December 10, 2014 0

A (PD) Masterclass with Velcro Ripper: Cinematic Activism

Scared Sacred by Velcrow Ripper, National Film Board of Canada

Velcro Ripper is one of Canada’s foremost activist documentary filmmakers. I say activist because Velcrow’s films are not dispassionate exercises in objectivity. Instead, he shapes  films around issues and situations he cares deeply about. Velcrow also places himself in his films as the passionate voice of the narrator. This is what affords him Activist credentials and allows his films to take on a personal and powerful tone. Velcrow forces us to see his subjects the way he does and to feel their stories the way he does.

On December 7th I attended a (full day) masterclass with Velcro at Cineworks Film Co-Operative in Vancouver. The day, broken down into two parts, began with an intimate and in depth look at how Velcrow makes his films. Participants were offered the chance to ask questions and Velcrow took everyone in attendance through the pre-production (Design), production (Develop) and post-production (Distribution) stages of his film making processes.

Special attention was paid to how often documentary makers are forced to achieve high quality with low budgets, which provided a great opportunity to discuss the process of producing powerful pieces on pennies. It was nice to see that he employs a similar set-up and set of tools as the EdMedia team and the TLC utilize like;

  • Using a ZOOM digital recorder to record high quality audio, and
  • A Panasonic GH4 (I use the previous GH3 model) to maximize the range of shooting options

It was vindicating to hear Velcrow emphasize the need for good sound and to see how thoughtfully he uses sound design, and sound effects and music to shape his documentaries. These are all elements The EdMedia team stressed is our consultation and our workshops.

The second half of the day was dedicated to examining and discussing three works in progress provided by workshop participants. It’s always interesting to see what other people are doing, but the true value for me was to help think of ways to solve the problems they were having with things like structure, being overwhelmed by content, or finding the “heart” of the story.

Participants had the chance to discuss approaches like creating a poetic narrative, where the filmmaker has wonderful imagery and interview subject video/audio of personal and powerful stories, can be put together in a less formal way. We also discussed strategies for managing large amounts of media…if you have over 600 hours of footage and multiple then what are your possible story lines? This process reinforced a number of practices the team encourages faculty incorporate in their design with an emphasis on designing with an eye for intended impact (eg. what are the stories you want to tell and how do you want your audience to feel).

To see the work of other filmmakers, to discuss Velcrow’s best practices and to discuss how these design and production practices are applied… in a room filled filmmakers… was very exciting! Who wants to build something powerful with me for your next course?!

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