Author: Yoommy Nam

3 Filmmaking Trends Taking Over the Emmys

With television adequately keeping up with the vastly different business model that became necessary with the advent of the internet and digital culture and consumption, it’s no surprise it’s now able to attain huge production budgets, incredibly rich and complex narratives, and Hollywood’s biggest actors – things that were previously only seen in films. Consequently, as an awards ceremony exclusively focused on television, the Emmys are now bigger than ever. Let’s look at some of the trends emerging from this year’s list of nominees:

Diversity

This is by far the most dominant trend among the nominees this year. Diversity and inclusion of previously marginalized communities are not only being represented at an all-time high among recognized programs but they’re at front and center, with many of the protagonists being LGBTQI+, people of color, and/or women. Not only do the central characters identify as such, but much of the narratives and plotlines largely center around the perspectives and experiences of those within the communities.

With no surprises, Game of Thrones tops the list for most nominations at 22 nods in total, followed by Saturday Night Live and Westworld with 21 nods each, and The Handmaid’s Tale at 20. With exception to Saturday Night Live, given it’s a sketch-comedy show, the top three alone feature characters (and actors) with fluid sexual preferences and have strong, female leads playing roles that challenge the status-quo – both within their plotlines and subsequently in real life. In fact, most of the programs with ten or more nominations, like The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel (14), The Crown (13), Godless (12), and GLOW (10), offer female-centric narratives that focus on the female experience within dominant patriarchal gender norms.

Many have also made significant parallels between The Handmaid’s Tale and our current political climate, connecting it to broader discussions around women’s rights as well as the #MeToo movement. RuPaul’s Drag Race, a reality-competition show featuring drag queens also continues its reign (it’s had 23 nominations since the show began), with 10 nods this year. 


Moreover, five of the seven nominees for Outstanding Comedy Series –
The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel and GLOW, mentioned previously for ten or more overall nominations — are either based on the lives of people of color and/or women: Black-ish, Atlanta, and Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt (the remaining two being Silicon Valley and Curb Your Enthusiasm). Additionally, Sandra Oh’s nomination for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series for her role in Killing Eve makes her the first woman of Asian descent to receive the lead actress nod in that category.

Diversity in the Emmys has reached to even lesser known demographics. Peter Dinklage, who was born with dwarfism, has twice won the Emmy for Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Drama Series for playing Tyrion in 2011 and 2015, is nominated again this year, officially making him the most nominated person in that category ever. Following his acceptance speech in 2015 where he mentioned the name ‘Martin Henderson’, a 4-foot-2 actor in England who suffered partial paralysis after being physically thrown by an unknown assailant, Dinklage addressed the prejudice those with dwarfism face but pointed out that part of the media portrayal lay in the hands of the actors. “You can say no,” he said. “You can not be the object of ridicule.”

Dystopias, Apocalypses, & Time Periods

Another recurring theme among the programs nominated this year is this end-of-the-world, humans versus [insert varying non-human character] dystopian storyline. Perhaps telling of our current-day political and/or ideological milieu? In terms of time travel, however, most of this year’s frontrunners are set back in time, or in the future, or both. In fact, all seven programs in the Outstanding Drama Series category this year are either entirely set in or have elements of the past in them. In the case of The Handmaid’s Tale, there’s no linear timeline or clear epoch but it plays with the idea of a dystopian world set in the present day but with traditional lifestyles and values more commonly seen between the 1800s-1900s.

Westworld similarly switches between past and present, although the word ‘present’ is more for audience reference — the story is actually set in the future (some devout fans predict maybe around year 2050-2060?), whilst the fictional theme park, Westworld, is based on many Western films like El Dorado and The Searchers, which were predominantly set following the Civil War at the end of the 19th Century. Game of Thrones, Stranger Things, The Americans, This Is Us, and The Crown are also in said category. GLOW, which is in the Outstanding Comedy Series category, is set in the 1980s, along with Stranger Things and The Americans.

With all these period and otherworldly television series, it’s safe to say this year’s VFX, costume, hair and makeup, and production design teams had their work cut out for them!

Streaming

Netflix

This year, Netflix has come out on top with 112 nominees in total, followed by HBO, with 108. Third in line is commercial broadcast television network NBC, but with 78 total nominees, it’s significantly behind the two networks ahead of it. HBO is a cable network, but what differentiates them from the other traditional channels is the innovative way they’ve reinvented themselves to adapt to the digital market by introducing the popular streaming option, HBO NOW, which doesn’t require an already existing cable subscription.

This is a testament to the changing shape of television viewing. No longer limited by locale or device, audiences have more of a ubiquitous television experience and networks have had no choice but to respond. Consequently, more and more shows are being picked up, giving screenwriters and filmmakers a larger reach and more opportunities to take chances and make niche content.

 

Why Typography Matters

As social animals, we humans have been using writing as one of the most fundamental forms of communication since our ancient ancestors. From those cave walls to the infinite pages of the Interwebs, typography has sure come a long way. Dating back to the 15th century when Johannes Gutenberg first developed moveable type and the printing press, making way for more decorative and practical typefaces and ordered page layouts, it was evident the world of words would forever be changed. By the Industrial Revolution, typography became all about the masses; typefaces became larger, catchier, and bolder to be used in signs, newspapers, and advertisements.

But in the current day where typography is used in almost every form of advertising and design, where it’s become so developed that it’s a full-time job for many designers and a stand-alone course at several universities, it’s virtually impossible for contemporary designers to keep up with each and every typeface that exists. And there are still new and original typefaces being created every day. But even with the prevalence of the discourse in our vastly digital landscape, designers who are well-versed on the matter are still quizzed on what typography actually entails by potential employers and more often than not, there are those who want to learn graphic design but neglect the importance of the topic in their work. So here are a few things every designer should know to ensure they’re prepared when discussing fonts with their clients (or critical naysayers) during the creative process

It’s All In The Eyes

The science behind the powerful connection between our visuals and our brain isn’t something that’s been newly discovered with modern technology but the possibilities of visual affect in advertising has grown ten-fold in the last few decades with digital technology. Just as psychological studies confirm the correlation between colors and emotional responses, thus it being a huge determinant in how a brand is viewed, the style in which words and letters are formed works in the same way. Just ask Gary Hustwit—the filmmaker behind Helvetica (2007), a documentary about typography, design and global visual culture. “Helvetica. It’s everywhere: this typeface spells out tax forms, labels, street signs and company logos,” he says.

Typography is the vehicle through which things like tone of voice, gender, age, or emotion can be communicated, thus certain typefaces have their own personalities and are used to relay particular ideas. Additionally, according to a study on typography by Dr. Kevin Larson and Dr. Rosalind W. Picard at MIT, even very subtle changes in typography, like small caps, ligatures, kerning or old style figures are shown to measurably affect the way people react to a document.

Most Effective Typography

In a study conducted by Michael Bernard at Usability News, the most preferred typefaces for people were Verdana, Comic Sans, and Arial whilst the most legible font at size 12 was Courier and Arial at size 14. Another noteworthy experiment conducted by Errol Morris presented the same passage to 40,000 readers in six different typefaces. Readers who were exposed to Baskerville were more likely to agree with the passage, particularly when compared with Helvetica and Comic Sans.

Know The Basics

  • Serif – This is the slight projection at the tip of a letter stroke that’s commonly at the bottom of the letter—sort of like “little feet.” This gives the eyes an easy transition or flowing motion through sentences.
  • Sans Serif – The opposite of Serif, this font has no “feet” and is often seen as trendy, modern and streamlined but tends to be harder to read in smaller font sizes.
  • Typefaces – Probably the most straightforward part of typography, it simply refers to the name of the style of text used. So basically like Arial, Georgia, or Chalkduster.
  • Fonts – Although it’s frequently synonymous with the word “typeface” in the digital age, this technically refers to both a particular style of typeface and the decided width and height of that typeface. For instance, Cambria is a typeface, but the font would be Cambria, size 14, Italic.
  • Tracking – This refers to the spacing between characters within a text, otherwise known as “letter spacing,” and is pretty standard. However, you can adjust it to affect text density.
  • Kerning – Similar to tracking, but instead of the general spacing between characters, this refers to the white space between specific, individual letters and characters that may clash depending on the font design.
  • Leading – This measures the space between where the letters sit i.e. the distance between a line of text and the line directly above and below it.
Master the art of graphic design at NYFA’s Graphic Design programs, which you can learn more about by clicking here.

5 Top Graphic Designers In NYC

In comparison to other design fields, graphic design is a fairly new profession that only acquired serious professional status during the 1950s and 60s. Since then, however, there have been a myriad of designers who have created their way into the industry’s Hall of Fame (or at least onto this remarkable and bona fide list, which is basically the same thing).

Similarly, with the countless number of agencies among a gargantuan commercial industry—not to mention an extraordinarily colossal arts and culture scene, New York City is arguably one of the best cities in the world to nurture these creative professions. Consequently so many graphic designers from around the world are relocating to The Big Apple as a constructive career move.

Paving the way for modern design since the profession was first recognised, these graphic designers of New York have changed the way we view the discipline in the contemporary world. And as a graphic design student, it’s imperative you get acquainted with these names.

Paul Rand

Long after his death in 1996, this Brooklyn-born art director and graphic designer remains one of the best in the world. During a time when the world was barely aware of his craft, Rand defined visual culture in America and pioneered a fresh, modern approach to selling goods; he was credited as one of the originators of the Swiss Style of design. He went on to teach at Yale in 1956 and was inducted into the New York Art Directors Club Hall of Fame in 1972. The ad man with the uncanny skill for marrying commerce and art, who was said to have brought intelligence and ideas to advertising where there was no semblance of thought before him, is most well-known for his corporate logo work. Having convinced some of the nation’s largest corporations that great design meant great business, he went on to craft indelible logos for giants like the ABC, UPS, Westinghouse, and IBM—all of which we instantly recognize today.

Saul Bass

Among the most notable of graphic designers responsible for the Modern Movement achieving serious popular acceptance in the visual arts during the 50s and 60s is the prolific Saul Bass. Born in the Bronx, NY, in 1920, this graphic designer and Academy Award-winning filmmaker followed his love for film along with a job offer at a major advertising company and relocated to Los Angeles in 1946. His career rapidly skyrocketed and soon he was doing classic LP sleeves like the Tone Poems of Color for Sinatra and posters for Charlie Chaplin’s Monsieur Verdoux. Bass was credited for inventing the titling of movies at the beginning or end as well as creating print-graphic identification for the films. Becoming a go-to for prominent filmmakers like Alfred Hitchcock, Stanley Kubrick, Otto Preminger, and Martin Scorsese, Bass did the titles for Exodus, Ocean’s 11, Spartacus and Psycho in 1960 alone. He is also responsible for the iconic animation of the heroin addict’s arm for Preminger’s The Man With the Golden Arm, in 1955. His graphic design work didn’t stop at films however, and much of his corporate roles produced many iconic logos for the likes of Continental Airlines, United Airlines, AT&T, Warner Communications, and Quaker Oats, just to name a few.

Milton Glaser

The man behind the prolific I *heart* NY logo (refer to the head image at the top of the article if you’re still scratching your head), Glaser is to many the embodiment of American graphic design during the last five decades. Born in New York in 1929, this modern Renaissance man initially trained in classical fine art before co-founding the New York-based Pushpin Studio in 1954. After international acclaim and many immediately recognizable works from the studio, including the iconic 1966 Bob Dylan poster (above), Glaser eventually left in 1976 and created his own company, Milton Glaser Inc.. With a major interest in publishing design (he also co-founded New York Magazine in 1968), he went on to establish a magazine and design studio called WBMG, with the former art director of Time, Walter Bernard. Among his publication credits are Esquire, Fortune, L’Express, and The Washington Post. His other eminent works include Mad Men’s swirling, technicoloured promotional ad for its final season, the Brooklyn Brewery logo, and the DC Comics logo.

Stefan Sagmeister

Born in Austria in 1962, this intriguing designer and typographer moved to New York at the age of 15, after having received a Fulbright scholarship to study at the Pratt Institute. Known for his provocative and unorthodox designs, Sagmeister has created brand identities for household names and iconic album artworks for his favorite musical acts like Lou Reed, Mick Jagger, David Byrne, Talking Heads, and Jay-Z; he also received two Grammy Awards for his work. Always one to push the envelope of indecency, he famously had the text for an AIGA lecture poster in 1999 carved into his nude body by his assistant and photographed himself; as well as gaining twenty-five pounds in 2003 by eating a hundred different junk foods and taking before and after photos for his Sagmeister On A Binge exhibition poster. His company Sagmeister Inc. which he founded in 1993 is now renamed to Sagmeister & Walsh, after making his twenty-five year-old designer employee, Jessica Walsh a partner in 2012.

Massimo Vignelli

Massimo Vignelli (1931-2014) had always strived to achieve design that was “visually powerful, intellectually elegant, and above all timeless.” Born in Milan, Italy, the architecture student first visited America in 1957 on a fellowship and returned to New York in 1966 with the hopes of promulgating a design aesthetic motivated by their ideal of functional beauty. Credited for introducing a European Modernist point of view to graphic design in America, he, along with six other designers, founded Unimark International, which became one of largest and most recognizable design firms in the world. It was also among the first to create corporate identities through design. Vignelli then went on to open his own firm, Vignelli Associates, with wife Lella in 1971. It then became Vignelli Designs in 1978. Among many corporate identities he was responsible for creating, including that of American Airlines, Ford, Bloomingdale’s, Saks Fifth Avenue and Xerox, his most memorable work was his dramatic redesign of the New York City subway map in 1972.

Follow in the footsteps of the the above graphic design giants designer at the Graphic Design program at New York Film Academy. Learn more by clicking here.

5 Actresses Who Became Successful Producers

Patricia Arquette’s call for wage equality during her Oscar acceptance speech earlier this year; Emma Watson being appointed by the UN as a Goodwilll Ambassador, heading the gender equality initiative, He For She; Amy Schumer being the first female comedian to headline a show at Madison Square Garden (scheduled for 2016)… with all of these women making big moves on an international stage, it seems feminism in the entertainment industry is well and truly alive. That said, it’s not news to say that women have been long overshadowed by their male counterparts in show-business. I mean, when considering nearly 70% of characters in speaking roles were male among the top 100 films between 2007 and 2014, it’s safe to say the industry hasn’t quite overcome gender imbalance as yet.

Nevertheless, females are taking a stance and continue to make headway, particularly behind the camera—a place where the imbalance is most evident. With women being so grossly underrepresented, it’s no wonder many actresses are making the transition and taking part in the production of their creative platforms. Here are a few of the women who have dared to challenge the status quo and transitioned from acting in front of the camera, to producing behind it.

Drew Barrymore

Quite literally growing up in the public eye after she shot to stardom with her adorable, blonde pigtails and lisp in Spielberg’s E.T. (1982) at the age of six, Barrymore famously experienced a tumultuous adolescence and early adulthood but came out on-top with a prosperous acting career. What is lesser known about the talented actress is her extremely successful career as a producer and founder of her own production company Flower Films in 1995. Knowing longevity wasn’t always synonymous with a woman’s career in Hollywood, she embarked on the project with long-time friend, Nancy Juvonen. “Doesn’t matter how far or high I go; if I can keep working, that is the most profound amount of success I in my personal life can ever find,” says Barrymore. Her self-initiated enterprise earned her the role of Executive Producer for the company’s debut film, Never Been Kissed in 1999. Since then, she’s consistently produced big, money-making films that have received several accolades and critical acclaim—many of which she also starred in. Along with the Charlie’s Angels films (2000, 2003) and the TV show in 2011, she’s also produced instant cult classics like Donnie Darko (2001) and Whip It (2009), followed by a string of romantic comedies like 50 First Dates (2004), Fever Pitch (2005), and He’s Just Not That Into You (2009).

Reese Witherspoon

Beginning her acting career from the age of fourteen in The Man in the Moon (1991), Witherspoon’s resume went from strength to strength, starring in classic hits like Election (1999), Cruel Intentions (1999), and box-office successes, Legally Blonde (2001) and Legally Blonde 2 (2003)—the latter which she produced and from which she earned $15 million, fifteen-times the amount she got for the original. Becoming increasingly frustrated with the lack of lead female roles and the majority of scripts sharing the common theme of women needing to be saved by men, she decided to establish her own production company. “I think it was literally one studio that had a project for a female lead over 30,” she said, “and I thought to myself, ‘I’ve got to get busy.’” Using much of her own funds, she launched Pacific Standard with Australian producer Bruna Papandrea in 2012. The production company released its first two films just weeks within each other—the first was an adaptation of the blockbuster novel by Gillian Flynn, Gone Girl, and the second was based on the bestselling memoir of Cheryl Strayed, Wild. Both films were a huge success and the latter earned Witherspoon nominations at the Oscars, Golden Globes and SAG Awards for her part as Cheryl.

Elizabeth Banks

Having taken on 70 roles in front of the camera so far, including those in major hits like The 40-Year-Old Virgin (2005), Spider-Man 2 and 3 (2004, 2007), and The Hunger Games franchise, Banks has certainly accrued some Hollywood brownie points through the years. Using those points and knowing the difficulties faced by actresses in Hollywood after a certain age, Banks took a pragmatic turn to production in 2009, creating Brownstone Productions with husband, Max Handelman. “There was a group of us girls coming up … a lot of us surviving, some of us not,” recalling her days at auditions with Tara Reid, “We’re not all still here.” The company earned Universal $113 million at the box office on a $17 million budget, and another $103 million in home video sales for its surprising hit Pitch Perfect in 2012, which she also starred in. She also jumped into the director’s chair for the sequel Pitch Perfect 2, released this year in May, which snagged a $69 million debut weekend.

Sandra Bullock

Boasting an illustrious acting career that began with the motion picture Hangman in 1987, Bullock has continued to capture audience’s hearts with her girl-next-door persona. Her big breakthrough came when she starred alongside Keanu Reeves in the famous thriller, Speed (1994), shortly followed by romantic comedy, While You Were Sleeping (1996), which earned her a nomination for a Golden Globe. It was in this genre she really soared, founding the production company Fortis Films in 1998, which went on to produce a string of well-received romantic comedies and dramas she also starred in. Some of them include Hope Floats (1998), Miss Congeniality 1 and 2 (2000, 2005), Two Weeks Notice (2002) and The Proposal (2009).

Margot Robbie

A newcomer to the producing scene, this 25 year-old Australian is trying out her hand at the creative process behind the camera, after bursting onto the Hollywood scene two years ago with her life-changing role in Scorsese’s The Wolf of Wall Street. Since her big break, the young actress has scored major roles beside Will Smith in Focus (2015) and again (alongside many other big names) in DC Comics’ antihero film, Suicide Squad—due for release in August next year. Robbie recently revealed that she’s been working on two projects that she’s producing, focusing mainly on one called Terminal in London, a “thriller-noir flick” comparable to Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction (1994) and Sin City (2005). Admitting that she’s really enjoying being behind the lens, the young star says her focus for the next year will solely be on producing, despite the media frenzy that’s likely to follow the Suicide Squad release. “The experience has really opened my eyes to the world of indie film producing,” she said. “It’s such a hustle—extremely difficult but very rewarding.”

Learn more about the School of Producing at the New York Film Academy by clicking here.

Cinéma Vérité Vs. Direct Cinema: An Introduction

Robert Capa uses a hand-held camera

From its very beginnings in 1877 when Eadweard Muybridge took sequential photographs of moving horses and animated them with the zoópraxiscope—a device he invented two years later to project the images—documentary film has taken many forms and adopted numerous styles and techniques. Most notably, was when the Lumiére brothers invented the first movie camera in 1895 that could hold fifty feet of film stock, with which they captured a train pulling up to a station. As a result, the concept of unedited documentation of real-life situations referred to as “actualities” came about. Today, the two most common methods used in the genre however, are ‘direct cinema’ (the more commonly recognized, ‘standard’ method, if you will) and ‘cinema vérité.’

Both practices were quite revolutionary in their time and were developed during the same historical period in the early ‘60s—a period where documentary cinema had become more comparable to highly edited post-World War II propaganda than portrayals of real events. Developments in technology like smaller and lighter cameras that used 16mm film stock (as opposed to its 35mm predecessor), and portable sync sound allowed for a much less obtrusive way of filming events on site as they happened. The major film crews could be significantly downsized, editing became much more unnecessary and the hand-held cameras could ensure a closer, more authentic look at the subjects in question. Although the two similar techniques came about with synonymous ideologies about championing realism in film, they do have some subtle, yet important differences.

The Maysles brothers, Albert and David Maysles of the United States were most well-known for developing direct cinema. Three of their most popular works in the genre were Salesman (1969), Gimme Shelter (1970), and Grey Gardens (1975). Rather than planning a scene they wanted to shoot, the brothers would let the story unfold organically as the camera rolled. They believed the documentarian was an objective observer, a completely invisible passivist as opposed to a director or participant—a noteworthy sentiment that sets the genre apart from cinema vérité.

French for “film truth”, cinema vérité was first developed by French ethnologist and filmmaker, Jean Rouch during the early 1960s and brought to documentary filmmaking a natural dialogue and authenticity of action. But unlike its direct counterpart, the philosophy behind this technique was that the filmmaker actively participates in the film as a subjective observer where necessary; combining observational AND participatory filming in the same breath. Essentially, there is an awareness of the camera that is filming the scene, thus establishing a connection between the cameraman/filmmaker and those who are being filmed. It can also involve stylized and staged set-ups and the degree of intervention is greater than in direct cinema, with the filmmaker’s subjective involvement evoking provocation—something critics point out goes against the whole foundation of documentary as a means to portray uninterrupted truths. In its defence, famous vérité filmmaker Dan Kraus once said “no documentary can ever show you the truth, because there are multiple truths, but vérité can at least relay the truth as seen by a single observer…” Similarly, Rouch’s view about the camera provoking subjects was that provocation reveals people’s true selves as the creatures of fantasy, myth and imagination, which he believes constitutes the most authentic self.

One of the earliest and most widely known of Rouch’s films using vérité was Chronicle of a Summer (1960), which he did with fellow French filmmaker Edgar Morin. By gathering a number of Parisians, including a few supporters of a group with socialist ideologies, either through one-on-one interviews or group discussions, the film addresses topics ranging from happiness and love to colonialism and racism. True to the active role of vérité filmmakers on-camera, the action of the characters in the film seem to always be a response to an impulse by the leader of the conversation or the interviewer. Both Rouch and Morin play with their own roles within the film and are never detached or disengaged from the process of filming. They even included responses from all of the characters in the edited film after showing them the original; allowing for the luxury of self-representation in all parties that resulted in a sense of equality never achieved in direct cinema.

In comparison, both direct cinema and cinema vérité aim to uncover truth in two different ways. The former hopes to unveil truth through the camera’s observation of events and subjects; the latter uses any means possible to seek out truth and is intrinsically an internal process being gradually revealed. Nevertheless, documentary is rarely a matter of pure, untouched observation, but within both methods lies an opportunity for revelation—regardless of the degree of mediation by both the camera and the filmmaker. As such, they are viewed equally as two alternative methods of documentary filmmaking whose use of particular cinematic philosophy and new technology had a huge influence on many generations of filmmakers which is still felt today.

Learn more about the School of Documentary Filmmaking at the New York Film Academy by clicking here.

The Best Documentaries: The Films Of Jehane Noujaim

Jehane Noujam

 

Although female names among the incessant list of filmmakers in a male-dominated industry seem as scarce as hen’s teeth, there are quite a few females in the documentary filmmaking landscape who are thriving and have produced some magnificent work throughout the years; one of whom is Egyptian/American filmmaker Jehane Noujaim. Born in Washington D.C. in 1974 to an Egyptian father and an American mother, she was raised in Kuwait and Egypt until her family moved to Boston in 1990, where she later graduated Magna Cum Laude in Visual Arts and Philosophy from Harvard. Before graduating however, she was awarded the Gardiner Fellowship for her film Mokattam, an Arabic film she directed about a garbage-collecting village near Cairo. This was the precedent for a long and successful career directing and producing many films in the Middle East and the U.S in an attempt to create a day where the power of film could bring a global community together; allowing a new understanding of one another. The following are four of Noujaim’s most notable documentaries with which you should get well-acquainted.

1. Startup.com (2000)

This film follows childhood friends and co-founders of a dot-com start-up, govWorks.com, Kaleil Tuzman and Tom Herman, during the troubled state of the Internet revolution. It uses an intimate and dynamic cinema-vérité style in personalizing the crisis through intensely private views of those involved and tells a classic story about values and friendship during the dawn of the Internet Age. The film was shot over two years on digital video and required over 400 hours of video editing—right up until its premiere at the 2001 Sundance Film Festival. Along with a nomination for the Grand Jury Prize at the festival, the film also won Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Documentary at the Directors Guild of America in 2002, among many others.

2. Control Room (2004)

This feature documentary provides a behind-the-scenes look at the Arab news network, Al-Jazeera, as it covered the 2003 invasion of Iraq. Including interviews with military officials and both American and Al-Jazeera journalists, this film showcases the huge gap in understanding that exists between the Arab world and Americans, and the way events relating to the war have taken on significantly different meanings, weight and emotional import. Through this, it essentially asks the big question of whether America is radicalizing or stabilizing the Arab world. Among the film’s seven wins and eight nominations, it was awarded the coveted TED prize in 2006. Noujaim was the first woman and the youngest person to win the prize, which grants winners a wish to change the world.

3. Rafea: Solar Mama (2012)

This co-directed documentary with Mona Eldaief follows Rafea, a Jordanian woman from one of the country’s poorest desert villages, Bedouin, as she leaves her 4 daughters and husband to study solar engineering at the revolutionary Barefoot College in India. The college teaches rural men and women—many of whom are illiterate—to become engineers, doctors and artisans with only 2 requirements for enrollment —you must be poor and you must take what you learn to your home village. The challenges Rafea faces are ongoing, with many of the men back home (including her husband) intervening and unconvinced of her ambitions as a practical avenue for women, but her desire for a better, more sustainable future remains clear. The documentary won a U.S. Cinema Eye Honors Award in 2014 and the EDA Award at the Sheffield International Documentary Festival in 2013.

4. The Square (2013)

This film follows a handful of Tahrir Square protesters through a 3-year course of Egypt’s political upheaval since 2011. An intimate observational documentary, it begins in the tents of Tahrir in the days leading up to Mubarak’s fall and follows the life-changing journeys of its characters as they begin the real struggle with the military regime—one that has been in power longer than the dictator they removed. The film had over 1600 hours worth of material that was edited and finalised in 2012. But after entering the Sundance Film festival a year later and winning the Audience Award, Noujaim and her crew went back to Tahrir to keep shooting after the situation on the ground had changed and the characters found themselves in the thick of things once again. As a result, the film became an even deeper and more complex story, receiving an Academy Award nomination and winning a Directors Guild Award, the International Documentary Award and an Audience Award at the Toronto Film Festival—making it the first ever film to win the award at both Sundance and Toronto.

Learn more about the School of Documentary Filmmaking at the New York Film Academy by clicking here.

The Best Documentaries: The Films Of Werner Herzog

werner herzog

If there’s ever a documentarian that hires cast and crewmembers whose endurance levels match their professional skills, it’s German filmmaker, Werner Herzog. Born on September 5, 1942 in post-World War II Germany, the offbeat visionary thrives on filming in rugged and exotic places like Antarctica or the Amazonian forest and is renowned for putting his subjects to the test—both physically and mentally.

He uses his camera to unveil new layers of experience, nature and the human psyche and is well-known for his frequent collaborations with the controversial and often temperamental actor, Klaus Kinski. Herzog’s films, like himself, are offbeat, cluttered and ecstatic and once professed that “the common denominator of the Universe is not harmony, but chaos, hostility and murder.” But this crazed valour is all part of his mystique—he once ate a shoe after losing a bet to fellow documentarian Errol Morris.

With over forty years in filmmaking and more than sixty films (including feature films) under his belt, to say Herzog’s had an illustrious career would be an understatement. But as far as documentaries go, if you were to watch any 5 of his works, these should be the ones.

Grizzly Man (2005)

This documentary follows the work of grizzly bear activists Timothy Treadwell and Amie Huguenard—both of whom were mauled to death by the animal—and was pieced together using actual video footage of Treadwell’s. One of the elements that makes this film so fascinating is the contentious dialogue between Treadwell’s running commentary in the footage and Herzog’s narration; Herzog only saw the overwhelming indifference of nature in the bears whereas Treadwell believed in them as more than just killers.

Fata Morgana (1971)

A truly one-of-a-kind piece of nonfiction filmmaking that could only have come from a mind like Werner Herzog’s, this film puts together narration reciting the Mayan creation myth and stunning yet sometimes bizarre images of the Sahara Desert. The film was initially intended to have a science fiction narrative, but still contains some fascinating dystopian imagery that’s even more bizarre when accompanied by the songs of Leonard Cohen.

 

Little Dieter Needs to Fly (1997)

This film is what inspired another of Herzog’s films, the narrative drama Rescue Dawn with Christian Bale and Steve Zahn. Made for German television, this documentary follows German-American Dieter Dengler as he discusses serving as an American naval pilot in the Vietnam War. His stories of deprivation and struggle in the years after the war echo similar memories from Herzog’s past.

 

Land of Silence and Darkness (1971)

This film shows how the deaf and blind struggle to understand and come to terms with a world from which they’re almost completely isolated. It does so through Fini Straubinger, the protagonist, an elderly woman who has been blind, deaf and mute since adolescence. She uses tactile sign language to communicate with people who rely only on taste, touch and smell as she helps them ease the isolation they experience because of their disabilities. It truly is an equally fascinating and touching film.

 

Lessons of Darkness (1992)

This film shows the disaster of the post-Gulf War Kuwaitian oil wells in flames, in a style that seems almost like it’s documented through the perspective of a somewhat alien observer. With few interviews and no explanatory narration, but only a soundtrack full of melancholy and grandiosity, this visually mesmerizing exploration of the ravaged fields sits side-by-side with its equally effective companion Fata Morgana.

Learn more about the School of Documentary Filmmaking at the New York Film Academy by clicking here.

Capturing The Brutal Beauty Of Soviet Bus Stops

cover of soviet bus stops

You know you’re in the company of a great artist if they can envision beautiful creations where their peers wouldn’t look twice. This could easily be said of the architects responsible for building a multitude of incredible-looking bus stops in the Soviet Union, and indeed the photographer great enough to capture them.

woman standing by soviet bus stop

Christopher Herwig is the photographer/videographer who travelled over 18,000 miles through fourteen countries of the former Soviet Union to photograph these striking structures. Thirteen years later, his book, Soviet Bus Stops is born.

soviet bus stop

During a 2002 long-distance bike ride beginning in London through to St. Petersburg, the Canadian explorer challenged himself to take one picture every hour in an attempt to exercise not only his cardiovascular health, but also his creativity. This zest for discovery got him noticing some surprisingly designed bus stops on otherwise abandoned stretches of road. During a time where freedom of expression was forcefully regulated, it turns out all designated buildings related to transportation were spared from the scrupulous rule where function superseded aesthetic, and total creative freedom was given to the architects responsible for many captivating and bizarre statues, murals and inventive structures in train stations and bus stops. The results are highly geometric, rupturing the often arid surrounding landscapes with exaggerated angles and bombastic curves. Many of them retained hints of their original vivid colors from being maintained by locals as a nod to the die-hard creatives of a bleak past. One bus stop in Gagra, in the disputed region of Abkhazia (pictured below), rises exquisitely from dull, gray concrete like a wave, forming a shelter made of corrugated layers, each embellished in mosaics.

Mosaic bus stop in Abkhazia

Another in Pitsunda, also in Abkhazia (pictured below), caters to style over function, featuring no seats but flaunting an elaborate wall of mosaics and a fascinating Brutalist cover-structure that resembles rows of shark teeth.

Soviet bus stop in Pitsunda

To fulfil this “obsession” over finding more and more bizarre and oddly beautiful bus stops, Herwig ended up travelling by bike, car, bus, and taxi in his hunt; finding a variety of styles that went from strict Brutalism to exuberant whimsy. His assemblage includes examples from Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, Armenia, Turkmenistan, Ukraine, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Georgia, Latvia, Moldova, Lithuania, Estonia, Belarus, and the disputed region of Abkhazia.

soviet bus stop

Herwig’s unique collection aims at preserving and sharing these amazing icons and treasures among quotidian surroundings with the rest of the world. After raising over $50,000 (CAD) through a Kickstarter campaign, he did just that and brought the project to life. The deluxe, limited edition book was released in August 2014, and again just last month after selling out the first round. Currently based in Jordan, the thrill-seeking photographer continues to be determined to find beauty and inspiration in all aspects of life.

two soviet bus stops

Eager to go on your own photography adventure? Students enrolled in the degree and conservatory programs at NYFA’s Photography School get to go on a one-week photography expedition as part of their coursework. Learn more by clicking here.