Thursday, February 28, 2013

Small-run theater raises questions: can film stick around?

Over the summer, we put most of our 16mm film collection into storage. Some might argue that film is a richer and more expressive medium than video, but you don't have to be plugged into the industry to realize that digital video is quickly replacing film. Movie theaters remain one of the last bastions of projected film reels. But given the expenses of producing a degradable film reel versus streaming a digital copy, major studios are soon to cease production of film too.

It might be cost-saving in the long run, but some projectionists aren't too happy. The News-Sentinel from Fort Wayne, Indiana tells the story of Cinema Center, a small arthouse theater that has not yet updated to digital projectors and is struggling with the transition both financially and sentimentally. There's a lot in the article about the shocking price of a 35mm film (upwards of $1,500), but the most interesting anecdotes come from the theater-runners lamenting the switch. Film projectors, they argue, don't need constant expensive upgrading and can still show the same films that came out decades ago. The push to switch is universal: even the director of another niche local theater – the type that plays live music along to silent films – admits that the switch to digital video is inevitable.

It will be worth seeing if film-projecting theaters still have an audience in coming years as fewer and fewer stick around. The medium is changing, so is there still room for a niche business that does it the old-fashioned way?

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Oscar Cleanup Giveaway

We've been excited about the Oscars for a while, and now that they're over, there's sort of a big void left. What better way to fill that void than to give away some Oscar-nominated movies?

We're giving away six Oscar-nominated movies:
  • The Artist
  • Argo
  • Flight
  • The Iron Lady
  • Pulp Fiction
  • Sting
For a chance to win, leave us a comment telling us your favorite movie from 2012. We'll pick 2 or 3 winners from our blog, Facebook, Twitter, and in-person entries to take home their choice of one of these great movies.

Good luck!

Sunday, February 24, 2013

It's the Oscars!

The Oscars are tonight! After weeks of buildup, speculation, and the most use of the word "Argo" on record, the Academy will reveal the results of the most prestigious and contentious film awards ceremony at 8pm in the Dolby Theatre. We're very excited in Media Services, if you couldn't tell from our weeks of Academy Award-related posts.

Naturally, many of the films nominated for awards are still in theaters, so we can't really advertise them in our collection. But now is as good of a time as any to look back at big winners from previous years. Our Pinterest page has a list of all the Best Picture winners in our collection, with only a few missing (some of the older winners have not been released on DVD). Everyone's immediately familiar with The Artist and Slumdog Millionaire given their recent wins, but have you seen The Sting or Midnight Cowboy lately?

We'll be around all evening. If you don't feel like watching the ceremony or need to detox from the awards season, come grab one of the 82 winners in our collection. (Or 83 if Argo wins!)

Friday, February 22, 2013

The New York Times breaks down Oscar trailer timelines

The art of the crafting a movie trailer has recently become a science. Every smash cut, cliffhanger, fade to black, and fancy shot of an actor's name has been reduced to a formula that seemingly every studio follows.

The New York Times adds a new wrinkle to that analysis by splitting apart trailers for this year's Best Picture-nominated films based on when its scenes appear in the movie. A basic formula seems to exist: follow the movie chronologically to introduce the characters and plot, then end with a series of quick cuts through the middle and end to show the major action. With some variance, Silver Linings Playbook and Beasts of the Southern Wild follow this outline fairly closely.

Then there's ones like Lincoln and Amour that skip around wildly with seemingly no attention to the film's timeline. Stephen Garrett, a trailer producer that the Times interviewed, suggests that these trailers focus less on the plot than the tone of the movie. They don't need to follow the plot order if they're just suggesting a mood.

It's interesting to see how filmmakers choose to portray their works. Argo is about a story. Amour is about a feeling.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Celebrating Petro Vlahos, father of modern visual effects

Petro Vlahos, an unheralded genius of modern filmmaking, died yesterday at age 96. Though not a household name in special effects like James Cameron, Peter Jackson, or Michael Bay, Vlahos laid the foundation for all future filmmakers. Vlahos invented bluescreen ("chroma key") technology, first used in 1940 for The Thief of Bagdad and still used today in nearly every film with a visual effects shot.

Vlahos's initial uses of the bluescreen were fairly tame, allowing Charlton Heston to race chariots in Ben-Hur or letting Dick Van Dyke dance with animated penguins in Mary Poppins. Nowadays, entire sets are constructed from chroma key backdrops, and most video editing software supports some form of greenscreen technology. Vlahos's work has been improved over the years but remains conceptually unchanged from his original idea 73 years ago.

It would be ridiculous to list every movie that uses some form of Vlahos's chroma key technology, as it would probably include every major film of the last half-century. Instead, here are a few movies to which Petro Vlahos directly lent his visual effects wizardry. Each one of these won the Academy Award for Best Visual Effects.

Ben-Hur – HU DVD 3857
Mary Poppins – HU DVD 7850
The Thief of Bagdad: An Arabian Fantasy – HU DVD 8101

Non-news of the day: Palestinian director Emad Burnat detained 90 minutes at LAX on his way to the Academy Awards

Burnat's film Five Broken Cameras has been nominated in the Best Documentary Feature category. While in detention Burnat texted Michael Moore for help. Moore tweeted about it and all was good. The immigration folks hadn't been briefed on what an official Academy Award nomination looks like.

BTW we recently added Five Broken Cameras to the Media Services collection so come on by and check it out.  DVD 10914

Palestinian co-director of ‘5 Broken Cameras’ detained at LAX: Moore

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Hot Docs: Kansas vs Darwin

Hot Docs highlights interesting new documentaries we've recently added to our collection.

Kansas vs Darwin (DVD 10562) addresses the ongoing argument between the theory of evolution and intelligent design by focusing on a specific, famous battle with the Kansas State Board of Education. In 2005, the school board considered requiring teaching intelligent design to be taught in schools alongside the theory of evolution. The measure eventually failed, but not before unleashing a political and cultural battle on the scale and madness of the Scopes monkey trial. Kansas vs Darwin examines this heady, frenetic clash from both sides, painting a full picture of a fight at the epicenter of debate over science in education.

Official description from the film's website:
Kansas vs. Darwin takes you inside the hearings to meet the characters who captured the world's attention: school board members who believe their literal interpretation of the Bible trumps modern scientific evidence, and members of the Intelligent Design Network who believe mainstream science is conspiring to suppress evidence that would overturn evolution. You'll also get face to face with an organization of Kansas scientists, educators, and citizens that organizes a worldwide response to put an end to what they see as a religiously-motivated kangaroo court.

Kansas vs. Darwin is a heady, absorbing swirl of politics, science, religion, education and emotion in which the filmmakers unflinchingly race from one, compelling point of view to its polar opposite in order to challenge the viewer's own opinions. Audiences may experience discomfort as they plunge to the heart of one of mankind's most central questions of existence - and to the epicenter of the American culture war.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Burning question: Does Best Picture matter?

With all the Oscar hullabaloo (of which we're guilty as well), it's easy to accept that the Oscars matter, that the acting winners represent the fines that Hollywood offers, and that an institution as venerated as the Academy is the official tastemaker.

Take a step back and read this interesting and controversial opinion from Rob Lowman of the L.A. Daily News. Lowman rightfully argues that past Best Picture winners have not stood the test of time and greatness compared to other nominees. Everyone has an example they can point to. 2001: A Space Odyssey, for example, was not even nominated for Best Picture and lost to a largely forgotten Oliver Twist musical. Lowman calls out Rocky – a fine film – for beating legendary directors Sidney Lumet and Ingmar Bergman for Best Director.

Awards voting is always subjective, and Lowman seems to have a particular axe to grind with Oscar frontrunner Argo, but his point is valid. Flavors of the moment and popular consensus do tend to cloud judgment, and the Academy's track record is spotty. But the Academy gets it right more often than not: there's good reason Patton won over Love Story.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Even more short films screening in DC

Continuing yesterday's theme, there are more and more opportunities to see what's new in the burgeoning short film scene.

This weekend, DC Shorts will present a series of award-winning short films, including previous Oscar contenders (and some of this year's nominees). The hour-and-a-half showcase costs $12 and runs twice daily throughout the weekend.

Take advantage of this exciting film opportunity in DC! Each showing includes a different set of rotating films, so you might even want to go to more than one.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Watch Academy Award-winning short films right now

The 85th Academy Awards kick off one week from tonight. We'll have plenty of lists of past winners and nominees in the coming weeks, but for now, let's direct attention to the lesser-heralded short film catagories.

Since 1932, the Academy has honored short films in a number of categories, including documentaries and animation. Though they have never received the same critical acclaim as Best Picture hopefuls, Short Film and Short Subject nominees are as creative and worthwhile as they are comparatively brief.

Pop culture aggregator Flavorwire recently compiled a short list of Oscar-winning short films that are available for free to watch online. If you have half an hour to spare, sit down and watch a few of them to get an idea of what some of the less-heralded Oscar categories hold in store.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Today's film oddity: The Kidnappers Foil

Here's a piece of film history so unusual that it must be shared.

For forty years, con artist and filmmaker Melton Barker traveled across the United States, roping in small towns to produce a short film titled The Kidnappers Foil that would star local children and premiere in a local theater. As you could imagine, Barker would leave town with the profits as soon as the film finished production, a scheme that's distractingly similar to the one from The Music Man. But unlike Harold Hill, Barker left behind a finished product: each town would have a finished 20-minute film, produced on-location.

It took a while for people to put the pieces together nationwide, but it is now apparent that Barker produced The Kidnappers Foil at least 178 times, each version largely unchanged from the original in the 1930s. The Texas Archive of the Moving Image sees value in this strange piece of film arcana and has opened an archive for all remaining existing copies as part of a larger collection on "itinerant films" made by traveling producers. The organization has thus far released 11 versions to watch online, dating back from 1938. The Library of Congress is doing its part too, having added at least one version of The Kidnappers Foil to the National Film Registry last year.

The Kidnappers Foil isn't a particularly good movie, so it's not worth going out of your way to watch. Yet it's undeniably part of America's rich, weird film history.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Hot Docs: It's a Girl

Hot Docs highlights interesting new documentaries we've recently added to our collection.

It's a Girl (DVD 10633) exposes the expanding issue of "gendercide" in India and China. Because of cultural traditions and one-child policies in these countries, female children are often mistreated, killed, abused, or abandoned. It's a Girl reveals these injustices and who is committing them, documents the lives of girls whose lives have been destroyed by gendered culture, and asks how this can be stopped in the future.

Official description from the film's website:
In India, China and many other parts of the world today, girls are killed, aborted and abandoned simply because they are girls. The United Nations estimates as many as 200 million girls are missing in the world today because of this so-called “gendercide”. Girls who survive infancy are often subject to neglect, and many grow up to face extreme violence and even death at the hands of their own husbands or other family members. The war against girls is rooted in centuries-old tradition and sustained by deeply ingrained cultural dynamics which, in combination with government policies, accelerate the elimination of girls.
Shot on location in India and China, It’s a Girl reveals the issue. It asks why this is happening, and why so little is being done to save girls and women. The film tells the stories of abandoned and trafficked girls, of women who suffer extreme dowry-related violence, of brave mothers fighting to save their daughters’ lives, and of other mothers who would kill for a son. Global experts and grassroots activists put the stories in context and advocate different paths towards change, while collectively lamenting the lack of any truly effective action against this injustice.

Is the special effects business in trouble?

Common sense dictates that special effects sell movie tickets. If you look at a list of the most successful movies in the world, 18 of the 20 highest-grossing live-action films are notable for their high-quality CGI. Big, splashy effects drive people to seats, get them to buy DVDs, and frequently win critical acclaim. One recent example of Life of Pi, a Best Picture nominee that uses extensive 3D effects.

But outsourcing and competition from other studios are driving major special effects companies into financial ruin. This week, Rhythm & Hues, the company responsible for Life of Pi's effects, filed for bankruptcy, even while it has three other major projects on its docket.

The Chicago Tribune reports a number of reasons why this could be happening. Visual effects are expensive, and even though big-budget spectacle ropes in audiences, studios will always opt for the least expensive work. Tax credits and lower international wages are forcing American VFX companies to stretch themselves thin, leading to even the most profitable studios facing financial strain. It affects the creative process too; Yahoo! News quoted an R&H employee saying that "People can't be creative if they're constantly worried about their jobs."

Labor issues are a recurring problem in the film industry, but until now, visual effects studios have seemed to escape unscathed. But soon the industry might need to rethink a key component of its business model.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Cozy up with some romantic films

Love it or hate it, Valentine's Day is around the corner, and there's no avoiding it if you're in any center of commerce. If you're one of those people who likes this annual, culturally mandated celebration of love and greeting cards, we're got you covered.

Our Pinterest page has a section for romantic films and romantic comedies. Right now we have 160 in our collection, ranging from Nicholas Sparks movies (The Notebook, HU DVD 4924) to Hollywood classics (Breakfast at Tiffany's, HU DVD 501).

Come grab them before they're gone. You don't want to end up a Blue Valentine (HU DVD 8296).

Monday, February 11, 2013

New Acquisitions - February 2013

The Oscar season onslaught has begun! The big movies from fall 2012 are starting to hit DVD, and we're picking them up. The first big name in our batch is Flight, the Robert Zemeckis film that has Denzel Washington in contention for Best Actor. Other notables include documentary nominee Detropia and Frankenweenie, Tim Burton's return to animation. But don't forget other new notable titles, including Ken Burns's The Dust Bowl, Best Picture winner The Sting, a collection of Shakespeare performances, and the third season of Downton Abbey (watch it before it finishes airing on PBS!).

Read on for a full list of what we've added this month.

Friday, February 08, 2013

Free Preview Passes Available NOW in Media Services: "21 and Over"

Be the first on your block to see "21 and Over" a new comedy from the writers of The Hangover. The movie will screen Monday, Feb 11, 2013 at 7:30pm at AMC Loews Georgetown 14, 3111 K st., Washington, DC 2007
The film opens in theaters Friday, March 1, 2013.

IMPORTANT NOTE: Get to the theater early. Seating is first-come, first served. The pass doesn't guarantee a seat.

Passes are available at the Media Services Desk located on the lower level of Bender Library.

Editor's note: The availability of movie passes doesn't indicate that any given movie will eventually find it's way into the AU Library collection.

Thursday, February 07, 2013

Hot Docs: A Burning Question

Hot Docs highlights interesting new documentaries we've recently added to our collection.

A Burning Question (DVD 10638) is not simply about global warming. Though this documentary is, at its core, an updated look at the effects of climate change on the world and particularly in Ireland, the film also examines why such a large climate denialism movement exists. Despite overwhelming evidence and consensus, politicians and the media repeatedly rail against the science. This film incorporates evidence of our planet's continuing battle against climate change with the debate over its validity.

Official description from the publisher's website:
This fascinating and clarifying look at the debate surrounding global warming explores the striking disconnect between the relatively clear-cut concerns of the world's most prominent scientists and the maze of speculation, rhetorical posturing, and outright misinformation that attaches to this issue whenever it's taken up by politicians, PR specialists, and political pundits. Mixing a localized focus on Ireland with insights from scientists and leaders from around the world, the film serves as both a primer on climate science and a penetrating analysis of media framing and the science of perception management. An excellent resource for courses in science, environmental studies, global politics, and media.

Soderbergh calls it a day

Steven Soderbergh's next film, Side Effects hits theaters tomorrow. But if the director can be believed, it will also be his last film. In recent interviews, Soderbergh has made clear his distaste for the Hollywood system and its treatment of directors. Although Soderbergh still has a film in the can waiting to be released (an HBO movie about Liberace), he plans to retire from filmmaking after Side Effect's release and focus on painting instead.

It'll be a shame. Soderbergh leaves behind a prolific body of work with a startlingly wide range. The director has helmed films from the star-studded blockbuster caper Ocean's Eleven and male stripper opus Magic Mike to taut political satire series K Street. You might recognize several of his movies without knowing that he directed them.

Given Soderbergh's abundant and quality filmography, we have quite a few of his films in our collection. Come watch a few to send out a film career for the ages.

Erin Brockovich – HU DVD 306
Sex, Lies, and Videotape – HU DVD 383
Traffic – HU DVD 432
Eros – HU DVD 2627
K Street, The Complete Series – HU DVD 4700
The Good German – HU DVD 4705
Out of Sight – HU DVD 4817
Full Frontal – HU DVD 5382
Schizopolis – HU DVD 5389
Solaris – HU DVD 5398
Underneath – HU DVD 5400
Bubble – HU DVD 5447
The Girlfriend Experience – HU DVD 6770
The Informant! – HU DVD 7054
Che (Parts 1, 2, and supplementals) – HU DVD 7061 - 7063
The Limey – HU DVD 9077
Contagion – HU DVD 9596
And Everything is Going Fine – HU DVD 10006
Ocean's Eleven – HU DVD 10484
Ocean's Twelve – HU DVD 10485
Ocean's Thirteen – HU DVD 10486
Magic Mike – HU DVD 10653

Tuesday, February 05, 2013

Looper screening on campus TONIGHT!

Sci-fi action-thriller Looper is one of our most popular new acquisitions (HU DVD 10899). Naturally, as of this writing, it's checked out. Looper was not a huge box office success when it hit theaters last September, but its smart blend of time travel with old-fashioned action thrills gained it a cult following and glowing review from critics. Now's the time to see what the fuss is all about.

If you don't want to wait for our copy to be available, the AU United Methodist-Protestant Community will be screening Looper on campus tonight at 9 PM in the Mary Graydon Center, Room 200 as part of their monthly movie series. Snacks will be provided (as if the promise of a Joseph Gordon-Levitt / Bruce Willis team-up wasn't enough).

Monday, February 04, 2013

Hot Docs: Schooling the World

Hot Docs highlights interesting new documentaries we've recently added to our collection.

Schooling the World (DVD 10940) questions whether Western-style educational systems are appropriate for the rest of the world. For all the philanthropic efforts to increase the quality of education in impoverished countries, our idea of a good education may not fit with the rest of the world's needs. This controversial film uses the microcosm of a Buddhist society to examine how modernized education interacts with local cultures.

Official description from the film container:
If you wanted to change an ancient culture in a generation, how would you do it? You would change the way it educates its children. The U.S. Government knew this in the 19th century when it forced Native American children into government boarding schools. Today, volunteers build schools in traditional societies around the world, convinced that school is the only way to a 'better' life for indigenous children. But is this true? What really happens when we replace a traditional culture's way of learning and understanding the world with our own? Beautifully shot on location in the Buddhist culture of Ladakh in the northern Indian Himalayas, Schooling the World takes a challenging, sometimes funny, ultimately deeply disturbing look at the effects of modern education on the world's last sustainable indigenous cultures.

Screenings galore at AU and Katzen

Two exciting documentary screening series are starting on campus this week. It's probably best just to list them.

  • Tonight at 7pm in Wechsler Theater, the Center for Environmental Filmmaking kicks off its spring film series with National Geographic's War Elephants, a new documentary about the perilous state of elephant populations in conflict-torn Africa. The film is free and open to the public. You can see a full list of their upcoming screenings here.
  • Starting this Wednesday at 7pm, the American University Museum at Katzen will begin the Katzen Cinema Series of films related to their current exhibits. The first entry, The Face of Russia: Part 3, examines the history of Russian politics and culture through the lens of art. The series continues on March 6th with Women Art Revolution, on April 17th with Double Take, and on May 8th with Guest of Cindy Sherman. The screenings are free and come with popcorn.
Both these are great opportunities to watch notable films — some old and some new — on the cheap. Take advantage of these while they're on campus!

Sunday, February 03, 2013

Alternative programming: Are you ready for some football?

Super Bowl XLVII, the biggest American sporting event of the year, kicks off tonight. No matter where you go, the big game will probably be playing on the nearest display device, and there will be pizza. (There's even pizza here for the Media Services staff!)

Since the Super Bowl draws such massive ratings, any television program run opposite the Super Bowl is doomed to fail. This hasn't stopped shows like the Puppy Bowl from getting a large audience. There's a certain slice of the country that doesn't want to watch football.

If you're the type of person that would rather not watch the Super Bowl, there are still some alternatives in the same vein. Consider watching these movies in our collection about football and football history:


Any Given Sunday – HU DVD 101
Horse Feathers – HU DVD 1128
The Simpsons, Season 3: "Lisa the Greek" – HU DVD 6590
The Blind Side – HU DVD 8312
Friends, Disc 10: "The One With the Football" – HU DVD 8510
Remember the Titans - HU DVD 9133
Community, Season 1: "Feminism, Football and You" – HU DVD 10001, Disc 1
Roll Tide/War Eagle – HU DVD 10055


Go, Tigers! – HU DVD 815
The Band That Wouldn't Die – HU DVD 7901
Small Potatoes: Who Killed the USFL? – HU DVD 7901
The Best That Never Was – HU DVD 7912

For Those Who Call It "American Football:

The Damned United – HU DVD 7058