It could have ended horribly had a white car not emerged from nowhere yanking the visitor into the vehicle.
The baying mob armed with knives and the rest would have to lick their chops for another occasion; the visitor now with some respite before the next adventure would breathe a sigh of relief. He did not know events more unimaginable awaited him.
Near the first decade of 2000 one of the industry’s burgeoning photojournalists would set himself a challenge by flying into a global hotspot he had no knowledge of to tell a story he felt was underwhelmed. You can tell the jib of a journalist during exchanges of ribbing banter; as people are heading away from perceived danger, the journalist is heading in.
Danfung Dennis, movie looks, US newspaper front page tear sheets, and with a special gift was heading in, in to Afghanistan and a war zone that frankly you’d have to be mad or calculating to want to contemplate.
This is an introduction to a book featuring a special group of people with a craft skill in storytelling that upends the logic laid down by old skool and traditionalists. But it could be anyone, you, infact attempting to tell a story true to yourself and sense of probity. This is a story of a cadre of journalists equipped with their own cameras but agnostic to the device — a DSLR, mobile, betacam or digicam.
They go by the label of videojournalists, a term grossly misunderstood in the profession and scholarship, and work as much on foreign soil as their own. But they do something, we as viewers admire and can’t get enough of. They distinguish their films from the morass in the digi-sphere by the look and feel and memorability. Viewers my refer to is a cinematic, but this doesn’t do justice to what they do.
Just as Hollywood, Nollywood or Neorealism e.g. Roma creates a fictional form of cinema and narrative, this story charts videojournalists like Dennis, whom influenced by cinema and photojournalism, produce the most extraordinary films. They move into a 21st century all encompassing form of cinema journalism.
In 2011 and 2012, Dennis picked up nearly every award on the doc and video circuit underneath the sun, and was nominated for an Oscar — not bad for an inaugural film. The White House too requested viewing the film.
It’s easy as a journalist to get caught in the hyperbole and misplaced disquiet when cinema is laid beside journalism because in the minds of many cinema is fictional and journalism is factual. But this ignores a fundamental wholly overlooked. Cinema was part of the repository from which television news took its language. The establishing shot, wide shot, framing, story line and angle, pan, zoom, and narration — all cinemas.
These existed long before television news would try to construct its path. And when, to give it credit, if finally did, it was a construct, a construct that was teased from the storytelling forms of documentary, radio, print and cinema of its time — and that part of cinema was factual.
There is no definitive way to filming and telling stories about events. Television news’s remarkable feat has been to teach generations upon generation since the 1950s how journalism should be, ignoring any changes to langue, culture or society. Its scions suggest there is an absolutism to news journalism, misapprehending its struggle to exist and the course it took for social, creative and reductionist reasons.
As Scorsese says he sees no difference between making a doc and a piece of fiction. Yes one is made up and the other factual, but the tools and langue can be the same.
Consider this, when television news constructs its form, the event will often not have been captured live so the team assemble their interviewees and structure as a representation to approximate conditions that will have altered.
An official being interviewed in the foyer or studio still loses an array of nuances, behaviour, purposefulness, memory that might have been visible in the chamber when he made news. And even when captured live, where you place the camera, and its framing has an impact for the viewer ranging from the boring to the excitable.
One way to look upon the cinema journalist is of a director/ camera/ producer with the available tools at her disposal to craft a story. A shot may call on a different lens or camera, and the use of a mobile phone in filming is equally justified. The magic happens in the cinema brain of the practitioner.
It is an innovation of now but has deep roots, some of which are personal which I share as a way of solidifying theories and ideas. Innovation stemming from winning one of the industries most illustrious prizes, the Knight Batten Award for innovations, to working on BBC innovative programmes and one of the world’s first videojournalism stations.
This is a book that combines the pragmatics of creating, and the theories that underpin them. It couples the brain science of thinking alongside traditional interprepretive schema, such as cognitivism, and it looks to great examples of cinema journalists, around a dozen, who’ve pushed the langue of news making.
They cite their influences and I include interviews with landmark figures such as Robert Drew, the founder of Direct Cinema, who has since passed. The book includes epochal times in history and some of the stalwarts of early one person filmmakers, as well as how Art conceals signs of where the industry is heading presently and tomorrow.
Editor’s note: This the intro for a book that I’ve more or less written, as part of five years research. However, I’m testing it out, so feedback welcome so I’m interested to hear your thoughts.
Dr David Dunkley Gyimah is a international award winning videojournalist and innovator in journalism, with a career in broadcasting that includes Newsnight and Channel 4 News. You can find out more here @viewmagazine