DEADPOOL, X-files, Star Trek Beyond… What do they have in common? Then there’s NASA, Bass Culture, Welcome to the Timberdome, and We are Syria etc.
Ok, the last one wasn’t shot in Vancouver, and I know what you’re thinking: NASA, Welcome to the Timberdome, Bass Culture? Never heard of them.
They’re films of a re-emerging kind of cinema, with a forgotten history, on their way back, which you could be making — Cinema Journalism (CJ). Cue: music, titles and opening establishing shot.
Chongqing, Moscow, and Chicago to name a few cities I’ve demoed; some years under my belt in conflict zones and the rest; a few international awards;PhD and then occasionally a shout out from critics and authors. That’s me! But this is how I got smitten by Vancouver. It started — 4th January 2018.
My flight touches down in Vancouver, via Heathrow; 64 hours earlier I was in Accra, Ghana. “Hello there David”. “Been expecting you”, says the Canadian official, when I hand her my details. “Mmmm, first names, friendly!” I think loudly. Within 10 mins, I have my work permit.
I’m in Vancouver for six weeks, courtesy of the University of British Columbia, where I’m undertaking the role of Asper Visiting Professor of Journalism. Amongst other things, I’m showing and talking publicly about cinema journalism. But first a couple of things, recees around the city over the next couple of days. They’re not kidding Vancouver is one big film set.
And then there’s quality time with faculty and students. It’s a dream. Over the weeks, I unfurl cinema journalism. Here’s the pecha kucha version.
It’s the 1950s. TV’s set to come on stream. A new type of journalist moves over from newspapers and radio to occupy this new medium. For them, the most important part of the story is text, and the interview — that’s what they know. Or gradually in the evolution of the form, the reporter takes centre stage.
Everyone’s scurrying around trying to find out how this new medium works. They look to fictional cinema, steal some of its clothes e.g. producer roles etc, and then pull back. Cinema has too much baggage. It’s fictional, suggestive, expensive, and doesn’t allow for a reporter — unless you’re the narrator off-screen and where’s the fun in that.
All of these are of course wrong, but whose counting? That in a nut shell framed a form called TV journalism, a construct, that we’re stuck with today as a legacy of fifty plus years ago. Then you and I got televisual and cinema literate and TV news’ story form allure begun to wane.
In the 1960s the team behind one of the seminal docs of its time, Primary (1960) featuring a prospective presidential runner Robert Kennedy, did cinema journalism. In the beginning Robert Drew, the force behind the movement, acknowledges they weren’t taken seriously by broadcasters. Their films were shown in cinema halls, then their style was largely adopted by doc makers. We’ve come a long way since, says the father of cinema journalism Version II.
Then… and now
I’m having a great time engaging: First Nations — indigenous cultures (courtesy of @davegaertner) where I speak about podcasts as a thread to cinema journalism. Emerging Media, VR, Mobile and 360 — all of these inform the craft, but there’s an inherent issue, that I demonstrate. Firstly technologies at a critical phase before they break tend to frame behaviours which become mass adopted. Secondly, ways in which we view and interpret our environs are diametric between Eastern and Western, North and Southern cultures.
Several students demonstrate an interest in cinema journalism, however Dustin shows real flare. Dustin, a former commercials producer/ director now turning to a MA in journalism spends three hours with me in the office where we chew the hide of cinema journalism (cj).
Dustin has a CJs visual eye and had I more time, we’d speak some more about different styles, but we’re going to stay in touch. He and his colleagues invite us ( Olivier and I) onto a shoot where I deploy my Mavic drone. His story is posted below, which he creates sublimely for mobile platforms.
Just like a film director, the approach in cinema journalism is to use lens language, varying narrative forms, cameras e.g. drone and targeted stylistic approaches to tell stories. One of its main issues is because its factual, you can’t rehearse what’s in front of you, so there’s the need to comprehend what’s going on and fast turnaround à la Japanese director Takesh Kitano or Clint Eastwood, when you encounter an event.
At my public talk at UBC Robson square, the reception is warm and generous, with TV industry, academics, the curious, and students present.
I tell a story of drama to explain Cinema Journalism.That time when I ran out of air 50m below the sea, after being swiped by a strong ribbon current that slammed me onto unexploded ordinates, or when on board HRH jet, my passport expired.
There is no essence of cinema journalism. It’s a confluence of many disciplines: cinematography, mis en scene, sound (podcasts), narrativity, framing language, characterisation, and neuroscience.
And different regions have different story modes that are culturally and socially-centred. Hence journalism from a cinema pov would be different in Ghana, China, and Canada, But like their fictional counterparts, practitioners build up a vast vernacular and library that facilitates capturing data, interpreting a story and working its plot for the audience, whilst retaining authenticity and truth.
Several outfits and individuals practise variations of cinema journalism e.g. Vice, but it’s high time all new journalists were aware of the form because in the pursuit of telling complex nuanced stories, and anticipating what’s coming next in A.I programmatic video, cinema journalism offers a suitable narrative workflow — truly the stuff of Star Trek. Turns out there’s there’s more than one reason for Vancouver’s link to cinema journalism.
Dr. David Dunkley Gyimah is a top writer in journalism on @medium. He's the Asper Visiting Professor of Journalism at UBC, and heads up the disLAB at the University of Westminster,specialising in impressionism and programmatic and cinema video. He'd love to hear from you. Contact him here David(at)viewmagazine(dot)tv
Thanks to UBC Journalism faculty (especially, Kathryn, Andrea and Alf)and students, @davegaertner, Emerging Media LAB, College Green and friends, Olivier
- Story on Emily Carr student Edward creating Virtual Reality animation depicting Nigerians in space
2. Dustin Patar’s Welcome to the Timberdome. Woman-led Thundejack team.
3. Bass Culture — short film illustrating research into Reggae from a 500k grant from UK body.
3. Promo illustrating Cinema Journalism