Sunday, July 29, 2012

Cinema Journalism Event in Tunisia

Presenting in Tunisia on Cinema Journalism picture by
The hypothesis goes in regions where there's been strife,  conflict and transitions, artists creatives and film makers typically create new schemas to express themselves and tell stories.

Italian Neorealism is a classic example and perhaps one of the most enduring that used the post war period to create a style of film which used the streets as its studios and non-actors and plots to capture moments of moral issues.

Enduring too because it was one of the few film styles that provided an intelligent popularised alternative to America's hegemony on film making.  Neorealism laid the ground work for Noir and films such as Double Indemnity (1944) - one of my favourites.

In Neorealism, the closing scene to Umberto D (1952) by Vittorio De Sica features the desperate lead character feeling so suicidal from a spate of bad fortune, that he figures once he finds his dog a home, he will end his life. He very nearly does with his dog who later shuns him, before a touching reconcilation.

It's a simple story but deeply allegorical and there are many others.

More recently from Egypt, their crowd sourcing film making 18 Days in Egypt provided one of the most notable schemas to film crowd sourcing and has made its producers house hold names on the innovative doc circuit.

My own feature Tahrir Square illustrated how graffiti and fine painters, as well as theatre actors, poets and singer songwriters were inspired to be expressive.

As an academic, as well as film maker/ videojournalist the opportunity to visit Tunisia to gain an insight into the creative fraternity, which is by no means not a homogeneous mass, was something that intrigued me.

A couple of weeks earlier at a closed meeting held under the Chatham House Rule at Chatham House which is the UK's leading think tank, I asked a question of a high powered delegation talking about regeneration in the region.

They'd not mentioned media, I said, but would they agree that film makers etc have a huge role.

The delegation agreed, but the problem they said was invariably a newer media or even film makers become so determined to show their credentials, they end up practising a kind of 'gotcha journalism' against the old order.

I understood the subtlety of the answer.

At today's cinema journalism event three of the country's media outlets  interviewed me about cinema journalism.

Cinema journalism can be explained ontologically in its metaphysical way; and epistemologically, as a way of creating and understanding its knowledge.

The reason why I posit these two ways of looking at cinema journalism is I talk about it being about richer story forms, marching beyond classic documentary mode and news in terms of impartiality and finding plot and visual grammar to create meaning.

Yet ontologically just because it eschews impartiality or looks to be expressive doesn't mean its practitioners are rabid propagandists or can't be honest.

As one of the founding fathers of cinema verite, Robert Drew told me it's a very difficult art to master because it calls into question your own ideology and what you stand for.

Transparency thus in cinema journalism is crucial, because at the point you overtly direct the viewer's attention, you nakedly unlike news' fig-leaf disguise are making a statement about you. That's why its metaphysical.

Tomorrow, the IWPR the principle broker and other stakeholders will be  meeting some of the creatives from contacts that came to the cinema journalism event.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Letter from Tunisia - the future of videojournalism

Ahmed - Videojournalist off on assignment

Being a videojournalist in the midst of Ramadan isn't some thing that weighs on the minds of many videojournalists, but the reality begs a rethink here in Tunisia, which adheres quite strictly to its fasting.

For one, you've not eaten since the morning, water won't pass your lips and the sun is scorching as you set out on your second assignment. You don't need to be a doctor to know your blood sugar levels are low.

That however is not a perennial issue. What is is how videojournalism is practised and the implications for a region that can look to the past for a blue print.

I am here on assignment collaborating on videojournalism and cinema journalism. They are two different animals that have arisen out of complacency to videojournalism. But that's another story.

For the meantime, we work to undo a series of conventional rules that are now stifling videojournalism film making (an oxymoron). For instance the use of the rule of thirds, no one can quite say why its used other than it's a rule. IT'S NOT!!!!!

When your lecturer tells you it is ask them to quote the source.

It is no more a rule than me saying when filming the subject should not look into the camera. The picture above breaks the rule of third. One of the great film makers ever Ozu rarely, if ever, obeyed some rule that said, place these figures into a third of the screen. It's about the balance of the picture, not the rule.

New Journalism
For the umpteenth time, I have showed the same video to a group of Tunisian videojournalists, Chinese students, PhD researcher and International Students and the results are the same.

Two videos - the same story, Which one do you like ?

The one video is traditionally news driven and the other more the videojournalists artistic feat which bears the hallmark of cinema at work and consistently the cinema journalism story style is chosen for being

  • Preferable
  • Treating the audience as intelligent
  • Being visually rich 

The paradox with videojournalism is the issue that most impales its ability to defend itself, because everyone can do videojournalism it's so easy, there's little need to attempt to understand what we're doing.

Point and shoot, just capture the data. Television got away with it for a long time because it developed a semiotic that appeared to fall in line with its aim to be impartial and all the rest. Thus the next time you record an interview, you'll likely to frame a medium-wide shot, placed a third of the screen.

And when asked why you're probably quote a book or that someone said something, and he or she when asked will quote someone else until we reach an impasse and we realise some executive determined that was the correct thing to do.

Just as, and if you read  Mike Conway's book on the origins of American television news and Green's television news, you discover news execs were so terrified of losing audiences they devised news should be short- less than 2 minutes, it's stuck with professional broadcast news since

The medium wide shot for interviews was the correct way then because the medium-wide swiftly established its connotative style as being neutral, but just because it was then, doesn't make it correct now, but no one's asking.

As a videojournalist and a researcher, something more tangible and researched should underpin our ideas in this digital era. Otherwise it's the equivalence of having someone try art drawings for the first time because the tools are available and saying well done for drawing.

Day 2 Tomorrow - when I make the claim how Tunisia's history of cinema journalism could have been lifted from a successful movement in storytelling 80 years ago

Post script - Three days later working we held this event on a creative approach to videojournalism. For the full story and more on cinema journalism -

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

The camera is no match for content and context

This picture is copyrighted and permission to use must be taken with its author, Ken Mallor
Discussions over camera purchases often take on the form on Zeno's paradoxes, primarily the famous Achilles and the Tortoise race.

You've heard it before but here's a prĂ©cis.

Achilles gives the tortoise a head start of a 100m before commencing his run. After a further 100m, Achilles would have caught up to the point the tortoise started, but the tortoise would have moved on say 10m.

Achilles must now proceed to catch up the 10m, but by the time he does that, the tortoise would have moved 3m. The paradox continues so that in principle, given the infinite number of times we can undertake this process, Achilles never catches up with the Tortoise.

Of course we know differently, but as a mathematically plausible statement, we believe Achilles is on for a hiding.

Cameras occupy this same paradox, mimicking the Tortoise. Content stands little chance catching up with the camera - all you need is a DSLR with a 1.2f and you're away.

But the realists know it;s the content that matters. Philosophers Noel Carroll and David Bordwell qualify this with terms for film such as "expressive" or that content shapes  the meaning - of course.

'Expressive' talks to the content of the film - the emotions. It's the content that make you feel primary emotions.

This is not to say the camera does not play its role, but a dramatic scene caught on an iphone or pinhole camera is still dramatic, where as a stodgy event filmed with different model cameras relies on aesthetics.

Content matters, as well as context. At present we're living in a character-driven video idiom; nothing wrong with that either. We need to know much more about our neighbours.

Yet content eschewing context is, I believe, is as flawed as Achilles being told he doesn't stand a chance over taking the tortoise.

So we must give credit to the new economists, the digital mediaist, the new agenda makers who are fashioning a sort of televisual experience in which our urge for aesthetic over content is being addressed head on.

In various movements around the world, over a century or so of strife, hardship has yielded new movements for the informed creating, or attempting
to create new understandings of why we're in this mess.

And if you're reading this, this, among the many blogs that talk about content,  should be the legacy for future generations, because whatever happens, Achilles should always have been the victor - and that story alone is a legacy to us.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

The Axis of New Journalism

The beauty of this lie past its denotative meaning: America is great no more!  That's merely the shock to get you interested. The signified, the implicit is way far interesting.

Of course it's difficult not to grind mentally to a halt and admire what any good playwright would do in challenging perceptions.

Shakespeare's plays contained implicit attacks on the religious structures in Verona, who ruled then as politicians do now.

Aaron Sorkin the creator and writer at large of HBO's the Newsroom has turned the mirror in this speech explicitly on the politicians, but implicitly on the media and its audiences.

But it's not America's media alone which is in the court of scrutiny. Sorkin has merely found a strong character to play with its semantic field: strong - weak, love -hate.

What's on display is a hegemonic system which became the sole export of a construct of reality called news, whose values since the 1950s, and now, finds itself crumbing under the most unfathomable weight of deprecation.

Except it isn't crumbling. It's adapted. It's values are as forceful as ever. It's a multi-billion business, this form of storytelling, which as imperfect as it is, ascribes to the notion that it can tell you anything you need to know to become an informed citizen.

And the traditional industry it supports will not give in that easy. The value of truth is one caught up in the number of people who recite the same thing, to the extent news begins to tell the audience what they need to hear.

Meanwhile Rome burns - a metaphorical statement for all what's wrong in the world.

It's a complex relationship - that much scholars and execs have debated and will continue to do so.

A student of mine from Ghana, a country whose media is barely a model of probity, you would think, compared to its surrogates, argued how strangely the UKs media acted.

For all the media's power he suggested, there was no empathy, no real cause to change anything, no soul. This might not have mattered when business men conceived of a way of informing those around them many years back.

It matters now and Sorkin provides the poetry to capture this in this clip below. The Editor just wants the facts.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Learn Award Winning Videojournalism & Cinema Journalism Workshop


The Retwitter Show titles - journalism 2046 from david dunkley gyimah on Vimeo.

Photo-essays, auteur-driven narratives, ecology 3 & 4.

In the evolving field of video, these are some of the new ideas emerging which on the one hand capture my notion of videojournalism, which I lay out in this workshop. There are a number of ecological pieces that I will share and define with audiences.

Cine-journalism is not new, yet this current form, I believe based on experiential learning as one of the UK's first official videojournalists, pulls on a particular set of embodied style from changes which has the picked the seams of journalism.

For me this includes drawing on  experience, such as reporting from South Africa during the end of Apartheid, working with Nato, adventure pieces diving with the Turkish Navy, and various stories on international events over a twenty-five years plus career.

In this presentation, as a Senior University Lecturer and PhD researcher I describe this new terrain, with examples of work published on award winning website - which I have previewed at Apple.

The workshop includes the following:
  1. In auteur-driven narratives. Here I unveil work from my doctorate thesis, which includes training non videojournalists to become videojournalists  over  4 years work with journalists in Egypt collaborating with them to tell life ecology stories: the street vendors who sell food, the actor who wants to go to hollywood, and behind-the-scenes of the crafts businesses. These are stories made by new videojournalists, but there were empirical reasons they had not been told before.                                  
  2. In photo essays, how the power of the image combined with scoring produces the kineasthetic. Here I review Obama 100 Days, commemorating President Obama's 100 days in office, made with a contemporary orchestra screened at the South Bank, and working with World Press Award photographers.
  3. In the Ecology 3, the report combines reportage with educational value such as Nation Videojournalism in which two African countries Ghana and South Africa came together to report on one another using videojournalism and more recently this report from Beirut's Annahar Newspaper where I spent time training their journalists.
  4. And in this Ecology 4 we see Tahrir Memento, four young people talk about what the events of January 2011 meant for them in personal terms in a style that marks out a territory between news and docs. 
  5. Producing online auter-driven narratives - a history of practices collaborating with students and clients to understand semiotics and produce rich multimedia sites.
A large measure of my work involves philosophy and hermeneutics presented in an accessible way to students and clients that provide meaning about what we do and why, and how to get the best out of your work.

And I think these methods are successful, as this year  I was extremely flattered to be  awarded 'Outstanding Lecturer of the year' by the National Union of Students - the University of Westminster (UK)..

The presentations and field work will take place over a bespoke number of days and I'll be opening this up for external engagement in the near future.


David Dunkley Gyimah is an award winning videojournalist and Knight Batten winner for Innovation in Journalism from the design and publication of Apple calls him a One Man Hurricane and he is recognised in the UK as one of its pioneering videojournalists. In his career over 20 years, David has worked for the BBC e.g. Newsnight and Channel 4 News, as well as ABC News. 

He has spoken about his craft all around the world e.g. China, Bosnia, Denmark, Germany, South Africa, Egypt, Ghana, Chicago etc. and has presented at conferences such as, ONA, SXSW, Apple Stores and the World Association of Newspapapers. He helped set up and train the first videojournalism school for regional journalists in the UK, and has trained many students and journalist such as The Financial Times and Chicago-Sun Times. 

David has been a member of the UK's leading international think tank, Chatham House for 20 years and has an educational background in Applied Chemistry, Economics and Journalism. He is currently a PhD researcher, senior lecturer and an artist in residence at the Southbank. 

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Imagine the science of films UCD dublin - a videojournalism futuresm

    Dr Alex Gambis had an idea, and some idea it was. Because three years later he's standing in front of an audience at the Lighthouse cinema in Dublin thanking them for making the Imagine Science Films Festival the success it is.
    Not bad for a project that started during his PhD.Forget the bit where your eyes glaze over; its science after all, or that it has no relevancy. 
    This was highly accessible and awe-inspiring with films, such as The Creator by Al and Al a prodigious award winning film making duo who write their own software programmes for special effects.

    Their latest film is on one of the world's most influential scientists, Alan Turing, who created the computer, as we've come to know it, and died at the tender age of 32 from eating an apple that was poisoned. 
    Steve Jobs, the audience learnt, admitted this was not the inspiration behind his logo.
    Turing, having saved humanity was ostracised for being gay and forced to undergo Jungian analysis and take oestrogen. He grew breasts.
    The debate was a stimulating discussion, in among others, science film making. Brian Greene, a professor in Maths who collaborated with Al and Al provided Hollywood anacdotes. 
    He's been an advisor on many films such as Deja Vu and spoke about is encounter with Hollywood film makers such as Jerry Buckenheimer and Tony Scott.
    After he told them the science, they still wanted to bend the rules. The entertainment business huh!
    My own interest in science is broadly two fold. Firstly I graduated in Applied Chemistry and secondly, my postgrad radio documentary was on Genetics and the human genome project after myself and family became the first test case in the UK to trial Professor Alec Jeffries DNA genetic fingerprinting.
    The Real New World
    Back to the conference, in One Hundred Mornings, a dystopic world devoid of technology becomes the setting for four stranded friends trying to see out their predicament. 
    This was bleak, and a powerful humanist film by Conor Horgan, (follow him on twitter) which in his words asked the question. "What if?"
    What if there was no technology, because there was no electricity and communications, such as tweeter, face book and the rest became null and void? 
    What then? This was a film that attempted that rare thing of not allowing you to park unequivocal unified emotions on one character. 
    In effect, this eschewed the Hollywood model, for the ambiguity of cinema verite - the life you could so easily lead. Watching this in the same week Obama was given executive authority to hit the kill switch on all communications and the Internet, this film is a stark, literally reminder of a future.
    If your acquaintance had the last morsel of food that could aid your survival, would you kill them for that food? 
    This tied in with an ensuing panel on the closing night which featured empathy as a theme and the panel  included the social entrepreneur, who when asked by a psychiatrist in the audience what she did, replied that her success was measured on completing social projects.
    Empathetic storytelling
    For the story tellers, here's one question I sought an answer. Can you be not be empathetic and tell great stories?  Film maker Alex Gabbay's ambitious and well made film addressed a larger question. Critics called this type of cinematic documentary, the New Talkies.
    Educationist love it, but broadcasters as Gabbay noted find them challenging. The audience somehow to the commissioner is still a luddite. Shame that! 
    But given Obama, mentioned in the film raised the stakes, when he spoke about needing empathy and was vilified on what appears to be a misunderstanding. Obama was not talking about sympathy, but empathy, we're likely to hear more about this particularly with an election looming.
    My query to the panel drew an interesting response from Gabbay in that news makers turn of empathy and as a former news producer/ reporter there's much in this.
    Sadly before others could get in their stride, the chair, broadcaster barrister Cynthia ni Mhurchu clumsily steered the question away to empathy and the affect on her children  - the only Achilles otherwise.
    Videojournalism, through my study, which should hopefully be released is all about empathy, but with a significant set of caveats, which I am looking forward to discussing in Tunisia and Cairo where I have been invited to lecture and train story tellers.
    Journalists tend to be less empathetic compared with documentary makers, and the future suggests we need more empathy in telling stories, which is problematic for the News-Macdonald industry of shovel the news out, or not.
    Two days ago, there were some of the biggest demonstrations in Spain and Mexico about austerity, but they went largely unreported.
    This was indeed a thought provoking event which I don't doubt that next year wherever the science festival is hosted will be even better. Like I said not bad for a Phd thesis and science films look like there on the up. Time to dust off my Kenneth W. Raymond.
    David Dunkley Gyimah graduated in Applied Chemistry, before pursuing Economics and then Journalism. He is a former BBC Journalist and is completing his PhD in storytelling. He is  presently a senior lecturer, and artist-in-residence at the Southbank Centre. You can find out more about his work, in videojournalism, and his designs including his website below here

Saturday, July 07, 2012

Cinema journalism and web sites - a carnival of ideas and the subconscious

How does style and form matter in creativity

It isn't enough to say what you have, where you've studied, worked, or even the awards you might have won.  It might help, but there's something else... 

Learning to break into different forms of media, even innovative types of creativity involves learning about the greats in image and film making. As Gilles Deleuze, one of the great philosophers states, good film makers are good  philosophers who put theories into practice and create theories from practices.

Take DW Griffiths Birth of a Nation. It was supremely racist, and draws justifiably no end of polemics. 

That it has been included in the US library of Congress' national library, nominated by Jon Singleton, is worth noting.

Because in film making terms, you can't ignore it. Griffiths was one of the first to cross cut, a technique which he lifted from literature. And, almost everything we know about classic film making in grand vistas and narrative is in that film, made in 1915.

Styles of Video 
I specialise in a very specific style of video news making and image making, for which I count web making and commercials, via deploying various empirical theories. Apologies, that's not meant to be arrogant, it's a reworking of De Caprio's line in Inception which makes a point.

The subconscious De Caprio's character mentions is the space of the intangible. Consciously, you might think of doing one thing, subconsciously, the theory-side could sway you elsewhere. It leads onto the question, how do you know what you know?
presenting the news in 1994

This an hour lecture I delivered last week to a group of Chinese students, and used similar thought processes in videojournalism and the rest.

For the web, I asked why does a web site look like a web site and not a tea cup? Various responses ranged from because they do, that's obvious, to because that book/ person said so.

Try asking the question and see where you land. Yet in 1994, as I presented the news that was a legitimate question then as it is now. The news item was about this new thing called web sites.

Carnival of cinema journalism ideas

The conceptual approach towards the formation of theory involved testing the students on a number of cognitive approaches applied to film and web sites.

For instance this is one of the 90 slides, where the Chinese graduates judge which one they prefer and why.

The most interesting response came from a student whose English wasn't as good as his colleagues, but his expression was captivating. Most preferred (b) and his response is he was in the space with the boy and could feel him running. Theorists characterise this as phenomeology.

But the question remains, why he liked (B).  You might now quote the rule of thirds, which at best can be described as a mathematical variable, we appear to be hard wired to. But then something remarkable happened - the early signs of a concept that needs further testing.

When I showed them this next slide.

Many preferred (A) - a painting from the Ming Dynasty. Few preferred (c) a Caravaggio piece, but surprisingly many leaned towards (B) Picasso's Guernica.

Now, yes this could be based on their aesthetic -which one draws their interest - which is in itself part of the test.

I then countered with a physical exercise to test this last find. The green shoots of chaotic design persisted, even though there were signs of a balance.

What does this tell us?

If as Schmidt, Google's CEO says China will dominate the web in the next five years, then there could be a fundamental shift in design an application.

Then I got them to assess themselves using this programme (1 of 2 to look at learning styles of individuals)  which would help verify their level of visual skills.

And this is what it said about Cynthia Yuan, a 20 year old majoring in New Media Art and Design.

After half an hour employing a wisdom of crowds approach and using the questions in the lecture the teams produced a series of websites looking at the futures.

The image below represents one conceptual page - which sees the web as cinema a 3D  map of web pages, in which you can speak live to real people and the site projects into physical space.

I saw something similar in China last year.

This is the front page with its navigational rollodeck

And this is an example of an inner page. Again the site encompasses a cinema feel.

And finally showed them a short videojournalism piece I made produced two different ways to test
how they distinguished between different forms. This is what Cynthia Yuan had to say.

I think the first one is a piece of news and the other is cinema.
The news should be short time like the first one. The news should tell a complete story in concise language. And say the most important things in the beginning of the video. The cinema should be based on the documentary , and then join the artistic expression like the second video's clock. It has been many times to express that time is running out. There is a change in time order. And the second video also has many close-up that is the most different from the news.
For me this is all fascinating, because it's not taking anything for granted, but proving how theory can reinforce practices. You'll notice that Cynthia is referencing the manner in which she sees the images in her manner of prescribing different forms.

In the last five years I have conducted several of these empirical studies and the strand on video is currently being written up, and will be delivered as an executive videojournalism programme in Tunisia at the end of the month.

Next week I am in Dublin, if you're around UCD, let's do a meet up with talks and coffees.