Archive for June, 2008

Are Gas Prices Driving the Box Office Boomlet?

One of the chapters in my book addresses the myth that fewer people are going to the movies. In fact, attendance has been relatively stable for the last few years, and with the exception of 2005, domestic grosses have increased steadily if incrementally for some time. This doesn’t mean that all sectors of film production are doing equally well, and in fact, the indie film market is in crisis mode, as Mark Gill and others have discussed. So far there are some conflicting numbers about 2008. John Horn of the LA Times sees a slight decrease in attendance in 2008 (paired with a narrow increase in total grosses), but he also points out that summer totals are actually slightly higher than last year.

Significantly, a number of people are citing high gas prices as a reason for the unexpectedly high box office totals this year. Anne Thompson sees higher gas prices as part of a “perfect storm” driving people back into theaters [pardon the unintentional pun]. But Paul Dergarabedian also cites high gas prices as a factor in the box office success of Get Smart last week in this LA Times article. I think there’s probably some truth to that speculation, especially given that families may be cutting back on vacations, although I’d imagine that in my case, gas prices have actually depressed my moviegoing habit. That and the fact that I’d have to drive an hour up to Raleigh to see anything that doesn’t have a fast-food tie-in.

Obviously I’m not convinced that gas prices are the primary factor here, but I’ve been intrigued to see that issue mentioned by a number of observers.

Update: While this Time article doesn’t directly make the correlation between gas prices and box office, it more or less predicts that box office would be higher than expected this summer, as does this MSNBC article from March. It’s worth noting, of course, that both publications belong to media conglomerates that also make movies. The Morning Call also has an article citing Dergarabedian on this connection.

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Wednesday Links

Still devoting most of my energy this week to the book. I did catch Errol Morris’s latest documentary, Standard Operating Procedure, the other day and wish I had time to write in further detail about it. I think SOP may have gotten a little lost in the backlash against Iraq War docs, but it really is one of the most compelling, if unsettling, films I’ve seen in some time. A number of critics, including J. Hoberman, have argued that Morris abdicates the ethical in favor of the epistemological in his investigation of the Abu Ghraib photographs, but I think that what Morris is actually doing is investigating how our understanding of the nature photography unsettles the grounds by which we make ethical judgments. I don’t think that Morris is “letting the torturers off easily” here so much as asking why certain forms of (visible) violence are punished while others are not.

Meanwhile here are a few links:

  • The Chronicle has a short article about “YouTube star” Michael Wesch, an anthropolgy professor at Kansas State University.  I’ve written about two of Wesch’s videos, both of which very clearly tapped into the internet zeitgeist, but this time, I’m more interested in his claim that viral videos will affect politics and may have even affected the 2008 Democratic primaries. It’s an interesting argument, and while I’m generally inclined to agree, especially if we take into account the most recent Pew study on the internet and the 2008 election, I think the dialectical interplay with TV is still crucial.
  • Patrick Goldstein of the LA Times has a blog entry on Boogie Man: The Lee Atwater Story.  Atwater is, of course, one of the most successful and flamboyant political operatives of all-time, and the film’s trailer suggests that Atwater’s story is told with quite a bit of energy and style.  Boogie Man is one of the films I most regret skipping at this year’s Full Frame Fest, but I’m glad to see that it’s starting to find an audience.  Worth noting: A.J. has a post on an article by Jeffrey Ressner of Politico, arguing that he may be trying to manufacture some drama over the film’s political perspective.
  • Goldstein also has a discussion of the potential effects of a Screen Actors Guild strike, noting that of the 17 films currently in the pipeline for production that might get shut down by a strike, all of them are essentially high-concept  blockbusters.  Kind of depressing for those of us who’d like to see films made for adults.
  • Finally, it appears that I will soon be prepping for my own fifteen minutes of fame.  Sujewa will be stopping through town in a few weeks to interview me for his documentary on indie film bloggers.  Should be a lot of fun.

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George Carlin, RIP

Just a short post to commemorate one of my favorite stand-up comedians of all time. I always appreciated Carlin’s often brilliant and subversively funny meditations on language and his righteous anger at an often corrupt system (his rant against golf courses from 1992’s Jammin’ in New York has always been a personal fave). He may be best remembered for his “Seven Words You Can Never Say on Television” (audio NSFW, as you might imagine), which famously led to an FCC fine against New York radio station WBAI, which broadcast the performance. The Supreme Court upheld the fine, and those words are still banned from broadcast television to this day. But that only reflects his status as an important cultural and political critic who questioned norms and regulations, often in a very funny way. Carlin was also an important part of my own personal development. I can’t remember how many times I watched Jammin’ in New York with friends during my senior year of college, in part because Carlin was asking some questions that I needed to hear.

Update: See McChris’s comments below for a clarification on the precise status of the “seven dirty words.”  Also check out John Nichols’ Carlin tribute in The Nation, which helps to clarify Carlin’s contributions to American political discourse, even if Carlin himself refrained from voting after 1972.

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More Political Videos

I’ve fallen way behind on writing about political videos this month, in part because of other professional obligations, but also because much of the campaign coverage towards the end of the Democratic primary had left me feeling cold. At any rate, there are a couple of videos that I should have blogged sooner, especially since at least two people sent me a pointer to one of the videos, and the coincidence that Liz Losh blogged both of them gave me an excuse to take a closer look.

The first video, “Hillary Clinton: Mad as Hell,” is one of the powerful indictments I’ve seen of the use of misogynistic language by mainstream pundits in their coverage of the Clinton campaign. The video opens with an extended montage of some of the worst excesses of these pundits punctuated by the “Mad as Hell” scene from Sidney Lumet’s Network, and the video’s creators, Shut the Freud Up, masterfully play Keith Olbermann’s appropriation of Edward R. Murrow’s “good night and good luck” against him by contrasting one of Olbermann’s more problematic special comments with Murrow’s speech after accepting an award from the Radio Television News Directors Association (as re-enacted in Good Night and Good Luck). The video then transitions into a montage of shots of Hillary Clinton to the tune of the Meredith Brooks song, “Bitch,” in which Brooks essentially seeks to reclaim that term from its negative connotations. The images of Clinton range from shots of Hillary with her family to images of her on the campaign trail, but they all serve to remind us of the reductive–and certainly sexist–depictions of Clinton throughout the campaign. As Liz points out, there is clearly a lot of anger here (understandably so), but what makes the video work for me is the masterful, and often subversively humorous, interweaving of popular and political culture in order to make the larger point about the continued problems with cable news coverage of the 2008 election. I’ll only mention in passing that we are now seeing some of the same problems reasserting themselves in the recent depictions of Michelle Obama, particularly the references to her as Barack’s “baby mama.”

Liz also points to Synthetic Human Pictures’ (SHP) amazingly funny “I’m Voting Republican,” which depicts actors offering satirical testimonies as to why they are planning to vote Republican.  A couple walking out of a Wal-Mart talks about the difficulties presented in shopping at locally-owned stores, adding “and…we just love buying cheap plastic crap from China.”  Others happily describe the overcrowded classrooms their children gain from underfunded schools or the benefits of taking untested drugs.  The video is reminiscent of some of the videos made by the satirical newspaper/website, The Onion, and the political edge, while softened through humor is undeniable.  As Liz points out, SHP is a Phoenix-based group, and they now have about a half dozen videos on their website.  In talking about these start-up video production companies, there is a bit of a habit of reading them via narratives of discovery or nascent stardom,  as we saw in a recent New York Magazine article on microcelebrity, and while I’m happy for SHP to achieve as much success as possible with their videos, I’m more interested in the video rhetorically, in its ability to mock the campaign ad form while reminding us of the harmful effects of many conservative policies (one of my personal faves: “The EPA is an outmoded idea….if people want clean water, buy it in a bottle”).

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More Thursday Links

A little burnout today, so I’ve been surfing instead:

  • Via Matt Yglesias, a great little satire video about gay marriage by Oded Gross. I haven’t said much about the gay marriage ruling in California, but like Matt, I think it’s great that California’s gays and lesbians are finally getting the justice they deserve. His secondary point about family instability exacerbating some of our contemporary social problems is also worth thinking about. I don’t see gay marriage playing the same role that it did in 2004–there simply aren’t many states where gay marriage amendments could be use to drive up the vote–but the video nicely sends up the panic over the gay marriage issue.
  • Speaking of political satire, I belatedly came across the really fantastic blog Political Irony, which is a great resource for tracking political humor on the web, on television, and in print.
  • Chicago Tribune columnist Steven Johnson writes about Nicholas Carr’s Atlantic Monthly article asking whether Google is “making us stupid.” I’ve only skimmed Carr’s article–which more or less illustrates his point–but essentially he’s asking how search engines may be shaping research and reading habits. Carr’s argument reminds me quite a bit of Mark Bauerlein’s claims about the decline of reading in The Dumbest Generation.  Interesting–if troubling–stuff.  I’ll try to write something more substantive about both later tonight.

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Thursday Links

Looking up from working on the book just long enough to point to a few links:

  • In case you need yet another issue to inform your voting decision in the fall, I’ll quickly point out that whoever gets elected in November will have the opportunity to make appointments to the Federal Communications Commission. Media policy has been a relatively minor focus of the election (which is understandable given the state of the economy). But under George W. Bush’s appointments, Michael Powell and Kevin Martin, we have seen attempts to allow radical media consolidation, which would have seriously reduced the diversity of voices in the mainstream media, and more recently, the decision to allow the Sirius-XM merger to take place, which would essentially create a satellite radio monopoly. Rob Pegoraro of the Washington Post explains why this merger is a really bad idea.
  • Pat Aufderheide profiles the new season of programming on the PBS series P.O.V. for In These Times. As she points out, P.O.V.’s schedule illustrates the vital need for vibrant public media. Her article also provides some useful background on the history of public broadcasting in the United States. I’ve already had the chance to watch Traces of the Trade and Election Day, and both films are well worth checking out.
  • Speaking of PBS, their MediaShift blog has an interview with Charles Lewis about the state of investigative journalism in the era of media convergence. While Lewis recognizes a number of the problems, the focus of the interview is on his attempts to remedy these problems, including his plans to launch the Investigative Journalism Workshop at American University where he is a professor.
  • Finally, New York Magazine has a story on the role of the web in fostering new forms of microcelebrity. Many of the usual suspects are profiled.

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A.P. and Fair Use II

In my previous links entry, I mentioned the widely reported news that the Associated Press is seeking to restrict the use of their stories in ways that would violate fair use provisions of copyright law.  As a number of observers have pointed out, the citations of AP stories are not mere excerpts but also include some form of commentary on the articles, and as I mentioned before, this could prove to be an interesting test of fair use, so for now, I’m trying to round up a number of bloggers and media critics who have been commenting on the story.  Here are a few others worth checking out:

  • David Ardia at PBS’s MediaShift Idea Lab has a great overview, pointing out that the AP initially claimed that the Drudge Retort’s activities qualified as a “hot news” misappropriation, but as Ardia points out, to support such a charge, the AP would have to show that the Drudge Retort is a direct competitor with the AP.  Ardia points out that the AP seems to be backing down from this particular claim, however.
  • Jeff Jarvis makes the argument–similar to my own, albeit in much stronger language–that the AP’s argument ignores the essential link economy of the blogosphere, adding that the AP “is declaring war on blogs and commenters” (savvy readers will note that I have just engaged in that practice).
  • Just for a little background, here’s the original AP request that the Drudge Retort take down AP content and an Editor and Publisher story on the AP’s plans to outline a policy on the use of AP content by bloggers.  The potential good news is that the AP will work with the Media Bloggers Association on drafting these policies (although Kos is a little more skeptical about this meeting than I am, perhaps with good reason, given that there is so little to discuss).
  • Finally Matthew Ingram of the Toronto Globe and Mail has a pretty good overview of why bloggers are on the right side of copyright law here.

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Monday Night Links

Still recovering from the DC trip and an unusually difficult run tonight (Fayetteville’s temperature and humidity were through the roof tonight), but here’s the latest from some of my recent blog surfing:

  • The Associated Press took the unusual step of asking the Drudge Retort, a lefty parody of the Drudge Report, to remove quotations taken from several AP stories. The quotations ranged from 39 to 79 words, and it’s not quite clear from the article whether the Drudge parody site attributed the article summaries to the A.P., but if the citation was given, then this seems well within their fair use rights. The blogosphere thrives on commentary and so such a stance would seem to be extraordinarily excessive. No matter what, if this debate moves forward, it’ll be an interesting test of the boundaries for fair use (via Daily Kos).
  • A couple of Twitter friends recommended this New Yorker profile of Keith Olbermann, and it is, in fact, well worth reading. I’ve mentioned several times that Olbermann has been one of my favorite news anchors during the 2008 election coverage, and the New Yorker piece provides a good warts-and-all portrait of how KO’s status at MSNBC has evolved over the last couple of years.
  • This story is a few days old, but this Washington Post article on the role of political satire in the 2008 election is also worth a read. Worth noting: the Post article features a discussion of whether political satire can affect the election, a question that is, of course, pretty difficult to answer. The article also addresses the effect of many people getting their news from “fake” newscasts such as Saturday Night Live’s “Weekend Update” and The Daily Show.
  • I haven’t had time to listen t it yet, but this round table discussion of the future of the FCC, sponsored by the Federalist Society, sounds interesting. Panelists include Michael Powell and Reed Hundt.

Update: Patrick at Making Light has a more thorough analysis of the A.P. attempts to preemptively disable fair use, and it’s somewhat worse than I originally implied. Essentially the A.P. wants you to pay for the quotation of as few as five words (and that includes educational and non-profit uses), which would potentially limit scholarly uses of A.P. stories or pretty much any discussion of an A.P. story, for that matter. Patrick also points out that they also stipulate that you cannot use quotations from A.P. stories to criticize A.P. reporting, even if you’ve paid them, as they explain in their Terms of Use (via Atrios). It was already pretty clear that the A.P. was dead wrong on this issue, but I don’t think I realized how ridiculous their position is on this issue until now.

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Incredible McCain Girl

McCain Girl angry.  McCain Girl smash.  I’m way late to the party on Barely Political’s McCain Girl-Incredible Hulk parody, but it is pretty funny, if a little tasteless (and I’m more or less a completist when it comes to collecting these things).  I laughed at least twice, and the BPers do a great job of satirizing McCain’s notorious temper and his inconsistency on the war in Iraq.  The tie-in to the new Hulk movie works pretty well, too.

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“The First Rough Draft of History”

The brand new Newseum, recently opened on Pennsylvania Avenue just blocks from the nation’s Capitol building, offers a soaring celebration of the role of journalism in documenting history as it happens, in providing that “first rough draft of history” described by Philip Graham. The building’s six-story atrium and towering walls of screens offered a welcome entrance to the museum, and the collections and exhibits provide a useful balance between the significant historical events covered by journalists and the technologies and institutions that have shaped journalism–and history itself–over the years. But like Howard Kurtz, I felt in places that the Newseum risked offering a history of print and TV journalism that was too celebratory, and in places, the museum seemed to underplay some of the real threats to print journalism as it is currently practiced.

There are, of course, some indispensable artifacts from the history of journalism: original copies of historic newspapers, including those published by U.S. pioneers Ben Franklin and John Peter Zenger, who took enormous risks in criticizing the British government. There are also copies of Freedom’s Journal, the first African-American newspaper, as well as newspapers featuring headlines from any number of important historic events. These newspapers are valuable for visually conveying the ways in which the look of newspapers themselves have changed. Other artifacts help to ground the history of journalism even further. The door discovered by the Watergate security guard that led to the investigation of the break-in is there, as is a large chunk of the Berlin Wall and one of the mangled antennae from the World Trade Center. Both of these objects are contextualized nicely with features such as reprints of newspaper headlines from around the globe and documentaries about reporters–both national and local–who sought to make sense of what was happening.

But as a media historian, I was taken more by things such as old telegraph machines and the old intercom CNN used to broadcast from Iraq during the 1991 Gulf War (depicted in the underrated HBO film, Live from Baghdad), as well as one of the earliest TV broadcasts reporting on the existence of the Internet from back in 1975, which characterized the technology almost entirely as fostering a destruction of personal privacy. And the Newseum has some other quirky touches as well, including a replica of Stephen Colbert’s “On Notice” board and “Truthiness” script. In that sense, there is a lot of cool stuff here, enough to keep me engaged for several hours and still feel like I hadn’t exhausted the entire museum, which is probably a good thing, given their somewhat steep $20 admission price.

The scope of the museum is, itself, a little overwhelming.  With all of the banks of TV sets and giant screens, I often felt as if I was walking around inside of a Nam June Paik sculpture, and the giant 93-foot screen sometimes risked turning the news or history itself into a giant music video.  The interactive elements are interesting and amusing enough, although I found their pedagogical role problematic in places.  A display describing the relative “media freedom” in various countries was incredibly informative.  The “media ethics” game reduces most ethical questions to either-or choices (help the starving Sudanese girl or photograph her) that may, in fact, be more complicated.  In this sense, these features may romanticize the individual journalist while ignoring the role of corporate or state support in shaping what news actually makes it onto TV or into print.  That being said, one of the screens provided space for a tribute to Tim Russert, who passed away this weekend, and the video provided a moving honor to Russert’s contagious enthusiasm for using his seat on Meet the Press to represent the “little guy” in the face of political power.

Still, I felt that the museum was not attentive enough to some of the profound ethical dilemmas facing journalism today (or, in some cases, in the distant past).  There is one glass display case documenting examples of journalistic frauds such as Stephen Glass and Jayson Blair, as well as Judith Miller, whose reporting on WMD for the New York Times helped provide justification for the war in Iraq (interestingly, there was no mention that I noticed of the Knight-Ridder reporters who were among the most-prominent skeptics of the prewar intelligence).  In addition, while the Newseum had quite a bit of coverage of the emergence of bloggers and other grassroots journalists, including the Rathergate scandal and the amateur footage of the Virginia Tech shootings, there was little analysis of such significant changes as media consolidation or of the ways in which many newsrooms are now cutting back staffs, which seriously threatens the role of the news media in serving as a “fourth estate.”

My reservations about the Newseum might not seem entirely fair.  Rachel Sklar, for example, argues that we wouldn’t expect an art museum to include copies of forgeries, so why expect the Newseum to offer a more critical take on the history of journalism?  But I think this is a false comparison: while art museums have the responsibility of articulating a canon of great art, the Newseum is tasked with providing a historical narrative, in this case of journalism as practice and as an institution, and while I appreciate the celebrations of so many journalists who took tremendous risks to bring us the news, I would have appreciated a slightly more critical take on this history.

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Bunker Hill

During my quick visit to DC this weekend, I had the chance to catch the world premiere of Kevin Willmott’s thought-provoking new film, Bunker Hill (IMDB), which depicts the reactions of the residents of Bunker Hill, a small town in Kansas, after a mysterious event suddenly shuts down the town’s electricity, including all communications technologies. Mixing contemporary, and highly resonant, political issues with the dramatic force of film genres such as the western and the post-apocalyptic thriller, Bunker Hill challenges viewers to think about how we might react if the country was faced with another terrorist attack.

Bunker Hill initially focuses on the personal conflict between Peter Salem (James McDaniel) and Hallie (Laura Kirk), who had been married before Salem spent some time in prison for insider trading. We also learn that Salem had been working for a company based in the World Trade Center when it was attacked. Willmott, whose previous film was the fascinating mock documentary C.S.A.: The Confederate States of America, allows their story to build gradually, introducing us to the couple’s complex history before setting in motion the terrorism plot. After their separation, Hallie relocated to her hometown in Kansas, settling down with Johnny, one of the town’s wealthier businessmen. Other tensions in the town are introduced when Delmar–Johnny’s brother–harasses the Pakistani owner of the town’s gas station, Mr. Farook (Saeed Jaffrey) and his son.

The event itself is introduced quietly. There are no audible or visible explosions. There’s nothing to specifically indicate that an attack has taken place. Everything simply stops working, leaving the isolated town searching for explanations. Despite the best intentions of the town’s one police officer, their fears are only multiplied when the townspeople gather at the local church to figure out what happened and how best to respond. Some of the locals seize upon a very loose interpretation of the Posse Comitatus Act in order to provide “security” for the town. These activities do include providing food and water for locals, but they also include unlawful–and highly dubious–searches of people’s homes in order to protect the community, recalling some of the more restrictive elements of the Patriot Act .

These feelings of paranoia are only reinforced by Bunker Hill’s inability to communicate with the outside world after the event. No telephone calls. No radio or television. No internet. And when a local youth attempts to travel to the next town to find out what might have happened, the town’s worst fears are confirmed when his horse shows up in town, but he fails to return. These fears are only amplified in the town meeting when the police officer reads instructions from a homeland security tract. While the recommended actions–keeping a supply of water and food, duct taping plastic over windows, wearing masks to filter potentially toxic fumes–may sound banal enough, in actual practice, they reflect the post-9/11 cocooning and enforced isolation that can only breed further mistrust of outsiders.

This fear and paranoia becomes directed at the small band of people who are marked as outsiders, whether due to ethnicity or sexuality, who are ultimately forced to join together against the angry, fearful mob that develops under the leadership of Johnny and Delmar. And the conflict between these two groups plays out through Willmott’s keen use of genre elements, including a shootout between Delmar’s posse and Peter, Mr. Farook, and friends. While Willmott focuses on the small town of Bunker Hill, Kansas, the film itself clearly raises a number of questions about how willing we are to sacrifice civil liberties in the age of terrorism (and the film provoked an incredibly lively–and even heated–debate at the ACLU-sponsored screening I attended). As Willmott told me in a conversation, before the film, his goal is to produce films that will engender discussion afterwards. After all, he reasons, what’s the point of watching a movie for two hours if you can’t talk about it afterwards? The film itself has a relatively clear answer to many of the questions it raises about the curtailment of civil rights, but it still leaves open the possibility for conversation and discussion about issues that will continue to be pertinent in the months ahead as we choose the next president in the upcoming election.

If I’ve made the film sound overly pedantic, that’s not my intention. While Bunker Hill clearly relishes engaging in ideas, it’s also highly entertaining and suspenseful. Willmott offers an intriguing balance between politics and art, never afraid to ask some tough questions while remaining attentive to the challenges of telling a good story.

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Election Day

With the 2008 election fast approaching, debates about who will be our next president are driving the news cycles on all of the major networks.  Breathless pundits opine about Barack Obama’s foreign policy bona fides or John McCain’s wartime experience.  But far less attention is directed towards the actual voting process itself, as it happens on election day.  For this reason, back in 2004 I sought to coordinate voting narratives on my blog (mine turned out to be quite an adventure), but the effort was only half-hearted and once Kerry lost, I immediately became so disillusioned that I found myself retreating away from politics for a while.  That being said, I think there is tremendous value in making the process of voting as transparent as possible, especially given the degree to which voting has historically been a contested process.  And that’s where Katy Chevigny’s observational documentary, Election Day (IMDB) a mosaic of voters, poll workers, and activists, provides a valuable glimpse of the activity of voting in America.

The film itself, which will appear on P.O.V. in a few weeks, is an incredibly ambitious undertaking: Chevigny coordinated fourteen crews working all across the country as they followed different people over the course of Election Day 2004.  We are introduced to Jim Fuchs, a Republican activist and poll monitor who starts the morning at 4 AM with a group of bleary-eyed activists, instructing them on what kinds of irregularities they should be prepared to address.  We meet Rashida Tlaib, of Dearborn, Michigan, who works to get other Muslims in her neighborhood to vote.  And we see different groups of people in Quincy, Florida, organizing vans to provide people with rides to their voting centers.  And we are provided with one outside observer: a monitor from Australia, who is tasked with the process of watching a polling center in Saint Louis.

What we see is a fascinating study in contrasts between different polling precincts.  Predominantly black polling centers tend to have much longer lines.  A number of voters are given confusing information about the precinct where they ought to be voting.  And it’s impossible not to recognize the contrast when a woman in a white suburban district blithely characterizes voting as a “privilege,” while an African-American woman is forced to assert, “my right is to be able to vote,” adding that a number of voters, discouraged by the long lines, had given up, their votes never counted, their voices never heard.  Later we see a reformed felon who is, for the first time after serving a prison term, casting a vote for president.

All of these stories raise questions about how elections should be conducted, and while the film offers few direct answers, it’s clear that the voting process could be made easier and more transparent.  In Wisconsin, one eighteen year-old woman registers and votes on the same day, raising questions about why same-day registration isn’t a nationwide standard.  When we watch an ex-felon vote for the first time, we see the reverence and awe with which he casts his ballot, raising questions about why more ex-felons aren’t given this right when they’ve served their sentence.  When I saw a couple juggling alternate shifts at a glass factory, taking care of their children, and talking time out to vote, I couldn’t help but ask why we don’t devote a national holiday to voting, allowing more people to participate.  In fact, it’s difficult to watch this film and not think about recent policies that seem designed to restrict access to voting, particularly the photo ID requirements that have prevented a number of people, most often senior citizens and racial minorities, from being able to vote.

Given the expansive focus of the film and the number of film crews who participated, Chevigny’s film holds together remarkably well.  Election Day generally eschews talking-heads interviews and is content, instead, to observe the activity of voting as it happens across the country in a variety of locations with a wide range of participants.

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Black Dynamite Meets Barack Obama

The latest soon-to-be viral political video, in which 70s blaxploitation star Black Dynamite gives young Barack Obama some presidential advice.  Available on YouTube or the official Black Dynamite website.

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Election Day in Durham

Just noticed that Katy Chevigny’s Election Day will be screening at Duke University’s Center for Documentary Studies on Monday, June 16 at 7 PM.  I just watched Election Day, which follows around a dozen U.S. voters, poll workers, and poll monitors, over the course of several hours on Election Day 2004.  I’m working on a blog review now, but I’ll go ahead and mention now that it’s an impressive film, especially in Chevigny’s ability to concisely tell so many stories about the ways in wich elections are conducted here in the U.S.  Chevigny will be present at the screening, and there will be a Q&A afterwards.

If you miss Election Day in Durham, it will be airing, I believe on July 1, on PBS’s P.O.V.   More later.

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Two New Film Resources

This has been an exciting week for digital cinema.  First, the Tribeca Film Institute and Renew Media launched Reframe, a portal that helps users locate and purchase obscure or hard-to-find movie titles.  As Agnes points out, the goal of Reframe is to “aggregate and make available content that now isn’t due to high cost of digitization.” Because digitization costs are so high, many distributors avoid converting films that appear unlikely to make a profit, and so this new initiative is a good way to provide filmmakers with an additional means of making money while taking on some of the challenges of preserving movies that might otherwise fade into obscurity.

Another cool aspect of the Reframe site is its orientation towards community-building.  As Agnes (again) points out, one of the real strengths of the site is the collection of curated lists compiled by filmmakers, critics, and scholars.  And I’d say that even if I wasn’t invited to contribute a list.  My list, titled “Interrogating Documentary” looks at a number of films that test the limits of what counts as documentary (Ross McElwee’s Sherman’s March, for example) or ostensibly fictional films that incorporate documentary elements (Haskell Wexler’s Medium Cool).  We were limited to films available on Amazon, so there were a couple of films that I liked that I couldn’t include here.  But other curated lists worth checking out include Charles Warren’s “Creative Nonfiction” list, Agnes’s “Hybrid Documentary” list, and all of Pamela Cohn’s lists.  This looks like a great resource for filmmakers, scholars, and fans alike.  For more details on Reframe, this New York Times article is a good place to start.

The second resource, Moving Image Source, comes from the Museum of the Moving Image and offers a lot of cool features, including original articles by critics and scholars (headed up Dennis Lim, former film editor of The Village Voice), a calendar of major film festivals and events, and most importantly for my purposes, a guide to online research resources.  The guide does a number of things well, allowing searches to distinguish between peer-reviewed and non-reviewed journals, to name one example.  I haven’t had as much time to check out Moving Image Source, but it looks like a nice complement to the growing number of resources out there for learning about film online.

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