Cinema is a future of journalism, but in 2025 of course you knew that already.
Ihad just won the Batten Awards in the US just over a decade ago. The site was heralded as ‘foreshadowing the future’. The future of the web is video and radio (podcasts) and texts. Nothing to shout about now, but pre-YouTube, that wasn’t the case. But what was the thinking behind this?
History? The 1960s, 1920s, 1800s, and so on has been characterised by leaps in artistic practice and technology.
Greek architects based their work on the Euclid’s postulates. Da Vinci’s artistic drawings foresaw aerial flight. Giotto’s perspective in art posited new thinking in Geometry…then there’s the impressionist movement and Einstein’s special theory of relativity. At half the speed of light, space compresses and looks more like 2D. Impressionism painting ripped classical paintings’ perspective apart. Cubism, and the artistic approach by Cezanne delineated in Erle Loran’s book shows how he would foresee 360 vision, more presciently today 360 camera. In Dr. Vannevar Bush’s seminal 1945 article “As We May
Think”, the Net materialises as a place, a Memex to share knowledge. The Bauhaus school Art and Technology — a new Unity, heralded a design aesthetic in the 1923 via Walter Gropius emerging from an industrial, political and technological revolution in which the movement’s influences would be many, such as Apple.
Yes, there is art in all forms and that artistic vision, which often predates prototypes, ridiculed at first that provide insights into what next? Of course there are many mis hits e.g. the Sinclair car, but these visions re-materialise. Those voices, and day dreams peering outside, from lone individuals, resonate doppler-style eventually.
As the child of African parents, I was destined by my father to become a medic. It took rebelling my father’s wishes and 15 years of no contact with each other, before our relationship healed. I realised I loved art, as much as technology. I would graduate in Applied Chemistry (chemistry and maths) at Demontfort University Leicester (now famous too for its football team).
I’d found work across Television, Radio (BBC World Service — President Mandela’s election), and print within a spectrum of the BBC, Channel 4 and ABC News, amongst other, from the late 80s. They were difficult times — and why not — but I continued to dream. For the elections we worked with actor Danny Glover and then on a later assignment interviewed Quincy Jones in Soweto.
In 1994 came one of the most remarkable events in my life then, and even now. I with 29 other young people became the UK’s first videojournalists — a wierdish practice in which we did everything, the web came on my radar from this item I’m presenting. This is what the web looked like in 1995. Funny eh!
Technologists and writers in specialists magazines like Video Age spoke of the magic whopping 8m bit number. But that like all numbers that pose limits would soon be breached, and what then? An early prognosis was it would be the equivalent of watching television.
At that time, the maximum rate was 28k, jumping to 256k in 1998 and you still had to wait for the whole film to download over lengthy periods of waiting.
This knowledge for any millennial thinker at a time when 1gb downloads are present is another conflict of confirmation bias (go to part 1 for explanation). It sounds too ridiculous to countenance. Many ideas do at a momentary time and place, in spite of hermeneutics and heuristic — fields of interpretation to create knowledge to varying degrees.
The elegance of talking in 16 second sound bites
So why cinema?
Imagine this thought experiment. Imagine you were born post-2006 into a world where speaking in 140 characters at a time was the norm. On average that’s around 6 seconds. So you spoke for 6 seconds, paused to indicate a full stop, before you started again. We called this mode of speaking tweets (obviously!) and they’d be the primary way to deliver information.
Then one day, someone broke the mould and spoke for longer, using strange patterns. A scholar identified these patterns as irony, metonyms, puns, poetry, narrative in media res and so on. Some of these you’d come across in tweets, but not like this, not this rich.
There was great excitement when this happened, for somehow we would have discovered elongated speech, a richer form of tweets. An expert reminded us that this is how it used to be before 2006.
This in fact is a rediscovery because before then our language was more expressive. But we could now build upon what we’ve known from the past. Some of us on finding out about this for the first time become visibly shocked in 2025. How could this be? An illusion of explanatory depth. (go to part 1 for explanation)
The analogy with television video and cinema is not far fetched. Cinema came first. It did not mean fiction. Cinema for the Italian futurists in 1900 meant a rich new form of narrative that could not be replicated in any other form. For instance how do you capture silence with close-up facial emotions in any other medium? Advanced further, the Lumieres (pioneers of film) created short factual cinema.
But a French magician Georges Méliès would go one step further creating fictional cinema par excellence in A Trip to the Moon (1902). Meanwhile, the Russians set about building a powerful mixture of factual and fictional cinema spearheaded by the likes of , Alexander Drankov, Vertov and Eisenstein.
But it was the emergence of Hollywood that killed of the idea of factual cinema, and their aggressive marketing during the wars closed down other forms of cinema, particularly, in enemy territories. By the time television news arrived forty years later, there were several reasons the news pioneers at the BBC and NBC eschewed cinema.
It was too far recognised as fictional, cost too much because of its elaborate set ups and camera use (no longer an issue today). It incorporated a language journalists would either not learn or little understood. What happens if I cross the line whilst filming, they asked. It’s a rule that you should never ‘cross the line’ was the answer.
Meanwhile, in Stagecoach (1939) starring John Wayne, the director continually crosses the line to provide the drama and excitement of the chase. Hidden meaning (and for good reasons too) was too much for journalism at that time, because of yellow journalism and the need for empiricism.
Incidentally, during the birth of Hollywood, it was mainly women who worked behind the scenes. Men thought it beneath them and it was only until Wall Street money poured into Hollywood that the suits took over.
But all that was then, new paradigms exist to overcome some of the issues today.
A couple of years ago, I tested this and a wider thesis, both pragmatically and theoretically gaining my PhD from University College Dublin. The research covered six years and several countries, China, Egypt, and near the border of Syria, which had its moments. (Snapshot photos below). And it involved engaging with the most incredible people, such as Robert Drew, the father of Direct Cinema whom has since passed away.
Here’s the rub, if I have excited you by now. Cinema is not homogenous, it is culturally-bound, and it constantly evolves. That’s why Bollywood films might not appeal to Scandinavian audiences or Nollywood lovers and African mysticism can seem bewildering. Yet inherent in its various forms is a language that appeals to its constituents. It tells stories in a myriad ways that affect your emotionally.
Hollywood’s film form, accompanied by much marketing has done a lot to make us view this as the norm. Just like television, the medium has taught us how to read and decode it.
But, and here’s the but, in a multi-cultured world, where people will learn richer forms of visual expression to appeal to their audiences, they will begin to discard some, not all, tenants that tied us down to a variegated- worn form of television news.
Once too they tire of cinematic moments as they did a 100 years ago, they’ll create longer narratives. Then the tech will serve the purpose as it does for fictional filmmakers. Who knows glass might even make a come back in a virtual space.
Cinema’s diversity is its appeal to different groups and that it envelopes a broad spectrum of styles that have since been atomised by journalism, such as data, drone and motion graphics.
In fact, the move to spectrums of cinema is already happening. It’s cinema, but not as we know it.
This is the video I made to capture cinema journalism. There’s still much to be done to educate.
Dr David Dunkley Gyimah is a senior lecturer at the University of Westminster, which is one of the UK’s leading media research institutes. This is an abridge post of a performance presentation he is giving to the BFI Media Conference on Cinema Journalism and how audiences comprehend factual stories. Please share if you can.
His views have been shared in academic books such (see Godwin, 2008); (see Bradshaw & Rohumaa, 2013, p.106 ); (Hudson & Rowlands, 2007, p.301); (Sterling & Lewis, 2009, p 1423) and The Documentary Handbook in which the author Peter Lee-Wright (2009) writes that ‘His [Gyimah’s] conception of video-journalism stands in start contrast to the newspapers and broadcasters who see VJs as cheap alternative to crews and traditional work practices’ (p.44).
You can follow David here @viewmagazine