JSF Production Update:

1) The release date for The Journal of Short Film, Volume 4 (Summer 2006) is August 8th. You can order it now on the website (see the top right of this screen), and you will receive it a couple days before your jealous friends. Don’t forget to call them sucka’s.
2) You can see the list of films for Vol. 4 on the website.
3) The JSF will have a screening near its HQ on the release day. It promises to be rollicking. Check out the Events page of the website for more details, . . . tomorrow, …when we get it up there. If you would like to have a screening in your town, send us an email and let’s talk.
4) Did anyone else hear the good reviews that Miami Vice got? We plan on getting us some guilt-free Miami Vice sometime very soon.

Films Flee Theaters, Hit the Road

The other day Marcy Freedman (JSF, Vol.2) tipped us off on her latest project. She has been working with collaborator Gene Panczenko on an experimental video piece called Misconvergence. They’ve been independently shooting video according to a set of rules that they established months before. In August, they’ll meet up and edit the footage into a 3-5 minute work. What’s most novel is that the piece will debut on wheels. They’re building a VIDEO VEHICLE with monitors and speakers. Their first location will be the Peekskill Project, in New York. They’ll be building audiences one sidewalk at a time. We’re gonna want to see some pictures, Marcy!

Her news brought to mind two other mobile video projects that we wish were more common. (though Marcy bests these two in pure mobility.) These two outfits are inspired by the drive-in. (1) Mobile Movie holds impromptu drive-ins and, on its website, instructs you on how to build a mobile projector and audio transmitter. (2) The Santa Cruz Guerrilla Drive-in holds screenings every other weekend during the summer. Their list of upcoming movies is great. Their events are more “walk-ins,” however. People bring blankets, everything’s free, space is reclaimed for the public, etc. Check them both out. The world needs more cinema anarchists.

Documentary and the Interview Subject

One of our veterans raised a filmmaking conundrum the other day. He has been shooting interviews for documentary shorts and finds a growing problem:

So here’s the problem: More and more, people are telling me the good stuff off-camera. As soon as the camera is rolling, blah blah, they say whatever. Switch off the camera, and then some amazing stuff comes out. Just to be clear, they are purposefully telling me the best stuff off the record. It’s an epidemic, and it’s got to stop.

How is it possible that people are getting worse? I usually think Americans are media savvy—we may have our faults, but at least we watch a lot of TV!—and know what is expected of them in front of a camera. But his experience indicates the opposite.

We know the dynamics between filmmaker and interview subject are vital. Who hasn’t cringed at an interaction between Michael Moore or Werner Herzog and one of their subjects? They’re both famous for interjecting themselves into the frame/process and establishing a familiarity that makes a lot of purists uncomfortable. To address some of these interview dynamics, Errol Morris invented the Interrotron (see diagram HERE). This device allows the interview subject to look into the camera and see a reflection of Errol asking questions. This way Robert McNamara gets to stare directly at us and act all faultless (…sorry, I’m digressing; see Fog of War).

But these dynamics are not exactly what our filmmaker is talking about. His problem seems more tactical than aesthetic or philosophical. So what is going on? Are the subjects not comfortable sharing the information they have? Is it significant that he’s often asking political questions? Are they just dense?

So I’m putting his question out there for general input: how does an interviewer ensure that the subject delivers the best info on-camera and not off-camera? I’ll float the question to a few of our other documentarians, as well. Send us your thoughts (contact@thejsf.org) and I’ll bring this up again next week.

Censorship, PBS, & the Price of Free Speech ($325,000)

The NYT has already told the story of PBS’s upcoming censorship battles, so I won’t go into the details. In short, Ken Burns’ new documentary about WWII soldiers is controversial (…stop laughing, this is serious!) because it contains a few words—spoken on the battlefield—that could trigger the newly massive FCC fines. Burns and other PBS people think the FCC rules are inappropriate for documentary subjects like this one.

This post isn’t about short film; I just wanted to say that our national culture has taken a sad turn when Ken Burns is fighting our civil rights battles for us. When Ken Burns is (1) speaking out against the system because (2) his documentary is unacceptable to the FCC, there is something seriously wrong. What is going to happen when Ken Burns completes his 14-part series on Motherhood and his 8-part follow-up on Apple Pie??? By then, broadcasters will be so afraid to air anything that every channel will be Lawrence Welk.

Je Regrette, and Other Franco-significant News

After the “nonsense” that I wrote yesterday, the publisher is punishing me by making me write about Luc Besson. When I reminded him that I don’t actually get paid, he hurled his espresso cup at me and stormed off to his Alfa Romeo yelling “and be sure to say The Fifth Element was awesome!” (i might have made that last part up.) But, to get it over with, it does appear that Luc Besson is retiring. He has two new films out this year and has announced his retirement, saying he doesn’t really like directing much any more. But then his mind wanders, and he starts to rethink a bit— read the Guardian interview for the whole story.

But speaking of upcoming French movies that aren’t really French, Michel Gondry’s The Science of Sleep is scheduled to open in September, which is none too soon. The current issue of RES Magazine reminded us of the short piece he made last year, The All Seeing Eye. That piece would look fine in a future volume of the JSF, hint hint, Michel. HERE’s a description of the short film.

Art vs. Entertainment

This morning, A.O. Scott addressed the critics vs. box office conundrum: why do movies with bad reviews often make loads of money? In his usual tactful way, he raises other questions too, like: are people idiots?, and why even bother? What interests me is the similar question of art vs. entertainment. But first, this is Scott addressing why critics even bother looking for quality in Hollywood movies:

So why review them? Why not let the market do its work, let the audience have its fun and occupy ourselves with the arcana — the art — we critics ostensibly prefer? The obvious answer is that art, or at least the kind of pleasure, wonder and surprise we associate with art, often pops out of commerce, and we want to be around to celebrate when it does and to complain when it doesn’t. But the deeper answer is . . .

Click here to read the rest of the review . You might or might not believe it. But, come to think of it, you probably wouldn’t be reading any of this if you hadn’t thought of a lot of this already.

We’re sensitive to the art vs. entertainment issue around here and mostly think it’s a false dichotomy. Firstly, one person’s art is another’s pretension, and one person’s entertainment is another’s cretinism. Also, art is subconsciously almost everywhere—in your kid’s playtime, at Target, on the Nissan 350Z, etc.—so it’s disingenuous to treat it as marginal or gay or whatever. One of our basic goals is to prove that the two are not mutually exclusive—that sounds dumb and obvious, but to many people it’s not (tho, of course, they’re probably not reading this).

But, with all that said, we set out to make Volume 4 more fun (“entertaining”?) than usual—whatwith it being a Summer volume and all. (release date: Aug.8th, by the way!) It has more than the normal laughs, thrills, and rocking. But it’s also filled with compelling, powerful stuff, including two very different films about immigration.

We contend that no matter what camp you fall in—e.g. if you feel anything more interpretable than a NASCAR race is called art OR if you think anything more mainstream than Godard or the Cremaster Cycle is mindless entertainment—we’re all probably a lot more similar than we think. These differences we draw are more about identity politics than about art or entertainment.

Another Good Review

The latest issue of Film International includes a long review of Volume 1 of The Journal of Short Film. We’re happy to say that it is all quite positive, especially for some of the filmmakers involved. The reviewer highlighted the work of Joe Merrell, Heidi Mau, and Marie-Josée Saint-Pierre. It’s refreshing to see short film get so much close attention.

So pick up a copy of Film International today. Also included:

Available now – Film International #21. Articles, essays and interviews on everything from Brokeback Mountain to Ginger Snaps. We dig deep into the phenomenon that is Dennis Hopper, highlight the forgotten roots of Japanimation, dissect Patrice Chéreau’s visions of death, and file festival reports from around the world, including Miami, Nepal, and London.

For the review, click HERE and go to page 8.

Current TV Supports Short Work to the Tune of $100K

I’m still a fan of Current TV’s scheme, though I’m not sure who’s watching the channel. Sure, they seem a bit over-earnest, at times, but we tend to forgive that, around here. Even if you claim that their programming isn’t the pinnacle of short film, I’d argue that they regularly show good short work. Sometimes you have to wait for it, and you never know when something good might be on, but I often enjoy the wait. Plus, their Google Zeitgeist bits every 30 minutes are nice.
Anywho, the publisher has directed me to mention Current’s new contest—the Seeds of Tolerance contest—which has a prize of $100,000. Who else is doing that for short work? Here are some details—

Our grand prize creator will receive $100,000 cash, and $15,000 to a relevant charity of your choice. Two runners-up will receive $10,000, and be aired on Current TV, in 28 million homes across the country. . . . Between now and August 15, submit a video on the theme of tolerance—any form of tolerance. Whatever story you want to tell, and however you want to tell it.

For more details and rules, go to their website. If you think films about tolerance are a dumb idea, perhaps you’ll like the following story. (sorry, but i need an excuse to tell this story!) After the fourth of July, someone called into a conservative radio show with a complaint about the fireworks display in a Columbus suburb. The complaint?: one firework exploded in the shape of a peace symbol. He felt it was treasonous.

On Location: Where Do YOU Make Films?

We at the JSF spend a lot of time dwelling on the notion of location. In short, does your location matter to your film career? Perhaps you’ve noticed that the JSF is located in central Ohio—not the hub of the film universe. But it does help give us some extra reasons d’etre, e.g., we know how few options exist for watching quality, independent films outside of a few big cities. But what about filmmakers? We argued from the first that people are making films everywhere, now, and that distribution needed to decentralize to keep up with it. New technology has allowed this (though Business prevents it). But is it really true that you can make films anywhere?, that it doesn’t matter where you live?

The JSF continues to publish films from all over. Volume 4—coming soon!, we promise—has films from 5 different countries and towns as small as San Sebastián, Spain, and, um, . . . Chicago? Okay, so this volume doesn’t represent any many small towns, but we’ve had plenty in the past, including Yellow Springs, OH, Norman, OK, Salt Lake City, UT, Syracuse, NY, and more.

I recently asked this question of Joe Merrell (JSF, vol.1), who said that digital technology has allowed him to work on his own, when he chooses. While he has collaborated with others in the past, his recent projects are more or less solo. Because of this, his location may seem a bit ironic: “I live in Hollywood (the hill with the HOLLYWOOD sign on it is behind my apartment). . . . Though location is significant to the content of my work, the fact that I live in Hollywood The Movie Capital of the Universe is pretty much irrelevant to it.”

Perhaps social networking sites on the Internet may help, someday. But I don’t think it’s working, yet. Has anyone really made Yahoo Groups, MeetUp.com, or Myspace work on a practical level for production? Myspace certainly seems useless. It’s full of users, and we’re not entirely innocent of that ourselves, as the JSF’s lame ass myspace page would attest.

If you have any thoughts on the matter, send us an email. The field is changing, and we’ll revisit the issue later, I’m sure.