Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

Biology of Story =
1278 distinct media items, including
113 interview subjects, woven through
66 “principles” by which story works with us
52 “practices” by which we work with story
11 mini-documentaries exploring focused themes
6 indexes
3 years of work
1 interactive documentary
…Viewable in an infinite number of ways

Of course, numbers never tell the whole story. In fact, numbers seldom tell a story at all. Rather, we tell a story about the numbers.

The first story about these numbers is the story of a lot of hard work by a wonderful team of people. I’m very proud that just in a few days we’ll be sharing with you the results (so far) of their work.

Next is the story of a unique, web-based creation: a combination of artpiece, documentary, research tool and educational resource, innovating the digital possibilities of moving image form and content.

But most of all the story we want to tell about these numbers is about taking a step back from Story.

When you take a step back from something you can see it more clearly. We spend most of our time wrapped up in stories. Wrapped up in Story.

Our means for producing and sharing stories are proliferating exponentially. The impact of our narratives on our lives, our societies, and the life of the planet has never been greater.

We pay a lot of lip service to story. But maybe we need to not take it quite so much for granted.

Biology of Story invites us to begin to discern with a new clarity the patterns and purposes, the principles and practices, that define Story.

It accomplishes this not by telling a singular story, but by offering each user the opportunity to explore a multiplicity of viewpoints in their own way, discovering the living pattern that connects them.

The pattern of story.


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Some pretty big waves have rolled through my life since September, 2012, when I was last blogging here.

One of those waves is a huge piece of work known as Biology Of Story, a massive interactive documentary I’ve been making with the folks at Helios Design Labs, a talented group of students and recent grads, with support from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council.

I’m now maintaining a blog within Biology of Story;  I will probably do some cross-postings, if I can find the groove. Meanwhile, it’s a few days before Biology of Story goes live, so I’m going to be posting here in the leadup!

Home page


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The Master (Paul Thomas Anderson, USA) Very much a companion to Anderson’s Blood Will Have Blood, this is another richly detailed period piece about an intense, ambivalent relationship between a young man and an older, charismatic but monstrous mentor. Like its predecessor, the film provides no easy answers or directives as to how to interpret what we are seeing, other than perhaps to see the nature of character itself, or at least the American character, a little more clearly. Seems that for Anderson it’s a titanic, self-creating thing, stretched over a frightening void. The performances here by Philip Seymour Hoffman and Joaquin Phoenix are themselves titanic, elevating their characters to the scale of mythic giants. Seymour’s L. Ron Hubbard clone is beguiling and frightening, and Phoenix’s lost soul, cast adrift by his time in the war, is a genius-level film performance of great pathos. The post-WWII period is brought to life with great vitality and conviction.The film seems to be an allegory of the meaning of that time; Anderson is after something bigger than just the early days of a phony religion. Johnny Greenwood contributes one of the most sheerly masterful scores I’ve heard in ages. The film has the bottomless quality of really good art.

Free Angela and All Political Prisoners (Shola Lynch, USA) Radical chic, apparently, is not dead! Kind of amazing that TIFF presented this specialty-channel type doc as a Gala. It is absorbing viewing no doubt, and a story worth telling. Though it’s great to hear Angela Davis talk about her experiences, the film is pure hagiography, determined to avoid seeing anything from more than one point of view. It’s not that I want someone to speak up for Dick Nixon and Ronald Reagan. But when will we be able to take a more complex view of the sixties’ social conflicts instead of continuing to try to, at least implicitly, re-fight them? Yes, Angela’s acquittal was worthy of celebration. But that doesn’t mean the pretensions of radical ideology don’t deserve interrogation just as readily as the sanctimonious pronouncements of state power. The film is pure romance.


The Last Supper I can’t really review this movie. In spite of handsome production values, it seemed to be establishing itself with a mixture of bombast and pictorial stiffness that wasn’t promising, and I fled the cinema after a half an hour looking for something more appealing. Which proved to be:

Clip (Maja Milos, Serbia) This film boldly follows a bunch of Serbian teenagers, in particular, 16 year-old Jasna. Her and her friends’ lives mostly consist of honing their porn-star styles, and using their cell phones to videotape themselves having sex with their loutish boyfriends. The lead performance is a heartbreakingly vulnerable portrait of a teenager dangled like a puppet on a string by her hormones, her inability to connect with her family, and her desperation for the approval of her future wife-beater of a boyfriend. The setting is a relentlessly depressing suburb of run-down housing blocks, and one wonders if the teenagers’ hyperbolic vitality is a desperation to transcend it through the energies of their own bodies. In comparison, the adults seem already dead. On-screen sex acts raise the difficult-to-watch quotient considerably, but the film’s constant alternation of a clinically objective POV with the views of the characters’ own cell-phones works brilliantly throughout. Some have accused the director of being a provocateur, but I felt she was extremely true to her subject.



I Declare War (Jason Lapeyre & Robert Wilson, Canada) I loved the concept of this movie – an all out wargame between a bunch of barely pubescent boys — for about five minutes. By then it had become clear that the filmmakers were determined to have their cake and eat it too, treating the events as though they were a game and as though they were real, without distinction. (Either could have worked, or a gradual transition from one to the other; but the film fudges them from the very first.) This sets every scene against itself so that little of what the characters does makes any sense.  Stiff line readings of stylized dialogue from the young cast further enhance the impression of filmmakers too in love with their own ideas to think clearly about what they are doing. Visually and sonically the film is extremely impressive, especially given its probably very low budget. Now the filmmakers need to learn a few things about audience suspension of disbelief, and about working with actors. The movie sure looked like it was fun to make, though, and the young cast’s pleasure in the charade is probably what kept me in my seat — barely.

I Declare War

Room 237 (Rodney Ascher, USA) A movie about movies, or one movie in particular: The Shining, as watched obsessively by a number of interview subjects. We hear them talk about their theories while the filmmaker cannily uses clips from The Shining and a wide range of other films as illustrations. Most of the theories are surprisingly compelling, and the film provides a nice meditation on the way that movies knit themselves into our mental lives. The film does not judge the theories at all, which is probably good; in fact, though, it seems to believe in all of them, and a hundred others, since together they amount to an affirmation of the god-like mastery of the film director, for which Kubrick has always been the number one totem. As a result there is something curiously airless and joyless about the whole affair. Perhaps no consideration of art based on total control can be either satisfying or ultimately revealing.


Room 237

Show Stopper. (Barry Avrich, Canada) A jazzy documentary about the rise and fall of Canadian theatre and film impresario Garth Drabinsky. The film tells this story well, capturing its world-class ironies with precision through well-done interviews and tons of video clips. Ultimately more of a broadcast piece than a film festival work, but I did enjoy it.

Show Stopper


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TIFF 2012 Day Three

Cloud Atlas  (USA/Germany; The Wachowskis & Tom Tykwer) Wow. At the moment this feels like the most exciting mega-budget movie I’ve ever seen. Not just because the movie is an exciting experience, though it is, but because it genuinely, and with profound hope, opens up new storytelling doors. Deftly and purposefully weaving together six plotlines and six different movie genres – period adventure, period romance, conspiracy thriller, geezer comedy, cyber-punk, and post-apocalyptic adventure – it is also a terrifically original film of ideas. We already knew that The Wachowskis and Tykwer were genre stylists and technical virtuosos, but the big game they are after here – for me they bagged it, though the mass audience remains to be seen – is nothing less than inspiring the viewer with a new vision of humanity (and, incidentally, a post-genre cinema of the mainstream). I haven’t read David Mitchell’s novel – I certainly will now – but who would have expected the most thematically rich and spiritually provocative movie of the festival so far to be, from a financial point of view, the most mainstream? The strategy of giving its cast multiple roles is much more than gimmick, it’s an illustration of the film’s themes about the recurrent and evolutionary nature of experience. The relish the actors take in their characters is one of the deeply human pleasures that grounds the film.  Cloud Atlas clearly states its argument: “Our lives are not our own. From womb to tomb we belong to others. And with every crime and every kindness, we give birth to the future.” Against this, as spoken by all-purpose villain Hugo Weaving: “There is a natural order to this world, and those who try to upend it do not fare well.” To see the truth of the former statement, the filmmakers ask us to look to a broader horizon. They succeed brilliantly and honourably.


The Place Beyond the Pines (USA, Derek Cianfrance)I didn’t see Derek Cianfrance’s first film, Blue Valentine, but jeez, I will now. His new film has a faithfulness to character that put my heart into its hands, and swept me up into a compelling sense of moral hazard. It’s one of my favourite things in a story: the conviction that characters’ souls are hanging in the balance, that human choice is the most consequential thing in the universe. The film has a surprising three-part structure that works beautifully, following three interrelated characters in sequence; the structure is not some indie gimmick, but a simple and well-conceived method for exploring, in very particular terms, the universal need for redemption. The filmmaking is vivid and textured, and the performances have great dynamic range. My one complaint is the ripping off of Arvo Part (his piece Fratres, with a few notes rearranged) for the soundtrack. The tone is right but it’s never a good thing when a director falls in love with his temp music.

Dead Europe (Australia, Tony Krawitz) For much of this tightly woven allegory, the horror-movie sound design was getting on my nerves, given that it’s a naturalistic drama, not a horror movie. By the end, I realized, it is a horror movie – it even deals in the uncanny. But the horror is not that of serial killers or monsters, it’s the horror of history. This is what an Australian photographer visiting his parents’ Greek homeland for the first time discovers. He’s pooh-poohed his mother’s claim that a curse awaits him. In its unraveling, the story of one family becomes a deeply unsettling microcosm for the curses of history. A well made film that somehow manages to go down easy in spite of the heaviness of its subject, perhaps because of terrific performances, a dark wit, and a director tightly in control of his material.

Dead Europe

Call Girl (Sweden, Mikael Marciman) In spite of the stylish filmmaking and compelling 1970’s period recreation, Call Girl is badly undone by its lack of commitment to telling a story. It weaves together a vice investigation into a prostitution ring involving government figures, with the experiences of some girls being drawn into the ring. The filmmakers have it all figured out and give us nothing but a predetermined schematic, in which all the characters are types. No emotional involvement is achieved, and the morally complex terrain is so caricatured it seems that the intent is to prove a theorem that supposed sexual liberation is just a cover for predatory abuse. This is as valid a theme as any other, but it’s not dramatically earned here because there are only stick figures to enact it. Meanwhile, the film is quite happy to titillate its audience with nubile young bodies. The best thing is a turn by the brilliant Pernilla August who, with no help from the script, makes Madame Dagmar Glans into a fascinating and convincing character, showing how much a great actor can do just with bits of business.

Call Girl

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