What happened to the radical claims being made about Digital Video only a few years ago? It was predicted that DV would lower the cost of cinema and allow a much broader array of perspectives to be heard. Blair Witch Project in the United States and the Dogma movement in Europe were seen as the forerunners of a new cinematic style – raw edged, intimate, and radical. Some saw it as the revitalization of cinema verite, the post-war documentary school which sought to observe the real world with minimal directorial intervention.
Writing at Braintrustdv.com, a new site for filmmakers, critics, and fans interested in digital filmmaking, Nick Rombes argues that as DV has gone mainstream, it has mostly been used in conservative ways that undercut the truly transformative potential of the technology. He laments the relatively traditional forms and practices found in recent DV productions such as Tadpole or Pieces of April. Instead, he finds the most innovative work in the least expected place.
Rombes writes, “if we look at another DV production company–the United States military–we see a rawer, more experimental aesthetics of DV filmmaking emerging, one that borrows in terms of its theory and its production tactics many of the signature characteristics of the Dogme 95 movement. How, well-meaning theorists might ask, has it come to pass that the most startling cinema verite of 2003 was the film of the captured Saddam Hussein in what looked like the prologue to a snuff film, recorded on a Sony PD 150, the camera of choice for the U.S. military in Iraq? Sergeant Wesley Wooden, a combat cameraman, has said that “Basically what we’re trained for is that the camera is our first weapon…We’re lucky enough to carry pistols. It gives you some more protection. You can shoot and shoot at the same time.”
If cinema has returned to military use, then it has come full circle, since many argue that it was the development of light-weight, portable cameras for use in documenting troop movements during World War II which enabled the work of filmmakers like Richard Leacock, Robert Drew, Frederick Wiseman, D.A. Pennebaker, and the Mayles Brothers in the first place. Taking their cameras to the streets, they were able to observe everyday people doing everyday things and bring them back to us with extraordinary directness and intimacy.