Tuesday, March 31, 2009

I FINALLY saw Milk... I wanted to post about it!

well, even though this was a while ago, I still thought I would blog about it. I FINALLY saw "Milk" after having wanted to see it for awhile. I found that I much preferred the Documentary over the film.

First of all, I thought Sean Penn did an incredible Job playing Harvery Milk. Wow! It was unreal listening to and watcing him. I felt like I was looking at the real Harvery Milk from what I gathered. From the way he talked all the way down to his hand movements, Penn had him matched. It was so incredibly strange and eery. He also did an excellent job at portraying Harvey's inner character. The documentary seemed to show more of Harvey as he was on the outside, in terms of his roles in the political movement and office. The film really dug into the emotional aspect of his character especially his love relationships. There was a much bigger connection with Harvey in the film than in the documentary. I felt the audience could really connect with Harvey in film in terms of his relationship, regardless of his lover's sex. His relationship were told in a heart felt and tasteful way that you could understand his love for others. This was one thing that the film excelled in whereas the documentary could not.

On a side note, I thought it was neat that some of the actual true friends of Harvey had minor cameo roles in the film. It was a nice way to incorporate both worlds.

I thought the beginning of the film was told almost exactly as in the documentary and it was interesting to see how they twisted it to work with the film. I though it was fantastic how Harvey virutally narrated the film from the recording he was making. It was a nice way to tie the events together. I noticed the only time we saw Diane Feinstein was at the beginning of the film as well, to keep her character real.

The one big problem I had with the film was that I felt more of a political movement in the documentary than in the film. It seemed to random in the film that this one guy wanted to run for office out of no where and start a movement. In my opinion I never felt the cause to why Harvey wanted to be there so badly. The documentary really showed more about who Harvey was based on the interviews of his friends. I kept thinking in the film that Harvey seemed more of a guy who wanted to be in office "just because." There was a much more gradual movement and progression from Harvey started to finished.

As for Dan White, I never felt a connection with him in the film or a reason of motive. The way they positioned his resignation did not seem effective to me. Again, it felt random. I felt I never saw his struggles to the extent as they were in the documentary, especially with Moscone. To me, he almost felt like a character just thrown in the film to act as an opposition to Harvey versus a man who virtually frustrated and exhausted with his position. It all seemed a bit fast as well. He resigned, 30 seconds later the film, he wanted the job back. There was no progression and frustrated build up that would let me to believe he wanted vengeance.

The ending to the documentary had a MUCH larger impact as well. The whole candelight march in the documentary and the testimonials about it where so compelling. I never felt that in the film. I also never felt it for Harvey. His two friends showed up at city Hall to no one and they did not seem upset at all. I remember thinking, their best friend just died and then they just walk outside a see thousands of people and the movied ends. It was not very satisfying at all.

I love how the documentary took it much further and spoke about the trial and riots afterwards. I think that said more about the movement that anything in the film. A heterosexual man killed a homosexual man and virtually got off. It sparked more of an outrage and impact. The audience of the film did not get to experience that same shock and awe as in the documentary.

Overall, I will tend to prefer to documentary over the film, despite believing it is still a great film and incredible performace. I just felt the Documentary had more substance and emotion behind it. For those that havent seen both films, I recommend it. It is quite fascinating and an interesting insight how the screenplay was written.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Okie Noodling

I really enjoyed the screening Tuesday night of Bradley Beesley's documentary Okie Noodling. Beesley's film, which came out in 2001, is about the interesting sport of noodling, or catching cat fish using nothing but your hands. The sport is only legal in four states, one of them being Oklahoma where the documentary is focused. The most interesting part of this film is most definitely the topic of noodling. At first I thought it sounded boring however I found myself completely captivated by the hunt these men were on and the freakishly huge fish they were catching - some of them literally weighing half as much as I do!

Okie Noodling was laid out in chronological order, telling the history of noodling, introducing us to some of the small town Oklahomans who still noodle, and then unfolding the story of the noodling tournament. The film had engaging characters, mainly because noodling is a family sport. There was a lot of focus on the relationships between the characters, such as the family where nearly every male noodled or the uncle and his nephew. The fact that there was more to noodling than catching fish with your bare hands (the bonding it creates between family members) made the story all the more interesting and the characters more lovable. It was very easy to like these characters because of their passion for the sport of noodling as well as the relationships they had with one another.

I did find the characters slightly stereotypical however. Everyone seemed like small town bumpkins, making it less surprising that they are the type of people to go catching fish with their hands. The film was dominated by men, showing no female noodlers and only the wives of the noodlers, portraying them as worried and concerned for their crazy husbands. The film definitely also captures what we think of when we think "small town" and "Oklahoma" in the same sentence. There are many eccentric characters which seemingly emphasize the small town feel this film gives off.

I really enjoyed this film, despite thinking the whole concept of noodling is a little weird. The weirdness is what makes this such an interesting and engaging film and the characters are what make it likable and less of a crazy concept and more of a sport. If you missed this screening definitely try to see this on your own time! This movie was great!

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Bradley Beesley visits UT

The director of successful documentaries like Okie Noodling, Summercamp! and most recently Sweethearts of the Prison Rodeo, Bradley Beesley, made a visit for class today and discussed his rise to prominence. Although his oration covered a variety of topics, I found two of his points most interesting. First, the sense he gave of the attachment documentary subjects feel towards the documentarian even post-porject, and secondly he discussed "making stories" for his films.
I had not considered the depth at which a documentarian relates to his subjects. Beesley described some of his noodling friends calling him multiple times a week just to talk about their shared interests. I think I gained some perspective today on what getting "into" a project really means. For his documentary on the blues, Beesley lived with a muscian for about a year in poverty-striken northern Mississippi. This type of dedication and exposure led to him being considered a real part of the family even though he began as a big outsider (white, college-educated art student vs. poor, black musician). I hadn't realized before that feature length documentaries take so much TIME. Prof. Spiro also added a great point to cap this off - doing successive documentaries is like building an ever-larger family.
The other part of Beesley's visit that struck me was his perceived breaking of the cinema-verite rule of non-interference with his subjects. He said he frequently "made" stories to film. For example, before tackling Okie Noodling, Beesley created a competition for noodling that brought together fishermen from all over the area. This provided him with lots of subjects, lots of access and lots of footage. Some people may think of this as cheating, but I'm all for taking adavantage of any situation, even ones you make yourself. I would never direct my documentary subjects to do something unnatural, but I definitely have no problem in creating a situation to get the results I want. Overall I fel Beesley's visit was very informative and fun - he's certainly a creative documentarian who is helping shape the genre.

Re..'wicka wicka'....Remix

I didn't just see a documentary this past week at SXSW, I saw a movement. RiP: A Remix Manifesto, as a movie, is about the copyright vs. cultural creativity. The film itself is a self-proclaimed biased movie. Director Brett Gaylor actually encouraged the audience to boo and cheer the movie as it went along. He told us that the movie was meant to stir up emotion and make us have a reaction. We booed the bad people when they were on screen and cheered the heros.

Brett's argument is that too much of our culture is misproperly owned by corporations who want to hault the creative pulse in this country. He says that if the rules that exist now, existed 100 or 50 years ago, we wouldn't have things like Disney or The Rolling Stones. His main focus is the industry of mash-up and remix music that is extremely popular and spreading quickly.

I enjoyed the movie and respected his well supported argument, but more importantly I was astonished at the packaging of the movie. Brett has literally started a movement to remix his own movie. He has started a website and his own company that allows internet users to have full rights to clips of his movies so audience members can go home and edit new parts in.

Brett still wants to make money of course, but he realizes that yo can't fight the creative market with lawsuits and ridiculous fines. You have to embrace the change. You have to respect the creative nature of our culture and dare to inspire it further.

Technically the film is so well edited you feel like your watching him create a mash-up song as the movie unfolds. He keeps the audiences attention by referring to relevant artists such Girl Talk or showing the importance of software such as Napster and Youtube. By creating a bias movie with a clear agenda and being open about it, he allows the audience to be inspired. He gives people a reason to continue to fight against the system and build upon the great culture of entertainment that has put this country at the top of all the industries.

This is the website where you can watch the full movie in 5 minute segments. The director intros and closes each clip with a little something to say about the clip itself. This is just a cool documentary. http://www3.nfb.ca/webextension/rip-a-remix-manifesto/

Monday, March 23, 2009

Welcome Back!

Hello Documaniacs!

SO great that so many of you got to enjoy SXSW doc premiers!

We have a special guest in RTF on Wed. at 6 p.m. in 4D: Bradley Beesley. So, if you missed his premier at SXSW, please come to this outside event and feel free to bring friends.

On another, more practical note, please get release forms signed by all your primary subjects. Underage subjects need parent or guardian signature. I do not require that you turn these in, but they are important if you want your docs to have a life outside the University.

You can print out a release and customize with your info HERE:


See y'all on Wed.


Saturday, March 21, 2009

ok, i cant figure out how to post videos. so...nevermind. 

Intangible Asset No. 82

Apparently, I'm the only one (of the select students i asked) who saw this film.
Fine. But you're missing out.

In her debt film, singer/director Emma Franz follows famous Australian drummer Simon Barker to Korea to find the country's "Intangible Asset No. 82", a geriatric shaman who was bestowed the title by his government as a recognition of his mastery of the art of improvisation on a sort of two sided drum. Barker's search for the Asset, Kim Seok-Chul, has been seven years in the making. Not only is the great shaman intangible, he's wily too and tends to be hard to find. Barker, with Franz in tow, meets up with another Korean musician who knows how to find Seok-Chul. The film is spent chronicling the journey of Barker and the Korean to different master musicians and finally, Seok-Chul himself. 

Franz does an incredible job. Her lighting (mostly natural) is beautiful and her images are powerful. She is able to capture a singer perched on a waterfall and a private shamanic ceremony, both difficult circumstances under which to film, and disappears into both scenes easily so that the audience feels like its participating in the action. The film is very musically based so there are many shots of Barker and many others playing the drums, of singing, of chanting, etc. She puts strong emphasis on music as the universal language and lets the musicians and artist featured in her film exemplify her point. Barker's evolution as a drummer is apparent in the progression the of story and his wide-eyed appreciation of all things Korean endears the audience to him and his personal journey almost immediately. 

I felt like the editing created a nice pace throughout the film, but the whole shebang itself was a little long. But she was quite long winded on her answers during the Q&A, so lengthiness seems to be a preference for her. The story itself never loses traction because all of the characters are so charismatic and open. I found myself totally captivated by Barker's journey and Franz's strong imagery. Her debut film is very impressive, and coming out on dvd! 

here's the link to the trailer

Friday, March 20, 2009

Sweethearts of the Prison Rodeo

Austinite Bradley Beesley was totally a rock star stepping out of a black lincoln and walking the red carpet into the Paramount theater while groupies wooped and hollared at him. He arrived on time for the world premiere of his latest documentary "Sweethearts of the Prison Rodeo" where it was well-received.
With such a powerful story, I knew this documentary would be great. It follows the story of several prison inmates at high security facilities in Oklahoma, switching back and forth from a male prison to the female prison Eddie Warrior. The majority of woman in the prison are being charged with drugs. That majority also have children. Every year these prisons participate in one of the last prison rodeos in the world in which inmates try out to be involved in bronco racing, bull-riding and bull-poker. The documentary provides a glimpse into how much this rodeo helps the inmates. As Jamie Brooks stated, "It was the first time I felt free." The inmates look forward to this event all year. They attempt in acting good in prison so as not to mess up their chances of being on the team.
The cinematography in the film is very captivating. One of the male prison inmates, Danny, is interviewed in his cell with moving around the bars to capture his face. It emphasizes the division of prisoner and visitor. A distinct difference when talking to Danny, who is charged with murdering a victim by stabbing them to death seven times. Although his murder sounds gruesome, the documentary highlights his social personality. Somehow, I was able to gravitate toward him and feel sorry for the length of time he has spent in jail, thirteen years without parole. This leads to a question I have about the filmmaker's choice to enlighten the prisoners. What about the victims families? I know it's horrible that these prisoner mothers are being separated from their children and spending time in an unfortunate place, but they eventually escape that life. Their victims are gone and can't experience life ever again. I wondered about the other side, the other side of the prisoners stories. Because those are probably very heartfelt, too.
I'm a vegetarian and have a huge heart for animals so, watching scenes of inmates working in a meat packing plant or others scraping their spurs on the side of the bronco they're riding was very hard to watch. It took my heart away from the inmates featured.
By presenting the stories of the mother inmates, it puts forth the bigger issue of lack of programs to help inmates who are being held on drug charges. In my opinion, it's wasteful spending to throw people in jail for petty non-violent drug transactions. They need help, not discipline. They need guidance to find a way to make a living without depending on drug-selling. One inmates talks about how she thinks how hard it is to work because the eight hours she works in one day she can make in a couple of minutes selling $100 of meth or some other drug. It's an issue that is important and was great to see mentioned in the documentary.
If you have a chance, check it out. This film is a unique story in presenting an overlooked issue among woman prison inmates.

Check out the Q&A I filmed and edited in three different parts (click HQ at the bottom of the video to watch in high quality):

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

The Winnebago Man

This is an amazing documentary by UT's own Ben Steinbauer. Apparently this documentary has been three or four years in the making and it shows. Having known about the project (though very little), I am completely blown away at the artistry, emotion, and talent that have been put into this film. I believe that this documentary will have a long life as a piece on the American pop culture of viral videos (as it should)!

I have a little criticism, however, about the structure and exposition of the film. It had become apparent to Ben that the documentary would need to include himself through his perspective. Unfortunately, I don't believe he set this up in the best possible way. Just as it was an after thought to have Ben as a character, it appeared as though it was an after thought within the film. The only clue as to his inclusion was him doing the voice overs and brief narrative sequences. Ben never introduced himself, and never addressed the camera in a real way (only through fake set-ups). Even when he was interacting with Jack Rebney, it seemed as if he was putting on an act - like he truly wasn't relating to Jack as Ben Steinbauer but as filmmaker Ben Steinbauer. Although the documentary isn't ultimately about Ben's personal quest to find the man behind the infamous viral video personality, it was a significant aspect and I believe a greater effort could have been made to expose the character Ben Steinbauer and his personal perspective in the introduction. Who is Ben Steinbauer?! (Somewhat irrelevant, but the way documentary included him it seems like a pertient question).

Some techniques that Ben uses that I've noticed are his tendency to shoot with real film - most of the time for b-roll footage. At one point they wanted encapsulate the beauty and serenity of northern California. Using film was an excellent idea in capturing the nuisances of the light and color of that region. Within these b-roll shots, he would shoot "portraits" of characters like Jack. For example, it would just be Jack standing there looking into the Sun. This device is useful in that it allows time for reflections and transitions. It was also justified by the fact that up to that point we had not seen Jack at all but from the worn out and degenerated VHS video. This was the time to look at the man - the Winnebago Man.

Some people may dis- me on this one, but I feel the introductory sequence of a film is an extremely important aspect that initially develops the mood and expectations for the film. Needless to say, I was blown away by the documentary's opening title sequence. Very beautifully and graphically done. Call me out on being a formalist but from that point, because of the artistry put into that sequence, I knew I was going to see an excellent documentary. Production value.

The documentary was great, and if you weren't able to see it at this SxSW film festival, I feel sorry for you. Those who went to the screening in which Jack made an appearance, well, I'm jealous.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

The Yes Men Are Back!

If you haven't had the pleasure to see the newest Yes Men movie The Yes Men Fix the World, you're missing out, but there's still time left. The last screening is Thursday at 9pm at the Alamo Ritz. I'm not sure, but I don't think it'll be actually released until the fall of this year.

The second film thrown into existence by the Yes Men is a joy ride. I'd go as far as to say it's better than the first. They have definitely become more skilled and proficient in utilizing comedy and satire as a means to an end. There are more gags, corporate conferences, and "narratives" to keep the documentary fresh and engaging throughout. I jotted down just a few techniques they had employed to suck the audience in and still convey a strong message.

In the beginning of the film at the first conference they go to, Andy Bichlbaum wears an eye-glass camera to infiltrate the unsuspecting crowd and seek candid reactions. Just like Ellen had suggested with the wireless lavs, the eye-glass cam is a non-intrusive means to get the reactions and content that you want - reactions free of conscious filters brought on by the "imposing" presence of a documentarian. The downside is that the use of such devices can lead to ethical issues. But, there's always the editing room to make those decisions, right? One of the most vivid reactions given by an attendee of one of the hoax speeches was caught on camera by the eye-glass cam. I won't share it with you (you'll just have to see the film), but it drove the point home of what the Yes Men are against, and it was a moment only made possible by the hidden camera.

The Yes Men Fix the World also utilizes old cartoon animations continuously throughout the documentary to illustrate the "innocent" evils of capitalism. The ideology of the animations are in great congruity with the ideology of the film. The silliness of the cartoon characters in what they are doing is as silly as the real life events and circumstances that are happening in the world "free market" and greed-based capitalism. Not only do the animations add to the satirical and comedic nature of the film, they are used purposefully as transitions within the documentary. The transitional aspect of the animations is that they are of a different medium and illustrative technique, but they are still very intact with the main ideology and principles of the film (activism and satire). Think of creative ways to do transitions that contribute to the story of your film.

Reactions. I'm not sure of any other documentary that utilizes reactions more readily than the Yes Men. From using eye-glass cams to juxtaposing their own reactions to people whom they interview. A lot of the comedic reactions where manipulated in the editing stage of production. When a fervent capitalist would finish with some outrageous response, it would immediately cut to the five second reaction of Andy and Mike staring bug-eyed with complete silence. From these reactions, it is now established that we're not looking towards the interviewees for the "facts" and "opinions" but instead have become attached to Mike and Andy and now identify with there "bug-eyed" responses. However, during each event, the documentary sets up the gag, but it begins to focus more on the attendees of the conference not just Andy and Mike. It usually utilizes the most revealing and comedic reactions from the audience at critical points during the speech. Also, after every event, the crew finds random conference attendees and interviews them. This is a good gorilla tactic in getting fresh response and reactions from individuals who are at the front line of the Yes Men cause. Through these reactions we can tell whether or not Andy and Mike's fiasco has worked in either an troubling enlightening manner or in a progressive and positive manner. These reactions are crucial in that they measure the events as either successful or as failures and help the documentary to be more about reactions than the hoaxes themselves.

They also utilize a blue screen with the interviews as a means to amuse the viewer with another gag. They ask the interviewees what they would like to have as there background. Most of the backgrounds are what they wish, but the Yes Men take liberty in changing some of them to less serious backdrops to more satirical and "associative" ones. This device allows the documentary the ability to mock the interviewees even further and associate them with what ever they find purposeful. This can obviously be seen as malicious mockery but hilarious nonetheless.

And finally, the documentary uses a "narrative" throughout the beginning of the film. They have become down on there luck and are looking for another hoax to pull off. I can surmise, that this actually happened, but they didn't actually happen to film it. So, they filmed not a reenactment but a comedic illustration and a loose representation to the exposition of the film. Rather than skipping it or putting random (non-essential) b-roll with VOs, they created a creative narrative of the Yes Men finding new hoaxes to do. This expository narrative was cinematically shot (canted, stable shots in HD with high-production value), utilized acting, and contained a VO as to clearly separate it from the actual events and consequences that happened mainly in DV with real circumstances (sometimes bad audio, non-acting, hand-held).

It was great that both of the Yes Men were at the screening and answered some questions after it. It's fortunate to hear that when asked if they are worried about people now recognizing them as hoaxers they replied with "No..." So, the Yes Men should be back once again for another great satirical and politically progressive documentary!

The Yes Men Website
Here's the trailer.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

i cried for the bees

Not one for insects, flying or otherwise, The Last Beekeeper seemed like a filler movie to me when i walked into the theater. HA! not so! It's a film about the flailing beekeeping industry and its impact on almond production in the United States. But the most stirring images in the film are the ones of dying bees. The fall, their teensy little legs shake and stretch, they rub their eyes. The true stars of the movies are the bees with the three beekeepers who are being followed as supporting actors. 

The story jumps between the three beekeepers easily but spends a bit too long on the most annoying one, a pitiful redheaded man. The least like-able of the three, an obsessive beekeeper who calls his partner replaceable, gets the least camera time, of which I was grateful. The director definitely chose interesting characters to follow even though only one drew any sympathy from me. The other two were harder to identify with, making their hive troubles less impacting on my feelings. The bees on the other hand literally caught the audiences' hearts. There were multiple moans during the shots of dying bees and empty hives. I really did cry.

I think the movie is well worth seeing. My only complaint is that it didn't get more in depth with the reasons why bees are disappearing in the US. There were some scary statistics, but a lack of scientific reasons for the populations' disappearances. It should be noted though that I'm a huge fan of scientists, researchers, etc. in documentaries and always enjoy hearing why they think things are happening the way they are. This story follows mostly the characters while intertwining them with the story of the devastation of the American bee populations in general. The director creates a really captivating and heart-wrenching film about something most people know nothing about. For that reason alone I recommend this film to everyone but it also has beautiful cinematography, funny parts, and stays interesting by moving at a good pace. 

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Over the Hills and (Blown) Away

When the lights went up at the end of this film, so did everyone in the audience. The standing ovation was for not only the director, Michel Scott, but for Rupert and Kristin, the parents of Rowan and co-stars of the film as well. I wasn't technically crying when the movie ended, but it was close enough.

Everything about the movie is phenomenal. The cinematography was, to me, the most impressive aspect of the movie, story aside. When he spoke to our class, the director talked about being on horseback and how difficult it was to ride with camera. Many of the shots in the film are shaky and bouncy which often ruins student films. But he (and the editor, who did an amazing job) used the shots that traditionally would be seen as useless in a way that really showed how difficult a journey this was for the family and the film crew. The shots of Rowan in particular are amazing because (and this may not make sense) they seem to treat him gently. It always seems as though the camera and the man behind it are treating Rowan as respectfully as possible. They focus on his eyes and smile as well as his tears and far away expressions. The landscape provided really nice lighting most of the time and the colors from the native people and plants almost melt into the audience. It almost looks like you can lick the screen. Moving on...
The story of the family is amazing, but we all know it, even if only vaguely, so I don't really want to talk about it. go see the movie!
A woman, Rita Sanders, lead the editing on the film. It's nice to see a woman as editor. Even though there are many females in the profession, that stage of film production is still a boys club. She was able to propel the story forward purposefully; it never dragged or waned. It was never uninteresting or jarring. One person even asked a question about the editing in the Q&A, which never really happens. 
Michel Scott showed himself to be a thoughtful director and cinematographer by and throughout his film. It's award worthy, distribution worthy, and give-it-as-birthday-presents-to-anyonewhosaystheydontlikedocumentaries-worthy.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

SXSW Blogging

Hey fellow doc prod students! I just wanted to give a shout-out about my own personal blog. For the past two years I blogged for Shooting People, NYC about SXSW films. So, this year I'm doing the same, but on my own blog site which you can check out at:


Not only will I review films, but I will also be posting video from the filmmaker Q&A after the screenings. YAY! So, come check it out. If you become a blogspot follower, you'll get updates of when I update. And my friends at SP will be blogging on their site, too:


Keep up with the lovely creativeness at SXSW! Woohoo!


Thursday, March 12, 2009

Peter Esmonde and "Trimpin"

Peter Esmonde started off as an assistant editor in New York in the early 80s and has since worked his way up to directing his first project, Trimpin: The Sound of Invention, premiering at South by Southwest this week. Between editing and his directorial debut, Esmonde worked for Discovery Channel as a producer and part of the creative team in the early 90s that launched Discovery Online. From there he went on to do new media for Encyclopedia Brittanica. He graduated from Yale and AFI and has taught at schools such as NYU. After working for Encyclopedia Brittanica, Esmonde went on to do consulting which allowed him enough of an income to produce his first film, Trimpin.

Trimpin: The Sound of Invention is about the inventor/musician, Trimpin, who sees ordinary objects and instruments and makes unorthodox music/sounds. While his inventions are completely original and fascinating, it is Trimpin himself who makes the film so intriguing. Esmonde spoke about the inventor as a very reluctant subject who did not want to be filmed and only wanted to focus on his work. Esmonde had to work to gain Trimpin's approval and trust to film him for what turned out to be an 18 month long project. Though he did not speak much on camera in the clips shown during last night's discussion, Trimpin is completely fascinating because he is so quiet and focused on his work. He is exactly how we imagine a musical genius should look/act like. The clips we watched were all very interesting, with little to no dialogue, but made intriguing by the music being produced in them.

After only five minutes of listening to him speak, you can tell Esmonde is a very thoughtful and serious person who tries to look at things as logically as possible. When it comes to film making and the film industry, Esmonde is a bit cynical. He argued that documentaries are not real at all; that they are simply images and we manipulate them but no matter what we do the image we see will never be reality. He is also firmly against the formulas he says he was taught at AFI, claiming that they are underestimating the audience by assuming the audience wants the generic movie/tv formula. He encourages breaking the formula and trusting the audience is smart and capable enough to understand and enjoy your work without a formula. He also believes the film/tv industry is an unfair one, claiming employers get as much work out of you for as little as possible and if you don't like it there are five more people who are waiting to take your job. While this is seemingly truthful, Esmonde's own success story gives me hope that I won't be so unfortunate.

From hearing Peter Esmonde speak and seeing the clips he showed us, I would highly recommend going to see this film over spring break if you have the chance. There are three screenings:

Saturday, March 14  7:15 pm - Austin Convention Center
Monday, March 16  2 pm - Alamo @ Lamar
Friday, March 20  9 pm - The Paramount

Check out: http://trimpinmovie.com/#/preview/ for a preview of the film!

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

This American Life

This week I was lucky enough to get to borrow This American Life Season 1 from Spiro's documentary collection and I have to say that I really love this show! And the two main things I love most are: the stories and the style.

I really like how each episode carries a different theme from week to week and that while they may seem to be ordinary themes (standing up for what you believe in, solutions to problems, etc.) they choose the most intriguing stories imaginable. For example, in the episode "My Way", which is about standing up for what you believe in, the first portion is about a man who visits his wife's grave everyday and hangs out with her, ten years after her death! Some of my favorite stories included the story in "God's Close Up" about an artist who painted pictures of Jesus and his disciples using models who were far from Christ-like, many of them being atheists and potheads. Other stories I found interesting included (from the episode we watched in class, "Reality Check") the story of a group of improv pranksters in New York who make a small town band believe they had the best show of their lives, and the episode "The Camera Man" where a young man decides to film his family to try to show their worst side and ends up with a revealing family portrait. These stories are all so unique and original! They are completely captivating and I can't help but want to watch them all back to back.

If the stories aren't powerful enough as it is, the style in which they are shot makes them even more beautiful. The introductions with Ira Glass are always interesting (seeing his desk set up in random places across America like it's no big deal) and help establish with the audience what these seemingly random stories have in common. The images are very clear, bright and colorful, which is reflexive of the unique and colorful stories being told. Most of the stories are told with a narration from Ira Glass but the interviews with the subjects tend to narrate a lot of the stories as well. I do wonder however, how the stories are spun by the editors and interviewers. Many of these stories make the subjects out to be crazy or radically different from what we consider "normal" but I question how our perspective would differ if these stories were completely told by the subjects. We might not think they are that unique after all.

This show is completely entertaining in every aspect, from stories to visuals, and I highly recommend borrowing it from Professor Spiro's library if you can!

Why We Fight

When people ask me what my favorite documentary is, I feel pretentious. It's like they're expecting me to respond with a French accent and talk to them about some indie flick only five people have seen. It might not be their intentions to make me feel that way, but I'm usually very defensive about it and just quickly answer with , "Hoop Dreams". I've only seen half of it.

However, after this past weekend, and at least for the time being, "Why We Fight" will be the documentary I say is my favorite. I first heard about the film when one of my friends who attends Westpoint told me that they had screened the movie for all the students there. He told me he loved it, but some of his comrads didn't, in fact some of them booed. Right then and there without even seeing the movie I knew I would like it. I enjoy films that polarize crowds. I knew those cadets weren't booing because of the film's production quality, but instead in reaction to the message it sent. And if this was the case, why would my conservative buddy say he loved this movie? A war documentary made in America at this time, it must be left leaning, right?

"Why We Fight" firstly and most importantly tackles the Military-Industrial Complex. Don't worry, this isn't a term Michael Moore came up with while interviewing some poor mother who just lost her son at war. And it isn't a disease diagnosed to our dearly dismissed W. It was a term coined by Dwight D. Eisenhower during his last speech to America as president. It was a warning.

The production of this movie utilizes all the documentary tricks. It very strongly uses the overlap of past war footage with a newer generation of Americans discussing their thoughts on the idea of war. It ties you up constantly with contradicting images of military and messages of passivism. One interview was masterfully edited throughout the film. Not only was it a story not often heard but it came from a man who the director obviously had respect for. It was a man who lost a son in the 9/11 aftermath, but guess what? He wasn't mad about the war. In fact he's mad at Bush for not finding the right evidence in the Middle East. The argument wasn't that the war isn't justified, it's a cry for help. This war could have been justified. The way the film mixes this with the unbelievable support and parades that soldiers had back in WWII era is quite unsettling.

Also, I want to examine why this movie could of polorized Westpoint students; a crowd of people that are more alike than most crowds watching a movie. Sometimes when you watch a documentary the film races off into a direction with only one direction. "Why We Fight" isn't cut like that. It's constantly covering it's tracks. The director purposefully showed clips of past and current soldiers bravely and violently defending a country. He gives the military a purpose. Then without blinking an eye the film reveals the politics and business of war. It reveals how this country manufactures war.

For me this didn't take away from what the soldiers did. It didn't cheapen their service. They didn't come off as pawns. Instead I realized there is another war to fight. The war against our beliefs being pushed upon us from past generations and the interests of world expansion. Then again, right as the film has you thinking this, it takes another side.

There might be no end to the cycle of war. It's inside of us and the only attempts to stop it might just result in a more vicious battle. Maybe that's why they booed. I know I'll never know. No answers found in this movie. Just more questions. I like that, because I never have the answer. To anything.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

The Freaking Fearless Flaming Lips!

I recently saw The Fearless Freaks, directed by Bradley Beesley and I realized three things: 1) I need to buy every single Flaming Lips album, 2) I want to be best friends with/marry Wayne Coyne, and 3) just how personal a documentary can be.

The film starts with documentation of their childhood and later reincarnation as The Flaming Lips. It's members were outcasts: kids that did not fit into the suburbia of Oklahoma City. They found outlets through music and banding together. The Coyne brothers (all six of them) and some other outcast neighborhood friends created a football team, that border on organized fighting, called The Fearless Freaks. This embracing of their "abnormal" status was a sign of and a catalyst for things to come. Wayne and others also embraced the drug scene, using it to expand their minds, or to at least escape the monotony of young adult life. Interviews with Wayne's parents express that they knew Wayne could be anything he wanted in life, but his passion and subsequent future was in music. All these components give an understanding to a band that at face value seems alien, freakish, and obsessed with large, white bunny suits, confetti, and boobs.

Beesley has been working with The Flaming Lips since circa 1992 and has apparently formed a very close working and personal relationship with its members. When I heard about the film, a friend of the band makes a documentary about them, I was worried the film would tend towards hero-worship. That was not the case. Beesley tip-toed that line very adeptly and created a portrait of a band, its individuals, and their art. I believe Beesley had a leg up on this story, because he had worked with the band for so long. He had footage from the bands beginnings through Coyne's recent film venture, Christmas on Mars. His personal relationships with the band's members along with the level of comfort they all shared allowed him to capture the band as they are, naturally, not as performers (of which, I am thoroughly jealous - not just from an admirer's standpoint, but as well from an aspiring documentarian's).

The one-on-one interviews with Wayne take an enigmatic, off-the-wall, once punk-psychedellic, turned alternative, turned avant-garde rocker and make him a lovable, approachable, everyday person with goals, family, and obstacles. This atmosphere also allowed Beesley to film Steven Drozd preparing heroin and shooting up, though the actual injection is not shown, I'm assuming for his welfare and that of those closest to him. This footage is so personal that an outsider would not be able to get the same emotion, honesty, and vulnerability out of them. This coupled with footage of shows, music videos, etc., the audience is reminded of when and where they saw/heard The Flaming Lips and realizes what was going on behind the scenes. I'd say that with a band so complex as The Flaming Lips, it took someone that truly knows them to portray them as they are.

Monday, March 9, 2009

untitled space project

when i was thinking of ideas for the project, i tried to narrow down what my favorite space was. as a guitar player, i realized that that space was a musical one. so i sat down with my electric guitar, amp, and loop pedal and played for a while. being a big fan of ambient music, i wanted to create an ambient space. then i pondered what kind of visuals i would use and i settled on something that would be subtle, but with some kind of complementary idea to the music. so i shined my light behind me, casting my shadow onto two layers of my wall and had my girlfriend shoot a close-up of my shadow while i played the song.

More than just a Soup Can

Ric Burns' documentary on Andy Warhol is thorough, informative, well-crafted, but not that original in its storytelling. I biographical documentary from PBS, Warhol's story is communicated in traditional documentary style, utilizing interviews with friends and family, analysis of experts and other talking heads, along with a voice-of-god narrator.
While pretty standard (albeit well-done), Burns' film does a few things particularly well. Most notable is the introduction to both of the two parts of the documentary. The film opens with music, and the voices of experts/family/friends over images of Warhol's art as they talk about what was happening at that time in Andy's life. Upon my first viewing, I thought the entire film would be like this, but then the title came up and the more conventional narrator started being used. I think this was an effective way to bring viewers into the film - using image and sound to tell the story in their own ways.
Also worth noting is the documentary's use of music - I'm very musicially inclined, and I felt Burns made the right choices in the soundtrack throughout the work. The classical violins and cellos accompanied Warhol's Polish immigrant upbringing, moving into increasing radical rock as Warhol made his climb to fame, culminating in the wild Factory days. The music never distracted me, but definitely affected my mood as I watched the film. I think soundtrack is an area often overlooked or discounted by filmmakers that can be instumental in pushing a documentarian's agenda, even if that agenda is only to make you identify with a character, as I did with Warhol.


Hi All,

This is a remarkable year for RTF alum and friends at SXSW.

CHECK OUT THE FILMS BELOW and rememeber you can buy a FILM PASS CHEAP!

Also, note that Kim Hall (our TA!) will be showing her film UPRUSH in the TEXAS SHORTS at the Alamo Lamar three times (4:30 PM, Tuesday March 17th; 7:30 PM, Wednesday March 18th; 11:00 AM, Friday March 20th)

Listed in order of their SXSW premiers (and check the websites at each film for their other screening dates and times during the week)


11 AM, Paramount Theater (713 Congress Ave. - over 1000 seats, so you'll get in for sure)

Sweethearts of the Prison Rodeo
Director: Bradley Beesley, Editor: Lucy Kreutz (RTF grad)
In Sweethearts of the Prison Rodeo, filmmaker Bradley Beesley ("Okie Noodling") visits and explores an oddball American phenomenon: that of the prison rodeo. He journeys with his cameras to Oklahoma State Prison - the only remaining U.S. prison rodeo that is actually located on penitentiary grounds - and watches, cameras rolling, as ill-prepared male and female convicts risk their lives for the promise of cash and a brief spotlight.

3 PM, Alamo Ritz Theater (320 E. 6th St.)

Director: Karen Skloss (RTF grad), Cinematography: Lee Daniel
It all starts with getting knocked up. An unplanned pregnancy for an unplanned girl sets off SUNSHINE, a playful, yet ultimately stirring self-portrait of an adopted woman driven to search for answers through reconnection with her biological mother.


7 PM, Alamo Lamar (1120 South Lamar Blvd - lots of parking!)

Winnebago Man
Director: Ben Steinbauer (RTF grad), Edited by Malcolm Pullinger, Cinematography: Bradley Beesley & Berndt Mader (RTF grad)
Jack Rebney is the most famous man you've never heard of -- after cursing his way through a Winnebago sales video, Rebney's outrageously funny outtakes became an underground sensation and made him an internet superstar.



4:30 PM, Sunday March 15th - Alamo Lamar

Chronicles of a Professional Eulogist
Director: Sarah Jane Lapp
Okay, it's not a documentary, but based on interviews with eulogists galore, including the aforementioned Rabbi, this beautifully hand-drawn animation, scored by Mark Dresser, follows a eulogist-in-training and his encounter with the interstitial spaces our communal memories create between mortality and immortality. A decade in the making, this world premier is part of the SXSW Experimental film program at 4:30, Sunday the 15th.



11 AM, Paramount Theater

Over the Hills and Far Away
Director: Michel Orion Scott (RTF grad)
Over the Hills and Far Away, which premiered at Sundance this tear, is a film about one family's struggle to find answers to their son's autism. Shot over the course of two years, this film follows the Isaacson family as they journey on horseback across Mongolia from healer to healer, and the amazing healings they found for their son, and for themselves.




7:15 PM, Alamo Lamar

The Eyes of Me
Director: Keith Maitland
An extraordinary look at 4 blind teens. The parallel stories of 2 freshmen and 2 seniors unfold over the course of one dynamic year at the Texas School for the Blind in Austin. EYES offers a fresh perspective on growing up and fitting in. Distilled from over 250 hours of footage, this experiential doc captures a textured portrait of its characters.



7:30 PM, Paramount Theater

Along Came Kinky...Texas Jewboy for Governor
Director: David Hartstein (RTF grad), Editor: Sam Douglas, Music: Kinky Friedman
For all of you political junkies, "Along Came Kinky..." chronicles singing Jewish cowboy Kinky Friedman's 2006 independent gubernatorial campaign in Texas.




Sunday, March 8, 2009

Chelsea Hernandez

so i thought that this had already been uploaded, but i guess not. this is the edited version of the interview i did with chelsea. i was getting over the flu, but i think it turned out alright. right when we were about to shoot, a flock of children invaded the playground. that was fun.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

SXSW Film Passes

I just wanted to throw this out there for those of you wanting to go to SXSW and don't have badges. One of the less publicized way of getting to see movies are the SXSW film passes. They are only $70! So, when people are being let in for movies, the badges go first, then the passes and then regular tickets. It's a great and inexpensive way to see a whole lotta films. Last year I saw over 25 movies. That's less than $3 per movie! And I got into almost all the movies I wanted to see except for one. It really is a great deal!
You can purchase the passes at Waterloo. Keep in mind the passes are just to see movies. Doesn't include film panels/conversations, but the majority of filmmakers have Q&As after the screenings.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

In the Realms of the Unreal

just so everyone knows, I'm ecstatic with myself for figuring out how to post something.


Watching In the Realms of the Unreal was visually like watching the thoughts of someone slightly mentally slow. This is good! Most of the images were stills, and the majority of those were paintings that Henry Darger (the deceased protagonist) had created. Each painting was digitally taken apart subject by subject and each piece was layered back onto the others so that the whole thing could be animated. Characters move, guns blast, and backgrounds change to the voice overs of the narrators. The animation is seriously impressive. Sometimes a dragon flies by in the sky in shots of the city. Once a child chases a ball across the screen while someone is talking. The viewer is watching images that don't seem like they should make sense with the narration, but they do. Darger's artwork is used throughout the film as metaphors for his life. The director, Jessica Yu, creates a documentary very true to her subject by breathing life into his own work. She presents Darger's obsession with his novel and paintings as he would have seen them-vibrant, living, and moving. 

You know straight from the beginning that Darger is dead and the people speaking (you don't see them for awhile) had no real understanding of their introverted, reclusive neighbor. Yu is able to re-create Darger's life with what was found in his room after his death-his writings, including an autobiography, his paintings, and his drawings. She begins the film with the end of his life then back tracks to a more linear timeline told with excerpts from his autobiography punctuated with commentary by Darger's neighbors and the narrators. Dakota Fanning is one such narrator and her creepy little voice fits perfectly in with Darger's child-obsessed life and work, little girls in particular. Note: he wasn't a pedophile, just a bit off-kilter in most imaginable ways. 

Yu does a fantastic job of creating a biography of a dead man. She gives us a man through his art and his own words, all found postmortem. Again, the animation is beautiful and the way Yu combines narrators, interviews and Darger's own words enables the viewer to feel like they know Darger and can appreciate his work and sad life more because of that. 

Troop 1500

Yep, two in one day.
I'm an overachiever.

I really liked today's screening.  

First off, the story was fascinating and deeply moving.  I really liked that each of the families got some attention and that the focus was not on just one or two of the moms.  We got to know each character, even a little bit, and understand the events from their perspective.  The warden, for example, was interesting to listen to.  Even though she disapproved of the Girl Scouts visiting, she still allowed it.  Moreover, she permitted all of that filming to occur.  This gives her character some depth relative to her brief screen time.

I really liked the way the passage of time was conveyed via slow motion shots of the various moms with subtitles listing how long they have left.  I found myself counting down with the characters.

Another thing that really worked for me was the quality of the B Roll.  Specifically, I loved the shot of the bird dancing about inside the razor wire atop the prison fence.  What a marvelous visual metaphor for how stir crazy the women inside must feel.

The personal interviews between the little girls and their mothers were a wonderful touch.  Cutting from a long shot of both participants back into the little girl's cameras helped me step into each of those relationships.  The one mother of the 2nd grader was difficult to watch, as she kept snapping at her daughter.  Scenes like that remind you that these women are not all innocent and are in prison for a reason.  This balances the narrative out and prevents the women's circumstances from seeming unnecessary or unreasonable.

I would be curious as to what more is included in the theatrical version, as well as where the characters are now.

The Killer Next Door

Hey Gang,

I had to share this.  This is an excerpt from Michael Moore's TV Nation, which aired in the mid 90s (those were the days).

Without giving too much away, this documentary crew hires an actor to pretend to be a serial killer.  They rent out a house for him on long island, and see just what it takes for his neighbors to realize foul play is afoot.

For those of you who wanted to try planting mikes and spying on people last night, get ready to be happy.  The residents of this sleepy burg have no idea they are being watched.

This whole series is great, so if you like this, check out the rest:

Ellen Kuras: Monday March 9 AND Tues. March 10


I highly recommend this event and I will count it as TWO outside events. If you have never been to the Austin Studios screening room, you will be amazed!

It is FREE but you have to make a reservation HERE and you have to be a member of AFS:


Ellen Kuras presents THE BETRAYAL (NERAKHOON)
March 10, 7pm
Austin Studios Screening Room

Ellen Kuras will also be doing a Master Class in 4D on Monday at 6 p.m. which will count as one outside event. GET THERE EARLY if you want to get in!

Q & A with Ellen Kuras after the film

Filmed over 23 years, THE BETRAYAL is the directorial debut of renowned cinematographer Ellen Kuras in a remarkable collaboration with the film's subject and co-director Thavisouk Phrasavath. During the Vietnam War, the United States government waged its own secret war in the neighboring country of Laos. When the U.S. withdrew, thousands of Laotians who fought alongside American forces were left behind to face imprisonment or execution. One family, the Phrasavaths, made the courageous decision to escape to America. Hoping to find safety, they discovered a different war. Epic in scope yet devastatingly intimate, featuring an exquisite score by Academy Award winning composer Howard Shore, THE BETRAYAL is a testament to the resilient bonds of family and an astonishing tale of survival.

Ellen Kuras was first widely recognized for her cinematography on Tom Kalin's SWOON, which earned her the Cinematography Prize at the 1992 Sundance Film Festival. She has won that award an unprecendented three times, next for her work on Rebecca Miller's film ANGELA in 1995 and Miller's PERSONAL VELOCITY in 2002. She has shot multiple films for directors like Spike Lee (4 LITTLE GIRLS, BAMBOOZLED, SUMMER OF SAM) and Michel Gondry (ETERNAL SUNSHINE OF THE SPOTLESS MIND, BE KIND REWIND) and is one of the few women cinematographers hired to shoot studio pictures, working on films like ANALYZE THAT and THE MOD SQUAD. THE BETRAYAL is her directorial debut and was nominated for the Best Documentary Oscar in 2009.

Again, Monday March 9 at 6 p.m. in 4D (master class)


March 10, 7pm
Austin Studios Screening Room

Register for this event:


For assistance with ticketing, call (512) 322-0145 during business hours.

Tickets are free. Attendance is limited to AFS Filmmaker-level members and above.

Because seating is limited, you must register to attend the screening (no exceptions). Please register early, as we expect strong interest in this screening.

This American Life

I am so glad this class has introduced me to this television series. I have never heard of the show. I only heard about Ira Glass, because I have some friends who have a crush on him. Anyways, this show is a great example of how we are all surrounded by magnificent stories full of emotion. The stylistic methods of This American Life helps to accentuate the smallest of themes into a question the audience can ponder. All the stories were so deep. Many would start off funny, but would go beyond the limits to find out what emotional truths are beneath the characters. I found this an effective story-telling technique, grabbing the audience and creating depth.
One of my favorite segments consisted of a house of care for the elderly in California. This is no ordinary home. It houses creative individuals with talents ranging from singing to painting to scriptwriting. The story emphasizes the desire to start a new life at an old age. Following a 63 year old woman who longs to be a successful scriptwriter, Suzanne Knode writes a short script to be filmed, edited and submitted to Sundance Film Festival. The show follows the auditions held among the residents and part of the shoot held in a convenience store. What's different about this type of filmmaking is the passion expressed among the older men and women. It shows that goals and aspirations are not just for the young, but the old have them, too. And for them, it's even more heartfelt because time is so limited.

Outside Event -- Bring Friends

March 11 6 p.m. -BRING FRIENDS

HI All,

We have a very special guest coming on Wed. March 11 6 p.m. in 4D, Peter Esmonde, who worked in the non-fiction industry (Discovery Channel, among others) for many years before embarking on his own independent documentary, TRIMPIN: the sound of invention.

Please feel free to bring friends to the event, as the Doc Center is co-sponsoring. You will see sneak previews from the film before the SXSW premier!

You can read about TRIMPIN and see the trailer here:


This is not required but will count for an outside event. And it is a great sneak preview of a wonderful film! Please come!


Speed 3: The Cruise

I'm not sure I have ever had such conflicting emotions towards a subject in a documentary. Timothy Levitch, in the span of an hour, is annoying, philosophic, inspirational, hilarious, sad, and pitiful. The pitiful part is a hard sell , I know, because his personality is so magnetic. But the scene where he has a conversation with the Brooklyn Bridge I felt really sorry for him. Timothy speaks a lot in this movie about being anti-civilization. He loves the idea of New York, but at the same time seems to despise the infrastructure. Does he not realize that the Brooklyn Bridge was built by men and industry that probably have no ideas or morals that line up with Mr. Levitch? He talks to this bridge because he feels like it is transcedent, which I'm not saying it isn't, but Timothy seems to hate the same things this bridge stands for (like "the grid"). Of course he does say he is in a relationship with the city, which would imply that his feelings might flucuate.

The most gripping part of this documentary comes on the actual tours. I think his talent and personality is really given a purpose with these tours. He also dislikes the idea of a job, but to me the most intriguing part of his life occurs when he is on the clock. I wish we could have seen more of his interation with people on his tours. I think it would have been interesting to see how people reacted post-Levitch tour. I couldn't help but think how happy I would if Timothy would have been my tour guide to New York. As you can see I went from questioning Timothy to almost admiring him.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

This is a Declaration of a State of War...

The Weather Underground is an Academy Award nominated documentary from 2002 directed by Sam Green and Bill Siegel. It is a straight historical documentary of the radical leftist organization of the same name that was active during the 60s and 70s. These young counter-culture revolutionaries were responsible for the bombing of several public institutions and symbols in protest of the continued war in Vietnam. Their slogan was "bring the war home," and their activities eventually brought the wrath of the FBI's CONINTELPRO (the same department that eradicated the Black Panthers) down on the group's secret members.
This documentary accurately and effectively brings light to the secret lives of the revolutionaries of the Weather Underground. This was a subject I was previously unfamiliar with, the Underground being active a bit before my time, so I (as a history nerd) relished the opportunity to learn something new about my parents' era. I think the element that lent the most credibility to Green and Siegel's effort was the use of interview material directly from the ex-revolutionaries themselves. Ringleaders Bernadine Dohrn, Bill Ayers and others told their story first a first-person perspective. This point-of-view allowed insight into the motivations of the young terrorists that would not be possible in say, a History Channel style documentary on the group. Their perspective was interesting and enlightening, allowing me to feel a bit more of the anger the counter-culture crowd felt in the 60s. The documentary was thorough and compelling, a concise and well-executed history of a secretive organization who's history had previously remained in the shadows, just as its members had during their time underground.