Oscar nominee Sam Green (The Weather Underground) has a new project premiering at Sundance next month. And if you don’t see it there, chances are you might not be able to see it at all. Titled The Measure of All Things, this project is part of the Frontier section and is a live documentary. That means it’s not something you can wait for the DVD with. You definitely won’t be able to stream it on Netflix. If anything, you might be able to check it out in some major metropolitan area when Green brings it around the country. But its touring life is unknown at this point. This sort of thing always is. But maybe if more people knew about it and were excited about it and maybe even contributed to its Kickstarter campaign, stuff like this will be more likely to do get to your part of the world.
What is a live documentary? It’s what it sounds like. Green appears on stage and narrates the doc while standing in front of a sort of slideshow of images and clips. There’s also a live band or orchestra performing the score. It sounds unnecessary, I know. Why not just screen the film with all three parts recorded and combined, like a normal documentary? Well, sure, but you can also just listen to music and never attend a concert. It’s a different experience having the filmmaker and musicians there. It’s a little less formal than it seems, at least that’s how I felt when I saw one of Green’s live documentaries, Utopia in Four Movements. It’s hardly a new concept, as it relates to the pre-cinema attraction of magic lantern lectures and today is somewhat a kin to powerpoint events and certain nonfiction stage plays (you could almost say An Inconvenient Truth and My Trip to Al-Qaeda were live documentaries that became regular documentaries).
The Measure of All Things is inspired by the Guinness Book of Records and profiles a bunch of record holders, including the world’s tallest man and the oldest-living thing (a pinecone, not a person) in order to talk about why stuff like this fascinates us. He calls the GBR an “epic poem about humanity.” This makes me want the film to also explore sporting records in order to tie this fascination to subjects of docs like The Armstrong Lie and The Crash Reel that show the corruption and the lethality of athletes continuously going for the fastest or highest or longest whatever. After all, both Lance Armstrong and Shaun White hold records currently, according to the Guinness website. Know what else is in the Guinness system as a record holder? The basis for the new box office flop Walking With Dinosaurs (most expensive TV documentary series per minute).
The Kickstarter campaign for The Measure of All Things was a success as of Christmas Eve, and now the funding is coming in slower because it looks like it doesn’t need more, but there is no reason to stop contributing just because Green reached his stated goal. As is the case with many crowdfunding efforts, that goal of $250K was the bare minimum of what this project required to be finished. Green says he would like to see more money come in so he can take this “beyond Sundance.” Surely the more he brings in the more likelihood that he can tour more cities and festivals with the doc. And surely the more it brings in is encouragement for something different, like live documentaries, to look like a good idea. I’d love to see other filmmakers try them out, so long as it wouldn’t look like they’re copying Green, or attempt other experimental directions for nonfiction (and fiction) cinema.
It’s interesting to have a project like this on Kickstarter because obviously there are no perks including downloads or DVD copies. I imagine Green could offer exclusive videos of the live performances, but that kind of would go against the point of making this a must-attend kind of experience. So, instead he’s offering the director’s cut of his Oscar-nominated The Weather Underground, which is a pretty cool, rare thing to see (not that I have seen that version). Best incentive, though, has to be where Green’s mother cuts out news clippings based on your interests and sends them to you. That’s adorable. There’s also, for only $250, VIP tickets to any screening of The Measure of All Things, but I wonder if you get to influence where. I don’t imagine so, unless you’re near a big city or a big college campus.
Live documentaries aren’t necessarily the future of the mode any more than interactive web documentaries are going to one day be the norm let alone the exclusive. But it is a potentially fresh way of making nonfiction storytelling more engaging, and I’m glad Green continues to make them even if I’ve only been able to see one so far. If there’s anything I want to see more of with crowdfunding for films is the encouragement of stuff that isn’t safe and boring. Most of the documentaries that get funded on Kickstarter do so easily because they’re easy and simple but also about a subject matter people already love. I don’t care that much about Guinness records, and I know not everyone could pull off a project like this, but it’s a lot more interesting to see what comes about with passionate people trying to do something creative and distinct.
Watch Green’s Kickstarter video below, and if you’re going to Sundance check out The Measure of All Things instead of at least one of those all-star movies that you’ll have access to in some format in a matter of months.
Do you want to see this film? Enough to help fund it?