Making Bella

taken 2005

I made a film yesterday and put it online. It’s called Bella, after my late maternal grandmother’s nickname.

Backstory

I have been sitting on this concept for the past ten years. I was denied a chance to say goodbye and see her before she slept in Christ. So, I have been wanting to make sense of all the memories, the final things left untold, and living life without her around.

Returning to Egypt to visit my family, has not been the same since she left. There’s this hole now in Cairo, shaped after her. I spent a few days there in 2012 in my grandparents’ apartment. It didn’t bring me closer to her, as I had imagined. I left feeling the loss more intensely. That’s grieving, I suppose.

The idea

A month ago, I stood out in my balcony here in Stockholm. I hadn’t really been out there since I moved in. And as the bustle from the road, the balcony, and the sky converged in a moment: I remembered Bella.

And then I wondered if I could make that film about her, but here in my balcony.

Concept

standing in the balcony, reminiscing over Bella and remembering her, me narrating, with some of my own scoring and using a part of this song by the Saudi Arabian artist Hussain al-Jasmy. This song is about loss and when I first heard it, it become forever married to the memory of my grandmother.

Production

I shot the footage this morning with my Canon EOS on a monopod. Autofocus, standard lens, that’s it. I didn’t want to be distracted by the technical execution. That will come later, I know.

It was an artistic challenge to see how I could both record enough shots so that it is enough for the narration and so that it’s not much of the same. I tried to use different angles, mimicked some panning, and played with shadows on the walls.

Initial Editing

I went through the footage and made clips. I threw down them quickly onto the sequence in Premiere Pro, as quickly as possible. Some thoughts and pictures came back to me from when I was shooting, so I followed their lead. I played through the rough cut a few times to see how it feels.

I brought up a text editor and started writing the narration as it played through the sequence. In a way, I approached this like a broadcast news story rather than a film – record first and then evince the story from the footage.

After I laid down the initial rough cut, I looked at the shots and see how they worked with the script. I tweaked the script in Evernote, as I decided on the final sequence of shots. To avoid too much time re-recording audio later, I remembered a trick that a friend taught me a long time ago: use text clips in your editing software to play with the rough cut and editing process. This really helped me think through the shots before I touched the mic.

Scoring and Narration

I recorded the audio with the M-Audio M-Track soundcard and SM-56 vocal microphone. Adobe Audition Pro CC is my choice for post-processing and production. I really developed my skills in sound editing after this project.

Final Editing

This was definitely the most involved editing project I’ve undertaken, in that I had 4 audio tracks and several video tracks. After laying down all the audio, I took out the placeholder text and tweaked the edit further.

I wanted to avoid tropes with the opening sequence, so I got the idea to break up the introductory song clip with a piece of narration. Thank you, shower! It worked.

Favorite Moments

  • The intro
  • The shot where the narration says, “When I was growing up…” It was just a simple way to portray growing up.
  • The photo I picked of Bella
  • The flashback audio impression of Bella’s voice. I did it in one take and it’s still haunting me.

Lessons Learned

  1. Storyboarding and planning. Using the placeholder texts in the sequence and going through multiple edits made the whole process straightforward and intuitive.
  2. Good audio makes a difference. I really see the value of good-quality, well-edited, solid audio. It increases the production value exponentially.
  3. Keep the shots simple and cheap. They tend to express what you really want to say, without getting lost in the execution.

What’s Next

I’m brainstorming and ruminating over a film about my late friend Nancy. Stay tuned.

 

A first stop-motion film

I uploaded a film today to Instagram, my first ever cinematic piece and my second ever completed project. (My first was a documentary.)

Today’s film is my first ever stop-motion piece. It’s the 7th episode in a comic series called Colories. Check out the whole series on my Instagram feed.

#colories ep7 I did #comics #stopmotion #film #shortfilm #shortfilms

A post shared by Mina Demian (@minadimyan) on

This incredibly simple tutorial got me from raw footage to finished clip in about 45 minutes.

Concept

I was given a little rubber duck at a recent hackathon. Leaving it on my desk at work for a few days brought about some ideas. What if I could do something with this duck? Just anything?

I started taking single photos of the duck in different scenes. Much inspiration and debt is owed to my friend and consummate artist Morne’s Putdownness series.

Last week, I noticed some other figures on my coworker’s desk. I had been exploring the themes of loneliness, solitude, and mental health in recent episodes of Colories.

Shot over last night and this morning at my kitchen table, I used my Nikon DSLR on a monopod. No editing or post-production was performed on the shots.

Notes

I used the camera flash as a way to convey what was happening in the duck when he saw the figure. I thought it was a simple way of expressing something visceral and powerful.

The hollow and vacant look on the duck’s face is rather haunting. It would be interesting to expand on this further in a later film.

I wanted to make this film quickly. Should I had more time, I would have figured out ways to manipulate the figure’s arms.

Reflection

This is such a powerful medium. So much can be expressed with so little. It’s all about simple ideas and equally simple execution.

The Pointless Furor over “The Beauty of Roh” (حلاوة روح)

Haifa Wahby, Bassem Samra, and the young actor Karim el-Abnoudi

Egyptian Prime Minister banned the controversial film The Beauty of Roh, directed by Sameh Abd-el Aziz, in April 2014 after deeming certain scenes in the film ‘culturally inappropriate sexualized scenes’, as reported by Egypt Independent. The banning was welcomed by swathes of Egyptian society as a much-needed blow to the decadent immorality portrayed in the film and others produced by the megaproduction house of El-Sobky.

Public outcry centered on the rape scene of Haifa Wahby’s character Roh by Mohamed Lotfy’s ‘Jaguar’ (nickname for the character in the film). It would be very dishonest to call the action of the scene rape and it would be very generous to call this a controversial film.

The scene is drenched in the well-lit, overacted, unrealistic melodrama of the main glut of mainstream Egyptian films. This is sad given that a few of el-Sobky’s past films (Ahmed Abdallah’s The Wedding and Cabaret) bucked the trend and chose to eschew realism. However, The Beauty of Roh gives into the temptation and builds as its centerpiece a strange scene, which looks more like non-consenual heavy petty and clothes-ripping. The neurotic and overpowering musical score screams “This is horrid! This is horrid” more than the sheer brutality of a man assaulting and raping a woman. I understand that as someone living outside Egypt and one used to the blunt reality of Western films, this film still is jarring to the average Egyptian viewer. Still, I found it very hard to suspend belief while watching this scene.

I wonder if people in Egypt don’t understand what rape is all about or if directors are so wearied by censorship that their storytelling muscles have atrophied. It becomes easier to just suggest the fuck out of something rather than depict it frankly with cinematic tools.

After watching the film, I was reminded of El-Karnak (The Karnak) – another infamous and controversial film with a rape scene. I had not seen the film but decided to find the scene for the purposes of this review.

I can see where The Beauty of Roh gets its inspiration. Watch.

It’s awkward to watch because it looks or feels nothing like sexual assault. If you’re not going to watch The Beauty of Roh, I’ll save you the money for the cinema ticket or data used and tell you that it’s almost the same. No penetration or sexual abuse. Just physical violence, exposed cleavage, screaming, crying, and a lot of writhing on the floor.

Discounting the supposed horror of the rape scene, the rest of The Beauty of Roh is a poorly constructed and boring film. It’s not clear, not even at the end of the film, if it’s about the relationship between Sayed and Roh or about Roh and her life without her husband or the questionable sources of income of Bassem Samra’s character or a clumsy take on sexual politics and women’s bodies in Egypt.

Bassem Samra is the only redeeming aspect of the film with his visceral and deft characterization. It’s a confused and glossy film with little content, a lot of Wahby’s body, and a dream sequence/music video with Hakeem. The film can’t even manage sending a message out about people to stand up against sexual assault without resorting to a Brechtian “IT’S ABOUT TO GET MORAL UP IN HERE” moment.

You won’t lose much by skipping this film. For a more honest and well-made film about sexual assault, watch 6,7,8, starring Bushra, Bassem Samra, and Nilly Kareem.

OLR – “Where the Wild Things Are”

This film, although lush with Spike Jonze’s dedication to detail for the dream world, is a little weak. It gets lost in the world of the giant creatures – beautifully made and astutely brought to life -, which drags on until a fairly predictable resolution. Film is intelligent and appealed to my emotions through its metaphor of childhood loneliness and alienation, but its lack of chutzpah left me bored. Still one for the collection. Nod to emotive and expansive soundtrack and sound design.

OLR – “Black Book”

I’m glad I discovered this absolutely priceless gem. Black Book is Europe’s answer to Inglorious Basterds, taking a more stark and less moralistic approach to revenge. The acting is measured but very powerful. The story breaks away from the three act structure without getting lost in the subplot of Ellis’ inner turmoil. Although I flinched when I saw the opening flashback mechanism used (it’s overused in both international and American cinema), the denouement reminded me again that she’s looking back and I wasn’t displeased at that. A breath of fresh air into the Nazi/WWII/Holocaust genre in the spirit of The Reader.

OLR – “Standing Firm”

First Christian film I’ve bought. Solid, although at times gimmicky, cinematography. Acting from lead actor and others, barring the son, is wooden and lifeless. Average film, the message is the message.

Posted in Film by minademian

OLR – “A Mighty Heart”

This is the first film I watch Angelina Jolie act in and she gives a brilliant, measured performance. Her accent is flawless and her characterization is just on point. A simple, quiet European-style film with little embellishments. It casts an honest look into the politics of Asia. Mariane’s breakdown then sudden denial is a bit shaky, but it can be overlooked and put in context of an overall strong and impactful film.

Posted in Film by minademian

OLR – “A Case of Murder”

Picked this up secondhand. It’s sad to have to write another negative review of a South African film. Another casualty of cinema. A really weak, tepid, and poor film. All the acting is hollow, especially Steve Hofmeyer’s. All he could was shout and howl and fake grunt. The score is dated and the post-production way dated. No idea how this film was given a thumbs up at Strasbourg Film Festival. A resounding boo.

http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0348565/

Posted in Film by minademian