Saturday, June 30, 2007

film festival submissions

Perhaps I'll write a bit regarding film festival submissions. First to note, I'm (already) indebted to the Yamagata International Documentary Film Festival for two aspects of their submissions deadline: having one, and then, being flexible about it.

It was the deadline (31 May 2007) that initially served as a proverbial kick-in-the-butt, to make an effort to bring the film-edit to satisfactory completion. I had done one level of editing back in March or perhaps April -- had brought the edit to a certain point, and may have at first thought I was done with it. But it was not enough. The main problem was one of visual monotany -- despite my initial efforts to allay this via certain framing and processing techniques I applied to various scenes. One was still trapped in a small room with two people for more than an hour, with no break. This basic concept -- the real-time film -- involves many strictures, and poses problems that need real effort to address satisfyingly.

Sometime in May, as I studied the daily view (from my balcony painting-studio outpost) of the placid, lovely lake -- I became cognizant that the lakeview had changed. There were now lotus flowers in bloom! -- a thing I had not anticipated. Was it possible, I wondered, to hire a boat and see the flowers more closely? Indeed (I was informed), such a thing could be done.

Some days later, there I was on a small blue rowboat -- with a few companions (mainly, the spirited Gundecha children, who'd acquired a taste for nibbling lotus seeds: rare items of semi-tropical cuisine -- tasty seeds, a bit like green peas, consumed raw, fresh out of the lotus-pod) -- shooting pictures of these flowers for an hour. Problem was, this was in evening. My original idea was to shoot early in the morning (but group logistics had intervened). The film involves a morning raga (Alhaiya Bilawal) -- and the ambience of the particular hour of day is crucial to the character of music and film. Evening lotus footage simply would not do!

So I returned a couple days later, and the boatman Munna Bhai (otherwise employed as a fisherman) gave me a long solo tour of the land of the lotuses -- gliding into their realm, capturing their glimpses. We floated by the nearby Hanuman Mandir (which one can very briefly glimpse in one dark scene of the film), where the priest engaged me in chitchat. Munna Bhai was playing his transistor radio, with Hindi film songs -- which I was mildly tempted to include in some end-credits scenario, though this didn't transpire. I did, however, end up including (before he'd turned on the radio) some 20-30 seconds of ambient sound -- birdcry mainly, plus some morning horn-honking etc. -- which appears in the film's opening scene.

Well: meanwhile, May 31 was not only approaching (the successful morning lotus shoot was done May 23); I also had to leave Bhopal for Bangalore and Bangkok. Purpose of the latter destination: to renew my American tourist visa for India. One does this by going to any other country that will give your passport a visa-stamp. You could just go to some airport for 2 hours. In the instance, I planned to go for a week to Thailand -- a brief change from my now-accustomed haunt of India.

It was only I think on May 29 that I submitted my online application to Yamagata. And I hadn't yet begun to edit in the lotus footage with the music session! I did start doing so the vnext day, and maybe some more on 31 May (day of my departure for Bangalore) -- and I grew immediately happy with results that were emerging. Instinctively, I had reverted to certain methods (mainly involving chromakey transparency effects) I'd developed in earlier years of digital experimentation . . . applying these methods to this new footage and situation.

But I had to get aboard the train to Bangalore and hadn't yet brought the edit to completion. I emailed Yamagata, telling them the situation, and suggesting I could finish the project over the weekend and mail them a DVD from Bangalore on Monday (3 June). They kindly agreed to this mini-extension.

I settled in the home of a friend's parents, began more editing, and got more and more happy with how things were looking. Then, other friends came to visit and see the work -- and (in some flurry), I stupidly managed to (literally) pull the plug on my project. That is, while a Windows copying process was in progress, I tried to hook up some external speakers to my computer, and accidentally knocked-out the electric cord from an external (firewire) harddrive. Zap: this harddrive, plus another (daisy-chained to it), plus the firewire port on my Toshiba laptop computer, were all now suddenly in limbo. No access to the project (stored on external harddrive). No access to the film. And my flight was leaving shortly for Bangkok.

I went to Bangkok for 2 days only, after first arranging for a local computer wiz to salvage my challenged data. I had meanwhile been taken in by my other visiting friends, installed in their son's room (the son slept in living room), and thus given refuge from my own technical folly, -- while the Restorer restored the data.

The data restoral was a success. I had meanwhile (hoping for this), asked the chap (Raghav) to build me a new computer, and install the restoral disc in it. Back from Bangkok, I arrived to a new computer, with project onboard, ready to continue work. But at this point, it was something like the 10th of June. Oblivious of deadlines, I resolved at any rate not to leave Bangalore till I had brought the film to (by my own standards) a satisfying finish.

That took most of the month to accomplish, but finally (with a few twists & turns -- perhaps details to be filled in later), I arrived at the stage where I could dither over DVD menu design: the happy stage when a thing is nearly finished.

And I returned from the local courier service -- having mailed my DVD to Yamagata -- on the afternoon of my train departure (returning to Bhopal), 27 June -- with at least part of an hour to spare. Another friend had brought a ghazal-singer to visit, and I made a lame attempt to accompany him on saranghi (my music practice had temporarily suffered from the no-holds-barred film-editing enthusiasm).

So what was I saying? I'm grateful to Yamagata first for giving me a date to work against -- and then, for being (it appears) willing still to look at the thing, despite my failure to meet the literal deadline (they suggested they were still reviewing films, so if I could get mine to them quick, . . . ) Whether or not the work is selected, I'm happy they'll review it, and glad they gave me the frame in which to build this fragile thing.

Two other festivals I've contacted are the International Film Festival Rotterdam (October Deadline, January fest), and the International Film Festival of Kerala (in Trivandrum -- December fest, deadline not yet fixed). All three, for various reasons, especially interest me. In time, I'll likely submit the item to several others too.

d.r.i. -- public art activities

Copied below is a list I had initially assembled & posted on my other blog.

Since this new film-blog represents something more like a professional shingle (or location with shingle?), I'm reposting the roster here.



In a possibly belated effort to construct something ostensibly resembling an art carerer, I'm here inscribing a semi-conventional resume-record of my public art activities.

This doesn't include my arts-journalism of the 1980s (nor video documentation & experimenttatation of the past decade that has yet to see official light of day; etc.) It covers such art shows, performances, and poetry publications as I recall. (In the present version, I'm not including online publications, only print.)


My exhibition history is brief and obscure:

- Sequence of semi-annual group shows (spring and fall) at 52 O Street Studios (Washington, DC) (2004, 2005, 2006, 2007) [nudes / oil paintings] See: The Tuesday Night Group.
- Video scenography (for multimedia theatre), at The Writers' Center (Bethesda, Maryland) [video sequences projected on two screens], in collaboration with theatre director Naoko Maeshiba (2003)
- Video installation at Dance Place (Washington, DC) [creative documentation of Noh-in-English performance, adaptation of the W.B. Yeats play At The Hawk's Well], in collaboration with theatre director Richard Emmert (2002)
- "Digital Haiku" (sequence of 8 one-minute video works), seen online as part of a year-long international, group video project launched by filmmaker Jon Jost (2002); (group work also shown at the International Film Festival Rotterdam)
- piano / percussion / vocal performance in collaboration with choreographer Maida Withers, in the first International Improvisation Festival (Washington, DC) (1995)
- Group show at The Green Dragon Art Gallery (Santa Barbara, California) [poetry-related oil paintings -- incorporating text from poet John Ashbery] in conjunction with Poetry Festival (1993) Also vocalised (recitation and singing) in outdoor performance at the festival, in collaboration with choreographer Robin Bisio
- Two large-scale metallic oilpainting canvases (approx. 14 feet and 7 feet in length, 5 feet in height), used in set design for beach performance choreographed by Robin Bisio, in Outdoor Dance Festival (Santa Barbara, California) (1990)
- 40 second performance (movement & poem) at Performance Space 122 (New York) (1990)
- 3-minute silent film seen at Dancespace Project, St. Marks Church (New York), in collaboration with dancer/choreographer Karin Levitas (1989)

Poetry publications include:

- poems in OCHO #1, OCHO #6 and OCHO #7, Didi Menendez, editor/publisher (Miami, Florida) (2006)
- four poems in the anthology, Ravishing DisUnities: Real Ghazals in English, Agha Shahid Ali, editor (Wesleyan University Press) (2000)
- poem in Wool Gatherers, An Anthology of Poetry, Rachel Dacus et al., editors (Small Press, Concord, CA) (1999)
- poem in The Poetry of Roses, Carolyn Parker, editor & photographer (Abrahms, New York) (1995)
- poems in the downtown New York literary journal Tamarind (in more than a dozen issues, approx. 1992-1995)
- poem in Remembering Ray: A Composite Biography of Raymond Carver, William L. Stull and Maureen P. Carroll, editors (Capra Press, Santa Barbara) (1992)

"What's the film about?"

So asked River. My reply appears below.

Although I've been somewhat slow to get into Facebook -- the growingly popular social/literary/whatever internet interface -- I'm lately starting to get with it.

Yesterday, I posted a note to a blogging-poet friend (based in Delhi), River (vide river's blue elephants) -- a note via Facebook's handy "wall-to-wall" modality -- remarking I'd completed such-and-such film, and may be showing it to a few confreres in Delhi next week. River replied with the above-quoted topic question. By way of answer, I dashed out four 1,000-character wall-posts -- perhaps adequate verbiage-volume for a terse, mini-essay. Said graffiti are copied below, for general note. They may not fully address the question, but they make a start in that direction.



Padma Bilawal is, as a first layer, a "documentation" of a classical music (dhrupad vocal) teaching session (hence the film's subtitle, "a dhrupad master class"). But I found that 80 minutes in one room with two people, qu;ickly can become visually monotonous -- even if the music engages. One wants as much visual variation, change, nuance and expressivity as one has on the sound level. So what I ended up doing (as an approach toward solving this problem) was -- I went out on a boat in early morning in Bhopal -- on the lake 20 feet in front of where I've been living since January -- with the lakeview I had been studying daily and including in my new paintings -- I hired a local boatman (quite skilled, it turned out) who took the rowboat gliding along past hundreds and hundreds of morning-blooming lotus flowers. The raga that the student and teacher in the film are expounding and exploring is Alhaiya Bilawal, a very rich, colorful, beautiful and harmonious raga . . .
So -- I began to combine footage of the lotus flowers with the real-time, continuous footage of the music teaching session. This combination is mainly done (speaking now in tech terms) via a method known as chroma keying: using a so-called "alpha channel," a certain color in footrage layer A is assigned to appear TRANSPARENT -- so footage layer B can "shine through" layer A at all the places where the particular color appears. So, it might be the color found primarily in the wall, or the door, or the curtains of the room -- all of these and others I use at various points in the film, sometimes more than one at once (through multiple layers of processessing). Or, on the other hand, I often process the two layers in an opposite way: where the scene with the room and the student-teacher "shines through" the world of flowers.

This describes some of the basic technique and, I guess one could say, [serves to suggest some] subject matter of the film . . .
[ PART 3 :-) ]
But when I showed the film to a friend in Bangalore -- and he then also took me to show it to his old friend, who is a noted Hindi film critic -- they both had strong objections to what I'd done! -- mainly, they objected that I had abandoned any use of "film language": the language of the cut, the transition from one scene to another. What I had done, instead, was create a seamless visual world where one is constantly in the same place (even though that place is floriated so extremely). This critic also made a nice remark that found resonance for me. He noted that, as a writer, he listens to any criticism that comes his way -- he doesn't care what the source is. If some reader has a sincere critique, he tries to take a lesson from it. I for my part (somewhat to my own surprise) found myself inclined to take a lesson from his critique. The consequence was a changing and (perhaps) deepening of the film on a narrative or quasi-narrative level . . .
[okay, final installment]
The film begins OUTSIDE THE SPACE of the room where, otherwise, it will be planted for the next 83 minutaes. It opens with a slow-moving (slo-mo), dark scene of a bank of leaves and flowers (this from the very first footage I shot on the rowboat, at dawn) -- footage that has been processed in dozens of layers, in a certain way . . . this dark vision contrasts with the very bright colors and qualities of most of the film. And periodically, the strange dark, slomo scene recurs in various forms. So that is one layer that has a through-line in the film. Another motif one sees involves what I call (for short) "flower origin": a still image of a lotaus flower that one has already seen, will at some point suddenly become a moving image -- or, one will see a moving image of the flower that then resolves into the still image one has seen. So this constitutes a visual "backstory" of the flower's life on the river . . . .

Friday, June 29, 2007

Welcome to Padma Bilawal -- the blog

As I step out of the editing suite and into the film-submissions-&-screenings process (my fervid editing of PADMA BILAWAL having been set to rest in Bangalore this past Tuesday, with DVD authoring finalized midday Wednesday, 27 June) . . . the idea arises: I should open a blog, as (minimally) a place to park info about the new film.

Hence, this. For the moment, here's simply pointing you to my OTHER blog -- and a relevant post there. Kindly see:

PADMA BILAWAL -- "debut preview" screening

More to follow here, in upcoming days.

your 'umble servant,
(as of today: in Bhopal, M.P., India)