2019-08-05T18:54:37+00:00Categories: Docs in Review|

Streetwise Director/ Martin Bell Watched at Beacon Cinema (Seattle) Rating 5/5   Streetwise, a discreet classic of American documentary cinema, is a relentless portrait of clashing sensations: vulnerability and bravado, tenderness and confrontation, immaturity and mortality. It presents us with teenagers, some of them very young teenagers, playacting the roles of grownups in a drama of their own design. Yes, they are street kids, victims of abuse, neglect, alcoholism and the many other fucked up things unworthy parents do to their young, but they embrace their circumstances with theatrical gusto. They talk like world-weary drifters, ex-cons who’ve seen it all, smart-assed and streetwise; Oliver Twist ragamuffins as written by Charles Bukowski. But they aren’t written. And they’re not pretending. The dangers they face are real. And all are maybe a few months on from their first period or just a year out of junior high school. Some still go home (if you can call it that) now and then for a hot meal or some spare cash. They make for great characters because they practice all day long: For the meeting with the probation officer, the hassle with the cop, the panhandle with the tourist, or the filmmaker with the camera. When director Martin Bell and his wife, the magnificent photographer Mary Ellen Mark, returned to Seattle in 1983 to film the same homeless runaways she shot for an earlier Life magazine series, they were able to jump right into the action. Staking out street corners, railroad yards, ferry piers, alleys and abandoned buildings, they captured [...]

Lean Team Pro Tip #6: Evaluating Your Project’s Story–Part Two

2019-07-18T23:37:12+00:00Categories: Lean Team Pro Tip|

I ended Pro Tip #5 with a question from filmmaker and teacher Barry Hampe (Making Documentary Films and Videos), who asks if your film is posing a question or making an assertion: “A question leads to a search for answers with the outcome not necessarily known,” he writes. “An assertion, on the other hand, starts from the conclusion and then piles up facts as proof.” To take this further I’ll quote from my book Get Close: Lean Team Documentary Filmmaking:  “A film that asks a question invests the viewer in the search for the answer. A film that makes an assertion is only interested in validating a point of view. The 2006 documentary Who Killed the Electric Car? seems to ask a question in its title, but the film really makes an assertion that the car is dead, we know it’s dead, we are mad about it, and we probably know who killed it (big oil, big car companies). The film spends ninety minutes making these assertions, all of which could have been perhaps more succinctly explained in a magazine article. Films that make assertions add more noise to the echo chamber. Films that ask questions invite you to be surprised, or at least exposed to a place, a people, or an idea you may know little about. Which kind of film do you think is worth spending your valuable creative energy on? Nina Davenport (Hello Photo, Parallel Lines, Operation Filmmaker) relies on a methodology that boils down to simply following her instincts. “I like filmmaking [...]

Roll Red Roll

2019-07-11T16:52:37+00:00Categories: Docs in Review|

Roll Red Roll Director/ Nancy Schwartzman Watched on P.O.V. Rating 3/5   Schwartzman’s film examines the rape of a high school girl by two of her classmates, football players from the local Steubenville, Ohio team. It’s a story that gained national headlines after the tweets and texts surrounding the incident–two young men raping their inebriated, passed-out victim, egged on by friends–revealed the rape culture that was prevalent among players and supervisors. There is an enterprising crime blogger who broke the story, the backlash against her, interrogation video of the boys involved, and a surprise intervention by the anarchic hacker group Anonymous, who–to their credit–put the story on the national stage. It’s a searing and disgusting story, and Schwartzman tells it well, with a clear, economical structure that positions her film as both a social justice call-to-action and as a true crime exposé. Yet Roll Red Roll, despite its judicious choices and journalistic integrity, also includes many of the stock elements common in these types of films. There are the banal establishing shots of Steubenville’s streets and neighborhoods, used as background wallpaper for the players’ texts that appear on screen, or as placeholders for the interviews and the VO audio of a local talk jock. There are unnecessary quick cut-ins of the talking heads of the interviews despite the fact that while they’re talking, we already see them on screen driving, walking, working on their laptop, etc. There is the prerequisite portrait of a community gung-ho for the masculine rituals of football. There is the machine-tooled editing [...]

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