Monthly Archives: June 2009

Digital Dumping Grounds

The shadowy market of the global e-waste trade is growing out of control. This is of concern to all of us, for obvious and not so obvious environmental, health and economic reasons. No matter how developed our nation may be, we are complicit in where our old computers, cell phones and printer cartridges go to die and how they are returned to us as new products. 

This short journalistic documentary is reported by Peter Klein, former senior producer of Witness – that seminal journalistic documentary program which asked videojournalists to spend months in the field to cover stories.  I watched this doc after reading this cbc.ca feature that was written about it. The article focuses on a hard drive some of Klein’s graduate students bought in Ghana that contained un-deleted information about U.S. defence contracts.

But the documentary also tells a much larger story – that of hazardous work being done by scavengers in developing nations, of a hopeful Indian entrepreneur who has developed a high-tech salvaging plant, and of underground networks of bandits who aim to steal your personal information and drain your bank account.

Watch this short doc on the Frontline/World website here.

I.O.U.S.A.: Byte-Sized

Imagine your debt is 64% of your salary, plus you don’t have any savings, insufficient health benefits and barely a pension to mention.

Where do you go from here?

I.O.U.S.A. the 30 minute byte-sized version is a good introduction to the U.S. Federal debt and what it means for the future of that country. Currently the debt stands at $8.7……. trillion. And rises every minute. What is truly fascinating about this documentary is the United States’ addiction to debt – no, not individual’s addiction – but the nation’s itself. The country has been operating in the red for almost its entire history.

How much debt is too much?

Watch the film here for free.

Roman Polanski: Wanted and Desired

I watch about a documentary a day. It’s my job. Most of this viewing is done at the office where I have access to an endless supply. When I get home, usually I try to avoid docs if I’m going to watch anything. This is because docs often demand concentration and I can’t help but analyze, which tires the brain. At home I chose fiction. It’s easier – throw it at me and distract me.

So I surprised myself when I chose a documentary from the plethora of selection offered by Rogers On Demand, “Roman Polanski: Wanted and Desired,” an HBO doc and Sundance ’08 selection. I had an idea that I would probably watch a few minutes of it as I ate my dinner, thinking “I know this story.” And yes, largely I am familiar with Polanski, his films, the tragic murder of his wife Sharon Tate,  his criminal liaison with a 13 year-old girl and his subsequent fleeing to Paris.

What kept me watching was the director Marina Zenovich’s determination to tease out the legal drama behind his rape charges. Her quest was not to get down to what happened between Roman and the girl, Samantha Geimer, but what happened with the case. Geimer and her lawyer appeared on the Larry King show and the lawyer said “the day Roman Polanski fled was a sad day for the American judicial system.” That the lawyer would say such a baffeling thing got Zenovich going. She managed to interview every person involved in the case except for the judge (Roman knew the film was being made and Zenovich spoke with him, but she decided for story reasons he didn’t need to say anything he hasn’t already said.)

The doc is well-constructed, contains a balance of interviews and archival footage and moves at a steady pace. It also has a memorable score – I think it’s an clarinet – but you tell me. Not only is this a biography, but a look into how the legal system twists and bends under the pressure of the celebrity and media crush.

SIFT, The Art of Videojournalism & My First Film

I have been working in television for over ten years and I’ve never made my own film – that is, until last week. I just came back from Ottawa where I participated in the first ever videojournalism course at SIFT (the Summer Institute of Film and Television), put on by the Canadian Screen Training Centre, and taught by veteran CBC videojournalist Saša Petricic.

Our assignment was modest but useful – how to tell a story in ten static shots. We were allowed to take 20-30 shots but had to chose ten that told the story best. I like my film, although as Saša pointed out, it lacks shot sequences – something I wanted to do, but the story wooed me over… instead of cutting the story down, I sacrificed shot variation. That’s not always going to be the best choice. I apologize for the clunky editing (and shaky camera work and loud sound) – it is much easier to direct an editor! However I am happy to be learning the editing process. Mostly though, I am happy to be making films.

Since this was my first time attending SIFT, I can only speak to the course I took, but I can honestly say that it was the single most important training and learning I have ever recieved. I grew more in five days both personally and professionally than I ever have. Saša was incredibly generous and forthcoming and his talent and creativity inspired us all. My fellow classmates contributions to our discussions about shooting, editing, interviewing, and the craft of documentary film-making were invaluable.

I admire the way that Saša aseembled the course from beginning to end. He provided detailed deconstruction of his news docs, provided different approaches through guest speakers (“Iraq in Fragments” directory James Longley spoke to us from Iran, and “Prom Night in Mississipi” director Paul Saltzman visited us in person), encouraged participation with our projects, and always allowed room for a free-flow of discussion. I don’t think any training could have been more appropriate for me at this particular time in my life.

If you are interested in learning more about SIFT, the program offers training in all kinds of television and film disciplines. The program is suffering from funding cuts, so I do hope it remains alive. (Click here for more on SIFT)