Wednesday, December 30, 2009

The Storm That Swept Mexico

From the GFEM Media Database, a trailer and other information on The Storm that Swept Mexico -- a two-hour documentary that will debut in 2010, on the centennial of the Mexican Revolution of 1910. Producers Raymond Telles and Kenn Rabin; director, Telles; writer and archivist, Rabin.

Monday, October 12, 2009

From WITNESS Media Archive

From Grace Lile, an interesting posting on "Archival access: ethics, rights, obligations" in which she refers back to the June conversation on archival use and storytelling, launched by Rick Prelinger on his blog.

Lile also notes, "I am still working my way through Rand Jimerson’s excellent Archives Power: Memory, Accountability and Social Justice (2009: SAA). It is a wide-ranging book encompassing the history of archival theory and practice in societal terms, addressing the relationship of archives and documents to memory, justice, accountability, diversity, and societal power." Another one to add to the reading list!

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Documentary Ethics - new report

Just released today: Honest Truths: Documentary Filmmakers on Ethical Challenges in Their Work -- a new report from American University's Center for Social Media. Written by Pat Aufderheide, Peter Jaszi, and Mridu Chandra, the report summarizes the results of 45 extended interviews with documentary filmmakers and is presented as the beginning of an important conversation. Jon Else, Bill Nichols, and Sheila served as advisors.

CSM also authored the invaluable Documentary Filmmakers' Statement of Best Practices in Fair Use.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Identifying the "Real Deal"

From Kenn: Currently, I’m co-producing a two-hour history of the Mexican Revolution (1910-1920) for PBS with Paradigm Productions in Berkeley. In many ways, the Mexican Revolution was the first war that could be watched by the public, virtually from start to finish, on film, much as Vietnam was considered the first true television war. The footage we’ve collected starts as early as 1898; there is journalism, there is fiction, there is propaganda, and there is even the participation of Hollywood. Almost all of it originated on 35mm nitrate, that fragile format, subject to disintegration and afraid of the lit match. 35mm nitrate is also, probably the most beautiful visual format ever – capable of rendering a tremendous range of tonal values and detail.

Some archives and collectors are currently restoring their footage, given the upcoming centenary next year, and the anticipated need for a variety of producers, researchers, and others to access this material. This is exciting for us, but will the restoration work be done in time for our production deadlines? Other archives either don’t have the financial resources, or have not made restoration a priority. Since (as is good archival practice) they don’t want us touching their original film, and we hardly have the budget for major restoration ourselves anyway, we’re often faced with later generation film or, in some cases, outdated videotape formats of this material.

Stills are less of a problem – they’ve been maintained lovingly by those who have held them for a century, and there may be cases where we use these stills in lieu of footage that is hard to decipher, or doesn’t look as good. We all know that still photographs can be made to live with a little visual choreography.

The project is interesting, from another archival point of view as well: in many cases cataloguing is scarce, and the film, which has been edited again and again into different documentaries and news pieces, exists in various conditions and states of completeness in various places. Often the silent film intertitles or other clues we have found contradict each other. Therefore, we are often left guessing whether that wide shot of a field with plumes of smoke in the distance is from one battle or another, from 1911 or from 1921. In fact, over 50% of the smoke we see from guns and canons is white, leaving us to wonder if these weapons were firing “blanks,” meaning those shots are probably re-creations. We look for the occasional black smoke, which might signify this is the “real deal.” Even archivists and scholars who have examined the film over the years continually revise their own ideas of what they are looking at: A lovely corn harvest scene that originally was identified as 1908 prompts further examination and is revised as being from 1910. Going back to the film later, the owners conjectured that 1920 is more likely, “but we can’t be sure.” Just like the Mexican soldiers, we’re shooting at a moving target.

I'm thinking about how to develop a compelling way to address all this in of our film, in order to both acknowledge our own awareness of these issues and to cue the audience in on what I call our “working vocabulary.” Key to documentary ethics is making sure the audience isn’t mis-led regarding what they are seeing and hearing.

How do we make these “problems” into a positive, rather than a negative? The Mexican Revolution, for a century, has been very much about revisionism and myth-making. There are so many false assumptions and misunderstandings because there have always been both political and artistic reasons to paint some figures as heroes, others as villains, ignore still others, develop false causes and effects, and generally “use” the history for one’s own purposes. Rather than add to this myth-making, we want to address this issue of history versus mythology head-on, throughout the film. We hope to invite the audience to join us on this exploration and have them appreciate the uniqueness of what they’re seeing; the historical and audiovisual mysteries we ourselves are grappling with. If we do this right, between the film and its accompanying website, the audience will join us in examining this material as an archeologist might examine an unearthed fragment – sometimes sure of what they are looking at and how it fits into the pattern of events long-gone, but sometimes only at the beginning of a journey of understanding.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Taking History Back from the "Storytellers"

From noted archivist and filmmaker Rick Prelinger, a challenge to the conventions of historical documentary storytelling, and two proposals:

....The first is easy. Let's put original, unedited archival material out in the world in such a way that it competes with documentaries.... it will insure that audiences can see original documents without the imposition of artificial layers of narrativity.

The second:

We have all noted that the cost of production and distribution is going down quickly, even though it isn't zero. Why then aren't archivists making more documentaries, and why isn't production seen as an integral archival mission?

Read the full piece at his blog, blackoystercatcher.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Jaszi: Fair Use for Students

Attorney and intellectual property expert Peter Jaszi (featured in Archival Storytelling) is now blogging as the IP Scholar for the University of Maryland University College's Center for Intellectual Property -- see ©ollectanea for his posts on fair use in secondary and higher education and more!

Monday, May 4, 2009

...The Price is Rights (WGBH-TV)

From The Boston Globe (May 4, 2009) an article about WGBH in Boston and the challenge (and expense) of rights clearance --

Thursday, April 30, 2009

We're on Kindle!

You can now buy Archival Storytelling as a Kindle book!

Friday, April 17, 2009

Prison terms and fines for founders of The Pirate Bay

According to an article by Eric Pfanner in the April 27, 2009 The New York Times, a "court in Sweden on Friday convicted four men linked to the notorious Internet file-sharing service The Pirate Bay of violating copyright law, handing the music and movie industries a high-profile victory in their campaign to curb online piracy."

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Kenn Rabin, Focal Press at NAB (April 18-23, Las Vegas)

If you're attending this year's NAB Show, look for Kenn Rabin as well as publisher Focal Press! NAB is being held this year in Las Vegas, NV, April 18-23.

From the website, "For more than 80 years, the NAB ShowTM has served as the premiere event for content professionals. Leading this ever-changing industry, the NAB Show has evolved to remain the world's resource for high-level insight, training, education and state-of-the-art technology powering the future of content creation, management, commerce and delivery." NAB, the National Association of Broadcasters, is "a trade association located in Washington, D.C. that advocates on behalf of more than 8,300 free, local radio and television stations and also broadcast networks before Congress, the Federal Communications Commission and the Courts."

Orphans: A Film Symposium: call for presentations

Orphans: A Film Symposium willl be held April 7-10, 2010, at the Library of Congress National Audio-Visual Conservation Center; "Orphans 7 will focus on transnational and global issues. How have moving images circulated across national and other boundaries? How are neglected archival materials accessed and used across and within borders?"

Proposals for presentations are currently being sought -- for details, go to

What's an "orphan" film? From the 2005 website: "Narrowly defined, it's a motion picture abandoned by its owner or caretaker. More generally, the term refers to all manner of films outside of the commercial mainstream: public domain materials, home movies, outtakes, unreleased films... [etc]... For examples, visit the National Film Preservation Foundation, an institution dedicated to saving orphan films."

Monday, April 13, 2009

We Shall Remain

Starting today (April 13), the five-part series We Shall Remain from American Experience. Episode 2, Tecumseh's Vision, was produced and written by Ric Burns (interviewed in Documentary Storytelling) and directed by Chris Eyre and Ric Burns. Episode 5, Wounded Knee, was produced and directed by Stanley Nelson, co-produced by Julia Brannum, and written by Marcia Smith. Stanley Nelson discussed Wounded Knee in chapter 10 of Archival Storytelling, in a roundtable (also with Claire Aguilar, Rick Prelinger, Jon Else, Bill Nichols) on the ethics of archival use.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Review -- Boston Final Cut Pro User Group

Thank you to Loren Miller of BFCPUG for his March 3 review of Archival Storytelling! He writes: "Archival Storytelling puts producers straight about fair use, public domain, licensing, and clearance of media-based intellectual property: original films, books, music, newspaper headlines, photos and artifacts. It is both scholarly and very readable... This authorative book belongs on every producer’s shelf."

Monday, March 2, 2009

Fact checking and MILK

Documentarians aren't the only ones who need to keep careful track of historical evidence. Read the February/March issue of Written By (WGA), Richard Stayton's interview with Dustin Lance Black, Academy Award-winner for his excellent spec script, Milk. Black reports: "There are mountains of research...Three years' worth...There are also binders filled with newspaper clippings, photographs, bags with campaign buttons and posters, all of the usual stuff. When I finally set this script up with Groundswell and Focus, they asked for an annotated draft and the list of sources came in somewhere north of 300."

Sunday, February 22, 2009

"Wild West" article in Current -- now online

Read "Rights Laws Dysfunctional in Media Wild West" -- an exploration of the legal issues involved in licensing footage and music, excerpted from Archival Storytelling and featuring a discussion with Rick Prelinger, Anthony Falzone, Jan Krawitz and others. (The article was first published in Current on January 12, 2009.)

Friday, February 13, 2009

Photo on Flickr

Just found a photo of the book in progress, taken on his iPhone and uploaded October 25, 2007 by Steve Rhodes. This is the panel assembled to discuss ethical issues in archival use, hosted by the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism Documentary Program (see Chapter 10 of Archival Storytelling).  From left to right, Sheila Curran Bernard, Kenn Rabin, Rick Prelinger, Stanley Nelson, and Bill Nichols.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Fair Use and Obama portrait

The February 9 issue of the New York Times includes a report on a lawsuit filed by artist Shepard Fairey, involving Fairey's use of an AP image as the basis for his iconic portrait of Barack Obama. Attorney Anthony Falzone, featured in Archival Storytelling, is on the team asking the court to protect Fairey against copyright claims. According to the Times, "The suit asks the judge to declare that Mr. Fairey’s work is protected under fair-use exceptions to copyright law, which allow limited use of copyrighted materials for purposes like criticism or comment."

Monday, January 19, 2009

NYT article: Historical Photos in Web Archives

Yesterday's New York Times has an article by Noam Cohen, "Historical Photos in Web Archives Gain Vivid New Lives." Included in its discussion of the availability of billions of images online (most of them not historical) is a description of the German national archive uploading "nearly 100,000 historical photographs to the Wikimedia Commons, the virtual archive for material used in Wikipedia articles..." The archive "hopes to harness the Wikipedia editors to improve the cataloging of the photographs, said Oliver Sander, who is responsible for the collection at the archive."

For similar reasons, the article notes, the U.S. Library of Congress has been adding photos to Flickr at the rate of about 50 a week.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Excerpt of book in CURRENT

Check out the January 12, 2009 print edition of Current, the newspaper about public broadcasting in the United States, for "Rights laws dysfunctional in media Wild West" -- an article excerpted from a legal roundtable in Archival Storytelling. (For more information about Current, go to ) The article features discussion with Anthony Falzone, Rick Prelinger, Sam Green, Kristine Samuelson and others.