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Old March 29th, 2005, 08:45 AM   #1
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NY Times article on doc reenactment

What are people's thoughts on this? Was an undisclosed reenactment that bad? I think it's an outrage and their oscar should be rescinded. Really. This type of thing cheapens everybody's work. Enough is enough.

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Old March 29th, 2005, 10:16 AM   #2
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I think if you are 're-enacting' footage, that could have been shot... then you should indicate which footage is contemporary and which is not. This should be a disclamer, or some sort of stylistic element (like the sprocket holes).

Obviously, no disclaimer is necessary for non-cinema periods. We know it's not real footage of the Romans.

As the article points out, there is a history of 'docs' that are shot and re-enacted without such disclaimers. Nanook of the North being one. Much of Capra's WW2 footage. A good deal of WW1 footage on the trenches. Virtually all of Disney's 'true life animal' stories. And sometimes, while watching the History Channel, it can be hard to tell. So in that respect, I don't think their Oscar should be rescended.

I do think the rules need to change however.

But then, I think the rules for "journalism' needs to be changed as well.

This brings to mind, the incident when one of the News programs... like 60 minutes or someone, shot some footage to include... I think it was something about the Pentagon Papers... I can't recall exactly, but the fact that they inserted a 're-enactment' of a hand-off of a briefcase... without indicating it was staged... was earth shattering. It broke all 'norms' of journalism. And led to them inserting 're-enactment' in other footage. (Late 70's?)

I think the problem is, there is very little distinction nowadays, between news and commentary, opinion and fact, entertainment and infotainment, propaganda and marketing, "Reality" shows that are carefully controlled environements... It's all seen as fodder for the screen, to make money.

And the public, for better or worse - Really doesn't care. They want to hear, what they want to hear. And the media machine keeps feeding them bread and circuses.

(Richard steps off his soapbox)
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Old March 29th, 2005, 02:12 PM   #3
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I agree that they went a bit far.

I use re-enactments all the time in my documentary productions, but they are obvously re-enactments. We effect the footage in some way, and often put "re-enactment" across the bottom of the screen. It is the fact that they tried to make their re-enactlments look like old archival footage. When you use old cameras, old film and techniques to make the film look like archival footage, and mix it with archival footage trying to pass it off as archival footage...that is crossing a line.

But I am still up in the air about rescinding the Oscar. TIghtening the rules, yes...using this as an example...
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Old March 29th, 2005, 07:44 PM   #4
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Could someone explain what happened exactly? Or link to some other article that might explain the case?

The NY Times requires a login to view the article.
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Old March 29th, 2005, 07:52 PM   #5
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Signing up was free...but:

With filmmakers creating a tempest over the undisclosed use of re-enactments in this year's Oscar-winning documentary short, "Mighty Times: The Children's March," the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has initiated a review of its eligibility rules for documentaries.

Although re-enactments are a staple of documentary filmmaking and explicitly allowed by the academy, some documentary filmmakers are questioning the ethics of Bobby Houston and Robert Hudson's unflagged use of a technique Mr. Houston and Mr. Hudson call "faux doc" in portraying the 1963 civil rights protest by thousands of children in Birmingham, Ala. The filmmakers, based in Ojai, Calif., recreated scenes using vintage cameras and distressed film stock to shoot more than 700 extras, trained dogs and period automobiles and fire engines on various locations in Southern California.

Mr. Houston, who directed the film, and Mr. Hudson, who produced it, said only 10 percent of the 40-minute documentary consisted of such re-enactments. But Jon Else, the cinematographer and producer of "Eyes on the Prize," the 1987 television mini-series about the civil rights movement, reviewed the film at the academy's request and estimated that at least half of "The Children's March" was recreated.

Bruce Davis, the academy's executive director, said officials scrutinized the film after complaints began rolling in this month. "I'm sure there were sequences that were difficult to distinguish," he said.

Mr. Houston and Mr. Hudson said that was precisely their intent: that the different scenes would mesh seamlessly. "That's my quote: 'Thank you,' " Mr. Houston said. "The way we make our films is like baking a biscotti. We make a classic documentary using the archival record. We then make another layer of film. We bake the cookie twice, like a biscotti. That second layer of film fills in the gaps, and what you end up with is a seamless telling and definitive telling of unknown chapters from civil rights history."

Documentary filmmakers interviewed agreed that "The Children's March" was a beautifully made film with a stirring soundtrack and emotional resonance. But Frieda Lee Mock, the executive committee chairwoman of the academy's documentary branch, pointed out that Mr. Houston and Mr. Hudson's failure to disclose their use of re-enactments called into question the nature of reality implied by the use of the term documentary.

"Can people believe what they see visually?" asked Ms. Mock, who won the 1994 best documentary feature Oscar for "Maya Lin: A Strong Clear Vision." "Ultimately, it's an issue of credibility. And the question is, why wasn't it disclosed to us, the academy members voting?"

Mr. Houston and Mr. Hudson flagged re-enactments in "The Legacy of Rosa Parks," the first film in the "Mighty Times" series, which was commissioned by the Southern Poverty Law Center as a teaching tool for students in middle school and high school. "Legacy " opens with a disclaimer and re-enacted scenes are indicated with film borders edged with sprocket holes.

That film was nominated for an Oscar in 2002 but failed to win, prompting some filmmakers to complain that they felt deliberately misled when elements indicating re-enacted scenes were not included in "The Children's March."

In a March 18 letter to Mr. Davis, the New Jersey-based documentary filmmaker Steve Kalafer called the lack of disclosure "an intentional deception." He added, "In comparing the two films, it is clear that they chose to realize the full potential of their 'faux doc' technique, raising it to a new level as a well-crafted, cunningly deceitful art form - but not documentary filmmaking."

Mr. Kalafer, who produced "Sister Rose's Passion," also nominated in the short-documentary Oscar category, said that he pressed the complaint after the awards were announced because momentum was building among filmmakers and doing so beforehand would have appeared "calculated and unseemly."

Mr. Houston denied that the filmmakers misled the academy to increase their Oscar odds. "If their only pursuit is to say we were deceptive with the academy, it's absolutely untrue," he said. "The people that vote on our films are our peers, and these people have seen re-enactments for 20 years plus."
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