Friday, April 27, 2012

Voices in the Dark

Reflections through Machinima:
The 20th Anniversary of the 1992 LA Riots...April 29th-May 4th.

I have to admit as much as I advocate machinima as a wonderful storytelling format, I do think one should 
seriously consider what platform might best serve to present a message or simply reach an audience.  In 2009, my book KJLH-FM and the Los Angeles Riots of 1992:  Compton's Neighborhood Station in the Aftermath of the Rodney King Verdict (McFarland), I wrote the story of one African-American radio station (owned by Stevie Wonder) and its crew that reported on the civil unrest as it unfolded in front of the broadcast studio.  

The book relies on transcripts, interviews, and other resources to tell the story of the station.  Since then I have had requests for the audio - the actual coverage and my interviews - by several people and media companies for a variety of purposes.  I provided "background" for both StoryCorps and the new documentary Uprising: Hip Hop and the LA Riots by VH1 producer Wesley Jones, and to the extent that I was useful I don't really know.  But I will be looking for my name in the credits, in the latter instance. Over the past two years, I have tried to find many ways to get the word out about KJLH-FM, a commercial but community-oriented station that rose to the moment as media makers, to help seek solutions in a time of crisis, and more importantly to serve as a voice in the dark.  So what has this to do with machinima? 

 I produced a machinima - Voices in The Dark -  based on my research and interviews, and sound archives. 

As many of you know, my strength rests with sound practice, but I wanted to experiment with an audio piece that I made, taking it to a new level, conceptualizing it with machinima (for the visual component, although none was truly necessarily).  Due to the gravity of the issues discussed by Carl Nelson, Eric Reed, and others on the soundtrack (actual KJLH broadcast and my interview excerpts), I did not want to approach this topic by reenacting the riots:  rather I decided to make this a reflective piece, one that looks back at a particular event through the eyes of the present, or perhaps the (virtual) future. 

To my amazement, I found a station that reminded me of KJLH-FM located in District 8 of Second Life.  The sole character portrays myself, as a virtual journalist (which I am), looking back as I encounter this vacated station 10 years in the future.   Given the drop in minority media ownership to dismal numbers, that well might be the case for the remainder of independently owned black radio stations in the USA  - regardless I hope not.   I have mixed feelings whether this piece works as an appropriate, reflective creative work fitting of the 20th anniversary of the Los Angeles civil unrest.  I did want to try, experiment, with respect.   It is interesting that the same company that published my KJLH book also contracted the recently released machinima book (with Lowe Runo).   I will consider this a sign (in jest or not) foreshadowing that the two - the radio broadcast and the machinima visuals - were meant to partner, at least in this instance.   

So I offer you some contemplation on what works for machinima, and what might not.  Is it just something you feel?  - how do you determine appropriateness of topic to a particular medium? - machinima as real-time animation in an artificial environment compared to creating a traditional video piece where I might have wandered down those streets once torn with conflict in the early 1990s, like a journalist revisiting a former war zone.  KJLH's listners are good people, and should not be judged by what was show on much of mainstream media.  I chose to refrain from showing too much of that, what we have  already seen the news.

The community of listeners simply needed a way to express dismay and grief, and this particular radio station was there to listen and help when possible - keeping so many people off the streets, and helping them locate loved ones.  To me, that is radio at its best - it is the people behind that station that provided the opportunity for communication and even healing. Radio was powerful that day.  What is the power of machinima?  Who are its producers and storytellers with messages to tell, that might bring people together, shed some light on an issue, or engage people emotionally to new levels, in contemporary and creative ways to reach a new generation. 

An addendum to all this, one of my students, Phusion in SL, viewed my piece and created a take-off from another perspective - one of an African-American filmmaker from South Chicago.  This perspective was one that I could not present as merely an observer.  When we went back to the SL radio station to reshoot, the call letters had fallen to the ground, and that added to the feeling of his piece. 

He added new footage, changed things around, and inserted his SL-self into the work, and certainly has a few more slick moves than his professor.  He's been a filmmaker for awhile, and had learned animation - machinima was new to him (but he's picking it up quickly).  Add to that he composed music for the machinima.   He just completed his graduate thesis project, a documentary about the importance of African-American father figures for young men.  This is his first "official" machinima, other than a couple of fun ones that he put together while learning.   

Thanks to Lowe Runo Productions and Rysan's Fall Films for their warm welcome to him in SL as a beginning machinimatographer. In hindsight, if we had more time, it would have been incredibly powerful if we had merged our characters into the same work.  I continue to seek new ways to expand machinima as a tool for cultural expression.  


KJLH and The Los Angeles Riots
Voices in the Dark by Sonicity Fitzroy (the observer, original version)
Voices in the Dark w/Phusion's perspective

On lighter news, please join me and Lowe Runo for our "machinima" book party, Friday/Saturday, May 12-13th, with full details coming the first week of May.  Thanks for all who have been our friends and colleagues since the start, as well as now and those we hope to meet on our journey to explore media to the ends of the virtual worlds. 

Machinima: The Art and Practice of Virtual Filmmaking

The Professional Machinima Artist Guild and Lowe Runo Productions graciously host Magnum: The Machinima Review. All Rights Reserved.