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hot docs talks: Cinematic Mobility
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Hot DocsTalks
Transcripts from interviews conducted at the Hot Docs Canadian International Documentary Festival, April 25 - May 4, 2003

Theme 5: Cinematic Mobility
How are mini-cams and wireless devices changing the way documentaries are made? Can greater mobility mean more intimate storytelling as well?

Sara Diamond and Peter Wintonick
Sara: Let's talk about mobility. Because we've really seen at this Hot Docs, we brought in a number of makers who are using highly mobile technologies. And you've done a lot of work about that Peter, how do you see that changing the world?

Peter: Well I really think that once we took cameras away from tripods and put them closer to our eye we became a mobile world. In the last thirty to forty years - that revolutionary period and then the current one - mobility, speed, and movement have been put back into the idea of cinema. Cinema movement. So we can extend that into the idea that you can be everywhere at once, and nowhere, and be at the point of creation simultaneously with a time clock. And that is really by the miniaturization of the technology, but also through the fact that through wireless networks we can be transmitting and receiving messages - which is really the act of communication in the ultimate sense.

Sara: I'm very excited about the ways that journalism and documentary are in a sense collapsing into each other. Because the journalist is there in a sense to report on the immediate, the instant. Documentary has had a far more contemplative, post-production relationship to events. And I think that mobile technologies really shift that. Because it means that documentary makers who have that sort of sense of subjectivity and strong conscientiousness about a question (they're not objective, and they don't pretend to be objective) can now be in a situation where 24/7 they're able to cover events as they're unfolding, engage the participants in those events, and audiences that are outside the actual location. I'm really interested in the ways that 24/7 mobility can be location-based and a-geographic, and can be something that happens on a global level in different time zones. And we're not really seeing that use happen quite yet - a little bit in the tactical media movement, when people are involved in demonstrations, but I think that's the big future I see unfolding: that new use of mobile media.

Peter: For a time-based art, as cinema and digital art are - and a location-based art and an ego-based art - it seems that we have to now, in this period, disintegrate all of those meanings so we can be instantly everywhere all the time and connected to our audiences everywhere, and seeking and receiving and also giving information from points of view that are multiple and multiplex. And I think that all adds into this idea of a really embedded video, visual world which allows us to understand cultures and opinions which are contrary to our own, and perhaps come to an understanding of this great and wild world.

Yung Chang
I was just in Hong Kong and I had met with a filmmaker, an artist who had just purchased a new cellular phone that takes video clips. And he's inspired to make a film similar to Vertov's Man with a Movie Camera - but instead Man with a Cell Phone. And I was kind of fascinated by what could be recorded on these thirty second clips that he could put together. And he was expounding on the wave of the future, and how this is our new movie camera - you know, what is available through the Internet or through these digital technologies, new media.

The cell phone - that technology on the cell phone, this Nokia cell phone and its ability to record images - is so primitive that it is reverting back to the original movie camera. It's almost like - the quality is terrible, it's even worse than film - and yet people feel there is a need to push this, that perhaps our future will be recorded on everyday items. It's fascinating.

Fee Plumley: And what better opportunity than to take a video phone around with you and document your every day existence, and send that work straight up to a server so that other people can watch that live documentary happening.

Monique Simard
Documentary makers always want to be, and their crews to be, as we say in French entre la mur et le tapisserie: not to be seen, you know, to be invisible - almost invisible, so that the people feel that they're really alone. So the new technology, just because of the space it takes, and because it limits the number of people, that makes us more flexible in many ways. It permits us to be faster with what we want to do, etc. So that's for the equipment, you know. Documentary filmmaking, yes you can do it fast - it's there, you have to do it. But it's also taking time to research, taking time to film, follow a story that sometimes can take a year, two years. And the material must be edited eventually, and it takes time to edit, to make good editing. So there's two sides to the thing, and I think we have to be aware of that. So how to combine facility, access, with good documentary filmmaking - that's where the challenge is.

Paul Jay
What worked on this film, on the Afghan film, is that we shot on two PD150s, and shot all the time. But it wasn't just the question of extra coverage. It was the way that I could shoot one of the cameras. First of all, I could do something that you're doing with me right now - it gave me a direct contact with Nelofer - the key subject of the film. And so I could talk to her eye to eye, which in a way is hard if someone else is shooting, and you've got to crane your neck around and stick your ear on the lens, and then the person you're talking to isn't just talking to you, they're also talking to this big camera and to the guy behind the camera. And I got a more intimate connection because of that. There's too many times when you're a director where something just happens, and if you can just turn it on and shoot it instead of saying, "Hey come here." And then they've got to get the camera, and bring it over and set it up, and find the focus and white balance - and even if it's a fast verite crew, it's never the same moment as when you can just shoot yourself.

╚ve Lamont
"Is it relevant?" You have to ask yourself the question, "Is it relevant?" These days, everybody can have a telephone everywhere. But me, when I'm on the street and I hear someone's whole life story on the street - someone who isn't talking to anyone, who is talking all by themselves - I find that dehumanizing! I mean, if it's just to be more functional, more efficient, I understand. But if it's to have conversations you should have in a more intimate space at home... It's like, O.K., you can have access to the Internet, but are you also going to walk down the street... that doesn't make any sense: to watch a documentary on your telephone as you walk down the street, at the same time as you answer another phone. I don't want my life to be like that. I don't want to absolutely have to have access to the Internet everywhere I go. Do you have to watch documentaries while you're having a shit, while you're eating, when you're going anywhere at all? No. Watching a documentary is something you choose to do. So you go to the cinema and you appreciate the moment, or you take a video cassette and you decide, at a given moment, at a precise moment, to do that.

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