Berkeley cloud film offers chance for a soothing time-out

Berkeley resident Bill Smock has made a short film about clouds. Specifically the clouds above us in Berkeley. Smock is quick to provide a caveat for prospective viewers, however: “The video is very slow and contemplative. It gets the lowest rating from viewers on the Cloud Appreciation Society website,” he said.

The film runs for ten minutes and includes a soundtrack crafted by Smock that is a melody of everyday Berkeley sounds, from freelance trash recyclers to passing cars broadcasting rap.

Caveat duly acknowledged, if you need some decompression time — a few minutes out of your busy schedule, perhaps, to breathe and to take stock — swirling, beautiful clouds may be just what the doctor ordered.

Except for a couple of shots taken from Tilden Park and Cesar Chavez Park, all of the clouds in the film were sighted from Smock’s house and yard on Carleton Street in West Berkeley.

Screen shot 2013-06-17 at 7.41.45 PM

A still from Bill Smock’s short film about Berkeley clouds.

Smock, who said he was surprised at the variety of Berkeley clouds and the drama they create, is a retired filmmaker. His career has included stints as a cameraman/editor at WWVU-TV in Morgantown, West Virginia, making two films about a Nevada cattle roundup for the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress, and producing numerous films while working at Pictures & Words and as a freelancer. He is also the author and illustrator of The Bauhaus Ideal Then and Now, a condensed history of modern design published by Academy Chicago Publishers in 2004.

He said he made the clouds video because he could.

“It slowly dawned on me that I could make high definition films with an amateur video camera and the software that comes with every Apple computer. In my celluloid past we spent tens of thousands of dollars buying or renting equipment and many more thousands on film and processing. 16mm editing, my specialty, was also clumsy and slow compared to digital editing. Video cameras are also more sensitive to light than film cameras.

Smock’s first digital video was a film he started as a college student, showing reflections on water.

Smock also digitized and uploaded a film about traditional wrestling he made as a Peace Corps volunteer in West Africa in 1968. No educational distributor had picked it up in 1970, and very few people had ever seen it, he said. Now, however, it’s a minor hit with the Bakweri people in Cameroon and Bakweri emigrés to other countries.

“The beauty of the world unfolds itself to observers who have trained themselves to see, and clouds are an excellent example,” Smock said of his cloud film.

“The clouds and water reflections are things that most people, including me, do not notice in our everyday lives. Once you do they are incredibly beautiful. I have started a video about surf; it has not, so far, been as interesting. I am reaching for better ideas.”

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  • Chris J

    I was immediately taken by this notion–of making a movie about clouds and turning it into a vid for quiet contemplation. Then I read that it had been actually rated by an actual online Cloud Appreciation Society.

    This all strikes me as rather bizarre, in its strictest sense and not meant as a pejorative comment in the slightest. Comic book readers (of which I count myself), bird watchers, train spotters, beer bottle collectors.

    Maybe we all DO have a lot more free time.

  • http://www.berkeleyside.com/ lknobel

    I’d highly recommend reading Gavin Pretor-Pinney’s Cloudspotter’s Guide.