Review of Upload Cinema’s Activism on the Web Episode

05May10

‘Everything you read in the main stream media is absolutely true’. This is a quote from the Everything is OK video that featured as the closing film of the episode that the Dutch cultural cowboys of Upload Cinema had devoted to activism on the web. The episode was called ‘Saved By YouTube’ and dealt with videos crafted to make an impact for an important case. Some do this with humor, some do it with serious realistic footage and others prefer a fairly straightforward mode of communication, for example by having a famous person make a case in a video. In this post I want to review this episode shortly.

The Upload Cinema community consists of a group of people that celebrates internet culture by showing a You Tube films related to a theme on the big screen, each first Monday of the month. This happens at De Uitkijk in Amsterdam, Filmhuis Den Haag and the Cinerama Rotterdam. For those who have busy Monday’s they also share their selection of videos online. Besides the episode on Activism on the web, they featured shows with topics like typography and famous speeches. Each episode gives a -partly crowd sourced- anthology of what happens on the web related to a particular theme. So Upload Cinema’s episodes are almost always worth your valuable time; and so does ‘Saved By YouTube’.

As you would expect from an Upload Cinema episode, the films on display turned out to be very diverse. While the opening film: the declaration of human rights in kinematic typography style set a fairly light tone, the episode quickly shifted to more serious content, such as a video clip for Gil-Scott Heron’s classic song Whitey on the Moon and even the Taliban video of the beheading of American journalist Daniel Pearl. This content got interleaved with hilarious contributions like the love song between Bush and Blair and the ironic anti-activism of Everything is OK.

For me two films really stood out of the crowd. The first was the Amnesty International stunt in which Amnesty tried to get attention for people trade by putting a living woman in a transparent suitcase along the airline luggage tracks. The second was a film made by under currents, showing police ignorance for g8 activists. Both films where highly staged, in the sense that the makers must have conceived the stunts with YouTube in mind. But the power of both movies is maybe more in the reality that they also convey. The living woman in a suitcase movie is funny until you see how people along the luggage tracks, uninformed about the stunt react.  At that point the cause hits you. The G8 example is compelling because the policemen’s approach is ignorant in regard to the situation the activist have created. As a viewer we know that if the police cuts the rope, a drama will occur for two of the activists, but the police doesn’t know that and obviously ignores the hints that they are given. This puts them, only doing their jobs, in a bad light and with it the system that they belong to. Rhetorically this works very well.

After seeing all the films in the ‘Saved By YouTube’ episode I am not convinced that you tube is a life saving device. But the episode does give a good insight in the type of video rhetoric you could use when you want to get your message across with a YouTube video. Looking at my favorites I would say in order to be an effective YouTube video artist you need to do two very different things at the same time. First, you need to stage your action so that it makes a short compelling story that draws attention within a couple of seconds and gets a round up within a couple of minutes. Second, you need to make sure that what you show is in some way ‘reality’. You must show real people -enemy or friend, being confronted with the cause you are going for. This way you raise the film above the level of just another abstract story about some bad situation somewhere. Are there other rhetoric lessons to draw from this selection of films? I am curious to find out yours. Oh just to be sure: “Everything you read on this blog is absolutely 100% true”

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