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The Finger Lakes Environmental Film Festival from the interns' point of view

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Posted by Blaize Hall at 10:59PM   |  2 comments
Cloud Chamber Orchestra pianist, Peter Dodge

Blog post by Blaize Hall, Television-Radio Communications, '15, Georgia, VT

Hello Curious Wanderer of FLEFF Blogs,

You may know that our team meets weekly for a class guiding us on our journey as bloggers.  This week instead of a lecture and discussion, we attended the Cloud Chamber Orchestra live accompaniment to “Grass: A Nation’s Battle For Life”, a silent film shown at the Sage Chapel at Cornell University.

This film is considered one of the first ethnographic documentary films. The three documentarians, Merian C. Cooper, Ernest Schoedsack, and Marguerite Harrison could not possibly have known the impact their film would have when they started out with humble means to travel from Angora (now Ankara, Turkey) to western Iran.

The trio ended up following the journey of the Bakhtiari tribe of Persia, as they migrated in search of fertile Iranian soil that would provide grass for their livestock, and ultimately a new chance at continued life for all of them.  (This is ironically timely in light of the current water crisis and dried up great Lake Urmia in Iran).

The sheer determination of the tribe as they forged icy rapids, dug paths through feet of icy snow – BAREFOOT, and climbed miles of mountains carrying everything, even their animals, on their backs, was incredible to see.  The will to live, and the will of the brave trio to document the incredible journey they witnessed and participated in ought to inspire all of us to awaken to the journeys that are happening around us, and to take time to react to them and learn from them.

The film also intrigued me in the ways that it used comedic relief.  As a silent film, text slides were the only narration.  But the writers were creative and sprinkled the story with tid bits of humor.  One recurring joke about “the riding kid”, a baby goat who always hitched a ride atop a cow, especially had the audience rolling.

It dawned upon me how much I appreciated the audience’s reaction of laughter in a silent film, and how much more their participation in my viewing experience affected me in the absence of dialogue.  It was as though I needed the shared experience of laughing, gasping, head shaking, oooing and ahhing together to make up for the lack of dialogue, which usually tells you what to experience.

While the film was a treat, it wouldn’t have been a complete experience without Cloud Chamber Orchestra.  The three men (with a guest drummer, the son of the pianist, Peter Dodge) brought the film to life with their improvised, sensational sounds.  Their music accompanied the mood and context of each scene and drew the audience into the atmosphere.  And their music was exquisitely beautiful!

At one point a technical glitch occurred because of the cold, and the film froze.  In the absence of the picture, the music morphed into a presence that filled the church, swallowed up my anxiety about the pause in entertainment, and drew my mind into another sphere of imagination.

In a silent film, imagination is already aroused because the lack of dialogue allows the viewer to replace the space with their own surmising.  To me, the music created by Cloud Chamber Orchestra pulls me into a story of whatever might be the present wanderings of my mind when I listen to them.  The fact that the movie paused for a moment allowed me that experience of listening to the four musicians improvise together and was a real treat.

I cannot recommend strongly enough that you check these guys out online, and be sure to come to their event at FLEFF this season!

 

 


2 Comments

I have to admit I've never been much of a silent films fan, but this film was fabulous. I agree the crowd's laughter was a critical in shaping the whole experience. Cloud Chamber Orchestra gave a great performance ... and even trooped on when there were a few technical difficulties with the screening. I absolutely loved it!

Some of my favorite moments during the screening of "Grass" were the title cards that brought comic relief to an otherwise extremely tense film. At some points it felt like the juxtaposition of the static tableau animal shots with the title cards could appear on a present-day Instagram feed!

I can't wait to see what audience reactions get shared during the Cloud Chamber Orchestra's interpretation of "Battleship Potemkin" this spring!



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