Wednesday, May 06, 2015

So long, farewell to our seniors!

Now comes the difficult part of every year when we say farewell to our departing senior staff. This year, we have five staff members graduating: Caitlin, Claire, Jasmine, Travis, and Trevor. We've gotten to know this crew over the past several years, and they've done a terrific job exceeding patron expectations of great library service.

We're sad to see them go, but we know they're moving onto exciting careers and future programs. We wish them the best of luck!

Tuesday, May 05, 2015

School's out! Christen the end of the year with summer vacation movies

In just a few hours, the 2014-2015 academic year comes to a close. We've enjoyed this decidedly busy year, but like you, we're looking forward to cutting back our workload a little. More importantly, we're sure everyone is looking forward to taking some time off for a little vacation, no matter how big or small. And given the beautiful weather, we're giddy thinking about the summer to come. What better way to stoke that excitement than to recommend a few summer-themed movies.

An infinite number of vacation movies and television shows exist, so we winnowed our selections down to a handful that we can learn something from. Everyone's summer experience is different, but there are enough unifying themes – travel, emotions, and friendship – that we could make a few recommendations that most everyone should connect to.

(We aren't actually offering these movies and TV episodes as life models, and in most cases, you should probably avoid doing whatever their characters choose. The one exception is the streaming video about travel photography; that one is very useful!)

Wet Hot American SummerHU DVD 1506
The lesson: Don't be the one to make a grand confessional on the last day of summer; it's cliched.

SummertimeHU DVD 3964
The lesson: Summer love, though fleeting, can be trouble.

Tim and Eric Awesome Show, Great Job!: Season 2, Episode 1, "Vacation" – HU DVD 4026
The lesson: Make new friends, preferably if they have dreads and make a video of your summer.

AdventurelandHU DVD 6464
The lesson: A summer job isn't so bad, and you might get something more out of it than money.

The Way Way BackHU DVD 8478
The lesson: Take the family trip, even if your stepfather is a jerk.

The Office: Season 3, Episode 22, "Beach Games" – HU DVD 14156
The lesson: Improve your trip to the beach with competitive eating and sumo wrestling.

Travel: How to Take Stunning PhotosStreaming video
The lesson: Remember to bring your camera... but use it well.

Hot SummerHU DVD 495
No lesson here, but we bet you haven't watched this Germany summer vacation musical. 

Monday, May 04, 2015

State film tax credits on the chopping block

Tax incentives are often the saving grace of film productions. If a local film board gives you incentive to film your upcoming production on-site, you'd be silly not to at least consider its possible budget alleviation. That's why House of Cards films many of its scenes in Baltimore. It brings commerce and attention to states and helps filmmakers stay afloat, but many argue that like the Olympics, these productions cost more in goodwill and hassle than they bring in.

Perhaps those criticisms have become the consensus, as multiple states are now considering cutting their film credits. MinnPost reports that Minnesota legislators are now considering rescinding the state's $10 million film incentives. The state has apparently struggled with its budget in recent years, and with competing incentives from Canada attracting productions like Fargo, lawmakers don't easily notice the return investment of luring film crews. (Minnesota's film board says $4.6 million of credits brought nearly $30 million into the state.)

A similar conflict is underway in Massachusetts, where Governor Charlie Baker wants to put those credits into income tax rebates rather than supporting out-of-state businesses. As with Minnesota, this is a difficult argument to suss out, as the impacts of film production (positive or negative) are challenging to determine.

The shuttering of some local credits may not have a noticeable impact on the quality of films and television shows; those will still get made somewhere. But California and New York's unquestioned dominance of the production industry would have a negative ripple effect throughout the business. Local film board and production houses would struggle to stay afloat, and we'd have to get used to seeing more palm trees and New York skylines in all of our media.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

After 30 years, New Coke is still a black mark in marketing history

from Coca-Cola: The Real Story Behind the Real Thing

Thirty years ago today, Coca-Cola unveiled New Coke, a Pepsi-like formula that replaced the original Coca-Cola in stores. In retrospect, this is regarded as one of the worst marketing decisions in history. Fans considered the change a betrayal and stockpiled the classic Coke in an act of consumer protest. The Coca-Cola Company relented and re-introduced the original formula within three months, saving Coke from long-term brand damage.

If you were born after the 80s, you probably never encountered New Coke (or Coke II, as it was later named). Luckily, the frantic media coverage of the Coke switch-up ensures that we have some documentation of the fallout. We found a good segment from Films on Demand about the release of New Coke and its competition with Pepsi; it's short, but it gets to the point and shows the extreme value of the Coca-Cola brand.

It might also be useful to catch up a bit on the importance of branding and image – and why Coca-Cola frantically moved to maintain them. To this end, we offer three streaming documentaries that specifically discuss Coca-Cola iconography: Power of Brands, Understanding Brands, and In Brands We Trust. Each runs under an hour and can be viewed from your choice of device as long as you long in with your AU library account.

The New Coke debacle will likely be discussed for decades in business courses as a prime example of well-intentioned marketing gone awry. We're glad there's video evidence of this calamity, and today is a great time to revisit it through our streaming collections

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Happy Earth Day! Say hi to Mother Nature with environmental films

Happy Earth Day, one and all! The AU Library and Media Services take pride in our commitment to sustainable and environmentally friendly practices, and we hope our patrons learn about sustainability and green living too.

If you're looking for some entertaining eco-conscious film choices for Earth Day, we have a resource for you! Last year, Media Librarian Chris Lewis put together a filmography for environmental studies which doubles as a handy list of all our films about going green. Some, like The Age of Stupid (streaming video), are documentaries about the impact of our actions on the environment. Others are a little more fun, like YERT (HU DVD 10863), the story of three friends on a green-themed road trip.

We realize that Earth Day can be associated with lecturing about keeping the planet safe for the next generation, so we think some of these green films are a great way to make the day entertaining while still informative. Many of them are streaming, so you won't even have to leave your room to watch them.

And yes, of course we have Captain Planet available. The power – and the first season – is yours! (HU DVD 8841)

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Television's reign of visual media continues, bleeds into film festivals

Even in a post-Breaking Bad and nearly-post-Mad Men landscape, television continues to assert its cultural dominance. More directors and actors turn to television for a chance to tell experimental or long-form stories, and the film world has unsurprisingly taken notice. In the latest sign of this explosive growth and relevance, the Toronto International Film Festival is changing tune and including television shows in its regular lineup for the first time.

TIFF is billing this new selection as Primetime, a roster of six shows from around the world that highlight the increasing quality of international television programming. TIFF artistic director Cameron Bailey is direct in his praise of television, noticing that "film and television have been converging for years, with many filmmakers gravitating to television to experiment with that medium." It's a bold statement – both the words and the gesture – that suggests the staying power of television's seeming golden age.

Submissions for TIFF are still open, so we can't tell you what they'll be highlighting just yet.

Television has come a long way in public and critical esteem since HBO premiered The Sopranos (many critics consider this the medium's turning point.) We wouldn't be surprised to see other festivals add television episodes to their lineups in the coming years.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Too nice to stay indoors? Come to the Media pop-up library!

We're about halfway into April, and we know that it's gorgeous outside. (Well, except today, since it's raining.) Even with finals season approaching and forcing everyone into their study bunkers, we'd all rather be outside. We see you, Frisbee players! We envy you!

We want to go where our patrons are, so for one day only, we're taking Media Services outside!

On April 14th from 2pm to 5pm, we're setting up a table on the quad outside of the Mary Graydon Center and checking out movies to anyone passing by. We're still working out logistics, but we're going to bring up a decent selection of our newest titles for checkout. No strings attached to this: bring your AU ID, and you can check items out just like you're in the library.

This is the second pop-up stand the AU Library has hosted; the Music Library set the standard with their pop-up library in February last year.

We'll send out another update once we're closer to the event. See you on the quad!

Friday, April 10, 2015

See sci-fi drama Ex Machina with director Alex Garland

Science fiction screenwriter Alex Garland makes directorial debut in theaters today with Ex Machina, a futuristic drama starring future Star Wars co-stars Domnhall Gleeson and Oscar Isaac about artificial intelligence. The movie has mostly glowing reviews so far, which bodes well for Garland's transition from the writing desk to the director's chair. If you want to pry his mind a little, we have an opportunity for you...

Alex Garland will be at Landmark E Street Cinema next Tuesday for a special screening of Ex Machina. Although we don't have details about what will happen at this screening, we imagine there will be a Q&A or guided discussion with the director. Garland's career trajectory is putting him on the path to being a big name in science fiction film, so take advantage of this opportunity!

The event takes place at Landmark E Street Cinema on Tuesday, April 14th. Unlike many screenings that we offer passes for, you'll have to RSVP for this one. Send an email to in advance to indicate that you'll be attending. We'll see you there!

Thursday, April 09, 2015

The A.V. Club names their eclectic, contentious list of the best films of the '10s

2015 marks the halfway point of the decade, and given our itchy need for instant gratification, why not do some retrospectives now instead of waiting until 2020?

All week, the pop culture aficionados at The A.V. Club have been posting the results of a highly debated internal poll to determine the top 100 best movies released so far this decade. "The largest film poll The A.V. Club has ever attempted" apparently uses rigorous survey methods to determine the top choices. We really want to know the methodology, because their list – especially the top 20 – is startlingly varied.

You can read parts 1, 2, and 3 on The A.V. Club's site. We're sure you'll disagree with many placements (ranking The Master as the top film of the decade is bold), but we love the audacious selections here. You can't sum up this list better than looking at its #20 and #19 choices: Cannes-favorite Iranian drama Certified Copy and comic-book-based action-comedy Scott Pilgrim vs. the World.

We're very proud to have all but one of The A.V. Club's top 20 in our collection (Two Days, One Night is not yet available on DVD in the United States).

#1: The Master – HU DVD 11009
#2: A Separation – HU DVD 10336
#3: The Tree Of Life – HU DVD 9230
#4: Frances Ha – HU DVD 4507
#5: The Act Of Killing – HU DVD 11069
#6: Boyhood – HU DVD 11713
#7: Dogtooth – HU DVD 8089
#8: Under The Skin – HU DVD 11598
#9: The Social Network – HU DVD 7969
#10: Before Midnight – HU DVD 1100
#11: The Grand Budapest Hotel – HU DVD 11444
#12: Margaret – HU DVD 10302
#13: Holy Motors – HU DVD 11008
#14: Her – HU DVD 11340
#15: Inside Llewyn Davis – HU DVD 11235
#16: Two Days, One Night (unavailable)
#17: Whiplash – HU DVD 11897
#18: Winter's Bone – HU DVD 7696
#19: Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World – HU DVD 5070
#20: Certified Copy – HU DVD 10031

Tuesday, April 07, 2015

SOC's International Cinema Series concludes Friday with British film

Back in the fall, SOC teamed up with the National Gallery of Art to kick off the International Cinema Series, a year-long roster of world cinema screenings and discussions. Over the course of the academic year, the series has covered Italy, China, Greece, the Czech Republic, and Brazil.

This Friday, the International Cinema Series wraps up with Ken Loach's Spirit of '45, a documentary about changes in the United Kingdom after the end of World War II. Prior to the screening, SOC will host a reception featuring guest speaker Paul Smith, Director of the US British Council and Cultural Counselor at the British Embassy. These NGA events have been terrific so far, and we expect this one to be great too.

The reception begins at 6:30pm on Friday, April 10th near the Forman Theater in MGC. The film will begin at 7pm.

Sunday, April 05, 2015

For real? Furious 7 carries the torch for practical effects in movies

The latest entry in the Fast and the Furious franchise is apparently on-track to crush April box office records. There's a plethora of reasons why the series has been so successful – this entry in particular attracting attention after the death of actor Paul Walker – but its greatest asset might be its continued use real, practical effects. In era when films can use CGI to portray all manner of spectacle (something that audiences no longer find as appealing), the Fast and the Furious movies still use real cars and real stuntwork. Yes, even Furious 7's ridiculous cars-falling-out-of-a-plan scene actually happened.

HitFix quickly points out that despite the recent glut of CGI, Furious 7 is only the most recent movie to use practical effects in stunning ways. Writer Emily Rome points out twelve other examples – some recent, some quite old – when filmmakers did the real thing instead of faking it. Our favorite tidbit? Christopher Nolan actually upended a truck in Chicago's financial district for The Dark Knight. And the Red Sea in the 1956's The Ten Commandments came as close to parting as possible: effects workers simulated the scene by reversing footage of a studio tank filling up from the sides.

The human eye can somehow tell when something is computer-animated. Films like the ones mentioned by HitFix might have cost more to produce, but they undeniably pack powerful that you can't get from rendering software. Pick up the DVDs for any of those films and check out the special features for more in-depth looks at how they pulled off their madness.

Thursday, April 02, 2015

All the President's Men wins Washingtonian's bracket; SOC professor has some choice words

In February, we reported on the Washingtonian's bracket to determine the most "DC" movie of all time. Much to our sadness, the Mr. T-starring DC Cab did not win, but top honors went to the classic Watergate drama All the President's Men. AtPM beat out lobbyist ode Thank You for Smoking for the top prize, also knocking out presidential dramas Lincoln and The American President along the way.

Not everyone is happy with the top choice though, especially not SOC professor W. Joseph Campbell. Professor Campbell's objects that the film glossed over the many other forces in Washington that contributed to the unraveling of Nixon's presidency, including criminal investigators and the courts. Dubious mythmaking aside, we love the movie (sorry Professor), but we agree that in the spirit of the competition, it doesn't do service to the other institutions in DC.

Professor Campbell suggests the Nixon parody comedy Dick as an alternative winner, but of the other choices on the bracket. We might have also gone for Burn After Reading, if only for actually shooting at Constitution Gardens.

Wednesday, April 01, 2015

What is world cinema? American's Cinema UC answers

Under the preview of film professor Jeff Middents (friend of Media Services), AU's Critical Approach to Cinema University College group has helped on-board new undergraduate students into the world of cinema studies. This year, as a capstone project, Middents asked his UC group to make sense of contemporary world cinema. The UC students produced a series of critical video essays about films from twelve different countries – and they're available to watch right now!

Head to the Contemporary World Cinema Project's YouTube page for a look at what these students have been working on. The project covers a great range of countries, from Australia to Argentina to North Korea (yes, North Korea!). For many of the participants, this was their first time editing a video project, and they make great use of selected clips from their film subjects.

We've embedded a playlist of all the video essays above. Each one runs six or seven minutes, putting the running time at just about the length of a Disney movie. Give them a watch, and leave some comments for these up-and-coming film scholars!

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

In India, national cinema preservation is in the balance

We post about film preservation frequently on this blog, and for the most part, contemporary film preservation effort in our neck of the woods are excellent. Between the National Film Registry and the continued investment in restoring older masterpieces, we've come a long way from losing all our silent films. But such an infrastructure doesn't exist elsewhere in the world, and many countries continue to struggle to save their works.

For an example of the ongoing fight to save film history, look no further than India. The Jakarta Post reports that, in recognition of the country's National Film Day, Indian film critics have called more a concerted effort to preserve national cinema. The country's national film archives are apparently decaying, with even some films from the 90s already degrading in quality. Many solvable problems are cited, especially budgetary constraints and more mindful collection (and copyright) management.

There's a strong interest and thirst for historical Indian film, and even though individuals and smaller organizations have made strides in saving national cinema, a greater national effort is only a good thing – both for India and film enthusiasts worldwide.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Move over, Fitzcarraldo. Newly rediscovered Roar had the most disastrous film production ever

Many films have ascended to legendary status for their troubled productions. Apocalypse Now, Heaven's Gate, and The Man Who Killed Don Quixote all famously far exceeded their budget and production scope. Thanks to the sleuthing and restoration efforts of Alamo Drafthouse, we can add one more name to that pile of terrifying disasters: 1981 safari film Roar.

Roar embodies the old maxim never to work on a production with animals. The film was intended to showcase lions and tigers living alongside humans and raise awareness for their conservation, but nearly a decade of production (including living alongside the animals to acclimate them) left the entire cast and crew horrifically injured. Everyone was gored in some fashion; Noel Marshall developed gangrene from his wounds, and cinematographer Jan de Bont was scalped. Crew dropped like flies, and producers pulled financing. Even during the injury-free parts, the filmmakers had to wait for the animals to "act" appropriately for each shot, prolonging the filming. It's a miracle that the film was ever finished, even if the process is more interesting than the product.

You can read all about the chaotic production of Roar from Alamo Drafthouse as well as from crew member Randolph Sellars. Alamo Drafthouse has led the effort to raise awareness for this film in anticipation of its theatrical re-release next month, but they almost didn't need to do any work. The tumultuous, violent, terrible production speaks for itself.

We don't have this one available in the library, but we look forward to the Blu-ray release "this summer."

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

See these 100 streaming documentaries before you graduate

AU students get access to our streaming video collection, which includes thousands of hours of great documentaries. We realize that there's quite a bit to sort through, so finding the best of them (or even knowing to look for them) might be a challenge.

To help you navigate the highlights of our collection, we've assembled a list of the 100 Streaming Documentaries to See Before You Graduate. Everyone on the full-time Media Services staff helped put this list together, and we think it represents the best of the best online video content that you can get through American University.

You might recognize a few big names like the Ken Burns Prohibition series and environmental classic King Corn, but we found something for most every subject and interest. Literature students might be interested in an hour-long Bill Moyers interview with George Lucas about creating the mythology of Star Wars. And for political science majors, you can't miss Street Fight, an unprecedented look at the ground game for now-Senator Cory Booker's campaign for mayor.

Take advantage of these resources and watch these documentaries while you can! For those of you graduating in May, you've got a little over a month to binge all of them.

Monday, March 23, 2015

Vanity Fair celebrates one century of vanity credits

gif via listal

Earlier this week, we acknowledged the 100th anniversary of Birth of a Nation and the blockbuster style of filmmaking that create. But as Vanity Fair points out, Birth of a Nation also marked the start of directors declaring authorship for movies. D. W. Griffith was the first director to have a possessive credit for his film ("Griffith's The Birth of a Nation"), and increasingly, many directors are opting for a similarly authorial style. Many recent Oscar winning movies, for instance, describe themselves as  "A film by" rather than "Directed by."

It's a minor difference but one that asserts the auteur role of directors in a big way. Many screenwriters and other contributors (including their respective guilds) take issue with this type of credit, as it downplays the work of the rest of the crew. As Vanity Fair explains, this has become a contentious issue in film promotion; the Writers Guild of America even lobbied to remove "A Christopher Nolan film" from some screening copies of The Dark Knight.

The article is a great read for anyone looking for a glimpse into how minutia in Hollywood can change careers. You'll probably have trouble reading movie posters the same way again.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

New supercut celebrates the symmetry of bookending shots

Over the course of two hours, most films show growth and change. It's reasonable to suggest that the characters you meet at the start of the movie are not the same ones you see off at the end. Filmmakers understand that and frequently look for visual ways to tie their beginnings and endings together.

Jacob Swinney took this concept to its logical conclusion and created this montage of the very first and very last shots of a few dozen famous films. Not every movie he picked works, but it's fascinating to see how the best ones match their opening and closing scenes with color, composition, and so forth. Some pairings show character growth; others are cyclical. A few examples even repeat their opening shots verbatim. (The music selection also deserves credit for making the whole package work.)

Many of these films had very satisfying endings, and this is a great example of how to achieve that. We probably don't even notice this deliberate symmetry most of the time, but it works on an extremely effective, subconscious level.

(And that last literal "match" shot? Excellent.)

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Did you ever catch the Citizen Kane pterodactyls?

There are dinosaurs in Citizen Kane.

No, seriously, hear us out on this. This is one of the greatest bits of film trivia we've heard in a while.

Before the advent of greenscreen technology, many films in the 30s and 40s used "rear projection" for complicated scenery. Pre-recorded footage of a background was projected onto a screen behind the main scene, creating the appearance of a larger and more bustling setting. Filmmakers used this extensively to put views outside car windows, but it could also simulate filming in an environment that couldn't otherwise be practically used.

RKO Pictures used rear projection for jungle scenes in 1933's The Son of Kong. As part of the pre-recorded jungle scenery, effects artists added silhouettes of flying pterodactyls to the background. This was a King Kong movie after all. Perhaps in a cost-cutting measure, Orson Welles chose to re-use Son of Kong's rear projection footage for a swampy picnic scene in Citizen Kane. He did not remove the pterodactyls. If you pay very close attention during the scene (embedded above), you can see them flying around in the background.

So yes: there are dinosaurs in Citizen Kane. It's unknown if anyone caught this during production, but we wouldn't put it past Orson Welles to leave them in intentionally. Of course, if you want a little more context, you can always watch the full movie (available in our collection, HU DVD 434).

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Caught up with The Jinx? Watch these investigative crime documentaries

HBO's true-crime documentary series The Jinx ended in shock this week when the show's subject, real estate magnate Robert Durst, confessed to multiple murders over an open microphone and was subsequently arrested. No spoiler warning on this one: Durst's arrest made international headlines. After all, how often does a documentary change the course of the legal system?

As it turns out, The Jinx is only the latest documentary that resulted in arrests, appeals, and settlements. The true-crime genre is having its moment with the success of podcasts like Serial, but filmmakers have long been fascinated by controversial legal battles to the point of essentially intervening in the cases. If you enjoyed The Jinx – or if you just find the Durst story compelling – consider watching these four documentaries in our collection that famously jumpstarted the legal process.
Ken Burns investigated the story of a racially polarized rape case from 1989 in which five black and Hispanic minors were convicted on various assault-related charges despite a lack of evidence. Burns towards a damning eye towards the racist testimony and media coverage that propelled the case, as well as the accused party's struggle to find closure after their convictions were overturned. Shortly after the release of this documentary, the city of New York awarded $41 million to the Central Park Five for emotional distress.
In 1994, three teenagers in Arkansas were convicted for the murder of three children in a supposedly Satanic ritualistic murder. The filmmakers of Paradise Lost were not satisfied with the trial, which used no physical evidence, and spent nearly twenty years investigating the murders and lobbying for the West Memphis Three's innocence. Arkansas courts took notice, re-examined the case, and released the three convicted men after DNA evidence proved inconclusive.
Was the death of North Carolina woman Kathleen Peterson a stair-related accident or murder? This eight-part documentary series looks into the ongoing murder trial of Kathleen's husband Michael and tries to find the answer. The filmmakers were given "unusual access" to the Peterson family and lawyers to produce this documentary. Michael Peterson remains in legal limbo, and this documentary is responsible for the increased scrutiny afforded to the case.
Randall Dale Adams was wrongly sentenced to death for the murder of a Texas police officer in 1976. Now-legendary documentarian Errol Morris poked holes through Adams's trial in The Thin Blue Line, using a combination of reenactments and interviews to build the case for his defense. Within a year of the film's 1988 release, Adams was a free man.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Why are film production deaths on the rise?

Last year, the death of camera assistant Sarah Jones during the filming of Midnight Rider brought attention to issues of film and television production safety. Many people risk their lives while filming large productions; beyond pyrotechnics and stunt performers and so forth, production assistants and crew members find themselves in dangerous or risky situations where safety concerns are secondary. Evidently, these incidents are on the rise. Los Angeles Times's Richard Verrier reveals that, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics deaths on television and film productions have doubled in the past five years despite a general decline in workplace fatalities.

So why is that rate increasing? Verrier says that many productions simply do not value safety over getting a good shot faster and cheaper. He cites repeated examples of films and television shows that sidelined safety personnel and risk assessment in the interest of getting the job done, including equipment malfunction during set deconstruction for one of the G. I. Joe films and the famous incident in which a helicopter crash killed actor Vic Morrow on the set of the Twilight Zone movie.

Worse still, no one is held accountable for these incidents, encouraging future risk-taking. OSHA does fine productions that don't comply with regulations, but almost no one has ever been convicted of negligence for a production-related death. Safety is ignored, responsibility is defused, and the producers get their results.

We certainly hope that studios would consider investing more in safety precautions and training as the frequency of these tragedies continues to grow. No one's life is worth losing for a good shot.

Monday, March 09, 2015

New Acquisitions - March 2015

Now that all the students are away, it's time to roll out the new DVDs!

We've been steadily adding new titles all semester, the usual mix of academic titles, popular films, television shows, and other interesting and noteworthy titles. We got the blockbusters Guardians of the Galaxy and Divergent, and we're picked up Oscar nominees starting with Boyhood and Birdman. We grabbed a wide range of television shows, from Roxanne to The Americans. And if you want to learn film history, we have What is Cinema? and a documentary about early motion photographer Eadweard Muybridge.

Lots to go over this month. Hit the jump for a full list.

Monday, March 02, 2015

See the next documentary from the director of Miss Representation TOMORROW!

Miss Representation was one of the most impactful and successful documentaries from 2011, and its examination of the portrayal of women in media is extremely relevant to larger cultural conversations that have started in the last few years. Director Jennifer Siebel Newsom's newest film is The Mask You Live In, looks at another component of the gendered media landscape, specifically harmful notions of masculinity.

The Mask You Live In premiered at Sundance in January and likely won't find itself in theaters or on DVD for a while. But we're lucky enough to be hosting a screening?

The American University Library is co-sponsoring a screening of The Mask You Live In tomorrow at 7pm in the McKinley Theater. The discussion of the film will follow. RSVP for this screening is not required, but since attendance is already expected at over 100 people, you might want to get there early.

This is a very exciting event that we're proud to be involved with. Please note that the event will take place in the McKinley Theater, not in the SIS Founders Room as originally planned.

See you there!

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Your pre-March bracket: What's the DCy-est film ever?

Many movies take place in DC to make use of its proximity to politics and major cultural institutions like the Smithsonian. Others just happen to take place in the city. It's fun to see DC represented on the screen in a variety of ways, but the question remains: which is really the DC movie? It's an arbitrary choice, but Washingtonian is going to get to the bottom of this.

Earlier this week, Washingtonian opened a bracket to vote for movies set in DC based on their subject area. The rationale behind different categories is a little hazy, but we enjoy any tournament with the possibility of a DC Cab / Strangers on a Train matchup.

Head over to their site and start voting for your favorites. We really hope something non-political wins for the sake of celebrating DC culture. Sorry, Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Happy Fair Use Week!

By the declaration of the Association of Research Libraries, this week is Fair Use Week! "Fair use" is one of the most important exemptions in copyright law that allows educators, artists, and journalists to create new works from copyrighted content. Fair use provisions have allowed everything from students editing films for academic assignments to supercuts and feature-length film criticism. In a nearly all-digital media landscape, fair use exemptions are more important than ever for protecting transformative content.

The ARL website has some activities listed, but we want to promote some AU-sponsored fair use resources. The School of Communication's Center for Media and Social Impact has a whole site on fair use guidelines that's worth reading. There's detailed guides for claiming fair use exemptions for different types of media – journalism, documentaries, orphan works, etc. – as well as video guides and a "fair use question of the month." They're highly recommended for anyone working on a media project that might incorporate copyrighted materials

(Pat Aufderheide, an SOC professor and friend of Media Services, contributed a great deal to these resources. Woohoo!)

Monday, February 23, 2015

Meet Chuck Workman, the Oscar montage man

There's really nothing else we have to say about the Oscars last night apart from congratulating Birdman for its big win. Instead, let's direct your attention to one of the most important people behind the scenes at the biggest award show of the year. He's Chuck Workman, and he creates the clips played during the Oscar ceremonies.

NPR put together a great profile about Workman and his twenty years of experience cutting clips for the Oscars. There's a ton of skill on display, whether that's matching cuts for a montage, reducing a film to a highlight reel, or finding a single great scene from an actor's entire career. Everyone in the industry seems to have great respect for him and his talents. You've gotta respect his craft, even if his interview is tinged with some disdain towards new media.

Workman is one of the many people who gets overlooked when dolling out credit to the film industry, and we always love to see more attention thrown their way.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Did you miss Whiplash? Have a bladder of steel? See every Best Picture nominee in a row on Saturday


You hear the same refrain every year about Oscar nominations: if only those movies had been in theaters for longer. You might not have gone to see The Imitation Game on its own accord, but now that it's in contention for some major awards, it would be nice to see it in the months before it hits DVD.

AMC hears your concerns, and they're going to let you cram all those films in at the last minute, finals-style. This Saturday, the Loews Georgetown 14 theater will hold a marathon of all eight Best Picture-nominated films, starting at 10am with Boyhood and ending at around 5:30am the next day with The Grand Budapest Hotel. This extreme endurance test of art cinema will run you $65, which comes to $8 per movie and isn't a bad price for the value you're getting. Just as long as you brace yourself for 20 hours of film and prepare to eat far more popcorn and nachos than you may have hoped.

Tickets for the event are on sale through the AMC website. We have no earthly idea what the demand is for the event, so you're probably better off buying tickets in advance. If you're going to commit to a full day of movie-watching, you're going to commit.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

A radical proposal: what if the Oscars removed nominations?

The Oscars are this Sunday, and although we're as excited as every year, there's a certain level of predictability in every ceremony. A few months ago, the current Oscar race was considered one of the most competitive of all time, but the past weeks of tertiary award shows have made it clear who will win most of the awards. Best Picture and Best Director are down between Birdman and Boyhood. Julianne Moore and Patricia Arquette will win the actress categories. Even the Best Actor category, a field of overwhelming talent, is now just between Michael Keaton and Eddie Redmayne.

So how do you bring back the surprise? Vulture writer Adam Sternbergh has an interesting idea: never reveal the nominees.

Sternbergh points out that the Oscar nomination announcements are often more exciting and talked-about than the winners themselves. Consider all the ink spilled about Selma's nomination snubs this year; there will certainly be less attention if the film doesn't win Best Picture or Best Song. It would probably never fly for a number of reasons (practicality chief among them), but Sternbergh's proposal would involve revealing the nominees at the event itself, bringing some drama and immediacy back to the ceremony.

The Oscars's problems are well-documented and possibly over-discussed, but much of that criticism focuses on the structure of the Academy and its voting process. We give Sternbergh points for thinking outside the box in an attempt to repair the ceremony.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Revisit SNL for its fortieth anniversary

Saturday Night Live doesn't really turn 40 until next October, but the folks at NBC decided that now was the right time to celebrate four decades on the air. SNL is indisputably one of the biggest and most important comedy programs of all time, having weathered constant changes in style and quality and producing some of the most memorable sketches and performers in comedy. To paraphrase Hitfix's Alan Sepinwall, there's really nothing left to say about SNL. Its alumni roster (including Tina Fey, Eddie Murphy, Chevy Chase, and Will Ferrell) speaks for itself.

Despite its heavyweight cast headlined by John Belushi, SNL still had to find its voice and tone in the beginning like any other show. The first few seasons are odd, with occasional appearances from the Muppets, heavy emphasis on stand-up comedy, overstuffed or entirely absent musical acts, and overall conceptual weirdness. Portions of these shows are available to stream online through Hulu, Yahoo Screen, and other services, but it's hard to get the full picture of early SNL just by watching highlights reels.

For a more thorough trip into the origins of the reigning champion of televised sketch comedy, we recommend checking out the DVD versions of the first two seasons from our collection. And not just because we have them: SNL is really meant to be watched in full episodes, and this is the best way to do that. Undoubtedly some of these episodes will be featured in this weekend's anniversary special, but if you're a fan of the show, a deep dive might be worthwhile too.

Saturday Night Live, Season 1 – HU DVD 14188
Saturday Night Live, Season 2 – HU DVD 14189

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Vulture reflects on Ousmane Sembène, father of African cinema

This year's Sundance film festival hosted the premiere of Sembène!, a documentary about African filmmaker Ousmane Sembène. You might not know that name, but Sembène is one of the most important figures in the birth of African cinema. He arguably started the entire African film movement with, as Vulture describes, "no film equipment, no professional actors, and no funding."

Sembène is a name worth knowing, and in celebration of the new documentary, Vulture put together a terrific overview of Sembène's work and his contributions to African cinema. We strongly recommend giving it a read if you want to learn about one of the hardest working and most pivotal filmmakers in world cinema.

If you want to dive further into his work, look for Sembène's films in our collection. They're frequently being checked out for class use, but you can also watch many of them here in the library.

Xala – HU DVD 1286
Mandabi – HU DVD 1287
La Noire de... – HU DVD 1953
Moolaadé – HU DVD 3862
Faat Kiné – DVD 8721
Ceddo – DVD 9465
Camp de Thiaroye – DVD 9728
Borom Sarret – DVD 10070
Guelwaar – DVD 10586