Category Archives: documentary film

Ron DeSantis Doesn’t Want You to Watch This

Invisible History: Middle Florida’s Hidden History, produced by the Florida State University film school, focuses on middle Florida, the cotton growing counties in the panhandle where slavery was an essential part of the economy. It is everything people like Governor DeSantis want to eradicate: stories of black people enslaved, often tortured, for the sake of profit, with all sorts of apologists ready to say why it was acceptable.

Watch this now before the Florida legislature labels it pornography and forces its removal. You may need to make a donation to your PBS station in order to access Passport where it is streaming.* Here is the preview. Many of the commentators are black professors at Florida universities, and I wondered if they had come under attack for participating in this documentary, which was made in 2021.

*You may find it via your public library via the Hoopla app.

Viking Pranksters

One series I binged watched in December was Secrets of the Viking Stone, a documentary created by actor Peter Stormare (better known as the wood chipper guy in the movie Fargo) to explore the origins of the Kensington Runestone. The stone, covered with runic etchings, was discovered in the late 1800s by Olof Öhman, a Swedish farmer, as he cleared some poplar trees in his field. Eventually, the stone was deemed a hoax, and the farmer himself ridiculed and ostracized for his claims.

Stormare learned about the stone when he was filming Fargo in Minnesota and found a connection to the disgraced farmer as they came from the same county in Sweden. He hoped, with his investigations, to clear Olaf’s name by proving the stone is a real artifact and that Vikings had made it far inland long before Christopher Columbus. He and his sidekick, Elroy Balgaard, a historian, practice wide-ranging research from hosting a happy hour with locals to buying metal detectors to road tripping to the east coast. The second season ends without a definitive conclusion, and we aren’t sure about a season three. While some of their experts and historians seem legitimate, I almost gave it up when their main supporter suggested it wasn’t Vikings that made and buried the stone but…wait for it…the Knights Templars.

While it would be nice to think the stone is real, North American runestone hoaxes is a category unto itself in Wikipedia. In addition to carving and hiding fake stones, pranksters have buried real artifacts in false locations. Turns out those Vikings have a sense of humor. Of course, Stormare and Balgaard never mention this proliferation of hoaxes during the show. But, it’s all good: it was a fun romp through history and archaeology and a reminder that, despite our hyper-connected world, there is much we don’t know about the past. Who knows? Maybe it was the Templars: as much as there is no evidence in favor of the theory, there also isn’t any evidence disproving it.

Continued Learning

I’ve been working on my final project for Adult Education…a video that reflects on my own learning and learning in general.  I started, as I usually would, with about four pages of single spaced text.  Something just felt wrong…too many words for a movie.  So, the first step was to start thinking visually…what pictures and video clips was I going to use to tell the story of my learning this semester.  How could they tell the story along with fewer words from me.  I think I have accomplished that.  Once I had the script, I could start collecting the materials which mostly consist of clips from films I’ve watched this semester.  I took care of that on Thursday.   And here’s the secret:  with a clean script and all the materials in one place, putting the film together has gone relatively smoothly.  I still have a ways to go, but writing and editing the script and thinking about the clips as I captured them really put the film in my head before I ever opened Final Cut Pro.  It’s funny in a way because it is very similar to the process I use for writing.  I read, I jot notes, I blog a bit, I start constructing sentences in my head, so that by the time I get to the actual writing, the paper is almost done.  The biggest difference here is that I started putting the visuals together in my head.

My only concern is that I am using single, lengthy clips from the films rather than several shorter pieces.  It seems to work but it isn’t typical from what I’ve seen.  I would like to do one sequence of short, quick shots.  I’ve seen that in some movies and it looks cool.  I dropped in a quote from Knowles at the beginning and I’ve got a great one from Eartha Kitt for the end but dropped the idea of splicing in quotes throughout the film.  I may go back to that but for now I like the transitions between sections.

As with each project I’ve done, I’m experimenting…in this case, it’s using music or the soundtrack of the films along with a voice over.  I may need to redo the voice overs at the end and figure out how to make the films quieter when I’m talking but for a first step, it’s not too bad.  All in all, it’s been a productive film day.

And I keep learning:

1.  After spending about an hour trying to copy the captured clips from the computer in the media center to my hard drive, I discovered that because my hard drive is Windows formatted, I can only copy about 3 gigs at a time.  Since I didn’t want to reformat the drive, I borrowed one from Troy, but I may need to invest in another one. They are so small now.

2. I needed some soundtrack music so I bought a couple songs from iTunes.  (Remember when you had to go to a store?)  After downloading them, I discovered they weren’t in a format that FCP can use and because they were purchased, I couldn’t convert them.  (That seems like a violation of my rights as a buyer.  I would be able to convert them if I bought them on CD.)  So, undaunted, I went to the web and in just a few minutes discovered the work around:  burn them to CD and then re-import them into iTunes and you can convert them.

Learning Contract Update

I will admit up front that I am procrastinating.  I *should* be doing some bibliography work for my media literacy research project.  Instead, I am doing everything else–watching Triumph of the Will, canceling my cell phone, doing laundry.  It is amazing how much I get done when I am procrastinating!  Is there some adult learning principle at work here?  What we learn we were are supposed to be learning something else?

Anyway, as part of that procrastination, I thought I would doing a learning contract update.  I have taken the first steps towards learning Final Cut Pro.  I am pretty happy with my first movie and got lots of positive feedback from the class.  This weekend, I want to dig into some of the Lewis and Clark footage I’ve got.  I’m considering doing something that combines footage from our trip with excerpts from my journal and the L&C journals.  Contrast their journey with ours.  First, though, I need to get a look at what’s there.  It’s been seven or eight years since we took the trip.  I reviewed some of the footage this summer, but need to go back through it with a “cinematographer’s” eye.

Continue reading Learning Contract Update

Leni Riefenstahl

The Wonderful, Horrible Life of Leni Riefenstahl

This film documents the life of Leni Riefenstahl. It was long–over 3 hours–but well worth it. I watched it in several installments because I got tired of reading the subtitles.

Riefenstahl was a controversial filmmaker because her most well-known works were about the Nazi party. Triumph of the Will documented the 1934 Nazi party Congress in Nuremberg and is considered the most powerful propaganda film ever made. In addition, the film won numerous awards outside of Germany for its revolutionary filmmaking techniques. Riefenstahl also made Olympia, the official film of the 1936 Olympics. Like her previous film, this one is recognized for its innovative techniques–she was the first filmmaker to set a camera on railroad tracks. But, it is also condemned for its portrait of the Nazis.

Throughout the documentary, Riefenstahl reminds us that she was never a member of the Nazi party. Indeed, the filmmakers point out that she was often out of the country when the worst events, like Kristallnacht, happened. Yet, she is often mentioned in Goebbel’s diary as being present at Nazi events, something Riefenstahl denies. She was acquitted at the end of the war of any war crimes (she was accused of using gypsies from a concentration camp in one of her movies), but she was also unable to continue her filmmaking work because of her association with Hitler.

Her life and work offer fertile ground for considering the moral role of the artist. Throughout the film, Riefenstahl, who lived to be 101 years old, focuses on her aesthetics, claiming she was fascinated by Hitler but not a Nazi. But at times, she seems to be in denial about her own actions. It is interesting that several reviewers in the Internet Movie Database seem to be apologists for her, suggesting that no one really understood Hitler’s plan in the late 1930s. Yet, excerpts from Mein Kampf seem to make it pretty clear. Riefenstahl claims she never read it. I have a copy of Triumph of the Will sitting by the television but I’m not sure I want to read it.

I can’t help but contrast her with Alice Lok Cahana, a visual artist featured in The Last Days, a film about five Hungarian Jews who survived the holocaust. Cahana’s work is focused on the Holocaust, endowing it with a moral purpose: “”I started to paint only about the Holocaust as a tribute and memorial to those who did not return, and I am still not finished.”