Archive for Life in NC

Cinematic Transitions

The announcement from John Fithian, the president of the National Organization of Theater Owners, at this year’s CinemaCon confirmed what was pretty much already universally acknowledged in the film movie industry: 35mm film distribution will cease in just a few months, to be replaced by digital distribution in theaters. According to The Hollywood Reporter, 85 percent of North American screens and 67 percent of European screen have already converted to digital, making film stock an “endangered species.” But this is just one of many transitions that are taking place in reshaping how we access and watch movies.

These shifts can be measured by two stories about Fayetteville, North Carolina, the city where I work and where I lived for several years. First, Fayetteville’s Cameo Art House Theater is bidding good-bye to the film projectors they’ve used  since the theater opened in 1998 by hosting a special screening of Cinema Paradiso, Giuseppe Tornatore’s 1988 love letter to film projection. To me, this good-bye is bittersweet. Although I appreciate the aesthetics of film projection, I’m happy that the Cameo will be able to remain open using digital projectors and that the city will continue to have at least one option for seeing art house movies on the big screen.

The second story makes me feel more nostalgic than I would have expected. According to the Fayetteville Observer, the last two Blockbuster Video stores in Fayetteville will soon be closing, their last DVDs to be sold in a liquidation sale. Unless I’m missing something, that means the last remaining (non-adult) bricks-and-mortar video stores in Fayetteville will soon be closed. Although I can barely remember the last time I rented a movie in a video store, this seems like a significant shift, one that is consistent with all of the contradictions associated with an emergent on-demand culture. Movies are available at the click of a mouse or remote. But we may find ourselves having less access to some titles than we might expect.

I’d imagine that most cities are undergoing similar transitions. Some independent video stores may be better prepared to weather the competition with streaming video. Other art houses may be unable to navigate the shift to digital projection. But these changes are happening fast, and it’s well worth asking what they mean for all aspects of movie culture.

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Tar Heels and Film Criticism

Just a quick note to mention that I’ve been selected to the North Carolina Film Critics Association and that our awards nominations for 2012 were recently announced. I’m happy to point out that we have made some effort to promote local filmmaking through the Tarheel Award, which recognizes films with at least some connection to the state and enjoyed being part of a more official voting process. We’re voting on winners in the next few days and will hopefully announce the full results soon. This is also an opportunity to get other North Carolina film reviewers connected. I’ve met Ken Morefield and Daniel Johnson had a few conversations with Craig Lindsey at Full Frame over the years, but I’m looking forward to connecting with some of the other members in the future.

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What Else I’m Reading

Because I haven’t been posting in a while, here are some more things I’ve been following lately. In other news, I somehow completely forgot to mention my ninth anniversary of blogging last month (I started a Blogger blog way back in March 2003)  until I noticed how Atrios was commemorating his tenth (!) anniversary. This gives me about ten or eleven months to come up with a creative way of marking ten years of blogging by March of next year. Suggestions are always welcome. By the way, here’s another bulleted list for your weekend entertainment:

  • A longtime blog friend, Craig Lindsey, will be teaching a course on film criticism and column writing on May 5. The course is open to the public and will be held here in Raleigh.
  • One of the early inspirations for my blogging habit was Robert Greenwald, whose anti-iraq War documentaries showed me how social media could be used to promote political activism. Now he’s back (yet again), this time with a documentary, Koch Brothers Exposed, which is meant to document the poster boys of SuperPACs.
  • The cinetrix has posted another fantastic collection of links, but I’m highlighting this one because I’ll probably borrow at least half of these links when I teach Introduction to Film next fall (scroll down a bit for some terrific Welles and Kubrick links).
  • Hugh Atkin has posted what is, without doubt, the best political remix video of the 2012 election so far: Will the Real Mitt Romney Please Stand Up?
  • Michael Newman offers a compelling reading of advertisements for TVs, mobile devices, and 3D imagery.
  • For the 10th edition of Film Art, their introductory film textbook, Bordwell and Thompson are linking up with Criterion to create a series of videos for teaching many of the formal techniques of cinematic storytelling. Very cool.
  • Meanwhile Kristin Thompson warns against identifying trends based on a single year of box office numbers.

Hoping to have some more substantial blog posts soon, including reviews from this year’s Full Frame Documentary Film Festival, scheduled for next week (I believe this will be my fifth or sixth year of attending, another milestone that I find particularly unsettling).


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More Reinventing Cinema News

A quick pointer for now to a Fayetteville Observer article that offers a short profile of my book.  It’s a nice little overview of the book for non-specialists and even offers a pointer to my (somewhat neglected) Facebook page for the book.

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Age of Stupid Premiere

A few months ago, I began hearing about Age of Stupid, a feature film about climate change by McLibel director Franny Armstrong and starring Pete Postlethwaite as “a man living alone in the devastated world of 2055, looking at old footage from 2008 and asking: why didn’t we stop climate change when we had the chance?”

Now, via Jon Reiss, a reminder that Age of Stupid will be having its global premiere this week at over 500 theaters in 45 countries.  As Reiss notes, the makers of Age of Stupid have used a number of hybrid or transmedia strategies to raise awareness of the film.  For those of you in the Raleigh-Durham area, the film will be playing on September 21st at 7:30 PM at the North Hills Stadium 14 Theater.

The website itself offers a number of social media features and the making-of page explains that the filmmakers “crowd-funded” the entire 450,000 pound budget, positioning the film as part of the emerging model of digital distribution.  An, in keeping with the film’s environmental politics, even measures The Age of Stupid’s own carbon footprint.  A 50-minute documentary on the production of The Age of Stupid, which I’ll try to watch asap, was also recently launched on The Guardian’s website.

There’s a lot to like here, at least from my perspective, as someone interetsed in seeing the emergence of new distribution models.  The film’s producers have succeeded in creating something of a special event, a “live” premiere sent from a solar-powered tent (in keeping with the film’s environmentalist goals) to theaters around the world.  It’s a cool way to build conversation about an important social and political issue and to build anticipation for what looks like a compelling film.  You can check here to see if the film is playing in your neighborhood.

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Carolina Screen Notes

I’ve just learned that a group of indie film fans are putting together a film festival here in Fayetteville.  The Sandhills Film Festival is now accepting submissions for films to this years festival.  The early deadline for the festival is September 25, but films may be submitted as late as October 1 for an additional fee.  Screenings will be held “from October 22-25 at various locations throughout Fayetteville and Hope Mills.”

This is a brand-new festival and the organizers hope to bring additional energy to an already revitalized and growing downtown Fayetteville, so if you’re in the neighborhood, please consider submitting to the festival or attending when it comes around later this year.  The festival hopes to have several programming spotlights focusing on women and minorities, so films addressing those groups are certainly invited to apply.

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Sita in the Triangle

Hey, Carolina readers, Nina Paley’s fascinating animated feature, Sita Sings the Blues (my review), will be playing at the Galaxy Theater in Cary this week for a series of afternoon screenings.  Sita is one of the freshest, funniest, and bluesiest movies to come out in a long time.  Bonus: you’ll be supporting a talented independent filmmaker and a great local theater, too.

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Second Cinema Interview

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Odds and Ends

I’m posting these links just to prove to my parents that all that money they invested in my Ph.D. wasn’t completely wasted:

  • First, the interview with Second Cinema went really well. My friends at the Cameo very generously gave us the run of the theater for about an hour to tape the segment and get some photos.  The crew made me feel very comfortbale, and the show’s host, Hillary Russo (pictured here interviewing Evan Rachel Wood, who’ll appear in the same episode as me), asked some great questions.  I’ll keep everyone posted on when the episode airs (it shows at different times throughout North Carolina) and will also let everyone know when it shows up online.
  • Also, I just found out that my blog was listed as part of this month’s “Hotlist” on the Writers Guild of America, West, blog, which is kind of cool.  Fellow bloggers, Michael Newman and Ted Zee also made the list.
  • Finally, Sujewa has posted the segment from his documentary, Indie Film Bloggers Road Trip, featuring yours truly.  I think the documentary may work better as a series of webisodes, and Sujewa has recut the film slightly, which also makes it seem stronger.  I still wish I’d worn a different shirt, but it’s fun to see this moment of my life, when I was finishing up the book, captured in a documentary.

I’m putting the finishing touches on an article on documentary this week, so I’m not sure I’ll have anything substantive to say for the next few days.   But it’s nice to have the time–and energy–to concentrate on writing for a few weeks.  More later.

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Sunday Links, Local Edition

Just in time for summer, I’m starting to find my writing mojo once again.  After finishing the book, I’ve been languishing a bit this academic year (probably in part due to increased university service demands), but thanks to an upcoming grant application deadline (more on that if I get it), I’ve regained my focus a little.  But a recent post by Collin, building from a post by Jim Brown, comparing dissertation and book writing to the vicissitudes of baseball season has helped me make sense of my writing process.  The book, like the season itself, requires pacing.  Games are available when you want, but if you miss a week, you don’t feel particularly lost.  I’ll add that when finishing my book and my dissertation, I did put in seriously long hours (sometimes 20 hours a day), but perhaps that’s the equivalent of the pennant race or playoffs, where you need more sustained attention and focus.  Still, it’s reassuring to think about writing this way, as something that can occupy my “continuous partial attention,” to use Collin’s phrase, rather than a disconnected series of sprints.  Now for some links:

  • The Fayetteville Observer has a blog post about the successful efforts in preventing Time Warner Cable from “experimenting with” metered billing for internet use in nearly Greensboro, NC (among other places), that would require frequent users to pay more for internet service.  For those of us who often work from home, this could have been pretty costly.  Obviously TWC’s plans aren’t going away anytime soon, but glad to know that the protests worked.
  • Also from The Observer, a reminder about an upcoming forum on how to spend the government stimulus money locally.  The forum will be held Thursday, April 30, from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. at Smith Recreation Center on Slater Avenue in Fayetteville.
  • By the way, I’m planing to attend a forum at Duke University’s Frankilin Humanities Institute on May 1, “Histories and Humanities at HBCUs: Embracing the Legacy of John Hope Franklin.” It looks like a terrific opportunity to network with some of my colleagues in the humanities and nearby colleges and universities.
  • On a related note, I finally had a chance to see Godfrey Cheshire’s Moving Midway, a thoughtful meditation on the legacies of slavery wrapped around a creative narrative hook: Cheshire’s cousin decides to move the family plantation, Midway, from a busy intersection in Raleigh to a wooded area a few miles down the road.  During the film, Cheshire, thanks in large part to the efforts of Al Hinton, works to reconnect the black and white sides of his extended family.  It’s a solidly researched, entertaining little documentary, well worth adding to your queues.

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Sunday Links

Here are some of the links I’ve been thinking about this week:

  • First, Craig Lindsey of The Raleigh News-Observer writes up the upcoming Full Frame Documentary Film Festival up in Durham.  It’s a good overview of the changes that are happening this year with the festival and this year’s planned themes, which include a series of sports documentaries and films and a focus on the late filmmaker, St. Claire Bourne.  I’m quoted briefly at the end talking about some of the questions facing documentary filmmakers and film festivals as they navigate a changed entertainment and media landscape.
  • It’s a few days old now, but Henry Jenkins’ two-part interview (part one and part two) with Jessica Clark about the new role (and definition) of public media in the digital age is worth a read.  Clark co-authored a white paper, “Public Media 2.0,” with Pat Aufderheide a few weeks ago about these issues (here was my response).
  • I’m also intrigued by the launch of YouTube Edu, the video sharing site’s academic channel.  Not sure I have much to add here other than to observe that the videos range from promotional advertisements to more playful videosmade by students (the “compliment guys” at Purdue are sort of fun).
  • I’m hoping to write something longer later, but I’m also interested in Robert Greenwald’s latest project, Rethink Afghanistan, covered in this New York Times article a few days ago. Rather than release the documentary as a whole, he is posting sections of the documentary gradually in multiple parts, allowing him to adjust material as policies and conditions change.

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Thursday Links

Thanks to Spring Break, I’m blogging up a storm this week.  We’ll see if that lasts once classes start again on Monday.  For now, here are a few links that my North Carolina readers might find interesting, especially those of you in Fayetteville.

  •  First, the Fayetteville Museum of Art will be hosting a premiere party for a new exhibit, “Raw Identity,” this Friday from 6-8 PM.  Amneris Solano of the Fayetteville Observer has more information. The premiere party will include the music of Chapel Hill folk duo, Birds and Arrows.
  • Also on Friday will be a special screening of the film, Brothers at War, a film by Jake Rademacher that explores the effect of the Iraq War on his family while he was embedded with a Marine-trained Iraqi Army unit and while his two brothers were serving in the military. The filmmaker and executive producer Gary Sinise will be present at the screening and will participate in a Q&A after the film. Brian Dukes of the Fayetteville Observer has more information about what sounds like a compelling film.
  • Via Second Cinema, news about a cool upcoming event: Race in NC: Looking Back • Moving Forward, Documentary Film Forum, sponsored by ChathamArts. The event starts at 2:30 pm Saturday March 21 and continues on Sunday afternoon March 22 and takes place in downtown Pittsboro, NC, just outside of Raleigh. Films include Mackey Alston’s Family Name and We Shall Not be Moved, the story of the Tillery, NC, Farm Resettlement.
  • Finally, Full Frame is less than a month away.  I need to sit down soon and start planning my schedule.  I managed to snag a press pass this year, so I’m hoping to overdose on some great documentaries again this year. Any recommendations from this year’s schedule?

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Wednesday Links

I’m back in Fayetteville after my mini-spring break tour, which consisted of a brief stop in Durham, NC, for the Internet for Everyone Town Hall, and a slightly longer stay in Spartanburg, SC, where I had a chance to catch up with George (and where he introduced me to Little River Roasting Company, makers of some of the best coffee I’ve ever tasted).  I’m still recovering from the trip, in part because I locked my keys in my car in a Florence, SC, fast food parking lot and spent 2.5 hours waiting for a locksmith, so I’m starting off with a quick links post.  I’m planning to write short reviews of The Watchmen and Waltz with Bashir, hopefully, but that may require a little more energy than I have right now.

  • The biggest news is that I mailed the index and page proofs back to my publisher this week, basically the final step (for me) in writing the book.  George was there to document the occasion with a couple of photographs.  While creating the index did cause some angst, I found it to be a somewhat rewarding experience, allowing me to uncover connections that were only implicit in the book’s original argument.
  • Just a quick note on the Internet Town Hall: I found the discussions rewarding enough, and as someone who teaches with technology, it was interesting to learn about the experiences that others have with broadband access.  Sometimes the discussion felt a little forced, with answers already implied in the questions, but I liked the mix of small group discussions and wider dialogues.
  • Now that I have a little spare time to explore new projects, I’m sitting down to read a review copy of Alex Halavais’s Search Engine Society (Polity), a book that explores how search engines are affecting thought.  I’ve known Alex via blogging for a while, so my reading is shaped by that, but I’m finding Alex’s book incredibly helpful in thinking through some of the challenges our department is facing with regard to the fairly panicked reaction to the use of digital technologies such as search engines in the classroom (a reaction that isn’t uncommon from what I gather).  In particular, so far, Search Engine Society has been helpful in providing me with a slightly better language for characterizations of the current crop of students as “digital natives,” a description that leaves out quite a bit.  More on that in a few days, hopefully.
  • A couple of years ago, I had the good fortune to catch Liz Witham’s A Certain Kind of Beauty, which focuses on one family’s struggles after they learn their son has MS, at Silverdocs.  Now the film is available in its entirety from SnagFilms, the very cool online streaming source for documentary films, where the filmmakers hope to raise money to support 160 people living with Multiple Sclerosis to attend support groups, a cause that would seem to extend the film’s overall goals.
  • If you haven’t seen Jonathan Demme’s Rachel Getting Married, Aaron Hillis’s DVD review over at GreenCine should be more than enough to convince you.  I’m inclined to agree that it’s one of the best films of 2008, and I think that Aaron’s reading is pretty much right on.     Like Aaron, I’ve been mystified by reviewers who charcterized the wedding party scenes as overly sanguine multiculturalism because they miss the degree to which these expressions of community mask the family’s deeper pains.  It’s a beautiful little film, well worth your dime (or at least pushing to the top of your rentl queues).
  • While he misrepresents the new goals of GreenCine blogger Aaron Hillis (who is not seeking to relace David Hudson as a film blog and news aggregator), Adrian Martin does raise a valuable question about the future of festivals in the digital age.  Given the widespread access to DVD screeners and the massive growth of active film bloggers who have created all kinds of forums for talking about film, do we need to “physically stage” film festivals anymore? It’s an interesting discussion, and while I made some passing references to SxSW’s role in marketing Mumblecore in the book, I’d like to address these ideas in further detail.  I do think there is some benefit to sitting down face-to-face over drinks in Austin, Park City, Durham, or wherever, but Martin’s question is a provocative one (link via David, of course).
  • J.J. Murphy raises an important point about the state of independent film in 2008 and 2009.  Citing a friend who expressed concern that 2008 was a “bad” year for quality indie films, Murphy points out that there were a number of great films last year but that few of them played beyond big cities.  Murphy goes on to list an impressive-looking top ten, none of which played theatrically in Fayetteville to my knowledge.  This is probably old news for anyone who reads my blog, but Murphy’s post helps to underscore the ways in which our filtering a promotion systems still make it difficult for indie fans to find all of these compelling films.
  • I’m just now catching up to Girish’s list of links posted last Friday.  As usual, he provides a wealth of great reading material.  Some favorites: Anthony Kaufman’s Moving Image Source article on the demise of VHS and its implications for film history, and a Film Festival research bibliography (also cited in the above essay by Martin).
  • Oh yeah, and if you haven’t seen it, Kutiman’s remix “album” of YouTube musicians, ThruYou is pretty amazing, both as a work of art and as a commentary on the community-building practices on YouTube (or, at least, the desire for those communities).

That’s enough for now.  It’s nice to feel like I’m not scrambling toward a deadline, so hopefully I can start using the blog again as a way of tracking down and thinking about new research.  And just maybe I can get back in the habit of writing reviews again.

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Documenting the Digital Divide

A few days ago, I mentioned an upcoming Internet Town Hall, sponsored by, that will be addressing the problems of disparities in internet access among residents of North Carolina.  Now, thanks to an article on Alternet, I’ve had a chance to check out “Five Days on the Digital Dirt Road,” a series of documentary shorts featuring a number of North Carolina residents who have been affected by a lack of access to high-speed broadband internet access.

The first such story, told by Rhonda Locklear, who lives just a few short miles from Fayetteville in Hoke County, was especially resonant for me, in part because she is geographically close but also because she describes the ways in which having dial-up access at home makes it much more difficult for her children to complete homework assignments.  Work that can be completed quickly for those of us with broadband can take hours for people with dial-up.  Combine that with Robeson County’s disproportionately high unemployment rate, thanks to the closure of several nearby textile mills, and a number of Hoke County residents, many of whom are members of the Lumbee Tribe, face major challenges in conducting business or completing an education, to name two tasks that others might take for granted.

Others, such as Jay Foushee, describe the difficulties they face in keeping open a family farm while using dial-up internet.  But all of the stories illustrate the potential of short-form digital documentary in depicting the challenges faced by a number of North Carolina residents in navigating the digital divide.

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North Carolina Internet Town Hall

My local readers may be interested in knowing that will be sponsoring a town hall forum in Durham, North Carolina, on expanding access to a fast, affordable, and open Internet.  The town hall is scheduled for Saturday, March 7, from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. EST, at the Durham Marriott Convention Center.  The FreePress blog has more information about speakers and agendas, but this looks like a valuable way to press for ensuring more equal access to the Internet.

In my own experience, I’ve found myself thinking about these issues a lot lately, especially given that I’ve been teaching a graduate-level course to local high school teachers about technology in the classroom.  While I’ve been conducting the course in a computer classroom and while they have been relatively enthusiastic about blogs, wikis, Twitter, and other social media tools, it’s often difficult to make the stretch to classroom practice when so many of their students have little to no internet access at home.  Long story short, I think these conversations are well worth having, especially with the economic stimulus potentially providing fertile ground for rethinking eductaion spending and pedagogical practices.

Worth noting: The town hall also has a discussion guide (PDF) that introduces some of the issues that will be addressed on March 7.

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