First animation experience

When I started to work on my documentary animation project, I made a trial version of an animated piece that influenced the aesthetical choices for my final work. Here you can check the video itself. As long as I had an interview with my hero already, my primary task was to create the visual scape for the sound. However, I did not want to illustrate the words of my hero directly, but create the atmosphere of the culture and place in which she was living. In this small piece I brought to the scene as much objects and symbols as I though is necessary to pay tribute to the simplicity as a guiding principle for the organization of the animation.

“The aesthetic rules defining a world should be as few as possible (but no fewer). The more elemental and simple an environment, the more exciting and visually rewarding it is when we introduce changes to it.” (O’Reilly) (1) This quote applies to the animation creation a lot because the main idea of the  experience of animation is the aesthetical pleasure from the way in which the images are changing. So, the main aesthetic decisions for this introductory piece appeared to be the use of natural materials such as fabric (for the doll and flowers), dry berries (for the rain), pieces of moss (for the clouds), threads (for the sun); use of traditional music to create pasing, concentration on two main activities such as doll composition , appearance of the clouds and raining.  The last fact appeared to be crucial for the animation because its influence of the viewer depends a lot on the clarity in which it stresses the change on the scene and avoide its overcomplication with objects that are not necessary for perception of the creator’s idea.

As for the technical part, I made 296 photos. Next, I used Photo Mixer program for animation creation where it is possible to set up photo’s duration and the number of frames per second. So, for this piece I used the duration of 1 second and 24 frames settings. This program downloads photos quite long, but it works for the short pieces of video. However, later on it appeared to be much more easier to create animation in Adobe Premier because it downloads the photos to the program faster.

  1. OReilly, D. (2009). Basic animation aesthetics. Available at: davidoreilly. com (accessed 20 April 2016).

Subjectivity in ethnographic film

Having read the article “The subjective voice in ethnographic film” by McDougall, (1) I got more questions than answers on the issue of subjectivity. According to the author, it exists in different modes such as subjectivity of the filmamker who makes choices on the content of the film and its representation and subjectivity of the character who is supposed to represent his/her culture or social group. What is more, as long as film “lives its full life” while screened, the mode of the spectator’s subjectivity of interpreting arises. At the same time, subjectivity cna be treated as a product of the filmmaker’s work and the quality that we associate with this work. In the last sense it can add positive or negative shade to our evaluation of the film. But what understanding of subjectivity in its different variants can give us for the film perception as viewers?

As for me, quality ethnographic film is the one that uses different modes of subjectivity to reach its goals, not to restrain the freedom of artistic creation by burdens of scientific approach. “Them and Me” by Stephan Breton is a film of this kind. Firstly, it is a great example of the participatory cinema in which adoption of indigenous view by the filmmaker, his real interest in the social institutions of the Wodani such as a monetary systme of kipe enriches the understanding of the life of a tribe. Director is not seen in the film, but we see the members of the tribe in his daily communications with him through the eye of camera. This subtle presence of the director brings certain doze of reflexivity to the film because his relations with the tribesmen provoke questions not only about the ways in which they live but also the ways in which different cultures can be compared, ethics can be applied in the setting with values different from European ones. Secondly, common experience of the tribe is depicted through the talks with individuals. Really, there is no such thing as a collective mind that experience the events, it is usually people who are capable of this. And the director is very skilful in asking questions that lead characters to describe the reasons of their actions that they normally never think about.

Last but not least, “Them and Me” benefits a lot from the way in which Breton approaches the issue of subjectivity. He uses it to create the very new reality that appears on our eyes in the processes of communication between him and tribesmen. They now his purposes of filming them and they appreciate his openness. Nevertless, the film, intentionally or unintentionally, omits depiction of women’s and children’s experience in the tribe. We learn about it through the narratives of men. It can be a creative decision or a necessity to obey the social mores of the tribe, but it makes a picture of the tribe to be one-dimensional. From this point new questions on subjectivity arise – should an ethnographic film promote such values as gender equality, freedom of speach, human rights? If it creates very new reality in the mutual cooperation of the derictor and subjects, why not to bring new values to it, not to be ethnocentric and impose those values, but to be attentive to the spheres of reality that are always neglected?

  1. MacDougall, D. 1998. The Subjective Voice in Ethnographic Film. In MacDougall Transcultural Cinema. Pp. 125-139. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press

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What does cinéma-vérité lack?

Yesterday my friend asked me what types of films I like – blockbasters, drama, horror, action or some other ones. This question completely disarmed me. I would never approach the perception of the film from the position of its form. I was always thinking that essence is a thing which is more important. Valuing a form is a search for the pure amusement, while only with essence we can provoke doubt in ourselves. Living with doubdt is difficult, but revealing in the same time because it protects us from the influence of ideology of any kind. After reading an article by Steven Feld about themes in the cinema of Jean Rouch (1) I have got a feeling that cinéma-vérité was such an ideology for Rouch and his colleagues that they were trying to worship.

Without any doubt, messages of the cinéma-vérité were very inspiring and promised new insights into the nature of reality for both the viewers and the audience. Filmic ethnographic fiction, antropologie partagée, direct cinema and other notions, that were called to depict the new method of films creation, were breaking the dogma of non-intervention of the director into the heroes’ life. And in this act it was revolutionary for the cinema of 60s. Hand-held camera made films more lively, while participation and self-reflection of the director opened new dimension for the ethnographic film.

In the article by Feld it can be read that Rouch’s films are more exiting as cinema, than as anthropology. (238) As for me,  they lack some important properties to be named one or another. Let us look at the film “Croniques of the summer” in order to notice their abscence. First, anthropology. The film has historical value because it is close to the depiction of style of Parisians’ life in the particular time and topics that were important for people. At the same time, subjectivity of their choice is evident, as long as we do not know why Morene decided to talk with people about one things and not the others. Again, directors attempted to make people be sincere with them, but failed to achieve it as long as they were fully concentrated on the capturing of their reactions to questions. That is why I lacked the depth of the characters’ depiction in this film. Second, cinema. Being obsessed with fulfilling programatic claims of cinéma-vérité, directors lost the continuity of aesthetical atmosphere. After having watched the film, I had a feeling of being introduced to different pieces of the story, discontinuity of which was supposed to be justified by the innovative method of participatory cinema.

Creation of the ouvre is always expression of a doubt. Only such art has value because it gives at least a posibility to set your thought, feelings and perceptions free of social constraints. All debates about ethnographic cinema are concentrated across two modes of reality approaching – through knowledge of the antropology or through aesthetic feeling through the cinematic technique. However, the truth about the reality is always somewhere in the middle. And when you stick to much to the defined way of expression, you inevitably lose the third mode – the truth.In this sense cinéma-vérité as a self-affirming method seems to create the double artificiality of reality because film is already artificial in itself. While a doubt in the own ideology could make its principles something more than just programatic claims that are to be employed.

  1. Feld, S. (1989). Themes in the cinema of Jean Rouch. Visual Anthropology, 2(3-4), 223-247.jean-rouch-still-2

Perfectness of the world

This post will be devoted to the film “Portraits” by Sergei Loznitsa. People in this film are shown doing their daily activities such as cutting wood or carrying water. However, long shots give the viewer the possibility to see these people separately from the landscape of their daily life. Because the length of shots makes you develop a doubt of whether reality is singular or multiple. And, as for me, the answer of this film is that reality is multiple since you try to recognize it.

Atmosphere of black and white cinema brings to the ambience of film the feeling of liveliness that is not that strong in color films. Maybe, the lack of diversity of colors helps the viewer to concentrate on the sense of the image more than on its aesthetic value. To my point of view, this strategy also perfectly works in Bella Tarr’s films such as, for example,  “Werckmeister Harmonies”. On the other hand, black and white films have the minimalistic aesthetics of their own.

Andrey Tarkovsky once wirte in his diaries that are collected in the book “Martyrolog” (“Мартиролог”) that an artist exists because the world is imperfect.[1] I disagree. The world is perfect as much as it can be. It is our strategy of world perception which is imperfect. In “Portraits” Loznitsa tries to cultivate sophisticated world perception.  And it is not about the attention to the particular details such as people’s faces that we miss in daily rush. It is about cultivation of the general habit of attentiveness to the world that can be learnt.  In this case documentary film is about asking questions on what is beyond the image that is important to be exercised not only during the film screening.

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[1] Тарковский, А. А., & Забродин, В. (2008). Мартиролог: дневники 1970-1986 (Vol. 1). Ист. Интернационале Тарковский.

Inescapable visuality

The very nature of documentary film presupposes that reality is very near to the viewers, so, they can not escape it. However, every film uses different tools to convey the reality. And the impression that film makes on people depends usually on the people’s own wish to be touched by the film. But there are films which affection you can not escape by any means of distancing or indifference. “Leviathan” is, obviously, such film.

What is more, it is film in its essence as long as immerses you into the visual and keeps you in its world till the very end. It gives an amazing chance for the viewer to become a part of the see – a fish in the water, a seagull in the sky, ship and fisherman at the same time. It is very anthropomorphic movie, though its main hero is a ship. Its anthropomorphism lays in the ability for the viewer to become very different part of the nature and in this act –  to appear more close to the own essence as a human, to recognize own self in the mirror of the sea world.

Again, the shots with dead fish appear to be very sudden. Ones the viewer got used to feel herself as a part of the entire setting where the sea, the fish and the ship are unseparable, the severe intrusion into this setting of the fellow human beings by cutting the fish appears to be very striking. But this intrusion is inevitable part of the world of fishing and our perception can not escape this inevitability.

Sometimes you get the feeling that your own body is treated like a body of the fish. You are trapped in this image because in the atmosphere of total visuality it is difficult to separate own personality from the image. Abscence of word narration opens space for the intensification of the primary sensations such as seing and hearing. Next, what is distinctive about the representation of reality in this film as well as in any documentary is the impossibility to avoid the things you see because you understand thet they happen in the mode of some real time and place. You are made by the image to recognize that things function particularily in such a way.

People in the film correspond to the nature of work that they do. The camera intentionally highlights this correspondence by showing faces in wrincles, arms with fresh wounds and old tatooes. It seems like some features of the sea and the ship are inscribed in people and they became very similar because of the years spent together. This film explain nothing, takes no moral or judging position, it just severely claims the things that exist. But, probably, such approach is the best way to tell about something visually as long as the totality of its atmosphere emancipate the viewers and empower them to grasp the reality before it is reflected by consciousness.