Archive for the ‘short films’ Tag
As I left Channel 4 for York yesterday the taxi driver avoided Whitehall due to “something going on down there” – it was the now annual gathering of a ‘million masks’ to march against Capitalism. The masks are those Guido Fawkes masks beloved of everyone from left-field comicbook artist Alan Moore to right-winger Paul Staines. Guido is the name Staines uses when fighting Socialism. Guido was the name Guy (Fawkes) used when fighting for the Spanish.
I missed my train north by a minute but luckily the guard on the next one was short-sighted and missed the invalidity of my ticket. On arrival in York I walked along the city walls and into the quaintly English in an ecclesiastical sort of way city centre. Dumped my Wigan Casinoish moddy bag at Middleton’s hotel and headed for the opening of the Aesthetica Short Film Festival, a BAFTA-qualifying shorts fest at which I spoke today to an audience of 180 young’uns in a steeply raked lecture theatre at York St John University.
At the opening gathering I bumped into Revolution Software’s Charles Cecil, a games geezer descended from some notorious Elizabethan Cecil (Robert I think). I used to see him regularly at the annual b.tween cross-platform conference. We watched 5 opening short films in the City Screen auditorium, of which 3, possibly 4, were too long IMHO. Good production values and well made (mostly dramas) but not truly taking on board the aesthetics and dynamics of the online video age.
Later in the evening I wandered the lanes of York, eventually finding myself under this sign for the Guy Fawkes Inn:
So it’s 5th November. The masked men in the West End by now had started setting fire to police vans and taking on the pigs. Across the rest of the country fireworks are exploding. And I’m standing on the streets where Guy Fawkes was born in 1570 – under one of those masks. I didn’t even know he came from York until I found his inn.
I wandered on around the tranquil Minster, no-one much around, too late for firework noise, a gentle drizzle in a diffuse sodium light. Past the stone workshop where 21st century men carve stone components from the very same stone in which the monumental building was originally constructed, to repair its ancient fabric.
I returned along the cobbled quay by the Ouse to listen to Steely Dan and write about suffragettes. Now I’m listening to John Martyn on my newly acquired red iPod Nano and writing about another famous political militant on the train home.
As the ridiculous and slimy Tory discussions about the idealogical privitisation of Channel 4 continue at Prime Minister’s Questions this week (it costs the public nothing, it’s not broken and it doesn’t need private investment) I’m a bit sorry Guido didn’t manage to blow the mothers (of the mother of Parliaments) up.
My session today was as panelist rather than chair, on the subject of the rise of the Short Form Doc. Showed clips from a range of my recent commissions from Circus Girls to Body Mods, from Futurgasm to The Black Lesbian Handbook, to give a sense of the variety of output. The session started by showing two of the earliest short form films known, from late 19th century France (including the Lumiere Bros.) Shared the platform with Katie Metcalfe from the Short of the Week site/Sundance and a couple of struggling documentarists from Greece among others – it was a good, broad mix. My old friend Bill Thompson from the BBC was in the audience and captured the session in this cheeky tweet:
The new Sheffield DocFest Director, Elizabeth McIntyre, was also there and was strongly supportive of my assertion that it was misleading and plain wrong to portray short form as the little brother of long form documentary. It is not short TV, not cheap TV, it is a thing in itself, a fabulous form.
I met the acting Director at breakfast (Mark Atkins), as well as the recently retired Director (Heather Croall) and the current Chair (Alex Graham) so that was the full set today.
Before my session I went to the Brett Morgen masterclass in the City Hall where I hung a bit with the Music Doc posse from yesterday – Brett, Paul Viragh, Chris Wilson and Leslie Lee. I picked up some good tips from Brett – who talked about Cobain: Montage of Heck, The Kid Stays in the Picture and Crossfire Hurricane – including his ambitious approach of striving for an immersive cinematic experience to distinguish his docs e.g. to solve the problem that dozens of books and numerous films had already told the Stones story when the band brought Crossfire Hurricane to him – he sees his films as “a ride”. Also his use of asynchronous sound is interesting.
After the ‘Make it Short’ session, which seemed to go down really well, I went for a drink with Bill and had a fascinating chat with Bill, Brett and my friend & former colleague Jan Younghusband (of BBC Music) about new tech, AI and the spaces of human presence in our era.
I sat outdoors for a bit in the afternoon watching a documentary about the relationship between human beings and the earth on the hill of Howard Street, on a lawn in a deckchair in the June sunshine, enjoying its hippy vibe whilst reading ‘Our Mutual Friend’, all round green&pleasant.
In the evening I went to see a film about The Damned (Don’t You Wish That We Were Dead) by Wes Orshoski. It was entertaining with some really funny moments, quite conventional but a great range of interviews (from Chrissie Hynde to Mick Jones). Wes spoke a bit after the screening, an enthusiastic Yank, and Captain Sensible’s son was in attendance. From Neat Neat Neat via Smash It Up to Eloise The Damned turned out some great tunes through their various early incarnations. In short, they were The Ramones of Britain. A bit too silly for their own long-term good, condemning themselves to being something of a footnote.
Really enjoying working on this new project (Phase 1 launched yesterday, main site launches 13th September at http://www.4thought.tv) First C4 programme to have URL as a title. It was great to read this initial reaction in The Guardian as they clearly get the idea…
Channel 4 rescues the God slot
The new Channel 4 series of religious and ethical meditations breathes life into a stale format
If last night’s 4thought.tv is indicative of things to come, then there might yet be some hope for the God slots.
The new series of short films to be screened after Channel 4 News feature a single speaker who reflects on religious and ethical issues or aspects of their spiritual lives from their personal experience. Nothing particularly new there is would seem. But despite being considerably shorter, and generally more spacious with its script, it looks like being a lot grittier and down to earth than the platitudes which emerge during other pauses for thought such as Radio 4’s Thought for the Day.
The first offering to kick off the series was by Dr Gill Hicks, who lost her legs in the 7 July London bombings. In just a few powerful sentences, she reflected on her experience of God through those who helped her, but also the choice she felt she faced between life and death.
Usually God contributions are the preserve of the identifiably religious. Clergy, theologians, even thinktankers have been chosen as religious
“representatives”. This has predictably led to the debate about who should be “in” and who should be excluded from delivering their reflection, on the basis of whether their belief system is important, or relevant enough to qualify. With a few notable exceptions, the slots subsequently reflect back – in often bland monologue with a moral pay-off at the end – the values and perspectives of big religion.
It’s not the fault of the contributors so much as the way the slots are structured and the culture that surrounds them. Often devoid of attitude and original experience, the presentations can sound contrived, and meander aimlessly amidst the harder news output. Which is a shame, because space for reflection amongst the 24 hour news churn should be an important contrast to help the listener or viewer refocus and get a sense of perspective in a way that is accessible to all.
And there are many ways to do it if you are prepared to move beyond the old formula – as Channel 4 is now showing. In particular they seem to be reviving the idea of “testimony”. For their slot focuses on people’s lives and experiences as much as philosophical or doctrinal concepts. Gritty, difficult, uncomfortable issues and ideas that haven’t been packaged into a neat formula can emerge more easily when the focus is what has happened to a person, rather than a more abstract tradition of thought.
There is of course huge value in philosophy, theology and the wisdom that has developed over centuries. But there is merit too in stepping away from it, and listening to the experiences to those who would not immediately be identified as religious. In many ways it makes perfect sense. If you want a reflection on exclusion, then listen to the excluded. If you want to hear about poverty, then listen to those who live with it on a day to day basis. And if you want a new angle on the old, tired debate about whether God exists, and if so why there is so much suffering, then listen to someone who has survived the carnage of a bomb blast. They may just have some powerful and thought provoking reflections on whether God was there or not.