Tech troubles? Read the new FAQ

Columbia College Chicago students having tech problems can now log in to the new online FAQ and help system. In order to assist students with tech problems through the year, the F&V department has launched a Web based Help Desk.

The site has FAQ's (Frequently Asked Questions) and users can request specific help in the following areas:

Audio: Production and Post Production questions
Camera: Bolex and JVC questions
Computer: Hardware, Software and Storage
Final Cut: Editing, Input and Output

Staff are in place the system is tested and working. The site operates out of the MIP Lab and is actively monitored during lab hours.

Please set up an account for yourself. You must use your Columbia email account on the system.

Suggestions for FAQ topics should be sent to Dennis Keeling,

Viva Documentary Artwork Fall ’08-Spring ’09











Sunday Night at the Forum: River Monsters

River Monsters is one of the shows that I look forward to on Sunday. With Amazing Race over and Big Brother not starting yet, I lean on good old Animal Planet for my Sunday night viewing. Please join me at the Viva Doc forum on Sunday Night so we can talk about what crazy Jeremy Wade is up to.

River Monsters
Jeremy Wade is a biologist and extreme angler. Chases down man-eating fish in the Amazon River Basin. The first time I watched Jeremy, he was dangling his toes into a pool that was holding 100 starving red-belly piranhas. All the Animal Planet teasers told me that he was going to get into the pool but the progression of the 3 minute scene is was made me a fan of the show.

Before getting into the pool, Jeremy had to raise the stakes by proving to us that these piranhas are as hungry as he says they are. He does this by pouring blood into the pool to show that the smell of it riles them up. I use the word smell with confidence because Jeremy's voice over puts his biology background to use by explaining how the fish has a sense of smell that evolved from living in murky, cloudy water.

This scientific approach to the scene continues as he dangles a piece of prime steak into the pool using a fishing line. This is the first time in the scene where the pool of fish is portrayed as dangerous. Their efficiency comes from their numbers. The way the piranha tears off one piece of meat, let's everyone know where the food is and leaves so that someone else can take a bite. Each fish takes what it can use and leaves the rest for the next fish, that's community. The scene gave me a respect for the piranha and the footage of them at work gave me a fear of them too.

This fear is what makes the climax of the scene so effective. Jeremy steps into the pool very gingerly and there seems to be a safe buffer around him. However, as his body language relaxes, the fish get closer and become comfortable around him. They let a few shots linger so that you can see the piranhas sniffing his toes, increasing the drama. He claims that this proves that they won't go after live animals but I wonder if he'd be willing to pour some blood in the pool while he is in it… I wouldn't.

Jeremy's “check this out” approach, along with his enthusiasm for the river make his stories of man-eating River Monsters a special treat on television. As a friend of mine said, “Every time I'm channel surfing, I get stuck on this program.” That's the power of a storyteller.'Jeremy

“Life Or Obama?” Documentary Shoot a Success

Flickr photo by asiangermanirish
Flickr photo by asiangermanirish
Associated Press photo from the Houston Chronicle
About two weeks ago, I organized the production of Life or Obama?, a film which focused on Notre Dame University’s invitation to have Obama speak at the school’s commencement.
From Friday to Sunday, I was on campus filming anti-abortion protesters, trucks with anti-Obama slogans next to graphic photos of aborted baby fetuses, and what came to be known as “the dead baby plane.” I interviewed individuals for and against the invitation, but my main goal was to get the story of the students, which I thought was not being told. Mitch Wenkus and Marcin Szocinski each were DPs and I directed.
I developed and finessed this idea for the film—that I would be illuminating how the campus had been transformed by a group of outsiders and the media. It was easy to get the outsiders because they were out in the open being led by their leader Randall Terry who was receiving extra help with publicity from Alan Keyes.
It was not surprising that the media did not really begin to interview or feature students who were not against the speech until days before. Students from the ND Response coalition that formed to oppose the invitation appeared on shows, but there were few reporters who ventured on to campus to ask students not involved in any responses what they thought.
I began to track the media a month and a half before the commencement speech was given. The number of stories being conducted dramatically increased a week before the speech. There were many segments on cable news networks that dealt with Obama’s upcoming Notre Dame Commencement speech and the protesters and bishops and priests who were against Obama speaking.
I followed the campaigns for and against the invitation to determine when and where to film, to create a schedule for production. The site and both had schedules listing demonstrations that the public and the media could attend.
I was very impressed by the students grateful for those who agreed to let me arrange and plan in-depth interviews and thankful that students did not express disdain for my presence on campus.
All the ND students I interviewed who were outside the gates standing among the protesters with signs in support of the class of ’09 and Notre Dame or Obama were very cooperative and could not have been more receptive to the production I was attempting to complete.
I used a blog (Life Or Obama? on WordPress) and postings on Open Salon to promote the film and recount what happened on the day of Obama’s Commencement Speech at Notre Dame. My intent was to become a trusted authority for the Notre Dame story and if you look at how many of my Notre Dame posts were marked as “Editor’s Pick,” you can see how successful I was.
My film blog has an article on the protesters and my shooting experiences on Sunday, the day Obama spoke at Notre Dame's Commencement. For the most part, the crew strategy was to act like we were from a media organization because the campus was swarming with media.
I have not been able to view my footage. I do not have the equipment to watch the DV tapes which I recorded on. Because I have a computer that is not a Mac and that does not have a firewire, this project must be stalled.
From this point, I find out if I got a grant from Critical Encounters (this documentary was developed with the intention of being part of the “Fact & Faith” program next year). Also, I will consider the cost and value of getting anymore interviews to add to my documentary and conduct further research to finesse my story.

Thank you to all who have supported this project and thanks to those interested as well. I will keep you updated on the status of the project as developments occur.

Want to Learn About Documentary Fundraising?

Groundswell Films is looking for an intern this summer to help research philanthropic and sponsorship leads for The Robben Island Singers, a 360 Media Project. Fundraising is not the most glamorous part of filmmaking, but it is an absolute necessity if you want to make independent work. We are looking for a mature student, with excellent research and written communication skills to work in our downtown Chicago office. Candidate must be well organized and able to meet deadlines. Position is two to three days per week and is unpaid, but includes a stipend to cover your expenses.

Please email if you are interested. Thanks.

Thurs, 5/14: Trouble the Water screening with Q&A

This Thursday, May 14th, come join us for the free screening/discussion of the Oscar nominated documentary, “Trouble the Water” at Columbia College Chicago.

“Trouble the Water”, is the story that was never told about Hurricane Katrina.

The producers Tia Lessin and Carl Dean will be at the screening to answer questions and raise awareness.

Check out the website,

Date: May 14th
Location: 623 S Wabash (1st Floor in the Hokin Hall)
Time: 6p.m.- 9 p.m.

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Welcome, new viva doc board members!

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Friday night, May 8th, North Racine at Margaret's house, Viva doc gathered together and

1. thanked for the past board members for their awesome job,

2. welcomed the new board members for their coming year,

3. threw a surprising congratulation party for Mario's wedding, or mourned his end of bachelor life,

4. filled empty stomachs,

5. peeping in Margaret's sweet home,

6. and so on whatever can happen with 4 packs of wine, bottles of vodka, two ice boxes of beers and foreign name hard liquors….

what a great way to wrap up the semester and relax for the new plans for summer!

good job, Margaret! good job, viva doc! 

Absorb All-Star Knowledge from the Pros

Starting tomorrow, for two weekends only, the wizards, masters, and warriors of documentary will come out and play.

At the 2009 Producers’ Series

Eye-Witness – Focus On Documentaries

April 4-5 & 18-19
Film Row Cinema
Columbia College Chicago
1104 S. Wabash, 8th Floor

Two full weekend sessions that cover the nuts and bolts of developing, marketing and distributing your documentary film! Some series highlights:

• Want to plan a series? Join Kartemquin’s Gordon Quinn, Leslie Simmer & Jerry Blumenthal to discuss the process involved in planning and producing their series THE NEW AMERICANS that spanned 4 years in the lives of new American immigrants.

• Need advice on pitching your film or work-in-progress to potential funders and distributors? Expert Laurie Scheer will tell you how, listen to pitches from participants, and give advice on how you can be most effective!

• Ethics Panel Discussion: The subjects of documentary films are often ordinary (or extraordinary) people unaccustomed to life in the limelight. What considerations should filmmakers take into account when making a documentary? Where do issues of time, money, deadlines and demands of story structure come into play? Join us for an in-depth discussion of the ethics surrounding documentary filmmaking with Ruth Leitman, Maggie Bowman, Danielle Beverly, and Stephanie McCanles.

• Get an overview of ITVS, application procedures and an outline of the relationship during and after, with ITVS’ Karim Ahmad and Kartemquin’s Xan Aranda, Associate Producer & Outreach Coordinator for MILKING THE RHINO.

• Two Chicago Premieres: TRUST US, THIS IS ALL MADE UP by Alex Karpovsky, premiered at SXSW this year starring Chicago’s own David Pasquesi and TJ Jagodowski!! HANDMADE NATION by Faythe Levine, DIY artist, founder of Art vs. Craft & published author!

**Free for Producer’s Series participants, Individual Screening Tickets Available for the general public!

To see the full schedule, purchase passes or screening tickets and for a look at the 2008 Producers’ Series, please visit our Producers’ Series page! (


5 Lessons from “The End of Suburbia”

It’s often worth watching documentaries that suck in order to learn what not to do as a filmmaker. While watching the 2004 documentary “The End of Suburbia” (available on Netflix but don’t bother) several lessons occurred to me. Here’s my new list of what not to do in my own docs:

1. Don’t make a movie that relies only on white men of a certain age for interviews who all agree with one another and have all written books with titles that have colons in them.

2. Don’t make a movie that has no real things happening in it, just lecture and interview footage with some thinly layered b-roll and archival.

3. Don’t try to cram too many topics into 78 minutes.

4. Don’t seat interview subjects on a couch in front of a white wall.

5. Don’t have three interviews with the same person saying the same thing in three different locations for no apparent reason.

Oh, and a bonus: don’t have an on-screen narrator who reads a script like he’s ranting.

Doc-makers should take a cue from "28 Days Later"

The question of how to portray the passage of time in documentaries is one that has frustrated many doc-makers and editors alike.

Personally, I’m a big fan of using “relative time,” in other words, using titles or narration or lower thirds or what-have-you to convey that time has passed in a relative sense rather than an absolute one (i.e. “6 months later…” instead of “June 24th, 2008…”).

The reason why is that whenever I see absolute dates used in a documentary, it makes my mind think that something of really big historical importance is about to happen on that day (like the day Nixon resigned, or the day that Armstrong landed on the moon). If nothing huge pans out, I get a little disappointed and frustrated and wonder why the filmmaker though it was so important to let me know that so-and-so got her driver’s license on “February 24th, 1998” rather than “Sixteen years after she started to try to get it.”

Here’s a twist: instead of using relative time in a forward sense (“3 days later”), why not try it backwards? In other words, if the film is counting down to some big event, why not try using titles or what-have-you to convey that, such as “2 days before Bob’s 90th birthday”?

Unless it’s a historic date or the date is of vast importance, I’d suggest using relative dates in documentaries where the passage of a significant amount of time is portrayed. What do you think about relative time vs absolute time? Chime in in the comments section.

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