April 27, 2022

What is, and what qualifies as, documentary film?

Documentary film has been around as long as the technology has existed to make filmed pictures move. Reality was the first thing filmmakers made films of. For example, head over to YouTube and search for the Lumière brothers. Fascinating stuff. Then and now.

For another example, check out the first motion picture ever made — a couple of minutes of a horse galloping. We actually learned much about how horses gallop from this project.

I’m leading up to something I want to examine: What is a documentary and what qualifies as a documentary? Not the same questions, really. The first asks for a definition (even if complex). And the second asks us how we justify placing a particular work within some definition of documentary.

I’m planning to attempt answers to both.

“Attempt” indicates that I’m not going to try to sell you on something so much as to allow to read along as I think about it.

Starting soon…

April 21, 2022

Trinity in Post-production Soon

I haven’t mentioned much about Trinity yet — a documentary I began last fall. The main event — a visit to the Trinity site in New Mexico — occurred earlier this month.

I have a few voice-overs to record that, I hope, are happening on Sunday.

Then I’ll begin editing.

Two things I’m doing differently with this one. First, I’m using the cinema flat aspect ratio of 1.85:1 — because I want to. And I’ll be making it black & white — because I want to (also, there’s a thematic reason for this choice). And one other thing: This is my first film to do all the things by myself 🙂

We’re talking short-short here. Probably 5 to 6 minutes.

Jay Manifold, of Kansas City, is one of the subjects of the film.

Rock shop near Socorro, New Mexico.
April 20, 2022

Back to the Land … Back to Work

I’m doing cinematography (and documentary consulting) for a film about the back-to-the-land movement in Missouri Ozarks. Director Denise Vaughn and I have been working on capturing this history from the original folks who came to the Ozarks looking to create a new way of rural life in America in the mid-1970s. Work started last summer but was halted by the omicron surge.

This weekend I’ll be filming at an Earth Day event near West Plains, Missouri. More details soon.

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.

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