Saturday, June 23, 2007

A Battle Won Against Broadcast Rights

The Electronic Frontier Foundation is one of the major defenders against the insidious nature of broadcast rights (see the post below). Apparently, against all odds, the EFF has scored a victory for fair use and freedom everywhere. Boing-Boing (another champion in this campaign) has the update. I'll quote their summation of the WIPO's ruling because I legally can now:
"This week saw a new meeting on the treaty with the Chairman of the committee ignoring his orders from the WIPO General Assembly (which instructed him to prepare a treaty that stopped people from stealing cable, but didn't create this para-copyright regime), pushing for a rapid movement to a "diplomatic conference," the final step on the way to a global treaty. It looked bad for our heroes.

But the representatives of the world's governments wouldn't be railroaded. After a week of hard debate, all motion to a diplomatic conference has been abandoned. Instead, this has been turned into just another regular agenda item for future meetings, as in "OK, onto that broadcast treaty: is everyone in favor of this yet? No? OK, next item."

This is a gigantic victory for our side. When we started going to the World Intellectual Property Organization, we had no idea how we would manage it. There is no constitution to appeal to there. They control the venue and call the shots. But we went in and blogged the negotiations (the first ever look inside the sausage factory of a UN treaty negotiation), bringing unparalleled transparency to the negotiations. We rallied dozens of other organizations to come to Geneva. We argued. We posted guards over our position papers when someone started to throw them in the bathrooms and hide them behind the plants (first they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you -- then you win!). We slashdotted them. We wrote them letters. We went all over the world and talked to librarians, activists, and hackers. We proposed a better treaty that would limit copyright around the world and give rights to archivists, educators and disabled people to use and preserve creative works.

We kicked ass.

And we won. (For now.)"

Thursday, June 21, 2007

NPR & PBS Defend Fair Use

As a documentary filmmaker, I'm a big advocate of fair use. Fair use is that provision in copyright law that allows people to use a fair portion of a copyrighted work in an essay, critique, news story or commentary. It's why people are able to make a documentary like Outfoxed and not have to clear the clips from Fox News that are being called into question (and Fox, notorious for coming after anyone who disagrees with them, could do nothing about it).

Is it any wonder then that the North American Broadcasters Association (NABA) is lobbying the UN's World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) for what they call broadcast rights? A group that consists of CBS, NBC, PBS, NPR, Direct TV... and Fox Broadcasting.

Broadcast rights would belong to media companies that broadcast other people's copyrighted works. They aren't subject to the same fair use limits as copyright. That means if a filmmaker, news organization or blogger invokes fair use by recording a broadcast for criticism or parody, they still need to separately clear broadcast rights.

This is to combat piracy, says the NABA.

Yet another way to control the freedom of information, says I.

But wait! There are heroes in this battle. NPR and PBA published this response to the notion of broadcast rights.

"National Public Radio and the Public Broadcasting Service do not support a Diplomatic Conference to adopt a treaty based on the April 20, 2007 non-paper because they do not believe the treaty provides adequate protection for the fair use of broadcast and cablecast matter for newsgathering and other purposes. Bell ExpressVu does not support a Diplomatic Conference because it believes the proposed exclusive retransmission right exceeds what is necessary to prevent signal piracy or protect investment and does not contain a reservation that would permit a signatory to limit or not apply the application of the retransmission right."
Yet despite NABA by-laws which require a super-majority consensus before presenting policy statements to WIPO, the other members went ahead and did it anyway... thumbing their nose at NPR and PBS.

For more on this issue, visit Boing-Boing and Public Knowledge. At least there's someone watching our freedom.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Dramatic Chipmunk

This is the funniest video I've seen this year. And it's only 5 seconds.

Give this chipmunk an Oscar!

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Leave Sir Salman Alone

It's time for radical Muslims to get over themselves... again. There! I've said it.

Author Salman Rushdie has been chosen to receive a knighthood in Great Britain and, Iranian and Pakistani rabble rousers wasted no time in claiming insult.

For those who don't remember, there was a fatwa placed on Rushdie's life when he wrote The Satanic Verses in 1989. The reason was because Rushdie, in his work of fantastic fiction about the cosmic battle of good & evil, portrayed the Prophet Muhammad in an unfavorable light.

Look, if something insults your religion, you have fair cause to be pissy. But to turn it into a political incident is doing something far worse than an outsider making light of your Prophet... it's exploiting your Prophet for political gain.

When are the religious going to be able to take it on the other cheek? We live in a world with many different beliefs. Not everyone is going to subscribe to yours (nor should they). Whatever faith you align yourself with should be strong enough to withstand contrary opinions. Islam hasn't survived for this many centuries because it has feet of clay or a jaw of glass.

Now, we all know this outcry from Iran and Pakistan really has little to do with Rushdie's being honored. It's yet another way to voice their dissatisfaction with the West's action in their neighborhood (and I'll admit they have a long enough list). But this thing with Salman Rushdie is petty.

Evangelical Christians overreact like this all the time and they're bloody annoying. There's also been some overreactions from our own (Christian) President. Learn from their mistakes. Their errs don't give you license to be just as bad.

Realize there are going to be people who disagree with you, take comfort in the fact that your faith is impregnable to sticks and stones, and button it!

Congratulations, Sir Salman!!

Thursday, June 14, 2007

An Italian Boy's Confession

This is a naughty little tale, but fun. Thanks to Iva for passing it on.
"Bless me Father, for I have sinned. I have been with a loose girl".
The priest asks, "Is that you, little Johnny Parisi?"
"Yes, Father, it is."
"And who was the girl you were with?"
"I can't tell you, Father, I don't want to ruin her reputation."
"Well, Johnny, I'm sure to find out her name sooner or later, so you may
as well tell me now. Was it Tina Minetti?"
"I cannot say."
"Was it Teresa Volpe?"
"I'll never tell."
"Was it Nina Capelli?"
"I'm sorry, but I cannot name her."
"Was it Cathy Piriano?"
"My lips are sealed."
"Was it Rosa Di Angelo, then?"
"Please, Father, I cannot tell you."
The priest sighs in frustration. "You're very tight lipped, Johnny Parisi,
and I admire that. But you've sinned and have to atone. You cannot be an
altar boy now for 4 months. Now you go and behave yourself."
Johnny walks back to his pew, and his friend Nino slides over and
whispers, "What'd you get?"
"Four months vacation and five good leads."

Monday, June 11, 2007

Is Horror Dead?

**as posted on Wyrdstuff**

The murmuring started when Grindhouse took a dive at the box office. Horror (at least the current wave) was over.

But the more prudent among us weren't going to play the alarmist game. One film can falter for many reasons. Grindhouse had a lot going against it (long running time, Easter weekend, limited premise).

Not to mention, everyone was in the horror biz. Movies. TV. Comics. The market was oversaturated to say the least. Even I couldn't look at another zombie thing. And I love zombies. My best friend is a zombie.

Now Hostel: Part II has opened at #6 for its first weekend. $8.75 million. Below estimates and the first film's surprising take.

Listen... you can hear those murmurings again (the morbid buggers). Is horror dead this time?

More...There are many reasons why Hostel: Part II could have stumbled. There was more than enough competition in theaters (Pirates 3, Ocean's 13, Knocked Up etc.). People are still debating the appeal of what some has dubbed "torture porn". It's also a sequel. Sequels rarely make as much as the original.

Hostel: Part II is also a horror film (please hold your "No, duhs!"). Despite the growing respectability over the last few years, horror is still an acquired taste for many. Most people don't get its appeal. Sure, they like to be scared, but usually in an escapist way.

Eli Roth and his partners in splatter make their brand of horror for horror fans. They are fans themselves and were disappointed at all the PG-13 fare that was passing itself as the real stuff. Horror, for them, should be visceral. It should hit you in the gut. Below the belt. Anywhere it can leave a mark.

Horror should scar you. It should stay with you long after you leave the theater. Think of it as adrenaline residue. As far back as Psycho, people knew that film was effective horror when people stayed clear of showers (and it was horror no matter what snooty cinephiles want to believe).

Jaws... the water. Texas Chainsaw... redneck territory. Halloween... the suburbs. Hostel... well, hostels. The Eastern European ones anyway.

The current splatter films scarred as well as scared. Initially. Now, as with anything, filmmakers have gone back to the gore well too many times and without enough variety.

We can blame Hollywood for this. Horror films were a dream come true for the studios. For once they had a formula for box office success. Horror films didn't need to cost much. They didn't need stars. Their fan base was loyal and willing to sit through utter shit on the off chance something good would pop up.

Low cost = bigger returns

But, as the new wave of horror grew fat, the budgets bloated as well. There was nothing wrong with Grindhouse as far as level of gore or its filmmaking in general. The thing cost over $60 million, though. The built in fans came out for Grindhouse no problem, but at $60 million a film needs to reach beyond the die hards.

That's a problem for horror, though. As I said, most people don't understand the appeal of horror... especially gore. What made Wolf Creek, Saw, and the first Hostel so successful (from a business stand point) was that they were made for essentially indie budgets. They only needed to last past the first weekend and champagne was popped. That pop made others curious. They checked these films out, saw they were actually more than guignol and, what do you know, more champagne. Pink with running blood.

Audiences had never experienced horror turned up to 11. Whatsmore, these films were smart. Characters still went off alone when a killer was on the loose, but they were more fleshed out than in the 70s. Then Joe Bob Briggs' phrase "spam in a cabin" could refer to the IQ of horror movie victims as well as what was left of them after the machete.

Sequels (and remakes) is what studios are offering as horror these days. Do they scare? Mostly. In a roller coaster kind of way. But audiences and their tastes know when they're being served meatloaf again. They'll only eat it so many times before giving sushi a try.

I was actually shocked that Eli Roth chose Hostel: Part II as his next film. He'd already been there. Already done that. Same with Rob Zombie. The Devil's Rejects was an entirely different kind of film than House of 1,000 Corpses (despite Rejects essentially being a sequel. Remaking Halloween, though, doesn't seem to be a stretch on par with what Zombie enjoys, however. (Though, to be fair, Zombie's Halloween is clearly a different take on the subject matter. If anyone can re-invent Michael Myers, I have faith that Zombie is that person. We'll see soon enough.)

Sequels, by their very nature, fall into one up-manship (the same but more of it). One up-manship can only carry a film so far, however, and in horror one usually outdoes oneself with blood.

Spraying blood is easy. Making it count for something is a little more difficult (and in horror it should always count for something). The gross out is perfectly acceptable. People (even the uninitiated) expect it. What they don't expect is something that gets under your skin. Most people don't think horror films are clever enough to do this. That's why, when they do (like The Exorcist, The Hills Have Eyes or Dawn of the Dead) they last forever.

Now this is easier said than done. I wish there was an easy method to getting under people's skin. For awhile, visceral gore was doing the trick. Now people are hip to it. More effort is required.

I'm not advocating a return to denatured horror films. Horror is nothing without its teeth. To paraphrase Clive Barker, it must break taboos. But, if Grindhouse and Hostel: Part II are symptoms of something more malignant, horror needs to shake things up again.

Is horror dead? Never. Not in a million years. People like to be scared. They like to face their own mortality. The dark side. The abyss. Whatever lurks beyond our ken sporting a chainsaw, tentacles or fangs. By doing so, we know we're alive. And, in the theater, it's a lot safer than doing it for real.

But nouveau horror filmmakers do need to live up to their promise a little more. They are horror's ambassadors. The reason horror was crossing over was the talent and audacity on display in their films. It brought outsiders into the dark where they were rewarded for their bravery with something more than Karo syrup and latex bits. As were we fans.

Saturday, June 09, 2007

ONCE... the best film of the year!

I recently saw Once. It's a Dublin made musical / romance and perhaps the most moving film in recent memory.

Cinematically it's quite simple. Almost handmade in the rough videography. The performances and music, however, are impossible to shake. In fact, Once has only grown deeper into my mind.

It's about a Dublin street musician who meets a Czechoslovakian woman while he's singing on the street. It is the music that attracts them and, through their songs together, we learn all about their inner emotions and history.

The two unknown leads Glen Hansard and Markéta Irglová possess wells of natural talent. Hansard is already established as a musician in Ireland with his band The Frames.

The director of Once is John Carney. His film won Sundance. Now it seems to be winning audiences in search of alternatives to bloated blockbusters. Once is more than that. It's proof that magnificence is still possible in movies... mainly by being simple and true.


Friday, June 08, 2007

Stem Cell Illogic

Jerry Zucker, producer/director of Airplane! and the Naked Gun films, has made this short illustrating the ludicrous position of George W. Bush on stem cell research.

A bill has recently passed the House of Representatives that would expand funding for embryonic stem cell research. Bush has made it clear he would veto such a bill. Despite the fact that this research can and will save lives.

I've said it before and I'll say it again. "What a dunderhead!"