Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Grandma Day

This is a little documentary I recently finished re-editing for a film class at BYU. It'll probably make you smile :)

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Danielson: A Family Movie

     This documentary explores the intriguing musical career of a family from New Jersey. I would be lying if I said this was not a hard documentary to sit through. The music produced by the family band is unlike anything I've ever heard before but not in a good way. I appreciated their motives of spreading their religion and Christian ideals through music, but I don't even know if they lyrics foster their beliefs because I was so distracted by the singing and the accompaniment. I have such mixed emotions about this band because I really believe in what they are doing and I think it's important to promote good values or to express who you are, but I don't feel like they are very successful in achieving this goal, at least not to me. When I can't understand what "Danielson" is trying to tell me because the falsetto and the combination of ten other instruments drowns out the message, the band isn't succeeding in what it set out to do. And that makes me sad. 
     The one thing I love about this documentary is that it really focuses on the growth and progression of this band. They never waver from what they set out to do in the world and I think it's great that they pursued what they believed to be their calling from God. I love the idea that it was a family goal and that the film took time to show the journey of this family and particularly Daniel, the one who made it all happen.
     About halfway through the film a conflict arises between Daniel and his  friend Sufjan Stevens who was at one time part of the Danielson band clan but then went on to do his own thing and became incredibly successful as a musician while Danielson kind of stayed under the radar and wasn't very well known. This could have been an opportunity for the makers of this film to exploit Daniel's personal struggles but they let him speak for himself and we realize that he is happy for Sufjan but he is also happy with himself and what he is doing and contributing to the world. I think it would have been pretty easy for the filmmakers to twist the facts around and make Daniel appear bitter but instead the stepped back and let the story unfold naturally and as it should. I think this is a really admirable quality in filmmakers and I hope it is one that I will come to cultivate.

Herb & Dorothy

Herb & Dorothy is a documentary about two ordinary people with an extraordinary art collection. In their lifetime, Herb and Dorothy Vogel collected over 4,000 pieces of artwork. Neither one had a background in artistic training, but they both developed an eye and a deep love for modern and contemporary art pieces.
This was an interesting documentary for me to watch because I have never been able to understand more abstract or modern art pieces. When I see a square canvas that is painted red, I don’t think that’s art. I think, “Oh man, my four-year-old cousin could do that no problem.” And then I always feel ignorant because apparently I’m not sophisticated enough to understand the significance immediately. Sometimes I wish the artist of a confusing piece of art could be there as I looked at it to explain to me what they were going for. I know not all pieces of art have to mean something, but surely there is some form of motivation behind each piece, no matter how simple. One of the great things about Herb and Dorothy is that they developed this understanding and appreciation for art that does not come so easily to people like myself. The audience becomes aware of this through the extensive footage of their collection, hearing interviews of them speaking about their feelings about art, and hearing interviews of artists and relatives who are acquainted with Herb and Dorothy speak about the couple’s unique grasp on artistic values and concepts. I can joke all I want about many pieces of art which I regard with contempt and label as the potential work of a toddler, but it is I who am missing out on an entire beautiful and complicated realm of artistic expression, and it is that weakness in myself that I admire so much as a strength in Herb and Dorothy.
My one qualm with this film is that I felt like it could have been a thirty-minute piece as opposed to an hour and thirty minutes. I felt like there was a lot of elaboration about Herb and Dorothy Vogel as unique art collectors, their relationships with the art community, and their relationship with modern art that was completely unnecessary. Perhaps the filmmaker felt the need to exalt the Vogels, to show the world what an amazing couple they are. The Vogels gave up everything they had for the sake of their art collection. They chose to live in a tiny, cramped apartment so that they could have money to buy more and more art pieces which took up so much room and forced the Vogels to stack boxes and papers in every other available space. They actively participated in the growth of a culture, and are responsible for preserving the history of modern art through several decades in New York. They lived for the art so much that they gave up comforts of a nice home. Their collection was worth millions but instead of selling it so they could afford a bigger home, they donated it to museums all across the United States so all might enjoy their collection. This passion and devotion to modern artistic expression is certainly unique and almost religious to the point that it is very beautiful and perhaps worth expanding so much upon. By dwelling so much upon the details of the lives of the subjects of this film, the filmmakers allow the audience to really come to know Herb and Dorothy Vogel. We understand them and so we make a connection to them, which aids in the overall impact and lasting impressions of this film. Because there is a strong connection to the main subjects, we appreciate the small and simple details of their lives and what they live for.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

No End In Sight

     Charles Ferguson's No End In Sight left me fuming with an angry and heavy heart. Ferguson presents his audience with example after example of the lack of thought which went into planning the take-over of Iraq. There is one section specifically where we switch back and forth between interviews with two different people talking about the same thing. Paul Hughes is explaining how the advice of experts was ignored while Walter Slocombe dances around the fact that he ignored warnings and made important decisions without informing U.S. government personnel working directly in Iraq. Throughout the film I kept thinking about how many people have adopted the view of "I'm just one person, I can't possibly make a difference or a noticeable impact." Yet the story this documentary tells is how a fairly small group of hasty people made some rash decisions that had deadly effects for both Iraqis and Americans--a small group of people is essentially responsible for the complete collapse of an entire nation in the middle east which is now ravaged by war, chaos, and terror. Is this what President Bush meant by bringing freedom to that nation? Is "freedom" injecting the already broken government of Iraq with decay and the means to destroy itself? I don't think so. 
     Ferguson's storytelling approach was incredibly powerful. He managed to get access to a deep well of information to support what he wanted to say. Although several major public figures denied to contribute their voices to this story (Condoleezza Rice, Dick Cheney, and many others), Ferguson retrieved a lot of archival footage and arranged several interviews with people who had a lot of information on what actually happened. The Iraq War has always been a confusing subject to me, and that is partially because much of the information has been kept from and altered for the public citizens of the United States. Ferguson clearly had an agenda, and that was to prove his point that the majority of the details of the Iraq War were senseless and not thought through. Major mistakes were made and not addressed or fixed. He did it in a very straightforward way, presenting all the facts in interviews coupled with supporting archival footage in a way that was very clear and easy to understand. The archival footage made a powerful statement to me, particularly footage of the devastation in Iraq: crumbled buildings, dead and dying people, and people huddling in confusion and poverty as their home falls to chaos. The events that have transpired in dealing with Iraq are truly shocking, even more than I realized. 
     Ferguson succeeded in convincing me that more than anything, the struggle in Iraq has helped no one and solved nothing, it has created a world of problems for Iraqis and for Americans in their relations with that country, it has driven our country into massive debt, and what have we achieved? We have successfully brought a nation to its feet, pretty much forcing it into a state of destructive, gruesome warfare and making things "worse than they ever were before with Saddam" as it was put by an Iraqi citizen. This film made me ashamed to be an American. The effects of this war in Iraq are devastating, and I don't know how to change it. I am grateful though, for filmmakers like Charles Ferguson who go out and get their hands dirty in order to educate the public when others would leave them in ignorance. Educating our nation, even if it's just one person at a time, is one way to implement change. And hardly anything is more powerful than ideas presented through media--like a documentary. Ferguson has certainly done his part to start to change the way the U.S. deals with the situation in Iraq, and I pray more of us will do the same.