Premiering: (my fifth assignment)

Initial Release (of my work): April 15th, 2015

Film: Burt’s Buzz [Directed by: Jody Shapiro, 2013]

My Buzz on Documentaries: 

Burt's Buzz (2013) PosterIn an article written by a film professor, Henrick Juel seeks to uncover a definition for the film genre, Documentaries.  To do this, Juel asks his students to share their criteria of what they believe to be a definition.

To start, he pinpoints and he dismisses the everyday, mundane assumption that many associate with documentary films:

“The phrase “representation of reality” is utterly mistaken as a definition of documentary, because the idea of a film as mirroring is a false one and a very misleading ideal…to believe that reality is made up first by objective facts and secondly by subjective or personal sentiments is to make you yourself blind and deaf to the prevailing power structures and ideologies of this world.”

Recently, I stumbled upon a documentary about the Co-founder of a famous personal-care product, Burt’s Bees.

As someone who carries the recognizable yellow tube in their pocket wherever I go, I was unaware that the Farmer who is featured on the Burt’s Bees products is a real man; in fact, his name is Burt.

Coincidence? –Well, in watching the documentary, Burt’s Buzz, I quickly learned.

For a little context and background, here is the clip to watch the trailer:

If you watched the trailer, you kinda get the gist that, the purpose of this film is to discover the world of a simple, yet eccentric man, Burt. Director, Jody Shapiro, illustrates Burt’s life through a series of interviews; featuring Burt, as himself, people who have been apart of his life, and those who are associated with the Burt’s Bees company. Utilizing the editing style of ‘cut-away(s)’, the film segues, back and forth, from these interviews, to following Burt’s everyday “routine”.

H. Juel provides several theories that help to characterize a documentary. In one instance he outlines, “Documentaries seem to have a certain obligation towards “truth”. This may be understood, however, in different ways:”

Illumination theory of Truth-

to become enlightened, to see and hear and understand more,

to become inspired and gain insight (perhaps recollection).

There is no true narrative that accompanies Burt’s Buzz, other than the interviews themselves; however, in allowing the subjects, and the scenery that surrounds Burt’s world, to speak for themselves is to this Documentary’s advantage.  Screen Shot 2015-04-15 at 9.34.23 AM

Almost mimicking the docile persona of Burt, as an approach to compose and to learn about his life, does offer audiences an insightful vantage. This friendly and fairly basic format affords the audience the opportunity to decide either, to accept the lifestyle of this man, Burt, and the company in which he represents, or to reject it.

And there, lo and behold, I have uncovered my definition as to what I expect and associate as a Documentary:

The film must provide an opportunity for the viewer to experience the subject in its natural habitat. Moreover, in the editing choices and the composition of the narrative, the film should prompt the audience to participate in a thought provoking and conscious viewing experience; where the audience can decide to either accept, or to challenge the matter or person that is on the silver-screen.

Am I right? I’m not sure…but I do agree that there is no concrete definition for Documentary Films. The criteria for this genre has evolved to be somewhat dense, and it might very well be infinite. I guess the bigger and cyclical question is, what do you think?



Premiering: (my fourth assignment)

Initial Release (of my work): February 27th, 2015

Film: Big Boys Gone Bananas!*  [Directed by: Fredrik Gertten, 2011]

My Thoughts Gone Bananas!*

In Saunders explanation of Communist Cinematic history, he describes that “The State of Cinematography was instituted to produce filmmakers whose job was to convey messages from the state to the citizens; the soviets were taking film, its modernity and its illustrative possibilities very seriously as a re-educative tool capable of instilling…messages with Bloshevik fevour” (38).

Most often, these “re-educative” messages were not visibly illustrated; rather, they were embedded in the crevice of the storyline, causing an unconscious impression upon the soviet populace. While the soviets had a darker intention in their reason for creating films, today I do not think that we have digressed from this format.  Films, more specifically documentaries continue to insert and impart opinion to their audience; filmmakers just happen to make these ideals more apparent, both in visually and in dialogue.

But, is that really a bad thing?

I want you to close your eyes for one moment….go ahead, I’ll give you a second….Now, just imagine that you’re a journalist out on an investigative story, a story that may become controversial, but you are abiding by the journalist code of ethics, remaining neutral, and you are only writing and documenting the truth as it is unfolding before you.   You go home, you write and edit your final1341683582-1769186030 product, and just before you go to publish your work *WHAM* you’ve been slapped in the face with a potential law suit, one that could ensue if you proceed in publishing your final piece – the piece that you have poured our heart, sweat and blood into…’s a scary thought to imagine, huh?

The man of the hour: Fredrik Gertten

Well, in Big Boys Gone Banana’s!* this film documents the true story about a Swedish filmmaker who recounts this very nightmare (a nightmare I can only imagine) that he did face in attempting to premier his previous film Bananas!*. Prior, Swedish filmmaker Fredrik Gertten documented a situation that surrounded 12 Nicaraguan plantation workers who brought a lawsuit against the giant fruit company, Dole Food Company.

Without my giving too much away about what happens at the end of the film, I believe that this documentary beautifully showcases the difficulties and the berating response(s) that both filmmakers and journalist face in creating and publishing their work. The message of this documentary was transparent; the overall point of the narrative being, you (as a journalist, investigative reporter, filmmaker, as a human being) have the right to fight for your rights.  In Gretten’s instance, he was fighting for the right to Freedom of Speech.

“The Pen is Mightier than the Sword” ~Edward Bulwer-Lytton (1839)

Let me pose my question again: is implanting an obvious message truly a bad thing? Big Boys Gone Bananas!* may have been steered in a bias direction, however, this film’s “re-educative” purpose was created for the human populace, with an intention and purpose that involved our universal well-being.

While my opinion on this film, and this matter may be blatantly obvious, Never fail to forget that you too have the right to have your own and to express your own thoughts.



Premirering: My Third Assignment – Dialogue in Silence and Sight

Initial Release (of my work): February 23rd, 2015

Film: The Man with the Movie Camera [Dziga Vertov_1929]

As described by my “good friend”, Wikipedia, The Man with the Movie Camera is an experimental 1929 silent documentary film, with no story and no actors, by Soviet director Dzigia Vertov, edited by his wife Elizaveta Svilova. Vertov’s feature film…presents urban life in the Soviet cities of Kiev, Kharkov, Moscow and Odessa. From dawn to dusk Soviet citizens are shown at work and at play, and interacting with the machinery of modern life.

Although this movie does not have an intended, or a deliberate storyline, the numerous moments that were captured and arranged together convey multiple sub-stories in and of themselves. Allow me to explain….

Around 18 to maybe 19 minutes into the film Vertov has the camera fixated on a little doll riding a toy bicycle in a merchants window; Screen Shot 2015-02-23 at 9.50.31 AMalthough the camera doesn’t linger on the little doll for long, shortly after the film cuts away to the hustle and bustle of a very busy Soviet city.

The audience is given a glimpse of rail-trains running through the streets, the city-dwellers selling their goods and policemen ushering and conducting traffic. As Vertov is showing the various moments that happen in the life of a Russian city, he intermittently shows a young boy riding a bicycle through the crowed streets (or what I like to call, an Icicle Tricycle). Screen Shot 2015-02-23 at 9.54.17 AM

This back and forth, cutting from the mundane actions of the city to this boy riding his Icicle Tricycle is, or at least what I believe to be a result of foreshadowing.

Let’s think back for a second: do you remember when I mentioned how the film showed a fixated shot on a little doll riding a bicycle in the window?….ahhh, yes! As Saunders has explained more clearly than I can, “Vertov [and his wife were] dazzling editor[s] taking the notion ‘life caught unawares’ and resembling it in a highly cinematic fashion…” (36). This film showcases supreme quality of and fineness in editing. While The Man with the Movie Camera may have not have had a predetermined or advertised storyline, I cannot help but imagine that these “ordinary” shots, or these everyday moments that were captured did not have some subtle purpose. Really though! When the film kept showing this boy riding his Icicle Tricycle it made wonder, where is he going? What is he delivering? Why is he in such a haste?

Moreover, what made this film so innovative and modern was Vertov’s willingness to take photographic risks. Take this moment for instance, (minute, 19:47):

Screen Shot 2015-02-23 at 10.02.21 AMAbove, you can see that the film overlapped two slanted shots of the city.

Today, this cinematic edit may not be praised for its inventiveness; however, it cannot be taken for granted how creative and groundbreaking this filming technique was in the late 20s, and how this experimental edit paved the road for the art in filmmaking.

If you, or anyone you know of is looking for inspiration in their editing techniques The Man with a Movie Camera is certainly a place to start taking notes.


Premiering: My Second Assignment- A Goldmine of Garbage

Initial Release (of my work): February 9th, 2015 

Film: Waste Land  [Directed by Lucy Walker & Karen Harley_2010]

wasteland2In America, we’re pretty accustomed to dividing and sorting our trash…you know, blue is designated for bottles and glass, green is for trash, and black is for paper. And every day of the week has it’s meaning…Monday is for bottles and glass, Wednesday is trash, and Friday is paper.


It’s almost second nature, a normalcy for our existence here in the U.S of A. However, in the documentary, Waste Land unveils a harsh reality that exists beyond the boundaries of what our nation considers to be expected and habitual.

Vik Muniz (posing with a portrait he made of himself)

Following a famous Brazilian artist, resident of NYC, Vik Muniz, the audience experiences this contemporary artists journey to Jardim Gramacho, the world’s largest landfill on the outskirts of Rio de Janeiro; and how Muniz creates art from this decrepit city with the help from the impoverished pickers who populate it.

This documentary is photographed in a ‘profilmic’ format. According to Saunders, a ‘profilmic’ movie documents “the world as recorded and in the presence of a camera crew (27).” In other words, the ‘profilmic’ mode photographs moments as they are transpiring. In this particular documentary, you will find many instances where the cameraman, or cinematographer is walking with the Muniz, leaping through heaps of garbage, or trailing with subject of focus. This mode of recording results as shaky footage- and as a final product on the silver screen, affords the audience with a look into the raw reality.

Additionally, what makes this documentary so dynamic and brilliant is that it is not entirely filmed i1bc54154e5ec84f5728b0eeb762382e2e8e1607bffe0b21bae8f875d08b9f53cn English. Often, when the language is anything but our own, we are accustomed to hearing a translator who has recorded a voiceover for the film; however, that is not the case in Waste Land.

Any comment, or interview spoken in Portuguese is accompanied by English subtitles. Some would argue that reading words on a screen diverts the viewer’s attention from what is being visually presented; however, I believe that in choosing not to have a translator record a voiceover adds a level of sincerity to the subjects at hand.

While you or I may not understand Portuguese, when watching this film you can hear the inflection of these people (the sadness, the happiness, the confusion) every tone is received and can be universally processed no matter what language you speak.

While watching this film, I found myself squinting at some parts, not because the images captured were intolerable, or too grotesque for the naked eye, but because this documentary was able to expose an unfathomable truth, by purely following the everyday life of a culture diversely different from my own.

This film is certainly jaw dropping, and beyond enlightening.


Top: Over Muniz’s shoulder, he is taking a picture of a Picker. Bottom: The photograph is enlarged, and the floor-sized canvas is accentuated with items from the landfill.

Premiering: My First Class Assignment

Initial Release (of my work) : January 31, 2015

Film: Visions of Light-The Art of Cinematography [1992, American Film Institute (AFI)]

American Film Institute (AFI)

When reading The Routledge Guide to Documentaries David Saunders explains, in order for a documentary to be successful director(s) must master the art in capturing truth.  It is not the art in designing a plot, but rather in capturing the plot as it is unfolding in front of the lens.  To finesse this art in filmmaking is a pivotal component to expose that desired truth; “documentary is best thought about in terms of the distinction between ‘a true story and the true story’ “ (7).

For the big premier of my first class assignment, I chose to watch the documentary, Visions of Light: The Art of Cinematography. This documentary covered the role of a DP, or a Director of Photography, and how their part has and continues to influence the creation of a storyline.  Narrated through a series of interviews conducted with renowned DPs, they explain their experiences filming in black and white, and their experiences in developing camera technology that was cutting edge and identifiable to their current studio.

While each DP had their personal touch in film making, each voiced that attention given to lighting and camera movements are what expose rawness and reality in a films storyline.  As one DP explained, to tell if a movie is a good movie is, to silence the sound, and if the audience is still intrigued by the visual itself then it is a good movie.  This DP reiterated that the visual elements alone should be expressive enough to communicate the story.  Many DPs, such as John Alton (who was a reoccurring point of reference in this documentary), he used the element underexposure, or darkness to his advantage.Only shedding light in particular apertures of a shot, or using limited exposure, or over exposure of light on an actor /actresses face was a cinematic tactic used to illustrate and to emphasis a sense of emotion, and/or to project a change in time.

Throughout Visions of Light, each DP interviewed advocated that using simple shots and selective lighting allows the visual being photographed to speak for itself.

In terms of filming techniques, I believe that many of the characteristics described by these renowned DPs apply seamless to filming techniques used in shooting non-fiction /Documentary films.

In Visions of Light, some DPs spoke about a style of filming that they called, NY Street Style.  This type of filming was dubbed not only for its obvious origin, but more importantly because the cinematography used by DPs in NY called for ‘on-location’ and ‘in the moment’ camera work.  Because NY did not have enormous studios or extensive lab space like Hollywood, DPs were required to be inventive when it came time to shoot. With the demanding environment that is NY, many scenes were improvised; actors and directors were forced to roll during the hustle and bustle of the city.

While many of these DPs spoke about films that are a part of the genre, Fiction, the elements used in filming their cinematic art exposed a true parallel that is required of and expected in documentaries; which is to capture the moment as it is and as it is happening.