Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Copyright and Documentary Filmmaking: the Comic Book

A tight dressed, spiky haired filmmaker turns into a tight dressed, spiky haired superhero to fight expanding copyright restrictions. The Center for the Study of the Public Domain at Duke University School of Law has a novel way of presenting the current difficulties documentary filmmakers are facing. The comic book, Bound by Law? by Keith Aoki, James Boyle, and Jennifer Jenkins, presents an in depth explanation of the issues involved in using copyrighted material in documentary film. It also gives suggestions about what can be done to tip the balance back to support a more creative culture.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Cool tools: WRLC library maps

One of the greatest assets available to the AU community is our membership in the Washington Research Library Consortium (WRLC). WRLC resources can be requested through ALADIN, but sooner or later you may need to go to one of these schools. The AU website has a couple of tools to help you navigate the terra incognito of Fairfax and find your way safely to George Mason University. YourGMap has a Google Maps-like interface with locations, addresses and websites of the WRLC libraries. If you have Google Earth on your PC, this tool will go one better and provide driving directions and fly overs.
Rest assured, there be no dragons in Fairfax.

Monday, March 20, 2006

Historical Nuclear Test Film Archive

The Department of Energy's website has streaming video of about 75 nuclear tests from the 1940s to the 1970s, many recently declassified - the site is much more exhaustive than anything I've seen on this subject previously.


March Madness: Basketball films in Media Services

The Big Game (1982, VHS 4067) - From the classic Middletown film series on life in and around Muncie, Indiana - itself a complement to the Middletown studies conducted by Robert and Helen Lynd in the 1920s and 1930s. Director E.J. Vaughn uses a cinema verite technique to capture the activity surrounding the annual basketball game between the Muncie Central High School Bearcats and the Anderson High School Indians.

Hoop Dreams (1994, VHS 3425) This remarkable film follows William Gates and Arthur Agee, two African-American teenagers who are recruited to a predominantly white high school on basketball scholarships. Their struggle to survive in a highly competitive environment while dealing with family hardships is captured. In 1995, it gained attention for NOT being nominated for the Best Documentary Academy Award.

In the Game (1994, VHS 4165) Behind-the-scenes story of one season with Coach Tara VanDerveer and the Stanford Women’s Basketball Team as they try to win a national championship. It takes a look at the inequities in men’s and women’s sports and examines how women’s college athletics have been affected by Title IX.

Friday, March 17, 2006

The 2006 Environmental Film Fest is under way in DC

The festival runs March 16-26 with venues all around the city including American University, MLK Jr. Memorial Library, National Museum of Natural History, and many other locations. Over 100 films will be screened including recent releases and documentary classics. Among the many titles that caught my eye are The Boys of Baraka, Darwin's Nightmare, The White Diamond, and The Three Rooms of Melancholia.

DC Environmental Film Festival schedule link

How to Film Sharks and Bears and Live to Tell About It

On Tuesday evening, March 21, AU professor and wildlife filmmaker Chris Palmer will be on campus discussing highlights from his career. The program, part of the 2006 Environmental Film Festival, will be held at 7pm in the Butler Board Room, Mary Graydon Center. Mr. Palmer's enthusiasm and good humor guarantee an evening of entertainment. They expect a crowd so get there early.

Blogwatch: Reality Film

The author of the Reality Film site, who I deduce is a film studies professor at Penn State, has been posting since December 2005. His goals for the site are to have a place to discuss teaching, film and television viewing in a more or less organized manner. His tastes are somewhat mainstream but it's still worth browsing once in a while, if only because it's one of the few blogs devoted to documentary film.


Thursday, March 16, 2006

Full Frame Documentary Film Festival, April 6-9

If you can find the time, plan on going to Durham, NC for perhaps the most important documentary festival in the US.
Featured this year:
  • Sydney Pollack's Sketches of Frank Gehry will open the festival.
  • D.A. Pennebaker and Ross McElwee will help honor documentary legend Richard Leacock when he is awarded the 2006 Career Award.
  • There will be a sneak preview of Ken Burns's WWII.
  • Al Franken will be in attendance for a Q&A and the screening of Al Franken: God Spoke (dirs: Chris Hegedus and Nick Doob).
  • A tribute to New Orleans
  • Over 100 film screenings in all including competition entries
  • Also panel discussions, seminars, and Q&A sessions

The following films in the AU Library collection are among the titles included in this year's thematic program Class in America.
Flag Wars VHS 7285
Poverty Outlaw VHS 4342
Stranger with a camera VHS 6451
The Weather Underground DVD 1726


Monday, March 13, 2006

Cold War Classic - Duck and Cover (1951) on Google Video

This 9 minute film was made by the U.S. Federal Civil Defense Administration to instruct children on how to react when an atomic bomb was detonated nearby.

The film was used extensively in Kevin Rafferty's Atomic Cafe (1982, DVD 536), a documentary surveying the U.S. government’s propaganda promoting the atomic bomb.

Sunday, March 12, 2006

Max Schreck is just a click away

Yes, given that F. W. Murnau's Nosferatu (1922) is now in the public domain, Google video is hosting a digital copy. For those who may not know about this film, it is the first popular telling of the Dracula story on film. Though a silent film, its haunting gothic imagery and the other-worldly creepiness of Max Schreck in the role of Count Dracula became archetypes of the horror genre.

Schreck proved so convincing in the role that it inspired a fictional film, Shadow of the Vampire (2000), that suggested the actor really was a vampire.

Th original Nosferatu was faithfully remade, though with sound, by Werner Herzog in 1979 with his alter-ego Klaus Kinski playing the Count.


2006 Sundance Shorts - 47 titles available online

The online collection though extensive represents just a sample of the entries and includes just a couple of the prize-winners.

The Jury Prize in Short Filmmaking ended in a tie between BUGCRUSH, directed by Carter Smith and THE WRAITH OF COBBLE HILL (video unavailable online), directed by Adam Parrish King.

The Jury Prize in International Short Filmmaking went to THE NATURAL ROUTE (Spain)(video unavailable online), directed by Alex Pastor.

Honorable Mentions in Short Filmmaking went to BEFORE DAWN (Hungary), directed by Bálint Kenyeres; PREACHER WITH AN UNKNOWN GOD (video unavailable online), directed by Rob VanAlkemade; and UNDRESSING MY MOTHER (Ireland)(video unavailable online), directed by Ken Wardrop.


Friday, March 10, 2006

Obit: Garrett Scott, Documentarian, 37

Garrett Scott's most recent film Occupation: Dreamland is about the lives of army personnel fighting in Fallujah, Iraq. It is slated to air on the Sundance Channel next month.
In 2002, his first film, Cul de Sac: A Suburban War Story (VHS 7270), was released. This unusual film starts with the news story of Shawn Nelson, who emerged from a mineshaft dug in his backyard to seize a 60 ton tank and rampage through the streets of his San Diego neighborhood. This story segues to the larger story of a defense-industry boomtown, which flourished for decades but eventually declined leaving a desperate suburban wasteland in its wake.
Mr. Garrett suffered cardiac arrest while swimming in his local community pool in Coronado, California.


Thursday, March 09, 2006

CIA Films at the National Archives

The CIA, like many other government agencies, declassifies documents (including films) occassionally and relocates them to the National Archives. Freedom-of-Information-Act sleuth Michael Ravnitsky was able to obtain the list of CIA films currently in the Archives. It contains many, many titles with historical import such as Brainwashing, How Free Should the Press be?, Psychology of Imprisonment, and Unidentified Flying Objects. The full list, almost 400 pages, along with details on requesting copies of the films is available at The Memory Hole.

DC Independent Film Festival currently underway, March 2-12

"The DC Independent Film Festival showcases world premieres, award winning features, shorts, animation and documentaries by local, national and international filmmakers.

"Founded in 1999, the DC Independent Film Festival showcases each year up to 100 features, shorts, animations, and documentaries that represent the best in independent film. These films include ones that have won awards in renown festivals such as Sundance, Toronto, Cannes to World Premieres."

This year's festival includes An Impression: Dischord Records about the DC-based record label whose cut-rate pricing policy and charitable activities flew in the face of nearly every other record company's practices. The 15-minute film, co-directed by School of Communication faculty member Leena Jayaswal and alum Kylos Brannon, will be screened at the DC Jewish Community Center, Friday, March 10 at 11:15pm. It's part of the Midnight Madness program along with the film The Razor-Eaters. Cost: $6. To get tickets online and/or to see what else is playing these last few days of the festival be sure to look at their website.

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

World Cultures on video: Roma

Roma or Gypsies are among the most historically persecuted ethnic groups in Europe. Stereotyped as thieves and con men, Rom groups still find it difficult to peacefully exist in many towns, particularly in Eastern Europe. Yet there is much to admire in their fascinating culture. Their traditional music and dance can be simultaneously joyful and haunting. Their devotion to their extended families, their nomadic lifestyles, and their pride and resilience in the face of humiliating discrimination are essential elements to their character.

Media Services has several very good documentaries and feature films on this intriguing but often secretive group.

American Gypsy: A Stranger in Everybody's Land VHS 7478
Latcho Drom VHS 6510
Porraimos: Europe's Gypsies in the Holocaust VHS 7464
The Romany Trail VHS 3270
Suspino: A Cry for Roma VHS 7428

Feature Films
Black Cat, White Cat VHS 6547
Gadjo Dilo= Crazy Stranger VHS 7076
Time of the Gypsies VHS 5751
Vengo DVD 972


Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Obit: Gordon Parks, 93

Parks, a multi-talented artist, first gained recognition as a photographer for Life Magazine, often focussing on individuals dramatically affected by living in poverty. He also directed two films of historic interest. His first feature, The Learning Tree (VHS 4291), was based on his autobiography and was among the first 25 films selected for the National Film Registry of the Library of Congress in 1989. His second feature, Shaft (VHS 3134), became a cultural landmark both as a pioneer of the Blaxploitation genre and for an unforgettable theme song. It too was eventually named to the National Film Registry.

Also of interest: Videos featuring interviews with Gordon Parks
I Remember Harlem, Part 3: Toward Freedom, 1940-1955 VHS 5113
Remembering Life VHS 1231
Malcolm X: Make it Plain VHS 2508
Baadassss Cinema: A bold look at 70's Blaxploitation Films DVD 539

Monday, March 06, 2006

Masters of Cinema: Your guide to high-brow cinema on DVD

A group of five contributors with a predilection for serious world cinema sustain this highly-informative site. Bresson, Dreyer, Ozu, and Tarkovsky are among their favorites. Foremost it's a blog of important and often esoteric DVD releases but it also hosts several good articles focussing primarily on topics related both to cinema and the DVD medium. A couple that caught my eye were: Overlooked? DVD gems that might have escaped your radar and Unavailable? The most wanted on DVD - a survey. It's been around since Summer 2003 so there's lots to peruse here.


Saturday, March 04, 2006

The J Marimba Ponies

I couldn't resist noting this guilty pleasure - my favorite piece of streaming video from the last couple of weeks. The Ponies perform the Sabre Dance. For those old enough to remember, this piece of music, composed by Aram Khachaturian, was used on the Ed Sullivan show to accompany spinning plate acts and more recently has found its way into an episode of the Simpsons and segments of Late Night with Conan O'Brien.


Friday, March 03, 2006

Suggested viewing: This Divided State - DVD 1678

When filmmaker Michael Moore is invited to speak at Utah Valley State College, local residents and conservative students pull out all the stops to try to pre-empt the engagement. Neither protests, threats, bribery, or a last-ditch speech by Fox News commentator Sean Hannity can sway the determined student government leaders though. Driven by their plain-spoken belief that in a democracy people should have an opportunity to hear dissenting points-of-view, their story plays like a real life Frank Capra/Jimmy Stewart movie. First-time filmmaker Steven Greenstreet's work is a bit long-winded but vividly captures the many elements of this engrossing story that received little attention outside of Utah at the time.

The filmmakers have a blog worth reading.

2006 Independent Spirit Awards this weekend

Best Documentary nominees with Media Services call numbers.

Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room (2005) - DVD 1700
Grizzly Man (2005) - DVD 1682
Romántico (2005) - Not yet released on video
La Sierra (2005) - DVD 1585
Sir! No Sir! (2005) - Not yet released on video

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

PBS Frontline Online

PBS currently has fifty-four complete Frontline programs freely-available for streaming on their website. The 2006 releases available include: The Insurgency, The Meth Epidemic, and Country Boys.

Frontline World is considered a separate series and that too has many programs freely-available online - about seventy currently. 2006 releases include Columbia: The Coca-Cola Controversy, Brazil: Jewel of the Amazon, Iraq: Saddam's Road to Hell, Pakistan: Cold Comfort, and India: Calcutta Calling.

Frontline link
Frontline World link

MidnightEye - Japanese Cinema

If you’re interested in keeping up on everything related to Japanese cinema, be sure and check out This website contains a wealth of information from interviews with contemporary directors, to thoughtful book and movie reviews, to in-depth feature articles. For example, the latest Round-Up covers four of Akira Kurosawa’s early social drama films. Japanese cinema is much more than samurai movies (chanbara) and anime.

Also: Media Services recently acquired a newly restored version of Ugetsu (DVD 1638 pt.1-3). The DVD box set includes a full length documentary about director Kenji Mizoguchi. Check out all of Media Services’ Japanese holdings on the National Cinema, Japan mediagraphy.

Media Services Forms Online

Did you know that you can submit a video purchase recommendation online? In fact, all media services paper forms now have electronic versions. They cover: Videotape Rental/Borrowing Requests, Media Purchase Recommendations, Media Reserves Materials Deposit Forms, Restrict media from outside use forms (for AU Faculty), Student Check Out Authorizations, and proxy authorizations.

Obit: Dennis Weaver, 81

Most widely known for television roles on Gunsmoke, Gentle Ben, and McCloud, Weaver also delivered riveting performances in two extraordinary films. In Orson Welles's Touch of Evil (1958, DVD 163), he is unforgettable as the quaking-in-his-boots night manager of the desert motel where Janet Leigh is being held captive by Mercedes McCambridge and her gang. In Steven Spielberg's Duel (1971,VHS 5256) he's a mild-mannered business man who inadvertently provokes a psychotic truckdriver when he attempts to pass him on a stretch of highway. Duel is considered by some to be Spielberg's true film debut. It was originally a made-for-tv movie in the US but it's critical success earned a theatrical release overseas.