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Up There (2010)

Still from Up There (2010).

Still from Up There (2010).

Watching the Beck’s Edison Bottle reminded me of a short doc I saw a while back at IFP’s Film Week – Up There is a twelve-minute short doc on the fading art of hand-painted billboard signs in New York.

It was written by the filmmaker and funded by Stella Artois, but they’re never mentioned in the film.  Instead, they’re the subject of the handpainted sign we see the painters working on.  This is branded content as truly valuable content in its own right, where the filmmaker rather than the brand crafts the message, and both come away happy.  When I saw the makers of this doc interviewed at IFP, you could see the funding model opening up whole mental vistas of possibility for all the starting doc filmmakers in the audience, but this is a tough gig to find, and the right funder and the right content is a tough match to make. Continue reading

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Blank on Blank: Maurice Sendak on Being a Kid (2013, PBS Digital)

Still from Blank on Blank's episode, "Maurice Sendak on Being a Kid".

Still from Blank on Blank‘s episode, “Maurice Sendak on Being a Kid”.

Maurice Sendak’s discussion of unhappy childhoods and how children survive terrible things is especially poignant combined with Blank on Blank‘s stark black and white animation.  As a creative documentary technique, it’s quite effective – perhaps especially for interview, where the subject’s words are unfiltered and uninterpreted in audio form, which leaves a lot of leeway for interpretation in the visuals.  (If this were used under a filmmaker’s narration, it might feel too created, rather than being this wonderful collaboration of art and fact.)

Blank on Blank is one of the series coming out of PBS Digital Studios:  “Vintage interview tapes. New animations. Our mission is simple: curate and transform journalists’ unheard interviews with American icons. The future of journalism is remixing the past.”  Aside from the value of preserving these small, often highly personal, pieces of interview that don’t fit into the print narrative, this is one of a rarely-discussed approach to remixing – the focus on remixing so often centers around the reuse of hits and successes, and the related intellectual property rights, that it’s rarely explored as a form of voluntary collaboration.  Every project, fiction and non-fiction, leaves little bits and pieces that just don’t fit into the finished work, many of them very good, and I suspect most writers and artists would rather see them used in other projects than never see the light of day.  Continue reading


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The Beck’s Edison Bottle (2013)

Branded content is one of the funding models for shorts, and a lot of filmmakers look for work in commercials to fund their own projects.  This ad for Beck’s Beer falls somewhere in the middle, also serving as a mini doc on a crazy-cool maker project to make an Edison phonograph cylinder from a glass bottle.

More detail on making Beck’s Edison Bottle.


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Ingmar Bergman’s behind the scenes footage of Wild Strawberries

This color 16mm footage shot by Ingmar Bergman on the set of his Wild Strawberries was originally silent, and here has a little bit of commentary added by Criterion.

I love this sort of thing – a cross between found footage and cinéma vérité, with all the beautiful texture of 16mm film. It’s not quite candid and unstaged, because you’re seeing a very designed environment through the eye of the artist who designed it, but nor is it scripted or designed to be narrative in any sense.


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The Life and Freaky Times of Uncle Luke (2012)

Still from The Life and Freaky Times of Uncle Luke.

Still from The Life and Freaky Times of Uncle Luke.

“A modern Miami adaptation of Chris Marker’s 1962 meditation on time travel, love and mortality, La Jetée”, according to Filmmaker Magazine‘s profile of the filmmakers, but I think that somehow underplays the cracktastic hip-hop nuclear apocalypse gore-and-acid angle.  This is the short film that launched Mayer and Levya onto Filmmaker‘s 25 New Faces list.


(NSFW.  Strobe effect alert for the photosensitive.)


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Near the Egress (2013)

Still from Antonio Ramirez's Near the Egress

Still from Antonio Ramirez’s Near the Egress

Dreamlike, absolutely stunning.  Antonio Ramirez took 800 dryplate tintype photos of a circus, and combined the still images to make a jerky 5 minute short film, the equivalent of just under 24fps.  Because they’re moving at about the frame rate of modern film, it feels like watching something filmed; because the photos were taken as stills rather than at camera-regulated intervals, there’s a feeling of watching something assembled.  (In fact, it’s a little reminiscent of the feel of watching La Jetée.)  Combined with the 19th century photo process, the film feels disjointed and out of time, entirely surreal. Continue reading


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Timelapse footage of rotating thunderstorm (2013)

From Mike Olbinski's thunderstorm footage.

From Mike Olbinski’s thunderstorm footage.

Documentary footage of natural phenomena is tremendously difficult to capture in a way that retains anything like the power it has in real life.  This is incredible footage, beautiful and overwhelming.  The Atlantic has more detail about how Mike Olbinski captured this storm on video, and a nod to the importance of music in framing the perception and meaning of images, even in documentary. Continue reading