Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Mirco-Messaging: Documentary Filmmaker Davin Hutchins

FILMMAKER AND FOUNDER of the online production company NomadsLand Films, Davin Hutchins is attempting to help catapult a new medium to the forefront. He describes it as the "micro-documentary," a less-than 10-minute film with a social-issue focus.

Launched in November 2009, NomadsLand Films normally produces these short pieces for nonprofits, social startups and environmental organizations. The company also handles viral campaigning for the videos and offers to train its clients in the budding art of the micro-documentary.

As an extracurricular activity, Hutchins (pictured filming at a marketplace in Sudan) has been screening documentaries at Busboys and Poets as part of his "NomadsLand Presents" film series monthly for the last three years.

» EXPRESS: Where did the idea for using micro-documentaries come from?
» HUTCHINS: I think it's used by a lot of people. ... I also work at PBS, at this thing called IndiesLab, where I work with ITVS and Independent Lens Films, and those are full-length documentaries, which I love, and we show that at "NomadsLand Presents." But I think the future with iPhones and iPads is really starting to move toward shorter-form content for people with attention spans who don't have a lot of time.

» EXPRESS: What do you think are the advantages of the micro format?
» HUTCHINS: They both have advantages and disadvantages. People will actually pay money for a ticket to see a full-length documentary. It's harder and harder to get into theaters because there's such competition. But the advantage of a short-form documentary is generally more people see it. Because whether you've put it on your YouTube channel or you've sent it out to bloggers, people can actually respond to it and pass it along with a tweet to their friends or on their Facebook [pages], so the whole idea of passing short documentaries around like a baseball card to friends, that's kind of where I think the future is going.

» EXPRESS: You were a judge for this year's Nonprofit Video Awards. Are there any videos that stood out for you?
» HUTCHINS: Oh, yeah. There's this one called "Darius Goes West" and it's just leagues above the rest. It's basically a short film promoting a DVD that's helping a person — I think he had cerebral palsy. ... It actually did win in its category.

» Busboys and Poets, 2021 14th St NW; Sun., 8 p.m., free.

Written by Express contributor Topher Forhecz
Photo courtesy Davin Hutchins


Sunday, April 18, 2010

The State of Poetry: Lemn Sissay

With a play named “Why I Don’t Hate White People,” it is an understatement to say that race has played a role in the life of British poet, playwright and actor Lemn Sissay. Sissay, whose mother came to England from Ethiopia, was placed in the care of a white foster family when he was very young and spent much of his adolescence growing up in Manchester, England. His exposure to black culture and people was limited; he first met another black person when he was 11. For a young child trying to make sense of race, these experiences could prove challenging. Still, the play takes a comedic tone and more than anything else, is a straightforward look back at what has made Sissay the man he is today.

“It's an honest, truthful comedy,” he said. “And that's who I am and that's how my audience I think relates to me. I don't play any cards. It is what is it because that's what I was feeling or seeing at any given time.”

Sissay’s first visit to Virginia Tech will be on Apr. 5, where he will read part of his play, perform some of his poetry and show one of the many BBC documentaries he has worked on. Before his arrival, he spoke with the Collegiate Times about his latest play and the state of contemporary poetry.

COLLEGIATE TIMES: I know that you've been busy touring. What is the name of the play that you've been touring for?

SISSAY: The play is called “Why I Don't Hate White People,” and part of the reason that its a success at the moment is because we have an election coming up in England and one of the elements of the election is that we have a afar right party who are gaining some serious ground so the subject of race is very present in England at the moment. But hey, the play is a personal experience and it's kind of fun and it's meant to be very funny and it is.

CT: Was it sort of planned or a matter of timing that the play is happening with what's going on with the elections?

SISSAY: For me as an artist, politics is involved in everything. We make our personal choices, but they happen in context with the world so therefore, everything we do is political. It's all good for me, as a writer and as an artist, my job is to create and I won't stop doing that.

CT: What was motivation to write the play?

SISSAY: It came from childhood really. I didn't know a black person until I was about 17 years old. I hadn't met a black person until I was about 11 or 10 years old and so that gave me a great insight into a community and I always wanted to be able to explore that insight. So the motivation was to be able to share some of what I felt were quite original insights as a child who had that particular experience.

CT: So that was something that had been stewing for a while?

SISSAY: You wait for the moment. As a writer, you have a lifetime of experience to sieve your memories through and sometimes you just have to wait until it's become fine dust before you can see what kind of clouds it's going to create and that can take a lifetime and so it's not as much, you know, it's more just finding the skills as you grow to articulate some of the stuff, you know. But also, it's incredibly important to employ imagination and to employ – to search for the original line. Everything's been talked about before man, it's like “So what? Go figure.” But, it isn't what you do, it really is how you do it. Period.

CT: Do you think imagination is something people are born with or they need to hone?

SISSAY: We are all born with active imaginations. It's why people go out and party at spring break. It's why and how people dance at clubs. It's why there's flashing lights when you go out to party. It's why clothes are in the design that they are. We are imaginative human begins in search consistently to be stimulated in our imaginations. It's why some people turn to drugs, yadda yadda yadda. It's why things are designed the way they are. It's why logos are the way logos are. We are born imaginative, creative human begins and we spend a lot of time learning how not to be that. We allow often other people to fill in the gaps with adverts and whatever.
CT: For the most part, people don't flex their imaginations enough?

SISSAY: We're born creative and our imagination is manipulated, I think to get us to buy things. There's nothing wrong with buying things.

CT: Not at all. I love all my stuff.

SISSAY: But, we don't need to forfeit our primary purpose which is in some ways, possibly, to interpret the world.

CT: Do people lose sight of that purpose do you think?

SISSAY: I think what I'm saying is that people seek it. There's always a whole lot of people at the shopping mall to tell you they've found it.

CT: Then they're looking in the wrong places?

SISSAY: Some people do it through religion, some people do it through drink, some people do it through shopping. What I'm saying is we are creative, imaginative human beings. When push comes to shove; when people die or birthdays or Valentine's, we turn to poetry, we turn to arts to translate our stories. It's all part of the same creative impulse that runs through everybody. It may sound weird, does that sound weird? It may sound weird, but that's the way it is.

CT: Not really, it makes sense. But, one of the things that I really wanted to ask you when it comes to poetry is about poetry culture. What is your perception of poetry culture in the United states versus that of the U.K.?

SISSAY: I really don't know to be honest. Everywhere I've been in the world, it seems like there's a similar vibe going on. If you want to be binary about it, there's two sets. There're the page poets who are the bookish blah-blah-blah poets. By the way, I don't believe in any of these definitions. And then you get the others who are the performing poets, who perform on the stage. And the page poets look over at the performers and go “Ah, you wankers.” And the performance poets look up to the bookish poets and go “Ah, you fuckers.” It's a game and I have nothing to do it. Really, I'm a working poet and writer and have been for as long as I can remember in my adult life. I'll tell you, there is a thing that unifies poets and its got something to do with imagination and truth. All poets, whatever style they are, however they dress. Some of the most stylish poets are the most full of shit and some of the most unstylish poets are also the most full of shit. You understand what I'm saying? What I'm saying is that there is something between the poet that unites them with all poets everywhere all over the world. It's a beautiful and powerful thing.
CT: Is it a kind of searching? Is that what unites them?

SISSAY: I think we're like a family of poets. And yeah, we're searchers, we are seekers and we are finders, and you don't get one without the other, man. And there's a whole lot of people out there who are quite happy not to seek and they won't find and that's all good. There is an element of danger in seeking and in the question; there is an element of beauty in the finding. I think that we are like warriors of the spirit. We are. It's hardcore, hard serious work that's happening out there whether it's Maya Angelou or Henry Rollins. Both of them; right against there. They're workers like the tin miners. It's very easy for people to think that poet's are some sort of effect. Sort of flaky kind of dropouts. It's not that way, that's not the way it is.

CT: Even the reception of poets. Poetry in the United States has become very isolated to certain circles.

SISSAY: It happens all over the world, unfortunately. The reason that poetry has to be minimalized by a culture is because it speaks the truth and it's quite a dangerous thing to allow into the party. People don't want the guy or the woman to come into the party and say, “You know, this is a little bit messed up, folks.” Families often really would prefer we don' tell the truth around the dinner table because there's food to eat.

CT: Just want some pleasant conversation?

SISSAY: Let's just keep that like that, yeah. The poet never did that. The poet would sit at the dinner table and say “Okay, let's party folks. We need to work this stuff out.” and that's not necessarily, you know, a good thing for people.
CT: So what does poetry need to do survive or is it fine?

SISSAY: It's not going away. Let me be very clear, there is poetry throughout the Bible. Okay, one of the books or the Torah, one of the books that our faiths are based on is pure poetry. Whether you believe or you don’t believe, there is no doubt that this book is an incredible story that is told to many people and is told so well. One of the things that it uses is poetry to tell its story. So for me, poetry is not on the peripheral of our society. It's right in the central of the heart of it. It's in Bruce Springsteen’s work, it's in “American Boy” that track by that English girl, it's in Nick cave's work, it's in Allen Ginsburg, it's in Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Maya Angelou; these are great people that read to Presidents. Well, not Ginsburg. So to me, poetry is not on the peripheral, it's in the heart of who we are. It's not going away, man. When you’re watching football on a Saturday afternoon and they're chanting songs, it's poems that they're looking for. It's rhyme structures, it's word play, it's rhythm. These are not the great poems of the 21st century, but they are a need to communicate through language in the manipulation of language, which is what poetry is after all. For me, it's no question; it's already around us all the time. You can go around with a blinker on the high street, invisible to the fact that you use it. On Valentine's Day, people will write it. When you’re at church, and you’re singing hymns, you will sing it and the rest of your life you may go around saying “Well, poetry is for weirdoes or poetry is not part of my life.” What is strange for me is not the poet and it’s not the poets and not the people that go to poetry readings, it’s people that don't recognize that they're so close to it.

CT: I’m not sure I know exactly what you mean.

SISSAY: In our culture, we don't see poetry as the center of our experiences and yet to me, it is.

CT: We don't recognize that we're engaging in that?

SISSAY: When it's in the Bible or whether it’s in whichever religious text you read – it's at the heart of it. Whether it’s Buddhism or etcetera, etcetera. And so for me, I'm like “Wait, how is it got to this? How is it got to that people are like ‘Oh, poetry. That's kind of weird isn’t it?’” No, it's not actually. It's kind of around you all the time. I don't know if that happens in America, but it definitely happens in England.

CT: It happens all the time in America. Why do you think people create that distance?

SISSAY: Of fear. Poets are the real thing. We've got a lot of ways of making fear acceptable and one of the ways that we do that is by rationalizing what we're frightened of out of existence.

CT: We dance around it.

SISSAY: Yeah and like (pause) Oh, I sound like a weird freaking preacher of the poetry pulpit. Poetry pulpit preacher. You know what? Ah, forget it.