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A New Digital Aesthetic

Contributed By Glen Berry

The conventional viewpoint on digital video has been that it will eventually replace film as the popular moviemaking medium. For years, industry experts have predicted that as the technology improves, sprockets will disappear. Although the current trends in filmmaking certainly would lead one to believe this will become true, the development of DV will mean more than just a replacement for an old medium.

Although Super 8 was long ago replaced by SVHS and Hi-8, miniDV swept these formats aside and is moving into territory that was previously claimed by 16mm. 16mm was intended for use as an amateur format but became widely accepted as the desirable source for television because of its square 4:3 aspect ratio. However, Filmmakers who wished to do a theatrical release after shooting 16mm encountered problems formatting their project for a (rectangular) 16:9 theatrical release.

Although a miniDV project presents the same format conversion challenges as 16mm, the cost is infinitely lower. Not only that, the technological processes of production and post-production can be quickly mastered by anyone capable of operating a modern computer. Digital video, and in particular miniDV, has gained enormous popularity with independent filmmakers and documentarians for this reason.

Up to this point, most of the widely released miniDV projects have been film projects that have been shot on video. Documentaries and fiction pieces alike have been planned and produced in the traditional way. The inexpensive medium has offered fiction filmmakers the freedom to shoot extra footage without feeling budgetary pressure but the overall approach has still been much like a traditional film production.

Recently, new projects have emerged with a different approach to the moviemaking process. "Some Body", a 2001 entrant in the Sundance Film Festival, is an excellent example. A fiction piece, "Some Body" is the story of the romantic misadventures of a young woman. Stylistically, it is a mesh of documentary and fiction film with pseudo interviews and third person observations of events. Although scripted, the scenes that comprise "Some Body" were culled from hundreds of hours of improvisations. A piece created by artists with strong theater backgrounds, this approach allows their strengths as actors to shine through.

The technical approach of shooting a great deal of footage and culling to produce a work is fairly common place, although allowing actors to improvise on camera is not. John Cassavetes already pioneered this technique in the 60's but the freedom to shoot unlimited footage wasn't available until now. The creators of "Some Body" take advantage of this to create a very strong piece that "would not have been possible without [digital video]", according to director Henry Barrial. If Cassavetes was the departure point for improvisational filmmaking, "Some Body" has taken that road one step further to creating a new school of moviemaking.

This digital medium opens up new opportunities for artists beyond what was available with film. Sundance Festival programmer, John Cooper's assessment is completely accurate when he states "If there is still any question about whether the digital revolution will produce a new aesthetic in filmmaking, the potency and power of 'Some Body' is a clear vote in its favor." Arguably a breakthrough film, "Some Body" certainly points the way to new advances in moviemaking beyond what film had to offer.

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