Feature-length documentary “Acquainted with the Night” (Markham Street Films, 2010), is a brilliantly executed examination of how humanity explores, embraces and attempts to protect the night. Shot in seven countries and eight languages, director Michael McNamara and co-producer Jen Recknagel analyze the universality of elements embodied in dusk to dawn traditions – curiosity and the quest to learn, ritual celebration, fear and adaptation, and from a Western research perspective the concern for the night’s adverse impact on the individual, and society.
The movie is based on Christopher Dewdney’s book, Acquainted with the Night: Excursions through the World after Dark. While Dewdney breaks up the night into hourly vignettes based on science, myth and poetry, McNamara proceeds differently, showcasing key segments of time: daytime preparations, dusk, night-time activities, dawn and its aftermath.
In the film’s Prelude, individuals in a diversity of cultures and stations in life are shown preparing for darkness, foreshadowing what the night embodies for them:
In the town of Atzompa, in the southern Mexican state of Oaxaca, a family walks along a dirt road with a wheelbarrow and arms full of flowers, destined for the cemetery, the beginning of its Día de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) rituals;
Members of Astronomers Without Borders line up telescopes in Bhaktapur, Nepal, for viewing Jupiter and its moons;
A team of researchers arrive at Arches National Park in Utah, to measure light pollution;
On the Greek Island of Chios, villagers from two rival towns ready rockets and launching pads in preparation for a century – old, middle-of-the-night pyrotechnics competition;
A group sets up high – power lamps in New York City near Ground Zero, for a tribute in lights;
Artists at Parc des Buttes Chaumant in Paris, France, install their art, and lighting, for Nuit Blanche, a unique exhibition.
Introductions continue through Dusk, in Austin, Texas. Crowds gather before dark, eager to watch 1.5 million bats fly out from beneath an expansion bridge in a night-time feeding frenzy.
This year the bats emerge unexpectedly early, but the film crew, on the ready, doesn’t miss a beat and catches the event as it happens.
Moving into The Night, we’re whisked worlds away, to a marketplace in Marrakech, Morocco. Children and adults alike are enthralled by the tales of a traditional storyteller, one of only two or three of his kind remaining. But storytelling is universal, as McNamara illustrates, taking the viewer from this Moroccan custom to Anglo- and French-Canadian homes in Canada where parents read the same bed-time story to their children, “Love You Forever,” in English and in French.
McNamara uses his characters, rather than a narrator, to thread his theses. Researcher Chad Moore, measuring light pollution with sophisticated instruments, decries the loss of the ability of Americans to witness true darkness. It “ties all people together across the planet,” states Moore. “We have to decide if it’s worth saving,” he asks rhetorically. Then in Nepal, as if to answer the question, we’re placed amongst astronomers encouraging onlookers to take a peak at the largest planet in the solar system. Curiosity, intrigue, marvel and the quest to learn about the night, each transcends culture and age.
Returning to North America, and The Night Shift, a long-haul trucker drives across Canada with her son, after dark, exposing us to the night’s working world – its allure, its danger, and its necessity. At the Sleep and Alertness Clinic in Toronto we learn of the afflictions which beset the night shift, and are told of modern-day disasters which have occurred during the middle-of-the-night as a result of human error – Chernobyl and Exxon Valdez are cited examples. If humanity must work throughout the night, as is suggested, how do we better adapt?
The dark side of earth’s most densely populated club district is revealed, under the watch of Toronto Police Department’s 52 Division. Another aspect of night shift work: patrolling nightly, and then rounding up mainly youthful revelers as they emerge from partying shortly after 2 a.m., high on drugs or a little too much to drink, in either case resulting in unruly conduct or violence. Detention and in some cases arrest follows; then finally the morning clean-up, Night’s Last Stand.
McNamara also illustrates how differently death is approached depending on societal mores. In the candle – lit Mexican cemetery his cinematographers capture the poignancy of an elderly couple lamenting the loss of their son, decades after his passing. He then switches to the somber spectacle of light near Ground Zero. On a subsequent night in the Mexican village, death is remembered no longer through solemnity, but now with comparsas – parades marked by reveling in costume, dance and song. McNamara then takes us to the pageantry of a Winter Solstice celebration at Toronto’s Kensington Market. The night is a catalyst for celebrating in similar, almost identical fashion, under dramatically distinct circumstances.
Particularly striking and thought provoking contrasts occur within the context of McNamara taking us to a makeshift outdoor hockey rink illuminated by the full moon, then to beyond Yellowknife, where The Dene, one of Canada’s First Nation peoples, emerge from their teepees rejoicing the awe inspiring Aurora Borealis, and yes, telling stories. Cut to Paris, where artificial light gives art a new appreciation, then to New York, where light pays homage to America’s fallen. It’s hard to resolve the conflict between utilizing and appreciating the night and all its wonder and beauty – a motive for its preservation – and perhaps just as valid, transforming and celebrating the night, which leads to its adulteration.
As dawn approaches, thousands of spent rockets are gathered on the Greek island, the Parisian art exhibit has lost its glimmer, the 9 / 11 lights are extinguished, the now exhausted Nepalese storyteller heads home, and the villagers of Atzompa depart through the cemetery arch, until next year’s Dia de los Muertos.
Acquainted with the Night takes the viewer on much more than a cross-cultural journey traversing the exotic and the familiar, and then back again. It opens our minds to a sampling of what most of us miss between going to bed, and arising for work the next day. It inevitably encourages many to re-evaluate an unnecessarily staid lifestyle, through examining a world not previously known to exist. It ensures that we expose our youth to more, yet at the same time cautions, and raises questions – with answers difficult to reconcile.
Alvin Starkman received his Masters in Social Anthropology in 1978. After teaching for a few years he attended Osgoode Hall Law School in Toronto, thereafter embarking upon a career as a litigator until 2004. Alvin now resides in Oaxaca, where he writes, leads small group tours to the villages, markets, ruins and other sites, is a consultant to film production companies, and operates Casa Machaya Oaxaca Bed & Breakfast. ( http://www.oaxacadream.com ) .
DVD: www.amazon.com thefilmarchive.org Here is Germany was a 1945 propaganda documentary film directed by Frank Capra. Like its companion film, Know Your Enemy: Japan, the film is a full-length exploration of why one of the two major Axis countries started World War II and what had to be done to keep them from “doing it again”. The film opens with scenes of everyday life in Germany, described by narrator Walter Huston. It shows people such as housewives, mailmen, farmers and policemen at work, and notes that these people were not so different than us, and seem like people Americans can understand. Anthony Veiller then interrupts with “Or can we?”, as the film then switches to a montage of Nazi concentration camps and piles of dead bodies. The narrator notes that this is not the only time that Germany has unleashed war on the world, stating that while its generation fought the “Nazis”, its fathers fought the “Huns” (pejorative term for Germany during World War I), and its grand father remembers the “Prussians”. The narrator claims that its was all part of the same German lust for conquest. Going even further back 150 years, the film informs us that while America, Britain, and France were forming their democratic traditions, Germany was a group of 300 medieval feudal states, not one of them with a constitution or parliament. The film traces the rise of Prussia from Frederick the Great through Bismarck, telling the audience that the Prussian state was dominated first by …
Video Rating: 3 / 5
Question by candylandburns: What are good questions to ask for a documentary interview?
For my filmmaking class I’m doing a documentary about gay rights, and I would like to portray both sides. I was just wondering if anyone had any good questions that I could ask for it. I have some in mind, but I just want to see if anyone can bring up new questions and ideas!
Answer by capcajun
Were you born gay, or did you choose the lifestyle?
Why do gays think that they must push the agenda of a gay lifestyle on the rest of us?
Pitcher or Catcher?
What do you think? Answer below!
In honor of Pearl Jam’s twentieth anniversary, Academy Award-winning director and music journalist Cameron Crowe created a definitive portrait of the seminal band carved from over 1200 hours of rarely and never-before-seen footage, including recently shot concert and interview footage.