FFifteen minutes and we’re there, says Olga. Meantime, I’m transfixed. Moscow’s underground train system is a film location scout’s wet dream.
“I’ll hang onto you”, she assures me fearing the sledge of commuters coming every way possible until they siphon orderly up the escalators, will part us. I’m on my way to a public talk at the Nekrasov library, which is being recorded and a journalist from S7 airlines wanting to know more about my practice.
While it’s difficult to escape the optics of the international news agenda outside of Russia, here as I gaze around the carriage with scores of travellers buried into their mobiles and papers, that running order appears very distant. There’s plenty of domestic issues to keep journos occupied, a local tells me.
I’m here to share my own intel — knowledge from my post-PhD analysis into the matrix of video, photojournalism and interactive factuals, but also to forge partnerships, by presenting at a number of universities.
We’re working on a new tech course back in London — the Digital and Interactive Storytelling LAB, a unique way of learning using the lab ethos. I’m grateful to my hosts, an emerging Lynda.com of Russian for inviting me over.
Tomorrow, I’ll be exchanging ideas with students at two of Moscow’s many universities and I’ll find out from them, what the new social kid on the block is. Telegram’s messenger — snapchat on steroids, apparently. Quietly, tick box, 2020 REF — internationalism
My thesis is simple enough. Digital storytelling enables us to tell stories in any genre, factual and even news, and with knowledge of cinema and a nation’s cinema brain, your stories can be more impactful.
That cinema brain relates to folklores, myths and conventions you grow up with. It takes for granted that emotions are a construct too and that part of deconstructing film and determining what affects us derives from seeing patterns.
Take the following as an example. Amongst critics and his country men and women, Russian filmmaker Andrei Tarkovsky was a genius. Yet his subject matter and style of filming may be anathema to other regions in the world.
If cinema too generally represents the most immersive form of 2D filmmaking we’ve known over the last 100 years (even VR is based on cinema) oscillating between documentary that also uses cinema tropes and vice versa, can modern day news makers learn from cinema?
I provide evidence from the work of some extraordinary news maker, video/ mobile journalists, television news reporters and social mediasts. In fact as I wonder through an Eisenstein exhibition, hours before my talk, I wonder to my host how it may feel like, me telling Russian scholars about why some of their own, Eisenstein, Pudovkin and Vertov are more relevant now than ever.
The logic is if exemplar filmmakers know how to communicate directly to their audiences in say, China, Russia or the US, then multimedia, mobile, citizen and videojournalists would do well to learn what great directors know. The ones that do, from the aforementioned list, I refer to as cinema journalists.
And just in case this approach appears oxymoronic and frustrating when comparing fictional storytelling and factual, firstly, both are constructs — to varying degrees. Secondly, I’m referencing the cues, tropes in cinema storytelling, which directors like Scorsese allude to here when he says, there’s no real difference in the genres, other than one makes up stories, and the other records it — but that the tools, impulse and insights are the same, and sometimes blurred.
48 HOURS EARLIER…
I’m sharing ideas with a group of regional journalists who’ve gathered in Ufa, a 2-hour flight from Moscow, where the temperature just days before we arrived was -15C. Yo-Moyo!
Oksana, the equivalent of Lynda from Lynda.com has organised for some of the most aspiring PR practitioners, visualists, newspaper and television journalists to convene for four days of lab work, or what my friends in London remember as the ‘rabbit hole’.
I joke with the group later, referencing the private Facebook page set up with this image below, that I’d be truly hacked of to have some Brit filmmaker flexing and what’s more he’s coming to share his knowledge on Russian filmmakers Pudovkin, Vertov and Eisenstein. I mean, really!
But this is more than any of us can expect. Galina (Blonde hair) on the left side of me on screen sums it up. In spite of our language barrier, and with the help of different translators, Daria, Tess and Oksana, we accomplish a deeper sense of explicit and implicit communication via video.
We delineate different media ending with social, and how their construct came about? I take them briefly through brain functions; how the amygdala responds to stimuli. If you treated people, and I’m not suggesting you do, as automatons, then understanding how we respond to events irrationally and rationally will help you mine the intrinsic power of video.
Politicians, advertisers and great film directors have been doing it for ages. Then the team set about constructing, using different styles, as their work was spun through cycles of critiques. The last day of labbing, this is my final shot of the group completing their work.
Drone, assignments and some great banter and ribbing cap an extraordinary time.
We’re here and the audience is a mix of professionals, students and enthusiasts of different ages up to retired geologist who at the end will recount a heart warming story of Armenia earthquake survivors — one of whom, black chap is now a DJ.
The prompt was a section of my talk comparing two different styles of reporting a tragic devastating quake in East Asia. The story is so traumatic that when shown on several occasions viewers openly weep. Young people in the audience have been quietly ushered out for the moment. My purpose is to show how one storyteller communicates the human heart of the story in ways that are different from the other.
For the next hour or so I mix anecdotes, facts, critiques of supposition and engage in cognitive dissonance. Cinema journalism is palimpsestic; documentary and news, cinema and essay. It depends what you want your audience to understand.
- Why is news typically under 2 minutes?
- Why does it follow a formula?
- What is the rule of thirds and why isn’t it a rule?
- Why does broadcast news invariably use one camera for events
- And if the words “video journalism” and “mobile journalism” can be traced back to the 1960s, why did they fail to light up the industry? Or did they?
Just some of the questions posed to the audience, which were answered one way or another. In film studies, Eisenstein’s montage is viewed rightly as the standard, but equally grandeur was Vsevolod Pudovkin whose editing techniques are widely adopted by Hollywood and everyone else.
Our knowledge, much of what we know now, has antecedents in the past. Our memories either fail us or fall short of enriching us about how we could build on themes. Otherwise, we can be so uncritical as to mirror the story of the five monkeys, the ladder and bananas. The story itself has myth status, that it never actually happened but it adequately describes human ignorance paralleling five monkeys entering a cage and being tempted to reach for bananas, only to be drenched with water if they try.
We traversed art and impressionism and its relationship to video today. The breakthrough for the impressionists wasn’t just the philosophy of the Paris clique, but that the paint tube, the modern day equivalent of the mobile phone, became universally available.
And then privately and momentarily afterwards truth as perception and real. Drawing on Simon Blackburn’s elegantly written book, Truth: A Guide for the Perplexed which has been universally well received I engaged with a member how truth has been a difficult to establish since our quest for it. Relativists, absolutists, dogmatists, religious pious and realists, Blackburn journeys through this morass indicates our fascination with the idea of post truth is not a new phenomena.
Back in London, there’s a lot to unpack, but I’m left with several indelible impressions, not least this one below of a determined young lady, who took pictures and video during the talk, sometimes oblivious to me pausing the talk to praise her through the translator.
If you’d like to know more about my trip, I’ll be posting a few more from talking to students, visiting Eisenstein’s exhibition and the drone film. Meanwhile if you’re interested in digital storytelling and interactivity, this should interest you — a new course we’re launching at the University of Westminster.