HD vs. FILM (imagining documentaries from ‘back in the day’)

Shooting in digital HD has it’s definite advantages when doing a documentary like ours.  First of all, it’s economical — somewhat (many network ready HD cameras remain pretty expensive).  When everyone and their grandmother out there is shooting documentaries and YouTube clips on digital HD cameras, it’s hard not to get depressed about the glutunous glob of content being produced and thrown onto YouTube.  I started thinking about who out there, besides maybe Nick Broomfield, is still shooting on film for feature length documentaries.  I still have yet to come across any true indie filmmakers who are shooting documentaries this way.  

It’s easy to apprecitae the beauty of film and it’s role in the legacy of motion pictures.  After all, in the short history of cinema most of the great works in narrative and documentary film have been and continue to be shot on film.  

I started thinking about what it must have been like to have shot and edited all the material which documentary filmmakers collected when making their films in an era before the digital revolution.  In times such as the 60’s or 70’s when everyone was armed with a film camera of some sort, not a flipcam or HD camcorder. 

One of the best documentaries ever made — “Harlan County, USA” was made by Barbara Kopple in 1976 and examines something “Fit to Print” is examing, an American industry in peril.  I could never compare myself or my documenatary with “Harlan County”, that would just be laughable. But at the same time, I was originally inspired by the film and it has remained a constant source of inspiraration during this entire process.  In other words, if I could completely rip it off, I would.  Fortunately for Barbara I can’t, nor won’t.  But what I will continue to do is rack my mind over how the hell she managed to not drive herself crazy in having on-board playback capabilites which digital cameras have today.  It’s easy for me to simply rewind a tape and look at the interview I have just filmed right on the spot. But back in the day, it wasn’t even imaginable.  

Stepping back I realize, racking my brain over whether film or digital is the ‘correct’ way to produce the feature is the wrong way of thinking.  Every medium has something great to offer, even VHS (in fact, someday I’d like to do a VHS project).  Even Super 8 is still used today (mainly in commercials like Lars Von Trier’s), 16 and 35 millameter obviously remain the prefered medium to those who have the finances.  Overall, I could care less about the medium filmmakers shoot on.  What’s important is that they understand why.   

In my opinion, many of the videos shot with the best HD cameras (whether in a phone, flipcam or camcorder) by amatures will remain amaturish until general users figure out that it’s not the camera which you use, it’s the sound and lighting which matters most.

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