Thursday, 28 June 2007

MAKING "CLOUDS OF SMOKE"

By Fatmir Terziu
Fatmir Terziu’s new film Clouds of Smoke, that covers the themes of Global Warming and Climate Change, was selected for screening at Curzon, Soho, on 5th June 2007.
The special guests invited to the screening include Mr. Alex Palman, DEFRA; Mike Sergant, BBC News; Tara Jones, voice over artist and FM Radio presenter.


A
s a journalist and filmmaker I had a clear picture in my mind of how one could possibly achieve a documentary about Clouds of Smoke in London. I had promised myself, for months, to look in detail into several studies in the past, to see how such documentaries had been created. I believed that I should have used the scientific facts behind Climate Change, Global Warming, Greenhouse Gases, the Ozone layer and other similar topics as a source for my documentary. If I could sell the idea of Clouds of Smoke about pollution and climate change to somebody, I would be paid for exploring the territory I had long wanted to explore. Rabiger said, “I believe that people learn best from making and doing things. There’s nothing so useful as a good theory, but it belongs after you have experimented and got as far as you can using your own ideas” (Rabiger, 2007: www.thecompulsivecreative.com).
The documentary started as a final project at LSBU and as a collaboration with DEFRA, after I was asked by DEFRA’s authorities to write something about climate change as a part of a competition for producing a two minute documentary about global warming. Towards the end of October 2006, I wrote a short outline of the central idea of the documentary and sent it to DEFRA. So I was sure that the idea about “the pollution that hides global warming” and feeds greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, in compulsory lends itself to one particular style of film; the documentary (BBC, 2004: http://news.bbc.co.uk). Whilst it depended on its participants and interviewees, a documentary is, in a sense, more about the pollution in the area. Climate change documentaries are not essentially about one place; one country or about one problem related to global warming, but more about the warning of the effects that could cause climate changes all around us.
Therefore my main idea was to create a documentary based around a certain problem, with all its participants, interviewees, arguments, facts, charts, creative images and ideas to be made into a documentary, with the overall meaning and emphasis on living in such conditions. Although it was difficult, as in documentaries often they have had years and years to create archive footage, such as images of different areas and countries or of the melting icecaps that prove global warming. Also filming from the sky was a problem, but all of these I created by using different software and programs. There are examples of documentaries that have been created this way, such as Are We Changing Planet Earth? (2006) and Can We Save Planet Earth (2006) so there was no reason why it could not be possible. With the low cost and an area that lends itself well to being filmed because of its actual pollution and plenty of problems related to global warming, the documentary could actually be filmed on site.
According to Vaughan “the strength of a documentary is that it deals with what really exists or has already happened” (Vaughan, 1983:125). Albania is one of the most polluted countries in Europe. According to the World Health Organisation (WHO) this country is facing a humanitarian catastrophe due to growing pollution caused by poisonous gases. According to the responsible person for the laboratory of industrial toxicology in Elbasan, Beqir Kila, the scientists “have discovered nickel in quantities several times higher than the acceptable norm and the ground is polluted to the depths of about 35 centimetres” (Spaho, 2007: http://enrin.grida.no/). These gases are feeding the atmosphere, are leading to climate change effects and polluting not only the country, but also all the area around it. Albania’s, 3.5 million people still don’t have a single wastewater treatment plant, toxic waste disposal facilities or sanitary landfill. The pollution was created mostly by the fumes that the old factories released and of burning of the waste in the waste fields. Scientists have proven that pollution leads to global warming. So many problems are linked here with climate change, which lends this country to be an ideal setting for my documentary. Therefore I planned to make a film documentary that includes as many of these problems as possible in order to give an understanding of what it is like to live in such an area, were greenhouse gases are more than 40 times worse than what UN guidelines deem acceptable, and how climate change is affecting all of us.
Elbasan, one of the Albanian industrial cities seems like a typical polluted area. According to Velaj “Elbasan continues to be the most industrially polluted region in spite of the decline in industrial activities in the country” (Velaj, 2007: http://enrin.grida.no/env_stories/Albania). The city is densely populated due to the rural-urban migration of people from the countryside, and this creates most of the problems. Old steal and cement factories are releasing the fumes and polluting the area from every direction. These factories do not take any responsibility for the pollution they cause and the environment they destroy. The scientists and the UN have warned that these gases are too dangerous for people’s health and they are leading to global warming.
Another problem is the burning of the city’s waste. It is easy to find the way to the city’s waste dump as you can easily follow the trail of smoke to the place. This is because the rubbish is almost always being burned. During my visit to the location I found that two people guard the waste field, but according to one of the interviewees the problem of the burning still exists, as people still find their way in, to look for aluminium and other things that they can sell for profit.
It was unwise to use great actors with big names as with such actors a reputation imprints a certain image or character to the viewer. Therefore I intended to find competent and professional interviewees that have knowledge and information about these problems in Albania. However, another group of interviewees will be from environmental organisations in UK and from DEFRA, because the UK is a leading country on stopping climate change. Meanwhile, these problems related to global warming have divided people into two parts. Goldman reveals, "in a movie you don't tell people things, you show people things" (Goldman; 1995:325). So each group obviously asks for a strong representative. Also, it would have been important to have an array of age groups to highlight the generation knowledge about climate change.
Although everything else about this film is documentary it is understood that such a style of filming is cheap compared to the average feature film. The lighting is natural and sound combined with imaginative and un-imaginative sound. What I intended is for the documentary, to be like many good documentaries, and therefore to be different from the BBC documentaries about climate change. A grittier real look was my main aim. So to do this I created some shots by using improvised techniques and professional software, such as Motion, Adobe After Effects, Adobe Photoshop, Poser 6, Cinema 4D GO, Google Earth and 3D Weather Globe. The sequence showing the creation of planets from whirling gases in space is an example of a sequence I created using these programs. While to create the shot when the aeroplane is taking-off, I filmed a toy plane with a blue background behind it, which later I changed and replaced with a sky background, using the chroma key effect in Final Cut Pro. Furthermore I created titles text-based frames that can appear full screen on the video track and superimposed over video clips. I used titles in at least three places in my documentary. Clouds of Smoke opens with a number countdown and title so the viewer knows what he will be watching. I also inserted titles at scene changes, primarily to let the viewer know what is coming and the documentary is, in fact, moving along. Finally, I closed Clouds of Smoke with closing credits.
The greater part of documentary writing and documentary making, whether for public viewing, television or films, is technique. It is a craft and lends itself to the apprenticeship system of teaching, where the apprentice works with the journeyman and acquires over the months or even the years the skills of his trade.
One of the great problems of documentary making at its stage, is that it's a stage-skill trying to act like an amateur. Compared to other drama mediums, documentary of course, is the most complicated in its day, where the documentary makers are so in mess with so many things related to the creation of the documentary itself. At the same time, the documentary has to compete with the other drama mediums at its level. Faced with competition from the other mediums and from other documentary modes, it is understandable that documentary producers play for safety. In doing this, however, they are restricting the development of their own medium, which can only come about by vigorous experimentation at this level.
Whether those controlling the medium will recognise this and allow documentary makers and documentary writers in particular, to grow up in the future is still very much in question. Writers, then, are faced with working in the medium as it is now and Clouds of Smoke was written, accepting these limitations.
The first thing a documentary is about, for me, at any rate, is audience: the people's relationships to one another and to the society they live in. I started my documentary then, whether it's for television or film, with people in it and the problems they have to deal. This is not to say that I am doing something different, of course not, it is based and influenced from the most skilled documentary writers and documentary makers in UK and abroad.
Obviously I don't write crowd scenes or scripts with huge casts or too many interviewees. But apart from those elementary and common sense considerations, I don't let myself get bogged down with the problems of how my ideas are going to be fixed in one particular way that I think and choose before the editing. This is my way. My first concern is to get people, their relationships and their words on my papers.
This, of course, does not make for economy in writing time or typing paper. For instance, in the first version of Clouds of Smoke I ended up with an hour script and very differently from that on Footsteps in the Life of a Writer. But this method does have the advantage of leaving me free to concentrate on what I consider to be the real problems of a documentary, developing their stories, interviews, and telling, as coherently as I possibly can their message. “In Telling Stories, Steven Cohan and Linda Shires initially acknowledge a distinction between narrative and drama, only to circumvent it" (Maltby; 1995:328). Similarly, Lewis Herman reveals, "everything in any story must be completely understandable to the audience" (Herman; 1995:334).
The shaping of the script and cutting it to size and general fitting into the studio I consider are minor, mechanical problems which can be solved with a bit of sweat after problem of the documentary itself is solved. For Bordwell, “the distinction between showing and telling becomes a way of distinguishing theories about narration, not a fundamental distinction between ways of narrating” (Bordwell; 995:328).
There are two ways of researching a documentary. You have a vague idea but little sense of direction. You will find what you will find and make your documentary out of this. Or you have a fairly clear idea of the direction your documentary will take and the facts you are looking for. For Rosenthal, of course, the one thing “that dictates your research is your working hypothesis” (Rosenthal; 1990: 50).
Although the synopsis of Clouds of Smoke was based only on a quick reading of a few key books on Climate Change, because of the exacting form of the fifteen minute documentary, I was determined, if at all possible, to hold to the pollution and global warming caused by burning of the waste and the fumes that the factories release in the atmosphere, as the core of the documentary. As Rosenthal reveals, “[research] can be broken down into four sections” (Rosenthal; 1990: 51). This seemed to me the ideal shape for the genre.
According to Nichols, “realism in documentary builds upon a presentation of things as they appear to the eye and the ear in everyday life” (Nichols; 1991: 165). I knew what I was looking for: to find out as much as I could about the climate change and greenhouse gases; to find out if there was any other effect of the pollution due to climate change problem; the issues that divide people; about climate change theory; the facts, such as cement and steel factory’s pollution in Elbasan city of Albania; and ‘I Count’ demonstration, about climate change in November 2006 in Trafalgar Square in London.
I found the evidence that UNDP delegates said of the pollution at the steel factory in Elbasan, where they reported that the pollution is 40 times worse than what UN and EU allows. Stories and rumours do exist that such a pollution is due to the fact of the corruption, the need for jobs at this old fashion factories and the lack of filters, and many more related to the lack of the institutional control over environmental problems in many Eastern European countries. Nichols argument “realism presents life, life as lived and observed” is used for further development of this documentary (Nichols; 1991:165). However due to the fact that new material may come up or new characters may emerge I considered the rest of the time as time for a total re-examination. For Rosenthal “the most obvious is to get to know the interviewees better and to explain, without all the pressures of the camera, what you want from the interview” (Rosenthal; 1990: 175).
One of the first decisions a Documentary Producer has to make is what sort of documentary he wants to put on. Rosen explained “documentary … is not ex post facto, but historical in the modern sense” (Rosen; 1993: 71). This is bound to reflect the feelings about documentary, about society, about nature and relationship of the society with the nature, about dramatically exploitable situations in the human predicament, and the material that is available. As for Wead and Lellis, “a narrative typically begins with a situation in which various conflicts develop around central figure” (Wead & Lellis; 1981:28). I believe that if I have not got a personal attitude to the sort of work I was doing, an inconsistency of style and content would have been apparent in the finished product.
To do this it is essential to search for a quality of writing or direction and of acting which one believes will excite or stimulate or entertain an audience. But the idea is the springboard where it all starts. For Nichols “the film’s structure relies heavily on classical narrative procedures” (Nichols; 2005: 20).
To select and evaluate the script is an important collaboration with script editors. Occasionally the initial contact is between the author and script editor. As Rabiger revealed, “a filmmaker’s job is to refresh film language by journeying inward” (Rabiger; 2004: 52). This was the case with Clouds of Smoke with a difference that the director, producer, scriptwriter and editor were I. Rosenthal said:
“most directors of any worth are also apt to be competent editors. Many like Fred Wiseman and Mike Rubbo, edit their own films. So, given that the director (who is in most cases also the writer) knows the most about the film, why not let him or her go ahead and edit as well?” (Rosenthal; 1990: 200).
Even though I was the only person responsible for making the documentary I never avoided consultations with professionals such as DEFRA’s manager Alex Palman, BBC journalist Mike Sergant and LSBU staff of DFVP, Dr. Charlotte Crofts and Chris Elliott.
During the writing of Clouds of Smoke I learned what I wanted to say. During the producing the documentary I had a clear picture in my mind about what to buy and during directing it I learned how to interpret the story. When all these factors were working together, I initiated that documentary is a great communication to the audience I am expecting.
I feel that this documentary has a strong script, which incorporates a lot of facts and results in good climate change presentation with the audience. The theme is one that has been too highly used and commented which makes it interesting to anyone who can be interested about effects that pollution creates due to global warming, particularly in a place such as Albania.
The quality of image is good, leading to more of a professional feel to the product. While two minutes part of the documentary has been shown on channel Five, channel Four and BBC, as advertisement by DEFRA about climate change and global warming effects on people and environment and that Clouds of Smoke has been selected for The New York International Independent Film and Video Festival (NYIIFVF) which is the largest film festival in the world, shows that Clouds of Smoke is professionally written, produced, directed and edited.
As far as the narrative and voice over is concerned I feel that the end could have been more apparent and less open ended. I wanted to show more images of industrial pollution in Albania, which could imply that the pollution affects climate change. This twist was also more apparent though a scene that had to be deleted because it brought down the entropy of the piece. This was where the second interviewee was repeating the same meaning during his interview about the industrial and factory pollutions.
I think that on the whole it is a successful climate change documentary that draws inspiration from many diverse sources of film documentary and television.

Bibliography:
BBC (2004) Pollution 'Hides' Global Warming available online at
http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/sci/tech/3589662.stm published: Monday, 23
August 2004 (accessed 27 April 2007).
Goldman, William (1997) Quoted in Richard Maltby’s Ed Hollywood Cinema An
Introduction Oxford: Blackwell.
Maltby, Richard (1995) Hollywood Cinema An Introduction Oxford: Blackwell.
Nichols, Bill (1991) Representing Reality Issues and Concepts in Documentary
Bloomington & Indianapolis: Indiana University Press.
Nichols, Bill (2005) Introduction to Documentary Bloomington & Indianapolis:
Indiana University Press.
Nichols, Bill (2005) The Voice of Documentary in Alan Rosenthal and John Corner’s
Ed New Challenges for Documentary Manchester & New York: Manchester University Press.
Rabiger, Michael (2004) Directing the Documentary London: Focal Press.
Rabiger, Michael (2004) Michael Rabiger on Filmmaking (Interviewed by the
Compulsive Creative, September 2004)
http://www.compulsivecreative.com/interview.php?intid=17 (Accessed
10April 2007)
Rosenthal, Alan (1990) Writing, Directing, and Producing Documentary Films and
Videos Carbondale and Edwardswille: Southern Illinious University Press.
Rosen, Philip (1993) Document and Documentary: On the Persistence of Historical
Concepts in Michael Renov Ed Theorizing Documentary, New York, London:
Routledge.
Spaho, Elda (2007) The Danger: Bradashesh, Where Death Springs Even From the

Earth available online at

http://enrin.grida.no/env_stories/Albania/2004/kembana.htm (accessed 12

April 2007)

Tobias, Michael (1997) The search for “Reality” The Art of Documentary
Filmmaking Los Angeles: Michael Wiese Productions.
Vaughan, Dai (1983) Portrait of an Invisible Man: The Working Life of Stewart
McAllister, Film Editor London: BFI.
Velaj, Olimbi (2007) Albanian Environmental Stories available online at
http://enrin.grida.no/env_stories/Albania (accessed on 12 April 2007).
Wead, George & George Lellis (1981) Film: Form and Function London & Boston:
Houghton Mifflin.
Filmography:
Are We Changing Planet Earth? (Nicholas Brown, Stephen Cooter, 2006, UK)
Can We Save Planet Earth? (Nicholas Brown, 2006, UK)


DIARY OF FILMING CLOUDS OF SMOKE

I am in those cosy evenings, enjoying winter. These evenings attached by fireside. Always in my scrutiny – the comfort of an electric blanket, the tang of frosty morning air.
I see the skeletons of trees along Wandle River in Wandle Park near Colliers Wood or Wimbledon, while my camera is shaking on my hands. The trees tracery as delicate as that of the roof of a Gothic Cathedral are dancing.
Birds grow tamer, foxes and rabbits leave footprints in the snow, the owl’s cry pierces the night air with a ca; infinitely more thrilling than that boring, repetitive cuckoo, cuckoo.
I’m still part of this drama, this kind of drama that we all camera users secretly relish but seldom experience. The drama of a man with camera versus the elements, which touches a nerve buried way back in our past, when mankind used to forget that global warming, climate change can be most dangerous for it’s life, and he is to blame for effects on climate change.
Of course, there is a price for everything, including winter’s pleasures.
I’m in those cosy evenings, enjoying winter. These evenings attached by fireside.
Always in my scrutiny – the comfort of an electric blanket, the tang of frosty morning air.
I see the skeletons of trees along Wandle River in Wandle Park near Colliers Wood or Wimbledon, while my camera is shaking on my hands. The trees tracery as delicate as that of the roof of a Gothic Cathedral are dancing.

Birds grow tamer, foxes and rabbits leave footprints in the snow, the owl’s cry pierces the night air with a call infinitely more thrilling than that boring, repetitive cuckoo, cuckoo.
I’m still part of this drama, this kind of drama that we all camera users secretly relish but seldom experience. The drama of a man with camera versus the elements, which touches a nerve buried way back in our past, when mankind used to forget that global warming, climate change can be most dangerous for it’s life, and he is to blame for effects on climate change.
Of course, there is a price for everything, including winter’s pleasures.

24/01/2007 & 08/02/2007

Winter, Season of Content
Back home. I heard of snow-blocked roads, stranded trains, annulated flights, travel cancelled, schools closed and helicopters rescuing lost mountaineers. All of us have been advised to carry spades and flasks in our motorcars when we embark on a day-journey. Nothing like that can be conjured up in summer, - I thought.
Nothing is perfect, and I must admit snags; frozen pipes, chilblains and skidding into ditches can’t be recommended.
At last back to my filming archive. I thank Heaven that I’ve got what I need. Even so, when changes happening or new happening about climate change I have to think about it. It is documentary.

***

I just remembered to express something more about the nature's beauty on these snow days. A grouchy attitude, I know. One should revel joyfully in nature's abundance.
I will admit to "daffodils, that come before the swallow dares", in sheets of golden splendour that lift the spirit even when hands and feet are blocks of ice and camera stands just a tool in your camera-bags.
But these winter day's are more grand and simple, like a ring of trumpets compared to a sonata's complexity, even though they are part of that is affecting all of as, part of climates change.

08/02/2007
Today is a day that is related to love and flowers, like a symbol-gift of love, are always present. Even the nature with its climate change has given to us natural flowers, that unexpected to blossom this month. So the flowers!
The exuberant beauty of flowers has appealed to artists ever since the time of Pausias, the master flower painter of ancient Greece. Though the ages, the spirituality of Flowers and their symbolism in religion (blue iris for the Maddona, the orange lily for the Christ Child) have emphasized varying aspects of the fragile blooms... Now the nature is doing the same thing as artist have done in the past. The simple question is behind: Who is copying in fact? Artist is copying the nature or nature is trying to create relation with the painter’s hands?
14/02/2007
A noxious form of oxygen, ozone impairs vision and breathing when it occurs in smog. But in the upper atmosphere, 12 to 30 miles above the ground, it protects life on earth by intercepting the sun's damaging ultraviolet radiation.
During the past 18 years this protective layer of ozone has become thinner each spring over the South Pole, as seen in some images published by Scientist Panel 2007 in France.
According to this panel our mistakes are costly. People spend billion pounds a year on medical problems caused by outdoor pollutants. These outdoor pollutants may exact an annual health bill of a billion pounds.
"The most significant thing we've seen in the past few years has been the increase in other greenhouse gases-methane and chlorofluorocarbons gases"- said Mr. Palman.
24/02/2007

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