Someone invent a time machine so I can live and die in the 1980s forever.
This fucking blog. It’s like a goddam albatross that hangs about my neck. My thoughts of it used to be accompanied by a pang of guilt, but now it just engenders a cold ball of dread that sits in the pit of my stomach. The digital graveyard is littered with blogs bearing a years-old post from a writer promising to update their site with renewed dedication and greater frequency, only to be followed by nothing. I make you no such promise. You’re already reading these words in the future. But just how far into the future are you? Have they invented hoverboards yet? If you’re still reading and interested, here is a list of the posts that I meant to write this year but never got around to:
1. A response to a Brian Newman argument which is premised on the idea that film is a fungible commodity. It isn’t. (And maybe a sidebar on his need to identify successful YouTube content creators as Asian, even though their race/ethnicity is irrelevant to their work. An Aziz Ansari bit on the Other/essentialism that is relevant here.)
2. Something about the birth and death of Das Racist, and what the band–and specifically the work of Himanshu Suri–means to me. I wish these guys had figured out how to stay together; it would have been interesting to see what might have happened had they matured a little.
3. An analysis of the casual hipster racism in the Zooey Deschanel vehicle New Girl, a one-camera sitcom bearing dated popular culture references that I always get, and which I sometimes find laugh-out-loud funny. (Life is complicated).
4. An interview with KUMARE director Vikram Gandhi on the nature of religion, race, Orientalism and manipulation in documentary.
5. An interview with the world’s first White House documentarian, Arun Chaudhary. He actually did a Reddit AMA that is better than anything I could have turned out.
6. Something on the virtues of a good bike shop/mechanic. Shout out to Mike Rodriguez at Bicycle Station for dropping serious science on why my index shifter was fucked and then rapping with me about the economic ramifications of gentrification on small business owners. And also to the guy in the tracksuit at Bicycle Habitat who fixed my broken spoke AND checked/tightened my brakes without being asked to. (You’d be surprised how rare that is.)
The existence of a revolutionary cinema is inconceivable without the constant and methodical exercise of practice, search, and experimentation. It even means committing the new film-maker to take chances on the unknown, to leap into space at times, exposing himself to failure as does the guerrilla who travels along paths that he himself opens up with machete blows. The possibility of discovering and inventing film forms and structures that serve a more profound vision of our reality resides in the ability to place oneself on the outside limits of the familiar, to make one’s way amid constant dangers.
-Fernando Solanas and Octavio Getino, Towards a Third Cinema
The Vimeo Festival had been completely off of my radar until sometime in late May, when I stumbled across their schedule and saw that they had some excellent doc-related programming. I hadn’t really seen anyone in the doc world talking much about the festival, despite the fact they had snagged some big names in Steve James and Lucy Walker as panel participants. I was also really intrigued by the panel they had set up on Saturday about the “bleeding edge” of filmmaking, which brought together Lance Weiler, Loc Dao of Canada’s NFB/Interactive and artist Kenzo Digital.
After having spent a few days at the Frank Gehry-designed IAC building that serves as home to Vimeo’s offices, and headquarters for the festival, I left with a newfound respect for the outfit. Digital is changing filmmaking in any number of ways, but until the Vimeo Festival, I hadn’t really stopped to consider how digital distribution platforms have affected the utility and necessity of traditional film festivals. Unlike traditional fests, most of the work being celebrated at the Vimeo Festival has been freely available for the public to view online at their leisure for some time. Instead of working to line up premieres, Vimeo focused on putting together a diverse and thoughtful array of workshops and panel-type conversations. I had a chance to watch James and Walker rap about their production and interview processes, saw an inspiring talk from Casey Neistat about eschewing production values in favor of solid ideas, and got to hear Dao wax about the NFB/Interactive’s underlying philosophy. (He called it the creative application of story to technology, in what I have to assume was a nod towards Canadian John Grierson’s famous definition of documentary.) Overall, the Vimeo Festival seems like a preview of what festivals may increasingly resemble in the coming years, when the importance of a theatrical run diminishes as filmmakers increasingly bypass this world in favor of new, digital distribution channels like VOD. I don’t think it’s an accident that they left the word “film” out of their name.
Vimeo’s motivation in all of this seems pretty clear to me now. I would guess that their main competition is YouTube, which has the mighty muscle of Google behind it and which I assume dominates market share in the video-hosting game. But Vimeo has carved out a pretty dedicated user niche of filmmakers, and stuff like the festival goes a long way in building their brand among that demo. Tickets for access to all events (with the exception of the awards ceremony) were only $60, and given the level of organization and execution of the festival, I have to assume they’re losing money on the gambit. But I’m also pretty sure Vimeo is just putting those losses in a marketing budget line somewhere.
So that’s my analysis. I also live-tweeted the James/Walker discussion, and have Storified (yeah, I just turned that into a verb) the tweets for anyone interested in that talk. I think they had some really interesting, and sometimes surprising, things to say about interview technique and gaining intimacy with your subjects. You can check that out here.
Civil twilight, said Will.
What, I asked. What’s that? I’d been driving through the night and my mind was moving slowly, my thoughts traveling through a media of fatigue that slowed them down to a snail’s pace. I had taken the wheel sometime after we left the gas station in New Hampshire, or maybe it was Maine, not quite trusting anyone else to stay awake through the deepest hours of night, that 3 am to 5 am period where every cell in your body begins to demand that you relinquish your consciousness for the sweet relief of sleep.
The Subaru was carrying us over small rolling hills, its headlights illuminating the ribbon of dark asphalt ahead of us, the conifers that dominated this land, and not much else. But we were now through the darkest part of night, and the sky had started to turn a deep, beautiful inky blue, telegraphing the inevitability of sunrise.
A few hours earlier, we had rolled back the sunroof, and Allison—at least I think it was Allison—had poked herself up through it with the 5D to collect whatever light the camera’s sensor could snatch up. I had been daring enough to follow up after her, and was shocked at how quickly the wind had overcome my senses. It became near impossible to process information, to heed any other instinct but that which was instructing me to get my ass back in the car. We crowded around the 5D’s LCD screen to see what Allison had gotten, and I was shocked how beautiful I found the shot.
I was just starting to understand how little I understood about light at that time. Now I am fully aware of how ignorant I am. But at that time, I had no idea.
Civil twilight is defined to begin in the morning, and to end in the evening when the center of the Sun is geometrically 6 degrees below the horizon. This is the limit at which twilight illumination is sufficient, under good weather conditions, for terrestrial objects to be clearly distinguished; at the beginning of morning civil twilight, or end of evening civil twilight, the horizon is clearly defined and the brightest stars are visible under good atmospheric conditions in the absence of moonlight or other illumination. Complete darkness, however, ends sometime prior to the beginning of morning civil twilight and begins sometime after the end of evening civil twilight.