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The Finger Lakes Environmental Film Festival from the interns' point of view
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, 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?
Thursday, March 1, 2012
Blog posting written by Jennifer Barish, Communication Management & Design ‘14, FLEFF intern, Skokie, IL
In my first definition of microtopia, I left out a vital part of the story.
I had only scratched the surface; you can have an individual experience within a microtopia, but it’s cooperation, collaboration, and organized chaos that creates a “different environment.”
With each improvised performance paired with silent film, Robby Aceto creates a singular microptopia from a diverse coagulation of sound. It’s all made up on the spot. Toy instruments. Mandolins. Cellos. Textured electronic audio.
The musicians in Aceto’s ensemble don’t have to compromise on creating one sound. Starting with a baseline of “respect” and trust among the artists, they’re equally a part of the process and collectively in control of their environment.
The exciting part, Robby expressed, is waiting for disaster.
As I watched clips from pieces of expressionist German film set to Aceto’s improvised melodies, my viewing experience created a profoundly “different environment.” Without an established soundtrack to comment on the film, I felt involved and emotionally invested. The musicians were not just “recreating” the notation of another artist’s vision, but interpreting the film—and welcoming the audience to talk about it, too.
It’s a beautiful, utopic thought—the idea that a group of talented musicians can successfully share an art-form while including a community of engaged onlookers.
But the moment is fleeting. The credits roll, and at the next performance, there will be new sounds, fresh reactions, and a different environment.
Saturday, April 16, 2011
Blog posting by Brian McCormick, Film & Photo '12, FLEFF Intern, Wilbraham, MA
The last two nights have been very exciting for FLEFF! Now that the Cinemapolis screenings are underway it feels everyone has really gotten amped up!
The crowds down at the theater are very lively and energized. Every post-screening discussion has been full of energy and passion, since these issues and ideas are so important to the filmmakers and their audience. That's what makes seeing a film at FLEFF so unique -- the chance to talk to the filmmaker after the viewing.
Thursday night I saw "Even the Rain", a fiction feature film about a Spanish film crew making a movie in Bolivia amidst the Water Wars. In the film, the director casts a local Bolivian to play a major role. He soon finds out that this local is one of the prominent activists fighting for water and his rebellion throws the director and his crew through the biggest obstacles imaginable. I personally loved this film -- it really showcases the passion and determination put into filmmaking, as well as the passion of the locals to fight for water and essentially their lives.
Attending the screening was the film's casting director Rodrigo Bellot, an IC alum who it has been an absolute pleasure to have at FLEFF. Following the screening, Bellot conducted an enlightening Q&A, and he also spoke at the "How to Get Your Break" panel discussion yesterday evening.
Bellot will be at FLEFF again today -- don't miss the chance to meet him and the other FLEFF guests!
Last night, I then saw F. W. Murnau's "The Last Laugh" with live music performed by John Stetch. Really incredible. It felt very experimental in the way he would transition from scene to scene by isolating one sound or bringing a new one in, or just by changing the way he hit the drums or which keys he played. Keep in the mind the movie's original soundtrack is composed of an entire orchestra -- Stetch performed it by himself!
There will be two more silent film screenings with live music performances: Tonight, 7pm "Siren of the Tropics, and Tomorrow, 7pm "Storm Over Asia."
"Even the Rain" will also be screening again today -- go see it if you haven't!
Also, don't forget to head down to Delilah's for the after parties if you want to chat it up will all of the FLEFF guests!