About this blog
The Finger Lakes Environmental Film Festival from the interns' point of view
Thursday, February 6, 2014
Blog post written by Kayla Reopelle, Documentary Studies and Production '14, FLEFF Blogger, Roy, WA
“So many strange peoples and hardships...”
The projector froze on the title card after I allowed myself to be sutured into the Cornell Cinema and Finger Lakes Environmental Film Festival sponsored screening of Grass: A Nation’s Battle for Life (1925) in Cornell’s Sage Chapel. Cloud Chamber Orchestra, an Ithaca-based live improvisational film scoring trio, accompanied the silent film.
Grass follows the migration of the Bakhtiari nomadic tribe from Persia, today Iran, on their seasonal quest through rivers with strong currents and steep, snowy mountains to reach the pastures that support every level of their society. It was filmed and edited from the point of view of three Americans, two men and one woman.
“So many strange peoples and hardships.” It held for a few more moments.
The orchestra played on as vibrant, as soothing as ever. The sound filled the chapel. In other situations this may have caused a pause, but the Cloud Chamber Orchestra just kept playing, kept people from talking as if this interlude was planned.
The projector was turned off. For a moment, I thought we were permanently moving from watching a film to listening to a concert. People began to stir.
The power of film as a mediating factor became clear. Phones were pulled out, people were moving. Once the projector was brought back online, the crowd snapped back into their disciplined state.
The film returned a few minutes prior to the moment it cut out. The music had a different interpretation, a new tempo reminding that a performance by the Cloud Chamber Orchestra is always up for re-negotiation and is not repeatable.
The classical instruments blended with digital looping kept the melody driving, changing, cycling without a clear end or beginning to each sound. It flowed in and out from scene to scene like the simulated sounds of grass blowing in the wind that seamlessly integrated into the score.
This performance exemplified dissonance due to the unplanned pauses throughout the screening. Transforming unexpected glitches into new interpretations and experiences is part of what Cloud Chamber Orchestra does best. Their improvisation continues unhindered despite whatever chaos technology may throw at them.
I’m glad the the freezing temperatures on Tuesday, January 28 interfered with the projection. It made this screening into an unrepeatable event.
When has something you planned not gone the way you expected, and turned out to be a more fulfilling experience in the end?
Sunday, February 2, 2014
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!
Sunday, February 2, 2014
Bringing “Grass: A Nation's Battle for Life,” and the Cloud Chamber Orchestra together was a stroke of genius. The band’s musical accompaniment is a perfect harmonious choice for the cavernous church space of Sage Chapel.
Cloud Chamber Orchestra presented its out-of-this-world creations, effortlessly capturing the audience as they watched the silent film. Classic song structure does not hold the group back. They seamlessly move across complex layers of emotionally lingering timbres and exotically rhythmic percussion.
Sunday, January 26, 2014
Ithaca's very own Cloud Chamber Orchestra will be playing an original live score to the classic documentary, Grass: A Nation's Battle for Life, this Tuesday, January 28th, 2014 at the Sage Chapel at Cornell University. The beautiful interior of the chapel should make a pleasant backdrop for what is sure to be an unforgettable performance by an incredible group of musicians.
Consisting of local musicians Robby Aceto, Peter Dodge, and Chris White, the Cloud Chamber Orchestra is an improvisational group that specializes in live film scores for silent films.
The group has performed original, improvised film scores for films such as Nanook of the North, The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, and The Great White Trail, among others, and continues to be an annual favorite at FLEFF favorite.
White, the cellist of the group, says that the excitement of playing an improvised score comes from "playing with such good musicians and improvisers" but also "the unknowns that go along with [playing live music] with the film in front of a live audience."
Grass: A Nation's Battle for Life is considered by many to be the first ethnographic documentary. Made in 1925, the film follows a group of people from the Bakhtiari tribe of modern-day Iran as they lead their herds of livestock on a treacherous, annual journey through a mountain range to better pastures.
Says White "It is a documentary, but it's also a story, and such a grand story that you forget it's a documentary."
Despite the inherent difficulties in scoring a documentary, White insists that the story in the documentary is so compelling that improvisation won't be much more difficult than it would be for a narrative film.
"We usually prepare by first watching the film, either individually or together, and then we talk about it," says White.
"Often we'll come up with general strategies of musical style and instrumentation. Peter and Robby both play multiple instruments while I usually stick to the cello. Then we begin rehearsing by improvising while we watch the film. Each time we play with the film the music is different because it's all improvised, but each time we are getting to know the film better, and our interpretation becomes more firmly established and more closely aligned with the film and how we want the score to sound for the movie we're working with."
The screening of Grass: A Nation's Battle for Life, kicks off at 7:30 PM this Tuesday, January 28th at the Sage Chapel at Cornell University. Get there early so you can get a front row seat to see Ithaca's favorite musical group (and a sneak peak of what their performance at the Finger Lakes Environmental Film Festival will be like!).
What was your favorite Cloud Chamber Orchestra performance?
Sunday, January 26, 2014
Blog posting written by Kayla Reopelle, Documentary Studies and Production, ’14, FLEFF Blogger, Roy, WA
My name is Kayla Reopelle and I’m one of the new bloggers for the Finger Lakes Environmental Film Festival! I am a senior Documentary Studies and Production major with minors in Honors and Politics, Model UN delegate, and co-editor for Buzzsaw Magazine’s multimedia section, Seesaw.
Before I came to Ithaca College, I didn’t have a passport.
I’m from a small town in the South Puget Sound region of Washington State called Roy. Known for the bi-annual Roy Rodeo, my hometown is something a little different. I’m drawn back to its breathtaking views of Mt. Rainier and churches converted into gun shops.
I was eager to get out and explore the world, try new things, and my studies allowed me to do just that. I’ve traveled to three continents, worked with a radio show that features Incarcerated Voices, and found inspiration in new media theories that push me to tell stories in interactive ways.
FLEFF is one of the highlights of my spring semester.
The Finger Lakes Environmental Film Festival gives me and other Ithaca College students a chance to meet filmmakers, artists, musicians and scholars, to see banned films, and push ourselves to think about the festival’s theme beyond conventional limits. When I heard this year’s theme was dissonance, I knew I wanted to be a blogger. More on that next week!
I’m very excited for FLEFF’s screening of Grass: A Nation’s Battle for Life (1925) this Tuesday, January 28 at 7:30pm in the Sage Chapel at Cornell University. The Cloud Chamber Orchestra will be performing a live score to the silent documentary.
I’ve seen the Cloud Chamber Orchestra at previous FLEFF’s and every performances brought a fresh reading to the film being screened. I hope to see you there!
What keeps you coming back to FLEFF every year?
Wednesday, April 3, 2013
Robby Aceto: To say preparing a live improvised score for October presented some challenges would pretty much be a massive understatement. Here you have an incredibly complicated film by the brilliant director and film theoretician Sergei Eisenstein who incidentally, is credited with inventing the art of film montage and influencing such directors as Alfred Hitchcock, Stanley Kubrick, and virtually every other filmmaker to come after him; his film is telling the story of one of the most significant and complicated series of events in world history, large events written very large, and anyone who has ever seen this film has seen it presented with a score by the legendary modernist composer Dmitri Shostakovitch. Okay, are we seeing any challenges here?!
I studied this film in college and have seen it many times over the years, so when the prospect of improvising a score for it at FLEFF was floated out to the group, I was initially very excited. But then I was also very daunted. I mean, how does one go about replacing (with an improvising trio!... and in a live setting!) a score by Shostakovitch? (rhetorical question). At first I spent a lot of time trying to track down the written score to see if any of its elements might lend themselves to interpretation by our group. I figured, if such an experiment was successful, it would be the first time Cloud Chamber Orchestra performed using any pre-conceived or written elements. But as soon as I began looking at the score on its own, simply as score and unattached to the film, my first thought was "Oh good grief, it's a total MONSTER!". I must admit I became more than a little paralyzed with fear and wanted to crawl into a hole. Then something interesting happened; I discovered that the score by Shostakovitch was written in 1966; it is known to us now as his tone poem "October". The film October was made in 1927. Anyone alive who has seen October has seen it synchronized with music that was written for it nearly forty years after it was released. I did some further digging and came to the realization that virtually no one knows exactly what kind of musical presentation accompanied the film during its first theatrical performances. There was a light at the end of the tunnel after all! It sort of ligitimized in my mind the notion of us improvising a score in a way that might be relevant today.
Monday, March 26, 2012
Blog post written by Colleen Ryan, Television-Radio '12, Anthropology Minor, Lansing, NY
This week, I had the pleasure of speaking with Chris White, an extremely talented musician, and one of FLEFF's returning performers.
White is classically trained on the cello, and also plays the guitar and harmonica.
It was Dr. Patricia Zimmerman's (co-director of FLEFF) idea to bring together the three musicians for FLEFF several years ago, and the trio has been doing live improv film scores ever since. "It was easy from the get-go," he said. "We just flowed so easily. We each have our own bag of tricks, but a common vision and language that works well together."
White told me that the trio watches the films by themselves, and then together practice improvising. They converse about the mood of the film and its transitions. Each time the score is played differently. The trio doesn't practice too much so the day of the performance is fresh and well, improvised!
"Every experience with FLEFF has been great," he said. To him, playing and improvising with a film is a much different experience as a musician. "It's liberating," he remarked.
Although the trio has only performed for FLEFF, and one other event for the Ithaca Motion Picture Project, White revealed to me that the trio is considering putting out a CD of their scores, perhaps in time for next year's FLEFF. (I've heard samples from their work, and believe me, it's a must have!)
To listen to Chris's personal work with the Cayuga Jazz Ensemble, you can click here.
Although I, personally, could never fathom a career in professional music, to young musicians who wish to dip their toes into improvising, Chris's greatest advice is to listen to a favorite genre of music and imitate it. Practice the style, and put a lot of time into it. "It happens more naturally than you might think," he said.
With that being said, I'm excited to watch White and his cohorts perform. It's something that indeed comes extremely naturally to them, while enjoying and appreciating their talent, is something that comes naturally to me.
If I had longer arms I'd save you all seats, so get there early, it's going to be a happy and full house. See you Sunday night!
Tuesday, March 6, 2012
Blog post written by Colleen Ryan, Television-Radio '12, Anthropology minor, Lansing, NY
The list of amazing guests keeps growing and growing, and by golly I don't think there's anything about FLEFF that I'm NOT excited for.
Here are five guests I'm most looking forward to:
1. Elizabeth Coffman. She's many things that I aspire to be: Documentary filmmaker. Writer. Teacher. Mom. If you haven't checked out her writing on the Inside Higher Ed, "Mama, PhD" you should! It's great! I've been reading it all morning. Coffman is also the co-producer of Veins in the Gulf, a documentary about the disappearing coastline of Louisiana, a film I'm dying to see and that will be screened the last day of FLEFF (April 1st).
2. Menna Khalil. Suffering in the Middle East is something I know little about, and I wish I knew more. Khalil's activism and work sounds extremely inspiring, and I can't wait to see her presentation that documents Iraq Burin and stories of Palestinian village who were witnesses to uprising. To read more about her work, check out fellow blogger Brian McCormick's interview.
3. Matthew Podolsky. His non-profit organization "Wild Lens" incorporates all my passions into one: Activism. Science. Conservation. Art. Wild Lens wishes to "present biological facts in an exciting and accessible way, and broaden the public interest in environmental and wildlife conservation – one species at a time." It's pretty safe to say my dream job may be exactly that -- word for word.
4. Robby Aceto and the Cloud Chamber Orchestra. As I said in a previous post about Aceto and his improvisational music trio, I can't wait for the Cloud Chamber Orchestra's live scoring of "Nanook of the North." It will be my first experience of any kind of live music played with film. I love music, but I don't believe my brain has the ability to fathom performing live with a film, while also improvising and collaborating with two other musicians. To an audience it must seem so effortless, but holy cow the talent one must have!
5. Bernie Upson and his Quartet. I'm a wannabe jazz fanatic. Whenever I listen to jazz, I feel as if I was born in the wrong decade. I picture myself dolled-up in a smokey mid-century jazz lounge, with the bass vibrating through my veins. I'm thrilled to see such a talented group of musicians play. It's not everyday you're in the presence of jazz legends!
19 days until FLEFF. Ready. Set. Get excited. I know I am. Are you?
Wednesday, February 29, 2012
Blog posting written by Ian Carsia, Cinema & Photography '14, FLEFF Intern, Hamilton, NJ
6:51 p.m. Blogging live with Robby Aceto. Aceto will be performing in a live musical accompaniment of "Nanook of the North" for FLEFF 2012.
6:53 p.m. FLEFF T-SHIRTS ARE IN!
6:57 p.m. This will be the fourth time Robby and his co-conspirators have performed at FLEFF.
"Who has heard of Nanook of the North?"
100% of hands shoot up.
"Who has seen Nanook of the North?"
90% of hands go down.
WE ARE HERE TO LEARN!
7:02 p.m. Robby Aceto: "Right now, you don't have to convince anyone. You can just do it."
7:05 p.m. Robby Aceto: "The biggest problem that a group [of artists] has to overcome...is connecting with the mindset of someone 100 years ago making a film."
7:08 p.m. Robby Aceto: "We've narrowed our expectation of what a film is supposed to be."
7:11 p.m. Robby Aceto: "My approach to an instrument is to use it in a textural way."
7:17 p.m. Robby Aceto: "First, we try to get into the mindset of the filmmaker: What would he want?...Even if it looks silly to you, you have to remind yourself 'This guy was deadly serious' about whatever it was...And as far as doing it differently...just as a matter of course, it's going to be different."
7:43 p.m. Screening clips of accompanyment with Ernst Lubitsch's 1921 film The Wild Cat (Dr. Zimmermann: "The only German expressionist comedy.")
7:50 p.m. Robby Aceto: "Once you step into the realm of "This is what is happening on screen," you take it away from the audience."
7:54 p.m. About to screen a clip from 1925's Grass.
7:56 p.m. Robby Aceto: "None of the musicians know what the other's going to do...Not so much "call-and-response," more like...reaction..."