April 13, 2022

Cow: It’s Not Gunda

I enjoyed Gunda. I found it audacious — pointing cameras at farm animals and, with some skillful editing, letting the visuals tell the story.

(Or, more accurately, giving the audience plenty to work with in the construction of a story in their own minds. We humans apply a narrative structure to ambiguous events in order to make a coherent and causal sense of events.)

Further, Gunda was full of startling and beautiful images. The choice to play some of the scenes for excruciating lengths of time turned out to be an interesting and effective method for inviting the audience to contemplate the lives of the farm animals.

Cow is not audacious, interesting, effective, beautiful, or startling (well, it was startling and brutal at the end). It is simply the result of a second-hand idea captured in mundane, and annoyingly shaky and relentlessly close-up, images.

March 19, 2022

On Saying “Take it Easy” to a Jamaican

Earlier today I said “take it easy” to a Jamaican. I often say this instead of simply “goodbye” or “see you later.”

She just smiled at me like I have much to learn. I guess I do.

In any case, I’m wrapping up this filming trip soon. Spring break will be over, and I’ll be back in class with my documentary students discussing Finders Keepers next week.

Until then, take it easy.

Artist and his grand daughters in Belmont.

Outside the full moon party in Treasure Beach.

March 15, 2022

The Ides of March

I suppose I could look up the actual date, but the ides of March is close enough. Rhetorica is 20 years old.

It is one of the oldest, continuously-published weblogs on the internet. For most of those 20 years it was about the rhetoric of the press-politics relationship in America. I briefly enjoyed a large following and much stimulating conversation in the comments. Things began to shift as my academic career matured and as I soured on the idea of being able to offer much of value in a social media world.

My career took a turn in 2014 when I decided to give documentary filmmaking a try. Early success (def.: managed to complete a couple of films and make a few festivals) led to creating a documentary certificate program as part of our digital film and TV program at Missouri State University.

I still teach journalism — mobile, ethics, and public affairs reporting. But my despair regarding the state of the professional  mainstream product means I don’t yammer about it publicly as much as I used to. I think the problems are not fixable. So I’ve moved on.

Rhetorica is now my documentary film blog. I hope it lasts another 20 years.

March 14, 2022

A Story About Water

Students and faculty from Missouri State University are in the middle of a 2-week research trip to Jamaica doing water-quality testing and a study of how water flows through the karst topography on the southwest coast. It’s important work because many people living in the Bluefields area rely on streams and springs for their daily water.

I’m along for the ride with one of my students who is interested in making a career of documentary filmmaking. We’re documenting the trip, the research, and working up a couple pf personality profiles about locals who are important members of the community.

This scene happens, oh, every evening on Belmont Point.

Members of the research team enjoying the above scene.

Students taking care of social media.

Locals playing checkers at a rural tavern.


March 8, 2022

Rub Their Noses In Reality

What I learned from Attica: Sometimes you have to rub the noses of the audience in reality.

This Oscar-nominated feature documentary at first seems like any other of the expository mode. It’s certainly competent in its reporting and intimate in its interviewing (always an important achievement). The cinematography is competent although the limited b-roll gets repetitive. It’s really the harrowing, first-person stories and historical detail that hold this film together until…

…the director Stanley Nelson drops the hammer on you in the third act.

You don’t get to see what a massacre is like. You get to see the massacre itself. And its aftermath. You get to see the cruelty as it happens.

Sometimes you have to show it all.

Attica and Flee are my picks to win. I’ll tell you what I learned from Flee next.

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