What Visual Album Releases Tell Us About Film

The second video release, Hold Up, off Beyonce’s sixth album Lemonade, opens with the fierce queen of pop music launching two grandiose wood doors wide, into a four-minute escapade of smashing cars in a bucolic village street.

This is not the first time musicians have harnessed the power of video to reach their audience. Beyonce is notorious for being media shy; quiet on all social media fronts until releasing wildly huge and often confrontational works of video such as Formation.

We’re now living in a time when we’re using words like cinematic to describe music.

In 2013, Beyoncé heralded paradigm shift by  simultaneously releasing her self-titled album and a set of corresponding videos her deliverance to the streaming-era masses.

Through film, musical artists have an outlet to strengthen political comments with visual symbols; there are some things that can only be said through textural imagery of the New Orleans cityscape, the shattering of glass, and the confidence of women on screen.

Beyonce’s album is available exclusively on Tidal, but Hold Up is striking. It’s clear that her audience (the BeyHive) is hungry not only to hear her, but to see her in action; all emotions bared. If you’re curious, check out Vulture’s summary of the track listings.

Other visual albums, more in the avant-garde realm, have fused the visual oddity with sound. ODDSAC was a feature film collaboration between filmmaker Danny Perez and the band Animal Collective. It premiered in 2010 at the Sundance Film Festival and has since screened to sold-out audiences, eager to experience the lush and surreal layering of auditory and filmic elements that condemn conventional narrative to reawaken the viewing experience.

Even deeper in the world fusing music and film is Philip Glass; namely, his 1998 masterwork Koyaanisqatsi. In the Hop language, Koyaanisqatsi means a life out of balance, a life disintegrating. Along with filmmaker Godfrey Reggio, the 87-minute film Koyaanisqatsi is a non-narrative, dialogue-free mediation on the meaning of life. In the longest section of the film, called “The Grid,” Glass composes an escalating chorus and ensemble piece to mimic the heated intensity of the film’s critique of modern society.

We are drawn to film for the same reasons we are drawn to music. Great art inspires us to do greater and reach higher. When music utilizes powerful visual imagery, they connect with their audiences on an even deeper level. No wonder why the Beyhive is always backing Beyonce up.


Documentaries of Sundance: 2016

The Sundance Film Festival is one of the few international film festivals that promote the cross between art and journalism. It is the largest independent film festival in the United States, celebrating independent artists and their thought-provoking productions. The festival’s popularity has become a source of motivation for artistic inspiration, and independent filmmaking. The 2016 Sundance Festival was no different than previous festivals, showcasing works that exhibited unusual stories of often marginalized people.

Three documentaries “The Land of Enlightened,” “Plaza de la Soledad,” and “The Lovers and the Despot”, focus on unusual stories in some very difficult terrains. “The Land of the Enlightened” documents a band of preteen bandits in rocky northeastern Afghanistan. These armed children often put themselves in perilous situations, removing Soviet era mines to sell as explosives for miners. The film also documents them marauding and stealing precious stones from miners and merchants. As Brandon Harris writes in Al Jazeera, “The film’s artistry is incredible; its ethics, less clear.”

Directed by Robert Cannan and Ross Adam, “The Lovers and the Despot” recounts the kidnapping of a South Korean couple by deceased North Korean dictator Kim Jong Il. Choi Eun-hee, a popular South Korean actress and her husband, director Shin Sang-ok were coerced with the duty of improving North Korean cinema. Although a great deal of the film documents interviews of Shin Sang-ok, it often cuts back to reels of their time held captive in North Korea. “The Lovers and the Despot” acts as a documentary-thriller of sorts, intertwined with the kidnapped couple’s earnest romance.

In a very intimate portrayal of the daily lives of young women in Mexico City, director Maya Goded delicately showcases the plight of a group of career prostitutes in “Plaza de Soledad.” Throughout the film, the women recall traumatic, and sometimes violent episodes in their lives, all well developing an unbreakable sisterhood.

A handful of films this year focuses on the political and social strife faced by communities in the United States. “Kate Plays Christine,” directed by Robert Greene, narrows in on the subject of performance and acting in the context of the disturbing public suicide of Christine Chubbuck. Chubbuck, a journalist in Florida was frustrated over the media’s excessive coverage of violence and death. She decided to end her life on a live report.

Another film, Tim Sutton’s “Dark Night” confronts the public nightmare of gun violence. As an allusion to the movie theatre shooting in Aurora Colorado, it alternates between the fragmented lives of real people in Sarasota, Florida with a journalistic approach toward the Aurora shootings that took place toward the a screening of The Dark Knight Rises. Richard Brody writes in the New Yorker, “The film’s suburban moods are haunted by violence.” Both films depict the ugly realities of gun violence in Florida by overlapping factual tragedies with fictional dramatizations. Sundance Films always leave viewers with an assortment of emotions. The festival values expression, with the strongest documentaries blending the reality with journalism, and artistic dramatizations. Film lovers and socially aware individuals should always look to the Sundance Festival for some deep and engaging cinema. Now that they have screened at Sundance, look out for screenings in neighborhoods near you.

Documentaries on the Red Carpet


Dziga Vertov - Man With a Movie Camera

Dziga Vertov – Man With a Movie Camera

Documentaries haven’t always been a fan favorite at the Academy Awards. Audiences are attracted to lavish sets, familiar celebrities, and tear-jerking storylines. But documentary films are not so different from the films we are familiar with, they simply strive to translate life’s raw experiences in a popular format.

Contemporary films are more indebted to the legacy of documentary than we often realize. In the 1920’s and 1920’s, Soviet filmmakers felt so inspired from the vivacity of modern art and rapidly growing cities that they crafted powerful expressions; the avant-doc of The Man with a Movie Camera (1929) by Dziga Vertov is an example. Vertov coined the idea of the “cinematic truth,” emphasizing that the camera is capable of portraying the human experience more accurately than the human eye.

This reliance on the power of the camera has been passed down to documentary filmmakers throughout history. Films today still reflect the creative techniques from primitive documentaries – think of non-narrative approaches in indie films.

The relationship between documentary film and fictional films is often debated – How does editing influence the audience’s perspective? How can one produce a true documentary?

Every year, the Academy Awards looks to highlight some of the best films and award the people who worked hard toward their production.  The first year documentary films were recognized was 1942; during WWII when the usage of raw footage was both a necessary source of information and emotionally shocking. The next year, they split the category in two: short films and feature-length, to better serve the variety of documentary film.

Since the 1940s, the art of documentary has developed dramatically. Filmmakers have moved away from avant-garde, philosophical reflections and aggrandizing propaganda material toward detailed, highly-researched investigations into personal stories. Some of the best examples in the modern documentary canon are Man on a Wire (2008) that evokes the magical personality of Philippe Petit and his endeavor to cross the World Trade Center on a tightrope. This film was awarded an Oscar. In 2012, Searching for Sugarman escalated in popular with its Oscar winning. This soulful documentary tells the tale of Rodriguez, a folk musician popular in South Africa but essentially unknown everywhere else. Many documentaries are effectively informative and purposeful; anyone who has browsed Netflix will understand the plethora of directors that have investigated food policy in the United States and highlighted animal rights around the globe.

Learn Your Way to the Top

What do Spike Lee, George Lucas, and Martin Scorsese all have in common? They have a Master of Fine Arts degree from one of the top MFA programs in the United States. Now, this isn’t to say that you cannot succeed without an MFA, but if you’re interested in surrounding yourself with and learning from the best, check out some of these MFA programs below:


American Film Institute (AFI)

Degrees: MFA, certificate of completion
Tuition: $38,416 first year, $37,112 second
Location(s): Los Angeles // Silver Spring

Arguably one of the most selective fine arts school in the country, AFI’s two-year conservatory program offers students in the Los Angeles area the opportunity to direct, produce, and write their own unique content. Notable alumni include Darren Aronofsky, Patty Jenkins, Heidi Levitt, David Lynch, and more. AFI also presents the annual Life Achievement Awards and AFI Awards.

AFI Conservatory Core Values: “We expect leadership, initiative, integrity and the communication necessary for successful collaboration in a professional environment. By means of these core values, the Conservatory inspires each Fellow to discover an authentic voice.”


Beijing Film Academy

Degree: B.A., M.A., and Ph.D. programs
Tuition: Local: ~$1,240 // International: ~$7,800
Location: Beijing, China

The Beijing Film Academy offers undergraduate, graduate, and Ph.D. programs for creative students. China currently has the fastest-growing film industry in the world right after the United States. With a large international exchange program, students have the opportunity to not only learn the ins and outs of film, but also Mandarin, the official language of the land. If you’re looking to  spend some time abroad, definitely apply here. Plus, the tuition is comparatively cheap.

“BFA actively promotes international exchange and cooperation.”


New York University Tisch School of the Arts

Degrees: B.A., BFA, MFA, MPS, M.A., Ph.D.
Tuition: $45, 674
Location: New York, New York

NYU’s School of the Arts is another high ranking institution with a relatively low acceptance rate. However, if you manage to attend, you’ll walk the same halls as brilliant directors like Scorsese and Gilligan. The Kanbar Institute of Film and Television contains Graduate Film, Undergraduate Film & Television, Cinema Studies, and Dramatic Writing. If you’re interested in studying abroad, NYU also hosts a Tisch School of the Arts in Asia. The Singapore campus offers MFA degrees in animation and digital arts, dramatics writing, and film production.
“The Rita and Burton Goldberg Department of Dramatic Writing cross-trains students in all areas of dramatic writing with concentrations in Film, Playwriting, and Television.”

Disney to Try VR for Broadway

Virtual reality (VR). In most cases, the words “virtual reality” strongly correlate with in-depth video game engagement or real world simulations for medicine, science, or war. But what if VR could change the face of live theater? Disney Theatrical Productions is aiming to experiment with just that concept – they have announced a VR short for “The Lion King’s” elaborate “Circle of Life” opening.

The Broadway show’s opening is known for its full-scale, 360 degree experience in which the kingdom’s animals appear from the left, right, top, bottom, and back or the theater, all making their way towards the center stage. Disney’s push for a VR experience will be the first in major Broadway production history.

The industry has typically been averse to blending live performance with pre-recorded content; however, 2014 has shown some exciting possibilities in the VR industry. The goal of incorporating VR into the “Circle of Life” opening is to provide viewers with complex vantage points, enhancing the overall experience.

Total Cinema 360, the experience company behind production, shot nearly six takes in a theater filled with 1,000 viewers.The Los Angeles-based startup, VR Playhouse, aided post-production, acknowledging the difficulties of creating VR material from live a Broadway show. Total Cinema 360’s co-founder, Craig Gilbert stated in an LA Times article, “It’s not easy to do live Broadway… I think the biggest challenge is coordinating with the show — you’re not just filming something but dealing with rehearsals and changing choreography and different lighting.”

Even in the wake of such difficulties, VR production companies are pitching ways to incorporate VR content with marketing media. Furthermore, a more in-depth experience could potentially allow for longer, more rewarding shows.

Broadway has historically honored the intrinsic value of live theater and has been slow to adapt to virtual technology for fear that theatergoers would opt out of attending live shows. Yet, if VR does catch on, not only may it produce a new revenue stream, but also allow friends and family in different cities to experience the same show together.

Many challenges face the live theater industry should VR be adopted. If shows become readily available outside of the venue, ticket prices may plummet, causing problems for Unionized Broadway workers. It also remains unclear how favorable Broadway actors may feel about VR tapings. Regardless, Disney’s “Circle of Life” trial will surely set a precedent.

Vulture: 100 Women Directors Hollywood Should Hire

As with many industries, women remain an underrepresented demographic in the world of directing. “The Celluloid Ceiling: Behind-the-Scenes Employment of Women on the Top 250 Films of 2014” report by San Diego State University indicates that of 2014’s  top 250 domestic grossing films, only 7% were directed by women. Even less were composers, sound designers, sound editors, or cinematographers. Overall, the presence of women on the backend of film production and development are minimal.

The article below challenges the notion that the pool of qualified women is somehow lacking or devoid of talent. Here are 100 women Vulture has hand picked as some of the brightest, best, and more than eligible for Hollywood and big media.



Enough with the studios like 20th Century Fox, Sony, Paramount, and the Weinstein Company, none of which put out even a single film this year that was directed by a woman.

And enough with the producers who claim that there’s still just a shallow pool of female directors to draw from, because we’ve got 100 reasons why that’s not the case.

Below, we’ve compiled a list of the best and brightest female directors in the industry, very few of whom are afforded the same major opportunities as their male counterparts. Some are promising up-and-comers, while others are award-winning veterans. Their talents run the gamut from comedy to drama, and from action to arthouse. Contrary to what Hollywood would have you believe, it wasn’t hard to assemble such an enormous list of smart, eminently hireable female directors. The only difficult part was culling it down to just 100.

Continue reading: 100 Women Directors Hollywood Should Be Hiring

Field of Vision

Larger strides are being taken in the documentary industry as award winning director, Laura Poitras launches the ambitious venture, Field of Vision. Partnering with documentary veterans Charlotte Cook and A.J. Schnack, Field of Vision will commission short-form documentaries and make them available, free of charge, online via the Field of Vision streaming website. As large companies like PBD, HBO, and Netflix continue to hot and fund longer, more formal productions, Poitras aims to provide a platform for timely, new stories that stand apart from industry heavyweights.


After taking home an Oscar for her riveting examination of the Edward Snowden case, no one expected Ms. Poitras to become and entrepreneur. However, her new company, sponsored by First Look Media, will provide one-off, first look encounters on numerous topics ranging from homelessness to political strife. Some recognizable industry participants include Michael Moore and “House of Cards” creator Beau Willimon. This upcoming Sunday at the 2015 New York Film Festival, Poitras will premier Kirsten Johnson’s “The Above,” Michael Palmieri and Donal Mosher’s “Peace in the Valley,”  and Iva Radivojevic’s “Notes From the Border.” The key difference between Field of Vision projects and standard PBS documentaries lies in each project’s ability to be relevant, current, and serve as an alternative outlet for nonfiction film.

According to A.J. Schnack, the director of a nonfiction film about Kurt Cobain, “[Field of Vision wants] to play in the corner where journalism and documentary overlap.” Filmmakers believe that this new platform will allow them to participate in current debates creatively without the bureaucracy of big name players who require long waiting periods, making the concept of timeliness impossible. Field of Vision also plans to experiment with serialized content, much like “This American Life’s” spinoff, “Serial.”

Even with consistent backing and verbal support, Poitras recognizes difficulties that lie ahead. Online services like YouTube and Vimeo haven been modern powerhouses and central hubs for independent directors and producers. Regardless of competition, Laura Poitras is confident that the aspect of community building will guide Field of Vision to success.

Fandom Documentaries Actually Help Hollywood

With any longstanding Hollywood blockbuster comes an equally robust fanbase. Withstanding the test of time, the 1984 Ghostbusters maintains a relatively large following, prompting a strong female-lead remake slated for summer 2016. After 30 years, fans continue to attend comic conventions dressed as the original characters. “Who you gonna call?!” still receives a resounding answer of “Ghostbusters!” Even from younger generations! In similar fashion, a fandom-based documentary appropriately titled Ghostheads is set to be released in conjunction with the new film. Documentaries like this, which showcase typical, everyday fans actually increases the visibility of not only the original film, but also Hollywood remakes.


Paul Feig’s Ghostheads is described as being “by the fans, about the fans.” Along the same lines, the 1997 Star Trek fan film, Trekkies set the precedent for what it means to truly be a fandom documentary. Trekkies was released in a time when Star Trek was still a relatively niche show. The concept of being a Trekkie became a huge phenomenon that still holds baring today at comic-cons across the country. And yet still, Trekkies introduced a large sector of the population to not only a television show, but also a genre they may have never discovered without it.

In some instances, fandom documentaries create a placeholder when official movie remakes are impossible. Although Back to the Future will never see a remake (according to Robert Zemeckis, “[A remake] can’t happen until both Bob and I are dead.”), fandom documentaries can continue to pump relevance into a stagnate series. As it currently stands, The Lego Movie already has A Lego Brickumentary. In the very near future, perhaps hugely popular film series like X-men and Harry Potter will see fandom documentaries as well.