Saturday, December 18, 2010

Videojournalists Cairo - a new breed of storytellers-

Cairo's new breed of visualists - Videojournalists or  IMVJs

Why are you shooting here?

Clad in a black leather coat and built like an NFL running back, the burly fellow, with a policeman by his side came from nowhere.

In my coat pocket I pulled out a typed stamped letter. The plain clothes officer read it, shrugged his shoulder, before proclaiming it didn't say anything substantial.

Page two though revealed permissions I had been given to film within a 10 mile radius of the city.

The conversation ended. This is Videojournalism Egypt, and while as you'll find out later the state broadcaster has taken to the form, you can see the difficulties practicing if you're an independent.

I am having to switch brains.  I have been absent from these pages because of other commitments, yet in many ways this blog is a lifeline in exercising my thoughts.

If you're planning a PhD the key they say is to write. Write, write, write! Alas, whilst I enjoy posting, it's now competing with academic and artistic work.

However this post has me excited as in free-flow form I'm being reflexive of a series of events that serve the art of the much maligned Videojournalism.
This dovetails nicely into my lecturing and also research.

Aahh Videojournalism! I harbour a thought the late acclaimed film critic Bazin, were his alive, would have been goaded into a definition, much in the same way he put his mind to Whats is Cinema?

Dramatic space, montage, deep focus -this time with new practitioners discombobulating dramaturgy through present day realism?

Ok! Ok!

Equally so, the great film director of Egyptian origins Youssef Chahine, might have queried.

For videojournalism, a term straining underneath it's own masquerade, might have baffled both eminent artists, as it has done to many.

Someone I can call on as a friend, whom I met last year from watching his career on television on film show critiques provided a critical strand.

Changing videojournalism
Film Maker Mark Cousins is the author of "one of the best books" on film  The Story of Film ; not my words but that of actor Sean Connery.

He's also the co-author Imagining Reality with Oscar award winning Director  Kevin Macdonald (Touching the Void, Munich).

Cousins called Videojournalism, "Impressionism" after the early 20th century art movement, rather than photographic paen. You can watch this on the link on after the intro video.

Reconfiguring the plurality of videojournalism, which from hereon in this post I will refer to as IMVJ - a term that encapsulates a broader, less contentious term embracing netizenry and artistic-based film -  is something I trust my new Egyptian friends will benefit from.

[if any of my Masters students just read the last para; yes it breaks Jakob's rules.. I know... I know]

Because for the last three years I have been involved in working with Egypt's public sector TV - Nile TV. 

Whilst the hard graft has been undertaken by an NGO working in media, my role as facilitator, part game-changer, and trainer has been deeply fascinating.

Satellite dish galores - the digi-landscape of Cairo
Firstly a background. I have been working directly in and training others in Videojournalism/ IMVJ for the last 16 years. Earlier on, it was a regurgitation to a large extent of television's language, with remnants of cinema.

By 2000, it had shifted. By mid 2000 I was asked to help drive the Press Association's Videojournalism programme. I did the very first one and followed up from journalist and ex-BBC camera Christine Fox.

There, I took video enthusiasts into the grey area of IMVJ; video/ film is design. It's liquid design in the frame, and design in its geography on the page - all of which affect the aesthetic.

IMVJ just as magazine design looks for space - a rarefied asesthetic loci. The photojournalist interprets this in the still image.

To understand IMVJ is to comprehend the visual static and running image in its many guises.  In my research there are countless entities from videos panoramic vista e.g.

  • Image - and Montage
  • Standup - PTC, Walkies and Static
  • Q&A - seated, mid shots, doc form
  • Expressive video insert - Pictures that animate to video on the page
  • News of Record - What news was built on
  • News as aesthetic - What news aspires but traditionally eschews
  • Features - derived from Newsreels - post 60 mins
  • Docs - countless forms here from Griersonian to Reality (Wife Swap)
  • Cinema or clumsily out vinema

To understand IMVJ requires a transaction where you're ready to speak a new language, which is somehow a cacophony of street slangs and vernaculars from many antecedents.

In English you might say: "How are you?" In Afrikaans English: "Howzit!"

In Cairo - a new generation, already foregrounded in film/ video theory are learning that new language. At times it's been interesting - a replay of hoary chestnut conversations you've heard elsewhere.

Poster-boy pinnup IMVJ Mohammed was challenged by a battle-scared cameraman, with how dare he handle a camera or call himself a cameraman.

Descriptors are often unnecessary; but in this instance, its simple: "No I'm not a camera man I'm an VJ!!

Egypt is a country replete with stories and this skill set picked up and ran with by a new young generation should be a boon for those wanting to express themselves.

My Story
So on the IMVJS first stories (inserts) include: a street vendor, a posh book store, the city's French influence in architecture and how one man's quest to be an actor in Egypt is frustrating him.

From Mohammed, a pioneer; in one month he shot 40 stories, he's brought back stories from the border-conflict regions,and long forms on literature and art.

This is exciting, and deeply moving for me watching the region embrace new technology and new ways of working - that extend beyond TV grammar logic.

More recently having worked in Beirut, and before then in Ghana and South Africa, the wheels of change can be highly problematized.

I'm hoping to build a dedicated site of their work, soon. But this post helps to shed a beam on some extraordinary work taking place behind the main glare of videojournalism, woops IMVJ and for me to, well, write really!