Tag Archives: media

Back from IDFA DocLab: 30 pieces of Phenomenal Friction

Phenomenal friction. When the New Media team at IDFA came up with this title, they knew it would reflect a recognition of tensions around the world, but the team had no idea that it would land in the midst of a war and public outcries that stirred up the festival, leading to several filmmakers – including immersive makers – pulling their work from showcase.

Phenomenal friction, as described by Caspar Sonnen, head of New Media, reflects a landscape where emerging technologies are changing how we see the world around us, but also one where we are still encountering and challenging each other’s identities and mindsets in the physical space.

This year’s DocLab and immersive exhibition brought together over 30 pieces from the most diverse set of artists and makers thus far, allowing the audience to encounter worlds not just different from their own, but also created by those living in the other worlds.

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originally published on XR Must

Virtual reality brought me into the world of a strong Roma woman

What did I know about Roma? Like many people, my assumptions came from films. Beautiful ones, like the documentaries Toto and his Sisters and Spartacus and Cassandra. Both films take you into a world of Roma through adolescents and those trying to help them move out of their stifling situation. These stories show Roma as poor and “gypsies”, who live among drug use and petty crime or wear colorful clothes and perform in circuses.

When we started to think about making a virtual reality film about Roma, it was with the idea to transcend these clichés. Roma face tremendous discrimination across Europe. Could we make people feel a connection to Roma, to transcend their perceptions and engage on a personal level? And without resorting to stereotypes?

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…originally published for UNDP Eurasia

What is art good for?

We’re in an age where everything seems to be quantifiable, whether it’s page views or Facebook likes or Twitter shares or how many people showed up for an event.* Or at least there are a lot of people and organizations out there that feel the need to quantify what we produce, what impact we’re having. This is not a bad thing necessarily, especially not when it comes to social campaigns or advocacy projects.

So is it elitist to want art to exist on a plane that’s different from the “quantifiable”? I’m not even speaking about the art for art’s sake idea – for art can indeed be a tool for social activism – but also from the standpoint of personal connection and exposure.

Zanele Muholi (South African, born 1972). Faces and Phases installed at dOCUMENTA (13), Kassel, Germany, 2012. (Photo: © Anders Sune Berg)

Zanele Muholi (South African, born 1972). Faces and Phases installed at dOCUMENTA (13), Kassel, Germany, 2012. (Photo: © Anders Sune Berg)

Lately, I’ve been devoting a lot of time to lectures, exhibits, and cultural exploration and it made me realize something. Aside from enjoying what I’m seeing and being inspired by different perspectives, I’m continuously learning about the world around me. It’s the comment that makes me think about something in a different way, or a series of photographs that evokes someone else’s state of mind, or a film that reveals to me that there’s a subculture within a subculture within another culture that I didn’t even know about.

And I think that’s one aspect of how art can connect us to what’s outside ourselves, and sometimes even make us realize what we never thought of as being inside ourselves.
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Art or Agenda? Documentary discussion at Codes & Modes

What is documentary culture?  Hunter College’s Integrated Media Arts MFA Program held the conference Codes and Modes: The Character of Documentary Culture the last weekend to unwrap that question.  On my mind a lot these days is the question of art vs. social impact – can they exist simultaneously?  Do they need to?  Why are they expected to?  So I was interested to see the panel Documentary Film: Art or Agenda?  Competing Paradigms in the World of Non-Fiction Film.  Panels have been tackling the same question at film festivals and industry conferences, but this academic approach enlisted filmmakers and producers instead of funders. The panel included Whitney Dow (filmmaker, Two Towns of Jasper, Unfinished Country, the Whiteness Project), Jennie Livingston (filmmaker, Paris is Burning, Earth Camp One), Joslyn Barnes (producer, Bamako, Trouble the Water, Black Power Mixtape) and Jonathan Oppenheim (editor, Paris is Burning, Children Underground, William and the Windmill) and was moderated by Julia Haslett (assistant professor at UNC-Chapel Hill, filmmaker, An Encounter with Simone Weil).

There’s never really enough time to deal deeply with this core question (or answer it…but is there even an answer?), but a lot of very interesting thoughts were posed.

So what is documentary?
Livingston agrees with Michael Moore that she doesn’t like the word “documentary,” and prefers “non-fiction.”  She sees it as taking reality and making a structure around it.  “We’re not dealing with real life; we’re dealing with fragments that are shaped by someone’s mind.”  When thinking about reality, she notes that when you watch a really good fiction film, it feels real but ironically, when we think of documentary, we think of documenting reality, when filmmakers are really just taking real life and creating a fake structure around it.
Oppenheim agreed and sees himself as taking fragments of real life to create a tableau of human experience.
Whitney Dow sees documentary as the process of understanding his place in the world that he’s observing.  “I don’t have answers when I start, I don’t have an agenda.  I start out with a set of questions.” Continue reading

What is a “docuphile”?

A “docuphile” is the lover of all thing documentary.  A lover of reality.  In essence, a lover of the world that surrounds us.  I believe knowing more about the world around us makes us better human beings.

I’ve been working as a programmer and consultant specializing in non-fiction film and video for almost twenty years.  When I started my company, Docuphile Media, I was inspired by the excitement I felt when landing in another person’s shoes, or being allowed the opportunity to glimpse into another life.  Documentaries (in all forms) teach us so much about the world landscape, both on a global level and a personal level.   It’s amazing what we’re able to experience visually, sonically and emotionally through the documentary form.

(This idea can in some ways become dangerous, when we start assigning “worth” to documentary films or feeling like they need to teach us something.  I think this is going backwards for both makers and viewers alike, but I’ll be exploring this idea in more detail going forward.  It’s a question that artists have long been grappling with, and one that is maintaining a strong presence in the documentary field presently.)

But I also think we can learn just as much through other forms of creative practices.  How many times have we learned about a political situation in another country or gone behind the curtain into a private culture through a novel or a fiction film – where fictitious characters take us on a journey that exposes us to things we might not find in the newspaper (or find difficult to follow in a more journalistic way).  In university, I studied American Social and Cultural Studies – looking at American history not only through the traditional history and politics lens, but also through literature, sociology, cinema and arts.

I believe there’s incredible opportunity for learning and understanding at the intersection of media, arts and cultures (as in “the beliefs, customs, etc., of a particular society, group, place, or time,” not “the arts and other manifestations of human intellectual achievement regarded collectively”).

Exposure only gives us more opportunity to contemplate and analyze what is not directly in our sphere of being. I believe this fuels creativity and growth potential. Technology has opened the world to us, and while it can keep us from fully experiencing life, it also has the capacity to make the world smaller.  I’m interested in how all these things – media, storytelling, technology, art, societies – can influence positive social transformation.

– Karen Cirillo