Thursday, March 13, 2008

139. Blue Horizons Continued: A Philosophy Toward Human Interactions Mediated by the Film Camera

Kristin Hepper, my geology friend at UC Riverside, has a young black lab by the name of Billie. Billie goes along with Kristin wherever she goes. Quite a few times, whether at dog parks or random dog walks around campus, people would approach Kristin simply because of Billie: they wanted to pet this loveable dog! In general, people are closed off to each other. People don't randomly approach other random people. There's nothing in common. You're just another human being. Another object. You pass by thousands of them every single day. But then, with the simple agent of a dog, people stop in their tracks and are gravitated toward a four-legged, bouncing, drooling, hyper-tail-wagging creature. Through my experiences with Kristin, I have come to realize the power of having a pet, not only for individual psychology (I have written a poem called "the dogs" in which I will share in a future blog), but in terms of opening doors to random people under the common subject "umbrella" of pets. I guess you can call this organism-mediated human interactions. Or more specifically, dog-mediated human interactions. I actually felt very sad upon this epiphany. I wished so badly I myself had some form of "agent" that allowed me to open doors to meeting new, random people.

Then... I met Charlie. Charlie the film camera. Charlie the Sony DVX 2100 film camera D from the UCSB Film and Media Studies Department. Oh man, things changed pretty quick. Charlie and I got chummy fairly quick and once both of us became one unified, functional piece, I took Charlie out to start my filming for the rock crab project. I soon had come to realize that Charlie was very much like Billie: an agent for opening doors to meeting new, random people. I was exhilerated by this. Absolutely thrilled. Before, I had my Nikon D80 digital SLR camera in operation. Still photography doesn't appeal to people the same way as film cameras do. The first reaction is usually avoidance. Perhaps because SLR cameras are just "snapshots" and not-longer term recordings.... Though, yesterday, due to my photographying the graphic abortion-baby images by the Arbor at UCSB, I actually had a man approach me and give me a brochure of the entire display.

Throughout my filming of the Zen of Rock Crab, I have come to a few conclusions about my interaction with humans mediated through the film camera. There are three possible responses to the film camera: attraction (interest, curiosity), neutral (attempted apathy :-), and negative (aversion to the camera). I could say overall, people were mostly attracted and interested by the presence of the film camera. Not to mention, having a film camera opened up MY mind, and made me open and receptive to meeting new people and experiencing new things. It's like a defense mechanism. I feel safe when I hide behind a camera.... At first, people have an impulsive, aversive response just like the film camera. I am assuming because (1) they are shy (2) they become self aware of themselves and how they look and how they behave (since they're being watched and recorded). Even when learning how to voice record myself and film myself, I had a heightened awareness and level of distraction. I couldn't do it. Then after repeated encounter and interaction with these technologies, I have become desensitized. It's probably the same with my main characters of the film. They got very used to me. Very bored of me and my camera. So they just do what they do, and don't think about my being there anymore....

Some people were just neutral and standoffish. And even some people were instantly attracted by the camera. They would give me their business cards and had some ideas for projects... paid... of course. Many people thought I was a Brooks student. Nope. UCSB. Dah Bomb! A more affordable, public university! Amen! And finally, some people had a chronic, negative reaction to the film camera. This only happened to me once. Over the summer. There was actually a butcher in one of the Ranch 99 markets who approached me and angrily state, "You cannot film in this store! Go talk to the manager! Go talk to the manager!" And I stopped recording, covering the lens of the camera with black protectors. I talked to Kent (the rock crab distributor) about this, and he said this guy was probably antsy simply because there is a possibility that a lot of the Asians working at Ranch 99 don't have US Citizenship and might be here illegally. Oh. I guess that's a good reason to be aversive to the presence of a film camera. *Sigh*

So, given the notion that the presence of the film camera has altered human interactions (largely in a positive way), I am assuming that you can even scale out beyond a simple system of my interacting with rock-crab associated individuals. A hypothesis out there is that film is a technique for community building and social problem solving, and perhaps, even social re-organizing. I think film is the medium for bridging together all forms of irrational, neurotic dichotomies that I have encountered growing up. "An Inconvenient Truth" is a case in point, the re-integration of "education" and "entertaiment" (marginally) for human-environmental change. Film goes beyond cheap thrill and expands toward neurological development and behavioral change. I have case studies for this phenomenon, but not any "scholarly literature" (in which people scold me for, people in the university tell me that I operate "reversely," such that I first have experiences and come to my own conclusions, and then my brain is tagged with pre-existing literature... but I think people in the university act "reversely" in which most of them sit in the office reading other people's stuff, and then they expect to go out into the world and experience things. I feel that if you have no experience in a certain field, then you will have no ability to detect, collect, and organize any pre-existing literature in a unique way). So, I will have to collect such scholarly literature (so I can be "socially acceptable" within the university) and then film can be used as a human-environmental problem-solving method. I spoke with Maria Gordon (UCSB) and Kiki Williams? (a science-technology policy fellow for NOAA up on Capitol Hill) about this and they were both supportive of such an idea. This could be a technique used for fisheries management issues. Oh boy! I'm getting excited. For the Goleta Beach film, every single person was interviewed in isolation, but I think the trick is that a problem-solving film would involve three steps: (1) isolated interviews (2) everyone in the same room for interaction (3) then iniatiation of "collaborative scripting," as Maria Gordon called it. Then a longer-term followup.

An another example of using film for social and environmental change is... of course... Michel Gondry. His latest works have involved the theme of social and political change: (1) Bjork's brilliantly sadistic "Declare Independence" music video (2) "Be Kind, Rewind" the movie (3) and "Dave Chappelle's Block Party" (documentary). Gondry just radiates and captures positive energy, energy, ENERGY!!! The living cinematic human electric shock system! I remember Gondry stating that he was influenced by film and local community building efforts in France. He has recently delt with themes of re-integrating racial, social, class structures through film. I just saw the trailer for "Dave Chappelle's Block Party" and a few issues stuck out of my mind: (1) the movie captures not just an artist-centric view, but focuses on the artists' interaction with the audience, therefore bridging the class dichotomy between internationally renowned musicians and their fans (2) the movie deals with the skewing of messaging on the radio such that the musicians had the ability to express themselves and their concerns for their communities and serious social issues. All that is being heard on the radio is shallow, you're-hot-i-wanna-kiss-you-and-all-things-that-follow-and-he-she-broke-up-with-me-boo-hoo. Just mindless happy-go-lucky music to play in the grocery store and at bars. Of course, businesses don't want to depress their customers and raise awareness. They just want consumers to continue shopping at their store until they're dead.

One last thought. It's funny, though Lauren (my model for the above shoots, ha ha!) is a Ph.D. student in Film and Media at UCSB, she reminds me in several ways of Kristin at UCR. Thinkers, sensitive, yet strong-minded. Personable. Great to talk to.

One MORE last thought: film as a technology for social organization IN FRONT and BEHIND the camera. As I have said with the Goleta Beach situation, creating film is like an experiment in micro-government at the tribal (small) scale....

Charlie my camera is my pet dog. And we shall live happily ever after....

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