No Data Plan

2019-05-24T23:02:40+00:00Categories: Docs in Review|

No Data Plan Director/ Miko Revereza Watched on MUBI Rating 1.5/5   As much as I admire the young Miko Revereza’s insistence on his unadorned technique, his one-man band filmmaking strategy, his no-frills three day shoot and his brief five-week editing stint, his diaristic subtitles, his status as a longtime undocumented immigrant from the Philippines here almost by accident, and his affection for experimentation and fuck-rules filmmaking, this documentary, his first feature, is a colossal bore. Shot over a couple of cross-country Amtrak train trips, and filmed entirely on the train and platforms of the route (except for one odd shot that appears to be filmed from a plane), the movie rattles along with semi-shaky handheld out-the-window vistas and cutaways to light shuttering across seats and floors and luggage. The occasional subtitles seem to be made up of both his diary entries and translations of phone calls with his mom. There is little structure to these random insertions, and little meaning as well, unless you read the supplemental material that has accompanied screenings of this film at True/False and Art of the Real, two highbrow festivals that really, I think, should try a little harder to harvest bracing, exciting new work that doesn’t insist a viewer has to either embrace this borderline amateur material or leave the theater. We are meant to be challenged by Revereza’s blatant anti-aesthetic and, I guess, sympathetic to the idea that this is a young man exuberantly tilting and panning his camera towards whatever method grabs his attention, regardless of whether [...]

A River Below

2019-05-24T16:59:48+00:00Categories: Docs in Review|

A River Below Director/Mark Grieco Watched on Kanopy Rating 3.5/5   This documentary distinguishes itself from the environmental sub-genre by enhancing its twisty complexity. Not only does the story keep offering up surprises, but it also avoids the trap so many enviro-docs fall into: a prologue that ticks off the boxes of progressive outrage, and then spends the rest of the film repeating these same points with an inspirational call-to-action rounding off the epilogue. Although A River Below suffers from some of the tics of too many docs these days, it is both trenchant and engrossing, the documentary equivalent of journalistic, literary non-fiction. Director Mark Grieco drops us into Brazil’s Amazon, literally into the river, to get a close-up look at the endangered pink dolphin, hunted by the indigenous locals who use the dolphin as bait to harvest the piracatinga, an abundant bottom-feeder that sustains their local economy. We are introduced first to a scientific biologist working to protect the dolphin, and then to a reality TV biologist (or so he says), who also takes up the dolphin cause. These early scenes follow the endangered species script, accentuating the creatures’ human-like qualities and elevating the two conservationists to the level of humane saviors. Then things get sticky. Secret video surfaces showing the dolphins being slaughtered. The Brazilian government, instead of finding another source of bait for the fishermen, bans both the killing of dolphins and the fishing of the piracatinga, devastating the livelihood of the locals. Environmental organizations claim victory. The biologist is relieved; the reality [...]

Lean Team Pro Tip #5: Evaluating Your Project’s Story-Part One

2019-05-14T15:46:33+00:00Categories: Lean Team Pro Tip|

You have eliminated the fat from your team, stripped your camera package down to its essentials, and defined your film. Now you need to evaluate whether or not you can make your movie by adhering to the lean team documentary filmmaking (or LTDF) strategy. As I suggest in Chapter Two of Get Close: Lean Team Documentary Filmmaking, “Try and look at your film through the lens of a lean team documentary filmmaker, adjust your expectations, and break down the elements of your project with these limitations in mind.” The next several installments of Pro Tips will offer guidance on how to keep your lean team goals in mind while making your film. Let’s start with the story. The story is the backbone of your film. B-roll, interviews, music–everything else–forms the body that the backbone, or spine, supports. And a good story should come with strong characters, at least one, maybe with a few supporting characters. Sometimes the character will form the spine of your film, and the story they tell will be the body. Think of Errol Morris’s films on Robert McNamara, Donald Rumsfeld, and Steve Bannon. But a character doesn’t always have to be a person. As I write in my book, “the main character of your film can also be a place (your hometown, a prison, the moon), a thing (an electric car, a lava lamp), an idea (time travel), or an animal (pick one).” Frederick Wiseman observes the role institutions play in American lives in films such as Ex Libris (the library), National Gallery [...]

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