Archive for February, 2008

Random Saturday Notes

Just realized that I haven’t blogged in a few days, and given the number of project deadlines rapidly approaching, that condition isn’t likely to change anytime soon, but here’s a quick update, bullet-point style:

  • Back in 2003, which now seems like ancient history, I mentioned going to see Kal Ho Naa Ho at Atlanta’s Galaxy Theater, which specialized in Bollywood films. Now, one of my colleagues, a Fulbright Fellow here, has a special screening of the film planned for Friday, December 15, here at Fayetteville State. She’s asked me to provide a short 3-4 minute introduction to Bollywood, which ought to be a lot of fun. If you’re in the Fayetteville area and interested in attending, email me and I’ll happily provide the details.
  • On a related note, I’m still in the process of arranging for the creation of some sort of film series here at FSU. I have a number of ideas, so hopefully I can get the ball rolling on cultivating a livelier film community here on campus and in the community in general.
  • Via the United Hollywood blog, it looks like the Writers Guild strike may be reaching its conclusion, which seems to be good news. Obviously, I’m happy that the writers will soon be back to work, but it also appears that the writers were able to ensure a share of future Internet profits, which was certainly vital given that the net will become the primary means of content creation and distribution in the near future.
  • While I very much appreciate the passion and enthusiasm behind the “Yes We Can” video, Barely Political’s “Three Little Words: I Like Turtles” is a pretty amusing parody.
  • Scott Kirsner has a short discussion of the potential for using YouTube and B-Side Entertainment to sell video shorts. I mention Kirsner’s comments mostly because he points to Jack Truman’s disturbingly funny short film, “Phone Sex Grandma,” available on YouTube, which features a 60-something year old southern woman working a phone sex line. Language is very not safe for most workplaces, but it’s an incredibly provocative little film.
  • In other news, I’ve generally managed to keep up with my jogging routine this spring, which is nice. The unseasonably warm weather here is probably helping, so I’m still managing to squeeze in four runs of about 4-5 miles a week. Still hoping to run a couple of longer races this summer, although I may not have time to train for a full marathon.

Update: MissLaura over at DailyKos has a thorough analysis of the WGA deal as it stands right now.  I’ll try to do a closer reading of these issues later, if time permits.

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“Diversity Training”

Via GreenCine, Joshua Alston’s Newsweek article on Hollywood depictions of non-white and female presidents.   Alston focuses primarily on Dennis Haysbert’s recurring role as David Palmer in 24 and Geena Davis’s role as Mackenzie Allen in Commander in Chief.  In general, an interesting analysis with some references to much earlier examples such as James Earl Jones in The Man (1972) and Polly Bergen in Kisses for my President (1964).   Key quote:

Now that the candidacies of Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama are forcing us to examine feelings about race, gender and power, there’s much insight to be gained from studying their fictional ancestors. After all, the part of the president of the United States is one of the few that could always be cast as a white male, so any time a woman or a person of color has been put into that role, it was done purposefully. How have our depictions of black and female presidents reflected our feelings about having one? How do they shape our current opinions and comfort levels? And should Obama or Clinton ascend to the presidency, how will the depictions change once we’ve gone from “what if” to “what now?”

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This is What Voting Looks Like

Just found out about what looks like an incredibly timely documentary on how the United States conducts elections, Katy Chevigny’s Election Day: The Movie (IMDB). The documentary bills itself as an “experiment in cinema verite” that “follows an eclectic group of voters over one day, namely Election Day 2004, from the early morning until well after midnight.” The trailer–available on the official website–features shots of poll workers and poll monitors, as well as volunteers who drive voters to their polling stations and ex-felons exercising their right to vote for the first time. As Chevigny’s director’s commentary suggests, this kind of shoot, which involved coordinating multiple camera crews in cities and towns across the US, represented a unique challenge, and I’ll be curious to see how they execute it.

Election Day sounds like a fascinating project, and it looks like precisely the kind of documentary that can spur conversation about the voting process. As the last few elections have provoked citizens to rethink the entire election process–from electronic voting to early voting and the primary schedule itself–these issues seem incredibly urgent. The movie, which is currently playing at festivals, including the upcoming Oxford, MS, Film Festival in March, already appears to be cultivating a strong web presence, with Facebook and MySpace pages, as well as a news blog (although I’d encourage them to open up the blog for comments) and a page for tips on how to get involved in election issues.

For a variety of reasons, I’ve had the issue of how documentary can benefit from social networking on my mind quite a bit lately and have in the past expressed interest in demystifying the voting process, but more than anything, I just wanted to make sure the film stays on my radar as the election process unfolds.

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Yes We Can Remix

Just a quick pointer to that remix of Barack Obama’s New Hampshire primary speech by will.i.am of the Black Eye Peas and Jesse Dylan and featuring a number of celebrities ranging from Herbie Hancock and Kareem Abdul Jabaar to Scarlett Johanson. According to the ABC News story on the video, will.i.am and Dylan did not coordinate the production or release of the video with the Obama campaign, but it’s pretty clearly a labor of love that highlights Obama’s campaign themes of empowerment and change.

Garance Franke-Ruta also comments on the video.

Update: Will.i.am writes on the Huffington Post about his reasons for making the video.

Update 2: I’m no longer sure where I found it, but someone pointed out this follow-up video, “Fired Up, Ready to Go,” featuring the Total Experience Gospel Choir (and Pearl Jam’s drummer to keep the celebrity-spotting going). Also worth noting, Michael has some interesting comments on the intersections between celebrity and politics in this election, as well as a discussion of the degree to which the concept of change has been emptied of all meaning in this campaign. Given the degree to which the word has been appropriated–however successfully–by all of the surviving candidates, I am inclined to agree.

Update 3: Then again, to be clear, I do think that the meanings that Obama has attached to his version of “change” are unlike those of other candidates. That is, there’s a reason we believe Obama when we talk about “change” or at least want to believe him. While I’m updating, here’s a link to Michael Chabon’s eloquently argued editorial explaining why he’s voting for Obama and a similar editorial by Erica Jong on why she’s voting for Clinton. Meanwhile James Wolcott points to Susan Faludi’s critical review of Thirty Ways of Looking at Hillary. Both Wolcott and Faludi ask a useful question about why so many people–educated women, in particular, in their case–express so much negativity towards Hillary and why that rancor seems so deeply personal. It’s an important question, and I think it speaks to some of the problems expressed in Gloria Steinem’s NYT editorial from a few weeks ago arguing that “women can never be front-runners” (I’m too lazy to link it, but you can find it). I may try to revisit some of these issues in a longer post, but I have some non-bloggy writing to get done today.

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Best Friends Forever

Or at least until the next debate or Super Tuesday, whichever comes first. By the folks at the Daily Mahaolo: “Democratic Debate 2008 Hillary and Obama Lovefest.”

Update: Meanwhile ObamaGirl gets super powers, punches out ’70s icon (and Huckabee supporter) Chuck Norris, and makes the front page of Newsweek.com.

And the folks at Brave New Films, following a “casting tip” from Arianna Huffington, illustrate that John McCain is channeling Dr. Strangelove’s Buck Turgidson.

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Advocacy Documentary and Public Media

Pat Aufderheide has a thought-provoking blog post on the place of advocacy documentaries within the public sphere. Writing about a number of activist films that played at this year’s Sundance Film Festival, including Patrick Creadon’s I.O.U.S.A, Irena Salina’s Flow: For the Love of Water, Josh Tickell’s Fields of Fuel, and Susan Koch’s Kicking It, Aufderheide points out that many of these films raise more questions than they answer. While I haven’t seen these specific films, I’ve been thinking about the role of activist documentary in a 2.0 culture for some time (although not in a terribly systematic way), and like her, I’d like to see how social networking technologies can be deployed to provide the “context” and “vetting” that is normally associated with what Aufderheide calls “public media.”

Some of my initial reservations about activist documentary were somewhat clumsily articulated in a blog post on Ted Leonsis’s concept of “filmanthropy,” which I wrote in response to a Washington Post article on the topic. While I expressed enthusiasm for Leonsis’s commitment to supporting politically relevant films, the philanthropy model left me feeling a little skeptical because of what seemed at the time like a top-down approach (you raise the money…you help people to understand an important issue), but I don’t believe at all that the filmanthropy model necessarily excludes the kinds of informed, public debate that Aufderheide is calling for. At the time, I compared Leonsis’s concept of filmanthropy to Jeffrey Skoll’s more explicitly “2.0″ approach, Participant Productions, which emphasized the use of social networking technologies in order to create more engaged and politically active audiences (and which was also profiled in the Post). A third model of what might be called a “networked documentary public” (after my own concept of networked film publics) might also be Robert Greenwald’s expansive Brave New Films, which has increasingly migrated online through the use of short web videos. And, of course, the increasing number of documentary bloggers, including PBS’s POV blog is a testament to the desire for more public debate not only about documentary but also about the social and political issues addressed in documentary films.

The combination of social networking and activist documentaries certainly opens up a number of possibilities for producing an informed discussion of important social and political issues, although I think it is important to take note of the ways in which websites structure those debates. Sites such as Brave New Films, for example, provide valuable opportunities for partisan and monitorial citizenship but may not fulfill the need for the kinds of “vetting and legitimation” associated with public media. Of the films she discusses, Aufderheide singles out Flow: For the Love of Water as making some effort towards building an activist community around the issue of water policy through social networking technologies. There are a number of intriguing possibilities here for a networked documentary public to provide an important hub for these kinds of discussions, and like Aufderheide, I hope that these documentaries take advantage of that.

Update: I should also mention that I discussed these issues at some length in my review of Aufderheide’s book a few weeks ago.

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