Tuesday, 22 July 2014

Deadly Cinema and Secret Cinema

At the weekend I picked up in a charity ("thrift") shop a short book by world theatre director and experimenter Peter Brook called The Empty Space, first published in 1968, with a Pelican paperback in 1972. There have been several reprints and it's still a thoughtful discussion of the state of theatre.

Where he speculates on 'Theatre' I found myself reflecting on 'Cinema.' It's a curious exercise to displace and compare terminologies and discourses. Sometimes it's quite shocking and sobering as a thought experiment.

What did the theatre mean to him in 1968, and what does it mean to us in 2011?

How have our ideas about the value(s) and function of cinema evolved alongside, or in opposition to 'theatre' ?

If you're curious, his four chapters are titled

The Deadly Theatre
The Holy Theatre
The Rough Theatre
The Immediate Theatre

I also found myself dreaming about a Secret Cinema. Perhaps a lost chapter of the Brook's book ?

- An echo perhaps of composer Harrison Birtwistle's Secret Theatre ?

Or, perhaps, more lyrically, a borrowing from the Robert Graves poem Secret Theatre:

When from your sleepy mind the day's burden
Falls like a bushel sack on a barn floor,
Be prepared for music, for natural mirages
And for the night's incomparable parade of colour.

It is hours after midnight now, a flute signals
Far off; we mount the stage as though at random
Boldly ring down the curtain, then dance out our love.

I confess that there are always piles of books around me, some not yet read, delights waiting to be opened, uncovered, discovered. One book on my desk was a novel by Carol Shields called Unless (2002). The novel opens with an epigraph from the great nineteenth-century English female novelist George Eliot:

If we had a keen vision and feeling of all ordinary human life, it would be like hearing the grass grow and the squirrel's heart beat, and we should die of that roar which lies on the other side of silence.

There's something in these books and quotes that would constitute my Secret Cinema. A place perhaps to find Wordsworth's 'still sad music of humanity'; a space for film to have rhythm and intensity, overheard visioning; but also laughter and dance; something rough and grotesque, something holy, sublime and degenerate.

I'm wanting a secret cinema with a living drama of individuation rather than the crude trappings of a consuming and hollow individualism. A living cinema, not a deadly cinema.

My Secret Cinema could be a projection of visionary communion and failed community; a drama of flows and conflicts; laughter and life-worlds; struggles and victories. A spectacle of people, for the people

And I'm not objecting to being entertained either; it would be a valued alternative to cinema as recreational paralysis.

That's the end of my part of the blog, really. I was not intending to write it up until I heard Mark Kermode speaking about his book The Good, The Bad and The Multiplex: What's Wrong with Modern Movies on the BBC Radio 4 tonight. An edited version also appeared recently in The Guardian. I agree with much that he has to say in his criticism of the the big budget blockbuster, the decline of cinema and the rise of commercialism at the expense of a thinking and feeling audience who deserve more than they are offered by the marketing machinery of the film 'industry' and the 'entertainment business'.

But I just wanted to end with some quotes from Peter Brook. He's was worried about theatre. We need to worry about cinema. As the public space declines I'm falling back on my Secret Cinema. See you there?

Deadly Theatre / Deadly Cinema

"The theatre has often been called a whore, meaning its art is impure, but today this is true in another sense  - whores take the money and then go short on the pleasure." (12)

" [...] the theatre has become a deadly business and the public is smelling it out. In fact, were the public ever really to demand the true entertainment it talks about so often, we would all be hard put to know where to begin." (12)

"We expect the so-called hit to be livelier, faster, brighter than the flop - but this is not always the case." (13)

" [...] just the right degree of boringness is a reassuring guarantee of a worthwhile event.  Of course, the dosage is so subtle that it is impossible to establish the exact formula - too much and the audience is driven out of its seats, too little and it may find the theme too disagreeably intense." (13)

" [...] so, tragically, in elevating something bad into a success they are only cheating themselves." (13)

Broadway is not a jungle, it is a machine into which a great many parts snugly interlock. yet each of these parts is brutalized; it has been deformed to fit smoothly." (22)

Yet America could easily have a great theatre of its own. It possesses every one of the elements; there is a strength, courage, humour, cash and a capacity for facing hard facts." (23)

"Deadliness always brings us back to repetition: the deadly director uses old formulae, old methods, old jokes, old effects, stock beginnings to scenes, stock ends..." (44)

"A deadly director is a director who brings no challenge to the conditioned reflexes that every department must contain." (44)

"The problem of the Deadly Theatre is like the problem of the deadly bore." (45)

"When we say deadly, we never mean dead: we mean something depressingly active, but for this reason capable of change. The first step towards this change is facing the simple unattractive fact that most of what is called theatre anywhere in the world is a travesty of a word once full of sense." (45)

"Not least, the influence of television has been to accustom viewers of all classes all over the world to make instant judgement - at the moment they catch sight of a shot on the screen - so that the average adult continually situates scenes and characters unaided, with a 'good craftsman' helping with exposition and explanation." (42)

"Why theatre at all? What for? Is it an anachronism, a supernatural oddity, surviving like an old monument or a quaint custom? Why do we applaud, and what? Has the stage a real place in our lives? What function can it have? What could it serve? What could it explore? What are its special properties." (45-6)

Wednesday, 2 July 2014

Gender and Communications in International Development

The Communication Initiative is a partnership and networking space where people using media and communication strategies for action on poverty and other major issues share, learn and converse. See www.comminit.com and register. The Communication Initiative Network also has a useful page on Facebook that lists new projects.

Here are some features on gender and equality that appeared in their recent newsletter.

1. Mucho Corazón (A Lot of Heart)
The purpose of this Mexican television drama series is to help spread the word about the MDGs and the importance of sustainable development, gender equity, and respect for Indigenous Peoples. The 35-episode drama tells the story of Maruch, a young woman from a rural community in Chiapas. It is complemented by: a weekly TV talk show, ongoing promotion through the State of Chiapas radio and television networks, and community action campaigns to encourage viewers to adopt behaviours modelled in the drama.

MUCHO CORAZÓN (SUBTITLED) from PCI Media Impact on Vimeo.

2. Communication for Development (C4D) Workshop: Pacific Media Assistance Program (PACMAS)
In March 2012, the Pacific Media Assistance Program (PACMAS) held a C4D workshop in Suva, Fiji, with 20 students from technical and vocational education (TVET) institutions around the Pacific. The students produced radio and TV stories linked to the MDGs, including a television story on a female taxi driver to promote MDG 3: Women's Empowerment and Gender Equality. "We believe this story can empower young females in their career path choices and contribute to achievement of MDG 2 - quality education for all children (including females!)."
3. Event: Making a Noise for the MDGs
This initiative combined debate and drama in a show of support for the MDGs, with a focus on the role of women and girls in empowering women, reducing child mortality, and improving maternal health. BBC listeners, along with a live audience, discussed the role played by women in achieving the MDGs. Following the debate, a reception that drew a range of figures from the arts explored the role of creativity and drama as tools used to provoke lasting social change. [Sept. 2010, BBC Media Action and the Southbank Centre]
4. Progress Relies on Sound Information in the Philippines
by Michelle Hibler
The Community-Based Monitoring System (CBMS) is an organised way of collecting, analysing, and verifying information to be used by local governments, national government agencies, non-governmental organisations (NGOs), and civil society for planning, budgeting, and implementing local development programmes. The Philippines CBMS team is testing its use in gender-responsive budgeting. "A pilot project in Escalante City confirmed the usefulness of CBMS, which had been modified to capture additional gender-relevant information, such as education and livelihood skills, in targeting and resource allocation." Data are available to governments and researchers through a computerised national repository system. [International Development Research Centre (IDRC), Jun. 2009]
5. Gender Mainstreaming in Practice: A Toolkit
This toolkit provides a detailed algorithm for implementing a gender perspective in all phases of a development programme/project cycle. Special attention is paid to: (i) baseline gender indicators that help monitor: (i) whether a project improves access to development resources for women and men equally, (ii) principles of civic participation in project implementation, and (iii) active promotion of gender equality in information support of the project and communication with national counterparts. Though global in scope, it is extended as part of United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) Kyrgyzstan's work to advance gender equality and empowerment of women as part of the MDGs. [Nov. 2011]

Friday, 30 May 2014

18 Advantages of visual auto-ethnography for research

Video is now cheap and omni-present

What is it?

Visual auto-ethnography is a form of participant -authored audio-visual storytelling. Still confused? Think video diary and you're almost there. In recent years the availability of more affordable camcorders has meant that researchers and participants can engage in more effective research.

Real examples of practical use of video

In recent projects I have used flip cameras with participants from ethnic minority communities who were recording their experience of  adult learning as enrichment. In another project we used more expensive cameras in a health setting in order to examine what the priorities were for service users. The footage has had multiple benefits and we continue to develop the use of visual technologies and methodologies:

  • to empower and support the participation of service users and clients;
  • to provide evidence and documentation of outputs and project delivery;
  • to support the creative personalization of service delivery; 
  • to inform project evaluation; 
  • to demonstrate accountability;
  • to improve the accessibility and awareness of services;
  • to influence policy and strategic development options;
  • to foster dialogue between groups of people - both vertical (client to manager) and horizontal (client to service user)

What are the advantages of visual auto-ethnography?

1. If the researcher is working with a group that finds reading and writing difficult then it makes sense to tap into their self- or group- expression through visual literacy

2. Inexpensive cameras are very easy to use. Basic training is all that is required on a technical level.

3. The researcher will be hearing the world through the voice of the participant.

4. The research will be seeing the world through the eyes of the participant.

5. The participant rather than the researcher selects what is relevant - using focus, emphasis, frame, duration of shot etc.

6. The film product may more successfully encompass a more private world than would be accessible to the external, "other" world of the researcher.

7. By taking the researcher out of the filming process there is less opportunity for the researcher to influence the proceedings - either deliberately or unwittingly.

8. Participants are likely to have an understanding of their participation based on their experience of popular genres such as reality TV, or fly-on-the-wall documentary.

9. Because it's participant-led the researcher may end up with a degree of personalization that cuts through the tired cliches, social prejudices and/ or imposed expectations.

10. Participants are able to generate a lot of material in a short time.

11. Participants may have the option to edit or delete the footage that they recorded - giving them more power over the research

12. Participation in editing may provide additional opportunities for reflective work by the participants

13. The researcher has a rich database of material on which to work.

14. The researcher can replay clips in order to capture detailed responses and nuances that might other wise be missed. Similarly, the research may also zoom in on visual details.

15. Remember that many hand-held cameras are small and portable; they are ideal for working in confined environments.

16. Camcorders have become so cheap that they will often fit within a tight researcher's budget

17. Because they are inexpensive the researcher need not fear the risk that some cameras may be lost or damaged. There is less need for supervision and security issues.

18. Affordability means that a wider or larger focus group of participants can be employed than would be the case if more professional equipment were employed.

In another blog I will be discussing the practical aspects of setting up a video diary for research. And after that we will be moving on to discuss the dangers and disadvantages of using visual auto-ethnography. We will be discussing ethical issues and the secrets of getting the most out of your participants to create high quality research.

© Dr Ian McCormick. But please do contact me if you want to use this article as a guest post on your blog. With attribution offered I seldom refuse!
Dr Ian McCormick is the author of The Art of Connection: the Social Life of Sentences
(Quibble Academic, 2013)Further Information

Watch our for notices regarding future posts on Facebook or Twitter.

The International Community Film Forum showcases participatory video from around the world.

If you want to read more, there is a short article from The Guardian that is quite helpful:

Video diaries. "One of the simplest and cheapest ways to start filming is to make a video diary. These are the secrets of making a good one."