Sunday, May 26, 2013

An idea about an idea, a video journalism about video journalism.

My hotel in Montenegro. No words, but this picture may have an affect on you

Our ideas are disparate, our thoughts randomly flicker from concepts to perceptions, sometimes crystallising as understandings. To the cineast, French philosopher Jean-Louis Schefer would see this is as cinema being a giant in the back of our heads.

This morning, reading an article on my mentor Mark Cousins, I watched what he describes as one of his favourite films, "The House is Black" by acclaimed Iranian director Forough Farrokhzad. 

David cracking a joke with Mark Cousins at Sbank.

It is a disturbing, yet humanistic film which to the sensibilities of the Abercrombie & Fitch generation will be avoided. Leprosy after all is not an easy subject to stomach.

But Farrokhzad, shooting this film in 1963 for a leprosy organisation doesn't flinch. The camera  moves into the subject matter in ways news would prefix : "some of these scenes are disturbing".

But I can see the majesty in the film. Like a distant runner the film speeds up and slows down to near stillness in places. In some takes the shot holds mesmerisingly to the point of provoking further thought. 

This stasis is equivocated by the lack of music. The subjects supply a sound track of sorts from their own musings, coupled with ambient aural effects.

Also prevalent in the film for a "documentary short", which is how the film is described, is the classic trope of Hollywood - the shot-reverse-shot.

The shot-reverse-shot is where a scene often deemed the master shot is inter cut with a series of relational shots, but always returns to the master scene. It thus anchors the viewer into a point-of-view.

If you're a documentary maker with one camera this can be an extremely difficult shot to undertake, as in documentary mode a scene begins to decompose as you're turning to film what you might call a cut away. I have experimented at length with this technique to understand where I can start pulling away.

Film and ideas

Film or video is an idea translated into an image. The founders of television attached, and purposefully, a particular literal value to its form. But it's not just an idea, unless you're in citizen journalist mode. It is at its algebraic an idea about an idea.

John Birt, the former Director General of the BBC introduced a textual quality of thinking through the idea, by the maxim: Birt's mission to explain. A report needed context,  but Birtism today misses an altogether different big point.   

You can see this distinguishing line of an idea, and its symptomatic form, manifest itself at its best as a lecturer. The student goes through an epiphany when they begin to understand how to translate ideas from thought, to the first base of film making, its literal position. 

A student wanted to film a gymnast falling of her bike, which was integral to a point in her documentary.  But film and video transcends this "uger, uger" transmission. 

I call it "uger, uger" as film brilliantly relayed by Plato's Cave, not only describes aspects of its primitiveness, as prisoners might under the circumstance grunt  at what they believe they know, but in the final scene, the prisoner attempting to describe cinema is himself perceived to be "ugering".

When li Xiang, from many years back, apologised for not capturing the shot of a stricken Chinese gymnast falling 7 feet to the ground, she had not realised that the co joining of two shots, the girl on her bike, followed by a prolonged one of the injured girl on the floor, was cinema - that cinema in the back of your head.

Videojournalism, all of twenty years old, but with antecedents, proudly flexes its chest in capturing the literal. This is where citizen journalists wrestles with the professional for accolades, but there is a videojournalism of videojournalism, a language that conveys a deeper understanding of issues.

Like language, it is iterative, nurtured, refined, and explicated through ideas about ideas. It senses when to be referential and when to be symptomatic. It may seem curious that over the centuries that our own languages, living entities, has evolved both in volume as new words become available and we find new ways to express ourselves

Yet at the same time we are wedded to a fixed ideology of expression in this thing, which is unravelling, called journalism.

A mega-institution supporting a great many people, intellects, scholars largely resists any notion that dated concepts need to be looked at anew. And another venerable institution called academia is largely ill-at-ease at proposing fundamental new offerings to change the status quo in industry.

I know possibly of a number of techniques modern film makers would use to modify Farrokhzad's film, but it is an exemplar and classic for the reasons that it makes us think through our thoughts.

For any videojournalist they would do well to observe Farrokhzad's and train their  ideas to ideas, to enhance video journalism within video journalism.

David Dunkley Gyimah is an international award winning videojournalist and producer, and one of the UK's first official videojournalists. He is a senior lecturer at the University of Westminster, completing his PhD into cognitivism and different journalism narratives, and a digital/ social network consultant for a range of companies. David has previously worked for a range of  Networks, including BBC Newsnight, Channel4 News and ABc News. He can be reached at David(at)viewmagazine(dot).tv

In forthcoming posts I'll be speaking about my PhD research as it draws to completion. The interviews I conducted which include many senior or former senior BBC figures such as Mary Hockaday, Peter Horrocks, Peter Barron, Richard Sambrook and senior figures within the industry.  The results strongly suggest a change in news story form.