Design research. Social good.

Posts from the ‘Film/Video’ category

What we need now in this current immigration crisis are stories that speak from a place of love and compassion. Here are four films that do just that as they showcase young undocumented Americans.

In the first film, Kid Quixote, director Marc Cantone follows a group of Spanish-speaking immigrant children in Brooklyn as they translate, write, perform and tour their own theatrical adaptation of Don Quixote.

In the words of director Cantone, “the film isn’t just a backstage chronicle of the making of a show. It’s also an inspiring story of immigrants finding their place in a country that is not only becoming increasingly hostile to them but is also actively working to tear apart their families and way of life.”

A recent New York Times article features Kid Quixote in The Littlest Don Quixotes Versus the World. If you’d like to be involved and support the film’s post-production, take a look at the Indiegogo campaign.

KID QUIXOTE – A Documentary Film (2018) 

Directed by Marc Cantone – A documentary about immigrant children in Brooklyn using the power of theater to tell their stories.

THROUGH THE WALL (2016)

Directed by Tim Nackashi –  A short documentary about a family divided by the US/Mexico border. Abril lives in the US with her 2-year-old son Julián. They are undocumented. Julián’s father was deported back to Mexico for a minor traffic violation. In order to see each other, every Sunday Uriel, Abril and Julián travel to the border to spend time together through the wall.

 GEORGE AND GRACE’S STORY (2017)

Directed by Judd Ehrlich and produced by the National Immigration Justice Center – A short documentary film. George was tortured in a Ugandan military prison for his activism against a brutal and oppressive regime. He escaped and fled to the U.S. where he met his wife, Grace, who was also a Ugandan refugee. They started a family in Arlington Heights, Illinois and befriended many in the community. But like many asylum seekers, George was detained again and his family feared he would be deported back to danger.

AND WE ARE THE IMMIGRANTS (2017)

Directed by Catalina Matamoros – An intimate portrait of an arduous journey across hostile borders, presented in a fluid, hand-drawn animation.

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What are the essential elements of a story?

What are the rhetorical moves of a short film?

How can short films help students become better multimedia storytellers?

During the 13th annual Traverse City Film Festival, I attended the workshop “Anatomy of a Short” at the festival’s film school led by Lesley Tye and Andrew Hiss, instructors of Motion Picture Arts at Interlochen Arts Academy, I came away from the workshop not only with a new appreciation for the short films genre but with inspiration to produce short films with my Digital Storytelling class at St. Joe’s. 

My write-up of the workshop titled “How to Get started with Shorts” can be found at agnès films. agnès films is a generous and supportive community of women filmmakers, scholars, and instructors who make and teach films. The article features five essential elements to create a successful short film and shares details from the films that we examined during the workshop. 

A film still of a woman smiling

3:18 I’ll Wait for the Next One

Building quickly to a “moment that matters” is one of the secrets to a successful short film. For example — what happens to this protagonist in a mere eighteen seconds to cause her expression to change so dramatically?  I’ll Wait for the Next One (2002).

A close-up of a woman's forlorn expression

3:36 I’ll Wait for the Next One

Read the article at agnès films to learn about the five essential elements of shorts.

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All great achievements require time

I must share something from yesterday’s Digital Storytelling class. We were exploring different possibilities for documentary filmmaking.  I brought in a dozen examples of short docs to help students think about creative possibilities as they began to storyboard their own documentary projects. Of all the videos we watched, one resonated strongly with students – Amar (all great achievements require time). Students were awed and humbled by the young Amar, which led to an eye-opening, reflective, culturally sensitive, and border-crossing discussion …

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(1) Multiple rabbit holes – Total Recall (2012)

Walking in the Upper West Side, I spied a billboard: “Tell us your fantasy. We’ll make it real.” Intrigued, I took out my phone and entered the website listed at the bottom of the poster. There I received the following message: “We’re sorry – This content requires Adobe Flash Player.” 

This was a frustrating-no-flabbergasting user experience. And one that just should not be happening in a 2012 transmedia campaign for a summer blockbuster. When I finally got around to looking up the site at home, I found a compelling (but limited) Surrogate-esque storyworld. The next day I saw another billboard in Greenwich Village – “Beware of Rekall: Don’t Let Them Blow Your Mind” directing me to a different website.

This one actually worked on my phone, and with an aesthetic reminiscent of the recent Internet Blacklisting Bill campaigns – featuring a dot org url and a censorship theme. Here, audiences are targeted in a smart way with regard to the billboard placement  – certain neighborhoods in New York definitely evoke a certain ethos. This is about knowing the audience and creating multiple rabbit holes – or entry points for them to follow. Transmedia campaigns need to employ multiple mediums to deliver a message – each adding a unique contribution to the development of the story. It s about engaging the audience, drawing them in, and rewarding the curious and loyal.

(2) “This is not a game” philosophy – Prometheus (2012)

Like the “No Rekall” mock Public Service Announcement, a large part of transmedia storytelling is creating a believable fiction – a credible alternate reality. In some of the best cases, the storyworld blends with Real Life so seamlessly that we don’t even know when we’ve entered the rabbit hole (or are playing a game). Take Peter Weyland’s 2023 TED Talk. First glance, this appears to be bonafide TED Talk  – it is posted on TED.com, after all. This was the first time TED used its platform for promotional purposes – fans didn’t see it coming.

This move brilliantly demonstrates the “This is not a game philosophy” by transcending the “rules”  – what we expect from a “game” –  guidelines, pieces/equipment, a playing field, and defined outcome. By blurring the boundaries between game and reality- we enter the immersive world of the alternate reality game.

(3) Here we are now, entertain us – A.I. Artificial Intelligence (2001)

Alternate Reality Gaming was born on the Internet, combining interactivity and storytelling to create a truly immersive storyworld. The classic example is the well documented Jeanine Salla, Sentient Machine Therapist, from A.I. 

Starting with this name and intriguing title listed on the film poster curious fans were drawn into a highly complex interactive game so large it is simply referred to as The Beast. Leaving trails of breadcrumbs, clues, for curious fans to discover and advance, this alternate reality game pushed the limits of interactivity. The boundaries of the game were unknown. The platforms, playing field, and outcomes were all out there waiting to be discovered and developed.

The fact is, going to a site and pushing a few buttons isn’t going to entertain us anymore (if it ever did). We want to be immersed. We want to use our brains. Our imaginations. We want to work together. We want to contribute. Here’s the key: for effective transmedia storytelling, meaning has to be designed by the audience as much as by the creators.

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I’m contemplating the power of “X.” I’ve just returned from a week at TEDxSummit in Doha, Qatar – an event that brought together over 600 TEDx organizers from 90 countries hosted by TED (Ideas Worth Spreading) and the Doha Film Institute.  [Event photos here.]
The theme of the week was “The Power of X.” For many of us “x” was why we were there. It signified the act of holding an independently licensed TED event in each of our communities around the world. The “x” or exponent is shown as a superscript to the right of the base.

However, throughout our week together, the meaning shifted to mean something else. Something greater. It began to signify the power of “x” to multiply great ideas. Coming together in Doha with organizers from around the world I realized (we all realized) that our local events multiplied the spreading of ideas to make change in our communities. This theme of multiplication was perfectly illustrated by a stunning video, opening TEDxSummit.

The kaleidoscope,  operating on the principle of multiple reflection, was the perfect metaphor for the event. The word “kaleidoscope” is derived from the Ancient Greek καλός (kalos), “beautiful, beauty”, εἶδος (eidos), “that which is seen: form, shape” and σκοπέω (skopeō), “to look to, to examine”, hence a kaleidoscope is an instrument to “observe beautiful forms.” 

Meeting organizers from around the world, my goals were continuously reflected back at me, my inspiration multiplied. I saw how we are all connected, like the mirrors in the kaleidoscope, working to bring people together around ideas, working to build communities where none might have existed before. I came to the event with a unique perspective on my own event, TEDxSJU, and I left, seeing how each independent event was intricately connected.

We Are Pi created this human arabesque with no computer graphics, just ingenuity and a little math.  Their “How To” video is equally inspiring.

This video got me thinking about how Islamic patterns employ geometry and mathematics to construct the foundation for designs. Six-point geometry is especially pervasive (and beautiful):

The radius of a circle can be swung through its circumference in exactly six arcs to inscribe a hexagon – six circles around one

  • It is the sum of the first three numbers, 1, 2, and 3
  • It is the multiplication of 2 and 3
  • The hexagon can tile perfectly with identical copies of itself to fill a plane
  • The Pythagorean 3-4-5 triangle has an area and a semi-perimeter of six
  • Six-point geometry is abundant in nature – flowers, quartz, snowflakes, honeycombs
  • Six around one is also a biblical theme – the cosmos were created in six days, with the seventh day for rest
  • Intriguingly, the sub-grid, part of underlying structure of the design, is always invisible, transparent. It is something that is there but not there

Understanding something (at this basic level) about Islamic patterns makes this video all the more amazing to me.

Inspiration:

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Dear makers of Dexter’s “killer breakfast” sequence, you’ve been torturing my students for weeks. The latest challenge in our Digital Storytelling course was to remake  Digital Kitchen‘s, Emmy Award winning main title “Killer Breakfast” from Showtime’s Dexter.

Although challenging to execute (there are no film majors in this course), this project undoubtedly built skills in:

  • precise video capturing and editing
  • designing shots and mood
  • creative problem solving
  • close team collaboration

We recently screened the videos – with impromptu bursts of applause, homemade chocolate chip cookies, laughter, and requests to watch them a second time. A side note: after agonizing over this project for weeks, no one ever wants to ever hear the song again.

Here are our four remakes:


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Shallow characters? Check.

Crappy dialog? Check.

A sci-fi classic? Check.

I will watch anything sci fi. Like all true fans, I have a ton of patience for poor plot and shallow characters because I love the ideas and the innovative ways these films use available technologies to create the future. Tron: Legacy is no different.

Go for the visual effects, not the story. It is masterwork of innovation. I went with my best friend who hates sci-fi. (“Why does it always have to be all dark in sci-fi movies?” she moans. “Where’s the sun? Why can’t there ever be any sun?”) But even she had to admit, there are some insane effects going on in this film.  Here’s why you should see this film in the theater.

It’s in 3D. (Yay?!)

Yes, the story and the characters are a tad shallow, but the effects on “the grid” are amazing.  I’ve never held a lot of stock in 3D before, feeling it to be gimmicky. Yet, seeing the games and the light cycles in 3D are worth the price of admission.

Director, Joseph Kosinski, worked with the Oscar winning Benjamin Button team from Digital Domain to create the uncanny younger version of Jeff Bridges/Kevin Flynn. It’s remarkable and eerie. It’s the future of filmmaking.Digital Doman

Then there are the costume highlights. 1) Gem’s metallic, auto-body, Corvette like curves.  2) Quora’s motocross-esque costume, especially the cut-away shoulders. It combines Joan of Arc’s strength with a little of Marilyn Monroe’s psychic fragility. 3) Jeff Bridge’s Zen warrior look. Especially the bare feet and the glow emanating from the lining of his priestly robes.

And the sets are beautiful. Imagine if Kubrick was the Wachowski brother’s architect. I especially loved Flynn’s pristine ice-castle lair with the crystal chandeliers and light-up floors.

And we can’t forget Quara’s hair: This is obviously the jaggedy asymmetrical coif of a supreme being/isomorphic algorithm. Hello, Halloween 2011 costume. Tron So, it didn’t get the best reviews. Tron: Legacy (2010) is visually stunning and technically groundbreaking. Geeky accolades all around.

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