Disclaimer: This review contains some spoilers for this season and previous episodes of The Handmaid’s Tale.
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Disclaimer: This review contains some spoilers for this season and previous episodes of The Handmaid’s Tale.
by Emily Reuben Disclaimer: This review contains some spoilers for this season and previous episodes of The Handmaid's Tale. The Handmaid's Tale really is a wild ride, and Season 2 doesn't stop pulling the punches. We have hangings, mutilations, beatings, a whole array of terrible things really. Why do we watch this again? Because despite all the horrible things that happen, the show is brilliant. Not only is the political commentary relevant (very relevant), the show is beautifully shot, (mostly) well written, and features amazing actors that really bring the characters to life. As long as the show keeps delivering on these things, I will be watching. But will it keep delivering? Season 2 is definitely entertaining, but it is certainly not without its faults, and many of the writing decisions are largely divisive among viewers. However, despite some gripes here and there and the controversial season finale, The Handmaid's Tale remains one of the most beautiful, well-crafted shows currently streaming. Vive la résistance! After the first season's optimistic cliffhanger, fans of the series were left anxiously wondering if June could escape the tyrannical patriarchy of Gilead. Sadly for us, the relentless, cruel nature of the first season carries over into this season; escape is simply not in the cards for June. Season 2 opens on an incredibly stressful note as June and the other Handmaid's are ushered into a stadium surrounded by guards and barking dogs. Among the chaos and confusion, Aunt Lydia steps forward confirming that the handmaids are being punished for their prior refusal to kill Janine last season, and the punishment is death. This opening was an incredible way to start off the season and sets the tone for the remainder of the season right off the bat. Except if you've seen any television show ever you know that they can't kill off our main character in the first episode of a new season. We have an entire season of grim escapades to focus on after all. If the season opener is too intense for you, then you may as well exit your Hulu app and stop watching, because everything only escalates from here. The dark tone set here in the first episode remains consistent throughout the remainder of the season. The Waterfords now become far more threatening and abusive than ever before; violence against Handmaids and "sinners" is all too common. And more than likely you will have an emotional breakdown during some of the more intense scenes, be it from happiness or revulsion. The more notable moments in the series are definitely the interactions between June and other major characters: June and Emily, June and Waterford, June and Serena...and plenty of other great interactions scattered throughout. The plot is still influenced by character's attempting to revolt, thrive, or escape from Gilead, but what gives the show momentum is the plotting, arguing and manipulating. While these moments of action are amazingly suspenseful to watch, the show does suffer from repetition. The most annoying example is without a doubt all of June's escape attempts. How many times does the show plan on trying to convince us June will escape, only to have her plan go sideways at the last moment? The answer is three. Now to be fair, these aren't boring to watch or poorly executed in terms of cinematography or writing, but it does make the season feel formulaic: June escapes, June is captured, June has a bad experience with the Waterfords, June escapes, June is captured....you get the drift. Despite this annoyance, the writing is excellent overall, especially considering this season didn't have the book to draw influence from in terms of story progression. One of the best decisions is the theme of giving the women enslaved in Gilead agency, even if it is something as simple as hiding a bible, working together in secret, or simply slapping someone in the face. Without these glimmers of hope and camaraderie, the show could easily become unbearable to watch due to the excessive violence and brutality. Instead, there are allusions to a revolution, developing alliances and new chances for some deserving characters. In its rawness, there is beauty, and that's what makes this season really impactful. A renewed emphasis on character Look, The Handmaid's Tale is up for a ton of Emmy Awards, including best Lead Actress in a Drama Series (Elisabeth Moss), Supporting Actor in a Drama series (Joseph Fiennes), Supporting Actress in a Drama Series (Alexis Bledel, Ann Dowd, Yvonne Strahovski), and Guest Actress in a Drama Series (Kelly Jenrette, Cherry Jones, Samira Wiley). It would be a massive understatement to say that the acting is merely good. Elisabeth Moss does an excellent job portraying June, though her acting would benefit greatly if the camera would stop holding on her face for 5 seconds too long after every emotional scene she's in, but I digress. There were countless instances this season where I found myself on the edge of my seat, mostly screaming at June to do (or not to do) something. Without a strong lead, the show would fall apart, and Moss has definitely made June into a character that I want to follow and who I want to see succeed. Most of my stress was a result of Serena Joy and her constant hot-and-cold relationship with June. Yvonne Strahovski steals the show giving so much depth to Serena's character that left me both loving her and absolutely hating her at the same time. Serena is by far the most interesting character from both a storytelling perspective and performance-wise. Her actions are indisputably deplorable, but she is without a doubt the character that has been given the most interesting arc, often making the audience question her motives and her stance towards Gilead. It is incredibly satisfying to watch Serena interact and work off others, often breaking Gilead's rules for one reason or another. However, this isn't some buddy sitcom, it's the Handmaid's Tale. Serena may be the most interesting, but her scenes can be quite difficult to watch. If the show is about empowering women, Serena is a prime example of how women can be absolutely terrible to one another. She will never be redeemed from her terrible actions, but luckily the show is careful not to insinuate that she should be forgiven. She is shown as empathetic, a good mother, and at the very least understandable, but she is not a good person. The Handmaid's Tale manages to do what so many other shows fail at: making a character that can do atrocious things but still remain capable of change and doing good. Other characters like Emily (Alexis Bledel) and Aunt Lydia (Ann Dowd) offer a nice change of pace from the usual Waterford, Serena, June dynamic. Ann Dowd is exceptional, often stealing a scene even if she is only in it for a split second. Emily is especially interesting as the show frames her as a sort of secondary lead to June, often giving us glances into her life in the colonies and later at her new assignment. It's definitely a good thing to have an escape from the Waterford house on occasion, so the focus on Emily is much appreciated. Additionally, Commander Waterford is an exceptional antagonist and Joseph Fiennes does a great job of making this character just come off as the absolute scum of the earth. His movements, his soft voice, everything about Fred Waterford makes me uncomfortable and puts me on edge. This season we have seen a far more aggressive, manipulative Fred than in the previous season, and it will be interesting to see how he will be portrayed in the next season. Poetic political messages The Handmaid's Tale isn't only well written, it's aligns perfectly with the current political climate of the United States mid-2018. The parallels between Gilead and the United States' political landscape is honestly uncanny, almost to the extent that it feels like the show was written in the future to perfectly align with current events. A political faction wanting to suppress women's rights while promoting strong conservative religious ideas hits just a little too close to home, if you catch my drift. An eerie example surfaces in one of the season's best episodes "The Last Ceremony" which aired directly following revelations about the Trump administration's decision to start separating children from their parents and imprisoning them indefinitely. In the episode commentary, the show's executive producer Bruce Miller explains that to make the episode as effective as possible, they researched with the U.N. how families communicate during reunification after being separated for extended periods of time. The end result perfectly parallels the reality of what's happening at the Mexican border and left me in drenched in tears. Examples of a show so masterfully discussing these types of political issues with respect and ease is unheard of, and it's sure to leave a lasting impact on viewers. We as the audience may want the resistance to hurry along, but just as in reality, this is not possible. The power of Gilead is upheld by striking fear into it's citizens. They realistically can't kill all the handmaids for acting out, or they would have no children, but they can reinforce the idea that they couldnbsp;kill them at anytime. This power is leveraged over June and all of the women throughout the second season, but what sets Season 2 apart from the first is the significance placed on women and their actions. Women really are the focus of Season 2, and often the scarce hopeful or emotional moments are spurred on by women helping one another. Despite being assaulted, demeaned, and enslaved the show is careful to showcase women at the front and center of everything. Often the focus of a shot is on women, where men are framed in the background or slightly out of focus; a subtle but effective touch to remind viewers that it is the women of the show who are the center of this story. The empowerment of women is almost directly contradictory to what we see on the surface (a government who suppresses and abuses women), but the female characters fight against the government to the best of their ability. It is interesting to see the female characters trapped in this environment displaying such agency despite the possibility of torture or death. For a show as dark as the Handmaid's Tale, these moments are crucial in keeping the audience optimistic and engaged. In a culture where women must fight for their reproductive rights, must defend against sexual assault, and still assert their equality, the show artfully mirrors the constant fight for women's rights. Nolite te bastardes carborundorum Is the Handmaid’s Tale Season 2 better than the first season? Almost. The story progression is far more solid in the first season and feels more polished overall, but this season really allows the characters to develop and take affirmative action. Some of the episodes, most notably “Smart Power” and “The Last Ceremony” are absolutely beautiful, memorable episodes that are some of the best in the entire show. This new season may not be as good as the first, but it very very close. If you can get past the controversial last minute of the very last episode, then you are going to love Season 2. Images: WallpaperCave, Rotten Tomatoes
By Emily Reuben, Jeremy Rogers, and Ben Sapet Video games don’t spend much time on moms. Plenty of dads go on sprawling adventures while most video game moms get a few throwaway lines or die tragically before the story even starts. However, when games devote time and attention to mothers, we get some of the coolest, most compelling characters in gaming. Here are some of our favorite moms in video games: Undertale – Toriel From the very moment you begin your journey in Undertale, Toriel is there to welcome you with a cozy place to stay and a warm piece of pie. Toriel not only adopts you at the start of the game, she also adopted the first human to fall into the Underground years prior. Having taken in two children despite having had her own as well, you’d be hard pressed to find a more selfless example of a virtual mother. Not only is she a great mother, Toriel is funny, smart, and very protective of the people she loves and she isn’t afraid to speak out against her misguided husband. Being such a lovable character, Toriel makes completing Undertale’s ruthless genocide mode a challenge. After all, who wants to kill the person who took you in, read you a nice story, and offered you warm food? If a character is so compelling that the idea of killing her can prevent players from playing a part of the game, she is obviously worthy of some celebration on Mother's Day. -Emily Reuben Dragon Age: Origins – Flemeth The legends of illusive shapeshifting witch Flemeth seem to lurk beneath the surface of much of the lore laid out in Bioware’s Dragon Age: Origins. The player stumbles upon Flemeth, known as “the Witch of the Wilds” and “Mother of Vengeance,” deep in the woods. Her ulterior motives and manipulation loom over the plot as you travel with her daughter, Morrigan, and learn more about Flemeth.
We're back witches, with another magical episode of the Coven Podcast. This week, we're looking at the issues surrounding Channel Awesome. From sexual harassment, rape scripts, mismanagement, and non-apologies for all this, it seems to be one of YouTube's many sinking ships. Is this a symptom of the greater issues with YouTube? With Hollywood? How did it get this bad? Is there any surviving this scandal? We'll examine the Channel Awesome Implosion as a what NOT to do when faced with such a wide-ranging scandal. Let's talk about the State of the YouTube: will it survive as a platform? Are we all just being nostalgic for the good old days? Are these issues just growing pains?
In the video aggregate site’s most recent response to controversies surrounding former content producers, Channel Awesome has seemingly revealed the identity of a sexual predator who used to work in association with the company.
By Emily Reuben Shaky, handheld cinematography has become increasingly popular in cinema. Audiences tend to like real, seemingly truthful situations in their media, and what better way to achieve this by using a shooting style anyone can achieve with a smartphone? This style of filmmaking places audiences directly into the action and seems all the more real and relatable. Typically we see this style in the horror genre (think Blair Witch or Cloverfield), but what about other genres? More specifically, what about documentaries? While documentaries are not typically based around fictional characters and elaborately crafted narratives, this style can be seen in documentary film. We call this technique cinema vérité. Cinéma vérité (literally: “true cinema” in French) is a film movement from the 1960s that aims to capture real people and situations in as truthful a light as possible. This is done with minimal editing, authentic dialogue, and minimalistic camerawork (typically handheld).
by Emily Reuben With the sudden surge of teens in the headlines, I think it’s appropriate to highlight another documentary that showcases activism by American youth. This week we are going to look at a film that highlights the perils faced by young people when they are not listened to: Netflix’s Audrie and Daisy. The documentary focuses on Audrie Pott and Daisy Coleman, two high school students who both experienced cyberbullying, vandalism, and exclusion after being sexually assaulted. Audrie Pott, a student at Saratoga high school in California, had gone to a party with a group of peers. While she was unconscious, a group of boys violated her and shared pictures of the assault amongst their peers under the guise of “a prank.” After the images of Audrie circulated around her school, other students taunted her. It’s no secret that sexual assault is a major issue in our society. What is even more terrifying, however, is the added effect social media has on the victims after the fact. In the case of Audrie and Daisy, pictures were shared amongst their high school peers and intense cyberbullying ensued, going so far as to provoke Audrie Pott to take her own life. Daisy and her friend Paige Parkhurst were sexually assaulted in the house of some older boys who had given the pair alcoholic drinks. One of the boys was a star on the high school football team and the grandson of a local politician. Despite confessions of giving alcohol to the pair and having sex with the girls, the people who assaulted Daisy and Paige had their case dismissed. No one in any position of power believed what these girls were saying. The legal system did not care that these girls aged 14 and 13 said that they were raped and assaulted. At one point in the documentary, the sheriff insinuates that Paige and Daisy were “making a lot of things up that really didn’t happen…” He then went on to insinuate that the reason the girls were making this up was to get attention and because society pressures girls to be pretty, popular, and well-liked. After the charges were dismissed, the entire incident became a national headline, even reaching the point where the hacktivist collective Anonymous threatened to bring justice to Daisy’s town if the justice system would not. Daisy and her family finally got their day in court and no charges were filed. After the courts found the boys innocent, the online hate started pouring in. People in Paige’s town started making threats, vandalizing Paige’s house, lost her mother a job, and ultimately ended up burning her house to the ground. “[Daisy] started to really feel like it was her fault… She burned herself. And every door in the house upstairs is broken, because we’ve had to kick it in to save her when she’s tried to overdose.” But in this dark place, there was a light. Delaney Henderson, another young woman who was sexual assaulted, reached out to Daisy and said, “I’ve… dealt with the same emotions of wanting everything to end. I just want you to never feel alone again. I’m here.” After this message is shown, the scene shifts to show a gathering of high school survivors. Gathered around a table, Daisy, Delaney, other girls, and their mothers all go around listening to each survivor talk about what happened to them. Here the music starts to swell as feelings of solidarity are shared between the people gathered. The documentary ends with the group of survivors gave public speeches for the National Press Club with the help of the group Pave (Promoting awareness, victim empowerment). The girls make direct pleas to those listening. “Since my friends didn’t stand up for me, I urge other people to speak out... because the words of our enemies aren’t as awful as the silence of our friends.” A brief montage shows social media posts from the survivors showing that they are doing well. Their experiences are things that happened to them; they do not define them. The ending title card shows the title of the documentary, Audrie & Daisy. As the music continues to swell, more names appear: “&Paige,” “&Delaney,” “&Jane_Doe.” Audrie & Daisy shows what happens when the well being and individual voices of young women are ignored. However, there is still hope for change. As brave women like Daisy, Page, Delaney, and the others who appeared in this film share their stories and as people listen, there may be a better future. This documentary is full of power, truth, tragedy, and hope. It is one of the hardest documentaries for me to have ever finished but also one of the most important to see through to the end. Come back next week, as we continue to find powerful stories and Document Docs. Images: YouTube
The opinions and views expressed in Documenting Docs are those of the author and do not reflect the opinion of Byte or Byte’s editorial board.
Logan Paul made huge waves when he released his now infamous vlog where he filmed a corpse in Japan’s Suicide Forest. Despite his public apology Paul has continued to remain in the public eye,drawing attention from various sources such as The New York Times, Daily Mail, and Business Insider. This widespread attention has forced many to consider the powerful influence YouTubers have on their audiences.
by Emily Reuben Logan Paul made huge waves when he released his now infamous vlog where he filmed a corpse in Japan’s Suicide Forest. Despite his public apology Paul has continued to remain in the public eye, drawing attention from various sources such as The New York Times, Daily Mail, and Business Insider. This widespread attention has forced many to consider the powerful influence YouTubers have on their audiences. But what about the impact vloggers like Logan Paul have on filmmakers? To answer this question, we spoke with Jeremy Rubier, a French-Canadian filmmaker who has traveled the world for the past ten years to create new videos. Jeremy has created videos for various companies, including Red Bull and Vice. His new short film, Toyooka, is a direct response to Logan Paul’s controversial video. Logan Paul’s vlog was less about Japan and more about how Logan reacts to aspects of Japanese life. When Japan was the focus of Paul’s vlogs, the country was framed as a sort of quirky playground for Paul to play in. There was no serious consideration given to the unique culture or history of Japan. Rubier takes the opposite approach in Toyooka. The short sets out to humanize and give depth to the small town of Toyooka. The citizens living in the town and the richness of their lives are the focus of the film. Rubier does appear in the film but, as the film’s only non-native, it seems to use him as a stand-in for anyone trying to observe the richness shown throughout the rest of the film. Q: Would you mind telling us a little about your upcoming short film Toyooka? Rubier: So the movie Toyooka… first of all, the prefecture approached me to make the video a long time ago. And they said, “We’d love you to make a video. We love your style; you go really deep into culture.” But I didn’t want to put my face on it because I thought that I never want to put my face on videos. I’m behind the camera. Then the video of Logan appeared and I was like “That’s not possible.” I was absolutely terrorized by the video. I was like, “This guy just destroyed all the things I’m trying to build,” because I’ve been trying to do videos about the culture of Japan. Research and shooting really, really deep stuff about Japan for years, and this dude just comes and just – I’m trying to destroy all stereotypes about Japan and he just inflames them and so I need to accept the video and accept that I’d be in it as a protagonist which I never do because I think that the videos talk for themselves. If you’re a director and you want to show something, you don’t have to show your face all the time. So I accepted that I’d be in the video, as the protagonist, to be inside the video—something I don’t do. It’s not my style and something I don’t plan on doing again. But I think for this one it was interesting because I’m in the video just observing and trying to fit inside my environment while this asshole is basically imposing himself in his environment and imposing his culture, his American culture, on this environment instead of just blending in and respecting. So I wanted also to create a contrast between his behavior and my wishes. I mean I’m not Japanese. I went to Toyooka one week, two weeks just to get a feel for the place. I talked to each and every person from the old lady in a little bar with 7 seats, to the monk, to some guy making wheel art, to some skater kids. I made it in the streets to show places through those people and through shooting and my music. It’s purely artistic. Well of course Logan, in this case, really pissed me off because he puts himself inside the most respectful country in the world and abuses its people because it’s really easy to abuse Japanese people. They are extremely polite. Q: Going off of that, and you touched on it a bit, but it’s really interesting that the video is about Toyooka and you show yourself so little. And you talked about how you want the bigger themes to come together, and you don’t want to speak; you want the video to speak for itself. But in regards to bridging that gap between vloggers and more traditional filmmakers such as yourself, do you think its necessary for someone like you to put yourself out there a little more? Rubier: I’ve been limiting myself on Vimeo. And on Vimeo, you know, in the end videos are just watched by other creative people, industry people, and we don’t really reach out to the masses. People are not patient anymore; they want some easy content. They want someone who talks showing their face, because they want a face to relate to. They want to feel something. And I really hope that a turn-around is going to come where these people disappear, because they don’t deserve this attention. They receive too much attention in too little time and they’re not doing anything. Basically it’s pure consumption. It’s pure, pure consumption. Traditional filmmaking is dying out. But what I do is not traditional filmmaking, because what I do is making videos under three minutes. I’m not trying to do longer videos because I know that for people nowadays, more than 2 minutes and they lose focus. So in a sense, I’m not really a traditional filmmaker. Also the way I shoot and the way I use technology is actually quite on the edge, because I shoot and compose music all digitally. I think I’m part of a new wave of filmmakers who travel and do video. So I’m trying to show my persona but in a way more artistic way, in an observational kind of way. But usually like a real artist, you don’t have to show yourself because it’s your vision in the video. It’s your lens in the camera. It’s you shooting. It’s you editing. So you already show yourself invisibly. And maybe that was a one-time thing for me to show myself, because it was just a statement to say, “Look, there are people like Logans behind all their videos and you guys should watch it, but you guys should feel our presence without us being in front of the camera.” Q: What was your ultimate goal in creating Toyooka and was there a particular message you wanted to convey to your viewers? Rubier: So at first, like I said, I saw that as a millenial-oriented kind of video. Kind of a commission from Toyooka that they wanted me to do. I thought of it as a tourist video. Then as time passed, I realized that I really want people to come to Japan to leave the path. They don’t have to go to Tokyo, Kyoto, or all these big cities but to just go to a small village and experience Japan in its purest form. Then they will realize how this country is rich. How a small village that with not even 100,000 people is actually just as rich as any big Japanese city. And that’s why Japan is phenomenal in terms of tourism, because in each little place, people are so dedicated and passionate about where they come from that they are going to do everything they can to make it interesting and to make people visit it and have the best time ever. And I hope that can inspire people to appreciate silence and pure, simple beauty. That’s what I want people to feel when they watch it. And it’s not about going to Toyooka. It’s really going anywhere off the beaten path in Japan. It’s about experiencing those things in a respectful way and to take things as they are instead of trying to impose our culture by trying to look for a McDonalds in Japan like so many tourists do. That’s completely crazy. I think I’d make a good Tourism 101 teacher, but I’m too busy for that. Hopefully, though, I can share some of that knowledge in my films while other people push the big cities and more and more consumption. Q: So with the rise of YouTubers and vloggers, people can essentially travel the world with these people from the comfort of their own home. How does that personal connection with these content creators affect how these people feel about the places they’re being shown? And how would you say that that’s different from the response you get when people view your videos? Rubier: I think that vlogers make people feel lazy. They make you feel the experience from the perspective of someone like you, but at the end of the day you don’t even want to go there. Because vlogs don’t tease. They’re so bluntly, “What is it? It’s reality. Look.” I’m not going to show you exactly what’s there. I’m not going to put my phone into a noodle bowl while I’m eating it and be like, “You can have the same experience.” No! I’m going to show you the noodle bowl in a special way. To tease you. To go there and to pack your things. That’s why I’m trying to make it really beautiful in my own way. To be like “that’s the way I see it. Now go see for yourself and make it an adventure.” That’s why I try to go outside any paths and really try to go deeper into my subject. Because people have to travel. They have to stop capturing everything they do when they travel. Vloggers like putting the moment in a freezer: put it online, rewatch it, rewatch it, rewatch it again, and it’s not even the moment anymore. It’s like the moment becomes way longer than it used to be somehow. And don’t get me wrong; some vloggers are amazing. I know one guy who only makes peaceful videos. I don’t know his name, but he is good because he opens the mind of his audience by showing them messages of peace. Like I said, I don’t like people taking my hand and saying “Hey! You have to think like that. I’m gonna explain everything.” I don’t think that’s how its supposed to work. That’s why I don’t really watch any vloggers. And again, Logan gives a bad image to all vloggers, but it would be a mistake to think they’re all bad. Most of them are actually good, sharing information and inspiring kids to actually do stuff. Q: As someone who has traveled to so many countries to film, what are some special considerations you think vloggers, film makers, or anyone with a camera should keep in mind when filming in a foreign country and sharing a foreign culture with viewers? Rubier: First of all, they need to do their research. Before they go. It doesn’t mean they have to plan their trip. It doesn’t mean they want to “YOLO. Live the moment,” no. They need to do research about the country. They need to read about it. They need to know where to go. Of course, they need to know the etiquette so they can show respect. And that’s part of the research. I do deep, deep research about the history of each place I go. About the customs of people. When they are in the country, sometimes filming people who don’t want to be filmed is part of the game too. Sometimes as a documentary filmmaker, I shoot people who don’t want to be shot. But at least I go up to them and talk with them afterward. I’m like, “Look, I filmed you for that. Can I use the footage of your face?” You need to be respectful of people, because they’re not tools to generate views. They’re human like others. Some will be happy and fanciful to be in a film while others don’t want to be filmed and vloggers need to be respectful of that. They also need to try new places that are not on the map, that are not in the guide, that are not famous. See, Logan went to the worst fucking place and the most stereotyped place in all of Tokyo. What the hell? That’s not Japan. Japan is mostly beautiful countryside with mountains. Tokyo is a very special city, but it’s another big, Asian city at the end of the day. Also never, never, never stop in the biggest city when you are traveling in a foreign country as a vlogger who wants to show something. Go to the countryside; most of the time you’re going to actually come back to a sense of the country going to the countryside while the big cities are just melting pots. It’s chaotic, they’ve lost their culture and just aligned themselves with big city culture. It’s like so multicultural like Paris, for example. It’s a brilliant city. I grew up there. But it’s a sense of the modern culture. But to get a sense of the culture of France from the past 2000 years, you need to go to the countryside to see the old churches and to feel the vibe of old France. Also really important is to engage with the people in order to not make them do what you think they are supposed to do, but collaborate with them to let them do what they do. And most of the time, people are going to be so happy to show what they do and to share their life with you. So that would be my advice for vloggers.
by Emily Reuben The opinions and views expressed in Documenting Docs are those of the author and do not reflect the opinion of Byte or Byte’s editorial board. In recent weeks, high schoolers have been making headlines across the country for walking out of school and participating in demonstrations against gun violence. No, I’m not going to cover a documentary on gun violence. Instead I want to focus on children in the news, but not as subjects; these are the children actually writing the headlines for publication. The short documentary When Kids Wrote the Headlines: The Children’s Express/Y-Press Story details an Indianapolis program that allowed children as young as 10 to work alongside their slightly older peers under the watch of reporters for the Indianapolis Star. The kids didn’t just work on local stories though. They went all around the world talking to world leaders including Supreme Court judges, Presidents, and young people living in Cuba and in the run-down suburbs of Paris. These kids were doing work many professionals don’t get the opportunity to do. WFYI Indianapolis states that during the program’s 24 year run, “More than 1,750 young Hoosiers ages 10 to 18 learned the craft of gathering information and presenting it in print and broadcast reports that were used by The Indianapolis Star, WFYI and other media outlets.” That’s invaluable real-world experience that is simply not offered in a typical classroom environment. These children’s stories were getting printed on the front page of the Indianapolis Star right along side the articles written by professionals in the prime of their careers. It’s really hard not to feel amazed by what the team of kids were able to do in the program. Several former participants in the program were interviewed for the making of this documentary, and it is really interesting to see what some of these kids went on to do after being involved in Y-Press. Counting attorneys, ministers, accountants, non-profit founders, and even a producer at Vice News, Children’s Express definitely has some distinguished members among its alumni. For all of the great things highlighted in this story, the whole documentary cannot help but be tinged with a sense of sadness. Be it the opportunities given to kids, the amazing work they were able to do, the personal growth that came with the work that they did, or the successful careers the kids took up after their time at Y-Press, unfortunately the program ended in 2012 when the economy forced the paper to shutter the program to save money. Y-Press most certainly offered valuable professional skills to Indianapolis children, and it’s incredibly disheartening that such an educational, impactful program had to shut it’s doors. Luckily children are inserting themselves back into the news cycle again in 2018. If anything, this documentary shows the power of children when they organize and work together. It also shows how empowering young people to tell stories that are relevant to their experiences can shift a lot of people’s perspectives. Today, our youth is making strides towards change, be it in the form of writing headlines or protesting in the streets. Yet despite their efforts, there is still a stigma against children and teens becoming involved in news or politics. To me that’s absurd. We need to encourage the younger generation to speak out and make a difference, not silently conform to what they are told is correct. With the defunding of Y-Press many children are losing the opportunity to speak and tell stories. They are losing the opportunity to report, question, and speak with others in a professional setting. In a time where ethical journalism is so desperately needed and voices are so often silenced, the loss of Y-Press is a major loss. Hopefully we will see programs like these emerge again and give children the opportunity to tell their stories and get involved. If you’re interested in viewing content produced by Y-Press, be sure to check out the archive. Looking for more interesting documentaries? Good because I have an unhealthy amount of recommendations! Be sure to check back next week for more Documenting Docs! Sources: WFYI, Indiana History Library Images: WFYI, YouTube
The opinions and views expressed in Documenting Docs are those of the author and do not reflect the opinion of Byte or Byte’s editorial board.
The opinions and views expressed in Documenting Docs are those of the author and do not reflect the opinion of Byte or Byte’s editorial board.
By Emily Reuben The opinions and views expressed in Documenting Docs are those of the author and do not reflect the opinion of Byte or Byte’s editorial board. Recently I talked about Leni Riefenstahl’s Triumph of the Will, and no, we still aren’t done with her yet. This time we are going to look at her less controversial and infinitely more interesting film: Olympia. Olympia is a two-part documentary that covers the 1936 Olympic Games held in Berlin. This was an interesting time for Germany, and the whole world really, who would be entering World War II in the few years following the film’s release. Like I discussed in my article on Triumph of the Will, Riefenstahl’s filmmaking was so revered by Hitler that she was granted complete creative control. This is also the case with Olympia. Riefenstahl worked directly with organizers of the Olympic Game so that she could craft the best possible film. And what she did craft is indeed excellent. Now full disclosure; I hate sports. I can’t watch most sports films without falling asleep, and any sports game I’ve been to has been “eh” at best. So I fully admit that someone out there can probably point out some equally important and well-done sports documentaries. But when I say Olympia is a expertly-crafted and interesting film, I truly do mean it. I may not like sports, but very rarely did I become disengaged with the action on screen. Each athlete is filmed with such careful precision that details each and every movement in a captivating way. I mean, Riefenstahl manages to make divers appear as if they are diving into the sky, which is really cool to see. She really was dedicated to shooting not only a documentary, but something beautifully engaging. Say what you will about Riefenstahl, but she is an incredibly adept filmmaker. Case in point, the opening sequence of the documentary. Instead of jumping directly into the games, Riefenstahl places an emphasis on the immense timelessness of the games. Statues of ancient Greek athletes are clad in smoke and dissolve into one another as the shots transition. These otherwise lifeless statues are given movement and life through her careful editing, and eventually the statues fade into real athletes. It is examples like these unique editing choices, nearly perfect shot composition, and interesting juxtapositions that arguably make Olympia one of the greatest sports documentaries of all time. It would be a crime to not talk about the infamous Jesse Owens sequence. Let me tell you, watching Jesse Owens literally destroy the competition during the 200m competition is one of the most satisfying things I have ever watched. There is something so appealing about a African-American man showing up the competition in front of Adolf Hitler. In fact, it’s worth mentioning that for a film made by Hitler’s filmmaker, Americans are shown succeeding in a lot of the sports. You would think that Riefenstahl would steer away from showing Germans being defeated, but this simply wasn’t the case. It’s clear that she had a very strong dedication to showing the entire event in all its glory. Now don’t get me wrong, Hitler appears semi-frequently. Riefenstahl makes a point to show Hitler’s reactions to certain events. But while Hitler is shown occasionally, it’s debatable if she gives him the same praise she offered him in Triumph of the Will. Yes, he certainly is shown in a pretty good light, one of the key reasons she was filming was to make Germany look powerful and capable, which she does to an extent, but she never does this by censoring events or overplaying a certain figure, like Hitler’s, influence. No, the film is first and foremost about the Olympics, not Nazi Germany, and that is largely why this film is still so easily enjoyable. After the film’s release and great success, Riefenstahl aimed to get a job in Hollywood. According to a BBC article: She didn’t get one. Just after Riefenstahl arrived in New York in November 1938 to promote Olympia, news of the Kristallnacht pogroms reached the US: more than 1,000 synagogues throughout the Reich had been burnt in one night, thousands of Jewish businesses had been vandalised, and 30,000 Jews had been taken to concentration camps. After Riefenstahl declared to the American press that she didn’t believe these reports, no studio boss in Hollywood would see her – the exception being Walt Disney. Dang it Walter, this doesn’t help with the rumors at all, but I guess that’s besides the point. World War II significantly impacted Riefenstahl's credibility as a filmmaker. While Triumph of the Will is by far the more controversial of the two works, America certainly couldn’t allow Riefenstahl to continue showing her work in America, even if the content was mostly harmless. But is it harmless? Can we really separate the work from the author? Does the artistic value remain intact knowing Riefenstahl worked closely with Hitler himself? Well I’m going to take a stance very similar to the one I made when talking about Triumph of the Will. I fully believe Olympia is a beautifully made film and well worth celebrating. I find it far less dangerous that Triumph of the Will, and frankly there is very little to tie it to Nazi ideology. The same BBC article makes an excellent statement regarding Olympia’s relationships to Nazi ideology: ...It would be wrong to decry Olympia as a fundamentally Nazi film. It isn’t. In fact, its most Nazi-like attributes are those which are intrinsic to the Olympics: the fetishizing of physical perfection, the evocation of a mythical ancient past, the division of the world into separate, competing, flag-waving countries. The uncomfortable truth is that Olympic imagery is never very far away from Nazi imagery, whether Riefenstahl is involved or not. This is a very interesting take on the idea and one I agree with. The Olympic Games tend to fetishize physical strength and beauty. There is a harsh competition. There is a deep clinging to tradition. But still, I feel it is also important to address that we view films through the lens of the filmmaker. What does that mean exactly? In this case, Olympia may not exactly be propaganda, but it does carry a piece of Riefenstahl in it. So we can't completely separate the art from the author; this is impossible because we are viewing the film through the lens of the director. There is a middle ground here. Riefenstahl’s faults are her own and not all of her work reflects her faults. In this case, the film does not cling to any ideologies Riefenstahl may hold. It is more a showcasing of her technical capabilities and of the beauty of the Games than anything else. To view it as Nazi propaganda on par with Triumph of the Will would be absurd, but to say that Riefenstahl's actions and ideologies do not affect the context of the film and the way audiences will decode it would be naive. What else can I say? Hold Riefenstahl accountable. Criticize her. Criticize her works. You can do all of these things and still like Olympia. When a film enters the public spheres it becomes decoded in various ways: opposing, preferred, or somewhere down the middle. In this way, art does take on new meanings and purposes, and Riefenstahl's creations still create and invoke various meanings, despite who she is as a person. It’s hard to say what her purpose in making the film truly was, but no matter the answer the public can craft unique perspectives, be it positive or negative. So yes, Riefenstahl's works are art, despite her actions or beliefs that make her works controversial. Art is art no matter the intended meaning. Okay, now we’re done with Leni Riefenstahl. Sorry to put you through that, but she really is an important filmmaker to talk about, and her documentaries are required watching for any aspiring creators. Next time we’ll move on to something more lighthearted… But let’s be honest, it probably won’t be lighthearted at all. See you next time as we continue Documenting Docs! Sources: BBC, Cartoon Brew Images: YouTube, Mubi
It’s Women’s History Month! What better way to begin than by highlighting the work of a Nazi filmmaker? No, I’m not kidding.
By Emily Reuben The opinions and views expressed in Documenting Docs are those of the author and do not reflect the opinion of Byte or Byte’s editorial board. It’s Women’s History Month! What better way to begin than by highlighting the work of a Nazi filmmaker? No, I’m not kidding. Now let me explain my choice to cover her. Let’s say you really dislike someone. You think they’re arrogant, annoying, mean and a handful of other synonymously awful things. But here’s the catch: that person is still insanely talented. You may hate them, but they can dance, act and direct, and that makes you angry. That basically summarizes my feelings towards Leni Riefenstahl. She’s responsible for crafting Nazi propaganda for Hitler, but at the same time is an incredibly talented filmmaker. In fact, Riefenstahl is the first female filmmaker to garner international attention. Of course one of the first famous female filmmakers would be a Nazi. Despite my dislike of her as a person, we do need to talk about dear old Leni. Riefenstahl grew up in Germany in the first decade of the 20th Century. Initially working as a dancer who was talented enough to tour Europe at 22, she started starring in various films (specifically in the “German Mountain Film” genre) at the age of 24. Obviously she had a lot going for her, so how exactly did this talented young women become one of history's most controversial filmmakers? After being inspired by one of Hitler’s speeches, Riefenstahl contacted the man himself and the two began correspondance with one another. Riefenstahl’s first film Das Blaue Licht or “The Blue Light” impressed Hitler so much that he actually asked her to film the annual Nuremburg Rally. The result of Hitler’s request is Sieg des Glaubens or “Victory of the Faith,” a film that Riefenstahl later deemed unimpressive. When Hitler next asked Riefenstahl to create Triumph des Willens, better known as Triumph of the Will, Riefenstahl was given assurance that no one would meddle in her work giving her unwavering support and artistic freedom. To quote an article by Kara Peterson from St. Edwards University, “She had thirty cameras in operation in order to make the film. Special bridges, towers, and ramps were built by the city of Nuremberg solely for the production of this film. Dollies were built to move along with marching troops, fire trucks were used to get unique shots of monuments throughout the city, and there was even a 120-foot flagpole that had been outfitted with an electric elevator in order to get wide shots from a bird’s eye view.” As you can see, no expenses were spared. Triumph of the Will is dripping with Nazi imagery: marching banners, shots of Hitler placed above a sea of Nazi soldiers, and plenty of Germans screaming in admiration of their leader. It successfully makes Hitler appear godlike: powerful and admirable in every shot he’s in. More importantly, the film is shot expertly. Hitler is always framed at a low angle, putting him in a constant position of power. However, we also see a more human side to Hitler; he’s often smiling, laughing and interacting with people. Kevin Jack Hagopian, a Senior Lecturer in Media Studies at Pennsylvania State University perfectly summarizes Riefenstahl’s effective filmmaking and comments that “Hitler's moves, every one of them, whether bellicose or bathetic, are designed to elicit a Pavlovian response from the crowd, and, with the help of Riefenstahl's editing, they do.” With these two drastically different portrayals, Hitler is shown not as an evil dictator but someone you can talk to, laugh with and even relate to. If you were a German watching the film in 1935, it isn’t a leap to assume you may be taken in by the propaganda. Once again I’ll turn to Kevin Hagopian to emphasize the massive effect of Riefenstahl’s editing: “That the world did not take him seriously, or judge him [Hitler] against a less relative standard of morality - in the year after Triumph of the Will's release, Hitler as named Time magazine's 'man of the Year' - is no fault of Leni Riefenstahl's, for the Hitler she gives us is plainly a weapon of mass destruction. “ Triumph of the Will is still the example of propaganda film. It is so influential that Frank Capra screened Triumph of the Will for filmmaking tips when he was commissioned by the United States government to make the “Why We Fight” propaganda films. Capra isn’t the only one that used the film as an influence either. Charlie Chaplin’s The Great Dictator, one of the most infamous satire films of all time, largely draws from the film. Not only did Triumph of the Will become a reference for other propaganda and films, the film won the award for Best Foreign Film at the Venice Film Festival in 1935. Let me break this down: Hitler’s top filmmaker, the woman largely responsible for Nazi propaganda, is an international, award winning filmmaker. That doesn’t exactly seem fair. So here is the question that is constantly posed in regards to the film: can art be considered great, but morally deplorable? This is definitely a controversial question and many may disagree with me, but I argue that the answer is yes. Do not misunderstand me, by creating this film Riefenstahl aided the Nazis in their conquest, and for that she deserves nothing but criticism. However, her work is indisputably effective. While I hate how she used her talents and resent the purpose of Triumph of the Will, it doesn’t change the fact that it was effective in its purpose: to make the Nazis look awesome. Sadly she did that. And she did is well. Triumph of the Will should be seen by everyone. Like I said before, this is the prime example of how propaganda works. If more people watch and learn from it, more people may be able to identify media that may have questionable motives. Leni Riefenstahl may be a great filmmaker, but that does not automatically excuse her poor morals in making the film. She should be held completely responsible for all of the negative consequences stemming from her propaganda. Next week we’re going to continue our look into Leni through a more lighthearted film, Olympia, a documentary in the same propagandistic vein as Triumph of the Will that covers the 1938 Summer Olympic Games hosted in Berlin. Sources: Wikipedia, Kara Petersen, New York State Writer's Institute, The BBC Images: The Birmingham Mail, YouTube, mytholtok.edu
In August of 2005, Hurricane Katrina ravaged the Gulf of Mexico. Thousands of homes were destroyed, cities were left underwater, and numerous people were stranded. By all accounts, Hurricane Katrina is one of the most deadly natural disasters in United States history. However, even more tragic than the storm was the government’s treatment of those affected and its disregard for human life.
by Emily Reuben The opinions and views expressed in Documenting Docs are those of the author and do not reflect the opinion of Byte or Byte’s editorial board. In August of 2005, Hurricane Katrina ravaged the Gulf of Mexico. Thousands of homes were destroyed, cities were left underwater, and numerous people were stranded. By all accounts, Hurricane Katrina is one of the most deadly natural disasters in United States history. However, even more tragic than the storm was the government’s treatment of those affected and its disregard for human life. When the Levees Broke: A Requiem in Four Acts first aired in two parts on HBO in August 21 and 22, 2006 to shed light on the tragedy that was Hurricane Katrina. Director Spike Lee is no stranger when it comes to highlighting government inaction and the treatment of the lower class and minorities. Many of Lee’s films, even his non-documentary films like Do The Right Thing and Chi-Raq, address similar themes. Lee is one of my favorite directors not only because of his great storytelling but also because of his bluntness; he never shies away from making pointed statements about the treatment of African-Americans. While this has caused some controversy, most of it seems to stem from non-black audiences that feel uncomfortable with the statements being made. To give you a better idea of just how ridiculous many of the criticisms directed towards Lee are, I would like to highlight a comment made by Lee in Rolling Stone’s article, Fight the Power: “Spike Lee on ‘Do The Right Thing’”. When asked by the interviewer what Lee’s favorite reaction to the film was, Lee responded with this: “I’ll tell you my least favorite: the reviews of David Denby and Joe Klein saying that black people were going to riot after seeing this film. That they [black people] weren’t intelligent enough to make the distinction between what's happening on screen and what happens in real life — so they would come out of theaters and riot all across America.” So how does this apply to When The Levees Broke? Well, just as the white reaction to Do The Right Thing was a feeling of threat and unease, the accusations of racism Lee makes towards the government makes some audiences uncomfortable. While the documentary does show the build up to the storm and what happened during the storm, it mainly focuses on the aftermath. How did this happen and why? The levees in Louisiana 17th Street and London Avenue both collapsed, a failure not simply due to flood but poor engineering. Why poor engineering? Simply put, these are in low-income areas primarily populated by black people. You know which area they did decide to save? The French Quarter, the more well-off (and coincidentally white) section of New Orleans. The most heartbreaking aspect of the film is the absolutely horrible treatment of the victims. Little was offered in the way of relief, and poor leadership let the city fall into chaos. A great example show is during a snippet from A Concert From Hurricane Relief, Kanye West actually takes time to detail how poorly hurricane relief had been handled. Outside of these celebrity criticisms, the documentary also shows personal testimonies of survivors, all just as heartbreaking as the last. As the camera is trained on crowds of people waiting for rescue above the floodwater on overpasses, one British reporter’s voice says of the people on camera, “Most of them are black and poor, America’s underclass. The real victims of what has become a human storm.” The rest of the film goes on to showcase this point through extensive use of interviews and footage of the storm and the destruction it left in its wake. People detail the things they lost, the people they lost, and how they felt lost themselves. Throughout the over four hour long film, the narrative of the tragedy is never lost, yet neither are the many personal tragedies that are highlighted. The film shows how incompetence at every level doomed a population that was seen as unnecessary to save. Lee’s film is remarkable for its depth and how, like the best of his work, this film is still relevant today. It is a truly eye-opening experience that I couldn’t tear my eyes away from. Be sure to check back next week as we cover one of history’s most controversial and influential documentaries, Leni Reifenstahl’s Nazi magnum opus, Triumph of the Will. Sources: The Atlantic, Rolling Stone Images: YouTube, IndieWire, Mubi