In Response to the (Digital) Revolution Article at Sinewaya

...for it delayed my sleep yesterday night...

Lars von Trier and Dogme 95: they use hand-held digiCams

I recently found a blog, Sinewaya, just around 1 AM yesterday night after visiting Edgar Paule's Viewer Discretion blog, which i happen to also found last night after a visit at Chard's Lilok Pelikula. Such blogs exist, they are undervalued, not often visited, but contains intriguing and provocative statements about the local cinema and cinema at large.

I couldn't sleep last night after reading Kenneth Roland A. Guda's article about the (Digital) Revolution, entitled You Say You Want a (Digital) Revolution? This web article was written last March of 2008, more than a year ago under the pretense that the digital revolution is a political awakening in the local independent industry.

This pretense i agree but the more salient argument that one can make with this so-called local Digital Revolution is perhaps of a note that it is another stylistic movement, a similarity to the Coming-of-Sound period in cinema last 1929, what many critics and silent filmmakers called as the 'death of cinema'. Silent cinema, that is.

My long and dense comment goes a long way below(with sub-comments in [red italics]):

I am amazed by your vision of cinema. Intense and political! Your arguments run from rock n’ roll to capitalism to filmmaking to advertising to filmmaking, a rare treat indeed. I am trying to piece together the points you have raised, and I am sensing that you focused on the emerging local digital filmmaking movement. This was written last year, and i think I can sense a criticism on Video blogging when you mention about the ‘democratization’ and that everyone can be a filmmaker which i think should be gnawed upon even more.

But I tell you, yes, everyone is a filmmaker. I can even reduce it by saying “Every [contemporary] man is a film camera. (Kino Eye)” This was the very idea of a famous Russian director from the Soviet Montage film movement in 1920s, Dziga Vertov, whose philosophy of man is highly linked with cinema. He said: “In the face of the machine we are ashamed of man’s inability to control himself, but what are we to do if we find the unerring ways of electricity more exciting than the disorderly haste of active people…I am an eye. I am a mechanical eye. I, a machine, I am showing you a world, the likes of which only I can see”. Vertov wasn’t really into capitalism when he said this. On the contrary, he saw cinema as a tool and our eye itself.

[The first and second paragraph of my comment was in response to his argument about the democratization of the film medium. He states that:

"The very idea of democratization (everybody can be a filmmaker with a DigiCam) as marketed by the mutinationals (Sony, et al) would lead us into believing that everything — every image, every moment — can be worth capturing in megapixels, even the most private moments (think those video scandals)."
It doesn't seem very clear what he is trying to point to --- to capitalism per se or to advertising of such products --- and to what point he is making.]

We must also note that like many art (literature, painting, architecture, etc.) cinema is historically contingent and ever evolving medium. In 1929, the coming of sound, many filmmakers and theorist declared that cinema is dead. Sound is somewhat alien to many silent filmmakers that time, they considered it as an intruder to their quiet little haven. However, we [can observe that during] the 1930s and 40s, the transition period, cinema is not dead but at the zenith of perfection. (if that happens, we won’t be blogging about it at all hehe!). 1930-40s is a period in cinema when the greatest films were made, Citizen Kane (Welles, 1941), La Grande Illusion (Renoir, 1937), The Rules of the Game (Renoir, 1939), It’s a Wonderful Life (Capra, 1946), Children of Paradise (Carne, 1945). These films have made a great impact on the rest of the history of film. The style of each one, The Rules of the Game and Citizen Kane’s deep space cinematography, La Grande Illusion’s mobility of the camera, Children of Paradise’s mise-en-scene decor and historical significance (Carne filmed it during the Nazi Occupation in France, such a violent time to film a masterpiece!), have influenced dozens of [contemporary] filmmakers and have established film studies itself.

In line with the central topic, that of digital filmmaking, we can approach it not as a political agenda of sorts, but as a way of comparing it with the COMING OF SOUND in 1929. It is THE NEXT FILM MEDIUM, and we see its existence on many films both foreign and local and it is evident that it will flourish in the years to come. When Abbas Kiarostami started using the digital camera after filming The Wind will Carry Us (1999), he declared that its much a better camera than the celluloid one, and many critics were 'shocked' by this declaration. This shift of medium is also observable in many directors like David Lynch in his Inland Empire (2006) and Brillante Mendoza in his Masahista (2005). Kiarostami used the digital camera because, he said, it is the new realism in cinema attributed to its closeness to us, audiences, that, in line with your democratization argument, we can document daily life with it. Lynch used it for psychological effects, a purely stylistic cause. Mendoza used it to add atmospheric/mood effects.

[I would add on this that one famous group of filmmakers who extensively use the video medium is none other than Lars Von Trier and the gang of Dogme 95 avant-garde filmmakers.]

We can say that the use of the digital medium is itself a manifestation of a new realism in cinema (with Kiarostami), and more importantly, a stylistic choice of the filmmaker. I cannot see how this medium can be used by young filmmakers to propel themselves to fame. If I am a ‘young filmmaker’ i would still use the old ones, the celluloid camera, because of its grainy effect which can add ‘pa-pogi’ epek sa mga judges ng film festivals.

[The paragraph above is my response to his crude argument about the 'rock-n-roll young filmmakers'. he wrote:

"What saddens us, therefore, that many young, aspiring filmmakers still buy this (rockstardom) bullshit. Many young filmmakers continue to aspire for fame and toiling in the digital realm, hoping to eventually break into the “big time” – pay a high price for their naivete, ultimately pawning their wide-eyed idealism at the altar of compromise. The best artistic minds are everday lost to advertising agencies, television sitcoms, and other commercial endeavors."
It is clear that he connects the advent of digital filmmaking with the rise of young 'rock-n-roll' filmmakers obsessed with fame and distinction. But what makes a famous young filmmaker these days? Are Mikhail Red, only 16 years old, and Pepe Diokno, 21 years old, popular as rock-n-roll filmmaker stars somehow?]

In line with your attack on advertising, if this advertising concerns the publicity of either a mainstream film or an independent film, I say leave it that way. This is how the film industry works ever since cinema was born in 1895. Without advertising, no people would enter on nickelodeons (old movie theaters during the 1910s) to watch screwball comedies and silent melodramas. One has to be informed to gather audiences, and what is cinema without our faithful audiences. What is a film industry without a proper information dissemination scheme, for as we all know, advertising is a form of information dissemination. if we are concern with the quality and accuracy of the information, then it is a question of value, another topic we are not concerned with.

Finally, you mention of ‘world class standards’ to attain in order for our local filmmakers to attain fame and distinction. And I say this, such ’standards’ exist, we call them not ‘world class standards’ but ‘film studies’ per se. If, say, we put Tokyo Story (JAPAN, Ozu, 1953) as a primary example, Western film scholars discovered the film in the 1970s and it is hinted as the one that opened the window to Yasujiro Ozu’s filmmography to be studied in depth. Every film, wherever it originates, has a focal point: the camera and the techniques. And these techniques are learned from film schools, or if lucky, from self-experimentation. What unites every film is the camera, and film theorists and historians are experts on every aspect of the camera, how it can transform a series of ordinary moving pictures into a remarkable story, how it can distort reality, how it produces ideas and meanings. Film theorists read every film that way, and not only ‘that’ way but many ways. One can engage an ideological study on a satirical film, to explore its themes and motifs. One can engage a formal study focusing on the technicalities of the film (mise-en-scene, cinematography, editing, sound). Such ‘world class standards’ are not standards at all but ‘analytical point of references’. Say, how one film differs from another film, how their camera works look the same but function in different ways.

[The last paragraph concerns my comment on his rather hyperbolic note on film festivals:

"The prevailing philosophy in many of our local film festivals has always been to promote and recognize films of “world class quality,” whatever “world class” actually means. Following this philosophy, filmmakers only have to follow foreign trends and compete in “international standards” for fame and fortune to come their way."]


Tropa de Elite (Jose Padilha, 2007)

ut let us look at Sinewaya
in another way. Sinewaya: Contemporary Media Criticism, according to their site, (in Tagalog)
"ay isang kolektibo ng mga mahihilig manood ng pelikula at naniniwala sa makapangyarihang potensiyal ng sining na odyo-biswal. Ang Sinewaya rin ay isang online film journal na naglalathala ng mga kritikal na sanaysay hinggil sa masiglang ugnayan ng pelikula at lipunan." (A group of cinema enthusiast who believe in the potential of audio-visual art. It is an online film journal that publishes essays on engaging relationship between film and society.)
I admit, we need local online film journals like this. With Criticine plague by the death of its founder-editor, Alexis Tioseco, another synthesis of local media and cinema is what we need.

Sinewaya stopped publishing articles March of 2008 and sporadically emerged around November this year. I have tracked back some of their previous articles and have linked them to a multiply website here. The group of students published the articles on their blog and their multiply simultaneously. It seems that they worked in a collective and hidden fashion. They identify themselves as Philippine Collegian writers and staffs. Furthermore, from their About page:
"many of us were activist writers and propagandists who liked to watch movies at the UP Film Center and SM North, but could not exactly reconcile this rather costly interest (P30 in 1994; P71-P81 today) with the spartan lifestyle activists were assumed to live."
One must note that the degree of political activism in UP Diliman is still at high level of engagement and popularity. It runs with the cliche: "Pag-UPian ka, aktibista ka." (If you are from UP, the you are an activist.) It is almost not surprising that we find such activist writers cooking film medium with politics and social agenda. Sinewaya has a thing for alternative filmmaking. They have raised several commentaries on the nature of it (in their article: Kritisismo at Exsperimentasyon sa Pelikula), its potential as a counter cultural medium (in their article: Visual Meditation: Documentary filmmaking as countercultural practice), and they even interviewed a Brazillian documentary filmmaker, Jose Padilha, the director of the 2008 Golden Bear winning film, Tropa de Elite (2007) (in their article: Documentary Filmmaking as Commitment: Interview with Brazilian filmmaker Jose Padilha).

Recently, Sinewaya published a criticism on Armando Lao's Biyaheng Lupa (or Soliloquy, 2009) which they observe that
"Kung meron mang bago sa Biyaheng Lupa, iyon siguro ay ang paggamit ng voice over sa kalakhan ng pelikula. Imbes na marinig natin ang sinasabi ng bibig, pinaririnig sa atin ni Lao ang takbo ng utak ng kanyang mga tauhan." (If there is something new in Biyaheng Lupa it is the use of voice over at the expanse of the film. Instead of hearing the monologue from their mouths, Lao enables us to hear from their minds.)
It has been actually used on films throughout its history, from a scene in It's a Wonderful Life (1946), George Bailey's thoughts were voiced over. Another extensive use of voice over was from the film by Wim Wenders, Wings of Desire (1989), to function the same as with It's a Wonderful Life. This technique is called stream-of-consciousness that cinema adapted from modernist literature.

I call the writers of Sinewaya to continue publishing articles. We are in great need of cinema writers in the Philippines, now that a surge of films from the independent circuit is pushing its way to the popular media.

I have to stop here... but i wished not, there are still things to talk about. But I am a human being and I need sleep.

Ciao! ;-)


A Source worth looking into:

Film vs. Digital (@