What? A New Documentary Shot in 16mm?
What's This? A New DocumentarY Movie Shot with 16mm Film?
By Dale Johnson, Technology Editor
I went to see Beasts of the Southern Wild for only one reason: It was shot with 16mm film. Its release as a theatrical feature didn't reveal any negatives assignable to that recording medium, however. Sixteen millimeter film was a long-time recording medium for so many in the documentary field that I was curious. I could have enjoyed it more if the producer would have had enough money in the budget for a tripod. But it is an admirable accomplishment on several levels nonetheless.
Of course, which recording medium to use today may be irrelevant as an issue, when producing and constructing a video story or video document. This concern may be irrelevant in the sense that there are so many options for acquiring and capturing imagery.
A new camera seems to be introduced every week, and a plethora of new digital codecs already exist, with new ones still coming. Owning equipment and working in 16mm production, in and of itself, placed one in a position not easily attainable to masses of people because of the cost.
Today, I see digital video cameras for as little at $29, making the production of video programing within the reach of virtually every person on the Planet. This democratization, though, is comparable to everyone owning a typewriter. Just owning one doesn’t make you a writer. Browsing through YouTube for some time will illustrate that point...that owning a camera doesn't make you a filmmaker.
Millions of hours of video are being produced, but what’s worth watching? Of course the same complaint has been leveled at television for years. Yet both production as well as consumption of video continues within the realm of television.
All of this may be stating the obvious, but it leads to the conclusion that it is content that raises a program to a level that will entice an audience to watch. Content that has something to say and finds a way to say it effectively. That is a struggle that continues on.
Just producing video content because you have the equipment to do so, no longer guarantees an audience as it once did. Competition for audience is fierce, even in Hollywood, and even in the proliferating expansion of more cable channels. But we all know these musings.
Hard for me to adopt the attitude and tone of an expert. Hardly anything could be further from the truth these days. Even the guys who are experts have a hard time holding on to that position. The changes come too rapidly for even them.
The cycles continue. Each one of us looks for some place where he can apply his own talent and whatever level of expertise he possesses to achieve some modicum of success. Beasts of the Southern Wild is of interest because it is a place that several members of our production community aspired to from time to time in the past...to produce a theatrical feature.
But our association of producers, our raison d’étre, is about travel...travel which we elected to capture on a recordable medium (film) and then share with other interested folk. The interest in travel still seems palpable and strong within the American generation we wish to appeal to.
Editor: Since Dale wrote this The Beasts of the Southern Wild has been nominated for a Spirit Award.
Dale's New Film
To see a video of moose in fighting-action from Dale Johnson's Lure of Alaska film, click MOOSE.