Docs In Sight

Filming Occupy Wall Street

While most politicians wait it out and much of the media flutters about, the Occupy Wall Street movement keeps generating heat even as the weather gets colder. And, from the first days, documenting it and getting the message out through raw footage and short videos have been essential to its growth, especially when exposing various incidents of police overzealousness. Given that video capability is now part of most mobile devices, this may be the first large-scale movement that is “democratically documented.” At any given rally or march it seems as if four out of five people are documenting in some way. Of course, shooting protests or interviews with an iPhone does not produce material that is “broadcast quality,” as the saying used to go. And while compelling clips can be produced using low-end video—especially if what is captured is unique—a degree of filmmaking technique and professionalism is important for making short pieces and long-form documentaries about such a sudden and important protest movement. These are the issues that are currently being discussed and debated by filmmakers who are covering the goings-on at Zuccotti Park and elsewhere around the country. And, like the inherent ethos of Occupy Wall Street, a collective and collaborative dimension can be found in many of these projects.

One of the first public screenings and discussions of such work took place on October 20th in a packed room at the Commons on Atlantic Avenue in Brooklyn. The event was hosted by the Brooklyn Filmmakers Collective (BFC), a group with members that have produced some of the most circulated shorts about OWS. According to BFC co-founder Landon Van Soest, the BFC” has developed a tight-knit filmmaking community in Brooklyn. Some members choose to work more collectively than others and there has been a high degree of organic collaboration. But the group is essentially about the support that comes from having a community.” Many of the members started filming in the early weeks of the occupation. Filmmakers Iva Radivojevic and Martyna Starosta began shooting early on day five of the occupation at Zuccotti Park for the short film Nobody Can Predict the Moment of Revolution, a film that has had over 300,000 views online. The filmmakers say that the response was unexpected and astonishing and they still receive emails “from individuals inspired not only to join the movement but those documenting and participating in their own local movements from Berlin to Belgrade to Bristol.”

Other BFC members began filming a few weeks in because, according to members Jay Sterrenberg and Eric Phillips-Horst (who are also members of Meerkat Media Collective), “We saw a gap in the media coverage at that point that we thought we could fill—the process of direct democracy at the core of the movement.” Their film Consensus is featured on the “about” page of the OWS NYC General Assembly as the main tool of explanation for how the movement is run and organized. Another BFC member, Adele Pham, says, “Many of us are observers of culture. We knew that this is an interesting, historic moment that we wanted to document for future generations. My focus is on people of color, women, and gays because we need to join forces and be the leaders of this movement in order for this thing to work.” She has gotten over 35,000 hits on her Vimeo page alone for her short @OccupyTheHood, Occupy Wall Street. Other BFC member films like Right Here All Over have been featured on the OWS home page and effectively been spread through blogs and the like, reaching over 400,000 views on Vimeo. “The response has been positive, encouraging and motivating to say the least,” say filmmakers Alex Mallis and Lily Henderson.“We want to get back out there, and make more films so we can help to reverse the negative depictions of the movement.”

Of course, these films represent only a small part of the online video offerings related to Occupy Wall Street (that include, of course, a burgeoning and shameless Tea Party campaign that is trying to discredit protesters). But with a plethora of poignant clips available, iPhone and otherwise, the power of a well-crafted and technically competent film that clarifies aspects of the movement is undeniable. And while these projects have been done in a collective and supportive environment—and with various degrees of collaboration—there is one feature-length documentary project in the works that will have as part of its core a pooling of footage and a collaborative nature. 99% - The Occupy Wall Street Collaborative Film is a project that has over 50 filmmakers involved on some level and is actively looking for more (www.99percentfilm.com). Such projects are growing and changing as fast as the movement itself. But at a point when so much is consistently being documented, professionally or otherwise, it is compelling and important to have at least one project that inherently utilizes footage from many people and places, not just as archival dressing, but as the basis of the film.

A direct challenge to the cult of the auteur, collaborative filmmaking is intrinsically difficult—and if Occupy Wall Street can continue to inspire successful group projects, the protests may succeed in breaking through another longstanding barricade, this time on the artistic front.

Contributor

Williams Cole