Global City Symphony

Influenced by the modernist and avant garde movements at the turn of the 20th Century, artists began to embrace a new form of expression – the documentary film – to capture the ultimate human achievement: the modern city. Films that emerged from this artistic style captured both individual cities (such as Walter Ruttman’s Berlin: Symphony of a City) and imagined urban spaces created from parts of many cities (such as Dziga Vertov’s Man with a Movie Camera). Regardless, underlying themes came to light: the films tend to focus on humans interacting within man-made environments, the films were meticulously constructed in the editing studio, and the films often offered political or social commentary on life within these urban spaces. These films utilize clips much like a symphony uses notes to build melody, harmony, or dissonance. While each note might hold an individual tone of beauty, it is the collection of notes and clips that construct meaning, and merit the work a piece of art.

City symphonies, and many documentaries, are an exercise in cinematic voyeurism. The claim to catching life unawares by employing hidden cameras, or at least unobtrusive cameras creates a surveillant meditation offering a way around the camera’s often objectifying gaze. Jean Vigo’s À Propos de Nice (1930), utilizes a hidden camera to film sunbathers, rich boardwalk strollers, and hardworking laborers to point at the potent discrepancies between wealth and poverty. To create compelling and unique portraits of an urban space, a filmmaker must catch life unawares to capture life and attenuate the staged behavior that subjects show when in the presence of a camera.

The Global City Symphony project re-imagines the city symphony in a modern capacity. Using footage shot across five continents, we were driven to ask: what would modern urban spaces look like next to each other? Would we recognize difference or would we recognize sameness? Would harmony or dissonance prevail? Using any recording devices available – video camcorders, SLRs, cell phones, point-and-shoots – shooters explored the themes of humanism in the urban spaces around them. All footage was uploaded to a common vimeo page where collaborators could instantaneously see what footage was shot in Nice, Beijing, Cadiz, St. Petersburg, Capetown, Reykjavik. The One Day on Earth Project is a similar experiment that created a unique geo-tagged video archive as well as an upcoming feature film.

During the summer months of shooting, a second project emerged; one that would balance the global with the local. The Williamsburg City Symphony focuses on the urban space of Williamsburg, VA, a city in southeastern Virginia. Specifically, we were interested in Williamsburg’s contradictory nature of mixing the historic and modern, the young and old, the wealthy and poor, the small town with big city.

The Global City Symphony Film will have its worldwide premiere in February 2012 at the Global Film Festival in Williamsburg, Virginia. We hope you are as surprised by the result as we are.