Saturday, January 15, 2011

RTS Award Prelude- juror for best of the best in journalism

RTS Judging package arrives with DVD

Nestled between CS5 and code hints and introductions to polysemic documentary making,  I can see on my diary, RTS awards.

[Read here for response to Mike looking for further explaination  of RTS Award Prelude]

his will be the third year running I have been invited to sit with a panel of experts to adjudicate which UK TV or newspaper takes the Innovation award for Journalism.

Two years ago, it was for me unequivocal: 10 Days to War by BBC Newsnight - an impressive dramatisation of the lead up to the Iraq war involving what looked in the end- a hand in glove fit between documentary mode and drama (fiction).

The programme didn't have it its own way. A rigorous vote ensured from a shortlist, which itself proceeded arguments for and against contenders.

Sitting down to Judge the awards. In shot Toby Castle ( ITN), Nigel Baker (Chair) APTN,  Iain Dale, Deborah Gorbutt (APTN), Martin Turner (BBC)

What got me thinking was how the concept flagged up the notions of embedded videojournalism. That wasn't the casting vote, for by itself 10 Days was an imaginative piece that tackled a subject which wrestles the collective conscious.

It was a sort of Green Zone - Dir. Paul Greengrass, but more newspaper journalism than novel-cinema.

Its relevance can't be over emphasised enough. What really happened and why the world (a US-axis with Europe et al) went to war is still as contentious then as it is now. The programme should be made available for all secondary schools to study.

I pondered though, what if programme makers got videojournalists into these pivotal events?  In  cases, some of the scenes were predictable according to the press. Almost any follower of the build up would have known from the media that Colonel Tim Collins would be delivering a rousing speech.

"You tread lightly there. You'll have to go a long way to find a more decent, generous and upright people  than the Iraqis. You'll be embarrassed by the hospitality they offer you even though they have nothing. Do not treat them as refugees in their own country".

The above from the loquacious Shakespearean actor, more recently the director of Thor, Kenneth Branagh, underscores the paradoxes of war.

Two years later, I caught up with the figure behind the series. Peter Barron, an old acquaintance from my Newsnight days in 1991, who also hired me to work on Channel 4 News from 1997-2001 and is now a senior executive at Google. Peter reflected on the programme.

"It was bold", I said, "What of fact-fiction storytelling?"

It came with huge risks and must be treated with due care, he cautioned.

Last year that latent thought materialised in the shape of photojournalist and self-taught cineist  Danfung Dennis  Battle of Hearts and Mind. ( Please note there's swearing and some scenes could be considered not appropriate for youngsters)

Here was a film that had the affectiveness of cinema wrapped around factivity. Zeitegiest! I interviewed Danfung - an incredibly humble and self-effacing person at the Southbank Centre - as part of a programme for my artist in residency.

Danfung had thrown film form's vividness into a dramaturgical cauldron wrestling verisimilitude . 

By that I mean the notion now of what's real in cine-mode, resurecting debates around neo-realism, and dramatic constructs of  Honore' de Balzac or more recently epic realism of Brecht.

[Added notes next day to clarify: the cinema mode is not just the screen look e.g. Shallow depth of field, but founded on several principles refined since cinema began. Video as a format has struggled with this, read David Bordwell]

Show the two videos side by side to the screen generation in secondary schools and they'll be hard pressed to consider Danfung's piece as verity outrightly. Is that cinema? it looks real one youngster told me during an exchange with a group talking about modern day filming. 

On the night of the awards, I couldn't make it to black tie do, for I was many miles away in Miami at Wemedia, where thanks to the huge support of Dale and Andrew, its founders I was being treated untold generous hospitality - shortlisted in their game changer award.

A year later and a submission would raise the bar, courting a wee bit of controversy from us jurors. but that's for another story.

.. continues next week

David Dunkley Gyimah is midway into PhD study on hyermedia film and is a juror member for RTS 2011 Innovation in News Journalism Awards. He lectures at the University of Westminster and publishes where he showcases processes and techniques of the digitalisation of film form e.g. Interviewing with former CIA chief.