The Environmental Film Festival at Yale opened on April 9, Monday night in the Art Gallery Auditorium. It was a gala event.
Various members of Yale faculty showed up. As George Chauncey of American Studies and Ron Gregg of Film Studies ambled down the aisle, I suddenly felt that the chairs should be grey and the carpet red.
The opening night film was Surviving Progress (2011) with co-director Harold Crooks available for a conversation/Q & A afterwards, led by Mary Evelyn Tucker, who has appointments in the School of Forestry & Environmental Studies as well as the Divinity School.
I found myself sitting next to Carlos Torre, Professor of Education at Southern Connecticut State University and former President of the New Haven, Connecticut Board of Education. He asked about getting Surviving Progress into the city’s schools.
Students in my class on Documentary and the Environment were there in force. A number of them were blogging the festival:
Alice Buckley and Victoria Montanez are blogging @ http://filmgirlsgonebananas.wordpress.com/
I taught this course really for two reasons. First, I feel that the Environmental Documentary is the most vital and central genre within documentary at the present moment. Second, I wanted to create a class that could take advantage of this wonderful festival.
My frustration is that there are three major festivals/conferences over this long week/weekend. Besides EFFY, there is Full Frame Documentary FIlm Festival in Durham, North Carolina and the Orphan Film Symposium at the Museum of the Moving Image in Queens. I am giving a presentation at the Orphan Film Symposium. So follow the festival on my students’ blogs. And it works best if you can actually attend the films!
A Joint Statement about Blogging the Environmental Film Festival @ Yale
by Russell Holmes and Camille Chambers
go to: http://effyblog.tumblr.com/
We both really enjoyed this experience from start to finish. EFFY picked compelling films and it was exciting to go every night, watch the screening and then hear about the film from a filmmaker or guest. The films covered a variety of issues and presented arguments in different ways, so the experience never felt repetitive. Being a blogger meant a transition from a passive viewer to a more involved viewer. Instead of just watching a film and noticing whether or not we liked it, we went into the films with the intention of picking apart the arguments and the methods used to further these arguments. The seminar and class screenings gave us many of the tools we needed to do this, and the weekly responses prepare us to churn out the blog posts on time so that a followed of the blog would be up to date. The screenings from class were in dialogue with many of the EFFY films, so it was often relevant to compare films to see what worked and what didn’t. The experience of being a blogger was a learning experience, and allowed us to apply our knowledge to new films.
A note on our methods:
Between the two of us, we attended every film and event, and we overlapped on many of the screenings. During the screening we would take handwritten notes to remember important quotes and techniques. After the film, we compared our thoughts on the persuasiveness of the film and the overall message—which we translated into our rating system. One or both of us would then write up the blog post for the night, keeping in mind that it should be useful for people who had and hadn’t attended the screening. We also attended the special EFFY events, like the discussion with Colin Beavan, which we thought were really interesting. Blogging these was fun because it added another level to our account of EFFY. Camille was also able to entertain an exclusive interview with Andrew Grace of Eating Alabama and this added some value to our blog because it was something that could only be found on our site. What was challenging—and this is where the importance of a partner comes in—was the time commitment it took. Every night of the week and throughout the weekend, there was a film screening. A guest speaker usually followed each screening, and the whole process took about two hours. Then, to produce a blog post that really analyzed the film thoughtfully took about another hour. We wanted the blog to be functional and up-to-date so it was important to us to get the posts up the night of the event or screening. This also was very writing intensive, and we ended up writing over 40 pages (double spaced) of posts. Because it was the first film festival that either of us had attended and neither of us blog regularly, we initially expected we might run into some hurdles. However, the process went relatively smoothly. We picked out and customized a blog format on tumblr, and intentionally made it viewer friendly. We scheduled which events we would attend and checked in regularly with each other to make sure that the blog was up to date. Once everything got off to a smooth start, we even decided to try and promote our blog through the EFFY Facebook page, which ended up getting us a few followers. Good planning and timely completion of the blog posts was key to keeping us on track.
What we learned:
After this experience, we both felt like we were experts in the field of environmental documentary. After reading Spence and Navarro and analyzing the screenings in class, we had a lot of analytical devices with which to parse the films. We watched so many films in a short period of time that we became very good at picking out what exactly worked and didn’t work. We were able to look at the films through the elements of bias, authenticity, evidence, narrative voice and several other filters. When you see a finished documentary it is easy to forget the process behind it. EFFY, through its use of guest speakers, constantly reminded us of the process. The director or filmmaker makes many decisions throughout the course of filming, and blogging the festival constantly reminded us that what we were seeing was someone’s vision for the documentary. The experience of attending all of these films also taught us a little bit about the culture of a film festival. The time we spend in class is mainly spent analyzing the films, which misses our a little on the culture of film. When we went to the screenings and saw the EFFY team, the filmmakers and the excitement of the viewers, it added to the experience of the documentary. We thought that this was a valuable learning experience and that it complemented the class very well.
We do not plan on taking the blog down, so presumably it will remain on the internet for a long time. We have enjoyed the experience, take pride in the finished product and would be happy to share it with anyone.