Speculations on Openings, Closings, and Thresholds in International Public Media
Thursday, January 6, 2011
Blog posting written by Patricia Zimmermann, professor, cinema, photography and media art at Ithaca College and codirector of the Finger Lakes Environmental Film Festival
What Makes Me Mad
We need more top ten lists of the best documentaries of the year.
Enough of this entertainment industry pablum about the rise of the theatrical documentary. Most of the documentaries celebrated in these reviews are American, use narrative arcs and characters, and draft genre conventions to minimize complexity, abstraction, and explanation.
Here’s my challenge: we should multiply and amplify as many lists as possible of the best documentaries of the year. And not just the wanna-be-theatricals-coopting-community-as-outreach-until-the-feature-is-greenlighted films.
This is that endlessly fun time of year when e-blasts from Variety, the New York Times, The Village Voice and Indiewire announcing endless top ten lists percolate like mustard seeds popping in hot oil in a wok in my inbox.
Okay, I’ll admit it: I love the lists.
They rank up there with the Academy Awards as beloved film rituals that mean everyone I know will want to chat about film rather than the Republican coup d’etat in Washington. How glorious: at my local haunts, Island Fitness and Gimme Coffee, the talk shifts from Obama and nautilus and sustainable coffee to…cinema. Heaven!
These lists jab me with guilt about films I saw earlier in the year that drifted away from memory. And then they flood me with regrets about other films that I never got around to seeing or that only had a short run at Cinemapolis in Ithaca. Netflix can’t remedy the exhilaration of a packed house and popcorn.
But something really, really bugs me about these lists. They overflow with commercial American industry narrative films with big budgets for marketing even though the films pirate the ambiguities of episodic plots and exploration of philosophical ideas from international art cinema. So please, DO NOT TALK TO ME ANYMORE about BLACK SWAN!
Professional film reviewers joust to outdo each other to write the most pithy one-line descriptions advertising their penetrating wit and puns. They always seem to toss in a film that only rarefied people who go to film festivals in Rio, Seoul, Mumbia or Berlin can see.
What I Did About It
So, I am fighting back.
I'm reverse engineering these lists. I ‘m crowdsourcing top ten lists, call it participatory listmaking, or the end of the US centric cinematic empire of the top ten list.
I popped out a status update on Facebook asking my friends for their picks for groundbreaking and game-changing documentary of 2010. Then I culled the lists and put them in alphabetical order.
If you want to know what the films are about, just click on the link. If you want to add a film, just slide it into the comments section of this blog, or find me on Facebook.
Oh, I forgot to mention something. On my lists, the films don’t have to be theatrical. They just need to be game-changers.
Bhutto (Duane Baughman and and Johnny O’Hara, USA, 2010), submitted by Elisabeth Hoffman, Northwestern University in Qatar
Catfish (Ariel Schulman and Henry Joost, USA, 2010), submitted by Terry Huynh, Los Angeles
Exit through the Gift Shop (Banksy, USA/UK, 2010), submitted by Jason Longo, self-employed Director of Photography
His and Hers (Ken Wardup, Ireland, 2009) , submitted by Matt Fee, Ithaca College
I’m Still Here (Casey Affleck, USA, 2010), submitted by Emily Gallagher, Lower East Side Tenement Museum, New York
Last Train Home (Lixin Fan, Canada/China/UK, 2010), submitted by Elisabeth Press, Open Plans, New York
Sweetgrass (Ilisa Barbash and Lucien Castaing-Taylor, USA, 2009) submitted by Patricia Zimmermann, Ithaca College
Tears of Gaza (Vibeke Lokkeberg,Norway/Occupied Palestinian Territory, 2010) , submitted by Bjorn Sorenssen, Norwegian University of Science and Technology
The Regretters (Marcus Linden, Sweden, 2010), submitted by Patrick Sjoberg, Karlstad University, Sweden
Waiting for Superman (Davis Guggenheim, USA, 2010) , submitted by Dave Prunty, Ithaca College
Sunday, January 2, 2011
Agriculture and Cinema?
What do agricultural economics and cinema have in common?
And five more... the Global Social Change Film Festival (GSCFF) slated to unspool in Ubud, Bali, Indonesia April 13-17, 2011.
For Cynthia Phillips, the founding director of this new festival, the challenges of food security, world hunger, poverty, and sustainable futures lead directly and logically to film and media for social change.
A New Film Festival in Indonesia
The Global Social Change Film Festival and Institute focuses not on film markets, deals, auteurs, landing big movie stars, discoveries of the next breakthrough genius, or launching the next new wave.
“We’re about creating spaces for dialogue around these films,” explains Phillips. “We want to connect filmmakers and activists for community building.”
To this end, the festival plans to convene filmmakers, activists, and audiences for meaningful discussion in Bali, an island renowned for its embrace of the arts, slower pace, and open culture. With only 8 feature films screened in open air venues over 4 days, the festival is making a strong statement that extended dialogue matters.
Phillips hopes that filmmakers will explore how to build audiences beyond festivals by linking with activist groups. And she hopes that activists will learn more about the possibilities of a range of media.
In an international media landscape crammed with film festivals in nearly every city on almost every theme imaginable, the GSCFF possesses an impressive clarity of vision by answering real needs. According to Phillips, the festival focuses on “ addressing the needs of filmmakers to become more effective at outreach, and addressing how activists can become better storytellers.”
It’s a large mandate—but scalable. For Phillips, one word keeps everything in focus: outreach.
From Economics to Outreach
Phillips sports an unusual background for a film festival director.
After getting her PhD in agricultural economics from Michigan State University, she pulled together a team to record a convening by the USAID on hunger and poverty in Africa. That lead to a stint in Singapore working in international marketing for American Express. And, now, she’s a high profile, high energy strategic planning consultant for a range of high end clients like One Degree Media, 2020 Fund, and others via her C. A. Phillips Company.
Along the way, she did some programming for the Sedona International Film Festival in Arizona around sustainability issues and locally sourced food.
That experience ignited her interest in solving a key unresolved problem lurking underneath the utopian, user-generated, all-tools-are-accessible-everyone-can-do everything, Web 2.0 media ecosystem: how do we build audiences for beautiful, well-produced social change films?
Staying on Point
The Global Social Change Film Festival seems to be unpacking that gnarly audience and outreach question in innovative ways. It’s honoring the nongovernmental social media group Engage Media in Jakarta, Indonesia with a special innovator award. It’s giving a special activist award to the Women and Children Crisis Center of Tonga. And it is honoring Indonesian filmmaker and social activist Nia Dinata.
During the day, the Institute part of the festival will offer a range of pointed workshops on pressing, unresolved, but necessary topics like Commercially Viable Social Change Filmmaking and Distribution, Hybrid Models of Distribution, and Film, Audience Building and Social Action and Environmental Film.
Challenges and Dialogues
However, challenges lurk despite this clarity of vision, marketing savvy, and ability to pull in partners like the Global Fund for Women, Global Girl Media,and First People’s Worldwide. All films need to pass through the government review board for approval, a time consuming process but one that GSCFF respects as part of the media regulatory environment in Indonesia. It’s also hard to pull together resources in a tough economy for a first-time film festival.
Drilling down into details like how to get different activists from around the Southeast Asian region to Ubud for workshops, the endlessly optimistic and undaunted Phillips observes “People are always asking me why start a film festival festival in this tough economy? “
Her answer is simple: “I tell them we need to creative a space for dialogue about social change media and activism and outreach.”
Saturday, January 1, 2011
The Favorite Film Challenge winners and honorable mentions wrote about features and shorts, commercial cinemas and international art films. All the winners were students enrolled in Introduction to Film Aesthetics and Analysis at Ithaca College in Fall 2010.
They wrote passionately and eloquently about films from China, the US, Germany, Senegal, Canada, India, and the United Kingdom. The time periods spanned from the 1920s to the present.
The grand prize winners and winners received complimentary passes to Ithaca’s local art cinema, Cinemapolis, and a copies of recent books written by Ithaca College cinema studies faculty Dr. Steve Tropiano and Dr. Patricia Zimmermann.
GRAND PRIZE WINNER
James Earl, Cinema, Photography and Media Arts, ’14, for Shanghai Triad (Zhang Yimou, China, 1995)
Ian Carsia, Cinema, Photography and Media Arrts, ’14, for Scorpio Rising (Kenneth Anger, United States, 1964)
Janet Early, Cinema, Photography and Media Arts, ’14, for Singin in the Rain (Stanley Donen and Gene Kelly, United States, 1952)
Neli Gacheva, Cinema, Photography and Media Arts, for The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (Robert Wiene, Germany, 1920)
Rachel Lewis-Krisky, Documentary Studies and Production, ’14, for Black Girl (Ousmane Sembene, Senegal, 1966)
Samantha Towle, Cinema, Photography and Media Arts, ’14, for Earth (Deepa Mehta, Canada/India, 1998)
Kevin Campbell, Cinema, Photography and Media Arts, ’12, for Lemon (Hollis Framptom, United States, 1969)
Jon DeMaio, Philosophy, ’14, for Street of Crocodiles (Brother Quay, United Kingdom, 1987)
Lexus Lomison, Cinema, Photography and Media Arts, ’14, for Earth (Deepa Mehta, Canada/India, 1998)
Aimee Rizzo , Culture and Communication, ’14, for Soul Kitchen (Fatih Akin, Germany, 2009)
Shane Rubano, Cinema, Photography and Media Arts, ’14 for Street of Crocodiles (Brother Quay, United Kingdom, 1987)
Emily Sussman, Writing, ’12, for Meshes of the Afternoon (Maya Deren, United States, 1943)
To our generous sponsors of the Favorite Film Challenge, Cinemapolis, Ithaca’s downtown art cinema on the Ithaca Commons and major partner of the Finger Lakes Environmental Film Festival, for the complimentary movie passes for our winners.
To Dr. Steve Tropiano of Ithaca College’s James B. Pendleton Center in Los Angeles for generously supplying copies his books as prizes.
And to Mickey Casad and Corinna Lee, part of the teaching team for Introduction to Film Aesthetics and Analysis at Ithaca College, for serving as the jury for this contest.
Thursday, December 9, 2010
ITHACA, NY — The Global Alliance Against Traffic in Women (GAATW) — a Bangkok-based alliance of more than 90 nongovernmental organizations dedicated to defending the rights of trafficked persons and migrants — has formed a partnership with Ithaca College’s Finger Lakes Environmental Film Festival in order to discover ways to represent trafficked persons and migrants from a human rights–based perspective.
“FLEFF and GAATW are interested in discovering the ways in which digital art can visualize and engage viewers in experiencing the complexities of migration, human trafficking and labor issues,” said Patricia Zimmermann, a codirector of FLEFF. “Embodying how trafficked people’s identities and experiences can be fragmented and pigeon-holed by authorities and policy makers is very much in keeping with FLEFF’s mission of providing a vibrant space for dialogs that embrace public health, civil war and other global 21st-century concerns.”
“A person can simultaneously be a refugee, a worker, a trafficked person, a family breadwinner, a community leader and an undocumented migrant,” said Julie Ham, program coordinator for GAATW. “Yet policies created to help one identity may end up endangering another identity, such as when repatriation policies for trafficked persons endanger refugees trying to escape conflict and abuse. This partnership with FLEFF will enable us to explore how art practices can address the fragmentation and limitation of people’s identities in anti‐trafficking and migration policies.”
“Anti‐trafficking campaigns often rely on victimization narratives that leave structural barriers, such as racial discrimination and restrictive migration policies, unchallenged,” added Tom Shevory, also a codirector of FLEFF. “Within the framework of our GAATW partnership, we aim to use digital media as a platform to promote the recognition of trafficked persons’ rights, strengths and power. How, for example, may the bodies that are smuggled past political checkpoints be represented in ways that educate viewers about the geopolitical structures that depend on slavery-like practices and conditions?”
“Checkpoints,” in fact, will be the programming stream of FLEFF 2011, which will take place at Ithaca College and Cinemapolis April 11 to 18. In addition to a weeklong offering of feature films, forums, labs, panel discussions, for-credit labs on new media design and silent film/live music presentations, FLEFF 2011 will feature “Trafficked Identities.” Curated by Sharon Lin Tay and Dale Hudson, this digital art exhibition will give artists the opportunity to explore safety standards for migrant workers, the human rights threats posed by an increasingly global market and other issues central to GAATW’s mission.
A call for entries for “Trafficked Identities” will be issued in January 2011. The winning entry will be awarded a $250 cash prize.
For more information on FLEFF, visit www.ithaca.edu/fleff.
More information on GAATW is available at http://www.gaatw.org.
Launched in 1997 as an outreach project from Cornell University’s Center for the Environment at Cornell University, the Finger Lakes Environmental Film Festival was moved permanently to Ithaca College in 2005. It is housed in the Division of Interdisciplinary and International Studies as a program to link intellectual inquiry and debate to larger global issues.
Tuesday, December 7, 2010
As the snow falls and film studies courses wrap up for the semester, it's time to uncork your passions and join the FAVORITE FILM CHALLENGE.
Pick your favorite film of Introduction to Film Aesthetics and Analysis, if you are one of my students, or, your favorite Cinemapolis film of the fall, if you are not one of my students. Then, explain why it's your favorite film in a short, well-written paragraph. Post your challenge in the comments section of this blog.
By late next week (Friday December 17), we'll select a winner. The winners will receive some specially selected film books and some passes for free movies to Cinemapolis as prizes. The judges are Mickey Casad, Corinna Lee and me. DEADLINE: Thursday December 16 at MIDNIGHT.
Criteria: a solid, compelling, eye-opening, moving, and convincing argument for your film.
Join the FAVORITE FILM CHALLENGE. See you in the comments section on this blog!