Archive for the ‘Principles’ Category

Take A News Break Day

Friday, February 15th, 2008

As many of you readers know, I was teaching at Virginia Tech on April 16 last year. The devastation we all felt losing people dear to us was deeply exacerbated by an invasion of a press corps whose satellite vehicles alone filled a football stadium parking lot. To say that these folks were insensitive would be an understatement. I never had any respect for the kind of journalism, especially TV journalism, that chases ambulances. But even my cynicism did not prepare me for what I saw those days.

So, in light of the Northern Illinois University shootings, I will be taking a news break today. I encourage you to consider doing the same. The NIU shootings will, no doubt, be the top headline on most news networks and websites and every click or minute spent watching gives more encouragement to these (mostly) commercial enterprises to exploit others’ pain for profit. My thoughts will be with the NIU community for today and for the days to come. But I’m not going to kid myself that viewing news reports on CNN or MTV is going to help these folks heal. But I’ll stop, because I’ve written about “pornography of the real” before.

If you must read about the shootings, I encourage you to visit Northern Illinois University‘s website, or to read the Dekalb Daily-Chronicle. In my experience last year the news sources that were most valuable were the Virginia Tech website and our local newspaper, the Roanoke Times, whose coverage was sensitive, even-handed, and comprehensive. Their coverage only (re)confirmed for me that when it comes to telling stories, place — where you come from, where you live, the people you call neighbors — matters.

MacHeist: Indy Mac Software + Good Cause = Insane Deal

Saturday, January 19th, 2008

If you use a Mac, you absolutely must check out the insane deal that MacHeist — an alliance of independent Mac software developers — is offering.

For $49.95, MacHeist is selling $428 worth of fully-featured (i.e., not demo mode) Mac software. And to make the offer that much sweeter, a good chunk of the proceeds go to charity. As of this writing, $227,000+ has been raised so far.

Plus, the software is good. I would recommend all three of the twelve titles that I’ve previously used:

SnapzProX – a screencapture utility that’s GREAT for creating screencasts
iStopMotion – a great program for shooting stop motion animation
1Password – a browser extension that saves all your passwords in one place, and generates secure passwords

I’m an especially big fan of SnapzProX. Last fall I used it (in demo mode) to create a screencast for some of my students. I found it to be the best application of its kind on the Mac. It normally sells for $69, but for the next four days people can get it, plus 11 other applications, for $20 less. And it goes to charity. So I’m getting out my credit card now.

As for the charities represented, according to the MacHeist wiki:

Purchasers can choose from the following list of ten charities, or opt to split the donation from their purchase evenly among the choices.

* Action Against Hunger
* AIDS Research Alliance
* Alliance for Climate Protection
* Direct Relief International
* Humane Society International
* The Nature Conservancy
* Save the Children
* Save Darfur
* Prevent Cancer Foundation
* World Wildlife Fund

Filmmaking and the Environment

Saturday, October 13th, 2007

As you probably heard yesterday, the Nobel Peace Prize was awarded to UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and Al Gore. I’ve not always been a big supporter of Al’s, but I was definitely feeling some pride for the local boy done good (the second native Tennesseean to be awarded the Peace Prize, actually.).

Though the press reports usually got it wrong, as AJ Schnack reminded everyone yesterday, Gore did not win an Oscar for An Inconvenient Truth (because he didn’t direct it), but I have little doubt that the film — because of how it drew attention to the cause of global warming, and because it drew attention to Gore’s advocacy in the process — was a factor in Gore sharing this year’s Peace Prize. Looking over the list of previous Peace Prize winners, I couldn’t think of another instance in which cinema played such a central role in the awardee’s recognition.

Anyway, in the spirit of the announcement, I thought I would share some links and notes on environmentally-friendly filmmaking for those folks out there that, whether or not they like Al Gore, accept the findings of hundreds and hundreds of scientists from around the world that shared the Peace Prize for their work on man-made climate change research…

(more…)

The 25 Greatest Documentaries of All-Time?

Thursday, October 4th, 2007

IndieWire reports today on the International Documentary Association’s list of the “25 Best Documentaries.” As an introduction to the genre for people who have never seen more than one or two non-fiction films (including, say, March of the Penguins) it’s a serviceable list. On the other hand, it will probably upset a lot of people, if the comments after the IndieWire article are any indication.

It’s not worth getting too worked up over these things. Like those AFI best-of lists, they’re not so much a serious study as a marketing tool for the sponsoring organization. Still, I was pretty surprised (and a little sad) to see just how historically short-sighted and Americentric this list is, particularly coming from a group that is comprised of filmmakers and bills itself as an international association.

Almost all the films on the list are American, English-language films. As for representation throughout the decades, the last seven years are represented by ten movies; the ’80s and ’90s are represented by seven more. The other eighty years of cinema are represented by a mere eight films.

I can put aside the fact that lesser-known, esoteric personal favorites (like, say, Ichikawa’s Tokyo Olympiad, Godmilow/Farocki’s What Farocki Taught/Inextinguishable Fire, Jorge Furtado’s Ilha das Flores, or Wiseman’s High School) didn’t make the cut. But a list claiming to represent the “Greatest Documentaries of All Time” that doesn’t feature a single film by Robert Flaherty, Dziga Vertov, Jean Rouch, Michael Apted, Chris Marker, Agnes Varda, much less Claude Lanzmann’s Shoah ? Well, it’s curious, to say the least.

Ok, I said I wasn’t going to get worked up. So I’ll stop.

Here’s the list. Continue the debate in the comments, if you want….

1. “Hoop Dreams,” directed by Steve James, Peter Gilbert and Frederick Marx
2. “The Thin Blue Line,” directed by Errol Morris
3. “Bowling for Columbine,” directed by Michael Moore
4. “Spellbound,” directed by Jeffery Blitz
5. “Harlan County USA,” directed by Barbara Kopple
6. “An Inconvenient Truth,” directed by Davis Guggenheim
7. “Crumb,” directed by Terry Zwigoff
8. “Gimme Shelter,” directed by Albert and David Maysles and Charlotte Zwerin
9. “The Fog of War,” directed by Errol Morris
10. “Roger and Me,” directed by Michael Moore
11. “Super Size Me,” directed by Morgan Spurlock
12. “Don’t Look Back,” directed by DA Pennebaker
13. “Salesman,” directed by Albert and David Maysles
14. “Koyaanisqatsi: Life Out of Balance,” directed by Godfrey Reggio
15. “Sherman’s March,” directed by Ross McElwee
16. “Grey Gardens,” directed by Albert and David Maysles, Ellen Hovde and Muffie Meyer
17. “Capturing the Friedmans,” directed by Andrew Jarecki
18. “Born into Brothels,” directed by Ross Kauffman and Zana Briski
19. “Titticut Follies,” directed by Frederick Wiseman
20. “Buena Vista Social Club,” directed by Wim Wenders
21. “Fahrenheit 9/11,” directed by Michael Moore
22. “Winged Migration,” directed by Jacques Perrin
23. “Grizzly Man,” directed by Werner Herzog
24. “Night and Fog,” directed by Alain Resnais
25. “Woodstock,” directed by Michael Wadleigh

Caffeine, Sequels, and Remakes…

Wednesday, September 12th, 2007

When I realized that caffeine could be attributed to at least a few of the several headaches I get on a monthly basis, I gave it up. I’ve been off caffeine for over 15 years now. In addition to it helping with the headaches, I learned early on in the process how good it felt to just deny something to yourself. To echo one of the legends of self-reliance, denial helps one live deliberately.

It’s been so long since I had a caffeinated beverage that I take it for granted now, but I was thinking about it today when reading Matthew Jeppsen’s post at FresHDV in which he quotes a recent interview with Ridley Scott.

Scott says:

I think movies are getting dumber, actually. Where it used to be 50/50, now it’s 3% good, 97% stupid. [The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford] is one of those rarities that does get made, thank God, and has serious characterisation and serious things to say. Altogether it’s a wonderful, dramatic and historic piece. But it’s becoming more and more difficult to get films like this made.

I’ve sometimes found Ridley Scott’s work to be an example of (admittedly great) style over substance, but am I ever in agreement here.

In an effort to quantify the dumbness, what follows is a list of the top 20 grossing movies of 2007 to-date, in order. Films in bold are not sequels or based on previously existing franchises (i.e., a comic book or television series).

Spider-Man 3 – sequel (#3) / comic book franchise
Shrek the Third – sequel (#3)
Transformers – based on TV show
Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End – sequel (#3)
Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix – sequel / book franchise
The Bourne Ultimatum – sequel (#3) / based on book franchise
300
Ratatouille
The Simpsons Movie – based on 17 year-old TV series
Wild Hogs
Knocked Up
Live Free or Die Hard – sequel (#4)
Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer – sequel (#2) / based on comic book franchise
Rush Hour 3 – sequel (#3)
Blades of Glory
I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry
Ocean’s Thirteen – second sequel to a remake
Ghost Rider – debatable: based on comic book franchise….
Hairspray – based on broadway show, which was based on movie
Superbad

Out of 20 films, seven or eight are “original”, if you can call Wild Hogs and Blades of Glory “original.” [Addendum: Adaptations of non-franchise literature, etc. count as original works. See discussion in comments below.]

If that doesn’t get you down, look at the all-time top grossing movies in the USA, where you’ll see that 13 of the 20 were released in the last seven years. Of those 13, two (The Passion of the Christ and Finding Nemo) aren’t sequels, remakes, or based on pre-existing franchises.

Shutting myself in a dark room isn’t going to make the headache that is this list of movies go away, but I am going to give up watching any new sequels and remakes. Even if some of these movies are ok, I’m sick of the practice in general principle. Why encourage Hollywood to do it any longer? Like caffeine, I’m going cold turkey, giving this stuff up in toto.

Sure, I might miss something like Cronenberg’s The Fly or Sirk’s Imitation of Life (two of my favorite remakes), but something tells me the withdrawal period will last shorter than when I gave up caffeine.

UPDATE 9/23/07: Alert reader AJ Broadbent has sent word of even more dissenting opinions. Click here for the full story!!