I recently saw a documentary which I consider to be one of the best I’ve ever seen, OVER MY DEAD BODY (trailer). It follows renowned Quebec choreographer Dave St. Pierre during the several year period when he waits for a lung transplant – the only way to save his life from cystic fibrosis. The filmmaker is St. Pierre’s friend and creative partner Brigitte Poupart, and this is her first film.
Brigitte Poupart, Actress, Dancer & Filmmaker
Several things make this film exceptional. St. Pierre is totally vulnerable. We follow him through the trials and tribulations of the high-risk operation, several times cancelled as the deadline for survival by surgery draws nearer. Poupart’s commentary is personal, intimate and honest. Her creative vision is remarkably layered and textured, drawing on footage of St. Pierre’s work as well as his health predicament. One has the impression Poupart is a seasoned documentarian who has developed a visual signature over a period of a few decades. But no – she is a performance artist, involved in theatre and dance shows. To top it all off, this film was made on a very small budget, with the support mainly of the Quebec Arts Council and an artist’s centre called PRIM.
Ten years ago I ran a series of screenings called the Lundis du Doc/Docu-Mondays. It was in collaboration with the Quebec Director’s Association (ARRQ), the French program of the NFB and the Rencontres du Documentaire. It was a lot of work, and I stopped doing it in 2005 at the same time as I started this blog. Now, a group of filmmaker friends want to pick up where I left off. My health doesn’t allow me to continue, but I wish them the best of luck. They gave me a carte blanche for the first evening, that’s why we’ll be screening Poupart’s film. For those of you who live in Montreal, it’s at the ARRQ, MONDAY AUG 6TH, 19 HRS, 5154 ST.HUBERT.
Thank you to Sally Rylett for help with this blog post.
Last fall I posted part one of an interview with my friend Ali Kazimi on 3D and its potential for documentary. Here is part 2. Ali is an award-winning filmmaker and most recently author of Undesirables: White Canada and the Komagata Maru – An Illustrated History (www.undesirables.ca). He is an associate professor in the Department of Film at York University, where he has been researching stereoscopic 3D digital cinema since 2008.
I feel 3D is appropriate only for certain kinds of documentaries that have both very controlled shooting parameters, such as nature, performance or travel with healthy if not hefty budgets especially for post production. Ken MacNeil from Creative Post in Toronto, likes to point out that finishing a stereoscopic 3D (S3D) film is akin to creating a Digital Intermediate for a film shot on 35mm film. i.e. one has to use a very high end S3D capable system to do the overall colour correction and stereo-grading. The colour grading ensures that both cameras are matched as closely as possible, the stereo grading involves fixing the geometrical issues between lenses, the alignment between cameras and determining where the screen plane will lie – i.e. what will be in front of the screen and what will appear behind it.
I take it there is a real learning curve involved here ? You can’t just improvise.
A fundamental knowledge of S3D basics combined with basic knowledge of human perception is essential. For example one of the things that cannot be fixed in post is the depth in shot – this is determined by the Inter-Axial (IA) distance between the two cameras, hence the IA determines the depth in a given shot, in simple terms the greater the IA the more the depth (note: if one pushes this too far you get miniaturization, an effect specific to S3D). What one can adjust in post-production is the point at which both cameras converge – Convergence determines where the screen plane lies. If your depth, as determined by the IA has not been calculated properly, the scene may be unwatchable and the only way to fix it would be either to loose one of the camera images and keep it in 2d or to go for a 2D to 3D conversion.
And how accessible is the equipment ?
Currently at the lower end there are many tools both in terms of cameras and post-production that are making it S3D more accessible. I have been playing around with the new Sony HDR-TD10 S3D consumer camcorder. It is the first affordable true HD camera, with 1920×1080 resolution for each eye. There is now a prosumer version, HXR-NX3D1, but unfortunately the codec used by Sony will only work on their proprietary Vegas Pro system, there are complicated workarounds to edit the material on other NLE software such as FCP, Avid, or Premiere.
On the one hand it is amazing to have these tool, on the other hand it, I go back to the steep learning curve necessary to learn stereoscopic 3D, it would be a mistake to think that this camera can be used to shoot an entire film in the same way that a 2D prosumer camera such as the Sony PD150 or the Sony Z1U was rapidly adopted for docs in the past. The new S3D cameras are good for many kinds of shots, but filmmakers will also need to keep using mirror rigs – i.e. two cameras mounted at 90 degrees with a partially silvered mirror at 45 degrees in between them. I have also seen the Sony shoulder mounted TD 300 camcorder – it offers greater control but again is limited by the fixed Inter Axial (IA) distance – the distance between the two cameras.
A documentary package for S3D production could consist of a Genus Hurricane mirror rig with a two Sony EX3’s and at a Sony TD10 or NX3. Of course, this is already two cameras more than a 2D package.
This sounds quite complex. Is it really compatible with the kind of flexibility and agility we associate with typical docs ?
I do think it is an exciting time for documentaries and the possibilities S3D offers, however I do feel it will be sometime before we start seeing lower budget films that offer more than just depth, in which the true potential of S3D is exploited. At the moment most S3D films need to work on both 2D and S3D screens. Many including myself feel that S3D on its own requires a different language – slower editing pace, wide angle lenses, more movement, deep focus. Pina is a great example of this, and Wenders has said that the film was designed with only S3D in mind and does not work in 2D, I have to agree with him.
Given the dismal state of documentary financing in Canada today, it is unlikely that anyone would make a film solely designed for S3D. Realistically you are looking at a budget that is significantly higher. Unlike the US and Europe where there are now dedicated S3D television broadcasters, in Canada there are none. Bell and Rogers have been running test channels for the past couple of years with the same compilation reels endlessly looped.
I have met several people who are eager to jump into S3D productions, they are typically focused on rigs and workflows, I do have to keep reminding them that they cannot bypass the fundamentals. Our 3DFlic research project at York has been renewed for another two years, so while I continue to explore content, form and technology for S3D docs, we will also be holding seminars, workshops and the second stereoscopic 3D conference next year.
The other day I went to see spring arrive at the Montapen falls north of Joliette, an hour and a half’s drive from Montreal.
Dear subscribers and other readers,
As you may or may not have noticed, with the overwhelming influx of messages which afflicts most of us, my blog has not been active for about six weeks – except for an old post which went out the other day. The immediate reason for this was a nasty malware-infection which has now been cleaned up thanks to my friends and colleagues Kim Gjerstad and Barry Greenwald and our hosting service Web Hosting Canada. However, it was time for the blog to change anyway. I am facing some serious health challenges, and will not be able to write as frequently as I used to. There was a time when I attempted to cover most significant developments in the world of documentary as well as presenting some of my own work, posting every week. From now on, I will write less frequently, and will focus on issues which are very close to my heart, or on people with whom I have a special relationship.
One of my upcoming posts will deal with La grande invasion, (the great invasion) a film about the devastating impact of real estate development gone wild in the Laurentians north of Montreal. Also coming soon, an interview with my dear friend Ali Kazimi about 3D and documentary – he is an authority on the subject and we have been fine-tuning this interview for several months. And I will have a chance to report on the editing of my own film on the troubled youth of Montreal North.
All the best
Thank you to Sally Rylett for helping with this post.
This past weekend I went to some screenings at the annual Rendez-vous du cinéma québecois and caught up with some documentaries I missed last year. The RVCQ offers a dazzling combination of riches: fiction and docs, animation and multi-media experiences, screenings, workshops, panels and round tables. My friend and constant co-worker Martin Duckworth was impressed by a workshop with Montreal filmmaker Jacques Leduc.
Jacques Leduc began working as a cinematographer and director in 1965. His debut as a director was with the short Documentary Chantal en vrac (1965). Leduc followed this with his first feature fiction film two years later, Nominigue… depuis qu’il existe (1967) and then his first feature documentary film Cap d’espoir (1969). For the next two decades in the 70’s and 80’s, Jacques Leduc continued to work films with the NFB. During this time he collaborated on the NFB film Chronique de la vie quotidienne(1978), a series of 8 films. These varied in length from 10 to 82 minutes, in a cinema vérité style of observing the lives of ordinary people. He left in 1990 to become a freelance filmmaker, soon making the film La vie fantôme (1992) that won the Best Canadian Film at the Montreal World Film Festival. Since then he has been collaborating with other filmmakers both as a director and a cinematographer.
Here is what Martin has to say about the workshop:
Rendez-vous with Jacques Leduc was an hour of nostalgia for the end of a golden era (late seventies) when it was possible to get a film programmed at l’ONF with a proposal of a page and a half, and then take a year to make it. A time when there was a collective conscience among Quebec film-makers of a culture to celebrate. A time when the candid-camera style that started with Lonely Boy had reached its peak in the films of Gilles Groulx and Pierre Perrault, leaving room for blending it in with some of the more controlled “cinematic” style then being introduced in Quebec features–dollies, cranes, long takes. A time when documentary film crews could easily blend with crowds, free of the fear and suspicion that has tied documentary crews these days to the laborious task of getting people to sign release forms. The collectively signed films that were shown prior to the discussion (“Chronique de la vie quotidienne”) were born in the tavern where Film Board personnel went for lunch. Jacques Leduc coordinated ideas, crews, locations and editing, and was grateful for the support given by producer Jacques Bobet to a production without a script or completion schedule. One of our most original directors, Robert Morin (Requiem pour un beau sans-coeur (1992),Quiconque meurt, meurt a douleur (1997), Operation Cobra (2001)), credited the series with inspiring him to start up a video cooperative which has been important to many Quebec filmmakers. Fiction director Louis Bélanger (Nightlight (2003), The Timekeeper(2007), Route 132 (2010)) talked of how moved he was by the respect that Leduc obviously had for his characters. And DOP Pierre Letarte who worked for many years at the NFB stressed that it was not the equipment or the shooting style that gave the series its humane quality, but the close relationships that the crew established with the characters.
A recent Vancouver Sun article sums up the crisis of the long-form documentary in Canada. Cutbacks everywhere, shrinking budgets and most of all diminishing broadcast windows. Outside of the National Film Board and the arts councils, the whole Canadian funding system is based on acquiring a broadcast license. That’s the key which opens the door to other funding agencies. As networks turn increasingly to entertainment-oriented, cheap-to-produce ‘reality shows’, there is less space and less money for the kinds of docs that investigate and question the real world instead of inventing hokey competitions and survival challenges.
A March 2011 report from the Documentary Organization of Canada examined these trends, showing there had been a six-year decline in doc funding. The situation is worse in English Canada than in Quebec, because this province actually has a cultural policy, a real film culture and some invaluable institutional support notably from SODEC. In addition to the public broadcasters the Astral-owned ‘Canal D’ puts serious money into a handful of long-form documentaries every year.
Nonetheless, the most creative response to the crisis has come from Montreal. A small group of filmmakers, calling themselves ‘Documentary’s G7’, some of them members of DOC’s Quebec chapter, have created a campaign called ‘J’aime le Documentaire’ – I love docs. In addition to using social media for networking, they have made a series of ten public service messages for use on television, during festivals and on the web. These ‘spots’ – quite elegantly made in black-and-white by experienced ad director Richard Leclerc on a minimal budget – feature well-known Quebecers who state their heartfelt support for documentaries. Drawn from a wide spectrum, they include among others singer Chloë Saint-Marie, human rights lawyer Julius Grey, and – cleverly – politicians or former politicians from every major political camp in Quebec. ‘They may disagree on everything else’ says G7 member Patricio Henriquez, ‘but they all agree documentaries have a key role to play in the way we perceive social and political developments and issues. This shows that documentaries can have a unifying effect in society, at least here in Quebec.’ In addition, people who were attending the Rencontres doc fest last November were invited to state their support for the form, resulting in another slew of passionate statements for use on the web.
The ‘I love documentary’ campaign is supported by a series of industry organizations and networks as well as Canal D which has been broadcasting the spots since before Christmas. The ads will also be shown before some films (fiction and documentary) at the upcoming Rendez-vous du cinema québecois.
Thanks to Sally Rylett for help with this blog post.
I’m an outdoors person, and the only thing that reconciles me to a gym is… podcasts! This time of the year, while waiting for more snow, I listen a lot to radio programs, from Radio-Canada, the BBC and Democracy Now in particular.
Over the last few weeks, I noted a few very interesting comments about what defines us: not our so-called characteristics as much as our contradictions.
On the excellent BBC Film Programme, I heard an interview with filmmaker Carol Morley, who previously made an autobiographical film called The Alcohol Years. She has just completed a film about a 38-year old woman who was found in her London flat in 2003, three years after she died. Morley said this about her subject, Joyce Carol Vincent, and her film Dreams of a Life:
“All lives are full of contradictions… if you look at Citizen Kane at the beginning, you look at this idea of the last word that someone uttered – which was obviously ‘Rosebud’ – and in Citizen Kane there are a series of interviews which contradict each other. You try to piece together a jigsaw puzzle of a man’s life through contradictory evidence… And I think all our lives are like that.
One: we present ourselves differently to different people and and, two: people are going to define us through their own eyes. I never wanted to ease out those differences, I wanted to make sure that these different views of Joyce were heard. I wanted to present the evidence that she had been in peoples lives and she had mattered.”
L’arroseur arrosé was the title of the 1895 Louis Lumière film which qualifies as the first-ever comedy and first-ever fiction film. The idea of the ‘Sprinkler Sprinkled’ has wide currency in French, but much less so in English. Nonetheless it applies this week on this blog to Marc Glassman, editor of POV Magazine, the excellent quarterly on documentary production.
Marc is also known as the editor of Montage and the moderator of many cultural events. (Plus, he used to own the best bookstore in Toronto, Pages, sadly missed.) Marc’s knowledge of cinema, literature and music is encyclopaedic.
I was recently interviewed by Marc for POV magazine – the interview appears inthe current issue(you can also download it from my website here, just click on “POV interview” on bottom left). I was very impressed by Marc’s thoroughness: he leaves no stone unturned, even if the resulting interview has to be radically edited before publication.
So I thought I’d turn the tables and ask him about his interviewing techniques and experiences:
MG: I prepare a lot before I do a big interview. Generally, my interviews are either with filmmakers or authors, so I’ll go over bibliographies and filmographies in detail and, if I can, look again at a film or a book to remind me, in an emotional way, about their style and impact.
I used to prepare many questions but now I just think of points that I’d like to have discussed.
Tone is essential: I want the interviewee to be at ease, confident in my approach. When possible, I try to get more time than usually granted for interviews. I feel that the first ten minutes of any interview with a cultural figure is the same: the new work (whether it’s a film or a book or an installation) is hyped and certain specific “colourful” stories are told about difficult or funny moments in the creation of the piece. It’s only when you get time that you can go beneath the surface and find out what’s really happened to your interviewee.
The main thing? Listening! Patrick Watson, a brilliant interviewer, told me that. He said, “Listen to what someone is telling, and respond. Have a conversation.” That’s the key to a fine interview.
MI: Which were the most interesting interviewing experiences ?
Interviewing Jonas Gwangwa and other members of South African cultural sector of the ANC, Amandla!, when they visited Toronto on an anti-apartheid tour of Canada in the mid-80s. I recorded a concert, conducted multiple interviews and cut it all together into a 90 minute radio doc for Ryerson’s community channel, CKLN-FM. (To say I was overly ambitious is an understatement but I learned a lot and some people claimed to like it.)
Interviewing Spalding Gray, the actor and author. He was absolutely brilliant: funny and perceptive. I think I asked three questions in an hour.
Interviewing Quentin Tarantino, when he was at Toronto’s then Festival of Festivals with Reservoir Dogs. The energy coming off the man was indescribable. He was practically leaping off the walls with excitement.
Interviewing Nettie Wild, who is a truly great raconteur. She can hold you spellbound for an hour as she recounts story upon story. One of her doc friends in Vancouver should interview Nettie, film it, and cut it into a piece. Heck, I should do it!
MI: How does POV fit in with your other activities ?
The doc bug bit me when I was in my early twenties. At McGill, my film professor was John Grierson and he influenced me in profound ways, making me think long and hard about the effects media has on society—and what makes a good documentary. My love of literature and the arts in general derailed me from making docs the only focus in my working life, but it’s always one of my great loves. I’ve worked on docs, programmed docs, written and edited articles on docs and now I teach doc history at Ryerson.
Presently, I am the artistic director of a literary programme called This is not a Reading Series, which also features music and film and theatre; edit POV and the Directors Guild’s magazine Montage, broadcast film reviews for a local station, Classical 96.3 FM and expect to be back at Ryerson later in 2012. Docs are a major part of my life but I love balancing it with other artistic disciplines and pursuits.
A few weeks ago I participated in the selection committee for the Alter-Cine Foundation which lends modest but sometimes crucial support to filmmakers in Southern countries. The foundations criteria specify that it favours projects which support human rights and give a voice to people who are powerless or victimized. And of course projects which have a creative edge.
Over the ten years of its existence, the foundation has given grants of $5,000 or $10,000 to some 32 film projects in Latin America, Asia and Africa. Many of these films have had a successful career in festivals. This year, 67 projects were submitted from 35 countries. In the end, we decided to support three projects.
The first grant of $10,000 was awarded to South African filmmaker Ryley Grunenwald for her project Sands of the Skei Queen. The film will tell the story of the Mpondo community to defend its ancestral lands, cultural identity and way of life in the face of a giant titanium mining project. Corruption and intimidation by a multinational with the complicity of the South African government are part of the dramatic story.
The second grant of $5,000 went to the Indian filmmaker Fahad Mustafa for his project Powerless. It’s a look at the many different facets of the electricity crisis in Kanpur, India’s leather capital, which experiences frequent power cuts and deadly accidents as citizens climb electricity poles to connect cables of their own to the grid. It shows the energy crisis in a third world city in all its complexity and promises to be a terrific film. We also supported a third film which is being shot in difficult circumstances. For this reason, the author and title cannot be mentioned at this time.
To contribute to the Alter-Cine Foundation and allow it to continue supporting films in Southern countries, go to this site. The Alter-Cine Foundation was started in memory of my friend and colleague Yvan Patry, who passed away in 1999. It is run by his life partner Danièle Lacourse, also a good friend and ally. Together the couple produced and directed numerous films and television reports about human rights issues in some of the toughest places on the planet.
I find Samian’s lyrics and performance extremely powerful. Normally one would say that art benefits from being subtle, exploring nuances and transposing its vision to something loftier than straight discourse. But Samian just calls a spade a spade, denouncing the conditions in aboriginal communities and government hypocrisy with total directness and a great deal of panache. And it works, artistically as well as editorially.
I have written about Wapikoni mobile before: it’s a really important project, praiseworthy even, a mobile video and music production studio for young aboriginal people. It has been in operation since 2004, allowing youth on reserves in Quebec to produce hundreds of short videos, many of them shown in festivals here and abroad. It’s an essential means of self-expression for young people who often face despair.
But Wapikoni mobile was hit hard by cutbacks by the federal Human Resources Department, losing $490,000, or half its funding, last year. Because of this, it was only able to take its mobile studios to seven communities rather than the regular fifteen last year. This was a huge disappointment to aboriginal youths who had been counting on its presence. As we all know, positive and inspiring experiences are badly needed in First Nations communities in Canada, and these federal cutbacks are incomprehensible. Perhaps paying for less portraits of the Queen, or cancelling the order for just one fighter jet would have allowed this valuable program to go on as before.
The founder of Wapikoni mobile, Manon Barbeau, was celebrated last night, as she vowed to carry on the fight. She told me the project still has funding from Health Canada, Quebec’s Secretariat of Aboriginal Affairs, and some band councils such as that of Chisasibi, a Cree community much affected by hydro development. Manon told me Wapikoni mobile is far from dead, and has many plans, including musical training by professional musicians.
“It’s just too bad that the cutbacks have hit the real heart of the project, the month-long workshops in fifteen communities. This event will help us recover some precious ground.”