April 9, 2014

Can Bringing the Principles of Light & Optics to Children Preserve Cultures, Save Cinema?

Ever since the Lumiere brothers projected their first film to the public -- a train arriving at a station -- cinema burst into the world as the newest and most populist art, beating out books, theater, and radio. Today, where is the popular future of movies headed if films become increasingly relegated to a small, elite group of people who get to make and watch them? Jose Carlos Zavarse Pinto and Irene Garibay are setting out to bring movies to a small village in Venezuela. And no, it's not to show them the latest comic-book-smurfs-street-racing blockbusters, but rather, to have them create their own cinema. Below, Jose talks to No Film School about his project, and how filmmaking can be used to preserve or promote culture across the world.

After hearing a children's orchestra from a small town of Kumarakapay, Venezuela on the radio, Jose and Irene got the idea to travel there and meet the kids behind the beautiful music. From there, they realized the potential of this small town and this group of kids to embrace alternative methods of filmmaking to express their culture. For the last two years, the two have been working between the Luz Y Fuerza collective who do workshops throughout Latin America and Kumarakapay to get cinema into the hands of these youngsters. Jose sat down with us to talk about the project, which is currently campaigning on Indiegogo.

NFS: Talk to us about the technical aspects of building mini projectors. How do they work? How do the kids use them to create their own cinematic experiences?

JCZP: First of all, they are called Frankies (like Frankenstein, get it?) they are built with a wood rail, a light bulb and 4 optical elements. We try to build them with the cheapest magnifying glasses we can find. You can take any object and put it between the magnifiers and it'd make something cool on the wall. You can put different color filters on top of the bulb. But it becomes truly magical when there's more than one Frankie projecting on a big wall. It's some kind of strange interaction in which you and the people who are operating the other projectors are working together to bring motion out of still objects by using the basic elements of filmmaking. It's like next level shadow puppets!

NFS: You have an Indiegogo campaign for the workshop to make these projectors, but also for an experimental doc that will incorporate what stories kids create with their projectors. What's the purpose of the documentary? 

JCZP: We want people to join us on a journey to the world's heart and understand how the process of creation can bring about a new understanding of ourselves and that money nor technological advances are required to actually make something worthwhile. The end goal of the workshop is to make an improvisational live film to be performed and we'll use this to thread the documentary together.

Kumarakapay is next to mount Roraima one the oldest flat mountains in the world. A Pemon (the tribe that inhabits the area) tale says that Roraima is the stump of the tree that fell to give life to the world. It's a very special place and  the group of children that we are going to work with are very special. They still live in a more analog world, they have a strong connection with their environment and can even mock their sounds to perfection. We want them to guide us through their culture and traditions as they learn about filmmaking. I think they are not aware of how this characteristics make them special and the world isn't either.

NFS: What's your background in filmmaking? Projectionist?

JCZP: Initially I went to Ringling College of Arts and Design for Filmmaking, but as soon as I learned about the Frankies I changed my major to Photography. They have a more experimental and documentary oriented program. We have an experimental film club called MANA and we've managed to have gallery shows and even a museum exhibit. But we really owe it all to our friends from Luz y Fuerza in Mexico.

NFS: What do you see as the importance of bringing cinema to this community, or kids in general? 

JCZP: Well, nowadays I see kids everywhere playing with iPads or anything that has a touchscreen. A few months ago I gave a Casette tape to my cousin and he didn't know what it was or even how to open it, he actually pulled out his phone took a picture of it and the phone told him what it was. All modern projectors (and cameras) can be operated by pressing a button. We have become automatic and less physical.

The Frankies are between the physical and non physical world. they enable you to understand the principles of light and optics as you create images that are intangible. Kumarakapay is a village of artisans and musicians with barely any written history and this is affecting their conservation of traditions. Perhaps learning about filmmaking can help them promote traditions and their culture amongst the younger generations. It may give a different vantage point to its inhabitants about themselves. We also see the final product of the documentary as a reference that they will be able to look back at in the future.

NFS: If there are No Film School readers who are ex-projectionists or just global cinema enthusiasts, can we come along and create cinema with you and the kids? (Mostly kidding -- or am I?!)

JCZP: Well, actually one of our Indiegogo perks has that as the prize. Another prize is that you get your own frankie. Also, anyone who shares our project on Twitter or Facebook will get  a video on how to make your own Frankie!

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Thank you, Jose!

If you'd like to get your own Frankie, or otherwise be a part of the Extended Symphony Project, check out their Indiegogo project here.

What do you think of the approach of this project, and what are your thoughts on storytelling through film across the world?

Link: Expanded Symphony Kumarakapay -- Indiegogo

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3 Comments

Somebody should start a camera drive for these kids, people (like me) I'm sure have old video cameras lying around that work and they dont use. I have an old flip and a Sony handycam Somenidy gave me 7 years ago. I never used it, it's just lying around, I would surely donate them for a good cause.

April 9, 2014 at 9:30AM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Anthony Marino

I want a Frankie! This is really cool.

April 9, 2014 at 8:35PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Micah Van Hove
Writer
director, producer, dp

Thank you guys for looking at our project!!

April 10, 2014 at 1:05PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Jose