What is Cinema Journalism and Why it Matters Most for New Generations
“The stories have really brought worldly conflicts to the table and have shown the disparities of diverse human views”, 22-year old Steffi from the Phillipines told the Guardian newspaper.
You’d be forgiven for thinking Steffi, like other interviewees, are debating Victor Orbán’s endgame with the EU or the global pandemic but, no. She’s referring to the world’s most profitable movie Marvel’s Avengers Endgame.
“Why is it young people will watch fictional cinema of an event but they won’t bother with the same one in news?”, asks 25-year-old Wenwen from China. Why is it that cinema or gaming and its schema is rarely used as a narrative for news? ‘Reality is broken’ proclaims Jane McGonigal in her incisive book.
And if your starting point is to ridicule the last para, then you’ve forgotten news making is itself a conscious patterned construct derived from cinema, before it was jettisoned for reasons that may surprise you. I spent more than two decades working in the industry,
Fifteen years ago I led a team of international journalists through Nato’s simulated war games program. It was a high profile project in which we travelled from Northolt’s military base to Sweden on her Majesty’s Royal jet. You can see the insignia above the headrest on my seat. Outside the plane a fighter jet accompanied us in British airspace.
The military wanted to know more about how the media might cover asymmetric wars. Fictional Cinema and the Military is not an anathema.
We’re in a ditch trying to report on a car full of injured people. But surrounding us are snipers who’ve trained their laser scope on us. What do we do? This is gaming at the level of realism, and for me it‘s not the first time. I told brass about an emerging phenomenon in journalism and how a generation related to news through a cinematic and cognitive-gaming experience.
“It’s not entirely new” I said, “you could go back to Star Wars which represented the conflict between super powers”. But something else was happening amongst the socially media literate. Mind you, it was always there. It’s just the pioneers chose to ignore it.
They couldn’t see past cinema not being entirely fictional. Furthermore it was too visually complicated, too expensive to produce and the pioneers needed a new format to take on fictional cinema shown in halls. That’s how capitalism works. Tech creates a new platform and early entrepreneurs and adopters reshape how content works. You’ve seen it in TikTok, Instragram, Mobiles etc.
TV did steal cinemas language, they just parred it down. A decade later the father of cinema verite Robert Drew would accuse the industry of taking his equipment but abandoning his style and technique.
When Cinema met Journalism
At the World Editors Forum in Sweden to a gathering of hundreds of people I said the innovative one man/ woman crew as video journalists were driving this new style. It wasn’t focused on equipment per se. Video, Mobile, Drone, have all acquired styles of journalism in themselves but attached to modes of equipment. Video that could become cinema journalism was more meta.
A cinema journalist approaches a story like a director on a movie set. What can I use to best tell this story? It’s a mindset. This was made in 2005 way before TikTok. Cinema journalists collapse multiple disciplines around their endeavour and the means to and end is a creative, purposeful, emotive and factual. It’s everything from langue, mise-en-scène, location, sound, voice and style.
In the UK working with the Press Association over five years I’d transformed Britain’s regional journalist from writers to video journalists. It was a success in conversion, but new practitioners easily defaulted to styles they lifted from traditional journalism seen on television, particularly the BBC. One attendant wrote:
At a summit at CUNY in New York of I joined twenty of the world’s leading media. Vice.com had caught the media by storm and was about to go on Television. I wrote How Vice had become the Voice of a Generation which aligned with this new universe of styles in cinema and something I called the Outernet.
I knew Cinema Journalism worked. One of the US’ most sought after awards and its judges said so as I stood at the lectern at one of their august institutions. I was talking at the National Press Club in DC as the Knight Batten Awards gave me first place for innovation, beating Newsweek, CNN et al. They said it ( cinema journalism ) and the platform heralded the future.
A year later, International judges in Berlin thought the same way too, for a feature I made on the UK’s first regional newspapers turned videojournalists after 8 days of training them.
Apple would give me engage me three separate times at their flagship store in London, with an accompanying profile.
In 2016 as a judge for the Royal Television Society Awards we all watched in awe a documentary which was cinema-documentary par excellence, For Sama, but prior to that its maker Waheed had filed piece after piece of journalism for Channel 4 News aping cinema’s language in shot continuity. Four years earlier on the Syrian border I was working with young Syrian videojournalists who were also adopting cinema tropes. Waheed, I discovered when I met her knew key members of the group.
Trust in news over the years has hit low points. It is compounded by news execs telling the same old stories in the same styles as competing media such as Netflix, TikTok, YouTube and Snapchat aggressively compete for attention. Illiberalism has also thrown a spanner into the works.
Fictional cinema continues to borrow from an array of medium including news to forge its narratives whilst experimenting with different ways to tell a story. Meanwhile, newsmakers steadfastly refused to see what cinema and cognitivism in gaming could offer.
It sounds confusing, even alarming that any mention of journalism or factual storytelling should include cinema, or gaming in the same breath. Yet some of the world’s leading figures don’t see confusion. Documentary maker Michael Moore says stop trying to make a documentary and make a movie. Martin Scorsese sees the fusion in this short clip. It’s a question of self control.
Sixty years ago the pioneer of the mobile news camera Robert Drew posed the question in the overlap of forms. In an interview with him in 2010 he would repeat that whilst TV News people took his equipment they largely ignored his techniques. Reporters, for instance, talk over strong pictures but a generation will uncover future forms that build on his work, he told me (below). Robert Drew was called the father of Cinema Verite or Direct Cinema. He was an out and out newsman.
Movements have a life of their own. In 1994 the birth of videojournalism in the UK really took off when five years later the BBC provided it with critical mass. Hence, last week represented a significant breakthrough in the relationship between journalism and cinema when one of the UK’s most respected journalists and his camera man won Television Journalism’s highest awards from The Royal Television Society (RTS).
The BBC’s Clive Myrie with his camera operator David McIlveen were independently awarded in their respected categories Best Television Journalist of the year and Best Camera Operator of the Year. Clive also won Best News Presenter of the Year.
Working on stories as diverse as COVID-19 and Trump’s America during the election, they produced television that was compelling viewing. It fired up twitter with resounding praise and left some journalists wondering how the team had done it.
I saw the news films when they were broadcast last year. They looked nothing like you’d usually see on television news.
Through friends I managed to get an interview with Clive whom I’d met at previous events. We’d been exchanging emails. Asking open questions, Clive provided answers that referenced cinema. That research remains to be produced at large but listen here to what he says as part of three-part question.
And here’s the denouement when I showed it to 80 young people I met for the first time studying to become journalists, they too saw connections. From open questions almost all agreed it was cinema or nearer to cinema.
I’ve only scratched the surface in this article in which there is no essence of cinema. There are trends throughout history of emerging forms and practitioners like Clive, David and many others like Raul Gallego Abellan are the ones shinning a light on it.
I t’s not a matter of if, but when, and I wager that Clive’s work, coupled with others I’ve researched will give further impetus to this form. It needs to be recognised for its nuanced approach and how it’s accepted by young and mature generations. It also opens up a new expansive world of reportage. Let the training soon begin.
If you’d like to get in touch with me you can reach me at Gyimahd@Cardiff.ac.uk
Dr David Dunkley Gyimah is an international multi award winning journalist and innovator who’s reported from conflict zones in Apartheid South Africa and along the Syrian border. He’s worked for top brands in news and startups. He’s a former artist-in-residence at the UK Southbank Centre and specialises in Human Centred Design Thinking in storytelling running the Futures Story LAB at @Jomec.