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When monster-loving, forward-thinking New Zealand director Peter Jackson decided to shoot The Hobbit at 48 frames per second – twice the standard frame rate – he elicited some mixed responses.

The Hobbit is being screened in 48 fps 3D in a selection of cinemas around the world. One week on from its release, Film Watch went to find out what the audience think of Jackson’s latest innovation:

“I’m torn between the 48FPS feature. I think the increased frame rate cheapens the look of the movie a little but it increases the clarity in the 3D. I’m unsure of what he’ll do for the next films and the home release but overall a very good, fun, action packed film. Can’t wait for the next”.
– Jay Emery, 33

“I watched the film on IMAX screen at BFI and thought it looked beautiful. 3D is slightly better quality there I think and loved the look. I liked the realistic feel. I went with my boyfriend and my flatmate and his girlfriend who liked it as well.”
– Raivo Kittus, 30

“The sense of being in the cinema wasn’t there for me. It makes it look very “digital” . The 3D is much better and more realistic.”
– Dimitrios Kapatsoris, 28

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As this is the first post after a four month interruption, allow us to pin an event on the calendar which is four months away but worth clearing your schedule for this far in advance.

The Centre for Investigative Journalism has just announced the dates of Investigative Film Week 2013, taking place 15-19 January 2013 at both City University London and the Foreign Press Association Commonwealth Club in Trafalgar Square.

This yearly event, launched in 2010, showcases landmark documentaries and hosts Q&A sessions with prestigious directors and journalists from around the globe. Hot topics and controversy are always a matter of discussion, and as a member of the audience it is endlessly ingratiating to leave in possession of privileged insights into global headlines.

This year’s schedule is not yet available (check here on Film Watch or on the CIJ website for updates), so here’s a quick selection of the films they’ve screened in the past:

Toxic Somalia (Paul Moreira, 2010) – The best of investigative filmmaking, this documentary asks who is responsible for dumping barrels of nuclear waste off the coast of Somalia – a question which cost two Italian journalists their lives. The investigation into their death was reopened following this film’s release.

Iraq’s Secret War Files (Marc Sigsworth, 2010) – First shown on Channel 4’s Dispatches, this documentary follows the journey of the Iraq War Logs from the moment Julian Assange approached a variety of news outlets until their release to the public. Iain Overton of the Bureau of Investigative Journalism was there to explain the process of data mining a resource of nearly 400,000 military logs.

Weekly passes (£15 concessions or £25) as well as tickets to individual screenings (£4 concessions or £5) will be available to book here.

… difficulties foreseen but underestimated have required all capacity to strenuous brain activity be allocated elsewhere.

The screen never sleeps though, so please check out the following links for quality cinematic entertainment and experiences!

Best of British @ Richmix Shoreditch

Curzon DocDays May/June 2012

Continuing from last week’s interview with Olly Lambert, filmwatch.org will be delivering weekly Top Tips from a variety of people in the film industry, either speaking directly to filmwatch.org or as a summary of notes gathered from events and masterclasses.

One World Media ran the above event at London College of Communication on 3rd February as part of the International Student Film Festival.

Here are some top tips from the two speakers on that day.

Dominique Young (Al Jazeera English) – Dominique is a Senior Producer at Al Jazeera English, commissioning documentaries from Africa and the Middle East, for broadcast in the channel’s flagship documentary strand “Witness”, which showcases the work of established and emerging talent from around the world. (Bio from oneworldmedia.org)

  • Watch the channel and especially the slot in which you propose to show your doc: is the subject appropriate? Witness is about characters and individual stories, not issues; ie a doc about drought wouldn’t be appropriate, whereas a doc about a family’s life during drought would be. Also consider that a pitch announcing “my 19 minute doc” will be rejected if there is no 19 minute slot (Witness has a 30 minute slot).
  • Can the viewer recognise themselves in the persons depicted? The audience must be able to relate. It also takes years of experience to recognise a good, strong character and this is, for best or worst, a matter of trial and error.
  • Has the story been told before? If it has, you must be presenting it under a new angle.
  • When pitching by email: a commissioner doesn’t have the time to read 20 pages. When composing your pitch, think of a TV listing which draws in its audience in no more than two sentences. Include an attachment of your detailed proposal (one A4 page max).
  • When contacting a commissioner, you must know and be able to explain how you’re going to film.
  • If you’re a first time director, you’re unlikely to get a budget from a commissioner. It’s judicious to approach a production company that produce the same type of film and are more likely to take you on board; this also ensures that you’re not personally legally responsible for the budget.
  • A commissioner must trust your experience and background, and that you can deliver on time. Young herself worked as a researcher for years before commissioning.
  • When choosing whom to approach, consider that TV docs and festival docs are very different material: a festival audience wants to be there watching your doc; a TV audience might just be channel surfing. Global warming as a subject, for example, is appropriate for both, but will be treated in a different manner: for a festival doc, you might use a nice 5 minute opening shot (we don’t have to know what the subject is straight away); as a TV doc, if the intro lasts 5 minutes the audience will be likely to have switched channels.

 

Brian Woods (True Vision Productions) – Brian is a filmmaker who co-founded the highly regarded production company True Vision. He has directed and worked on a string of award winning films, covering human rights stories from around the world. His films have won numerous Baftas, RTS Awards, Emmies and One World Media Awards. (Bio from oneworldmedia.org).

  • Know where to look for stories. When Robb Leech’s brother converted to Islam, it was “a nightmare for him, a dream come true as a filmmaker” (My Brother the Islamist – BBC3, 2011). Another example is of a filmmaker who had kept in contact with a hospital’s press officer and heard that the first stalker clinic was being opened in the UK: she mentioned the idea and was commissioned straight away to develop it into a film.
  • Know who to pitch your stories to. There are several platforms for emerging talent, such as the 2008 BBC3 documentary scheme Fresh or Channel 4’s First Cut (Channel 4 Commissioning Editor Aysha Rafael has recently commissioned 12 new films under the scheme).
  • Keep up with current budgeting. Dispatches‘ 60 minute slot has been reduced by 30 minutes due to budget cuts. The average budget for Al Jazeera’s Wtness is between £23,000 and £30,000 for a 30 minute slot (this affords about 10 days of editing max). Commissioners don’t generally ask for a cost report, though some do! Bear in mind here is little money or no money when it comes to international development: rather approach NGOs.
  • Experience is key. Commissions are often based on the track-record of filmmakers. Commissioners will also more often select ideas from people they’ve worked with.
  • If you have little or no experience, there are three things you must have: a great idea, a great character, and actual access to that character (evidence of access is generally necessary, such as video footage of that person). A 3 minute taster should be all it takes to convince a commissioner: if a character requires a 45 minute taster introduction, they’re probably not such a great documentary character.
  • Persistence is key: even as a filmmaker of renown, it sometimes takes years for a good story to make the screen. Zimbabwe’s Forgotten Children (BBC4, 2010) was first pitched in 2004 and eventually commissioned in 2009. It went on to win an AIB Award and a Peabody Award.
  • Once you do have the attention of several commissioners, a good way to urge competition between them is to present a “letter of interest” from a different broadcaster. Make them fight for the rights to broadcast your film.

 

Next week: Notes from Sorious Somura’s masterclass

There’s great news in store for film lovers and geeks everywhere: new web app Letterboxd (still at the beta-testing stage) purports to offer an alternative to IMDb and the many shortcomings it’s developed over the years due to… well, non-development on its part.

Letterboxd have taken the concept of the movie database and blended in successful elements of social media. The result is promising, and “very pretty” in the words of my sister.

Appstorm offer a straightforward and informative overview of the website, so here are just some comments and observations of my own.

By no means am I tech geek. I’m computer literate enough that I can tell the main interface is user-friendly and immediately draws attention to the possibilities generated by the website’s contents. However delving a bit deeper into said contents makes you realise that certain basic functions are a bit difficult to locate. The easiest way to get an overview of the site is to have a look round your own profile and navigate your way from there.

The primary interest, however, being to explore film rather than just build up another online profile, you’ll quickly want to make your way towards the “Films” tab and explore what other users have recently watched or reviewed. You may spot the poster image of a film you’d like to review yourself, or you may decide to search for specific films.

If you’re tempted, as I was on first arrival, to draw a list of every single film you’ve ever seen as remembered off the top of your head – and this can be a challenge when they run in the hundreds – there’s an option to “make this list private” until you’ve tidied up a bit and are ready to share with other users.

I couldn’t find a few of the more obscure films I searched for, particularly those falling under the bracket of world cinema; but Letterboxd plans on merging with IMDb and Delicious Library, allowing users to import films and associated information.

One fantastic aspect to the site which is really facilitated and put forward by its concept is discovering films recommended by people whom you know share the same taste due to common likes and ratings. One very easy way to do this is by exploring their themed lists – and there are plenty of creatively-devised ones to choose from:

Of the other predominant features of the site, the reviews I’ve read so far have been a treat. Popular ones include the one-liner about M. Night Shyamalan’s 2008 The Happening:

“Mark Wahlberg gets out acted by a plant.”

If this sort of tongue in cheek remark is not to your taste (and if like me you happen to think there is lot more to Mr Shyamalan’s films than meets the general public’s eye), there are plenty of thoughtful and wordy reviews from Werner Herzog and Al Pacino fans alike.

If nothing else, the ridiculous amount of time I’ve devoted to the website over the past few days should bear testimony to its potential and what it has to offer.

And speaking of offer, I’ve got 3 beta invitations to hand out so leave a comment below if you would like to snatch one up for yourself. First come first serve.

This film is VERY high up on my current list of must-sees. Expect a review shortly (after I’ve managed to see it and, of course, allocated the necessary “digestion” time any screening and 12 mochas entail); in the meantime, enjoy the trailer if you haven’t yet had the opportunity.

… should be celebrated and understood.”

– Anthony Minghella

While I believe the above quote is self-explanatory and self-sufficient in most film-related discussions, as a student commonly rebuked for employing “overblown language” of course I had to go and divagate, digress, and indulge in elaborate drivel – before interrupting myself halfway through, thus remaining loyal to my student condition.

The following is a mini-essay, unfinished as promised, the only justification for its publishing being the hope that it conveys something of my passion for film and may entice you to read this blog, and also to bear in mind some of the questions I have left purposefully unanswered.

If you’re not much of a reader, there’s always the trailers in the main section of the blog, and nice little bullet point updates too.

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A cliché one commonly encounters in reviews is that of a film, a show, or even a meal in a high-end restaurant delivering “an assault on the senses”. In a certain measure, that’s the very definition of film: a succession of images, sounds, dialogue, flashes of colour, light and shapes, close-ups of facial expressions, music; fast-paced or slow-paced but always deliberately timed to a narrative; things which may be real or unreal, but that we choose to completely immerse ourselves into during the time of one screening in a dark cinema room.

Despite the contemporary availability of films in various formats, a theatre remains the quintessential venue to explore film as it offers a premise which both in its design and concept enhances the experience and draws attention to the depth of any cinematic endeavour.

One becomes strangely aware of one’s body in a cinema. Through the stillness of our being and the absence of any voluntary movement, every subtle change and reaction we go through becomes heightened. A minute drop in body temperature; a rhythmic alteration in our heartbeat; a slight tension in the muscles; a near-imperceptible shiver running on the surface of the skin: all of these sensations alert us to the mind-set we find ourselves in, and during this whole time our brain is unconsciously making the link between identifiable emotions and the physical reactions for which it sent the signals in the first place.

Therefore cinema becomes a physiological experience, one where we exist and understand our state of being through the physical manifestations we endure as well as our usual array of reasoned assessments and interpretations.

One doesn’t passively watch cinema. Our brains are functioning at every level, whether emotional or intellectual, as they do in everyday life when we’re the actors of our own scene. But with the absence of all other distraction allowing for undivided attention, coupled with a stronger sensory input than usual at a faster pace than usual, they’re functioning at a peak level of intensity with a direct effect on the way we respond to the narrative as it unfolds. What may take days or years in our own life may be assimilated in minutes in film, thanks to a scene or even a shot of particular resonance, so that we may find ourselves weeping for a character almost immediately after first encountering them – whereas this would scarcely happen in real life.

And yet lending emotions to a film is a practiced exercise. As a receptive observer with no control over the narrative and as such unequivocally subjected to the sensations and emotions triggered, it can be an almost violent experience we may at first wish to distance ourselves from, by reminding ourselves that the protagonist is a separate entity with whom we bear no connection. In doing this and successfully detaching ourselves from the subject, we may then stop guarding ourselves against certain emotions we wouldn’t usually let overwhelm us. We don’t censor, repress, or steer away from us feelings which we as individuals may not know how to cope with or choose not to expose ourselves to. From the safety of a cinema seat, we abandon ourselves to vicarious living, and gain insight and experience through the portrayal of another character’s life.

It doesn’t take much such practice, though, to realise it is ultimately ourselves that we project onto the screen. This is true of the actor, the script-writer or the director, as much as of the audience. While there may be obvious reasons for the former category’s involvement, the audience’s takes a different form. Irrelevant of how much distance we may choose to keep between ourselves and the events depicted in a film, our two predominant senses — sight and hearing — are stimulated throughout, so that our brain processes and categorises information in its habitual way, anchoring a moment within a precise context and meaning. This allows us to recall a particular scene as a memory lived — effectively appropriating a snippet of somebody else’s history and making it a part of our own.

Much in the same way we gain experience from our own memories, the memory of a powerful scene, because it epitomises a particular condition or embodies a universal theme, can become a strong reference point from which we can draw indirect experience or construct a scenario of expectations and possibilities in a given situation before reacting accordingly. And so cinema becomes an integrant part of, and has a direct influence on, one’s own assessments, perceptions, and the resulting decisions, all of which are core elements of our very identity.

But the most basic principles of philosophy teach us that borrowed memories are not the only means of identifying with the other and by extension ourselves. We learn to know the other better so we may make sense of our own being. And what better premise to engage in such exploration than one where the characters appear to us in all their rawness, both deeply intimate and yet resolutely impenetrable?