“Be Natural”

It’s springtime, which means it’s time for that esteemed festival across the pond, on the coast of France, at Cannes. Well there’s a little known documentary there that has been brought to my attention, that isn’t getting that much buzz, but should be. The film is called “Be Natural” and it’s about the very first woman director/producer/executive, Alice Guy-Blaché. It’s presented as a …“detective story wrapped up as a biopic and it all works in a movie that had me in tears by the time it ended.” Check out the review here! http://deadline.com/2018/05/be-natural-documentary-first-female-director-best-cannes-1202389720/

It Is Not Okay

Walter Brueggemann says that the Old Testament prophets were often telling us that it is not okay, things are not going the way they are supposed to. Injustice, oppression, victimization, tragedy, sorrow, pain and suffering continue to befall us, and “the comfortable” need to wake up, hard and calloused hearts need to be enlightened, and the structures of power and abuse in our society need to be challenged. Houston’s films, in contrast to Capra, seem to adopt this prophetic voice. The prophetic narrative engages in “inversion,” or the challenging of the dominant narrative in society. In the process, celebration is replaced by lament, answers are replaced by questions, and comfortable beliefs, assumptions, attitudes and feelings are challenged.   – from the upcoming book “How to Film the Truth: The Story of Documentary Film As a Spiritual Journey” to be released in the Summer of 2018 by Wipf & Stock

“This is America”

There’s a music video garnering a lot of attention right now for a song called “This is America” performed by Donald Glover, directed by Ibrahim Ake. You should watch the video and read this indiewire write-up about it’s meaning and significance. http://www.indiewire.com/2018/05/this-is-america-meaning-donald-glover-normalize-blackness-1201962586/ In the article, Glover says that he hopes to normalize blackness, and he’s tapping into the tension between black cultural expressing such as dancing and music, and the conflict or dilemma embued by the fact that our culture has and continues to do violence towards that blackness. So there’s a risk inherent in the act of expression. This discussion calls to mind another black artist, a photojournalist who premiered his first feature documentary film this year at Sundance. His film is called Hale County This Morning, This Evening, and his name is RaMell Ross. I think it’s worth it to revisit my review of the film from back in January. Ross seeks to re-image the black experience, insofar as the images we have associated with the blackness have not come out of the community, but have often been provided by outside commentators or media influencers. His films is a quiet, slice of life rumination on the beauty of […]

How Technology Shapes Our Digital and Social Lives

Craig Detweiler, a former professor of mine and the one who wrote the foreword to my book, has written a book about the digital age called “iGods: How Technology Shapes Our Digital and Social Lives” Here’s an article from the New York Times about the bizarre experience of being in the presence of a great and historic work of art, and seeing the museum patrons more obsessed with their OWN image than the one they have come to see, by taking selfie after selfie in front of the painting. It reminds me of a section of my book, wherein I research Werner Herzog’s notion of documentaey-as-tourism, rather than documentary-as-quest (“journey on foot”). The tourist takes a photo at the sign that says “photo here” to prove in some sense that they were THERE. But Herzog doesn’t think this is a real relationship to the place. A journey that garners a relationship to place is an adventure, open to the unexpected, and requires an awareness and focusing of one’s attention on what is important. It seems to me the selfie craze is in many ways a collective inward turn, which may cause us to lose this habit, or spiritual discipline of […]

The Pastoral and the Prophetic

Theologian, educator and filmmaker Craig Detweiler is fond of comparing the voices of modern day filmmakers to historical roles that are taken in scripture at various times: that of the pastoral and the prophetic. The pastoral voice, in narrative, message and practice seeks to “comfort the afflicted.” The prophetic voice, borrowing from Walter Brueggemann’s The Prophetic Imagination, seeks to “afflict the comfortable.”  The message that comforts the afflicted is usually the good news of the gospel, providing hope and comfort to those that may not have it so good in this life. Hope, as theologian N.T. Wright often puts it, that God through Christ will set the world right, that he will not only fulfill his promise to redeem the individual, forgive sins and draw us to himself after this life, but that in some sense God seeks to work towards the redemption of all things even in this life. This is a message that replaces despair with hope, and tells us that, somehow, no matter how dark it seems (in the “valley of the shadow of death”), that at the end of the day, it is all going to be okay. This is a message based, not necessarily on […]

The art of scoring a film

Composer Mark Orton talks in this video about the art of scoring a film. He’s currently working on a documentary. “All you have to do to understand the power of music in film, is watch to watch a scene without music. It feels like screen eternity. You put the right theme, the right music behind it, it can be exciting, it can be reflexive, it can be all these different things, but the time really changes.” https://www.opb.org/television/programs/artbeat/segment/film-music-score-composition-mark-orton/

A gift that allows us to think more deeply

An earlier post was about Mark Rothko and his ideas about the purpose of modern art. Here’s his son, Christopher on his father’s legacy. Art, he says, can be a gift that allows us to think more deeply about the big questions in life, why are we hear, what it means to be alive, and what the truly important things are in life. https://www.opb.org/television/video/rothko-sharing-the-legacy/

“I succeeded in making (the audience) miserable which is the purpose of the picture”

For years people pointed to The Battle of San Pietro as a great example of observational filmmaking, until it came out that Huston had staged most of the events in the film. Like the controversy surrounding Nanook of the North, many were disappointed when they learned the truth about the circumstances behind the filming. However, staged or not, the tone of the piece is very somber, and Huston refrains from reaching for answers, instead choosing to dwell on the apparent senselessness of war. The film represents another step for Huston, away from propaganda towards a style of filmmaking that would challenge the status quo. When Huston finally finished the film, he showed it to a gathering of senior military staff and generals. As Harris puts it, “Still badly shaken by the loss of life he had seen in Italy, he had chosen to make a documentary that was true to his emotional experience, a film that emphasized the terrible cost of the Allied campaign in Italy,” instead of the feel-good story of the triumphant battle that Capra had wanted. At one point, he’d included some shots of dead American soldiers, and rather than use the reassuring voice of the narrator, […]

Mark Rothko On His Art

“I’m interested only in expressing basic human emotions—tragedy, ecstasy, doom and so on,” Rothko said in 1957. “The people who weep before my pictures are having the same religious experience I had when I painted them.” https://www.opb.org/television/programs/artbeat/segment/mark-rothko-portland-oregon-art-abstract/#.WuRe1ZaxvF1.twitter

Nantucket Film Festival

The quality of documentary film in festival line-ups all over the country is incredible right now. For example, take a look at the list of interesting and inspiring films at this year’s Nantucket Film Festival. Minding the Gap is my favorite Sundance film this year. But I hear Brisbee ‘17 is also very good, and there are scores of others. There’s even a new film by Barbara Kopple who I write about in my book as an example of the exploration of the point of view style of cinema veritè back in the 70’s. Her new film: A Murder in Mansfield. http://nantucketfilmfestival.org/nff2018-films/documentaries/