Archive for the ‘Genres’ Category

An Open Letter to the Academy

Monday, March 5th, 2007

John Sinno’s open letter to the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences is worth a read, so I’m posting it below. Sinno was one of the producers of James Longley‘s Iraq in Fragments, a documentary full of poetry and ambiguity — uncommon virtues for such a political film. Like the movie, the letter speaks for itself.

John Sinno
Typecast Films
3131 Western Ave Suite 514
Seattle, Washington, USA
March 2, 2007

An open letter to the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences

I had the great fortune of attending the 79th Academy Awards following my nomination as producer for a film in the Best Documentary Feature category. At the Awards ceremony, most categories featured an introduction that glorified the filmmakers’ craft and the role it plays for the film audience and industry. But when comedian Jerry Seinfeld introduced the award for Best Documentary Feature, he began by referring to a documentary that features himself as a subject, then proceeded to poke fun at it by saying it won no awards and made no money. He then revealed his love of documentaries, as they have a very “real” quality, while making a comically sour face. This less-than-flattering beginning was followed by a lengthy digression that had nothing whatsoever to do with documentary films. The clincher, however, came when he wrapped up his introduction by calling all five nominated films “incredibly depressing!”

While I appreciate the role of humor in our lives, Jerry Seinfeld’s remarks were made at the expense of thousands of documentary filmmakers and the entire documentary genre. Obviously we make films not for awards or money, although we are glad if we are fortunate enough to receive them. The important thing is to tell stories, whether of people who have been damaged by war, of humankind’s reckless attitude toward nature and the environment, or even of the lives and habits of penguins. With his lengthy, dismissive and digressive introduction, Jerry Seinfeld had no time left for any individual description of the five nominated films. And by labeling the documentaries “incredibly depressing,” he indirectly told millions of viewers not to bother seeing them because they’re nothing but downers. He wasted a wonderful opportunity to excite viewers about the nominated films and about the documentary genre in general.

To have a presenter introduce a category with such disrespect for the nominees and their work is counter to the principles the Academy was founded upon. To be nominated for an Academy Award is one of the highest honors our peers can give us, and to have the films dismissed in such an offhand fashion was deeply insulting. The Academy owes all documentary filmmakers an apology.

Seinfeld’s introduction arrived on the heels of an announcement by the Academy that the number of cities where documentary films must screen to qualify for an Academy Award is being increased by 75%. This will make it much more difficult for independent filmmakers’ work to qualify for the Best Documentary Feature Award, while giving an advantage to films distributed by large studios. Fewer controversial films will qualify for Academy consideration, and my film Iraq in Fragments would have been disqualified this year. This announcement came as a great disappointment to me and to other documentary filmmakers. I hope the Academy will reconsider its decision.

On a final note, I would like to point out that there was no mention of the Iraq War during the Oscar telecast, though it was on the minds of many in the theatre and of millions of viewers. It is wonderful to see the Academy support the protection of the environment. Unfortunately there is more than just one inconvenient truth in this world. Having mention of the Iraq War avoided altogether was a painful reminder for many of us that our country is living in a state of denial. As filmmakers, it is the greatest professional crime we can commit not to speak out with the truth. We owe it to the public.

I hope what I have said is taken to heart. It comes from my concern for the cinematic art and its crucial role in the times we’e living in.

John Sinno
Academy Award Nominee, Iraq In Fragments
Co-Founder, Northwest Documentary Association

Jonas Mekas: 365 Films (and then some)

Wednesday, January 10th, 2007

Legendary filmmaker/exhibitor Jonas Mekas has put dozens (if not hundreds) of his films for sale online. All the files are mp4 — suitable for your video iPod, computer, etc.

Currently Mekas is undertaking a project in which he will make a short film a day, every day this year. Each day you can download the movie for free; after that, you have to pay for it. A fantastic idea.

A dig through the entire site reveals all sorts of interesting stuff — Kenneth Anger movies, outtakes from Tarkovsky’s The Sacrifice… Enjoy!

[via DVGuru]

Lost in Light Launches

Friday, January 5th, 2007

Jennifer Proctor and Aaron Valdez’s Lost in Light project website has officially launched. If you missed my post about it in October, the project is “devoted to preserving, archiving, and making available 8mm and Super 8 films that are otherwise being lost to time.”

Now that the project has begun, Jennifer and Aaron are ready to start accepting Super 8 and 8mm films for free transfer to video and inclusion on their videoblog. They are also accepting creative works made in Super 8 and 8mm for posting to the site.

Click here to find out more about having your Super-8 and “regular” 8mm movies transferred to video for free. The transfers they’re offering are flickerless, and they look good. Check out their first post to see a sample.

If you’re interested in submitting creative work, click here.

James Longley: SRF Interview

Monday, December 4th, 2006

‘You are going to be the proud owner of 25 million people,’ he told the president. ‘You will own all their hopes, aspirations, and problems. You’ll own it all.’ Privately, Powell and Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage called this the Pottery Barn rule: You break it, you own it.

— from Plan of Attack by Bob Woodward

While the title of James Longley’s mesmerizing new documentary, Iraq in Fragments, literally conjures images of the now-infamous “Pottery Barn rule”, the connection runs much deeper than the title. Like Colin Powell’s admonition to the president, James Longley’s film actually considers the situation of the Iraqis. I say “actually” because, though it may seem like an obvious consideration, Iraq in Fragments is, to the best of my knowledge, the only American documentary about Iraq — and this year has seen several of those — that focuses solely on the citizens of that fractured nation

Divided into three discrete segments (hence the title’s double-meaning), Iraq in Fragments first follows a fatherless 11 year old working in a Baghdad garage. The second section chronicles the growth of the militant followers of Muqtada al-Sadr. The film closes with a portrait of a family of Kurdish farmers. It’s an illuminating approach, one that prevents it or us from making generalizations about how Iraq’s citizens, have, and haven’t, been transformed by the war. I imagine it will also help American audiences understand, at least a little, how American forces are viewed — as occupiers by some, as liberators by others. Certainly, the time Longley spent with his subjects (well over a year, and 300+ hours shot) helps provide a perspective that’s been absent from what we see on the nightly news.

While Iraq in Fragments would be noteworthy for its content, the film also happens to feature striking cinema verite cinematography and edgy editing, which gives the film a quality that is more poetry than prose. The style creates an impressionistic sketch of what it might feel like to be in Iraq, without (in my opinion) grossly aestheticizing the pain, rage, and hope he finds there.

The combination of style and substance has been met with critical praise. At Sundance, where it premiered, Longley took home honors for directing, editing, and cinematography — a first for a single film. Since then its laurels include Best Documentary awards at major film festivals (Full Frame, Thessaloniki, and Chicago, among others), as well as a Gotham Award.

That Longley did most of the work (e.g., cinematography, editing, music, etc) single-handedly will make the film’s achievement that much more impressive for some. Longley, though, suggests that working this way was precisely how he was able to achieve things.

We emailed back and forth last week, soon after Iraq in Fragments was short-listed for the Best Documentary Oscar.

(more…)

Lost in Light

Friday, October 27th, 2006

A few weeks ago, in an effort to show my students some of the more interesting film and video work being created for the web I discovered Have Money Will Vlog. It’s an ingenious site that helps media artists raise funds to produce their web-distributed videos and films. The project budgets are in the $2000 – $3000 range, and the donations are usually small — $10, $20, and so on. Of course, that money adds up when you consider all the people online.

You get what you pay for, too. The work you’ll find on HMWV is about, oh, a zillion times better than anything you’ll see on YouTube or Google Video. (Unless, of course, you have some predilection for watching pre-teens doing karaoke in front of their webcams.)

Anyway, if you’ve not yet run across Have Money Will Vlog, now is a particularly good time to check out the site (and to dig in your pocket for some loose change) because funds are currently being raised for a project by Jennifer Proctor and Aaron Valdez, two Iowa City filmmakers. The project is called Lost in Light and, in Jennifer’s words (via email) the project is “devoted to preserving, archiving, and making available 8mm and Super 8 films that are otherwise being lost to time.”

In fact, as they state on the Lost in Light websites (HMWV site, official site), “we will provide free Super 8 and 8mm to video transfers to anyone who asks, in exchange for posting their video to the Lost in Light site and on the Internet Archive with their choice of Creative Commons licenses. In addition, Lost in Light will include articles and features by members of the filmmaking and film preservation communities, video tutorials for making 8mm films, as well as creative work, all with the goal of preserving and championing this important film format.”

So, send them your Super-8 and 8mm films. And send them some $ while you’re at it.