Thursday 22 March 2012

The Power of Film

In the last few years, there has been a price collapse of projectors, quality video cameras, and video editing software that has helped enable a wealth of all sorts of documentary videos and DVDs and the ability for community groups to show them.

New ways of funding and distributing films have also emerged. In Forest Row we obtained a grant to film about local food that as well as screening in the community we released on YouTube where it has had over 2,500 views. We also waived a screening fee so that other groups could show it easily. The amazing film 'Home' found a $10 million sponsor for the film so that it could be made available free online.

Crowd funding contributed towards the cost of making the In Transition 2.0 movie and amazing volunteer translators in 18 countries worked to make subtitled versions available in their languages. It asked filmmakers in Brazil, USA, Canada, Portugal, Japan and New Zealand to contribute material so that international travel was not involved in producing it.

There is also a whole new way of making films called mashups, combining bits from other films and images to illustrate a new narrative. In the case of The Crisis of Civilization, the filmakers even encourage you to have a go at remixing the film they produced.

Another approach taken by the makers of Life in a Day was to get people around the world to upload videos of their lives to YouTube. On 24th July 2010 thousands of people did and this was then edited to produce an inspiring snapshot of a day on planet earth. The full movie was also released free online.

Born out of the idea that we have to inspire each other and come together as a human race, Playing for Change brings together the sounds from musicians all over the world to make inspiring remakes of tunes. For example Stand By Me features over 35 musicians collaborating from all over the world who have never met.

Some film makers take full responsibility for every aspect of the film, from immersing themselves in the location, to filming, editing and promoting the finished film. To make Blood of the Amazon Nicola Peel travelled from the headwaters in Ecuador down the Amazon researching the effects of the oil industry on the environment and indigenous people who live there. She is even helping bring a solution to the pollution they face.

While the technology to produce films has come down in price, making a good film still takes a lot of time, creativity and money. In talking to both our audiences and others, I've often been surprised at how many are not aware that screening a film in public requires a 'non-theatrical screening license' from the film maker or distributor. Distributors such as the popup cinema from Dogwoof have a growing catalogue of Transition related films and make it easy to go to their website to make all the arrangements. Sadly not all distributors make life so easy for community groups to screen their films and some require a lot of detective work to track them down.

I've also been somewhat surprised by some that are aware of the need for a license, who then ask how to get around paying the fee. So my plea is that you proudly pay the fee to support the film makers who often put everything on the line to make thought provoking films available.

Apart from being the right thing to do, getting sued for screening a film without a license is not worth it! The day we were due to show the moving film Fierce Light, the village hall in Forest Row received a call from the US distributor in Los Angeles threatening legal action as they were sure we didn't have a license. Fortunately we had already bought one from the Canadian distributor, but it illustrated that copyright holders are able and willing to monitor when their films are used and pursue those that don't pay,

When we first started showing films as part of our raising awareness phase of Transition Forest Row, the Forest Row Film Society was still using a reel film projector. For my laptop and projector, I thought it would be neat to generate the power to screen the films with pedal power. However it very soon became clear that this was not a practical option and was an education about how much energy showing a film consumes. Unfortunately a pedal powered cinema typically needs around 12 adults and children to power a large projector, sound equipment and DVD player.

When the Film Society upgraded to a digital projector and full spec sound system, we teamed up with them. We now show a film every month as an integral part of their programme. The upside is that we get our films projected in full wide screen and with high quality sound, and benefit from the wider publicity of being a part of their film programme. The downside is that the films have to be researched and decided on early in the summer so that the autumn to spring programme can be designed and printed in time for the start of the season.

There is another important benefit in that a monthly programme of films provides the thread that helps keeps our Transition initiative alive and in the mind of our community.

In the early days the films we showed were mostly awareness raising of the mess we're in. But now we show a wide range of films covering many different aspects of Transition thinking. This season for example we began with the excellent Schooling the World, the quirky but enchanting Agnes Varda film The Gleaners and I , while on today we are showing The Farmer and the Horse and next month the new film about bees, Queen of the Sun, followed in April by In Transition 2.0.

My favourites? At the top of the list would have to be Robert Newman's History of Oil, which I have seen so many times I almost know it by heart! It has an excellent blend of being informative and something often lacking in this genre, namely a good laugh.

Next would be What A Way To Go - Life at the end of Empire. His first feature-length documentary, the filmmaker was inspired to make a film that asks the deep questions of culture, psychology and spirit that lie at the root of our situation. The aim of the film was to join the dots for viewers and help them "break through the denial that has us locked in inaction." I particularly liked the reflective ending about building a boat.

Others that have made an impact on me have been Dirt! that "tells the story of Earth's most valuable and underappreciated source of fertility". Another inspiring film is Our Seeds: Seed Blong Yumi that celebrates traditional food plants and the people that grow them. Another thoughtful and inspiring film is Rebecca Hosking's A Farm for the Future. My final choice is Schooling the World that is a wake up call about education. Mike Grenville

Mike Grenville is a founding member of Transition Forest Row and the editor of the Transition Network Newsletter. As well as organising film showings for his initiative he also runs film nights for the Transition Conference and Sunrise festivals.

Original post from Social Reporting Project from their week on Transition and Film Media

Photo of Magnificent Revolution's Pop-Up Cycle-In cinema in London

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