Archive for the ‘Youtube’ Tag

my map my summer

So, remember when I submitted footage to Map My Summer, the Australia-wide user-generated film project inspired by Life in a Day? Well, it turned out that two bits of my footage of the bats of Gordon were selected by Amy Gebhardt, the director of the project, and are included in the final Map My Summer film, WE WERE HERE.

That film premiered at a packed screening last Saturday night, before the Australian premiere of Life in a Day, as part of Sydney Film Festival. As a contributor I was an honored guest. Amy and executives from Screen Australia and YouTube introduced the film along with SFF director Clare Stewart. Dr George Miller, the distinguished supervisor of the project, was not there (he is too busy working on Happy Feet 2), but he sent a video greeting. I found myself wondering if at any point the dude who directed The Road Warrior looked at my bat footage.

You can watch the finished product embedded here, or on YouTube’s Map My Summer page, for a few more days at least. (I believe they’ll take it down on Saturday after a week’s run.) It’s about 25 minutes long. My footage occurs twice: once near the beginning, and again about two-thirds of the way through.


To tell you the truth, I spent some time being worried that there would be a conflict of interest; I work for Sydney Film Festival- and I just didn’t know what would happen when that came out. So I kept it on the downlow for weeks, while I was waiting for everything to be confirmed. But it turned out that when my colleagues were delighted when they found out about my part in the film, and wondered why I hadn’t boasted about it before.

The whole thing is a bit ironic. Recently I’ve been wanting to get back into film production, and have been planning a couple of different short film projects as a way of challenging myself. I didn’t imagine that footage of bats I shot on my iPhone would end up being the first effort of mine to be screened in public.

But I’m pleased. In general I think community-based filmmaking is one of the directions the industry is going in. I just took a workshop with Joe Lawlor, who has been doing some terrific things with his Civic Life project – collaborating with local communities on financing and producing films in places as diverse as Newcastle, UK and Singapore. User-generated films might be considered the logical extreme of this. At the very least, it’s one positive step towards making sense of the chaos of online video content.

I’m also happy about being included in this project because of being a recent migrant to Australia. I remember seeing a rude comment on one of the posted invitations for Australians to submit footage of what summer means to them: “Better get ready for hundreds of shitty clips of bands playing at the Annandale.” It was funny, but it also highlighted the fact that I haven’t had time to become cynical about anything here yet. I’m still amazed by so many things others take for granted – like seeing flowers blossoming in the winter and parrots hanging out in my front yard. I wanted anything I submitted to reflect that amazement – and it did.

I didn’t have to make many creative decisions – the bats themselves did all the work. Simply pointing the camera at the level of the horizon produces a pretty astonishing image.

Or, maybe all of that is just a roundabout way of saying it really doesn’t have anything to do with filmmaking – it was all pretty random and I’m just lucky. But that works too.



Screen Australia are collaborating with Youtube on an Australia-wide, crowd-sourced film initiative called Map My Summer. It’s similar to and no doubt inspired by Life in a Day, the experimental documentary shot by hundreds of people worldwide on one Saturday last July and fashioned into a feature film by producer Ridley Scott and director Kevin McDonald; the completed film premiered at the Sundance Film Festival earlier this month.

The idea of Map My Summer is that thousands of ordinary Aussies will film – well, anything they want to film, as long as it sort of has something to do with summer, and upload it to Youtube by March 31. Selected footage will be fashioned into a short film (not a feature, alas) by an up-and-coming Aussie filmmaker under the supervision of Dr George Miller. I guess Miller is meant to be the Aussie-surrogate Ridley Scott for this undertaking – famous director to give it some clout y’know. But considering he directed the Mad Max films and Babe – four of the finest artifacts ever created by man – that’s all right by me. Anyway, the resulting film will be screened at Sydney Film Festival in June.

I liked the idea of Life in a Day, and I’m pretty psyched about Map My Summer too. Seems like a nice, unforced way to combine experimental and populist filmmaking.

Incidentally, Life in a Day got mixed reviews; some critics say it’s a predictable mishmash, and maybe even a little manipulative. Others call it innovative and uplifting, a Koyaanisqatsi for the new new age. I’ve not seen the film, but I like this take on it by reviewer Kirk Honeycutt in, of all places, the Hollywood Reporter:

The fact that terrible news didn’t dominate the world that day allows the film to concentrate on everyday life. So the film is quite cheerful on the whole. Whether people are skydiving or walking down a chapel aisle with an Elvis impersonator, the film expresses a collective hope in the present and in better days to come.

Onstage, Macdonald and Walker insisted that this mood came about through no editorial nudging by them. The preponderance of the videos submitted was playful, optimistic and positive. Do you suppose our 24/7 news media has gotten this wrong, that much of the world isn’t in the grip of depression, malevolence, cynicism, backstabbing and pessimism?

Exactly. Thank you.

So, I plan to take part in Map My Summer. Here’s a rough sketch of my idea, filmed last night. It’s the famous flying foxes of Gordon – large bats that come out en masse every night like clockwork a few minutes after sundown. Gordon, about ten minutes’ drive from our place, has the largest bat colony on the North Shore of Sydney, and there’s a bridge overlooking a wooded little valley or dell that offers a perfect view of the thousands of bats as they swoop out of their shelters.

I don’t know if you can call lots and lots of big bats cheerful or optimistic – but it’s certainly really cool in my book. Am I creeped out by the bats? Not at all – not even when they come and roost in the trees in our yard in the middle of the night, making weird squeaks and gurgles that we can clearly hear right out the window. I like them. Spiders on the other hand… well, never mind.

I’m tempted just to leave this footage, which was shot on my iPhone, it as is – I love the distorted, hypnotic repetition. (And the time limit on an uploaded clip for the project is three minutes – though it’s true you can upload as many as you like.) But more clarity and more angles to work with might be good too. We’ll see what I come up with – I’ll keep you posted.

Here are the relevant links:

Screen Australia’s Map My Summer homepage, and the press release

Map My Summer’s Youtube page

i … shot that

Tomorrow marks Youtube’s “Life in a Day” project. People from over the world are encouraged to shoot video of their own lives (or whatever else moves them) and upload it; a team of filmmakers headed by director Kevin MacDonald (The Last King of Scotland, Touching the Void) and executive producer Ridley Scott will sift through the entries, take the “most striking” footage, and create a feature-length film. The finished product will be screened at the Sundance Film Festival next year. Meanwhile all entries will be stored on a permanent archive-cum-time capsule on Youtube — as long as they don’t violate Youtube’s “community guidelines,” or come from Syrian, Burmese, Sudanese, Iranian, Cuban, or North Korean citizens. (I’m not sure why these six nations are thus singled out. They certainly aren’t the only nations with troubled or unjust regimes; nor the only ones to have difficult relationships with Youtube. For instance, the site is banned in Turkey but apparently Turks living abroad are welcome to take part.)

A mash-up collage of clips from punters everywhere telling the story of one day on Earth? Youtube is billing it as “unprecedented,” “historic,” and other gushing, hyperbolic things.

Click here for more information and instructions on how to take part.

I’m almost reluctant to admit this stunt has captured my attention just a little. Youtube calls it an “experimental documentary,” and I’ll be damned but the thought of it fascinates me. When I was a kid my family had a copy of A Day in the Life of America, a book of photographs taken all over the States on one day, and I used to love it. It was the first thing I thought of when I heard of Youtube’s project. (The other thing I thought of was, for some reason, Slacker.)

Really the whole thing is an ingenious brew of populism, corporate marketing, and independent filmmaking taken to its logical extreme. As a friend and colleague has already written, it’s like the Beastie Boys’ Awesome; I Fuckin’ Shot That on a fuckin’ global scale. Shoot film by any means necessary indeed. Or is it edit other people’s film by any means necessary? (Actually, if nothing else, this project is a great way for Youtube, Sundance, and the filmmakers to get a lot of publicity out of a film on almost no budget, the production done entirely by willing crews around the world for no pay.)

I have mixed feelings about taking part. I do like the idea — it seems fun; and it would be kind of cool to win the lottery so to speak and be featured in the finished product. Even being a part of that archive sounds pretty satisfying.

On the other hand the timing is weird for me. For a number of reasons I’ve been inspired, after a dormant period of many years, to make films lately. My wife brought her video camera to Abu Dhabi for the express purpose of getting some footage here so that we can do something, anything with it. And for the past couple of weeks I’ve been going around the city, taking snapshots, and brainstorming visual art. I’m especially drawn to the weird landscapes of the massive development projects seen everywhere here — the ripped-up desert, the cranes and other machinery, the exposed infrastructure and weird bits of rubble and colored plastic lying around.

So, I definitely have ideas forming. But I don’t know how I feel about pulling the trigger on those ideas tomorrow — going out and filming just because Youtube says so. Maybe I should abstain in protest, and film something the next day — just for me.

I’ll think about it tonight. If I do take part, here’s what I want to do. It occurs to me that the project, however well-meaning, cannot represent everyone. It’s true that the means of shooting video are cheaper and more accessible than ever, and in the hands of more people around the world than ever. And this has at times taken on great significance, as when the government of Burma was exposed by an covert network of citizens documenting police and military abuse with handheld video cams. (See the film Burma VJ: Reporting from a Closed Country.) Youtube’s promo clip for the project makes a subtle but definite reference to this phenomenon: in the promo’s inevitable rapid-cut montage, you can spot a brief clip of some nondescript riot police.

But not everyone can afford a video camera, nor even a phone that shoots video. And not everyone has the leisure time to spend on filmmaking. I’m especially thinking of the thousands of migrant construction workers here in the UAE. These guys come over here from the Indian subcontinent, Africa, and the Philippines to work six days a week in insane heat and often dangerous conditions for very little pay. They live in camps in the desert, ten or fifteen to a cheap and poorly ventilated hovel. Their labor is creating a science-fiction megalopolis in a desert where there was nothing before. We see the monstrous, sublime, ridiculous towers under construction everywhere we look; and we see these guys going to and fro in their beat-up buses with no AC, or walking along the roads languorously, dressed in color-coded coveralls, cloths tied around their heads to protect them from the sun. We see them in the evenings, sitting dirty and exhausted under palm trees on the median strips of the city streets, hanging out and chatting with what little free time they have. Have they heard of Youtube’s project? Have they heard of Youtube? Do any of them own a video camera? Or a computer? Have any of them ever thought about filmmaking?

I have no interest in documenting my own life in such a way, but I’d like to document them. Not in a pushy way — I wouldn’t want to film someone without permission or otherwise exploit them. But I’d like to find a way to somehow represent lives often taken for granted and certainly without an effective voice in the media.

If I don’t manage to get out and film these workers, anyone who reads this is welcome to do so. Steal this idea. Document these guys’ lives. By all means. By any means.