Tag Archives: free

The Awesome Power of Journalism — Chai Jing’s “Under the Dome”

Under the Dome Chai Jing 1

by Gabriel Valdez

I may have just watched the best film of 2015. It is certainly the best job of pure reporting I have ever seen. It is Chai Jing’s Under the Dome, a documentary on China’s air pollution disaster.

The easiest comparison would be An Inconvenient Truth, but while the presentation is similar, Under the Dome is a different animal. Despite being loaded with even more information, it’s less science lecture and more personal journey. Chai takes you along the path an investigative reporter takes when following a story. She translates the excitement of discovery to her audience. Even when what she – and you – discovers is horrifying, she ties two pieces of information together, two threads of plot suddenly becoming one, and in doing so often reveals new information about how China’s government cheats its own rules and regulations.

After the self-financed film exploded – hundreds of millions of views in China in just a few days – China’s government effectively banned it. The sheer extent of investigative journalism Chai has undertaken, essentially dismantling the hypocrisy of whole sections of China’s government, is both staggering and audacious. This is reporting, this is a documentary, yes, but it’s also the most exciting thing I’ve seen this year.

Chai is an expert at using research to trap and evoke emotional responses from her interview subjects. This isn’t the baffled, bloviating mutterings we’re used to getting from the likes of Wolf Blitzer, Don Lemon, and Sean Hannity here in the U.S. This is reporting boiled down to its essentials – it’s striking how exciting journalism can be when it’s based on factual research, and not just the product of talking heads shouting at each other.

Essentially, Chai constructs a film – as director, host, and investigative reporter – that is one of the most nerve wracking yet enthralling journeys that I’ve had watching a movie in some time. She hits on all fronts – emotional, narrative, factual – but always relies on information to do it. Watching the film takes on a “just one more minute” feel. I intended to break it into two chunks when I saw it, but I just kept watching. One more minute. One more minute. I couldn’t take my eyes off. I had to know where Chai went next, what she uncovered next, what quote would get an official into trouble next.

There are artistic moments – a cute superhero cartoon illustrating how carcinogens in the air fight off our body’s immune system, an overwhelming photo collage that combines dozens of photographers taking pictures of dozens of cities’ smoggy skies every day for a year.

There are brave investigative moments – going undercover to record the pollution at an illegal steel plant, or setting up a road block to test illegally made trucks.

There are pointed yet fairly handled interviews in which Chai deftly corners officials with the sheer amount of research she’s done. This is a tremendously informative, artful, and skillfully made movie.

Under the Dome is freely watchable on YouTube. It is a staggering documentary achievement. I know the sun’s out this week. Much of the U.S. is enjoying its first glimpse of Spring after a bitterly tough Winter. But watch this film. Find the time.  At once, in chunks, I don’t care. Find a way. It might be the best film you’ll see this year. The YouTube video posted in the middle of this article – that’s the whole film. It’s free, it’s needed, it’s important.

Some films are undeniable. Under the Dome is already having an impact, sending ripples throughout China. All because one woman decided to be a good reporter in a world where that’s undervalued.

Go Watch “Face Off” While Every Episode is Free

Aphrodite by Dina Cimarusti

by Gabriel Valdez

If you’re anything like me, you’ve got about 40 feet of snow outside your door right now. You’re not sure if anyone is coming to get you. You’ve torn through your canned goods and you’re considering eating the cat while you’re still strong enough to take him.

Need something to while away the hours? Let me recommend Face Off. No, not the terrible Nic Cage/John Travolta movie where they toss doves at each other in slow motion. I mean the SyFy Channel competition where special effects makeup artists design new creatures and characters every week. They’re offering every episode free on the show’s homepage, and you should give it a try. I’ll give you three reasons why:

First off, many of the designs are incredible but more than any other competition show I’ve seen, Face Off delves into how they’re actually made. They make the design process accessible to laypeople and give you a sense of everything that can go right or wrong in the design, sculpting, molding, application, and painting phases. It’s an exciting look into the artistic process that shows like Star Trek and movies ranging from Beetlejuice to Guardians of the Galaxy employ.

Season 1 Conor

Secondly, there’s no drama. Let me repeat that, because it’s so utterly rare in competition shows: there’s no drama. The show regularly focuses on artists helping each other save a design or a mold, even though they’re in direct competition with each other. Where shows like Project Runway and America’s Next Top Model focus on (artificial) cattiness and petty sniping, Face Off just focuses on the creative process. There are occasional differences when artists work together, but Face Off presents those differences, shows how the artists work them out or fail to in relation to the design, and then moves on. It’s a big reason why I’m calling Face Off a competition show instead of a “reality” show. It’s a show about the artistic process of artists. If you’re looking for Real Housewives material, this is not the show for you.

Thirdly, the judges are people who make their living on their own designs. Glenn Hetrick has a practical TV makeup background including Angel and CSI. Neville Page is a creature designer and concept artist who’s worked on Prometheus and the recent Star Trek reboot. But they’re the appetizers. You really came for Ve Neill, who’s been nominated for 8 Oscars and won three: Beetlejuice, Mrs. Doubtfire, and Ed Wood. She lost on Edward Scissorhands, Hoffa, Batman Returns, and two Pirates of the Caribbean movies. Somehow, she hasn’t been nominated for The Hunger Games franchise. Maybe the Academy fell asleep. They don’t judge off personality, but focus on the artistry and screen-readiness of makeups, pointing out what they look for when designing for TV and film.

But the designs. I could tell you about them, or I can just share a handful of my favorites. If this is a subject that interests you at all, if you’ve ever watched a sci-fi or fantasy movie and wondered how they create characters, check out Face Off while they’re offering all 7 seasons of the show for free. Jump in anywhere, you won’t be disappointed. It is, arguably, the best competition show on TV right now.

Cubism by Laura TylerSeason 5 by RoyBurton Bellboy by RJ HaddyBurton challengeWerewolf by TylerDemon by Laura TylerFingers by Graham