Tribeca Interview: Vivienne Roumani (Director – ‘Out of Print’)

Dive into the riveting debate over the future of ideas, as documentarian Vivienne Roumani tackles the questions confronting and at times confounding the modern word industry. To some, the digital revolution can offer an extraordinary gift to humanity: unfettered access to all published content, assuming future generations have the patience and curiosity for research. The other side defends copyrights as indispensible in ensuring that the best minds commit their energy and time to the written word. Roumani visits the libraries, book clubs, classrooms and corporate offices on the frontlines of this fight and proves that more is at stake here than how quickly and cheaply we can access the latest bestseller.

Featuring interviews with Scott Turow, Ray Bradbury, Jeffrey Toobin, founder and CEO Jeff Bezos, self-publishing success story Darcie Chan and many more, ‘Out of Print‘ is a fascinating, in-depth look at publishing’s milestones and what it means to adapt that history to the rapid expansions of the information age. At the heart of the issue is how we define ourselves. Are we democratic or exclusive, insipid or analytical, eager for the whole story or simply more efficient when we just read the snippets?

We spoke with Director Vivienne Roumani about the the current depiction of teacher expectation, culture’s place within the free market and the physicality of the printed word at the Fashion District Hilton in anticipation of the film’s “Tribeca Talks: After the Movie” Screening on Sunday, April 28 @ 1:30 at the SVA Theatre 2.

But tickets for ‘Out of Print’ at the 2013 Tribeca Film FestivalHERE

When did you first feel this documentary needed to be made?
This film started about 5 years ago.  I’m sure you remember the articles about the death of print and google’s book model.  Also, we cannot ignore that I used to be in some of the countries top libraries and we were dealing with these issues, databases, search engine’s for decades.  I remember being on a UC digitization task force where we found two difficulties; in pricing and copyright. We used to think it would take care of itself but it is still an issue.

How long was the planning and principal photography?
It took about 4 1/2 years.  In the beginning, an indie documentarian works alone.  I would love to work with a team.  The interviews are fantastic.  It is like going to another country, meeting new people.  I had eventually gotten a few content editors, which took some time.  I knew I needed someone who knew the traditional editing way but was also technologically savvy.  Tom Patterson was just amazing, he really understood the story.  Even when I mentioned how people will not see this as a character driven film he found nothing particularly wrong with that.

Initially i thought this might be an animated film, but the cost of animation was very expensive.  I thought of it as the book being the protagonist and all these forces chasing it.  You could see to make it done well it was have to be excellent quality

Out of Print

Speaking visually, the macro shots of the books really struck me.  As a director, what was your approach to the visual aspect of the film?
I wanted to portray the look, feel and smell of a book.  One of my favorite shots is when the page is turning and a hand casts a shadow, there is a voice over, “when a writer writes for you to explore…”, you feel like you are going into a mysterious world.  I wanted you to feel that and I wanted you to feel the fast pace with the technology aspects.

…when you see the mechanical arm, scanning the books for Google, you distinctly see the cut and dry precision of technology vs. the texture and feel of print.
I love that you noticed all that!  The editor has some funny thing he put in, like the books we scanned and the books we downloaded from The Pirate Bay were of some of the interviewees

.Oiut of Print

There is a significant moment in the film where it is said that the market will decide what medium, content, publishers will survive.  With your background in library, archiving and documentary, where does culture fall in the free market argument?  Should culture be subject to the fierce competition of the free market?
Like everything in the film things get so interconnected you cannot avoid some of the issues.  A lot of the cultural aspects of society are not being paid well.  Some make it big, but many do not. Artists, filmmakers, writers, even camera operators, are all getting scared in this new environment.  I would love to see more support of the arts.  We have to be forceful in society to assure that culture is recognized, especially as so many benefit from a good story.  I would like us to be more proactive and our voices to be heard.  Aside from the books, articles and everything that has been written on the topic I wanted to make a film and add another medium to the discussion.

There is another argument made in the film where it is said that a person who wants to read Dante will read the entire book while someone is is forced to read Dante will go after the Spark Notes or snippets (which is interesting because in high school I wrote an English report on ‘The Inferno’ with my teacher’s initial reaction being that I did not read the book…which I definitely did).  There is a young student in the film who explains how he receives the same grade using internet resources than his classmates do when reading the entire text.  Despite this technological ability, where does parental responsibility fall in the appreciation of books and culture?
A girl had a cry for help asking her mother to turn off Facebook.  Notice what you said, you read the full Dante text because that was the expectation.  There are no expectations like that anymore.  Why do we reduce expectation?

…and for me, this was over 10 years ago…
Of course parents should get involved.  The expectation is you read a good book.  The other thing is the teacher. You heard Cornelius say, “if the students don’t read it is on me.”  I heard another teacher say “in this classroom I expect every single student to go to college“.  The students live up to the trust you give in them to be a full person.

A young man came to me after a Q&A and told me he creates games.  He mentioned how he had invited 15 students to come test it.  He limited his instructions to the basic core, but there were 5 pages of text and the children would not do it. This was a real eye opener for him.  This was testing a video game!  In our culture in particular, all of us live in a fast paced, interconnected world so it is even more important to take the time to train and motivate.   I did a survey myself of universities of different levels where I asked the faculty in socials sciences if there students read the assignments.  i got a 10% response, which is great for a survey, but the top 3 reasons were 1. I am not used to reading 2. It is to difficult and 3. There are too many distractions.  The first we can do something about.

Out of Print

In regards to teachers, I am reminded of the phrase “the medium is the message”.  In ‘Out of Print’ the effective teachers depicted are much more non-traditional than teacher representations of the past; one has prominent dreadlocks, another has elaborate tattoos. Perhaps students would be more inclined to learn if their educators remind them of themselves or their older brother.

– Interview conducted & transcribed on site by Steve Rickinson

Out of Print

About Vivienne Roumani
VIVIENNE ROUMANI was born in Benghazi, Libya, and at age twelve emigrated with her family to Boston, an experience detailed in her debut feature, The Last Jews of Libya (TFF 2007). Before becoming a documentarian, she held library management positions at the Library of Congress, Johns Hopkins University and UC Berkeley.
Facebook: /outofprintthemovie




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