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Protocols Of Zion Shot with Panasonic SDX900 Camera

Documentary from Director Marc Levin Makes Its Debut At Sundance (January 28, 2005)

The Protocols of Zion, an appraisal of contemporary anti-Semitism from veteran documentarian Marc Levin, made its international debut at 2005 Sundance Film Festival. The 90-minute documentary, which will screen at the Berlin Film Festival on February 13 and subsequently be broadcast on HBO, was shot by cinematographer Mark Benjamin with a Panasonic AJ-SDX900 DVCPRO50 Cinema 24p camera. (The last Sundance screening of Protocols will be this Saturday, Jan. 29.)

Noting an alarming upsurge of anti-Semitic sentiment in the U.S. and around the world after 9/11, director/producer Levin took to the streets to measure the temperature of what Elie Wiesel calls "the oldest collective bigotry in history." Throwing himself into the eye of an existential storm, Levin polls a panoply of people to explore the notion that Jews are out for world domination--a theory propagated by ?The Protocols of the Elders of Zion," a century-old tract that, despite being discredited as a libelous forgery, is still widely available. Levin talks with street prophets claiming Jews are accountable for 9/11; with the mastermind behind an Aryan separatist website; with Christian evangelicals, Kabbalist rabbis, rallying Palestinian American kids, Holocaust deniers and survivors, and parading peaceniks. With a healthy skepticism, Levin listens open-mindedly to all points of view but isn't above plunging into raucous debate from his position as a secular humanist Jew.

Levin is a pioneer in the art of merging fiction and nonfiction filmmaking. From his dramatic features such as Slam, which won the Grand Jury Prize at Sundance in 1998 and the Camera d'Or at Cannes, to his episodic television projects such as Street Time, which was produced by Columbia/Tristar for Showtime, to his documentaries such as Godfathers and Sons, part of the highly-regarded Martin Scorsese PBS series on the blues, Levin seamlessly combines narrative techniques in a filmmaking style entirely his own.

Cinematographer Mark Benjamins longtime collaboration with director Levin includes Slam, Godfathers and Sons, and multiple episodes of the HBO series, America Undercover. Other current Benjamin projects include Citizen Andre for HBO (Levin directing and Norman Lear producing), an account of Andre 3000 of OUTKAST at the 2004 Republican and Democratic conventions (being shot with Panasonics VariCam HD Cinema camera) and Philip Pearlstein: Work in Progress, premiering on the Voom all-HDTV network.

Benjamin has shot extensively with the SDX900 since it came on the market, including all his recent work on the HBO America Undercover series, including the much-anticipated Christa Worthington murder documentary. ?The producers I work for?who have chosen me because I come from a film background, as they do?have come to consider the SDX900 the documentary camera of choice, he said. ?It makes producers feel comfortable, as it doesnt have a digi Beta look, which has come to be viewed as too clean, too newsy, too real?in short, not cinematic enough. On the other hand, the SDX900 has a softer edge, similar to 16mm, as well as native 16:9 and 24p, which gives the material a desirable temporal stutter.

He continued, ?The camera is exceptionally cost-effective?were looking at aggregate costs of $30 for 30 minutes of tape vs. $350 for 10 minutes of 16mm film. Its lightweight, and one of its Dionic batteries will handle up to four 33-minute tapes, instrumental for long takes. You cant get its Cine-like Gamma settings from any other standard-definition camera. It handles contrast so well, as well as a variety of lighting situations.

Benjamin said that he shot Protocols at 24p utilizing Cine Gamma and ?a very reasonable setting that didnt overcrank to look like enhanced video. He used two lenses, a superwide and a 22:1 zoom. To capture audio, he shot wireless, with two radio mics in saddlebags over the batteries; his sound man would mix down the audio to two channels, then radioed to the SDX900.

Benjamin noted that he also used Panasonics AG-DVX100A Mini-DV 3-CCD camcorder as a second, ?run-and-gun camera on the Protocols shoot.

?The SDX900 facilitates a fairly streamlined editorial flow, he added. ?For the Protocols off-line, we down-rezed to DVCAM, which we dubbed via Firewire into an Avid DV Express Pro. For the on-line, we had a DVCPRO50 deck playing back into a Symphony, followed by the color correct and an up-rez to HD 30i (a Sundance stipulation).

?Not only does the SDX900 cover the gamut of NTSC ?flavors, it also makes a surprisingly strong, elegant up-rez to HD, either 24p or 30i, perfectly capturing the aesthetic of what youve color corrected, with all the contrast and subtle color differentiations. And how the material holds up to large-screen projection is a critical consideration in this level of documentary production.

Over the last 25 years, cinematographer Benjamin has built a national reputation through an allegiance to film and television. As director/cameraman, he has created eight Bill Moyers documentaries, six National Geographic films and other programs for ABC, CBS, NBC, HBO, TBS, and the Discovery Channel. Of the hundreds of films Benjamin has worked on many have received awards and citations, among them ten national Emmy awards. Benjamin's photographed films have been screened at Sundance, New York, Chicago, Toronto, Houston, and London film festivals. He has been the second unit cinematographer for noted directors such as Oliver Stone, William Friedkin, and Peter Bogdanovich. Visit his website at

For more information about The Protocols of Zion and Sundance, visit

Panasonics AJ-SDX900 offers filmmakers the ultimate in acquisition flexibility, expressed in the operator-controllable selection of EFP-quality 4:2:2 sampled DVCPRO50 or classic 4:1:1 sampled DVCPRO recording, with support for native 16:9 wide-screen. The AJ-SDX900 combines in one camera the ?look and ?feel of electronic film, high-performance 525-line field production, and low-cost NTSC compatible news. It is also the first 50Mbps 4:2:2 sampled standard definition camcorder to offer 24 frames-per-second progressive scan (480/24p) acquisition, in addition to 30 frames-per-second progressive (480/30p) and 60-fields-per-second interlace scan (480/60i) capture.

More information is available at

About Panasonic Broadcast
Panasonic Broadcast & Television Systems Co. is a leading supplier of broadcast, professional video and presentation products and systems. Panasonic Broadcast is a unit company of Panasonic Corporation of North America. The company is the North American headquarters of Matsushita Electric Industrial Co., Ltd. (NYSE: MC) of Japan, and the hub of its U.S. marketing, sales, service and R&D operations

For more information on Panasonic Broadcast products, access the companys web site at


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