The First Feature Documentary Shot On GoPro Heads For Theaters

gopro cameras for filmmakers
Photo by Fabrizio Verrecchia on Unsplash
Filmmaker Steven De Castro has released the first feature length documentary shot almost entirely on GoPro.  The imaginative film is part documentary, part simulated video gameplay, entitled Revolution Selfie.   Narrating and appearing in his own film, De Castro set out to capture the spirit of an armed peasant revolution.  To accomplish this, he secretly traveled deep into a forest in the southern Philippines and lived for five weeks with a band of heavily armed guerilla fighters of the New People's Army, the military wing of a Maoist peasant revolution fighting for land reform. 

De Castro initially chose GoPro because its lightweight batteries allowed him to shoot for days in the forest without electricity.  But the action camera was ideal for another reason: De Castro planned to shoot Revolution Selfie entirely from a first-person point of view (his own).   P.O.V. shots are as natural to action cameras as they are rare in the world of film.

Says De Castro: "Using a GoPro changed the entire storytelling process."  Most documentaries are choppy, switching from action shots to interviews, to archival footage and photographs presented under the studio voice of an unseen narrator.  By contrast, Revolution Selfie hums with a sense of immediacy, combining action, interview, and narration all in the same first-person shot.  "I would come out of my tent in the morning with a camera mounted to the strap of my backpack," says De Castro.  "If I see somebody, I go and do an interview.  If I want to narrate, I just talk into the camera, which is so close, it's like a handheld microphone.  If my subjects are getting onto a jeepney or picking up their guns to disappear into the forest, I'm right there with them.  So what used to be separate setups gets combined into a single flow, just me walking around with a tiny camera.

"Armed combatants aren't sure whether they want to be on camera sometimes.  But the action camera is more friendly.  The GoPro makes it much easier for me to share unscripted moments with my subjects, and to reveal that relationship on film, which is impossible if I am hiding behind a huge camera."

The human interactions in Revolution Selfie display a remarkable quality that at first is difficult to describe, until you remember that the subjects of the documentary (with the exception of some set piece interviews) are talking directly to De Castro as he is wearing a camera on his backpack strap.  Many interviews don't feel like interviews, they feel like you are watching one side of a conversation.  The light weight of the camera also gave the movie freedom of movement.  While most documentaries are shot from a fixed position, Revolution Selfie is like one big mobile tracking shot.  We adopt the filmmaker's point of view as he jumps into taxis and jeepneys, climbs steep muddy trails with a platoon of soldiers, and conducts an interview while riding on the back of a motorcycle, bouncing down a mountain road.

In the history of film, a feature made entirely from the first person point of view was extremely rare, because 20th Century movie cameras weighed hundreds of pounds.  (One notable exception occured in 1947, when the camera took Humphrey Bogart's point of view for the first third of the prison escape movie Dark Passage with Lauren Bacall).  Not until Hardcore Henry in 2015 did a narrative feature film dare to stay in the first-person from beginning to end.

In the 21st Century, first-person video is nothing unique.  Audiences are inundated with first-person video, through youtube vlogs, police body cameras, and significantly, in video games which young adults play on average more than they watch cable television.  Baby boomers' minds are blown to learn that millions tune into the Twitch website for 90 minutes a day just to watch other people play video games.  First-person video is as commonplace to millenials as a latte and a smartphone.  Revolution Selfie is the latest effort to bring the first-person perspective onto the big screen.

P.O.V. filmmakers have left a trail for other filmmakers to follow, but it's a work in progress.  Let's see how it goes.  "I went first-person with Revolution Selfie because I felt I could present an old subject -- armed revolution in the jungle -- to a new audience, in a style that they would find both new and familiar." says De Castro.  "Revolution Selfie obviously presents a very subjective viewpoint, but I think it leaves people freer to make up their own minds, because I have taken them into the middle of the action to see what I see and feel what I feel."

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This article was guest written by Natalie Selincourt as a featured sponsored post.


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