A Rock Crawler and Wildlife Film Making

When Gordon Buchanan was following bears in the United States we watched the resulting documentaries on television. We have seen him a number of times in episodes of countryfile as well. Now he is working on getting footage of wolves in the wild. For this project he is staying out in the wild and following a pack of wolves day after day for weeks. As part of this project he is filming with a broadcast camera and gopro cameras which he fixed on to a “rock crawler”. The Rock crawler is a remote control car with the body removed.

The BBC were working on a documentary about polar bears and for certain shots they created a den for filming purposes. It helped to tell the story but people felt that the purity of that documentary had been tainted. This genre of documentary aims to tell a genuine story with no reconstruction or trickery. Everything has to be genuine.

As we see from the footage above Gordon Buchanan was able to get the camera right up to the den and film the wolf cubs from the mouth of the den. This technology is great for story telling because it provides the camera operator with greater flexibility. He is able to get the camera to where he wants it to be without going there in person. In theory animal behaviour is genuine.

Sensory: BBC Wildlife Director John Downer & the technology of 'spy-cam' filmmaking from Getty Images on Vimeo.

With this technology a greater variety of shots can be achieved, from flying with specific birds to traveling under water with penguins and lounging in a pool with tigers. In essence spy creature cameras allow wildlife filmmakers to get genuine animal interactions without relying on luck. They can make their own luck and the natural history documentary genre benefits.

Sharkwater – a documentary worth watching

Sharkwater – A documentary worth watching.

If you have one and a half hours of free time I recommend watching this documentary. It discusses the anti-whaling work by the Sea Shepherd, the work it did to combat long lining around the Galapagos and it touches on the shark finning mafia and corruption.

The documentary also looks at the public perception of sharks. It shows that they are not the dangerous animal that they were thought to be until recent history. The film ends with a shot of the narrator free-diving with sharks and being perfectly relaxed. At one point he says “sharks are so sensitive that they can feel your heart beat, if you are calm they will stay but if you panic they will flee”. I paraphrased his exact words.

Another theme that is explored in this documentary is the food chain. He mentions that plankton absorb a lot of Carbon dioxide and that with the overfishing of sharks the ecological balance will be ruined as the apex predators are lost. He pushes strongly for the conservation of shark numbers. We are familiar with the current Save our Sharks movement.

This is an interesting investigative documentary about the economy surrounding shark finning and why it has a negative impact on the food chain. If the documentary was updated it could look at the economic viability of shark tourism that has grown in recent years. Sharks, in some places are more valuable alive than dead. If you don’t have time to watch the entire documentary then I recommend that you watch the last thirty to fourty minutes.

Human – A Yann Arthus-Bertrand documentary

The French have an interesting history of documentary film. Jean Rouch explored social questions with his film Chronique d’un été, a revolutionary film at the time because of the tech that they used. The Cinéma Eclair and crystal sound sync. A few decades later Yann Arthus-Bertrand is following in Jean Rouch’s footsteps with a net cast far wider. Instead of Paris and France we see interviews with people from around the world.

The documentary is split in to volumes and each volume is divided in to sections. At the beginning of each section you have footage showing the diversity of landscapes in which people live as well as the people themselves. You see images of a caravan on a dune, images of a river delta, a fishing boat being unloaded.

People are answering questions about love, abuse, work and more. You feel compassion for these people because they stare straight in to the camera and they are speaking to us, who are in the audience. We feel compassion for these people, we are moved to laughter by some and to tears by others. There are some beautiful images created by what the people say.

One person speaks about buying things. He says that we don’t buy things with money but that we buy them with time. That is a beautiful and more accurate image than we are used to. I love gadgets and sports so I often think of how long an investment will take to offset. I used to think “in a week” I will have covered the expense.

Another image painted by words that I like is that of wealth and comfort. When you are poor the river is empty and so every stone is a challenge. With wealth you do not need to worry about the stones because the river is full.

This is an observational documentary, typical of the cinéma verité movement and the French and German school of documentary. We are not told what to feel or think. We are presented with evidence and we are to draw our own conclusions. It can be perceived as slow and dull by some and beautiful by others.

It brings us to the “All Seeing Eye” that Vertov discussed at the very birth of the documentary genre. His ideal was to have cameras that would film and document “life unawares” as they went about their daily lives. In so doing the cinema was an observer, without interacting. Of course these are just interviews so there is some interaction between the camera operator and the talent on screen. They are meant to speak from the heart, without censor. They were meant to give us an honest representation of who they are and how they feel. It gives us a serious glimpse in to the lives of others.

it makes me think of the interviews I have listened to, of the stories I have heard told when I was logging and transcribing footage for a video archive. Some of the things people speak about are timeless and others are contemporary. With this documentary record of people’s thoughts and emotions so a moment in time is preserved. I have yet to watch the next volumes and will do so in the evenings. I recommend you take the time to watch at least part of these documentaries.

Mythbusters: A fun documentary series

Recently Netflix Switzerland made Mythbusters available on their service. As I watched episode after episode I noticed the camaraderie between those whom participate in the show. We see that Adam and Jamie occasionally argue but that overall they are having a lot of fun. We see them laugh, joke, tease each other and collaborate.

Their show is a science show where fun myths are challenged. They have two goals with each myth, establish whether it is confirmed, plausible or busted. They then scale up and reproduce the results.

The first two seasons are short and low budget using prosumer cameras and we notice the difference between camera image quality from shot to shot. The first “season” as it is called on Netflix Switzerland must be the pilot episodes.

Information taken from the Wikipedia page
Information taken from the Wikipedia page

The first episodes of the season are great because their editing style is good. Every minute of programme covers something new. In later seasons, at least for the broadcast versions and those shared via youtube advertising provisions ruined the watchability of the show. I am speaking of the lead in to each segment and the lead out.

Netflix is payed for directly by the customer and there are no ad breaks. As a result of this I would re-edit content for the 50 minute duration rather than broadcast the TV edit. It allows for the producers of the show to provide more content and information to their audiences.

Netflix content should be reformatted for the longer viewing duration. It should take advantage that there are no commercial breaks to get content to flow without fade to blacks and without repetitions. It should also take in to account binge viewing.

Documentaries will benefit from services such as Netflix and Video on Demand. They will benefit because they can edit content to be seen without commercials and without the constant need for repetition. As a result rather than have 40 minutes of content and 10 minutes of repetition documentaries will have 50 minutes of content for the viewer.

Two stories or more are usually explored per episode and in the earlier episodes you have cutting from one story to the next no more than two times. As they produce more episodes so the editing goes from Story A to B to A to C to A to B to A again and then to C. This flip flopping between experiments results in the editor having to summarise what happened before and what they want as a result frequently. This repetition is optimal if people watch just five minutes of a program but ruins the viewing experience for those watching an entire episode. Let’s see if they resolve this issue for Netflix.

Tudor Monastery Farm – A documentary series

I took advantage of a rainy day to watch a series of documentaries by the BBC called Tudor Monastery Farm. It is a documentary series where three individuals live the life people would have lived at the relevant time period for a year. During this year they try farming, mining, fishing and other skills and crafts from the time.

These are observational and experimental documentaries. They take the observational cinéma verité and Direct cinema approach to factual television production. As you watch these documentaries so you are transported to a different time period.

For years or even decades I thought of this time period as a bad time period. I thought of the church as being an oppressive force. Through this set of documentaries I eventually felt sad that monasteries and the way of life that was illustrated in the series of documentaries was dissolved by Henry the Eighth.

Imagine a monastery with 20,000 sheep, imagine the work that was lost by stone masons as the need for monastery construction and other activities declined.

If you find this documentary series I strongly recommend watching it.

Edwardian Farming, a BBC documentary series about the life of Edwardian farmers.

I really like this documentary series about Edwardian Farming. it is a fly on the wall documentary following three people through a year on an edwardian farm close to Dartmoor. They experiment with market farming, food preparation of the time, trout farming and so much more. It is relaxing and without an over-enthusiastic announcer/narration.

It’s a fascinating glimpse at a way of life that those who remember it is becoming dead rather than living history.

The BBC excel at this type of content and this is what they should focus on producing more of.



Village Photography

On Google Plus, one of my muses, I saw that instead of Street photography someone suggested Village photography. I like the idea because villages are such an integral part of my life.

Life in villages is a privileged one. Every time we go for a walk we cross people we do not know and say hello. We walk from field to field and along paths. We see which crops have been planted and which ones are being harvested. We see frequent horses and dog walkers. We also see families. We hear the sound of rifle practices at the local gun range. The practice is for military service most of the time.

We also have fountains and old buildings. We hear the church bell every half hour and hour. We see the fountains with wooden chalet to protect from the cold in winter.

Villages are seasonal. In summer the sounds of children playing, of fireworks and of barbecues can be heard. In Autumn the sound of wind blowers can be heard. In Winter we see lights on as the neighbours prepare their evening meal.

In the mornings we see parents bring their children to school before the bell rings and they head in to their classes to sit and wait impatiently for the school day to be over so that they may go out on adventures.

That’s why village photography captivates my imagination. I know villages well. I appreciate them. I look forward to looking at images from the past, and preserving today for future generations.

Monkey Thieves, Great in HD

Monkey Thieves is a documentary about the Gulta Gang, a gang of monkeys in India wreaking havoc. What I love about this documentary is that it’s a great topic in HD. You see all the details. You see the faces, you see how they eat a grape but throw away the skin for example. You see wide shots of the city and you see other animals.

It’s all about the visual wealth that documentaries can offer you. It’s just a well shot and humorous look at monkey behaviour. You see smiling faces in the background. The scene is monkeys stealing ice creams and eating them. They hold it with the stick, take little bites and more.

The 50 Years of the City Club cinema in Pully

I was in Pully this weekend for the fifty year celebrations of the City Club Cinema celebrating half a century of existence. There were a number of special events, from a silent film being screened with a live orchestra to a number of documentaries being screened as well.

I particularly enjoyed the documentary screenings because the documentary producers and some of those interviewed in those documentaries came to the screenings and presented their films before the film and answered some questions at the end.

The documentary the I enjoyed, or at least found most interesting was “La Citadelle Humanitaire”, a documentary by Frédéric Gonseth and Catherine Azad. It explored the work done by André Rochat when he worked for the International Committee of the Red Cross in Yemen in the 1960s. The documentary explored the interesting work carried out by these humanitarian workers and the challenges they faced. It was told as much by André rochat as those that worked with him.

It showed some of the challenges they faced, from where to situate the hospital to having more mobility, facilitating prisoner exchanges up to the point of hostage releases being negotiated successfully. It’s a great piece of documentary making and within the next few days a few of the Q&A questions should appear on this blog as well as my own.

A second documentary that I watched, but that did not appeal to me quite as much was La Reina del Condòn by Silvana Czeschi and Reto Stamm. It confused me. I couldn’t see why an East German would come to Cuba to speak about Sexual liberation in a machist country. I couldn’t see any of her motivations in carrying out such a project. If I had produced the documentary that’s what i would have concentrated on. I would have interviewed her more extensively, spent more time exploring the personality and the motivations behind what she did.
What we had instead was an exploration of three or four people’s views which did not make the documentary uninteresting so much as that famous “So what?” question that an English teacher used to always ask me to elaborate on. It’s the same with this film. I simply think the exposition could have been more researched.

Umare Te Wa Mita Keredo (Les Gosses de Tokyo) by Jasujiro Ozu is a 1930s film from Japan looking at two children at this specific moment in time. It’s a silent movie where the two main characters are Children and a few days out of their lives. What made this screening special was the live four piece orchestra playing live at the front of the Room.

Finally Lars and the Real Girl was also screened. It was a strange topic to be explored but it made me think of the Film Parle Avec Elle to some extent, the role of online and offline relationships as well as dealing with people with certain characteristics. It’s a comedy and as a result you’ll spen some time laughing but at the same time it’s a reflective film into how we behave. I found the film to be quite interesting but another individual said that it was a little too slow so it’s hard to say whether you’d enjoy it.

Overall I enjoyed being at the City Club for their fiftieth anniversary, having interesting people to meet and good documentaries to watch.