“Documentaries are education written in lightning,” said Tom Neff, an associate professor at Middle Tennessee State University.
Well, that certainly explains the bracing weather we’ve experienced lately.
Mother Nature must be the Ken Burns of the stratosphere.
Neff, the founder and former chief executive officer of The Documentary Channel, plans to take several students to Florence, Italy, in May so they can make films in the heart of the Renaissance.
The students will be divided into three teams. Each will make a 10 to 12 minute minidoc about traditional art, modern art or performance art.
Students will shoot in Italy for three weeks and begin post-production back at MTSU in June for a total of about six weeks of class.
Neff, who shared a nomination for an Academy Award for best documentary, short subject in 1987, believes the student-produced films can gain wide exposure.
“I think a documentary that is shot in Florence will have an immediate interest at many of the festivals that are out there,” said Neff in an interview on WMOT-FM’s “MTSU On the Record.”
Perspective is everything on both sides of the camera. Neff says documentarians’ range from Robert Flaherty, who chooses to let the story emerge from whatever he shoots, to Michael Moore, whose filmed polemics come from shooting footage to support his vision.
“I think documentaries are just at the cusp of what can really be done with them, and I think people are tired of hype,” said Neff. “They’re tired of things that are fake.”
When looking through the lens, Neff said, don’t make the mistake of thinking that the center of everything is the center of everything.
“You can take a shot of something, and you think you’re really looking at the folks in the upper right, but what is really going on is something in the lower left,” said Neff.
The total ballpark cost for this once-in-a-lifetime experience is about $3,200. MTSU’s Office of Education Abroad offers scholarships, and tuition for study-abroad classes is reduced by 25 percent.
Even so, Neff envisions a great opportunity for a public-spirited corporate benefactor to enhance its reputation with a donation.
After all, the company’s name would go on the final product, which might find its way to public television after making the rounds on the festival circuit.
While staying in the heart of the city, the MTSU class will receive assistance from professors at the University of Florence.
However, there will be much more to this class than learning the finer points of shooting, lighting and sound.
“Here in the United States we’re all in our own bubble,” Neff said. ”Every country has its own zeitgeist. To be suddenly thrust into another country where you see other people who come from a different point of view, is in itself, its own education.”
For more information about making movies in Florence, Italy, contact Neff at 615-898-2203 or email@example.com.