Monday, January 31, 2011


I am sad that not everybody got to see the movie that I am presenting on!  Here is a link to there website .  I hope that everyone takes a moment to go and look around (the trailer is there, as well as a lot of the information that they presented in the movie).   There is going to be a screening in Salt Lake on February 22 and I know that various people are working to get a screening here on campus, so keep your eyes open for more information!

The most common complaint I heard about the movie was that it didn't add anything to the discussion on women and media.  When she presented the film, Geralyn Dreyfous, the producer, said that she saw "Miss Representation" picking up where "Killing Us Softly" (1979) left off.  This is the response that I posted on Facebook when someone expressed this too me:

I totally know what you are saying. As we were watching it, I kind of was just nodding and saying, "Yeah, I know that." I think that why I appreciated it so much is knowing that I am not the intended audience. The movie displayed exactly what we study, so while we are looking at it saying, "Um, well, yeah!" The people who she made the movie for ("the unwashed masses" if you will ;)) are seeing, possibly for the first time, the far spread affects these images have. This is a timely and necessary advocacy for educated viewership, something that has definitely changed since "Killing Us Softly" was first released in 1979.
The only real complaint that I have with this movie (so far) is their inclusion of Catherine Hardewicke (Director of "Thirteen" and "Twilight").  They then stressed the importance of supporting female directors. This is great.  I do believe that it is important to support women (only 7% directors working in the United States are women) BUT we should not kid ourselves into thinking that this means their representations of women are going to be positive (Catherine Hardwicke choosing to engage the depiction of Bella in "Twilight" being a perfect example).

Formal Elements to Illicit an Emotional Response.

I'm having a bit of a struggle in regards to preparing my presentation. I am presenting on Crime After Crime and I am having a really hard time focusing on the form of the film & on being analytical about it. The reason I am having such a rough go is I was weeping (not crying, weeping) through nearly all of it. Ask Rob. He was sitting right next to me and he can tell you I was an emotional wreck. I had no idea that the film would upset me so much. The film wasn't even half-way through when I stopped taking notes, stopped trying to remain an unemotional, objective viewer, and let myself be drawn into the story completely.

I was talking to Rob about this problem of how I'm going to talk about the film given how I was weeping through the entire thing when he suggested I try to figure out what elements in the film caused me to have such an emotional response. What formal decisions were made that caused me to become so upset? I really like this idea (thank you several million times, Rob) and I wanted to ask the rest of you your opinion on the matter.

Thoughts in Ten Words or Less

1. If a Tree Falls--Powerful, well-rounded, unbiased human interest story that was surprisingly engaging.

2. Sing Your Song--Interesting, revealing biopic that failed to show any negativity.

3. The Black Power Mix Tape-- Had two interesting parts but overall uninspiring.

4. Redemption of General Butt Naked-- Huge disappointment. Perfect example of the camera changing reality.

5. Miss Representation--Enthralling & engaging. Director's "story" was annoying & distracting.

6. Crime After Crime--Amazing. Emotional. Frustrating. Wept through nearly all of it.

7. Rebirth--Surprisingly touching & moving. Human interest stories made it beautiful.

8. Beats, Rhymes & Life

9. The Flaw

10. Connected: An Autobiography about love...---Irritating. Too many thrown-out ideas. Not enough exploration.

11. The Interrupters--Surprisingly engaging. Simultaneously touching and humorous.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Submit your homework! Rest your eyes and brains!

For each film below (that you saw) write at least five and no more than ten words that best describe the film. Just do it, without/before looking at what others said. Then, we can try mapping the connections between the films using one of those wordle-type programs. This is your homework for the week (not too strenuous)—due by Friday, on the blog.

1. If a Tree Falls

2. Sing Your Song

3. The Black Power Mix Tape

4. Redemption of General Butt Naked

5. Miss Representation

6. Crime After Crime

7. Rebirth

8. Beats, Rhymes & Life

9. The Flaw

10. Connected: An Autobiography about love...

11. The Interrupters

Thank goodness I get to see some of you in the 2150 class this week. I’m having withdrawal from movie spectating and talking afterward with interesting, informed people who have a take—big time! But my eyes are feeling better.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Last Minute Carpool To SLC?

Hey all, my plan and then backup plan to get up to SLC on my own fell through. Is there still room in the carpool? Please call or text me at 801-427-3298.

- Matthew A.J.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Kevin Smith's Rant at Sundance

I'm sure most of you know by now that Kevin Smith premiered "Red State" at Sundance (and counter-protested the Westboro Baptist Hate-mongers outside). He also announced his plans, counter to the rumors that he was going to sell the film, to distribute the film himself in a road-show style. He plans to show it in one city at a time with a Q&A after each show and then open it wider in October. Below is his full speech vilifying the studio system and the reasoning behind his decision.

Overwhelmed and overstimulated!

I know I’ve talked with some of you about graduate school. You wind up in this class that asks you to read (really read, and understand) a ton of theoretical work (imagine Laura Mulvey teaching your first film class). You feel totally overwhelmed, but just keep swimming as fast and hard as you can until the semester is over and then…breathe a bit and leap back into the intellectual pool to pursue the ideas you might have just stroked past out of necessity previously.

That’s what Sundance is like for me.

We’ve already seen three or four documentaries. In If a Tree Falls, I watched a middle-class kid become radicalized by police brutality, and then start to wonder what he’d done. In Sing Your Song, I watched a perhaps too glorified version of Harry Belafonte’s life as an activist, produced and constructed to show him in the best possible light and sort of wondered what was left out in the shadows of the story. In The Black Power Mix Tape, the racist violence that leads to radicalism infuses every tape in the mix, until the weight of our racist past arouses anger like bile in my throat. Butt Naked, for me, portrayed an individual, a population, and a nation caught up in madness. If, as Freud suggests, whole civilizations can become neurotic, how can the civilization redeem itself? What kind of world causes/allows/ nurtures such murderous criminality, and how can a different future assert itself in the face of such a past?

And that’s just considering my initial responses.

For your presentations, I want you to start with your initial response and then get more analytic. I’d like everyone to consider the formal characteristics of the documentary first. Look at Bordwell and Thompson, the essay about the modes included in the blog, as well as Aufderheide and Barnouw. Consider, as carefully as you can based on one viewing, how the film is constructed. Then consider the content as it relates to form. You should start to think about your thesis for the long paper, and perhaps even advance it in your presentation, so that your colleagues can give you feedback and suggestions. I’ll expect to hear you talk about where you see the documentary you discuss in the trajectory Barnouw provides. Look at Bordwell and Thompson’s discussion of The River and The Man with a Movie Camera for models of documentary film analysis.

See you tomorrow!

Monday, January 24, 2011

Amy Goodman Interviews Danny Glover On "The Black Power Mixtape"

My personal favorite from this weekend was, hands down, The Black Power Mixtape: 1967-1975. In addition to its aesthetic and technical marvels, I thought it was especially relevant in light of recent national questions about radical politics, violence, and information/digital intelligence (e.g., WikiLeaks) and the failure of the radical Left. I'm interested in a conversation about these things, but wasn't sure immediately after the screening about how to format those kinds of questions.

Democracy Now! came to Utah and Amy Goodman sat down with Danny Glover, who (I didn't know) produced the film. He talks a bit about the new Stokely Carmichael footage and elaborates on the history of Harry Belafonte and Dr. King and their ties to Sweden. Then he talks about his own "black art" black power activism as a student in 1967 and community organization, and the conversation links it all to President Obama, terrorism and the recent violence in Tuscon, the return of "Baby Doc" Duvalier, and finally, why we need documentaries today. They also look at the Angela Davis interview.

Click here for the clip. The site also includes a rush transcript.

So fascinating! Thoughts, anyone?

Sundance 1.22.11

Rikki, Caitlin, Kelly, Matthew, Meg, Van, Whitney, Rob, Jans, Jessica, Tyler, Quaid, and Birchall at Sundance. (Couldn't get the red-eye out, so I posted this small to make your zombie look less noticeable.)

The Black Power Mix Tape Supplemental

Here's a Democracy Now! interview with Danny Glover about The Black Power Mix Tape that might be helpful for whomever is reporting on the film:

Friday, January 21, 2011

In the Eye of the Beholder

A lot of time in class, and in the books we are supposed to read for class, has been spent trying to determine what criteria a film has to fit into to be a documentary, and , if it is considered a documentary, what type of documentary that film is. I have come to one conclusion: It depends on who's giving their opinion.
Many film makers feel that what they have made is a documentary, even if others do not see it that way. Even though "Nanook of the North" (1922) and other films have used re-enactments and may be scripted, doesn't mean that it can't be a documentary. The people that have made these films, and many people who have seen them, consider them documentaries, even if not everyone agrees.
Many people think that Michael Moore is a propagandist, but many others would consider him an activist. He has stated many times that in "Bowling for Columbine" (2002), he was calling for gun law reform. That would make it an advocacy documentary, not a piece of propaganda. Again, it depends on personal opinion.
My point is this: even though everyone may not agree, as long as some people do, and the film maker says it is, it is a documentary. Even if it is not a good one, or it is an inaccurate one, doesn't mean that it's not one. Just like everything else, it is up to the viewer to find out if the information that they are being given in something they are watching is correct. The news can have inaccuracies, books can have inaccuracies, everything can. Just because it is a documentary, doesn't mean that the information in it should be taken at face value. And just because the film is not completely accurate, or is scripted, or contains reenactments, doesn't mean it isn't a documentary either. Whether something is or isn't a documentary is in the eye of the beholder.

Last Minute Ride Available

Hi All, 

In a late attempt to cut down on environmental impact and the number of cars and drivers, I just wanted to let people know that I have some room in my car this Saturday if anyone (who did not already make car pool arrangements in class of course) wanted a ride. I have room for 2 or 3 and I'll be leaving the Orem area at around 10:30. Just wanted to throw it out there in case anyone needed a last minute carpool for any reason. Just email me at 

So looking forward to the screenings!


Thursday, January 20, 2011

For everyone driving...

After class yesterday a few of us were talking about the distance between theaters, parking, etc.  I have a friend who has volunteered at the Salt Lake Venues of Sundance for as long as I can remember so I asked for her advice on parking and this is what she told me...
Where is the best place to park to easily access the Broadway, the Tower, and the Rose Wagner Theater?
Ana's answer: Tower has the most parking, you'll find it easy to park on the street. Broadway has the parking structure, but you'll probably end up parking on the street and walking a few blocks. Wagner has the most difficult parking situation since it's downtown. Plan to walk 5 blocks to get there, plan early.

Does it cost?
Ana says: Before 6:00 there are meters on the street, after 6:00 it's free.  Wagner has lots where people charge $5 to park, but you can find a street spot far away.  
This is Ana and her boyfriend Nick.  They have been doing the Sundance thing for a long time and know what they are talking about.

Autuership - clearing up a mess

Okay, I think there might be a bit of a misunderstanding. I am not a subscriber to auteur theory. I don’t think that random information about the director changes the film or should change how we read it. The people I have approached from an auteur perspective are Riefenstahl and James Cameron. The reason why I have done this is because they have been frequent commentators of their own work, publicly announcing their own readings of the films they have made. In both cases their readings are so different from what most readers actually see. It is not the directors that interest me, it is that discord between sender and receiver. All of a sudden it becomes bad communication or a failed game of telephone. Yet we find both Riefenstahl’s and Cameron’s work to be of similar technical level of their times. And in a way they were almost equally influential in people’s lives (do I have to remind people of the support groups created because audience members wanted to live on Pandora?). Then their own views of what they are sending out becomes interesting.

The reason why I keep on bringing this up is because I think this is one of the places where film/cinema studies merges with the broader discipline of cultural studies. I don’t believe we can separate the discipline of film/cinema studies from its “mother-ship” but rather we need to see its place in it. What is the impact of the films, and what is the impact of the discourse surrounding them on the culture they are placed in? We read the texts and say what ideological message they are sending out. Shouldn’t we at least be a little bit curious concerning the cultural impact of that reading as well as what other factors are accomplices in that impact? And in the two cases I have brought up (and possibly Quentin Tarantino and Spike Lee, because they keep on making lots of commentary about how their films "should" be read), I do think their own assertions concerning their auteurship constitutes factors in figuring out the cultural impact. So for me it is not a question of classical auteurship as in the structuralist or liberal humanist sense of the concept, but rather a case of auteurship that is centered in the reader, and that I believe fits into what Barthes argued in “Death of the Author.” It is not that about seeing the auteur in the text but rather seeing the auteur’s post-commentary as a supplement to the text (or an extended edition).

I hope I have made my case clear enough.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Shorts Program I

The Terrys by Tim and Eric of Adult Swim

Fight for your Right Revisited by Adam Yauch of the Beastie Boys

Hey, it's Drew. I'm headed to Park City today to wait in the standby line for the Shorts Program I premier, Thursday Jan 20. at the Library Center Theatre. The program begins at 8:30 pm. I have a ticket for the screening the following morning at 9am, but I want to attend both screenings because of the Q&As afterwards. If anyone’s interested in coming to either screening text me at (801)3698237.

Shorts Program I

The Terrys | Tim Heidecker, Eric Wareheim 2010

The Strange Ones | Christopher Radcliff, Lauren Wolkstein 2011

Fight for Your Right Revisited | Adam Yauch 2011

The External World | David OReilly 2010

Deeper Than Yesterday | Ariel Kleiman 2009

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Elusive Truth

While reading through everybody's blog posts, I've noticed that many of you have been exploring the theme of reliability/unreliability of the documentary form to convey "truth." That I put truth in quotation marks probably makes me come across as a relativist, which I am not. I think that there is an absolute material reality, and thus a truth, but I also think it is impossible to fully grasp this reality - we only can process fragments of it, rarely understood.

All works of film are meant to manipulate the viewer toward some perceptual experience. All are presented as fragments, which are assembled by our minds into complete wholes (the mind automatically processes fragments to form wholes, see gestalt psychology): composition, editing, pacing, music, etc. all play a part in which wholes will be created in the mind of the viewer - and the meaning of these wholes will largely be contextualized by the viewer's pre-established culturally-instilled beliefs. Filmmakers know this, I think, and always keep in mind how best to manipulate audiences toward their desired ends.

So, how shall we best approach the documentary film? I'd like to say skeptically with deep emotional reserve; however, it feels too pleasing to allow myself to get lost in the sound and the fury of a film: in the strangest of ways, I love abandoning myself to the experience of film - to have my senses heightened, overtaken, and played toward some cathartic moment. With the documentaries that appeal to one's sense of social justice, I sometimes enjoy the feeling of rage or anguish that is brought upon me by the filmmaker's clever arrangement of film elements. There are few things more gratifying than being brought to rage, or to tears, or to laughter while in a theater full of people who are being brought to those same emotions! Particularly concerning the social-justice documentary, I think there is a trend of angry (perhaps young) idealists who enjoy watching revealing critiques of society with like-minded people perhaps solely to feel a shared sense of rage, if even for a moment in the darkness of a theater.

What I often overlook when I start questioning the veracity of film overmuch is the phenomenon that film somehow interweaves us! A separate truth is generated on an experiential level - as viewers process and respond to the manipulations of film. This truth, the result of having witnessed something, can be just as interesting as the supposed truths that the film is meant to convey.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Questions for a UVU Review Article

Hello all,

This is Kelly from class. I'm the Assistant Culture Editor of the UVU Review. I'm writing an article about this class and the unique opportunity it gives to students. I'm going to interview Jans but I'd really like to hear from you guys as well. If you could answer the following questions, I'd really, really appreciate it.

1. What were the main reasons you wanted to take this class?
2. Are you in the Cinema Studies program?
3. Is this your first time going to Sundance?
4. What documentary are you most excited to see?
5. How is this class different, for better or for worse, than other classes you have taken?
6. How has this class enriched your education here at UVU?
7. How do you think this class fulfills UVU's mission of "Engaged Learning?"

You can answer these questions in the comments of this post or email me at
Please answer by Wednesday at noon.

Again, thank you so much for you help.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Whose Reality?

First, here is a link to the full length Nanook of the North by Robert Flaherty:

I have a friend who is documentary filmmaker and when I told her I was doing research for a presentation on Robert Flaherty, her reply was, "I hate him.  He isn't a real documentary maker."  What she was referring to, of course, is something that I brought up during my presentation; Flaherty often fabricated what he filmed, from the rituals to his characters.  I must admit that after seeing The Man of Aran for Jans' class last year, I felt the same way as my friend.  How can Flaherty be a documentarian if what he is filming is a lie?

In the discussion of what makes a documentary, Aufderheide focuses on the silent contract between viewer and director that what is being shown is the truth (or as close to it as possible).  This I believed Flaherty had failed in.  My opinion shifted slightly with my research on him and the movie Nanook of the North.  Barnouw wrote that, "Flaherty was not recording a current way of life, but one filtered through memories of Nanook and his people.  Unquestionably the film reflected their image of their traditional life.”  As a read more about the making of the film, this became apparent.  Different scenes, such as the famous walrus hunting scene, were suggested by Nanook himself (although it was something the Inuit people no longer practiced).  Flaherty and his camera provided a way, albeit for the entertainment of Western society, for Nanook and his people to document their dying traditions.  It documented the truth as Nanook and Flaherty saw it.

 My friend sees her unobtrusive method of documenting as more pure and until recent reading I have more or less accepted this.  But isn't it a lot like Heisenberg's uncertainty principle?  Doesn't the camera just being there change what actually happens (people's reactions to different situations)?

The ultimate conclusion I have drawn is that I can no more fault Flaherty for interference than anyone who chooses to insert themselves into someone's life.  Just by being there with a camera, some sort of fabrication is happening as the filmmakers reality intermingles with their subject's.

So even though it isn't "real," watch Nanook of the North because it is gorgeous.  

Friday, January 14, 2011

The Cost of the Truth

Last semester I watched the documentary Babies. Directed by Thomas Balmes, it follows four babies in the first year of their lives. There is Ponijao from Namibia, Africa, Bayar from Mongolia, Mari from Japan and Hattie from the United States. Here is the trailer. 

One of the interesting aspects of this documentary is the fact there is absolutely no voice over. There is no explanation about each child's development, culture, or customs. Even the conversation of adults and/or other children is quieted to some extent. The focus is purely on the children.

What makes this documentary so captivating is what Balmes chose to include in the final product. A lot of the film consists of the children exploring the world around them and becoming aware of things, other people, and themselves. One of my favorite moments in the entire film is when Mari is trying to figure out how to put wooden washers on a wooden stick. Every time she fails, she gets frustrated and throws a tantrum of sorts. But after her tantrum is over, she sits up and tries again. This cycle of attempt, failure, frustration, tantrum, and trying again is so entertaining but also captivating. You can see her mind working and trying to get it all to work. There are several moments like this from each of the children. To see the each child develop and grow is what makes this film so impossible not to watch.

However, there are some aspects that raise some questions with me. Throughout the film, I was wondering how much did the filming crew interact with the children? If the crew were filming and the child was doing something that could potentially kill or injure the child, would the crew step in and intervene? In the pursuit of portraying the reality & truth of life, where do you draw the line?

It reminded me of the late Pulitzer Prize winning photographer Kevin Carter. You can read his whole life story here. He won his Pulitzer for his photos of Africa including this iconic photo:

Even though he won one of the most prestigious prizes in writing/journalism, Carter received a lot of criticism for this photo. Many believed he should have stepped in and done something to help the dying child. Carter eventually killed himself not long after receiving the Pulitzer. Though the criticism for his lack of intervention was not the sole reason for his suicide (he battled with depression for most of his life), it certainly draws into question how the lack of humanity in the pursuit of truth can affect a human being.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Reflections on Documentary Tradition

Firstly, below is the full documentary "Song of Ceylon" of which I showed a clip in class. The clip depicted the relationship of tea industry in the British Empire to the Ceylonese people, however the rest of the film is much different in tone. On this site Grierson is quoted describing the film as "Buddhism and the art of life it has to offer, set upon by a Western metropolitan civilization which, in spite of all our skills, has no art of life to offer." The film contains some really beautiful imagery and moving depiction of the Ceylonese culture.

After class, a few of us were talking about whether Wright (the director) was being exploitative in his depiction of these people. In my research, it stated that he was truly enamored by the Ceylonese as a people and that he hoped to capture on film some of what he deemed remarkable about them. I feel that the other 3 sections of the film fulfill that purpose more clearly than perhaps the one seen in class in a very poetic and respectful manner, but judge for yourselves below. 

It's relatively short, coming in at under 40 minutes, and you've already watched a quarter of it in class :)

Secondly, the presentations over the last few classes have been great! They have gotten me thinking so much about documentary film and how it came to be where it is today. On that note, I have been mulling over a few questions that I wanted to inquire the opinions of the group-

-How does Vertov’s experimental editing style influence the feelings it evokes? Is this more or less effective than the realism used by Flaherty, Grierson and others?

-What do you think of the ideas posed by so many of documentary as a tool for social change? What about the link to government deemed important in the early years of documentary film? 

-How do you see the concepts of realism functioning in documentary today? Have they moved away from the ideals held in the past or have the core concepts remained in tact?

-What role does documentary film play in society today? Does its value lie in the potential for social change, in the address of concerns and spread of awareness regarding social and environmental concerns, or in the documentation of real life, similar to what the Lumiere Brothers did in many of their films?

Looking forward to Sundance! The countdown is officially ten days.