Assignment 1 – Part A: Food on Film Analysis

(Dominion 2018)

Dominion (2018) is a feature-length documentary about animal agriculture practices in Australia. The film presents footage captured in abattoirs and intensive factory farms, shot with drones and hidden cameras. It exposes the moral and environmental costs of using animals for fashion, entertainment, food, research, and companionship.

I chose to analyse Dominion because I have never been so heavily affected by a film before. It’s easier to believe in the narrative that all farmers are loving and that all farm animals are happy, and willingly give their meat and milk and eggs for us to consume.

In this studio I aim to find information supporting a plant-based diet. This film offers it by exposing the conditions of industrial animal farming. I also hope to explore a potential link between the acceptance of animal oppression on our dinner plates, and our tolerance of violence and hostility between humans. Dominion explores the similarities of animal exploitation and racism, sexism and speciesism.

Dominion’s writer, director and producer, activist Chris Delforce, is rarely physically present in the film. He narrates several parts, and we see him working on the production. None of the other narrators are seen. Perhaps this is intended to emphasise the real importance of the subject – the animals. The true participants I would say, those who are willing and able to offer consent to their participation, are the people who work undercover to acquire footage within the farms. Though there is no clear relationship between the filmmakers and the participants in this regard, Delforce does show his compassion for the film’s subjects through his actions, after he rescues a baby goat from starvation and brings it to an animal sanctuary.

All information is offered through voiceover, text, our own observation, or interview.

Voiceovers by Joaquin Phoenix, Rooney Mara, Sia, Sadie Sink, Kat Von D, and Chris Delforce, narrate most of the images we see. Their voices give some life to the statistics revealed, and bring humanity to the descriptions of animal torture. It’s grounding to be told by their solemn voices just what goes on because we can sense their frustration as well. Our discomfort is justified in their slow delivery of the narration.

Statistics given through text span across the screen. What I found engaging was that these facts and numbers did not appear bit by bit, but all at once. It forced me to find the remote, and pause the screen so I could ensure I’d read all the information in time.

However, sometimes we are just left to our own devices, exposed to the merciless treatment without narration. The producers spare us the explanations to why a featherless chicken is on the ground, gradually closing their eyes. We learn about the animals’ suffering through observation too. This captivated me most. The gravity of the situation was always magnified when there was nothing to be heard but the staggering breathing of a small, dying animal. It was quite painful, and I believe this strategy played on my love for animals most.

The final way information was conveyed was through interview, where the undercover participants secretly filmed factory farm workers and encouraged them to talk about their views. This was effective because people are always more willing to talk freely and honestly when they don’t know their answers are being recorded for the world to see. And what is most valuable while being educated about agribusiness and immoral, yet protected practices, is transparency.

Dominion is rhetorical in form, as its intention is to convince viewers to question and ultimately challenge their current held attitudes about industrial farming, and therefore encourages people to transition to more compassionate ways of living (Murray & Heumann, 2012, p. 44).

Dominion is a complete hybrid of multiple styles of documentary.

All footage independent of narration demonstrates a “reduced obtrusiveness” (Fox, 2017, pg. 40) from the filmmakers. As the camera rolls uninterrupted to document the weakened animals, we become engaged in the observational/direct cinema mode (Murray & Heumann, 2012, p. 45).

The final clips of Chris rescuing a baby goat, and of the anonymous investigators crawling under cages to film animals, are evidence of reflexive documentary. Instead of trying to conceal the process of production, the cameras in their hands and their verbal acknowledgement of the footage they just captured, are an explicit reference to their involvement in what we consider reality in this film.

The majority of Dominion is expository in nature. The soundless images of farming practices are narrated by faceless voices. These voices offer explanation to what we see and will inevitably experience. As expected, the physical identities of the narrators are masked in this form, which normally would suggest objectivity. However, the narration incorporation of emotive words suggests a disagreement with what is screened before us. When we do eventually see Chris Delforce, this further deconstructs the myth of complete objectivity and independence from human intervention in the documentary (Fox, 2017, pp. 4 & 13).

The film incorporates footage from Aussie Farms Repository (2014) which is the world’s most comprehensive library of Australian photos, footage, documents, and campaign information regarding commercialised animal abuse. Because this database is open to contribution by any Australian, the use of this footage indicates Interactivity. “Breaking one-way routes of transmission and reception…collective works [invite] individuals to become active participants” (Fox, 2017, pg. 15). Dominion is developed through the use of contributed content. It is reactive in nature, because the initial communication between author/producer and audience informs the making of the project (Aston & Gaudenzi, 2012).

Dominion premiered with multiple international screenings. If it was only available in an online setting, I would have involved another type of interactivity as well. Interactive virtual reality – a virtual representation of events or spaces – would enable Dominion filmmakers to emulate the real physical space and mood of living confined in a cage. Using a 360 degree camera to capture what it is like to be entrapped within your own faeces and to be treated as a commodity. I maintain that interaction with this kind of virtual experience encourages empathy – necessary for compassion. The representation of these horrid conditions gives the viewer more insight and understanding into the trauma farmed animals experience. YouTube is a platform that allows one to upload 360 degree videos, and encourages viewers to play with the controls of moving around the virtual space. Though I understand most of Dominion was captured with hidden cameras, and that virtual reality footage would be difficult to film without proper gear, perhaps this could be a reason to reproduce the situation for animals in an artificial space and reenact the experience – indicating a performative form of documentary which places emphasis on eliciting emotional responses (Murray & Heumann, 2012, pg. 46).

Dominion was produced as a response to claims that animal agriculture is not as bad in Australia as the rest of the world. It challenges the desire to live blissfully unaware of where staples in the Western diet come from. But ignorance does not remove complicity. Dominion gives us the knowledge to make informed food and lifestyle choices. The pursuit of knowledge will always be more important than the pleasure of an audience (Fox, 2017, pg. 13).

Chris Delforce states that it is our responsibility as consumers to end the unnecessary slaughter of animals (Dominion Movement, 2018). It is also our responsibility as privileged media makers to uncover the many truths of animal exploitation in our own country (Fox, 2017, pg. 4). I would like my own project to offer lots of information about animal farming practices in the hopes that it surprises people enough to feel angry about being manipulated by the false image of obliging animals. I also hope to use sound sparingly as Dominion filmmakers have, in moments of extreme significance. Limiting the use of sound throughout the project emphasises a feeling of isolation, inner conflict, and “alienation” (Murray & Heumann, 2012, p. 54), at times when animals begin to fear for their lives. And lastly, as much as it disturbs me to watch, gruesome footage displaying the current standards of animal farming is also useful. To evoke such a physical and emotional response as needing to close one’s eyes is powerful. To drive an audience into activism as Dominion has, is the result of an emotionally driven, complex documentary (Fox, 2017, pg. 1).

Dominion forces us to acknowledge our own hypocrisy. If we cannot watch slaughter happen, how can we support it? If we do not want any part in it, how can we pay for its continuation? In this knowledge era, what do corporations gain from keeping us in the dark? Questions about moral agency, motivations and complicity like these are what encourage the possibilities of deeper, critical discussion (Fox, 2017, pg. 23). And that’s a response I’d like to see to my own documentary.

References

Aston, J & Gaudenzi, S 2012 ‘Interactive documentary: setting the field’, Studies in Documentary Film, vol 6, no. 2, pp. 125-139.

Dominion Movement 2018, About The Film, Aussie Farms, viewed 10 March 2019, <https://www.dominionmovement.com/about>.

Dominion 2018, documentary film, Aussie Farms, Australia, directed by Chris Delforce.

Dominion Movement 2018, Fact Sheet & References, Aussie Farms, viewed 10 March 2019, <https://www.dominionmovement.com/facts>.

Fox, B 2017, ‘A Brief History of Documentary: Movements and Modes’ in, Documentary Media: History, Theory, Practice, 2nd edn, Routledge, Milton, pp. 27-72.

Fox, B 2017, ‘Reimagining Documentary’ in, Documentary Media: History, Theory, Practice, 2nd edn, Routledge, Milton, pp. 1-26. 

Murray, R.L. & Heumann, J.K. 2012, ‘Contemporary eco-food films: The documentary tradition’, Studies in Documentary Film, vol 6, no. 1, pp 43-59.

The Aussie Farms Repository 2014, Videos, Aussie Farms, viewed 11 March 2019, <https://www.aussiefarms.org.au/videos>.

Thinking In Fragments – Assignment 2 (Development 2)

Responding to the reading ‘The Language of New Media’ (2001)

I have never described a project as a form of ‘new media’, because I wasn’t able to distinguish it from what could be deemed ‘old media’. What made this content different? Is it just a collection of media that has been crafted more recently through the use of a computer? But what about the media that has been made recently but not mediated through modern technology?

This reading about the historical convergence of computer technology and media was interesting to me. According to Manovich (2001), “the popular understanding of new media identifies it with the use of a computer for distribution and exhibition rather than production,” (page 19). However, Manovich counters this “limiting” definition, for the sole reason that using a computer for creating and storing media is just as likely to have a cultural impact as using a computer to exhibit and distribute media. And thus the lines continue to blur for me.

However, new media, as opposed to old media, tends to be modular in structure. New media contains objects and consists of elements that have the ability to maintain their independence, and retain their ability to be individually changed. These “[media] elements are assembled into larger-scale objects but continue to maintain their separate identities, (page 30)”. For example, as an artefact of popular culture in modern society, vine compilations are made by collating 6-7 second videos together, and yet these individual videos maintain their original meaning and ‘independence’ – their… comedic value?

Manovich goes on to detail a well-known browser, “The Netomat browser by artist Maciej Wisnewski”, which exhibits media from different websites without “identifying the Web sites from which they are drawn” (page 31). One of the qualities we talked about being intrinsic to online screen productions in the first week of class, was a generally lighter censorship, and for the average internet user, the higher prospect of uploading a video without laws – governing what can and cannot go up on the internet – being enforced, as tends to occur in more content-saturated websites (Manovich, pp. 35-46). Vine videos are not public domain and are protected by copyright law. A huge number of popular vine compilations are monetised, whereby the user that puts it up generates ad revenue. Apparently posting Section 107 of the Copyright Act as a disclaimer lets you avoid copyright strikes. However, these compilation videos do not fall under fair use because they are not transformative – there is no originality in the editing, only cutting someone else’s videos together. And yet, there is still an audience for this content because “deleting parts of a new media object does not render it meaningless.”

“In fact, the modular structure of new media makes such deletion and substitution of parts particularly easy” (page 31). It is not a mashup, whereby a new meaning is extracted from the piece. These compilations may be entertaining, but they are not intended for educational use. Therefore, the presence of this kind of screen media content on YouTube demonstrates that in this moment, there is less restriction of ~illegal activity~ concerning video content online. If this were to occur on a television show on Channel 10, to upload someone else’s content without permission, nor without stating that it is not your own property, it would be a breach of copyright law and could lead to legal action being taken upon them. Far more serious that receiving a ‘strike’ on the good ol’ YT. That’s why major productions of a traditional television show tend to have full access to a legal team.

Additionally, Julia Alexander of Polygon believes that vine compilations should be considered a ‘communal experience’, as they bring together groups ‘of people who [seem] to have the exact same taste in comedy’. It is considered a site where an ‘audience of like-minded weirdos’ can indulge in some ‘subversive comedy’. This supports the notion that vine compilations, as online screen content, have the ability to construct a sense of community via shared interests, and thus promote interactivity. With the ability to leave likes and comments, these videos encourage communication between the creator and the viewers, and amongst the viewers themselves. If we consider this quality under the pretence of a film, there is often no physical/digital space for communication between the creators and the audience. It’s an undeniably useful quality in an environment where success is measured by the amount of online traffic on your content.

Thinking In Fragments – Assignment 1 (Reflection)


Our use of the #onedayofimprovement hashtag is a characteristic of online screen making that is only possible with the use of, and interaction with, the Internet. We learnt that hashtags are a useful way to categorise your content.

What I had not considered when I wrote about Skam (2015-2017) as an online screen production, was its promotion of hashtags. #alterlove (everything is love), #minuttforminutt (minute by minute) and #duerikkealene (you are not alone) are popular hashtags across a variety of social media applications, and hold a special meaning for those who became avid viewers of Skam. In this sense, I am starting to see that many popular hashtags have behind them a constructed sense of community. The idea is, that sharing content marked with this hashtag will allow for people with the same interests to find it easily. It becomes its own site for interaction and communication without the interference of other content that is not of interest.

Although I see hashtags promoted on Channel 7’s My Kitchen Rules (2010) and Channel 10’s The Bachelor Australia (2013), the intention here is to direct people towards the internet, where they can interact with the community of shared interests – that is, MKR or The Bachelor even after an episode has finished. And therefore, if I were to create a web series, I too would choose to create a space for the fans of the series through the use of a unique hashtag. It allows for an audience to move beyond consumption of content, and towards becoming contributors. Judging from the traffic under these hashtags, my view is that this process creates a more immersive experience for viewers, as opposed to a passive experience. Greater engagement is encouraged, and only works to increase the popularity of the series. How to distinguish your work in a space where there are no regulations for what is able to be uploaded, is something that was spoken about in class this week. And perhaps there are multiple things that can be done in order to increase your chances, but clearly promoting a unique (emphasis on this) hashtag from within the show and giving audience members the chance to express an opinion is certainly a powerful way to do so.

Thinking In Fragments – Assignment 1 (Development)


The ubiquitous presence of the Internet has allowed for greater accessibility to an extensive range of streaming media. The Internet already has its own established audience – according to the ABS, in 2014–15, for households with children aged 15 years and younger, a massive 97% had access to the internet (ABS 2016). As a result, web production creators have the potential to reach millions of people around the world with their media. Anything that has the ability to reach large majorities of the world also has the ability to generate a significant impact on societal norms and cultural values. When I think about Norwegian web series, Skam (2015-2017), with its international success and cultural impact, I consider three things. These are content, distribution, and reception.

Content

Skam encapsulates all of the common features of an online series, and uses it to its advantage. The small snippet clips released throughout the week would be edited together to form a weekly episode. Each episode would vary from 18 to 30 minutes. The lengths of each episode would change from week to week because (while it was eventually cut down and shown on Norwegian television), there was nothing regulating how long each episode needed to be. Instead, the length of an episode was determined by plot and what kind of events would keep the audience engaged. In comparison, if this show was broadcast nationally in Australia, (as the television experience that I am familiar with), it would have to stick to a rigid schedule. It wouldn’t be the mode of ‘event sequence and audience attention span affects length of episode’, but rather ‘television slot from 10 to 10:20pm causing episode to be exactly 20 minutes long’. It makes me wonder, how is it possible for a show like Broad City (2009), initially independently produced for the web only, to make its transition to television, and embrace a TV schedule with such ease? With no effect on the episode quality or timing? 

The majority of the Skam actors had no professional performance background, and were selected on the basis that they fit the aesthetics of Norway’s teenage culture. While this gave a more natural performance, it also made the show seem amateur and less refined than a drama we might see on Channel 10, with professional actors and experienced crew. Perhaps this was also part of the appeal of the show. Either way, it’s placement as an online screen production as opposed to broadcast television means that the creators were able to make a drama with inexperienced actors and avoid the feel of an overproduced show. While the use of inexperienced actors and rash editing techniques isn’t impossible for traditional television, it is certainly rare.

The series also handled sensitive topics such as mental health, sexual orientation, eating disorders, religion, and sexual assault appropriately. By doing so, they were able to remain current, and maintain their vision of a modern series – for teenagers, about teenagers. Each episode only took a few days to produce (written, shot, edited and marketed) and thus every time a key moment would occur in – politics, for example; Donald Trump being elected the 45th president of the United States – the show could react to it in ‘real time’. While it handled these controversial topics with severity, we should consider whether it would be able to do this if it was produced for national television. Television shows take months – even a year – to create, and if all the scripts have been written in advance (to obtain approval from the respective network), how would it be possible to add these reactions and respond to world-trending topics? The answer, is that it would be far more difficult. And this is one of the reasons why Skam benefits from distributing the show on the internet, as a piece of online screen media.

Distribution

The producers created an entire Skam universe through real-time distribution. Each character had their own Facebook and Instagram accounts that were updated regularly. So not only were the episodes released on the NRK website, this content was also supported by social media activity. If two characters engaged in a text conversation on a Friday at 7:35pm (on screen or off screen), we would be privy to this exchange on the same Friday at 7:35pm Central European Time. This cross-platform distribution of content meant that Skam could reach a wider audience. Can you imagine, 10 years ago, a television show releasing text conversations outside of the scheduled episode?

The amateur nature of the show I talked about previously, also gave it an independence. The audience of Skam supported its online distribution through recommendations and posting ‘edits’. Once the music geoblock hit the show, and the website Skam was shown on became only accessible in Scandinavia, audience members took it upon themselves to download the episodes, add Spanish, English and Mandarin subtitles, and proceed to upload them to Google Drive and share them with the rest of the world within mere minutes of the initial release. My view is that, because Skam was mostly viewed on the internet, and not on a popular TV channel, despite legalities, nobody seemed to follow up on the links being shared internationally. Especially when the process benefits the show and its reach.

Reception

“[A]udiences—and studios and networks—have a newfound interest in different, and especially interactive, forms of storytelling,” writes Sarah Burke (2017). In contrast to the traditional model of television-viewing, one of the most common qualities of screen media produced exclusively for the web, is the ability for an audience to influence its progression. With regards to Skam, this interactivity was present in the creation of each script and actors’ execution. Viewers would comment recommendations for the direction of the show and it would be taken into account. There were even episodes inspired by the fan-made artwork created for the series. Characters would mention topics and tag words created by fans, and that had no real place in the Skam world – in turn, breaking the fourth wall. I would consider this kind of model of production a collaborative process. And perhaps it worked so well because the younger generations – that seemed to make up Skam’s largest proportion of viewership – are not accustomed to being passive audience members. We have not come to know the act of merely consuming a show. My dad grew up watching Bonanza and not being able to have a chat with David Dortort. In contrast, viewers of Skam spoke to the show’s creator via the online platform. Their opinions were heard, and also became genuine influences for the weekly scripts. But my concern is, what if the direction of the show is not the one most popular with viewers? How does a production team deal with the backlash that comes from an audience accustomed to directing a show, but then for one episode, not getting what they expected? It makes me wonder about how much of a divide should be in place. There should be invisible boundaries indicating ‘you are the audience and we are the creators. We consider your opinions valid but we make the ultimate decisions about our work’. How does one go about that without disregarding the power of an interactive show? These are some things to discuss if I ever choose to create interactive online screen content, especially one as successful as Skam.

Australian Bureau of Statistics 2016, ‘Household Use of Information Technology’, Australian Bureau of Statistics, 18 February, viewed 1 March 2018, <http://www.abs.gov.au/AUSSTATS/abs@.nsf/Lookup/8146.0Main+Features12014-15?OpenDocument>.

Burke, S 2017 ‘Is Steven Soderbergh’s New App the Future of TV?’, WIRED, 10 November, viewed 2 March 2018, <https://www.wired.com/story/steven-soderbergh-future-of-storytelling/>.

When Fandom Overrides Privacy (Week 8)

We’ve talked about privacy among youth and now we’ve learnt about fandoms. But there’s a point where some fans (stemming from a culture of irrationality) choose to invade their idol’s privacy.

Such as when the stars of SKAM (2015), a hit Norwegian series, were followed by international fans into their own high schools. As in IRL high schools.

Henry Jenkins of Textual Poachers (1992) characterises fans as ‘active producers and manipulators of meaning.’ This is accurate for the SKAM fandom, where it’s normal to analyse 10 second clips and write detailed posts about their significance on dedicated Facebook groups; where it’s appropriate to create user-generated content (edits, crack videos, etc). SKAM takes part in the new mode of spectatorship and facilitates the emergence of a more participatory audience culture where fans’ opinions and theories are taken into deep consideration by the show’s creators. SKAM focuses less on scheduled viewing times and more on engagement viewing by releasing clips of episodes in real time, as in, when it’s Fredag 21:21 in the show’s universe, the clip is released on Friday at 9:21 real time.

This immersion and DIY ethic can blur the lines for fans. When they are so heavily involved in the direction of the show, how can they simply view themselves as the audience? When they become so immersed in the show’s sense of reality, how can they be expected to separate the actors from their characters? This experience of hyperreality is only heightened by the strong emotional attachment to the series.

The Edit (Week 3)

I have considerable interest in video editing. Before I never really thought of the editing process as anything more than correcting footage. Now I understand it’s about breaking things up and deliberately creating gaps in material. I trust my audience to link cut parts together to determine their meaning. I can manipulate rhythm and pace in a sequence of clips by introducing gaps frequently or infrequently. This week’s reading made me realise the importance of closure. The gaps between comic panels force readers to engage with the content in order to ‘close the gaps’ and comprehend what has happened. Moving away from the concept of passive readers mindlessly consuming material, comic readers are forced to use their imagination to determine significance and this makes engaging with media texts a fully interactive process.