Saturday, March 06, 2021

What is Cinema Journalism and Why it Matters Most for New Generations

 


“The stories have really brought worldly conflicts to the table and have shown the disparities of diverse human views”, 22-year old Steffi from the Phillipines told the Guardian newspaper.

You’d be forgiven for thinking Steffi, like other interviewees, are debating Victor Orb├ín’s endgame with the EU or the global pandemic but, no. She’s referring to the world’s most profitable movie Marvel’s Avengers Endgame.

“Why is it young people will watch fictional cinema of an event but they won’t bother with the same one in news?”, asks 25-year-old Wenwen from China.

Fifteen years ago I led a team of international journalists through Nato’s simulated war program. It was a high profile project in which we travelled from Northolt’s military base to Sweden on her Majesty’s Royal jet. You can see the insignia above the headrest on my seat. Outside the plane a fighter jet accompanied us in British airspace.


 




 

The military wanted to know more about how the media might cover asymmetric wars. Watch these two short ( 1 min )videos. We’re in a ditch trying to report on a car full injured people. But surrounding us are snipers who’ve trained their laser scope on us. What do we do?

I told the military about an emerging phenomenon in journalism and how a generation related to news through a cinematic experience. “It wasn’t entirely new” I said, “you could go back to Star Wars which represented the conflict between super powers”. But something else was happening amongst the socially media literate.

At the World Editors Forum in Sweden to a gathering of hundreds of people I said the one man/ woman crew as video journalists were driving this, but it wasn’t focused on equipment per se. Video, Mobile, Drone, these are all styles of journalism in themselves but attached to modes of equipment.


 A cinema journalist approaches a story like a director on a movie set. What can I use to best tell this story. It’s a mindset. This was made in 2005 way before TikTok.


 

In the UK working with the Press Association over five years we’d transformed Britain’s regional journalist from writers to video journalists. It was a success in conversion, but new practitioners easily defaulted to styles they lifted from traditional journalism seen on television.

At a summit at CUNY in New York of I joined twenty of the world’s leading media. Vice.com had caught the media by storm and was about to go on Television. I wrote How Vice had become the Voice of a Generation which aligned with this new universe of styles in cinema.

To delegates from world leading tech their London flagship store would become an engaging platform to talk about new styles. It was no coincidence it also emerged during the boom of the iPhone. In 2012 as a judge for the Royal Television Society Awards we watched in awe a documentary, Syria: Songs of Defiance, made by Al Jazeera which was shot entirely on iPhone. For the filmmakers the practicalities of shooting clandestine footage outweighed any aesthetic.


Trust in news over the years has hit low points. It is compounded by news execs telling the same old stories in the same styles as competing media such as Netflix, TikTok, YouTube and Snapchat aggressively compete for attention.

Fictional cinema continues to borrow from an array of medium including news to forge its narratives whilst experimenting with different ways to tell a story. Meanwhile, newsmakers steadfastly refused to see what cinema could offer.

It sounds confusing, even alarming that any mention of journalism or factual storytelling should include cinema in the same breath. Yet some of the world’s leading figures don’t see confusion. Documentary maker Michael Moore says stop trying to make a documentary and make a movie. Martin Scorsese sees the fusion in this short clip. It’s a question of self control.


 

Sixty years ago the pioneer of the mobile news camera Robert Drew posed the question in the overlap of forms. In an interview with him in 2010 he would repeat that whilst TV News people took his equipment they largely ignored his techniques. Reporters, for instance, talk over strong pictures but a generation will uncover future forms that build on his work, he told me (below). Robert Drew was called the father of Cinema Verite or Direct Cinema. He was an out and out newsman.


 

Movements have a life of their own. In 1994 the birth of videojournalism in the UK really took off when five years later the BBC provided it with critical mass. Hence, last week represented a significant breakthrough in the relationship between journalism and cinema when one of the UK’s most respected and journalists Television News’ highest awards in journalism fromThe Royal Television Society (RTS).

The BBC’s Clive Myrie with his camera operator David McIlveen were independently awarded in their respected categories Best Television Journalist of the year and Best Camera Operator of the Year. Clive also won Best News Presenter of the Year.

 

Image by David McIlveen

Working on stories as diverse as COVID-19 and Trump’s America during the election, they produced television that was compelling viewing. It fired up twitter with resounding praise and left some journalists wondering how the team had done it

I saw the news films when they were broadcast last year. They looked nothing like you’d usually see on television news. Through friends I managed to get an interview with Clive whom I’d met at previous events and had been exchanging emails. Asking open questions, Clive provided answers that referenced cinema. That research remains to be produced at large but listen here to what he says as part of three-part question.


 

And here’s the denouement when I showed it to 80 young people I met for the first time studying to become journalists, they too saw connections. From open questions almost all agreed it was cinema or nearer to cinema.

I’ve only scratched the surface in this article in which there is no essence of cinema. There are trends throughout history of emerging forms and practitioners like Clive, David and many others like Raul Gallego Abellan are the ones shinning a light on it.

Ihave been fortunate to have ridden a career that has been rich in innovation, from being one of the first NUJ videojournalist in the UK in 1994 chosen from 3000 hopefuls to 2005 when I won one of the US’s most coveted awards.

The Knight Batten for Innovation in Journalism, which the Guardian newspaper would win in 2011, was for developing a platform before YouTube to show how embedded video, photos and text could work. US judges from the cream of journalism networks said in their words “it foreshadows the future”.

I then followed up my research with an exhaustive study that would lead to a Doctorate. I covered many continents and interviewed some of the most powerful people in news.

It’s not a matter of if, but when, and I wager that Clive’s work, coupled with others I’ve researched will give further impetus to this form, if it’s recognised for its nuanced approach and how it’s accepted by young and mature generations.


 

If you’d like to get in touch with me you can reach me at Gyimahd (at) Cardiff (dot) ac (dot) uk

Dr David Dunkley Gyimah is an international multi award winning journalist and innovator who’s reported from conflict zones in Apartheid South Africa and along the Syrian border. He’s worked for top brands in news and startups. He’s a former artist-in-residence at the UK Southbank Centre and specialises in Human Centred Design Thinking in storytelling running the Futures Story LAB at @Jomec.