Here is a link to a list of fantastic versatile directors who have worked on diversity of rewarding projects; I recommend checking out some of the films they’ve made.
Obviously, not all directors are big names like Steven Spielberg or Stanley Kubrick, there are plenty out there who aren’t as well known, but are still incredibly talented. Here is a link to film critics Manohla Dargis and A. O. Scott’s ‘20 Directors to Watch’ list. I personally recommend checking out the work of Greek director Yorgos Lanthimos, number 4 on the list, his film Dogtooth absolutely blew me away. And here is a link to a video of a roundtable of six big name directors as they join in discussion on the process and journey of making a movie. Included are Steve McQueen (12 Years a Slave), Paul Greengrass (Captain Phillips), David O. Russell (American Hustle), Ben Stiller (The Secret Life of Walter Mitty), Alfonso Cuaron (Gravity) and Lee Daniels (The Butler). It’s a really great chance to hear straight from the sources what its like to create a full-length feature film.
The beauty of film is that it can serve as a mode of popular entertainment or a source of education, but today I’d like to focus on film as an art form. Looking back into film history to the time of the French New Wave and Cahiers du Cinéma, major figures like Jean-Luc Godard, Claude Chabrol, and François Truffaut were celebrated for their artistic creativity and directorial power. Nowadays Hollywood films, especially romantic comedies and action flicks, are more factory made than a craft. The mind of the auteur, or the filmmaker truly shines through in their work making each film personal and one of a kind.
WonderfulCinema.com defines art house as a film genre that encompasses films where the content and style – often artistic or experimental – adhere with as little compromise as possible to the filmmakers’ personal artistic vision. Click here to visit the top 25 art house films according to The Guardian.
François Truffaut is one of the biggest names in European art cinema and his film The 400 Blows (Les Quatre Cents Coups) was influential for its graceful free form style and content. The camerawork in the famous final scene adds depth of meaning and ends in a freeze frame that leaves a certain ambiguity to the film. It is left up to the audience to decide whether the main character Antoine has gained his freedom or simply run into another barrier. Here, is a link to this final scene but I recommend watching the whole film, its on YouTube!
Lars von Trier, director of films like Antichrist, Melancholia and Nymphomaniac, has a style that definitely does not align with the majority of basic Hollywood filmography. I have been blown away by every Trier film I’ve seen, they are different, original and will make one leave saying ‘wow.’ Here is a link to a really interesting commentary on artistic filmmaking, Treir and his film Antichrist.