Friday, March 19, 2010

Film as Art or Medium to Convey Information?

Last week a student asked me if I thought their was value in film as an art form or as a medium to convey information. I answered that we use it in class every day, we connect with it online or on TV at home all the time. It's a great way to communicate your thoughts and ideas. Students should learn how to communicate this way now and for their future life.

With the advent of highly popular online video sites, the use of video is proliferating at an exponential rate. According to one report posted in April 2009 YouTube alone hosted over 120 million videos with 200,000 being added each day. A TechCrunch report from July 2009 says over 1.2 billion videos are viewed each day via Google and YouTube. In fact, the TechCrunch report states that video viewing reached 80 billion videos viewed each month. Surely by now the numbers are much higher.

But what's the point of all this video production, uploading, and viewing? Are we just entertaining ourselves, fulfilling a need for amusement?

Educators have taken to showing videos on a daily basis in class. While they are not intending to entertain their students they are mindful that the younger generation has become used to life on the screen to such a degree that sitting and just listening and discussing is not a common practice in their lives. In fact, the word boring is now a regular part of the conversation when I ask my own kids how school was today. That is, unless they got to watch a video in class.

When you think about the impact of James Cameron's Avatar it's difficult to deny the influence of film as an art form with an ability to convey important information. However, when you consider the cultural appropriation in that film I have to wonder about just what sort of influence films like this have on our society. To me, this film is a combination of FernGully and Dances With Wolves with a little Jar Jar Binks on steroids thrown in to placate all those who would otherwise be bored with the story. It seems as though if things aren't blowing up or people aren't being killed the lack of action in a film makes it boring for our younger generation.

Being a documentary film maker who loves to go to the movies I can appreciate a good film with a strong message like The Blind Side. Personally I wish more people would go and see films like Food Inc., The Cove, and the Most Dangerous Man in America three Oscar nominated documentary films from 2009. In fact, I would like to see more people make films like this so everyone would get the opportunity to learn about what's going on in our world. Young people don't watch the news and spend more of their time with the "news" of their friends on Facebook then gathering the news of the world or even their own local community. That is, unless they are assigned such a task by a teacher.

When Michael Moore started making films about the problems he saw in our society everyone thought he was crazy. Who would watch such a thing? Why would anyone want to know about a cab company in Madison, Wisconsin?

It turns out that lots of people do want to see that. Despite the fact that Sacha Baron Cohen co-opted Moore's concept with his wacky Borat movies for entertainment purposes I believe Moore will have a much greater impact on society because he has managed to make documentary film entertaining. Borat is an attempt to take entertainment and make it seem like documentary. Even though Cohen raises lots of important issues from our culture the spoofing of these issues makes them seem like fiction to most viewers. He is so outrageous that it's difficult to believe that all of his subjects are not staged as he is in the films.

Is there value in film as an art and as a way of conveying information? Sure. Do we have enough good film out their that goes beyond simply entertaining the masses? Not even close. Go out and communicate your ideas, we need more people to do that so the world will be a better place in the future.