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Docu-style Music Videos 2016-2017 (Part 1)

In a media environment ruled by speed and a growing obsession with authenticity, docu-style music videos are gaining ground. They serve as promoters for the music while featuring real characters and stories, and this combination ensures their larger appeal. What you get is documentary filmmaking in a condensed and highly accessible form.

Darkest Hour from Thomas Ralph

I hand-picked ten docu-style music videos that stood out for me. These first five feature promos that tell stories about specific places and events. The upcoming one will be centered around portraits.


1. Lyves – “Darkest Hour” directed by Thomas Ralph

An uncomfortable introspection into how some of Britain’s young minds perceive the Brexit and what it means to be British. Director Thomas Ralph portrays teenagers that could not yet vote but will be affected the most by this dramatic decision the older generations made for them. While some of the kids seem to simply embrace what’s happening to their country and their future, others are left puzzled and confused.

Talking about how he managed to get such insightful thoughts from the kids the director confesses: “As we recce’d and found our kids and families we found that ‘Brexit’ as a word, a topic and as a situation bore an immediate stigma. Therefore we felt we needed another initial angle to then seed in our political theme. Before shooting I’d seen an old Martin Parr documentary where he literally travelled the country and asked one simple question, ‘What does being British mean to you?’ I was drawn to its simplicity and openness so we used that as our starting point, growing into ideas of describing oneself, their home, their hopes, their fears, etc. It was only when we were there that current social issues came to the fore. In many cases it happened naturally.”

The music video was winner of the Homespun Yarn 2016 – a competition that supports young talents in the UK. Thomas is definitely one to watch.


2. S G Lewis ft. Gallant – “Holding Back” directed by John Merizalde

In “Holding Back,” John Merizalde portrays what the Cascade skating ring meant for a small community in Atlanta. For many years, it was a way for young people to get together and compete in a place that was safe from drugs and gang wars. It captured the life and soul of the community, and while in time its impact somewhat diminished, it still represented a landmark for the members of the community. A place they knew they could always go back to.

The director brilliantly manages to pay tribute to this wonderful space. He draws his inspiration from the works of AG Rojas, Romain Gavras and Daniel Wolfe, and this shows in the perfect balance between the artistic and authentic cinematography. Merizalde knows how to capture his subjects so that their specificity transpires, while in the same time playing with filters and framing in order to achieve a memorable atmosphere. With a life as fascinating as his aesthetics, it feels surreal Merizalde actually made his debut directing church movies. And he quit film school because he felt one “doesn’t need film school in order to make films”.


3. PJ Harvey – “The Orange Monkey” directed by Seamus Murphy

The third installment in a collaborative trilogy between PJ Harvey and photo journalist and filmmaker Seamus Murphy, focusses on capturing the ‘daily’ life in the war regions Kabul, Parwan, Nangarhar and Helmand, Afghanistan. The Orange Monkey serves as a great yet subtle reminder that life has to and does go on also in these very troubled provinces.

Thanks to Murphy’s incredible artistry the dichotomy between war instruments and every day elements is not something ostentatious but feels very organic. As dramatic as this is, weapons and soldiers feel no longer out of place and alien, but seem integrated in ‘normality’. This realization is in part disturbing, in part comforting, as the inhabitants deserve a somewhat normal life even in troubled times.

The other two parts of the trilogy bear a similar message and aesthetics. “The Wheel” features footage shot in the Balkans and explores aspects of the Kosovo war and the migration crisis. “Community of Hope” is focussed on disenfranchised communities in the US and the impact they have on society.


4. Jack Garratt – “Surprise Yourself” directed by Tom Clarkson

A promo shot with a GoPro is slightly surprising especially when you’re no stranger to the music video industry, as is the case with Tom Clarkson. Yet, it perfectly fits the concept: real people facing their fears. The camera brings a certain rawness to the whole setting, giving the promo authenticity. And it puts viewers in the shoes of the protagonists. We too find ourselves riding the roller coaster, jumping from a plane, driving a car or getting a tattoo.

Talking about the filmmaking process in an interview for PromoNews, the director admits: “Finding real people to participate was key to delivering that sentiment so the entire cast were found through a mix of Jack’s social channels and street castings by Leanne Flinn. We were so lucky to have everyone who took part and shared their journey with us… their courage and what they achieved was astounding and inspiring. It was a privilege for Jack, the team and I to have their trust and be able to share in their experience.” 


5. Souls – “I Wait for You” directed by Jonathan ‘JJ’ Augustavo

The latest album for Souls is one of producer David Gledhill’s most personal projects, as it is part of his grieving process following the death of his wife. “For the first time in my life I felt like I was making music that actually meant something,” he says. Frustrated that he couldn’t find singers that moved him enough, the producer decided to search instead for old voices from the past – talented singers that died before becoming famous.

A deeply realistic, spiritual and moving experience is also what director Jonathan ‘JJ’ Augustavo aimed for with his visuals. “What I made is my perspective of my country. Of what America is,” he says. “To a mixed Filipino-American from Seattle collaborating with a white guy from Ohio, a Chino-Latino from the Bay, and a producer from London. A postcard of this country that is not based on stereotype but actually something real and spiritual”.

Together Souls and Augustavo create four docu-style music videos, all going back to the roots while trying to capture the diversity and essence of the American people: “Bad Girl”, “Satisfied”, “I Go On” and “I Wait for You”. What the duo achieves however transcends the genre and gives life to something unique. The images capture a reality, the pre-recorded tune depicts another. The mix of them creates something else altogether, still a documentation of reality, but this time including the emotions of the two creators.


By @ricutza

Former editor and now guest editor Maria Dicieanu is our right honorable movie geek. She is the living manifestation of a multimedia app and loves trawling the world wide web for the finest music videos, likes to get her digital mitts dirty with conversions, uploads and video edits for Submarine Channel, and also flirts with transmedia-related journalism, reporting from festivals like Cannes, Berlinale and IDFA for European Cinema collective NISI MASA and Submarine Channel.





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