Filed under: Dan Sonnett, DC, Environment, Film Festivals, Online Video, PBS, Second Life, SMG News, Wildlife
I had a wonderful time at this year’s Silverdocs documentary film festival and conference, which ran from June 12 through June 17 in Silver Spring, Maryland. It’s always very encouraging to see the local audience’s enthusiasm for documentaries (the weekend screenings I attended were nearly also sold out) and to connect with movers and shakers from the wide world of factual filmmaking.
I made a concerted effort to pack in as many films as I could this year. I managed to get in 12 in 5 days. Here are the 10 word or less summaries of the films I was able to see:
“Anderman” (director: Jaap van Heusden)
Caring for his mother with alzheimer’s, man loose his mind.
“Artic Tale” (directors: Adam Ravetch & Sarah Robertson)
The lords of the Artic kingdom are on thin ice.
“The First Sunday in May” (directors: John Hennegan & Brad Hennegan”
Trainers dream of Kentucky Derby while chasing ill-fated Barbaro.
“Lot 63, Grave C” (director: Sam Green)
Murdered Rolling Stone’s fan’s absent tombstone gathers no moss.
“No End in Sight” (director: Charles Ferguson)
Iraq war planners drive off cliff, Bush sleeps at wheel.
“Note by Note: The Making of Steinway L1037” (director: Ben Niles) Handmade instruments created with skillful tenderness for loving, finicky pianists.
“Pete Seegar: The Power of Song” (director: Jim Brown)
This film surrounds hate and forces it to surrender, peacefully.
“Please Vote for Me” (director: Weijun Chen)
Chinese third-graders learn democracy is far from child’s play.
“A Son’s Sacrifice” (director: Yoni Brook)
Half-Pakistani man cuts new path as a Muslim slaughterer.
“Souvenirs” (directors Shahar Cohen & Halil Efrat)
Son directs father back to buried past as a Liberator.
“Voyage in G Major” (director: Georgi Lazarevski)
French violinist explores his 90 years of regrets in Morocco.
My week started with the Inside Discover conference session, held in the Discovery HD Theater, deep inside the Discovery Channel’s imposing headquarters. The session, moderated by television production guru Mat Tombers, featured a range of “go to” production companies for the Discovery networks talking about their experiences inside the beast. Mary Donahue, VP of Creative Content and Talent, was in the hot seat for Discovery and charmed the crowd of mostly independent producers while tossing cold water on their dreams of having their independent visions showcased by the media giant. Allusions to Discovery’s recent reorganization were mostly positive as several panelists noted hopefully on the streamlined bureaucracy.
One of the challenges facing the panelists is how to incorporate new media deliverables into their business plans. Margery Baker, VP of CBS News Productions, described a new initiative called Band of Bloggers, which will feature a variety of user-generated content from soldiers in Iraq distributed through The History Channel’s Web site. Following up with Hal Gressner, Executive Producer of Creative Development at CBS Eye Too Productions, during the Q&A, I learned that the venture will feature both text and video content and will be supported by a television special expected to launch later in the year to help drive interest in the launch of the online project. Hopefully, this all will make it pass the military’s sensors.
I attended three “Future of Real” sessions (following up on last year’s rather heady 1.0 version) continued the muddled debate on how best to utilize the on-line environment to extend the audience (and increase revenues) for documentaries. In the first session, “Readiness & Revenue”, Panelist Tamara Gould, Vice President of Distribution for ITVS, quoting from the recently released phamplet “The New Deal: Version 1.5” from American University’s Center for Social Media, said that although few have found a way to make any money off of web-based distribution platforms, these platforms will be a part of the digital future for filmmakers (even if only a minor part). Fellow panelists Jonathan Miller, of the educational market distributor First Run/Icarus Films, Inc., and Linda Lawrence, of web-based educational program distributor Open Media Network, engaged in an animated discussion about the effects and ROI of web distribution, making it clear that the diverse goals of doc distributors and promoters will both feed the desperate excitement for web-based distribution and guide the community as a whole toward some sane practices. With the help of the Center for Social Media report, hopefully we’ll see more of the latter.
Center for Social Media Director Pat Aufderheide lead a wonderfully diverse panel for the “Engaging New Audiences” session that showcased some of the innovative ways public television, non-profits and media companies are reaching out to new audiences through online media. Daniel Cross, Director of HomelessNation.org and my old friend Shane Seggar, the Program Director for Pacific Islanders in Communications, spoke about the cool social networking projects they are working on.
A session entitled “Cutting Edge Technology Issues” included a presentation from Second Life avatar Brian Mnumonic (Dr. Bryan Carter of Central Missouri State University in real life) which delighted the audience with a virtual PowerPoint that encouraged “mindset reformatting” in order to take advantage of Web 2.0. And Kevin Dando of PBS and Dennis Palmieri and ITVS had some great case studies of how public television is beginning to harness the blogsphere, social networking and video-sharing sites like YouTube to reach out to new audiences. Web 2.0 clearly offers a great opportunity for innovative “outreach” (now called “community-based interaction” by some). But for many of panelists, the old school face-to-face interaction was still the most critical in terms of garnering support for their programs.
In a nod to keynote speaker Ted Leonsis, the “Filmanthropy” session featured a Who’s Who of non-profits and advocacy groups involved with documentary film: Gillian Caldwell (from Peter Gabriel’s Witness), Cynthia Lopez (American Documentary/P.O.V.), Susan MacLaury (Shine Global, Inc.), Ellen Schneider (Active Voice) and Meighan Stone (Bono’s ONE Campaign). The panelists emphasized that non-profits are, by and large, under-utilizing the skills of filmmakers in their media plans and could benefit from partnerships with storytellers in order to showcase their programs for the general public and to decision makers in government. Meighan mentioned that non-profits under the ONE umbrella need to work more with filmmakers and offered to matchmake between the filmmakers in attendance and these groups. Needless to say, she was swarmed after the session.
On the morning of April 30, 2007, a massive fire gutted the historic Eastern Market in Capitol Hill area of Washington, DC. I was fortunately to have permission to shoot at the market back in October of 2006 during the filming of “The Mane Attraction”, my entry into the National Film Challenge 2006:
The Eastern Market is a distinct community landmark in a city full of massive, imposing monuments. The staff of the market was very accommodating to our ragtag film crew and its always a pleasure to hunt for crafty treasure there and pick up farm-fresh produce. The mayor of DC has pledged money to help rebuild the market. But, for those of you in the DC-area, your contribution would help restore this fixture of local city life.
The editors at YouTube selected my short film tribute to the victims of the Virginia Tech massacre as to feature at the top of the Film & Animation category.
Thank you to everyone who sent me their comments. I appreciate your support!
I was planning to shoot a video this week for YouTube in honor of Earth Day this weekend and National Poetry Month (April) when I learned, along with the rest of the world, about the violent shootings at Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, Virginia. I emailed my former business partner Deborah Dunstan to make sure her oldest daughter, who is a student at Virginia Tech, was okay. Thankfully, she was.
Reading about the magnitude of the shooting and hearing the victims stories made a great impression on me. Perhaps its because my family and friends have not been touched by the violent tragedies that have rocked this country in recent years: September 11th, Hurricane Katrina, the war in Iraq, etc. To hear and read about so many promising lives cut short by the acts one person seems to me one of the most horrible and frightening scenarios possible, even during these very troubled times.
Rereading poet Walt Whitman, I remember his mediation on life and death mirrored in the boundless grass that, for him, was an enduring symbol of primacy of life over the sorrow and loss of death. This vision, expressed in his poem “Song of Myself” and in the title of his book Leaves of Grass, gave me the idea for a tribute video for the victims of the Virginia Tech massacre.
I shoot the footage at a park and farm in southern Maryland and it features my son, Tyler, who graciously volunteered for the project in exchange for a chance run through the grass, wade in puddles and explore his favorite stream. It edited the video the same night, incorporating (with apologies) the beautiful guitar version of Vivaldi’s Concerto in D Major played by Sharon Isbin.
I have included the edited text I used below since I am aware that my voice is not always the clearest. The ellipses indicated my edits (with apologies to Walt):
A child said What is the grass? Fetching it to me with full hands;
How could I answer the child? I do not know what it is any more than he.
I guess it must be the flag of my disposition, out of hopeful green stuff woven.
Or I guess it is the handkerchief of the Lord,
A scented gift and remembrancer designedly dropt,
Bearing the owner’s name someway in the corners, that we may see and remark, and say Whose?
Or I guess the grass is itself a child, the produced babe of the vegetation.
And now it seems to me the beautiful uncut hair of graves.
Tenderly I will use you curling grass,
It may be you transpire from the breasts of young men,
It may be if I had known them I would have loved them,
It may be you are from old people, or from offspring taken soon out of their mother’s laps.
And here you are the mother’s laps.
I wish I could translate the hints about the dead young men and women,
And the hints about old men and mothers, and the offspring taken soon out of their laps.
What do you think had become of the young and old men?
And what do you think has become of the women and children?
They are alive and well somewhere,
And the smallest sprout shows there is really no death,
And if ever there was it led forward life, and does not wait at the end to arrest it.
And ceas’d the moment life appeared.
For me, the spirit of Earth Day and National Poetry Month are not so far apart. Both events encourage us to stop, appreciate, and understand the beauty that we may overlook everyday. And it is nature’s precious beauty and sentiments expressed in a heart-felt poems that can help us all move from thoughts of pain, suffering, and death toward to promise of life, beauty, and the endurance of love.
Please remember the victims of this terrible tragedy by expressing your sympathy. Feel free to post a video response to my tribute video on YouTube or add a comment. If you can, donate to the Hokie Spirit Memorial Fund.
Embrace life and help grow hope today, on Earth Day and everyday. Thank you.
Brian Wilbur Grundstrom, who composed the original music for my wildlife film “The Pride of the Maasai Mara”, was recently featured on a Washington, DC television program called “DC people”. If you watch carefully on monitor on Brian’s computer, you’ll see clips of lions from my film!
It was a real pleasure working with Brian on this project and on my short fiction film “The Main Attraction”. You can see the film now on YouTube or catch it at the Kennedy Center in DC later this summer as part of a concert of Brian’s music.
Sonnett Media president Dan Sonnett (aka Pilotflame Ryder) presented a clip from the new PBS documentary “The State of the Ocean’s Animals” in the virtual world of Second Life to a near-capacity crowd at the popular Laguna Beach sim on Tuesday, March 27, 2007.
A crowd of 81 avatars lounged on the beach and watched an 11-minute clip from the program featuring the sea otters of Monterey Bay and the otter conservation program at the Monterey Bay Aquarium in California. Laguna Beach owner Valiant Strangelove created an impressive stage — complete with swimming sea otters and billowing kelp — to feature the clip and for the question-and-answer session that followed.
The documentary is the tenth installment of public television’s award-winning Journey to Planet Earth series. In this program, viewers join Academy Award® winner Matt Damon as he takes a hard look at why nearly half the world’s marine animals may face extinction over the next twenty-five years. Compelling case studies from across the globe focus on how global warming, sea-level rise, over-fishing, and habitat destruction are beginning to empty the world’s oceans. The one-hour episode, which airs on PBS stations on March 28, 2007, also features inspiring stories of hope and courage that celebrate of the beauty and diversity of the natural world.
The story of Monterey Bay’s sea otters offers a glimmer of hope in the fight to protect the ocean’s animals. On the coastline of Monterey Bay, sea otters are a major tourist attraction. Once nearly hunted into extinction because of their fur, federal protection laws help bring the sea otter population recover from 50 animals to over 2,500. This has had an enormous impact on the health of the local ecosystem. Without the sea otters to eat abalone and sea urchins, these creatures proliferated and threatened to destroy the kelp forest that is home to thousands of fish and marine animals.
But recent discoveries have uncovered an alarming trend. Otters have been mysteriously dying off due to infectious disease — and Monterey Bay has lost 20 percent of its population. Since sea otters are critically important to the health of the kelp forest ecosystem, they offer an accurate read on the health of the oceans.
Produced by Emmy Award winning filmmakers Marilyn and Hal Weiner and in association with South Carolina ETV, Journey To Planet Earth is the only continuing primetime television series that deals exclusively with the most critical environmental and sustainable development issues of the 21st century. Sonnett Media has been proud to support the series since 2002 by creating and updating the companion Web site for the series on PBS.org.
Sonnett Media created content for each episode of the series and supported an educational outreach initiative through the Web site. Beginning this year, Sonnett Media also launched a vital marketing campaign that has reached out to new audiences through YouTube and Second Life. The screening and discussion marks the first time a PBS documentary has been presented before broadcast to an audience in Second Life.
Filed under: Online Video
According to a recent article from WorldScreen.com, about a third of the people who regularly view videos on YouTube say they watch less television in order to make time for watching “instructional” videos on how to wash a cat, Chad Vader, or the latest from Lonelygirl15.
Aongus Burke, the senior research manager at Harris Interactive’s Media & Entertainment Practice says:
“It has really emerged as a major force in, and problem for, the traditional entertainment industry. Not only is YouTube using a lot of their own content to steal the eyeballs they want the most, the site has provided a launching pad to wholly new forms of user-generated video entertainment that are gaining popularity quickly.”
Sadly, the respondents also reported a drop in time spend on work/homework (19 percent) and friends and family (in person) (12 percent).
Could YouTube’s enormous popularity be harnessed for the powers of good? Or will be online tv-lite become the new television? We’ll see what happen when YouTube owner Google starts plastering content with ads later this year…