Recent Posts by knelson

Rehearsing for the Live Doc Project 2017

We are excited to be back at rehearsals for the Live Doc Project 2017. We have been invited to perform at the closing night dinner in the gorgeous Hilton ballroom at the fabulous Film & History conference in Milwaukee, WI and at the super-cool, new Pluralities conference at SFSU in San Francisco. It's really interesting…
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Live Documentary Premiere

After conference presentations in the US and Europe over the past year on this theory of Performance Dissemination, I am excited to announce our premiere/pilot performance of the Live Documentary: 130 Year Road Trip. A Live Participatory Documentary that features a deconstructed live documentary, followed by audience participation through live-mixed visuals and music as part of an interactive Q&A.

Chat with documentarian Sam Green about Live Documentary

As a follow up to last week's post. Thanks to the people at the CRI I had the chance to meet and talk to Oscar nominated documentary maker Sam Green. In the past several years he has switched from traditional to what he calls Live Documentaries. Here's a recording of that conversation in which Green…
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This is not a new recruit for the "Night's Watch" on Game of Thrones, but Richard Wagner, who, popularized the term "Gesamtkunstwerk."

This is not a new recruit for the "Night's Watch" on Game of Thrones, but Richard Wagner, who, popularized the term "Gesamtkunstwerk."

Gesamtkunstwerk means "total artwork". It refers to the combination of various art forms on stage, into a "super" art form. It's what Richard Wagner was talking about in his essay "The Artwork of the Future" in 1849. I hope he didn't wager too much on this prediction in the office pool, however, because opera, (including any other über-opera variation) got somewhat supplanted by another theatre based invention later that century. But now, live documentary seems to me to be a callback to this very grand concept.

After spending a few years thinking about my idea to merge audiovisual performance with documentary, I stumbled upon someone doing  just that, in his own brilliant way. In 2014, at the Hot Docs film festival, in Toronto, I saw a “live documentary” called The Measure of All Things by Sam Green. What other films I saw there that year I couldn’t say for sure but Green’s film/performance was so compelling and memorable. Green is an accomplished filmmaker in every sense. He studied documentary at Berkley under legend Marlon Riggs and was nominated for an Oscar in 2004 for his documentary The Weather Underground. That film was also a part of the Whitney Biennial of that year.

The Measure of All Things premiered at Sundance in 2014, and was his third foray into what he aptly dubbed live documentary. A term like “live cinema” might describe something that encompasses fiction film, but the experience of watching documentary mixed with live narration and musical performance creates a unique atmosphere that suggests the distinctions between experimental, documentary and fiction are amplified in the live context.

Green’s first live documentary was Utopia in Four MovementsUtopia was intended to be a “regular” documentary, not live, but he wanted to do something conceptual and was struggling with ways that he could express his ideas cinematically, in other words, in a visual language. A friend suggested to Green that he present what he had done so far, as a work-in-progress to get through the impasse. He presented the clips alongside his own live narration and the response was so positive that it became the basis for the film’s form.

After the success of the first, his second live documentary was The Love Song of R. Buckminster Fuller. With this live documentary, Green continued his exploration of utopian ideals and theoretical concepts, this time with musical accompaniment by the rock group Yo La Tengo.

Green describes this form as a hybrid of lecture performance and documentary. His recipe is to mix film clips featuring fascinating characters, with live music, all channelled through charismatic and arresting narration presented on stage by the filmmaker himself. Sam Green’s command of all of these elements is incredible, skilfully orchestrating a sublime deconstructed film spectacle.

You can check out Sam Green at


Jan van Leiden is one of the characters chronicled in "Hardcore History's" episode "The Prophets of Doom." Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons When I say “live documentary,” the most common response is, “like that This American Life thing?” This American Life presented a live show at BAM and it is pretty much what you would…
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Part of my impetus for merging documentary with live performance is the influence of my colleague and frequent collaborator Brent Lee. Brent is a composer, media artist, and  musician among other things. He’s brilliant and he’s busy. He’s created more than 100 works, from orchestral music to interactive media pieces and film soundtracks (including scoring…
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Above an ethnic German who lived in Poland under Nazi occupation. This still is from the “cutting room floor” of my documentary 130 Year Road Trip. It didn’t fit into the narrative of the overarching film and is not in the documentary. Does it stay on my hard drive until that hard drive fails or…
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Enthusiastic young Nazis in 1934. What if they controlled the narrative? Image courtesy of Bundearchiv Again back to high school. I had a wonderful English Lit teacher in grade 12 named Mr. Redford. In class one day he said to us about the Holocaust: “Don’t think, look what the Germans did, think, look what humans…
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History surely goes back as far back as talking. Having the ability to talk about the past, and adapt, is something some scientists have conjectured separated Homo Sapiens from Neanderthals. Although there are some famous names from way back that we would consider early historians: Thucydides and Herodotus among them, historians as a professional class…
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TWO SOLITUDES: Leaving History to the Historians/Will You Walk On By?

Group of Cree men at Fort Pitt, Saskatchewan, 1884. Image: NA-382-1 courtesy of Glenbow Archives. Questions this image raises: How do we tell these people's stories in documentary form with care, detail and critical distance? Who would each one identify with in The Breakfast Club? Does anyone ever identify with the principal? Note: Mean Girls…
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