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For any teacher of moviemaking, one of the most vital concerns should always be safety.  I know that it always has been for me — and for anyone working with adolescents it must take on the utmost importance.  In class guidelines, the significance of clear rules and principles for safety must be firmly articulated in any agreement to which students and parents must sign.  When developing the textbook Moving Images, I knew that I would need to discuss safety in my notes to instructors and in project guidelines, and I pointed out to the publisher that there must be a clear statement about safety in the front matter of the book.

sarah_jones_train_tracks_insetIn recent months, the importance of safety for all media creators has been at the forefront of discussions of industry standards and production practices and the legal implications of our work as moviemakers in the tragic death of assistant cameraperson Sarah Jones.  Director Randall Miller was sentenced to a two-year prison term for involuntary manslaughter for the death of Ms. Jones during a night shoot on the feature film Midnight Rider.  As reporter Richard Verrier explains, “The crew was filming a scene – a dream sequence for a movie about the life of Greg Allman of The Allman Brothers. And actor William Hurt was lying on a bed that had been placed on a railway track … the crew had been assured that no trains would be coming down the track, that they had permission to film there from the landowner. And what happened was a CSX freight train came barreling down the tracks and hit the bed and shards from the bed struck and killed the camera assistant Sarah Jones… and injured several other workers.”  This piece for the podcast The Frame provides further information and discussion of this tragic incident and its current implications for the industry.  However, it should be pointed out that these are not new concerns: Among the most famous cases of loss of life during film production are the deaths of Vic Morrow and two child actors during the making of John Landis’s segment of Twilight Zone,  the death of actor Brandon Lee on The Crow, and the death of a stunt crew member for the creation of chase sequences in Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight.  

hill-street-blues_wide-8f94a0b0d3d404e8d705d04b59a99434e38dba7b-s800-c85Related to all of this, I am reminded of the classic recurring line from Sgt. Esterhaus of Hill Street Blues: “Let’s be careful out there.”  For ourselves, as well as for those with whom we are working and for whom we are responsible.

spockA brief message to note that the flags are flying at half-mast at mediateacher.net in appreciation of the recently departed Leonard Nimoy.  This fine actor whose career became indelibly intertwined with his portrayal of the half-Vulcan half-human Mr. Spock in the Star Trek storytelling universe, provides such an inspiring example of the opportunities to connect with audiences as an artist and the ways in which media can evolve and adapt complex relationships to narratives that emerge over time.  This includes exchanges with fans, including one from a fanzine in the 60’s which gives an inspiring example of the breadth and depth of this actor’s wisdom and sensitivity.  Here in the pages of FaVE is a message about personal identity that is decades ahead of its time.

On a personal note, I can attest that a few times stories have been shared with me by friends who were at intimate social gatherings — far from red carpets or sci-fi conventions — at which Mr. Nimoy was a participant and that his presence was warmly and genuinely beneficent, without fail.  I would also encourage any who are interested in the work of Leonard Nimoy and his contributions to Star Trek to seek out his other work, including his photography, writing, and non-Spock acting such as Invasion of the Body Snatchers.

The Oscars are Here

Oscars2015463790992This year’s Academy Awards nominees feature some movies that are so full of media literacy lessons – like Boyhood which was discussed in an earlier post, American Sniper which will be the subject of a new post on mediateacher.net that will appear this week, Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) which features truly groundbreaking collaboration between director Alejandro González Iñárritu, cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki (featured in Moving Images and a number of mediateacher posts), its actors including Michael Keaton, and percussionist and composer Antonio Sánchez, among others – and it will be very interesting to see the ones chosen in various categories by the Academy voters.  The tricky relationship of history, truth, authenticity, and accuracy that has been seen in debates related to Selma and The Imitation Game as well as the multiply-controversial American Sniper is a key thematic core to lessons in Moving Images, and there will be upcoming posts that feature information and links within our already well-developed category of social studies-related media lessons.

Me-and-My-Moulton-post1Meanwhile, for most of the general public, the categories for the short films are the most unknown quantities on the Oscar ballot.  You might want to check out this piece by A.O. Scott for any last-minute info and for a short film that shows the nominees for animation.  One of the animated shorts, Me and My Moulton, is by Torill Kove, who directed past winner The Danish Poet, which is available with other past winners on an excellent BluRay by Shorts International.

white3f-2-webIn a sly ad that played during this year’s Super Bowl, one commercial messed around with our media literacy backgrounds through the familiar context of the local pharmacy: Bryan Cranston made a new appearance in the Walter White persona from Breaking Bad to advertise issues of trust and authenticity related to an insurance company.  This piece was penned by Kevin Goff, copywriter and creative director for advertising agency Leo Burnett of Chicago.  Yes, that Kevin Goff — our interviewee for Chapter 3 (Sound and Image) of Moving Images.   For those wishing to pursue further explorations of principles of communication linked to short-form pieces and advertising, you might want to check out the earlier post What Exactly is that Movie?  As a matter of fact, I will be using it for the next couple of weeks in my own classes.  You will find lots of fun material to learn from, debate, and play with.

Snapchat 101

SnapchatStoriesI get these questions all the time from fellow educators: “So how do I integrate Snapchat into my classes?” or “Can I write an entire curriculum based on Snapchat?” or “How do I fully integrate a digital learning environment into my teaching and stay up with the kids?” or “What is it that those youngsters are sending to each other all the time?”  Well, here is that initial tutorial you have been asking for.  And the little movie is pretty funny.  It’s by New York Times reporter Nick Bilton and Casey Neistat, who is a YouTube filmmaker.  Moreover, his videos Make It Count and Crazy German Water Park both fulfill the Chapter 5 portrait project, one as a self-portrait and the other as a portrait of place.

Khadija-Al-SalamiOne of the featured films for study in Chapter 6 of Moving Images is the short A Stranger in her Own City by filmmaker Khadija Al-Salami (who, when contacted about using an image from her movie for Moving Images, graciously offered it gratis since it was for an educational publication).  This exceptional short documentary portrays Nejmia, a 13-year-old girl in Yemen who does not feel she should wear a veil, as she walks freely about the capital city of Sana’a and interacts with other children, various men who harass her for her choices and behavior, and the imam of the great mosque of Sana’a, who embraces and supports her.  The movie is available on issue 3 of the DVD magazine Wholphin.  Since making that movie, Al-Salami, who lives in Paris and has received the Légion d’Honneur, has made a number of other documentaries, including Killing Her Is A Ticket To Paradise, about a female journalist who displeases hardline fundamentalists, and The Scream, about women’s roles in the 2011 uprising against President Ali Abdullah Saleh of Yemen.

Al-Salami recently won a major award for her feature I Am Nujoom, Age 10 And Divorced, about a Yemeni child bride, which won the top prize at the Dubai International Film Festival, whose jury was headed by American director Lee Daniels.  Here is an interview with Al-Salami about this movie and her work as a female filmmaker working in France and the Middle East.

Cartoon by Patrick Chappatte of New York Times

Cartoon by Patrick Chappatte of New York Times

This blog has addressed issues related to violence and its relationship to media communications and visual literacy in contemporary culture on a number of occasions.  As media educators – indeed, as citizens – issues related to the freedom that we have to communicate through public media platforms and to the rules and norms associated with how and what we express are at the core of understanding and utilizing media.  This week, in France, the world witnessed a horribly violent reprisal directed towards these rights to expression when terrorists murdered a number of people at the Paris headquarters of the weekly satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo.

Writing from America, I would like to add a few additional points that I have not seen satisfactorily or widely expressed and that could be useful in discussions related to these events and issues.  First, in order for those outside of France to understand the full impact of this event, it is important to grasp the familiarity that French people have with these cartoonists and writers.  A number of those killed (including editor Charb, Wolinski, Cabu, and Tignous) were very important cultural figures who have enjoyed wide recognition and popularity for many years.  Among them, the cartoonist Cabu (pen name of Jean Cabut), has been one of the most important practitioners of caricature and political cartooning in France for many decades and whose face is a familiar one in French media.

Cabu © Radio France - 2013 / Vincent Josse

Cabu © Radio France – 2013 / Vincent Josse

Cabu even regularly appeared on French television in the 1980’s on the children’s show “Récré A2″ with the host Dorothée.  For those who understand French or for French classes, here is an excerpt from a circus-themed episode.  Incredibly, one of the topics raised is that of censorship!  When encouraging young people to send in their own cartoon ideas for original, new conceptions of circus performers – he shares his own, such as one who is able to jump back into “his mother’s stomach” (in this case through the mouth) – he specifically tells young viewers to send in what they think of, “we don’t censor here on this show.”  (And Dorothée quickly turns the page on a couple of his racier drawings!)  In another available video of more recent vintage, Cabu talks about the theme of “Can one still laugh about anything (or everything)?”  In that piece from 2012, he discusses the very issues for which he was assassinated along with his colleagues at Charlie Hebdo; his humanity, intelligence, humility, and convictions are quite apparent throughout this talk.

Before this attack, general opinions in America – expressed in editorials and by leaders – were that the illustrators at Charlie Hebdo had indeed gone a bit too far, and that they should respect the desires of those who say that they should not critique or offend islamic leaders or fundamentalists in this way.  Has there been a similar debate in the United States about The Book of Mormon?  Are there those who say that many of the scenes of that musical or lyrical content of those songs should not have been produced?  They are, after all, highly critical, even quite scatological in lampooning specific religious figures and beliefs and may be deeply offensive to members of certain religious groups.  I have not seen anywhere any reference to this cultural comparison used in discussions of the material produced by the creators at Charlie Hebdo.  Why is this not the case here in the United States?  For educators who teach in a field in which these issues or discussions might be raised — such as Advanced Placement French classes (with the theme “Défis Mondiaux”), international studies, journalism, or others — it is important to use representative cases from a variety of media angles.  In French classes, vigorous debates about these matters have been part of advanced level curricula and hotly debated for some time, such as with the interdiction of the wearing of the niqab or burka or similar full-face or -body coverings by women in France and Belgium.  These most recent developments add new levels of intensity to important discourse about the roles and challenges of media communicators in our society.

P.S.: I will add to this post a link to a video that was uploaded a short time ago (only about 100 hits so far; I’m guessing it will go up a lot) by a French high schooler who recorded a speech given by a teacher of the Lycée Lavoisier in the school courtyard during a moment of national mourning for those who were murdered on January 7.  A very powerful speech and a striking media document.  This 5-minute movie concludes with a minute of silence that becomes powerfully visual as well.  For those who understand French in particular, this is highly recommended.

cabu et tignousP.P.S.: On Friday, November 9, I will add another link to a New York Times article and short film by Jerôme Lambert and Philippe Picard — “Charlie Hebdo Before the Massacre” — that features part of a documentary about the work of Cabu and shows the journalists of Charlie Hebdo at work.  To understand the issues of this blog post, this short film is invaluable.  It is an astonishingly pertinent document of the creative process in action and the cultural issues inherent to this story.

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