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Posts Tagged ‘Big Brother’

There is a boom in documentary film-making. It’s not just because of the availability of cheap technology. It’s connected with a new way of seeking truth.

Hussain Currimbhoy is curator of the Sheffield Doc/Fest, Britain’s premier showcase for new documentaries from around the world. He speaks to Sean O’Hagan.

There is definitely a new energy out there. We are living in a moment when film-makers, and young film-makers in particular, are increasingly turning towards documentary as a way to make sense of the world they live in. They are more alert about, and suspicious of, the mainstream media and eager for a form that talks to them about real events in a real way, even if that form is often rough or even low-key. It’s a very exciting and ground-breaking time for the documentary.

British director Lucy Walker shares the enthusiasm.

I really do think we are living in a golden age of documentary film-making. There is a frustration with traditional media and a hunger for documentaries that have the stamp of integrity. The week it opened, my film [Waste Land] was number one at the box office in terms of what they call ‘per-screen average attendance’. Of all the movies playing in America, a Portuguese-language documentary about the lives of people living on a garbage dump in South America had the highest per-screen average across America. That tells me that people are looking for bigger truths about the way we live now, truths they are not getting from Hollywood or the traditional media.

Walker thinks people are looking for bigger truths. But it may also be that they are looking for smaller truths – as film-maker Adam Curtis explains:

There is a sense that the grand narratives are gone and that people are now living in an age of uncertainty, and documentary increasingly reflects that. Traditionally, documentaries were part of a progressive tradition, a progressive machine. They provoked us or inspired us to do something. I would contend that, when politicians turned into managers, that system did not work any more and even big budget, well-meaning, measured documentaries, like Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth, leave us perplexed and helpless rather than angry and politically energised. At the other extreme, you have films like Catfish that noodle about with the intimacy of feelings. Here, people know the grammar of feelings, they know how to act on camera and how to emote formally, while real feelings, which are of course messy and complicated, are hidden.

O’Hagan finishes the article by quoting director Kevin MacDonald.

 “But documentary is a generous basket that can hold a lot of different things. If you think about it, journalism, letter-writing, memoir, satire – they all qualify as non-fiction, so why can’t the same loose rules apply to documentary?”

To this end, MacDonald is currently working on the first feature-length documentary made entirely of user-generated content shot in a single day and then uploaded on to YouTube. Called Life In A Day, the impressionistic film is currently being edited down by MacDonald from 5,000 hours of footage from 190 countries. It will premiere as a three-hour documentary at next year’s Sundance festival.

“It’s amateur film-making on a grand scale,” says MacDonald. “But, because the participants are often showing such incredibly intimate things that you could not get in a traditional documentary unless you spent months filming, it is also ground-breaking in ways that we did not expect.”

In the end, says MacDonald, it all comes down to great storytelling. “The irony is that, when I make a documentary, I always feel like I am taking all this real material and trying to tell a story almost as if it was a fictional narrative. When I make a fictional film, I do the opposite.”

Documentary, as MacDonald reminds us, is essentially structured reality. “The only real breaking point,” he adds, “is when documentary actually becomes fiction, but more often than not, as many great documentaries testify, real life does often turn out to be a hell of a lot stranger than anything you could make up.”

That is perhaps the reason why its boundaries are currently being stretched – to keep up with the increasing unreality of the real world.

I’m dying to see this Life in a Day. The idea reminds me of what was perhaps the best ‘exhibit’ at the Millennium Dome – a huge collage of photographs of ordinary life in Britain, pieced together to make it look like one single image, hung around the curving walls of one of the main rooms. I haven’t seen any reproductions of it since. Do let me know if you can remember what it was called or whether it still hangs somewhere.

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They are tracking you – if you are a toddler being cared for at a certain Parisian crèche. This centre is planning to monitor the movements of the children placed in its care by placing a tracking chip inside their clothing. It’s the first time this technology has been used in Europe.

What’s your gut reaction to hearing this? Horror? Indifference? Relief? Is it any different from tying a rope round your toddler’s wrist? Is it any more intrusive than the tracking that’s already taking place through your Oyster card or your mobile phone? If you could surgically implant a tiny tracking chip into your child for just a few pounds – would you do it?

Lizzy Davies interviews some of those involved, and gets some reactions:

“The experiment … aims to prove the effectiveness of the system from the perspective of child safety,” said Patrick Givanovitch of Lyberta, a Toulouse-based technology company. “Thanks to the chip carried by each child, it will be possible to know immediately if one of them has left the crèche. The management of the crèche, and the parents, will be alerted straight away by text messages on their mobile phones.”

The plan by the crèche, which is privately run, has provoked criticism from the French childcare industry, with experts warning the measure is both pointless and potentially damaging.

“Shutting children inside a virtual cage will create feelings of futile suspicion and anxiety because of a non-existent danger,” Dominique Ratia-Armengol, chairman of the association of young children’s psychologists, told Le Parisien. She said the introduction of the chips could also loosen ties between the children and the adults “trained to educate and build a relationship of trust with them.”

Some critics say it is more about cost-cutting than child-safety; others that it’s simply unnecessary – given the fact that the closed environments of these childcare centres are nearly always safe and secure.

The most extreme critics accused the Lyberta scheme of starting France on the slippery slope towards a generalised surveillance society. “Chips in crèches take us a step closer to this hellish world where Big Brother reigns,” commented a blogger by the name of Victorayoli on the Mediapart website.

Givanovitch, however, dismisses these accusations as wholly disproportionate. “In this way, we know the child is inside the school or we also know he could be outside the school. It stops there,” he told French radio, referring to the use of chips on older children. “We do not track, we do not follow, we do not pinpoint children. We are just there to say, ‘he is in a safe area or he is not in a safe area’.”

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In my previous post I used a photo of some London graffiti by Banksy to illustrate the theme of surveillance. It’s of a child painting an enormous political slogan about Big Brother society on a wall that is being scanned by a real CCTV camera! (See the images below.)

This is how he did it:

Banksy pulled off an audacious stunt to produce what is believed to be his biggest work yet in central London.

The secretive graffiti artist managed to erect three storeys of scaffolding behind a security fence despite being watched by a CCTV camera.

Then, during darkness and hidden behind a sheet of polythene, he painted this comment on ‘Big Brother’ society.

Yesterday the scaffolding gang returned to remove all evidence – again without the camera operator stopping them.

The work, above a Post Office yard in Newman Street near Oxford Circus, shows a small boy, watched by a security guard, painting the words: ‘One nation under CCTV.’

Andrew Newman, 35, a businessman from Dulwich, who works locally, said: ‘It was only on Sunday morning that the Post Offices guys realised what had happened.’

One nation under CCTV by David Boyle.

And then, of course, it got removed, and the camera could get on with its business again:

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