Sunday, March 09, 2014

The Art of a New Journalism

Imagine this as a hypothetical. A newsroom gets wind of Solomon's artistry and wants to record his story writes David Dunkley Gyimah. 

David will be presenting at the International journalism festival on producing 21st century news story forms from his 6 year PhD research.



Solomon's story has been done many times in some way in contemporary [rags to riches] news stories.

They send a reporter and after much hair preening, their camera operator sets about to record pictures. If luck is on the camera operator's side, they might get this shot.

Might? Because the beautification of the image is something either a news team might ignore, or not likely seek out.  It is after all, a news film --as if news films are preordained to be shot in a particular way. 

The camera operator working with her reporter will have to figure out blocking. That is where to place the camera in relation to actors to get this symmetrically weighted shot.

It is an intimate scene, so to capture this mood, the operator would have to play with the lens. Not too much light and the focal plane is approaching a deep focus shot. We can just about see the figures with a degree of clarity behind Solomon.  If the camera was on a standard tripod, then its extended by half its height.

And the reporting team, ought to hurry up before the shot decomposes, which begs another question, what's about to happen next which promotes the "cause and effect" sequence.

He is seated. He is listening. His actions have a cause. What is the effect? Cut to something else!

There's a high probability the team would miss this shot, though it's likely a large swathe of pictures will feature the reporter in shot. That after all is the language of news ! Or is it?

But how would you get this shot and what difference does it make?

I'm at the tail end of six years of research into story form, and from my  results, I have made this illustration.

Most people who work in news occupy the centre circle. They have sensibilities towards the other genres. They admire a Rembrandt, when they see one, but what has that got to do with news -- what they do?

The Artists and Cineist see the same story matrix as the news team, but see something different. The see the thing that cognitively strikes the audience's sense of reception.

The thing that makes you recall what you saw and heard.

The Artists and Cineist see a swamp, with kids panning for gold and take this shot.
Courtesy of Yannis Kontos

The traditional newsmaker may miss this shot, or Solomon's because of the deficiency in seeing cinema and art, or otherwise that they lack the theory.  I observed this recently in a network news story from Syria.

This deficiency stems from our education. We are taught to read a book, but not so vigorously how to read art or moving images.

This photo below taken when I was taking a break from lecturing/ presenting in China illustrates the several theories, artist/ journalists engage with either unwittingly or overtly.

In the first few seconds of seeing the scene, all practitioners go through a "journey of ideas and discovery", TV news or otherwise. But those in the art cinema circle engage with film theory, digital theory, artistic theory etc. and synthesis different possibilities.

12 Years a Slave
12 Years a Slave is based on a true story, and its theme persists as McQueen reminded the audience at his Oscar reception speech [see Kontos photo above]. 

So, a modern day 12 Years could be told, but why won't you ever see something like this in news or traditional docs?

You're probably thinking, what a stupid question. This is cinema, and news is news.

So my next question to you is, what do you mean this is cinema, and what do you mean news is news?

You'll likely deliver an answer. But my next question is so how do you know what you know?  This is where it gets interesting, because for the last six years this vexed question of, that's cinema and that's news, has been the focus my findings.

It could be that I'm ignorant of the way news works, but I have spent several years in news working with Channel 4, BBC, ABC News ( South Africa) and WTN - either freelancing or contract.

News is a construct. Simply put. First there was art, then through a combination of factors was fashioned TV News -- a curtailed industrial Ford-like mechanism to create a story.  

Like Ford's production line it works perfectly, until... 

The reviews to 12 Years from cinema goers on Fox Searchlight makes for a further interesting case in my investigation.

"HORRIBLE. I was not prepared for the violence and hopelessness. I walked out".

This was a common comment. We've become inured to violence of a kind in news that is censored, or movies where its so theatrical e.g. explosions, that raw unmitigated violence unsettles us. Cinema after all is supposed to be a pleasurable excursion.

But McQueen has done something, which is his métier, that may alter cinema and also reflects in several case studies in my thesis, that our notions of acceptability is being pushed.

Often, irrespective of the audience's appetite, it is the perceived realism of the director seeking the truth, which attempts to set the tone. Remember the Passion of Christ and its inescapable brutal scenes.

Studios want to placate audiences by delivering for the focus groups, but there are directors, particularly from independent art cinema, that push to create experiences that don't pull their punches.

If the text's says a man was garroted, this is how it happened. The news versus cinema is one I'm intimately privy to. Four years ago, I was appointed as artist-in-residence at London's Southbank Centre.

The premise by which Jude Kelly OBE, the Southbank's Artistic Director appointed me was that news and cinema could merge. It was quite possible, we discussed, for something of news value to be created as cinema. But to do so required an appreciation of both forms from the artist.

To create the above scene, McQueen set up the shot, but it's likely he had in mind, as stated on previous films, Renaissance painters. In this case Caravaggio and Rembrandt.

In other words an appreciation of the works of these artists would provide the camera operator with the schema to capture Solomon's scene if they were to come across it - as news.

And what herein is the point of news as cinema?

Cinema is realism. It exists but requires a trained eye to find it. And when found, we don't easily forget it. It is an indelible product seared on our minds. It creates a lasting impression on us. It allows for anything and everything to be in our view finder. It is in everyday life ( read Jean Rouch and Vertov). It is the product of unlimited aesthetics, but it differs from the televisual.

Not to be confused by the images with fidelity, which alludes to the cinemacity, cinema is an all together more complex paradoxical product. It's job is to capture, as to provoke.

That is after all what news does, or should do, particularly seen from lens of an artist. 

I'll be presenting more of my findings from my six-year doctorate research in Perugia and the International Journalism Festival.

At Perugia, I'll be showing my cinema news film We Are Syria.