sábado, 28 de marzo de 2009

Crazy Plots to Save the World

Many forward thinkers have agreed that the challenges of the next half-century will be great ones, and they will likely center on a couple of critical areas. Of course, food is always an issue for the greater fraction of people on the planet, but clean unpolluted water is about to become a very problematic – and expensive – issue as well. A third area about which I have heard little from the scientific community is ‘staying warm’ – and since one of the basic necessities of life is ‘staying warm and dry,’ I am concerned that not enough brain-power is being put into keeping people warm without further warming the planet.

Long ago, I wanted to get people interested in bringing troubling societal issues to the members of Mensa, the high-IQ society. I thought – and still think – that those eggheads could help us find elegant solutions to some of our toughest problems. I mean, they have all that knowledge, right? Problem was, the men and women of Mensa didn’t seem to want to tackle hard problems like feeding the hungry, housing the homeless, or saving the planet. Like tired and lonely people everywhere, they were more interested in connecting with other smart people socially, as in dating or in special interest groups (which they called SIGs).

So I wandered away from Mensa, leaving them to their puzzlers and parties. But I still think about trying to save the planet, save our culture, save our way of life, save the lives of those unfortunate enough to need our help. To do any of those things, we need some innovative thinking – we need to approach the same old problem in a brand-new way. And a collection of brilliant minds is a crucial prerequisite to removing the obstacles to the creative development of innovative thinking. And, of course, I can’t do it all alone. So I turn to you, the filmmakers on the cutting edge, to be part of that collection of minds – since filmmakers always have been (and continue to be) innovators, inventors, and visionaries.

And maybe just focusing a camera on a problem is a good start at getting people to think about that problem. We can't fix what we haven’t identified, and we can’t identify what we don’t know about. So for some of us, at least, there is just the work of pointing the issues out to others, so that they can learn about those situations that can harm us or those like us. Also, people want to know that there is hope, and documentaries serve that function, among many others.

Docs can inform, educate, and persuade. They can mean the difference between a deep understanding and the indifference of ignorance. Perhaps most important, documentaries can inspire. So here are some thoughts for documentaries, in case any of you filmmaking geniuses have run out of challenging and engaging ideas:

1. Innovative thinking about Energy Conservation: Why do we have every one of those city lights on all night long? Civic lighting expends more than half of the energy used in the US, and we could get buy with a lot fewer lights. I’m not talking about making the streets dark and unsafe, but we could install switches on about half the lights in any string, and alternate them all night long – or at least in the wee hours of the morning when most people are in bed.

2. Innovative thinking about Intended-waste Products: Why do we have bright white paper napkins, cups, bowls, and plates? The bleaching of paper accounts for a huge percentage of toxic waste going into rivers and our oceans, and we really don’t need bright white items that we are going to use once and then throw away. What are the biases against grey or tan disposable napery and plates? And those awful disposable diapers (though the rumor is that disposables are actually more planet-friendly than washing cloth diapers) – why are they white? For that matter, why is toilet paper white?

3. Innovative thinking about the Ramifications of Oil Drilling: How about getting groups of university students in different disciplines to deal with the deleterious effects of oil drilling – both to the land and to the very fragile ecosystems of the oceans. Big Oil drills for oil in the middle of farmland, if that’s where the oil is – and oil drilling is a dirty business. They (and we) hardly consider the effect of the runoff into the water table and into the soil in which farmers grow our food. How is all that oil affecting our health? And how can it be stopped? And while we’re talking oil fields, how can we stop those flares of flame that burn continually in the fields? It’s called the burn-off

4. Innovative thinking about Staying Warm and Dry: It seems that everyone is talking about global warming, but a much greater problem is how to keep people warm – heating is probably the major issue confronting us in the 21st Century. This is perhaps the most profound need of the entire human race, no matter where they live (even hot climates get cold sometimes). The whole of history has included the continual attempt to mitigate weather, creating warm and dry conditions in which to thrive. For atmospheric reasons, several long-time answers must now be discarded: wood fires, coal, and oil. Natural gas is much cleaner, but it will last only so long. Going underground, though costly and unattractive to most folks, that may be the answer – issues to be addressed include heating, leakage of surface water, disposal of waste, recycling air and gas byproducts, lack of windows and light, mass-transit elevators and logistics of moving people to the surface and back.

5. More innovative thinking about Staying Warm: Deep-strata mines may provide a solution, since the earth’s crust gets hotter by one degree for every thousand feet that you descend – by opening up large enough vents, we may be able to use the earth’s heat to replace much of the surface burning that we are doing.

6. Innovative thinking about Water and Water Rights: Water shortages and pollution will be major themes in the coming decades. Who is working on the potential of using seawater for most uses? And are there projects for reclaiming seawater (desalinization)? What new products are on the horizon to shift consumer water usage? And who owns the water anyway? That’s a question to which most of us won’t like the answer.

So there you have it – some ideas about coming up with ideas. A list of things that need addressing, and perhaps we can point a camera at them and thus put them in front of an audience or two. If you can do something with these ideas (and have the wit and strength to chase them with camera), you have my blessings.

David Hakim is an assistant director, producer, and publicity expert who developed campaigns for every major Hollywood studio and handled publicity for the Motion Picture Academy. Find him in the Reel Directory online: www.reeldirectory.com.

All material copyright 2008 David Hakim and may not be duplicated - ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

Using Knowledge & Compelling Images to Create the Narrative

One of the problems with human perception is that it is tied to our already-existing store of knowledge. So if a person says, for instance, ‘big man,’ one might picture a man of one’s own race or ethnicity – when in fact the truth might be just the opposite. And this characteristic of perception becomes more pronounced in dealing with qualitative descriptors rather than quantitative ones – intangibles, concepts and ideas. What is ‘good,’ or ‘competent,’ or ‘intelligent’?

This is what makes film (and especially the documentary or historical re-creation forms so compelling and valuable) – you can show an image, establishing quite quickly (and definitely) the physical qualities of the person or situation at hand. Of course, in documentary, persons can dissemble (or just get it wrong), making the task more difficult, but the filmmaker still has more impact on the audience’s view of things than one does when writing a book. (And this aspect of filmmaking is what keeps writers writing – most would rather have the ability to use and exploit their readers’ imaginations than to delineate clearly who is doing what.)

So in more ways than one, a picture is worth a thousand words – and often many more than that. One example of this situation might be taken from the study of history. When the average person hears about ‘the Crusades,’ for example, he or she might think of a single picture – Richard Lionheart leading a host into battle against ‘the infidel.’ But that is an image that’s been built on many misconceptions, not the least is that the Crusades were holy wars waged by clean and honorable men against a backward and uncivilised race of heathens.

In truth, both sides saw the other as ‘infidels,’ and both sides saw themselves as the righteous upholders of ‘God’s Way’ (sound familiar?). To understand the breadth and depth of this misunderstanding, one must know about what was going on in the world at that time. The sciences as we know them had not yet been invented: medicine was in a sorry state, and hygiene was worse. People did not much understand the relationship between cleanliness and good health, and lives were on average much shorter and lived with much less robust health. ‘Muslim’ scientists were faring a bit better than Europeans, having come up with mapmaking, algebra, astrology, medical treatments, and other important fields – but many of these sciences were still in their infancies – and without the tradition of rich communication between scholars, advances were understandably slow in coming.

In addition, politics as we know it did not exist – money was relatively new to most people, and the internal politics of Europe had shrunk to what most people call ‘the feudal system’ without much understanding of what that might entail. Governments and towns had shrunk to vast landed estates in the hands of the ‘wealthy’ – lands which were the only places that people could survive. There was no industry as we think of it, since the economics of the times – barons and dukes used what riches there were (often not in the form of ‘money’ but in much more valuable commodities) to wage wars or to protect their estates, keeping the common people tied to what were in effect ‘plantations’ where almost all the necessities of life were grown or made by local labor. Trade was rare, and was used mostly for things that could not be made or grown locally.

The lords of this system were not the clean, well-scrubbed pictures of health that we see in most films. The warriors of that time had more in common with the Vikings than with the cavaliers of later times – in fact, many of them were only a step or two removed from Vikings themselves. Picture a system of government (actually a series of tenuous truces and wartime alliances-of-convenience, paid for by tribute taken at sword-point) run by uncouth and dangerous bikers – for that is the closest we can come to drawing a fair image of who the barons and dukes were. While earlier kings were ‘men of the strong arm’ – men who could best others in battle, who were accustomed to taking what they wanted and washing away the pain with wine or other euphorics – the barons and dukes ran things under the eye of kings who were often men less able in battle. None of these were the leaders that Washington and Jefferson later sought to become – the warriors of old were men who killed without much feeling and took the women left behind without much grace. They were the Hell’s Angels of their day, except that they led armies and adopted the pretense of being descended from (or granted immunity by) God.

Europe was filled with these petty barons and dukes – a nasty lot almost every single one of them, each fighting for a share of the spoils and each defending his own ground against neighbors who would take it from him by force (and ‘by force’ generally meant the most indelicate of violence). Of course, there were some among them who aspired to higher morals and ethics; but many, as well as being paid killers in wartime, were murderers in peacetime – if a noble wanted something, he might simply kill the owner in order to get it. And often, what was wanted by the ruling class was in the hands of the church.

The first Crusade (1095 CE) became a way that the weaker kings and the Church (long a victim of the warring nobles) could rid Europe of these gangs of marauders. The bishops sent word around that any person who went to kill infidels in the Holy Land (to take back the sacred ground upon which the Savior had walked) would be granted a place in heaven, no matter what crimes had been committed before. And a madness swept through Europe that is difficult to imagine but easy to understand: the serfs had little happiness on earth (so the everlasting reward of heaven looked pretty good), and the barons and dukes were greedy for spoils, as well as having a fair interest in expiating their numerous beastly sins.

And off these eager ‘penitents’ went, to kill an enemy they did not know and could not understand, because education had been closely guarded for centuries – kept within a relatively small group of ‘chosen elite’ (chronicles of travelers of the time were rare and expensive, and most learning came by word of mouth, relating mostly to the daily needs of life: farming, tanning, food preservation, carpentry, metal-working, weaving, and the knowledge of other skills based on what was needed to survive). Most of them had never seen a ‘Saracen’ or a ‘Turk,’ a ‘Paynim’or a ‘Persian.’ A ‘heathen’ is defined as one who does not believe in God, but the Muslims had a strong belief in God – and, in fact, in the same God that demanded sacrifice of Abraham: the Jewish line came from Abraham’s son Isaac and the Muslim line came from Isaac’s brother Ishmael. So ‘heathens’ these people were clearly not.

Most had no idea what lay ahead of them during the first Crusade, but they tramped through Italy and Hungary to get to the Holy Land. In Hungary they fared worst, their huge hordes (hundreds of thousands of starving and ragged souls) were cut down by local residents weary of their depredations. Tens of thousands were killed or died along the way, before even getting out of Europe. Many more were lost at sea, and the ones who did arrive in the Holy Land saw many of their number cut down by prime fighting forces of Kerbogha of Mosul and other skilled warrior-chieftains. All in all, a violent and unpleasant business, as wars always are.

So that’s the layout of our story, thus far – and how can the narrative deal with the deviation from actual fact, a deviation that ‘history’ has persuaded us to accept as truth? First, consider that ‘narrative’ is either causal or cumulative – that is, it is either an argument laid out in a series of incidents or events that each create or cause the next, or it is a collection of (possibly) unrelated facts or events that is presented that add up to a conclusion. So, by carefully studying the time period and the manners and culture operating at that time, the filmmaker is presumed to be able to bring an immediate and pervasive sense of factuality to the proceedings, taking care to consider language and social protocols when deciding what to show and what not to show. And by explaining (either through exposition or carefully-wrought action) the background explicitly, the filmmaker can build an almost-instinctual knowledge into the audience, so that when one sees a specific action or object, one knows (more or less) precisely what it means.

This is the job of the filmmaker, to vivify a story – to enliven ‘mere words’ with pictures and to bring a deeper truth to the audience. And by educating oneself completely in the ways and manners of the persons who will people the story and drive the action (whether fictional narrative or documentary review of facts), the filmmaker can hope to have an audience that possesses enough of the idea of things to understand the new data that the filmmaker hopes to elucidate.

As filmmakers, we are not the warrior barons and dukes, forcing ourselves and our ideas on an unwilling enemy (though to hear the use of music in some films, one would definitely think otherwise), nor are we at our best when following the ways of others in unfamiliar territory. And we are not the single-minded ideologues who would have the whole world believe as we do, nor are we ignorant of the world around us.

No, we strive to learn more about that world, in order to better tell our stories, and – at our best – we are persons of vision, persons who have a definite idea how to make the world a better place, persons who have the strength of conviction and a taste for repeated stumbled, but who will always get up and go for another shot. And we are able to convince – by our vision, but also by our powers of persuasion (storytelling) – a crowd of very talented people to come along with us in the making of something special, something unique, something perhaps historic.

David Hakim is an assistant director, producer, and publicity expert who developed campaigns for every major Hollywood studio and handled publicity for the Motion Picture Academy. Find him in the Reel Directory online: www.reeldirectory.com.

All material copyright 2008 David Hakim and may not be duplicated - ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

More Tears for the Onion

We still hope that the normally intelligent Onion staff will see the error of their collective ways in letting such a rich and varied talent as Mr Roland slip from their grasp (see previous Onion blog). To advance that possibility, here is the second story that the estimable Onion missed out on.

Pakistani Bandits Complain Over Newsman's Slight

Several groups of Pakistani bandits are considering a class-action lawsuit for slander against an NPR reporter and the international radio corporation itself. The bandits, part of the loose alliance of Northern Province drug and crime rings that sprawl across the Afghanistan/Pakistan border, are upset that they have been mischaracterised on international radio as ‘plain’ and ‘old.’

“We have reputations. This very serious charge. Thanks god that we are informed of this damaging lie against us,” said Werda Faqqawi, leader of one of the bands. “We are not old, and we are not plain. We are handsome men, most of us, and the rest have good personalities. If I ever see this lying dog, I myself will pull out his eyes, then leave him to the women of my village for the real punishment.”

The ‘lying dog’ – Aaron Schachter, a reporter for Public Radio International’s ‘The World’ – covers the local scene in the Pakistani capital of Islamabad. He made his social gaffe when speaking about the worsening situation in Pakistan last week: “Peshawar hasn’t always been as dangerous as it has become in the last few months. It’s right at the edge of the tribal areas, it’s a very very rough part of this country. Lots of groups fighting it out in this region, not just the Taliban, there are al Qaeda foreign fighters, and there are just plain old bandits that work in the region with drugs, with weapons...”

“We aren’t plain and we aren’t old,” continued Faqqawi. “Who is Aaron Schacter anyway? Is he fashion maven? Our clothes are not old – they came to us with the Thuggees more than three hundred years ago, perhaps the newest part of our culture. Your spawn of Satan George Bush never made best-dressed list either, remember.”

“And we aren’t plain,” said local village khan Tared al Sohangree. “My son Rhandivapan is a very handsome man, at height of his youthful prowess – he is 45 years in this world, he has strong teeth, and he is sought by many many young women.” According to local village sources, the fact that none of the family knows what the women look like – they all wear burqas – is creating some hesitation in Rhandivapan’s mind; the khan’s rugged son, who has most of his teeth, will make a choice of a wife sometime in the near future.

Rhandivapan, called ‘Randy’ by his friends, said, “My father is 75 years and strong man, very tough. He can still – as you degenerate Americans like to say – ‘kick some donkey.’ I don’t know whose donkey, but some donkey. He beat me up pretty bad just last week.”

David Roland is a humorist who likes to make people wince as they are laughing - a rare trick. He is Hakim's close friend, and people who see them together should think carefully about the negative ramifications of calling them 'the two Daves.'

David Hakim is an assistant director, producer, and publicity expert who developed campaigns for every major Hollywood studio and handled publicity for the Motion Picture Academy. Find him in the Reel Directory online: www.reeldirectory.com.

All material copyright 2008 David Roland and may not be duplicated - ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

Uncomfortable Documentaries & Narrative

“But in these plethoric times – when there is too much coarse ‘stuff’ for everybody and the struggle for life takes the form of competitive advertisement and the effort to fill your neighbor's eye, when there is no urgent demand either for personal courage, sound nerves or stark beauty – we find ourselves by accident.
“Always before these times, the bulk of the people did not overeat themselves because they couldn't, whether they wanted to or not, and all but a very few were kept ‘fit’ by unavoidable exercise and personal danger.
“Now, if only he pitch his standard low enough and keep himself free from pride, almost anyone can achieve a sort of excess. You can go through contemporary life fudging and evading, indulging and slacking, never really hungry nor frightened nor passionately stirred, your highest moment a mere sentimental orgasm, and your first real contact with primary and elemental necessities the sweat of your deathbed.” – H G Wells

~ ~ ~
One of the uncomfortable things about documentaries (and perhaps one major reason that certain docs are not popular) is that they present us with challenges – moral and ethical challenges, challenges to what we have ‘learned’ and to our thinking.

It is easy for the uninformed to come to an opinion – all one must do is to look at a situation and decide that it is right or wrong, entirely based on one’s preconceived notions.

But a thoughtful and well-researched documentary on a tough subject removes our ability to evade and fudge. Seeing the evidence of our thoughtless collective actions (global warming, over-consumption, wasteful uses of natural resources) puts the viewer in an uncomfortable spot, and it is a discomfort that the doc usually can’t hope to alleviate.

This is one excellent reason to include such challenging examinations into our narratives. The inclusion can be very subtle, such as one used in The Brave One, directed by Neil Jordan. The film’s protagonist (played by Jody Foster) was originally a police-beat reporter. But Foster, a self-admitted ‘NPR fanatic,’ thought that making the protagonist an NPR personality who studied New York City through its sounds.

This change served, as it turns out, a number of purposes. First, it made the protagonist much more internal and isolated from connection with people, while at the same time giving her a unique view of the world around her. Second, it solved a script problem that possibly had not come up until the change – any crime-beat reporter would have had much more knowledge of police procedure than Foster’s character had, so her naiveté would make much more sense if she had another, less-informed career. And third, NPR got some minor billing, which means that perhaps some of the audience dialed in for the first time and found something that cannot be found on standard radio.

The Brave One, while not a masterpiece, is still a solid piece of filmmaking, as might be expected from Mr Jordan. And while that single alteration in the story and script did not change the theme of the film, it did create profound changes in the film’s plot, sound design, production design, sets, and characterization.

In the case of those tough documentary subjects mentioned at the top of this piece, the narrative may come to a slightly different turn, but one no less personal in its application. Any of the tough subjects can be placed a bit in the background (what we call in journalism ‘burying the lead’) by starting the story with the person or persons most affected by the event or situation –say, the Hindi farmer facing starvation because of major climate shifts, or the havoc wreaked for local residents by land abuses such as strip-mining or deforestation. Alternately, the narrative of a documentary about over-consumption could start with the ‘birth’ of a consumer product that then goes through its ‘life’ until it is finally ‘laid to rest’ in a landfill. These techniques can potentially humanize the themes of a project, making it more accessible to more segments of the audience.

So while we are focused on the narrative during this time of our Caligari Narrative Contest, it would be good to review such alterations in narrative that can enliven or otherwise enhance a story. ‘Narrative,’ derived from the Latin verb narrare (‘to recount’), is related to the adjective gnarus (‘knowing’ or ‘skilled’), becoming by connotation ‘a skilled recounting’ of events. And because stories are a profoundly important aspect of culture, making up the basis of a society’s literature and philosophy, it is only through ‘skillful recounting’ that a work of art becomes possible.

So if we aim for art in our work, we should always be concerned with the narrative, even in the stories told in single-frame pieces such as photographs and paintings. And, of course, in our films – including documentaries and even 30-second commercials or PSAs – the narrative becomes the dividing line between mediocrity and art.

David Hakim is an assistant director, producer, and publicity expert who developed campaigns for every major Hollywood studio and handled publicity for the Motion Picture Academy. Find him in the Reel Directory online: www.reeldirectory.com.

All material copyright 2008 David Hakim and may not be duplicated - ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

The Onion Brings Tears to Writer’s Eyes

One of our writers, David Roland, has been trying to get work at The Onion, that meta-paper that entertains us all so much with fictive news. Roland has been unsuccessful – so far – because of an incomprehensible policy held by the normally sagacious editorial staff over at that paper: they only use staff writers, and they do not contract any work, whatsoever.

When we heard Mr Roland's complaint, we came up with a way to help the guy out. We’re publishing the pieces that The Onion ignored, and (we hope) they'll see the error of their collective ways in letting such a rich and varied talent as Mr Roland slip from their grasp. Perhaps those wily New York editors, who are so much smarter than we are, will see the humor pervading everything young Roland writes, and – with a bit of encouragement from our readers – they will consider hiring him to do the odd piece of faux reportage, getting Mr Roland out of our hair (and into theirs).

Below is the first story that the estimable Onion missed out on.

Harding Kin Sues Obama over Right to Use ‘First Black President’

“One of my great-grandfather’s grandparents was black, which means that he was the first black president – a full 43 years before Obama was even born,” said a determined Gamiel ‘Cubby’ Harding. Cubby Harding, a plumber in Akron Ohio, begins to sound more black as he continues. “Man, all my dad’s life, he was ashamed of his grandfather – he had no idea how popular Obama would become. I think it’s just unfair for that Democrat to make such claims, when a good Republican was there first.”

The twenty-ninth US President, Warren Gamaliel Harding (born 1865) served from 1921 until 1923, when he died from a heart attack at age 57. Harding won by the largest presidential popular vote landslide in American history – 60% to 34%.

Harding called for the abolition of lynching – not surprising, since this would protect his kinfolk in Ohio and elsewhere – but he never pursued the policy with any strength, probably out of fear of them finding a tall enough tree on the White House grounds. He was the first president to have questions from reporters pooled before press conferences, ostensibly for purposes of efficiency, but actually in order control questions about his grandparents, at least one of whom was a black slave from the West Indies. In spite of a massive campaign by William Randolph Hearst to hide this fact, the rumors became an open secret is Washington.

Now, ironically, the intervening 90 years – along with the success of the Civil Rights Movement and a feeling in the country that lynchings are déclassé – Harding’s great-great-great-grandson is proud enough of his meager 1/32 (or possibly 1/16) black blood to mount a lawsuit against America’s Great Black Hope (even though Obama is part white). “We [sic] suing that imposter,” says Cubby Harding, “and Ima to use the cake we get from the lawsuit to start me a campaign, so I can run as a black candidate too.”

An influential newspaper publisher and Republican, the elder Harding also served in the Ohio Senate (no doubt the first Black there), as Ohio’s Lieutenant Governor (no doubt the first Black there), and as a US Senator (and no doubt the first Black there as well) before becoming president. A political conservative, Warren G Harding became the compromise choice at the 1920 Republican National Convention. One of his campaign promises was to return the country to ‘normalcy’ after World War I, which no doubt helped him defeat Democrat James M Cox in the 1920 election. As Cubby opines, “A Black Republican – can you beat that?”

David Roland is a humorist who likes to make people wince as they are laughing - a rare trick. He is Hakim's close friend, and people who see them together should think carefully about the negative ramifications of calling them 'the two Daves.'

David Hakim is an assistant director, producer, and publicity expert who developed campaigns for every major Hollywood studio and handled publicity for the Motion Picture Academy. Find him in the Reel Directory online: www.reeldirectory.com.

All material copyright 2008 David Roland and may not be duplicated - ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

Of Doctors, Grips & Poets – Making Films to Change the World

I am getting sick of doctors and their incompetence and narrow-minded views of the world. The problem with more medicos, as I see it, is that they lack imagination. The medical profession should be filled with jazz enthusiasts and artists, with men and women who are not afraid – no, even better, who are enthralled by the ability – to take chances. Society – and each of us – profoundly needs in doctors (and in politicians, lawyers, judges, etc etc) the kind of people who are creative and imaginative problem solvers, and most of the people in the profession are definitely not that.

After my last little excursion to the emergency room, during which I was kept waiting for over six hours with a fish bone lodged in my throat (only to be released without receiving any care whatever), I decided that the right thing to do would be to get a pile of money and start a social experiment.

What would that experiment entail? Well, before I get into that, let me discuss for a few moments the power of the medium we know as ‘film,’ as well as a bit of background from a long time ago.

The power of film is starting to be tapped in some interesting ways, as we find that audiences are more attuned to documentaries than at any time in the history of film – except perhaps at its very beginning, when in fact most early films were ‘documentaries’ of one kind or another.

Panoramas of famous places and strapping cameras to the fronts of Alpine trains (‘phantom rides’) cannot be categorised in any other way but as docs (or more precisely, as ‘actualities’), and it wasn’t until a while later that fictional narrative got off the ground. Other films were ‘vignettes,’ meaning imagined scenes of real or imagined happenings – The Bad Boy and the Gardener (1896), Awakening of Rip (1896), The Arrest of a Bookmaker (1896), Santa Claus (1899) – though at 25 seconds to one minute, they can hardly be considered ‘narratives.’

The first fiction films, like the early actualities and panoramas, were only a minute or so long, and it took time for the audience and the makers to move toward longer films.

So… today we are seeing a renaissance of the non-narrative nonfiction film (and, indeed, of the narrative nonfiction film), and there is a vast power for collective good in that rebirth. But there is also a power in taking an ideal – or theme, or situation, or the potential subject of a doc – and building a story around it. Many true stories, taken from the slowly-turning wheel of human history, reach a mass audience not through documentaries, but through docudramas or even through fictional ‘exploitation’ of their central idea. Silkwood and Erin Brockovich are two films that followed the stories of real women, while Traffic and Blood Diamond are two films that used fictional stories to relate adverse social events and the negative situations surrounding them.

A standard technique of storytelling is to lay out the issues between central characters against the backdrop of profound social changes or historic events. Some call this playing ‘the little story against the larger backdrop’: Homer’s Illiad and Don Quixote, on down to Casablanca – and even Phantom of the Opera opens with a reference to the first sound recordings of the Paris opera being sealed in a vault below the old opera house. One such story of particular interest to filmmakers is Dreamers, in which the central action is set against the protests of the closing of the Cinémathèque Française in February of 1968.

So what does all this have to do with a recalcitrant fishbone? Well, while I was gnawing on my lip in order to keep from turning into a berserker in a wretchedly backwoods hospital (which sported hopelessly outdated equipment and a languidly incompetent staff – a Tijuana dentist has more state-of-the-art equipment than that joint), I conceived of a plan to literally change the face of the medical practice in America today. I figured, Hell, more of us than ever before are needing doctors, so why not start re-indoctrinating them?

So who would the New Doctors be? Well, poets would be a good start, since they have imagination coupled with an intellect that prizes rules and uniformity. And I know that any grip crew worth its salt could create true art out of whatever they could find, if a director up in the hills, away from all resources, wanted to build a certain kind of background for a commercial. Grips have a knowledge of working systems and a can-do attitude that gets things done. There are no doubt others who would be equally able to create change (and equally astonishing to include in the list, but let’s not get too far afield for the first visualisation of the project).

The deal would be this: take a group of six poets and a group of six grips, and send them all to medical school to see what kind of doctors they would make. My take on it is that they would make excellent doctors (unless medical schools could train out of them all their spark, in which case we’d have a crowd of lousy poets and stumbling grips (tragic, but highly unlikely).

Sure, the experiment would be expensive, but it would be worth the cost to prove to the AMA and others that they’re currently testing for the wrong kind of intelligence, and that they should start skewing their classes (not the instructional periods, but the groups of students – ‘class of 2008) toward more imagination, more creativity, and more risk. Look, medicine is of necessity an area of adverse events, so why be risk averse as well?

OK, so I thought up this grand plan – one which would cost a couple million bucks (not counting the time spent finding grips willing to become doctors) and take years of hard effort to mount. Then I got the idea that this could be written into a script (see where I’m going with this now?) and turned into a movie – not even a hit movie, since with NetFlix you can build an audience through word of mouth. And just as movies today often mirror headlines, many real-life situations are mirroring movies. Who knows – we might be able to start a trend, and in ten years we’d see the first IA doctors practicing in ERs… using their specific knowledge to ‘defeat the wind.’

Just sayin’….

David Hakim is an assistant director, producer, and publicity expert who developed campaigns for every major Hollywood studio and handled publicity for the Motion Picture Academy. Find him in the Reel Directory online: www.reeldirectory.com.

All material copyright 2008 David Hakim and may not be duplicated - ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.