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Digital Sketches

digital citizen media, ict with a focus on Central Asia and the Middle East.

Category Archives: central asia

Taking some days off to dive into the yearly International Documentary Festival Amsterdam (IDFA) is one of the biggest treats I can dream of. Most of my festival days start with a huge cup of Americano before I disappear in to cinemas around the Rembrandts square. In between the films I am having coffee and later on wine breaks with friends, filmmakers and other visitors of the festival. Only the hideous Christmas market (Winterland) – filling up almost the whole square – is a disturbing pain in the eyes and ears this year. Ignoring this foolish market as much as possible and watching about 20 films I enjoyed the IDFA 2010 until the very last-minute. A top 3 through the eyes of an advanced amateur:

1. Feathered Cocaine, by Arnarson and Hardarson Alan Parrot was falconer for the Sjah of Iran. Now smugglers are trading – many times illegal – falcons to obsessed oil sheikhs. To the wealthy elite throughout the Arab region falcon hunting is a passion beyond compare. Bedouin tribes of the past used the falcon for hunting game that formed a nutritionally important part of their diet. Today this is no longer necessary but the falcon remains an part of the Arab’s lifestyle and tradition and falconry is an important sporting activity. As a result of the illegal trade certain falcon species are becoming increasingly rare in the wild. Parrot commits himself to the preservation of this endangered species. He devoted himself to his very passionate objective and learns about coincidentally the place of one of Osama Bin Laden’s hunting camp in Iran. This is the place where Bin Laden stays with his entourage and four falcons during the hunting season – October until March.

Strangely enough, the US authorities are not interested in the seemingly solid information and direct sources of Parrot. Maybe because I watched American Coupe (see below) the day before; but somehow the disinterest did not surprise me really. To close; this film is a true visual essay in every sense: – relevant topic – well documented and intelligently opinionated – beautiful film scenes (falcons relaxing and in action, Tajik views, illegal trade situations versus elitist falcon market in Qatar) – excellent storytelling. The part of Bin Laden only enters half an hour before the end. The indifference of the CIA comes as a blow to the audience: to f…unbelievable to be true. One weak point of the film is the title: there are almost no drugs in the film. One of the makers – I did not hear his name clearly because of the background noise in the café – told the birds command prices from 25,000 to 1 million dollar and they are nicknamed ‘feathered cocaine’. That is a shame because a more sexy title would have drawn more interest of the public. How about ‘Osama Bin Laden’s great hobby’?

2. Position among the Stars, by Leonard Retel Helmrich. Much has been written about this beautiful film.  I attended  Retels’s IDFA Masterclass on Friday 19th November in Escape. A few quotes:

`I am trying to catch the moment. To catch what is happening in on single shot and still have all the angles. Like it is shot with several cameras. I want freedom of movement and to move with my camera more flexible in space. This method is based on the theories of the French film critic Andre Bazin who’s books I read only after I finished the film school. Basicly I reinvented his ideas with regards to objective reality’ –  such as documentaries and films of the Italian neo realism school – and directors who made themselves ‘invisible’.’

Single shot cinema comes down to:

–         Shoot the beginning, middle and the end. Framing is not that important but try to keep with the movement of your camera the object of interest in the centre. In this way the material will dictate the editing work afterwards

–         Filming consciously makes that you always will be too late. Use your feeling and intuition: be fluid, invisible and e-motional. Act natural and follow your topic in a organical way. Be in the moment to capture the story. This might sound very Zen but yes I am a Tai Chi practitioner.

–         Knowing the filmhistory. Not only sociology, philosophy and politics but keep a close eye on the inventions: those are changing our way of working. Sound, remote control, hand-held digital camera; they all changed the film world tremendously.’

Helmrich shot 300 hours of material for his film Position among the Stars, he does not use external microphones because people become too aware of being filmed. Also Helmrich does not use much music in his films; only in more symbolic scenes like such as the boy running through the streets with clothing in each hand. The scene with the man walking along the train bridge is shot with the help of a bamboo crane on a dolly riding over the rail track with two persons hanging on each side as counterweights. Helmrich demonstrates some single shot positions with people from the audience, shows how he is handing over the camera to another person down the ladder. All simple but effective ways to move the camera around like it is dancing. Helmrich is like a Leonardo da Vinci dancing with a camera.

3. The Prosecutor, Stevens. A strong film about Luis Moreno-Ocampo, head of the International Criminal Court. It gives a clear insight in the many dillemmas and challenges of this court. Moreno is a megalomaniac but is there another way?

Worth mentioning:

The American coup, Ayella

Tabloid, Morris

Client 9, Gibney

Burma soldier, Dunlop, Sandberg and Stern


Last week I followed the news about the violent protests in Kyrgyzstan (first week of April, 2010) via the mainstream media BBC, CNN, AlJazeera, NOS  and blogs of individual journalists such as from NRC correspondent Michiel Krielaars. Of course also digital media using and including contributions of citizen journalists were important sources the past few days. Some examples are:
– Institute for War and Peace Reporting (IWPR)
– Transitions Online (TOL)
– the bloggers platform NewEurasia.net with amongst others Adam Kesher‘s blog
– an overview at Global Voices Onlines; with ‘the making of’ by star reporter Elena Skochilo combining traditional and digital social media in an excellent way
– the Kyrgyz youth portal Kloop

Some of my own performances:
– a radio interview on Radio 1 (Dutch)
– also I was quoted in the Dutch daily NRC Next (Friday 9 April) in this article: Oppositie_Kirgizie_vormt_geen_droomregering (Dutch) and Kyrgyzstan faces uncertain future after coup (ENG)

Cathy Fitzpatrick wrote an intelligent opinionated summary on the use of digital media, to be more precise Twitter, during last turbulent week in Kyrgyzstan.

The suprise starts at Tashkent International Airport (Yuzhniy). It is way too big considering the amount of users. The first few days in Uzbekistan – we started last week in Nukus, West Uzbekistan – I thought: wow, impressive building or square but where are the people? But then it starts to look familiar. My first impression proved symptomatic for the towns of this huge country with only 28 million inhabitants. The boulevards, the hotels, the stadiums, the parks, the underground; they all seem several sizes too big.

I know that size matters in some situations but the greatness of all the pubic facilities seems to be chosen to impress. To boost more than to accommodate and serve the Uzbek citizens in a comfortable way. Tashkent is a city that does not allow people to take pictures in the (beautiful) underground. The park opposite hotel Uzbekistan is green, has benches and all things a neat park needs. Everything is in order and brand clean. Every stone, tile, statue and grassroot is properly placed. The statue of Amir Temur is lit brightly by strong spotligts. It is surrounded by about six benches. In the evening men of a certain age play chess and back gammon. On every bench three or four men sit, playing in silence. So far I have not seen people entertain themselves or play in public places. I presume this will mostly take place safely behind closed doors. There are fun parks and a handfull of terraces but they are probable too expensive for the mayority. Nobody hangs around on the streets for fun. Than it struck me: these chess players in the park, they are exceptional. The players are so out of tune in this city governed by an obsessive order and cleanliness. They might well be instructed to play from 8 till 10 in the park. Just the way people are ordered to clean the streets or to work in the cotton fields.

Mmmh, if so than one thing is puzzeling. Why are the about ten prostitutes in front of the hotel allowed to wait for their clients? It is a very visible place. Or are prostitutes part of the picture the government wants to communicate of Uzbekistan? Intrigueing. It almost keeps me awake at night. More short stories and photos will follow soon.

Sulamain-Too Sacred Mountain – in popular speech Solomon’s throne – of Kyrgyzstan will become Kyrgystan’s first site to be inscribed on UNESCO’s World Heritage List.

Read more in Elena’s article on NewEurasia

Also read my earlier posts about this tiny but much discussed mountain hill

Kazakhstan is known for being ‘not free’ according to reports of Reporters sans frontiers and the FreedomHouse. But protests continue. Last week for example journalists held a silent protest in Almaty, former capital of Kazakhstan. More details on the redesigned Neweurasianet.

The protest also addressed the growing repressive nature of the media legislation. Lately the Kazakh parliament has adopted controversial amendments to the Law on Information and Communications Networks, RFE/RL’s Kazakh Service reports.  Main point is the Internet in Kazakhstan – including chat rooms, blogs, and public forums – will be recognized as mass media and gives the Kazakh prosecutor-general the right to shut down online resources without going to court.

Despite several protest under the flag of this symbol. More background information in this article published in The Guardian.

The Mongol army led by Genghis Khan subjugated more lands and people in twenty-five years than the Romans did in four hundred. Jack Weatherford is the author of Genghis Khan, and the making of the modern world did not want to write a autobiography of Khan or a book about the Mongols. He rather wanted to describe and analyse the impact of the Mongols on the world.

Many reviews and articles have been written since the book was published in 2004 and even Wikipedia consists of an article on the book.

I just want to point out  some paragraphs that stroke me while reading the book.

– Genghis Khan together with his sons and grandsons, conquered the most densely populated civilizations of the thirteenth century.  (..) The majority of the people today live in countries conquered by the Mongols; on the modern map Genghis Kahn’s conquests include thirty countries with well over 3 billion people. The most astonishing aspect of this achievement is that the entire Mongol tribe under him numbered around a million, smaller than a workforce of some modern corporations.  From this million he recruited his army which was comprised of no more than one hundred thousand warriors – a group that could comfortable fit into a larger sports stadium. (..) As Genghis Kahn’s cavalry charged across the thirteenth century, he redrew boundaries of the world. His architecture was not in stone but in nations.  (xviii)

– Genghis Khan’s empire connected and amalgamated the many civilizations around him into a new world order. (..) He smashed the feudal system of aristocratic privilege and birth, he built a new and unique system  based on individual merit, loyalty and achievement. He took the disjointed and languorous trading towns along the Silk Route and organized them into history’s largest free-trade zone. he lowered taxes for everyone and abolished them altogether for doctors, teachers, priests and educational institutions. he established a regular census and created the first international postal system. His was not an empire that hoarded wealth and treasure; insisted he widely distributed the goods acquired in combat so that they could make their way back into commercial circulation. He created a international law and recognized the ultimate supreme law of the Eternal Blue Sky over all people. At a time when most rulers consider themselves to be above the law, Genghis Kahn insisted on laws holding rulers as equally accountable as the lowest herder.  (xix)

The next episode will tell about warring queens, the origin of the word assassin, paper money and other inventions. To be continued…

The documentary film Shadow of the Holy Book reveals the secretive and repressive dictatorship of Saparmurat Niyazov, Turkmenistan’s head of state from 1985 to 2006, and the Western companies who did business with him.

Listen to  the discussion about the film held at the OSI office New York in February.