Monday, February 27, 2006

Forgotten classic: A Day with Timmy Page

Aspiring filmmakers can probably learn a thing or two from young auteur Timmy Page. From the paneled basement of his home in Connecticut, he explains how he came to be a movie producer/director, his philosophy of film making, his view of other more established film makers (Charlie Chaplin, etc.), and the art of plot development. Page also discusses his career as an actor and his philosophy for handling actors. This wouldn't normally sound very captivating except for the fact that Page was only 12-years old at the time. The 18-minute film, directed by Iris and David Hoffman, was an award winner at several major film festivals in 1968 and still retains its humor and charm. VHS 5827

Incidentally Tim Page grew up to be a Pulitzer Prize winning author and classical music critic for the Washington Post.

Interested in finding film reviews online?

There are two free film-review databases you'll want to know about, Movie Review Query Engine and Metacritic.

MRQE is the more undisciplined of the two, including a wide variety of sources from the credible to the somewhat bizarre. It also includes several precomputed lists of films, the most interesting of which are the listings of titles from major film festivals from the last few years.

The Metacritic database is more refined, focussing on reviews from better-known publications and critics. Reviews for a given title are ranked in order from positive to negative. Each title is given a Metascore based on a weighted average and the score is correlated to a green-yellow-red system, so one can see at a glance a consensus opinion on a given film. Of movies now in theaters, Brokeback Mountain scored the highest at 87 while Date Movie managed to eke out a mere 11. Metacritic also has sections for reviews of DVDs, books, music, and computer games.

The strength of both sites is on films released in theaters or on DVD since the mid-1990s.

Friday, February 24, 2006

Must-see video: Punishment Park

Peter Watkins's Punishment Park was made and released in 1970. Watkins had set out to make a film about the Chicago Seven but instead wound up making a fictional film about a civilian tribunal hearing the cases and passing sentences on anti-war protesters. In lieu of long prison sentences, those found guilty are given the option of three days in Punishment Park where they must travel across the desert to a designated spot without being captured. Watkins used a mix of professional and non-professional actors and much of the dialogue was improvised. Though the film's premise was extreme the rage expressed, both by the student protesters and the conservative tribunal participants, reflected the passions people were really feeling at the time. The reaction to the film was instant and hostile. It was shown in a single theater in New York for four days in 1970 and then withdrawn. It has rarely been screened since and has never aired on television. Fortunately it is now on video and we have a copy. DVD 1714.

Other Peter Watkins videos available in Media Services: Edvard Munch (1976) VHS 5970; The War Game (1965) VHS 3583; and Culloden (1964) VHS on order.

Thursday, February 23, 2006

The 1000 greatest films

A site that you will want to browse at least once is They Shoot Pictures, Don't They? if for no other reason than to marvel at their 1000 greatest films project. The list has been compiled by using the lists of over 1,000 individual critics' and filmmakers' top-tens from numerous film polls conducted by many sources such as Sight & Sound, Time Out, Village Voice, and Facets. For those with more contemporary tastes, they've also recently added The 21st Century's Most Acclaimed Films. A list of 250 titles.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Open Campus Screenings and Copyright

There is a common misconception of permissible uses of copyrighted videos on campus that I thought should be mentioned. On a fairly regular basis a student group or academic department asks for permission to use a library copy of a feature film for an open screening, believing they are permitted to without acquiring public performance rights because it would be used in an educational setting. The truth is that the feature films in our collection, roughly 25% of our holdings, cannot be used for those screenings because they are sold with what are referred to as "home-use" rights. The reason "home-use" titles can be used in classes is that there is a face-to-face teaching exemption in the copyright law that allows it. There is a clear distinction however between the classroom and, say, an event where faculty or students are present and have a serious, scholarly discussion before or after the film. The latter scenario is not covered by the exemption. There are several requirements that must be met to qualify for the exemption but the one that seems to be least understood is that the performance must be incorporated in systematic instruction. Systematic instruction means, more or less, a formal class for which one would register.

Feature films are almost never sold with what is called "public performance rights", though many documentaries are, so if a campus group would like to hold an open screening of a feature film, and by that term I'm referring to what one might also call a "movie", it's necessary to either get permission from the copyright owner or pay for "public performance" rights for the particular screening, typically through a commercial distributor. The cost difference between the purchase of a home-use videotape and a one-time public performance license is usually substantial, along the lines of $20 vs. $200-$1000+. By the way, if a film is a documentary, one shouldn't assume we have public-performance rights for it. Many documentaries in the Media Services collection have only home-use rights (e.g. Fahrenheit 9/11, Control Room, March of the Penguins).

Distributors that commonly sell their documentaries with public-performance rights include PBS, Bullfrog, Cinema Guild, Filmakers Library, Films for the Humanities and Sciences, First Run Icarus, and Women Make Movies.

Here's a useful guide on the subject with a full explanation of the requirements of the face-to-face teaching exemption, from College of St. Benedict, St. John's University: Facts about video programming on campus.

Monday, February 20, 2006

A visit from Bernice Johnson Reagon

Bernice Johnson Reagon will be speaking this week at a screening of Sweet Honey In the Rock: Raise Your Voice, a documentary by filmmaker Stanley Nelson. The event, presented by the Center for Social Media and the American University Honors Program, will be at 6:30pm on Thursday, Feb. 23, in the Wechsler Theater in Mary Graydon Center. Dr. Johnson was active in the American Civil Rights Movement and founded the a capella group Sweet Honey in the Rock.
Also of note: The Emmy-award-winning PBS program The Songs Are Free, a conversation between Dr. Reagon and Bill Moyers about African-American communal singing, is available for viewing in Media Services, VHS 1878.

Sunday, February 19, 2006

A visit from filmmaker Adrian Cowell

One of AU's treasures that everyone should know about is the The Center for Social Media. The Center champions films and filmmakers that bring to light issues of injustice and inequality in society. It's a project of the School of Communication and is directed by faculty member Pat Aufderheide.
Among the events on their current calendar are a couple of appearances by Adrian Cowell during the Environmental Film Festival in the latter half of March. Cowell will be on campus March 20 at 6:30pm in the Wechsler Theater in Mary Graydon Center to screen and discuss his film Banking on Disaster (VHS 760) and on March 22 at 6pm to screen and discuss Finding the Story: From the Amazon to Burma and Back. Other Cowell films you can view in Media Services are The Last of the Hiding Tribes ( VHS 6441-3) and In the Ashes of the Forest (VHS 1675).

Saturday, February 18, 2006

2004 and 2005 Academy Awards nominees for Best Feature Documentary

While I'm at it here are the 2005 Academy Awards nominees for Best Feature Documentary. Media Services call numbers included.
  • Born into Brothels DVD 1518
  • The Story of the Weeping Camel DVD 1543
  • Supersize Me DVD 955
  • Tupac Resurrection - Not yet ordered
  • Twist of Faith - on order
And the 2004 Academy Awards nominees for Best Feature Documentary.
  • Balseros - Not yet ordered
  • Capturing the Friedmans DVD 725
  • The Fog of War DVD 791
  • My Architect - DVD 1221
  • The Weather Undergound - DVD 726

2006 Academy Awards - Best Feature Documentary Nominees

Media Services call numbers included.
  • Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room DVD 1700
  • Murderball DVD 1630
  • March of the Penguins DVD 1622
  • Darwin's Nightmare - Not yet ordered
  • Street Fight - Not yet ordered

Friday, February 17, 2006

Great news! We now have a DVD resurfacing machine. A Disc-Go-Pod, to be exact. Amanda tried it out on a few scratched and malfunctioning DVDs yesterday and they came out looking brand new. We were all impressed. We have been able to revive a heavily-used copy of Frida as well as our DVD copy of Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown, which is out-of-release.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

True Films

If you've never looked at the True Films site edited by Kevin Kelly, it's worth a stop. He's a former editor of the Whole Earth Review and one of the founders of Wired magazine and he loves documentaries. The videos he describes are categorized and limited to what is commercially available at reasonable prices. Even more impressive, though not film-related, is the section of his web site called Cool Tools.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Feature Films Directors list

One of the coolest pages we have on the Media Services website is the Feature Films Directors list. This is a list of most of the feature films in our collection arranged by director.


This blog will be used as a platform for American University Library Media Services staff to post announcements of interesting new additions to our collections; new databases and books that might be of interest to film studies people; new subject listings (mediagraphies) of our holdings; useful film-studies-related websites; and links to news items related to the film and video industries. And probably some other stuff too but we'll try to keep it on point.