Mom, Apple Pie, and . . . Documentary?

As the new director of the Experimental College at Tufts, it’s my privilege to lead off with the first post on X, our updated blog. To this end, I want to share a few observations on something I’ve been thinking about a great deal lately: the surprising state of documentary these days.

Here at the ExCollege, for example, we’re offering a well-received course on doc theory taught by Natalie Minik, who’s a product of the Duke Center for Documentary Studies. In addition, on Sunday, October 11th, we’re co-sponsoring the Tufts premier of Codename: Pirat, a film by Erik Asch about his father, Bob, the long time director of the Tufts-in-Tubingen program, who may or may not have been a spy!

And my colleague here in the Film and Media Studies program, Khary Jones, is part of the creative team that just brought He Named Me Malala to the screen. I mention “screen” quite intentionally, because the film is currently showing at suburban multiplexes around Boston!

On a personal note, I’m in the very early stages of launching a long-form project about a breakaway Jewish congregation in Chicago, called Mishkan, that’s attempting to meld progressive politics with folk culture and ecstatic practice.

It seems to me that all of this points toward a sea change in American culture. Over the last twenty years, people have started paying attention to films other than features. Yes, it built slowly. And yes, it would be fair to say that interest has waxed and waned. And yes, it might also be fair to say that – call it what you will – this renaissance, this golden age of documentary, owes much to a bookend set of necessary evils: “reality” TV and Michael Moore. (Reality TV and Moore both warrant further discussion, but I won’t take the time now to do so.)

Equally as important, I believe the ascendance of documentary has been driven, in a fundamental manner, by the digitization of media, a phenomenon that cuts two ways.

First of all, thanks to digital cameras and editing software, shooting a documentary at a quality level that audiences will read as “professional” is now within the reach of anyone who can cobble together a few thousand dollars. Once upon a not so distant time, that figure would have been a few hundred thousand, at least.

Secondly, cable and the Internet have exponentially expanded the need for “content” (horrible word, great concept). And “content providers” – HBO, IFC, iTunes, Netflix, Hulu, YouTube, Amazon Prime, and so on – have rushed into the breach, providing the means to promote and distribute small-budget films at a magnitude unimaginable in the 80s and 90s.

Obviously, there’s much to work through. But for me, today, I’m left with these thoughts. We have a solid enrollment in the course. Erik’s film is garnering praise around the world. There’s funding and an audience within reach for my project. And you can buy tickets for Malala at Kendall Square Cinema in Cambridge, and Showcase Cinemas in Worcester and Woburn, five or six shows daily, every day of the week.

An Inside Look at the Perspectives Program

For our first blog post about the Perspectives program we have a two for one special: insights from co-leaders Bill Cotter and Travis Grodkiewicz!  As the deadline to apply to teach in this program quickly approaches check out their reflections on what it was like to be a part of Perspectives this year! 

Bill’s Perspective:

Freshman year can be a serious roller coaster.  My greatest goal in teaching a Perspectives class was to create an environment where our students felt at home, where they could escape the roller coaster of college for a bit, relax, have fun, and of course learn something in the process.  Basically, I was trying to create something that I wish I had had during my own freshman year.  Somehow (I guess through a combination of hard work and luck) we managed to succeed, and I think every one of our students would tell you that coming to class was a highlight of their week.  At the very least, it was for me.   Continue reading

The View From Way Out Here

Part One in an Ongoing Series of Observations on the Current State of Filmmaking and the Film Industry.

The music industry figured it out, albeit kicking and screaming. But the movie studios refuse to see the handwriting on the wall. While they spend millions attempting to devise and disseminate protection schemes in their war against the internet, they’re fighting on the wrong front. The long-term threat to their hegemony — the highly centralized production and distribution system that we’ve known for nearly 100 years now as Hollywood — won’t be our ability to download studio films. Far more dangerous is the fact that Hollywood’s stranglehold on professional-level production and widespread distribution is withering away, bit by bit, inch by inch, day by day.
Continue reading

TuftsFilmWorks Alum, Jason Moloney, is getting noticed and getting work in LA.

Since graduating last spring, filmmaker, graphic artist, and writer, Jason Moloney, has been, as he puts it: “really busy lately.” After doing a great deal of networking all last year, Jason made the move to LA over the summer, and he hit the ground running.

Jason landed his first gig as an Assistant Production Coordinator on Ex-Free, the indie feature produced, written, and directed by veteran African-American actress, Troy Beyer Bailey. He must have been doing something right, because once shooting wrapped, he was asked to stay on as Assistant Editor. After Ex-Free, Jason joined the team of the Fallout: Nuka Break web series as a Production Supervisor. And from there he served as a Production Superviser/Coordinator on Stuck, a new feature with Madeline Zima and Joel David Moore. As I write this, Jason has recently started work as a Production Coordinator on a new — and as yet unnamed — feature that’s in preproduction and will be shot in March. Continue reading

ExCollege Social Media!

The ExCollege is now increasing it’s social media presence at Tufts!  With our newly revamped blog, Facebook page and new Twitter account we’re hoping to help provide you with an inside look at how everything works here at 95 Talbot Ave!  Like our Facebook page and follow us on Twitter @ExCollege.  We’ll be having different members of the ExCollege community blogging about the various happenings and events going on here and we look forward to hearing from all of you!

Flipping Out

Since I don’t have enough disposable income to buy all the newest toys for myself, I’m always excited when I can buy new stuff for the ExCollege. Usually Howard gets to buy the fun filmmaking equipment, but I beat him to it this time. I just ordered 4 Flip MinoHD video cameras to use for our Perspectives program! These cameras, along with those that can be borrowed from Tisch Library now, will help to replace the ancient mini-DV camcorders we’ve been using for training and small-group projects in Perspectives seminars. They’ll save us a lot of hassle over downloading issues and computer compatibility. Not to mention they’re way cooler. And when we’re not using them for Perspectives, they’ll be available as loaners for Joe and Jane Student doing a video for Arabic class or whatnot. Just another reason to love the ExCollege!

Flip MinoHD video camera

Flip MinoHD video camera – coming soon to the ExCollege!