Sunday, April 29, 2007

IDC Awards Announced

The awards for the International Documentary Challenge have been announced:
Best Use of Character Study Genre
"Getting Eve Off"
Team TED
Missoula, Montana, USA

Best Use of Sports Genre
"Unfettering the Falcons"
Team Kissel-Volmer
Atlanta, Georgia, USA

Best Use of Social Issue/Political Genre
"Begging For Grace"
Team: Sawbuck Productions
Chicago, Illinois, USA

Best Use of Experimental Genre
"Yesterday's News"
Team: Intuitive Eye Productions
Antigonish, Nova Scotia, Canada

Best Use of Art Genre
"Portraits of Hope"
Team Tessa
Mountlake Terrace, Washington, USA

Best Use of 1st Person Genre
"Here and There"
Team: Yumiao
Boulder, Colorado, USA

Best Use of Nature Genre
"Our Lady of the Horses"
Team: Gemini
Los Angeles, California, USA

Best Use of Historical Genre
Team: Black & Blue
Los Angeles, California, USA

Best Use of Music Genre
"All Wrapped in One"
Team: DaTribe
La Mirada, California, USA

Best Use of Time/Date Stamp
"Getting Eve Off"
Team: TED
Missoula, Montana, USA
Genre: Character Study

Best Use of "Faith" Theme
"Marathon Women"
Team: haikugirl
Toronto, Ontario, Canada
Genre: Experimental

Best Original Song
"Yesterday's News" from Yesterday's News
by Betsy MacDonald
Team Intuitive Eye Productions
Antigonish, Nova Scotia, Canada
Genre: Experimental

Best Soundtrack
"Blind Faith: A Film About Seeing"
New School Doc Certificate Team
New York, New York, USA
Genre: Social Issue/Political

Best Writing
"Yesterday's News"
Team: Intuitive Eye Productions
Antigonish, Nova Scotia, Canada
Genre: Experimental

Best Cinematography
"In Your Faith"
Team Nexus
Kyoto, Japan
Genre: Character Study

Best Editing
"Outside the Box"
Team: 72hundred
Toronto, Ontario, Canada
Genre: Sports

Best Directing
"Portraits of Hope"
Team Tessa
Mountlake Terrace, Washington, USA
Genre: Art

IDC Original Vision Award
"Unfettering the Falcons"
Team Kissel-Volmer
Atlanta, Georgia, USA
Genre: Sports

"Portraits of Hope"
Team Tessa
Mountlake Terrace, Washington, USA
Genre: Art

News Flash

The International Documentary Challenge screening was a great time. Sold out house, 10 of the 12 finalist teams attending, enthusiastic audience, and a very good venue. The 12 films played very well together and made for an entertaining feature-length presentation, which I suspect will go out into the world and be seen again.

At the end the awards were given out, and we'll have the full list soon. Blind Faith: A Film About Seeing won "Best Soundtrack" and our pals Mary Margaret and Tamara won "Best Use of Theme" for their film Marathon Women.

As exciting as awards are, however, what was really great was that between our six-member team and the Friends of Haikugirl -- who filled the entire row in front of us -- we were able to pull off doing "the wave" during the screening.

More soon....

Saturday, April 28, 2007

Doc The Vote

On Friday we all went to see Election Day, and at the end of the day I saw another "Doc the Vote" selection, Campaign.

Campaign is another example of wonderful access in documentary filmmaking, and goes the step further into full participation, even collaboration. When the subject has strong reasons to want the film made, when it becomes "their film," the type of access one has increases exponentially. The strangest shot in the film, in some ways, is when the camera follows first-time candidate Kazuhiko "Yama-san" Yamauchi and has wife as they argue on the drive home, enter their apartment, lie down and seemingly go to sleep -- completely unconcerned about the camera.

Election Day reveals another aspect of documentary work: if one has the needed access, can you manage the logistics of getting the shots you need at a one-time-only event -- but also somehow manage to capture what is needed for the story construction of the piece? Following multiple crews across the United States on election day 2004, the film does an amazing job of making a unified experience from the diverse material, derived from vérité shoots in Oklahoma, New York, Chicago, Michigan, Wisconsin, Missouri and South Dakota.

Above: the CN Tower is in the bottom right of the photo.

Friday, April 27, 2007


Maya arrived on Thursday night, the sixth member of our team to arrive in Toronto, joining us at the industry party. Above: Maya on Bloor Street.

Disco Documentarians

On Thursday night, after a really great meal (and the traditional Profluence sangria), we crashed the industry party. I can't really reveal all the details, but I will note that if you made a list of "Professions" and graphed this against objectively-measured "Partying Skills," documentary people would ruin the curve for just about everyone else.

All Access

One of the biggest issues in making a documentary is access. Do you have your subject for twenty minutes, one time only, or can you follow their day-in-day-out experience? Do you have a one-day event, or access to boxes and boxes of home movies?

Once we got settled in on Saturday we all went to see the short I Just Wanted To Be Somebody and the feature A Walk Into The Sea: Danny Williams And The Warhol Factory -- both documentaries depending on incredible access in one form or another.

I Just Wanted to Be Somebody works through the use of home movies, newsreel footage and television commercials to reveal Anita Bryant and to reconsider the effect of her 1977 campaign to a repeal Dade County's anti-discrimination ordinance. The challenge is obviously that no interviews were given -- so the story is told in footage repurposed from other uses.

A Walk Into The Sea uses a type of access that seems on the increase: family ties. Esther Robinson's film reveals her uncle Danny Williams, his relationship with Andy Warhol, and his work at The Factory. Here the story is told through interviews mixed with archival film, the two mixed to look at Williams mysterious disappearance and his forgotten role in the Warhol universe.

(For us, this brought up a question others have asked: if one makes "the family movie," is that like the semi-autobiographical first novel? As in maybe everyone has one in them, the challenge being making a great followup film.... I immediately thought of My Architect as a film that uses a family connection exceptionally well -- and I think the non-family followup Two Hands: The Leon Fleisher Story shows that this can be done.)

Thursday, April 26, 2007

We Have Arrived in Toronto

Linda, Anthony and I have arrived in Toronto to find that Dana and Laura have already conquered the town.

We asked if they'd talked to anyone, and the list of people they are now "close, personal friends" with was very, very long.

Above: Anthony and Linda, Room 301.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

On Our Way

Dana and Laura have already arrived at Hot Docs, and their reports back have been great. Tomorrow, Linda and Anthony and I are flying in midday, and Maya will be arriving in the evening.

We're looking forward to a fun festival....

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Sunday, April 22, 2007


Critical Themes was fun, and I heard some very intriguing papers. I would do it again, though anyone who knows me understands I'm afraid of public speaking even if I can do it when necessary -- so probably not soon.

I did want to go on record about the keynote address by Alexander R. Galloway, though. He gave an excellent presentation, and brought out some ideas I found very useful and illuminating. I'll make a point of reading his books and papers this summer (I'm hoping to have some reading time then). Still, being a betting man, in one sense, I wanted to place my wager on the table.

Montage is not in decline.

Galloway's thesis -- that it is in decline -- may be perfectly understandable: correctly, he points out that "First-Person-Shooter" games are unblinking subjective shots, with no cutting, and one could even take a quick trip around YouTube and notice that the uncut video clip is now common language. Lev Manovich made a similar assertion, placing the tactic of compositing as ascendent and montage in decline, back in 2001 in "The Language of New Media." I disagreed then, and disagree now.

I would place against the evidence provided by video games and the television show "24" (where multiple screens float about at transition points, clearly based in compositing technique) the fact that the most significant works I've seen lately bring editing / montage techniques to new and more sophisticated levels. Iraq in Fragments has incredible editing, as does Wide Awake. And both films use them in a way completely at the service of the other elements of the film.

While techniques / strategies / tactics in media production do naturally rise and fall, I think we are only now getting to the point where virtuoso use of montage is arising. While I am an admirer of Eisenstein et al., I don't think we're at the end of a golden age of montage (and the expectation Galloway and Manovich set up is that we're 'naturally" moving on to visual effects / compositing / virtual cinematography as central techniques) but at a transition to a more advanced period. I've gone through Eisenstein set pieces frame-by-frame a lot of times, in the way a music student might go through a piano composition note-by-note, and I can fairly compare that to the editing that is happening today. And today montage is still on the ascent.

I think the parallel is found in music history. At a certain point, various factors -- especially an improvement in instruments and a growing sophistication in the audience as piano lessons became common in middle class families -- "set free" new generations of piano composers, and the type of music written became increasingly sophisticated. I think that's where we are moving, and I think montage is at the center of it.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Critical Themes

On Saturday, I will be presenting a paper at the Critical Themes in Media Studies conference at The New School.

Follow the link to the conference, or you can read Cutting Rope: Theorizing Montage and its Absence in Alfred Hitchcock’s "Rope" online, but without the visuals.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

1/365th as Good?

So at a dinner during the Full Frame Film Festival last week a veteran filmmaker (veteran in the sense that she's made at least two features) brought up the topic of how much time went into most of the feature-length documentaries showing at the fest. There were several others at the table with similar experience, and quickly a consensus was reached: most significant docs at the fest this year took at least three years to make. Some went far, far longer for one reason or another.

Ironically, as digital video arose as the main medium to make documentary films, a lot of people imagined that it would speed things up. It does, for shorts (yes, our short was made in five days -- those were the rules and why we didn't get a lot of sleep for that production weekend) and for certain kinds of features that are based on tight scripting. Yet there is little effect on production time on most longer pieces.

(It does seem as though people who might never have had access before can now make a film -- but that might be a slowing factor too, since people have to work around day jobs and fundraising.)

Coming from the world of art (where one either schedules a show and then struggles to make work for it, or plugs away at an ongoing project and then shows some of it when possible) I'm trying to get my mind around this. Does it mean that the best projects are left out in the sun for a while, where the world reshapes them a bit, or that one waits for a last detail or twenty to be revealed, or does this mean something else?

Or is it just convention?

Monday, April 16, 2007

Awards at Full Frame

Full Frame has announced its awards:
The Monastery

Cross Your Eyes Keep Them Wide
Honorable Mention: Zo is dat (The Way It Is)


The Ants

The Monastery

Uganda Rising
The Devil Came on Horseback

Honorable Mention: Leila Khaled, Hijacker

Honorable Mention: Lake of Fire



For the Bible Tells Me So

The Devil Came on Horseback

Prize to be announced

After the Carnival

Attending Full Frame was a great experience, but it did leave me with two questions:

1. Why does the Marriott charge $2 for a banana? I'm sure I wasn't the only one hungry enough to buy one, so they probably made $20 on bananas. Do they really want that much bad publicity, though? I've told everyone who would listen about the $2 banana, and by next year I might not remember the great service I got there and how nice the room was. I will likely still be complaining about the banana.

2. Why do so many people attend this film festival wearing a beret? Are these beret-wearers convinced it gives them a look of directorial-chic, or are they wearing the beret ironically?

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Return from Full Frame

For a while, the weather made it look we might be staying in Durham a lot longer, but we managed to make our flight out in a small jet and land in La Guardia. A few highlights from the festival:

During the Question-and-Answer session for Jessica Yu's Protagonist the inevitable "What was your budget?" question came up, and the answer was "somewhere between $500,000 and $750,000." The strange thing: I saw eyebrows go up on some of the people who work in documentary (since that's a lot of money by most doc standards and a big investment to have to earn back) and at the same time a man sitting near me frowned deeply. I read his name badge, which makes me think he's from narrative Hollywood production. Was he thinking, "How do you make a film on that?"

During the Show Me The Money Panel, I don't think there were any clear answers on how new models of distribution will eventually shake out, but there were a few things that seemed agreed by consensus:
that the people who want to see your hip new doc after it gets a NY Times review from a screening at a film festival don't want to wait for it to go to ten other festivals and then hit a few theaters in Manhattan and Los Angeles. They want the DVD, and they want it now.

that the likelihood is your film won't make its money back in the theater, but might on the DVD

that several panelists felt promotion on sites like YouTube might be double-edged -- it might make an audience aware of the film, and it might leave people feeling they don't need to see it

The panel made up of Full Frame alum programming for the Power of Ten series was also interesting. Michael Moore sat next to D.A. Pennebaker and I couldn't help but thinking they could be mistaken for father and son. Moore took an entertaining swipe at the "need" for film releases. "Did he see your camera?," he asked. "Did he come over and talk to you?" He went on to note that he's faced an interesting problem in his latest film: festivals and theatres and distributers won't release a film without "Errors and Omissions" (E & O) insurance, which you can't get without nicely-filed signed releases. So in making a film about health insurance companies, he would be asking insurance companies to give him insurance to make a film about insurance companies -- an unlikely event.

I come away from the experience thinking of Full Frame as an excellent festival, and I've already got the dates for next year on my calendar.

Saturday, April 14, 2007

Saturday Rolls On

I recommend the short A Son's Sacrifice. Nicely made, the right length, and visually compelling despite how unwatchable one might expect a film about Halal slaughter might be....

A Table in Heaven is on the re-establishment of Le Cirque in New York and the complicated family relations around that process. Ultimately not four stars for this review, however, as the film depends more on admiration of celebrity clientele, not delving into the fine points of the haute cuisine experience and the mystique of fine dining. (There was no way for me to turn off the film when Donald Trump showed up, but I would have, given a choice. Which says more about Donald Trump than the film, but still....)

I stood in line for In the Shadow of the Moon near director Nathaniel Kahn, but I was too shy to ask him any questions about Two Hands, which I saw a while back (now showing here at Full Frame). Some new (and amazing) footage and fresh interviews gives Moon a lot of quality. It tells the story well, it's compelling, it's very watchable. Perhaps I'm being too harsh if I complain that it's fairly conventional. Is there anything wrong with being very straight ahead in form and style?

Friday Night, Saturday Morning

Last night ended for me with a screening of Crazy Love. I did not applaud, but that's not because it isn't a well-made film. I was just left not knowing what I felt after seeing it. It has all the complications and strangeness you could want, but I can't talk myself into thinking it needed to be made, or that I needed to see it.

This morning started with two photography-related films:

Helmut by June far exceeded my expectations for two reasons: first, the program sounded almost apologetic about screening it, and second, I've seen several documentaries on Helmut Newton previously and they've all been boring. I think this one gets it right, and stays away from the overseriousness or attempted sexiness that just can't work in this type of film. It lets Newton's sense of humor come through, and more importantly lets us have a glimpse of his relationship with his wife June.

Eloquent Nude: The Love and Legacy of Edward Weston and Charis Wilson was also excellent, and while fairly conventional in style worked well for me. It is a tiny bit untrusting of the photographs, though -- telling us what to think and feel about each one, and steering us away from interpretations that it wants us to avoid. I recommend it, though, as a very clear revelation of the Wilson and Weston relationship and a study on the intersection of creativity and life.

Friday, April 13, 2007

Three Types of Green

Went to the session on documentary money, then on to "Alice Sees the Light" and "Everything's Cool" and followed those with "Manda Bala."

"Manda Bala (Send a Bullet)" is my favorite so far, and definitely the best use of frogs in a documentary since "Cane Toads: An Unnatural History."

Above: the card table in the main hall.


Just saw Jessica Yu's film Protagonist and really enjoyed it.

Also, grabbed a great promo item: a flipbook which reproduces one of the animations from the film.

Above: waiting in line for the screening in Fletcher Hall.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

First Night of Full Frame

I've arrived in Durham.

So far: rode in a van past some lush trees. Then more trees, followed by trees. Then checked into room 618 at the Marriott. Then signed in as a "Full Frame Fellow" and got the festival pass, tickets, program and folder.

Shook some hands, met some nice people. Went to dinner. The plan is to get up early and see "Protagonist."

Above: the first night party winding down.

Sunday, April 08, 2007

First Views of Command Z

My friend in California went to the "Command Z" show, and took a few photographs....

Please Select an Artist

The Bottom Line

I'm going to the Full Frame Film Festival Thursday as a participant in the "Full Frame Fellows" program. I'm looking forward to this session Friday:
Show Me the Money:
The Reality of the Documentary Heyday

Industry leaders discuss who is really benefiting from new documentary platforms and delivery systems. Together the panelists ask about the bottom line in the ever-changing business models of theatrical, television and downloadable distribution.

Moderated by Eugene Hernandez (Editor-in-Chief, indieWIRE). Panelists include Dan Klores (Crazy Love), Sheila Nevins (President, HBO Documentary and Family), Tom Quinn (Head of Acqusitions, Magnolia Pictures), Ted Sarandos (Chief Content Operator, Netflix), Steve Savage (President and Co-Founder, New Video, Docurama) and John Sloss (Principle, Cinetic Media).