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Won't someone think of the animals.
January 2, 2007 7:52 AM   Subscribe

Gregory Colbert's Ashes and Snow has been linked to twice before on Metafilter. However, you can now view 10 minutes of his film as part of his Ted Talk--it's the most stunning nature footage I've ever seen. In the talk he also mentions a new concept he's developing called Animal Copyright, which I think is long overdue.
posted by dobbs (29 comments total) 6 users marked this as a favorite

 
I can't find anything official about AC online, which leads me to believe Colbert didn't go thru with his plan. Anyone got more information?
posted by dobbs at 7:52 AM on January 2, 2007


Colbert, don't pay the bears.
posted by orthogonality at 7:58 AM on January 2, 2007


Is there a rate sheet available, say, by species? Would like to review some headshots and resumes before I commit.
posted by hal9k at 8:35 AM on January 2, 2007


If human pay scales are any indication, snakes would be high on the list.
posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 9:04 AM on January 2, 2007


Derail: I saw some sort of eagle in my neighborhood in urban Houston yesterday. Animals that previously wisely avoided urban centers have now no real option other than try to carve out a new habitat there.
posted by Burhanistan at 9:18 AM on January 2, 2007


what an stunning piece of film!
posted by moonbird at 9:38 AM on January 2, 2007


[oh, and reminiscent of "Baraka"]
posted by moonbird at 9:41 AM on January 2, 2007


Amardeep Singh's negative point of view expresses a lot of my own about the Ashes and Snow exhibit.
posted by nickyskye at 9:48 AM on January 2, 2007 [1 favorite]


A couple of things:

It seems to me that his film is 100% dependent on animals to be financially viable. If he follows his own rules, he'd only be required to pay 1% of his takings. If I use a picture of a bear on my website, I also have to pay 1% -- and in this case, 1% of what? Of all of my takings if I have an online catalog? How many people are coming for the bear, how many for my witting sayings, and how many just cause they want a shirt with some dumb saying on it like "Libraries are Awesome!". Doesn't seem fair to me.

It's way too hard to capture an accurate number on the "value" of this, which is why a couple of hundred hollywood actors make millions while the remaining thousands just barely scrape by: some things "add" more to a media buy than others.

Also, while I'm sure that he gave ample compensation to everyone in his movie, I felt a bit uncomfortable that it appears he is using the "exoticism" of the east -- as well as making these people somehow seem more "animalistic" than us westerners.
posted by Deathalicious at 9:55 AM on January 2, 2007


I think it's a given that nobody is more "animalistic" than us westerners, and we have the declining literacy to prove it! USA USA!
posted by hermitosis at 10:15 AM on January 2, 2007


why did that film remind me of Anne Geddes?
posted by sineater at 10:22 AM on January 2, 2007


Sepia filter! Sepia filter! Libraries are awesome! USA!
posted by gorgor_balabala at 10:28 AM on January 2, 2007


Thanks for the link nickyskye. I saw the exhibit last year in LA and I was underwhelmed after all the manufactured buzz. The temporary container building was the only thing that impressed me. I expressed some of my misgivings with others in attendance and I received some knit brows, can't wait to forward the Singh link.
posted by lazymonster at 10:33 AM on January 2, 2007


nickyskye, thanks a lot for that link.

I think the pictures are kind of interesting, but I don't buy the photogs schtick. In his introduction he says two different things that make me think he either wants to mislead us, or that he doesn't know what he's talking about. The first is when he claims a "collaboration" with the animals in his movie. That's just preposterous, and ends up being insulting when the real collaborators, whom he doesn't mention, the "exotic" kids who work with the animals, are seen all through the movie. I'm very much interested in respecting and protecting wildlife and other animals, but I always think that people who can't acknowledge the deep differences between animals and people are doing a disservice to the former and putting the latter at risk. See Grizzly Man for a good example of this kind of bullshit gone awry.

The second instance is more insulting, as it seems like a deliberate attempt to mislead, and that's the claim that what's shown is what he saw. He must see in slow motion then, and in poses, and in fluid extemporaneous dances of intense concentration, with an ethereal soundtrack. Quite aside from the idiocy of any photographer who wants to claim that a picture "captures" reality, his suggestion that his obviously manipulated and posed movies are free of manipulation seems like a deliberate lie.

I find myself reacting strongly to this because I think it's deceit that isn't generally called out because it's pretty and it tries to sell a world that has never existed as if it should be our ideal. It stinks artistically and it stinks politically, it's a movie a lot like Triumph of the Will. (And if you don't understand that comment, look at Refienstahl's Last of the Nuba next to Olympia and Triumph of the Will and you can see how even when the subject isn't Aryans, the subject can be Aryans.)
posted by OmieWise at 10:38 AM on January 2, 2007


The first is when he claims a "collaboration" with the animals in his movie. That's just preposterous, and ends up being insulting when the real collaborators, whom he doesn't mention, the "exotic" kids who work with the animals, are seen all through the movie.

No, he doesn't say that. He says he's collaborated with "45 species". Presumably 44 of them are non-human. In addition, both you and Nicky's link mention the "children" while ignoring the fact that there are adults in the film as well. Why?

Quite aside from the idiocy of any photographer who wants to claim that a picture "captures" reality, his suggestion that his obviously manipulated and posed movies are free of manipulation seems like a deliberate lie.

Again, he doesn't say that. He says "none of the images are computer generated or digitally collaged. This is exactly what I saw thru the lens of my camera." His film does not betray that. Slowing down images and adding music does not betray it either.

it tries to sell a world that has never existed...

Huh? If you accept that he did not digitally collage or generate computer images than the world did in fact exist for the duration of the shot. It may not have existed naturally, but he never claims it did.

...as if it should be our ideal

You're bringing your own agenda to the viewing, I believe. I never thought this at all when I watched it.

As for nicky's link:

but the "ethereal" effects can be faked with Photoshop.

Um, yeah, and and if a frog had wings it wouldn't bump its ass a-hoppin'. WTH does this have to do with anything? You can say the effects of any photo can be faked with Photoshop. So? It's about as useful a statement as the tried-and-true newscaster saying "Drugs may have been involved" or "Police say it could be gang related."

More importantly, I was deeply annoyed by the strong undercurrent of exoticism and artificiality in the exhibit. ... But I don't buy it, partly because of the blatant artificiality of the poses -- people don't just hang out with Cheetahs on stark desert plains. And they don't swim with elephants with their eyes closed, looking enraptured.

Where does Colbert claim that this is happening anywhere naturally? He doesn't. He'd be an idiot to do so. Does Amardeep think people dance around in tights and tu-tus "in the wild"? The fact that they don't--does that eliminate ballet as art or something worthy of watching? Seriously, why are people trying to classify an obvious attempt at art as documentary?
posted by dobbs at 11:03 AM on January 2, 2007


dobbs, c'mon. First of all, I have no beef with you, but, secondly, your responses smack of semantics. I didn't mention the adults because there are strikingly fewer present. The species collaboration bit is a good point, but does not obviate mine about the idiocy of claiming to collaborate with animals. The idea that "This is exactly what I saw through the lens of my camera." is not contradicted by manipulating the speed is 1) sophistry, and 2) incorrect, unless the viewer saw in slow motion. He SAW something different. This idea that the world existed for that brief moment (even if manipulated, even if staged) is clearly not what I was talking about. The image may have existed, that does not meant that the world did.

But, I think the larger question is why semantics become so important to the presentation here. I would argue it's because Colbert's contentions are political and social, he cannot let the images stand on their own because he wants them to say something. He then seems to excuse the extent to which it's really him trying to say something about human/animal interaction with the extent to which those points are made by the pictures. He seems to excuse his fibbing with the purity of his motives, which leaves unexamined the extent to which his project is dependent on his presentation.
posted by OmieWise at 11:19 AM on January 2, 2007


Semantics aside, I found the film boring and cliched.

Slo-mo flying eagles, elephants shot from below to awe us with their bulk, exotic Easterners swirling their robes then turning to stare into the camera...c'mon, it's not the Seventies anymore.
posted by kozad at 11:26 AM on January 2, 2007


Seriously, why are people trying to classify an obvious attempt at art as documentary?

Maybe when it starts to cross the line to exploitation? Of both the child and the cheetah.
posted by hal9k at 11:28 AM on January 2, 2007


Coolest thing I've seen this year. Thanks!
posted by spock at 11:53 AM on January 2, 2007


Nicely said OmieWise. I like your call out on the lie that what's shown is what he saw. Oh puleez.
The implication is that the images aren't faked, they are images of reality and that he has such magic eyes that this is the kind of thing he 'sees'. He doesn't say he staged them so he could 'see' them that way, presumably endangering the lives of the kids and adults involved. Some magic. Not. I guess he paid the models enough so they would possibly sacrifice their lives for his photos.

Colbert says that Ashes and Snow is a “bestiary”, a poetic understanding of animals in their environment. Their environment?

I experience his images as a blend of cutsie pootsie, New Age Esther Williams and some quasi-erotic Zoboomafoo fantasy.
posted by nickyskye at 11:56 AM on January 2, 2007


Grotesque, egocentric, fetishistic pandering. I urge everyone to boycott this Colbert in favor of the one with some talent.
posted by adamgreenfield at 2:08 PM on January 2, 2007


your responses smack of semantics.

Because I'm not interested in putting words in his mouth? If you hadn't bent his words to support your opinions, I wouldn't have bothered properly quoting him.

I mean, you insist he be taken literally when he says "as I saw through my lens", when it's clear from the context that he meant in the sense of not digitally altered, (OmieWise, are you honestly suggesting that he meant he saw things in slow motion? Really?), but when he says he worked with "45 species" you refuse to take him literally and suggest he's playing a game of semantics. That's a pretty handy way of arguing.

Your supposing he's using particular language (grouping the species) as a way of sneaking something past his audience (hinging his presentation on semantics) instead of considering any other reason for the choice of words: for instance, that he thinks part of the reason animals are treated so poorly by humans is because for the most part humans believe they're superior to non-human animals. Perhaps he disagrees with this belief and uses the language for that reason--the same way most people say, "I own a dog" but many people who do not feel they are better than "their" dog might refer to themselves as the dog's "human companion" or simply that they live with a dog. You might think these people are just being cutesy or being needlessly specific, but that doesn't mean the distinction isn't important to them.

He then seems to excuse the extent to which it's really him trying to say something about human/animal interaction with the extent to which those points are made by the pictures.

But the thing you're claiming he's saying (that this is the real world or at least the world as it should be) was brought to the table by you, not him. I never thought either one of those things watching the film. You're trying to hold him responsible for your interpretation of the images. How is that reasonable?

idiocy of claiming to collaborate with animals.

Just so I'm clear: as a blanket statement you're claiming non-human animals never collaborate with humans? Or is it just his claim regarding this project?
posted by dobbs at 2:45 PM on January 2, 2007


Just so I'm clear: as a blanket statement you're claiming non-human animals never collaborate with humans?

dobbs, I think that we by and large recognize that, given the cognitive limitations involved (to say nothing of the power dynamics), human minors are incapable of providing informed consent. How much more is this likely to be true of nonhuman actors?

I, at least, believe that almost all claims of interspecies "collaboration" involve a significant anthropomorphic fallacy, if not outright sentimental self-delusion.
posted by adamgreenfield at 3:00 PM on January 2, 2007


dobbs writes "I mean, you insist he be taken literally when he says 'as I saw through my lens', when it's clear from the context that he meant in the sense of not digitally altered, (OmieWise, are you honestly suggesting that he meant he saw things in slow motion? Really?), but when he says he worked with '45 species' you refuse to take him literally and suggest he's playing a game of semantics. That's a pretty handy way of arguing."

I don't agree that the context of his statement suggests that all he meant was that the pictures weren't digitally altered. If I thought that then we wouldn't be arguing about this. I can't check it here because I'm on dial-up, but I recall thinking that what he was suggesting was that he was merely documenting the scenes that he filmed, that the beauty was intrinsic to the scene. I was then very surprised to see that, in fact, the beauty was not simply framed, but was also of a manipulated sort. Of course that's why I've got an issue with it.

I fucking missed the point about the number of species, something I acknowedged when you so graciously pointed it out. What I did not miss was his suggestion that he collaborated with the animals. I don't think he's sneaking anything past anyone with that, I think he's wrong about it. Further, I think a movie like Grizzly Man, which I assume you've seen since you're a movie lover, illustrates the kind of trouble people can get into (from good motives) when they mistake their ideas about what animal behavior means. Discussions about the relationship between people and animals are important, open, and complex, and they are not answered or even served by what I saw of this guy's work. If our respect for animals rests on our mistaking their nature and anthropomophizing them, we will not respect them for long.

I'm surprised that you continue to assert that I brought all the politics to this myself, that he had no agenda, that you had no political thoughts while watching the movie. If that's true, then where is all your talk about "the animals" coming from? Whence the title of the post? What happened to your thinking about Animal Copyright? That was the frame I brought to the post; that, and his statements of introduction. It's great to think of the animals, to advocate for animal copyright, to make movies like the one he did, but I'm genuinely (not snarkily) confused about how those aren't political sentiments. The reason I'm disturbed by his introduction is precisely because to me he seems to be suggesting that he is documenting, not staging. I understand that there are arguments to be made in cinema about the difference between fact and truth (see my references to Herzog here and also my AskMe from today about another of his documentaries), but I haven't seen this guy or you make those statements.

Look, it's clear that you love what this guy does, or at least like it a lot. I happen to think it's not that great. My reponses to the post are not directed at you personally. Calling Colbert an idiot is just that, I've not said that I think people who like his stuff are idiots.
posted by OmieWise at 3:46 PM on January 2, 2007


I never said he had no agenda. I just disagree with what you're saying it is. I don't see the images at all suggesting the filmmaker is saying this is the real world or that it's an ideal world. He specifically says that he did not create the project to solicit an intelletual response to nature, but an emotional one. ("it is not designed to provide an intellectual understanding of nature. It attempts to inspire an emotional understanding of nature.")

And of course politics are involved when it comes to his idea of AC. That seems like a separate issue to me and has zip to do with the film, which, I believe, was made 2 years prior to him coming up with AC.

And yes, I've seen Grizzly Man. However, I don't agree with your implied assessment that "dead guy" equals "misunderstood animals". I don't consider the film a sad one; I don't consider the people in the film who say, "Well, what did he expect--he was disillusioned!" to share my opinions on nature and animals (mostly because they seem to stem from the belief that humans aren't animals).

And why you think I'm taking your dislike of the film as personal is beyond me. I could care less who likes the film--I haven't even bothered to respond to anyone who popped in to say they disliked it. What I took issue with is you projecting your beliefs about the project onto the filmmaker. I'd feel the same way were it a film about cactus, love, or formaldehyde, as I find that your thoughts--as you presented them in your initial post--stemmed from your interpretation of what he said rather than what he actually said.
posted by dobbs at 4:27 PM on January 2, 2007


Since when are emotions not political? Triumph of the Will is so effective as a political film because it rests simply at the level of emotions.

Seriously, what do you imagine Colbert's work means? Is it just pretty? What relationship is there between the subjects, the presentation, and the rhetorical framing? When Bush lands on an aircraft carrier in a flight suit, and the banner behind him says "Mission Accomplished" are we to take that at face value? Is interpreting that a mistake, is finding it odious bringing our own agenda to it? It's just what was there, after all, a banner saying "Mission Accomplished."

I keep bringing up examples from different political perspectives because I suspect that were the politics different here you might be more inclined to think critically about Colbert's movie.

Re Grizzly Man: I don't think the guy got what was coming to him or anything, I think he radically misunderstood the wild animals he was around, ironically treating them with less respect than they deserve. I do think that he asserted a relationship with the animals that was one-sided, and that it was his failure to understand that there are things to which humans do not have access (the intimate lives of grizzly bears) which demonstrated his ultimate disdain for the animals he was around.
posted by OmieWise at 5:13 PM on January 2, 2007 [1 favorite]


The animals' jealousy toward humans was bested by the magical camera eye. That was de beste parte.
posted by gorgor_balabala at 7:14 PM on January 2, 2007


I find the documentaries of David Attenborough far more compelling and poignant than Ashes and Snow--I felt manipulated and was bored while watching this clip. Furthermore the focus of the film is on the people in it (Look! Exotic locations! People who aren't white! Edgy!), not the animals...they were merely window dressing and props--it's simple exploitation. (Look at those elephants with the kiddies! Aw!)

Watching hawks pluck voles from our field as I'm haying it provokes much deeper thoughts about nature and my relationship with it than a sepia-toned field trip to exotic lands filled with exotic peoples (oh, and animals, too) possibly can.

You know what I want from my global bestiary? I want to see animals in their natural environment and know that they can live there without worrying that they're being hunted to extinction because someone's penis no longer works and maybe some powder ground from an animal with a penis-esque horn will help them out. The natural world is incredible and intense and doesn't need a sepia filter to awe us.

Mind, I don't hate this film (nor do I like it), I just dislike the hype.

(Though the Indian woman "dancing with eagles" was pretty hawt.)
posted by maxwelton at 7:48 PM on January 2, 2007


I saw this exhibition in manhatten last year and frankly it sucked. lots of black and white photos of animals and people all made up to be dreamlike. The net effect felt very forced and cheesy. What was very cool about the exhibition was the building that it was housed in - which was entirely constructed out of industrial shipping containers, cardboard tubes and sheets of some sort of fabric all put together to resemble a greek temple.
posted by sirvesa at 10:14 PM on January 2, 2007


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