Archive for April, 2007
“The Documentary Auteur is a dead duck in the digital water.”
That’s what 6 people debated, 3 for and 3 against, on stage at Hot Docs, during the third real-life instalment of DocAgora. A clap-athon from the audience was to determine the winner.
FIR friends Peter and Amit, co-founders of DocAgora, clearly set up this false dichotomy to get people thinking deeper about the shifting roles of authorship and the digital collective. But at times the discussion was painful, until finally, Adnan Hadzi on the “pro-side” finally wisely reframed the argument: its not authorship that’s dead, but its copyright and ownership that’s dead.
But it was too late in the game, and the documentary world’s Simon Cowell, Nick Fraser of the BBC, wrapped-it up for the “con” side by trashing the whole debate, trashing the notion of Auteur: “Could we please use a proper Anglo-Saxon word for it,” then evoking the spirit of Torontonian Marshal McLuhan and (after trashing him) proclaiming the authorial duck alive and well by saying: “Quite simply, works made collectively are boring”.
The clap-athon swung in favour for the con-side. Only then did the really interesting aruguments for the collective emerge. Montrealer Sylvia Van Brabant stood up from the audience and pointed out: “What about the Native storytelling traditions… who are the authors in that!?” Sanjay, another documentarian, criticized the “hyper-individualism of the west and its notions of authorship.” And later in tha hallway, Marc Glassman, complained to me he hadn’t gotten a chance to speak because he’s bald and wears glasses. He wanted to desperately say “What about Jazz, guys?”
Luckily, no real ducks were hurt in the making of DocAgora, as Peter is also one of the co-founders of the Greencode, a movement to green the doc industry.
Btw, FIR is an alumni of DocAgora, as Gerry and I both presented at the inaugural DocAgora in Amsterdam.
Meanwhile, FIR had two presentations at Hot Docs, including one for Doc U, to university students all intent on becoming filmmakers. They later told their mentor, Sarah Zammit, who told me, “I want to do what FIR does!” and some even said, “I want to be her!” Scary.
April 28th, 2007
I thought May would be quiet-er month to be spent in the editing room, but its turning into a busy-ish May for Filmmaker-in-Residence:
Back by popular demand!
The National Post called it “Remarkable”!
The Photoblogger’s I WAS HERE Photo Exhibit returns to Toronto for the Contact Photo Festival, the largest festival of its kind in North America. For the whole month of May, we remount the 29 pieces of art at the Mediatheque, 150 John St. And I’ve just today been invited to participate on a CONTACT panel on May 13th to discuss how documentary and photography can be used as tools for change in the inner city.
Our little film that could, THE BICYCLE, rides on, in New York City, with other fine films about Bicycles in the BICYCLE FILM FESTIVAL, May 16-20. “We’re a festival that celebrates the bicycle. We’re into all styles of bikes and biking. If you can name it - Tall Bike Jousting, Track Bikes, BMX, Alleycats, Critical Mass, Bike Polo, Cycling to Recumbents - we’ve probably either ridden or screened it.” Now, they’re into bicycle-ambulances too.
Check out our booth about I WAS HERE at the Innovations in Health Care Expo Booth at the CNE grounds on the May 23-24 weekend.
At the end of the month, May 28, watch for us and our collaborators Subject Matter at the Canadian New Media Awards Gala Event, where winners are announced. We are the only website up for two awards!
April 21st, 2007
I digress, I know, but I really had to LOL when I read today that Madonna’s “mere documentary” about orphans in Malawi was being “upgraded” and “turned into a movie.” Whatever could that mean!
So apparently, way back, she originally commissioned a documentary about orphans in Malawi, then watched some of the footage, and that’s how she first saw her adopted-son-to-be, and picked him out. Now the film has changed focus to be about her own adoption process. Oh and about her Kabbalah beliefs. Talk about creative process. Sources say Madge believes the film will affect the world the way that Live Aid did.
Shooting for the documentary, or um, movie, continues during Madonna’s trip to Malawi this week.
In other news, Gerry, FIR producer, just called to say we have been nominated for two Canadian New Media Awards. Check out who we’re up against! Awards night is May 28. And there are more awards coming up for my colleagues in the I WAS HERE universe, but I don’t think I can say anything about all that just quite yet…
April 17th, 2007
Here’s some of my yin/yang picks for Hot Docs, descending on Toronto next week.
The Doc the Vote! series shows off how elections can provide documentarians with effortless narratives. The front-runner is a yin film called ENEMIES OF HAPPINESS. This Sundance and IDFA winner made by a young Danish woman, is about a young Afghani woman running for office, fighting for the rights of women amongst assassination attempts and the chaos of war. For a dose of yang, I’ll check out PUNK THE VOTE! which follows 2 hardcore squeegee punks, Starbuck and Roach, during a Montreal election.
And for classic, old-school yang, I’ll try and catch verité-master Fred Wiseman’s STATE LEGISLATURE about the machine behind democracy.
For a spectacular, 3-part 6-hour yin extravaganza, I recommend American Jennifer Fox’s latest, FLYING: CONFESSIONS OF A FREE WOMAN. Soap-operatic, epic, funny, and deeply moving, this mini-series has the filmmaker turn the camera on herself, as she searches for the meaning of feminine freedom in 17 countries around the world. Lucky for us, she does great interviews, and we meet fabulous global women who offer stark contrast to her western, indivualistic, self-centred yet highly-watchable foibles. The scene in which she discusses masturbation with a group of rural women is unforgettable.
Moving beyond Al Gore and his yang powerpoint truths, check out Judith Helfand’s new toxic comedy EVERYTHING’S COOL. I promise you, she’s cool. She did Blue Vinyl, and I hitchhiked with her once in the Hamptons.
And Canadi-yin Debbie Melnyk has a penchant for the unauthorized biog of yang. In her last film, she did Conrad Black. This time, she’s after Michael Moore in MANUFACTURING DISSENT.
I’ve heard good things about two intimate meditations on the psychological legacy of war. The yang: In A STORY OF PEOPLE IN WAR AND PEACE an Armenian journalist (and former prisoner war) searches out his ‘brothers” from the Nagorno-Karabagh War (1989-1994). Using video footage he shot back then, and contemporary interviews with his “brothers”, he seeks answers for his son. On the yin side: This year’s Hot Docs Retrospective gives me a chance to finally see Heddy Honigmann’s 1999 CRAZY which weaves the memories of Dutch UN soldiers through song, home video archives and photos. I’ve heard the interview camera work is sublime.
A husband-and-wife documentary team explore how a dance ritual helps cleanse child soldiers in Uguanda in WAR/DANCE, and in the award-winning THE MONASTERY an odd yin/yang couple (a nun and an 82-year old bachelor) try to bring a russian orthodox monastery to life in Nordic Europe.
I would see it again: a kooky short (student!) film THE ANGELMAKERS about a small Hungarian village, where the elders finally reveal a decades-long secret from 1929 about a local “witch” who, for a fee, killed off many, many men at the request of their wives - all with a poisonous brew. It’s a documentary that truly proves truth is stranger than fiction. (Maybe that’s why the story is now being fictionalized in the UK. The dramatic film will star Helen Mirren, and it transplants the tale from Hungary to Britain.)
Oh, the 5 films of Made in Brazil will be brilliant.
Finally, I don’t plan to miss one of this year’s surefire crowd-pleasers, HELVETICA, about my all-time favorite font - I had no idea it was so controversial. And I’m not sure if that’s yin or yang.
April 12th, 2007
Now that everyone is (re)making documentaries, the issue of copyright is everyone’s problem.
The music world’s been battling this one for years, and now its raging in the documentary universe. In music the lawsuits started with sampling, then moved into downloading. And now in documentary, many are wondering - and testing - what’s fair game in using existing material to comment on the mediatized world we live in.
The debate heated up in Canada this week, with a piece on Canada’s best radio show, and a nice article in one of Canada’s few magazines of note, (re)printed in the author’s blog here.
Copyright law is under review in Canada, and wisely, our great defenders of the documentary, at DOC, came out with a white paper on it late last year. In their research, DOC found that Canadian doc-makers spend, on average, 27% of their budgets on clearance. That’s crazy. The NFB pulled 6 films from public view last year, because clearances have expired, and they can’t afford to renew.
“The freedom of documentary filmmakers to engage public space,” says DOC in the paper, is key.
The Canadian report comes on the heels of a fantastic study done in the US on Documentary and Fair Use. (US law is considerably different than Canadian law. Down there, Fair Use currently covers more usage, like parody, than does the restrictive Canadian “Fair Dealing”.) The idea behind the US report was to document precedents, and get the filmmakers to learn from each other, since fear of lawsuits dominated the thinking and usage. Now the report itself has been successfully used to defend new cases of Fair Use.
Last month, a bunch of US law professors even issued a comic book about how Copyright is threatening Documentary and political practice.
Meanwhile, the youtubers couldn’t care less about insurance, clearance, fair use or lawsuits. Check out this hilarious video about remixing the remixes.
And one Canadian filmmaker is making a film about it all. He’s asking users to help him (re)make his film on line by uploading and re-editing material right on his website. Check out the latest from our friends at eyesteel, at open source cinema.
April 7th, 2007
An important new book is hitting bookstands soon, and it’s getting high praise.
“The best book ever written about AIDS,” says Stephen Lewis, ”Certainly the best book I’ve ever read.”
Stephanie Nolen’s 28: Stories of AIDS in Africa chronicles the African AIDS crisis through the stories of 28 individuals living with and fighting the disease. Nolen chose 28, one for each of the million people on the continent infected with AIDS.
One of Nolen’s 28 is Alice Kadzanja, an HIV-positive nurse working with Dignitas International, at Zomba District hospital in Malawi. You may remember Alice from our film The Bicycle, and our chapter about Dignitas on our website.
In fact, Nolen met and interviewed Alice the same time I was filming with her. I recall Alice laughing shyly as she went from one interview to the other, all the while juggling patients at the bustling clinic.
Alice, together with the other 27 from across the continent (including a truck-driver, an orphan, a prostitute and a political activist) are the human stories - and the heroes - behind the inhuman statistics of the African AIDS crisis.
The book comes out April 24.
Dignitas Head Nurse Alice Kadzanja
April 5th, 2007
We said we’d be back! Last week, the women of I WAS HERE, returned to City Hall and the Mayor with a substantial policy document based on the words and ideas from the WE ARE HERE speak out. Down below, the ‘exec sum’ of the declaration for your perusal. But first, Dawn, our Associate Producer Extra-Ordinaire, guest-blogs about the historic visit…
It was an honour to support the I WAS HERE participants at their second meeting with Mayor David Miller. What an amazing group of women! Adrienne, Jess, Meghan and Keneisha presented the Mayor with the WE ARE HERE Declaration and spoke about their solutions to the issues that effect their lives.
We met at the café at City Hall and had lunch. All the babies were there: Adrienne’s son Nicholas, Meghan’s son Xzavior, Keneisha’s sons Malik and Deshaun, and the newest arrival, Jess’s daughter baby Calista. We took turns watching the babies, while the women gathered their thoughts and looked proudly at our Declaration.
Ryerson Nursing Students Andrea Noronha and Shabnaz Mohangd met with us before the meeting. They represent a group of students at Ryerson who are calling themselves “Students Supporting Young Parents.” They have written an amazing letter to the Mayor and collected 461 signatures in support of the Declaration.
Jess opened the meeting by handing the Mayor The Declaration and telling him about the Speak Out held at the NFB on Feb 15. She said that “the thing we learned from our speak out with young parents is that young parent voice needs to be included in all discussions about these issues.”
The Mayor listened intently as Meghan spoke confidently about her solutions to the housing problem given that young parents suffer from “low wages and high market rent.” She suggested making young parents a priority group for subsidized housing.
Adrienne asked for more subsidized full and part-time daycare spaces. Jess talked about trained and dedicated workers for young parents at Ontario Works, and Keneisha spoke to the need for more shelter spaces for young families.
The Mayor read through the Declaration and said “we are going to take this document very seriously”.
Adrienne closed the meeting by presenting the Mayor with the Ryerson student petition. The Mayor stood up, put the petition on his desk, looked at us said: “That’s a great thing to do. Do more of that.”
WE ARE HERE
A Declaration by Young Parents
We are young, pregnant and parenting youth who have experience with homelessness. For the first time ever, we are speaking out together.
We need safe and affordable housing
We need shelter spaces for families
We need more full and part-time subsidized daycare spaces
We need Ontario Works, healthcare and service providers to be sensitive to our issues
We came together at the “We Are Here” Speak Out at the National Film Board of Canada on February 15, 2007. The Speak Out was hosted by Adrienne, Jess, Meghan and Keneisha from the “I Was Here” photography exhibit and moderated by Amanda Cain, the editor of Yo Mama, a magazine by young parents for young parents.
Each year, approximately 300 babies are born in Toronto to parents with no fixed address. The four major issues that we face are: a need for safe and affordable housing, access to affordable daycare, Ontario Works, and the shelter system. We also have concerns about health care, transportation, the justice system, the education system, and the need for more projects in the city like I WAS HERE. Our goal is to raise these issues to all levels of government.
We would like to be included in the process, and we would like to discuss with you today, Mr. Mayor, how we can offer you assistance in the following ways:
1) To concretely address the need for more housing for young parents.
2) To involve young parents’ voices consistently and regularly in the discussions about housing and other relevant issues in our city - not only on the Youth Council, but also in other standing committees such as
The Affordable Housing Committee The Employee and Labour Relations Committee, The Community Development and Recreation Committee
And involve us in The Campaign To Make Housing Happen.
3) To incorporate the I WAS HERE photo exhibit and utilize the resources of the Young Parents No Fixed Address network in sensitivity training for city
workers, Ontario Works, health-care professionals and other service providers.
4) To help support the city in raising awareness of our issues at the provincial and federal levels, with this declaration and other events, meetings, and awareness building campaigns.
We challenge the stereotypes of young pregnant and parenting youth. We know about the resources available to us and we share this knowledge with each other. We have life skills and experience. We want to be involved in sensitivity training for everyone who works with young pregnant and parenting youth. We request that our voices be included in the policies
that affect our daily lives.
April 3rd, 2007