Site back, upgraded

Netribution 1 was great in that it was all HTML and a bit of CSS – 15 years on not a single page has ever been hacked and most of them are still there.

Netribution 2.0 launched in 2006 on a CMS and unless CMSs get regularly upgraded they eventually get hacked or break. This just happened here, so as tempting as it has been to leave this space as an archive and change nothing, reality refused: I had to either take the site down and lose everything, or fix it. It's been rebuilt from scratch with an upgraded dbse (to the shiny joomla 3.3), and the user profiles & community section is now offline as it would cost $99 to upgrade it - but overall I've committed to a responsive redesign that risks looking a little like a rebirth, even if it isn't. To preserve a past I would sometimes rather forget, Netribution 2 continues in some form. Hopefully I'll re-theme it soon.

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Why Selma's not a 'challenging race biopic'; it's much more

SELMA: How Peaceful Protest WorksThere's a rather funny viral doing the rounds by UK blog the Shiznit about what if the 2015 Oscar nominations told the truth, following similar posts they've done in previous years. I didn't feel like sharing it however because their poster for Selma ('Challenging Race Biopic: if you don't like it then you basially hate black people') troubled me somewhat. I had to see it to be sure - and no longer on the press list for freebie previews, I got my chance when Pathé's advertising on the #MLK hashtag alerted me to UK previews for Martin Luther King day (a rare case of social media targeted advertising winning me). And I came home compelled to write, because it feels there's a risk people might think the film was a biopic or even specifically about race, as opposed to a story about the universal struggle for justice, and methods to achieve that.

SELMA Shiznit posterTo be clear - I'm not trying to pick the Shiznit up for what it created - it was part of a trio of jokes alongside 'challenging gay biopic' and 'challenging disability biopic' - and perhaps the authors hadn't even seen the film. And of course if we were fool enough to try PC-one-up-manship, well Netribution published Andrew Cousin's spoof about September 11: the Musical barely weeks after the tragedy, while some of the cartoons we ran such as the crucifixion of Lars von Trier cut somewhat crudely - not to mention much of the crap I must have spouted over the years. However, in this year when BAFTA voters refused to grant Selma even one nomination (despite a mostly British cast - from MLK and his wife to Lyndon Jonson and the Alabama governor), and where the Academy Award voters gave it only two - there seems a real danger that people think the Shiznit poster is accurate and don't get round to seeing the film. So for the avoidance of doubt:

  • Selma is not a Biopic. A biopic is the story of someone's life - true for Theory of Everything and Imitation Game - but not Selma. Selma covers one episode in Dr King's life - the attempts to peacefully march between the city of Selma and Montgomery in Alabama to change the law around all Americans' right to register to vote, creating a piece of legislation considered the most effective civil rights legislation in America's history.
  • It's not only about Race. As a white guy I don't  want to labour an "and it's also about us!" angle, but Dr King campaigned almost as hard on poverty as on race, pointing out in the film how the poor white person is encouraged to be racist by the super-rich whites in order to keep the poor in general disunity, a theme as relevent today as migrants get blamed for a financial crisis not of their creation (and a view well expressed by a rapping Warren Beaty in Bullworth).
  • And while it's certainly challenging to watch parts of this film, witnessing scenes of brutal and senseless violence, it's it's also un-apologetically inspiring, showing - at a time where our news is full of scenes of violence, and terrorism - [SPOILER] that non-violence works [/SPOILER]. Massively, and perhaps disarmingly, to some people in power.

And it's this last point - that the film is a genuinely inspiring examination of the power of non-violent resistance, of mass protest in the face of brutal state violence - that should make all of us who care, more sensitive to any efforts to belittle such an important film. Whether that's the backlash from Lyndon Johnson's people that the film didn't present him as faultless (he came off pretty well IMHO), or voters of the awards ceremonies using that as an excuse (as if accuracy stopped Braveheart getting five wins), or even just this casual cynical-but-comic putdown of the film as just another worthy race biopic, as if to say we all need to pay lip service to it only to offset some privilege guilt - rather than, 'here is an inspiring TRUE story of how people uniting and acting peacefully changed the world' - as relevant today as ever, perhaps even more urgently so, given how successful Dr King was back then. And doubtless as unnerving to some people in power as it was then.

Ava Du Vernay by Marie MayeThere is, of course, another reason why the film is inspiring - from the perspective of this website's traditional focus - and that's the story of writer/director Ava DuVernay. Indeed if Netribution was still a weekly magazine rather than an occasional echo chamber for my lingering thoughts, I'd be doing everything I could possibly do to get an interview with her for a future edition - as she seems to represent everything good and inspiring about the independent spirit of filmmaker. It was only in 2008 that she quit her job as a publicist, and taught herself filmmaking while directing a documentary on a micro-budget, before making her narrative film debut in 2011. She self-distributed this and then made another feature - winning Sundance Best Director award (the first time it was ever won by an African-American woman), and self-distributed that as well, creating a distribution network for African American films to find and connect with audiences, creating a network of cities to screen in and group of backers for future projects. In short she's part of a new generation of filmmaker who, using modern tools and technology, and of course considerable hard work and determination) floated straight up through the a number of traditional glass ceiling. She talks inspiringly about how exactly she did this at the Film Forum (video).

And of course, there's still the tiniest of chances that Selma could become the fifth film in Oscar history to win Best Picture without a best director nomination - after Argo, Driving Miss Daisy, Grand Hotel and Wings - the voting doesn't take place for almost another month.

So please see this film and talk about it if you want to believe that change is possible but aren't sure how to achieve it, or if you have any doubt about the power of non-violence. You could also see it if you want to get a little better understanding of someone as significant as Martin Luther King, or even simply to watch a brilliantly-made and gripping film. Failing that, please just see it if you want to witness evidence of how much one person can achieve when they put their mind, body and soul into doing something for all the right reasons, be that Dr King or Ava DuVernay.

 

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How 2014 might be the most hopeful year in 66 million years or so

Amidst gloom-laced end-of-year summaries, I’ve decided to make like a salmon and swim against the flow with ten reasons why 2014 might be the most promising year in about 66 million years. Well there's one main reason really, but on this date of Netribution’s 15th birthday I have a small desire to know I can still get ‘down with it’ and write a list of ten, with numbers and everything, given that’s how people read things now. 

light end tunnel

I had just begun a second day of seemingly unstoppable tears over over the death of Robin Williams when I turned to a friend and asked if there had ever been such a terrible flood of news. From Syria and Isis, full of western Rambo-wannabes, raping and terrorising a too-long-suffering people, to Russia/Ukraine seemingly hot for the start of a new cold war; from Israel and Hamas returning to a never-ending tragic game of Paper-Scissors-Aerial-Bomabrdment to North Korea treating international diplomacy like some kind of drunken PMQs; from planes vanishing from the sky to the rampant spread of ebola; from Philip Seymour Hoffman to Maya Angelou, Gabriel Garcia Marquez to Bob Hoskins; from the ‘tip of the iceberg’ of institutionalised child abuse and murder - to the failure of our establishment to investigate itself in any form; from Fergusson and #Icantbreath to the truth of the Bush-Blair-era torture programme finally (thankfully) materialising; from the schools full of children killed or kidnapped for daring to study, to Nigel Farage being crowned Brit of the year in the latest attempt by Uncle Rupert to write our political narrative in the face of his fear over what a Milliband government might do to his ambitions. Charlie Brooker summed it all up pretty well in August arguing the universe owed us all some kind of epic Unicorn Chaser to balance everything out.

Then the unicorn came, and we all went wow for a little bit at the technical achievement, but much of the media seemed to miss the core of its significance and as we headed further and further towards the Christmas hurricane, it was forgotten. Looking back over the year, there seem to be other rays of hope that slipped through, which leaves me wondering if one of the biggest losses of our digital disintermediated time is the eye of a newspaper editor who serves up the morning news with a balanced weighting of good and bad to ensure we don’t run through the day in a state of perpetual panic that everything is about to end, as the internet’s echo chamber can often leave us feeling, any more than a stoned Sillicon Valley-esque elation that everything is awesome, please leave me alone in my dotcom bubble of self-reinforcing sentiment.

So here goes, 10 reasons why 2014 might turn out to be the best, or at least most promising, year for 66 million years or so.

1. Rosetta calling

66 million years ago, the Chicxulub Asteroid hit earth and killed all non-avian dinosaurs and made extinct three-quarters or more of plant and animal life on our planet. Over 75% of all species became extinct with a single rock hitting us from space.

If the earth had a mind or a will, you might picture it going back to the drawing board after that event and trying to design a new, nimbler species than the ever-more fierce dinosaurs. One with a bigger brain and agile, crafty fingers, and the ability to look up at the stars and dream.

And on 12 November 2014, our planet’s phantom quest to make sure such a catastrophic event could not happen again took possibly its biggest leap forward yet as the Rosetta lander approached a speeding comet, and landed on it. It’s been described as the engineering equivalent of landing a butterfly on a speeding bullet.

We may have near destroyed the earth to get to this point, and near-wiped ourselves out industrialising and inventing the nuclear bombs that could divert such an asteroid, but if nature - mother earth - was in the business of long-term self-preservation, after 66 milion years, you could say we’ve just made a major leap closer to that.

2. Climate progress

Another thing happened on the 12 Novemeber 2014. After decades of delays and dodges, China and America agreed to a huge ‘turning point’ deal to reduce their carbon emissions and the impact of climate change; China for the first time in history giving a fixed date for its emissions to peak at. While the Rosetta landing was a triumph of European cooperation, this deal, crafted in secret over several years and announced on the same day, appears a significant trumpet of Sino-Americna diplomacy, and hopefully is the nudge needed to make 2015’s Paris Climate Change conference a success. 

Yarned tree, Berlin, CC NW

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My life as a game: notes from the tenth Nordic Game Conference

Nordic Game Developers Conference at 10I arrived for once a little early, as the last gold balloons were being lifted into place. I decided to walk the block, attempting to hide my game industry noobiness with some assertive power walking. Ah a river. I will gaze across it with a sense of confidence, a metaphorical eye on the future. All is fine.

So as I was scribbling this blog in a cafe in Bristol, the guy opposite told me "I never play video games, not since Duke Nukem in university". And then a few miutes later he mentions playing something on his phone: Words with Friends. He's got four games on the go and plays all the time, but it's not a video game or a copmuter game in his mind, and suddenly it hits me that most of the world with smart phones are playing games - be it Solitaire or Suduko, but many might not even know it. It was a big wake up for me (and I recommend him Ruzzle - a kind of Scrabble meets Candy Crush that I played at the conference from a stand that gave me much needed free socks).

Anyway, back to Malmö, home to the Nordic Game Conference. I was not quite sure how I'd ended up with my pass. I'd been tipped off by a game developer about a free Unity for Storytellers session from Nordic Transmedia that afternoon and after sprinkling the signup form with a few words it had somehow grown into a conference badge, and here I was (thanks Hans and Cecilie!). With the gold balloons bobbing as I returned to the main hall I saw it was the conference's tenth year, just like it was ten years since I was last in Sweden, an experience I've still not quite got over.

Occulus, lucid dreams & the Zuck

So I wonder inside and the first big stand I see is for Oculus, and I watch a man inside what looks like a simulation of a living room with two kids playing a sword fight in front of him. It's a virtual family and in the middle of this slightly cold exhibition space, he's able to pretend he's in a nice home, surrounded by his virtual kids. The guy pulls his headset off looking flustered. 'Try it without headphones on' he's told, but he looks uncomfortable and pulls away. Something about the sight of it all puts me off wanting to have a play. I just want to find him and ask what it was like - but I never get a chance.

This game looked really interesting and moody - like an 8bit Wong Kar WaiI instead go and play with some nice big Wacom pads as I think about it all. Like many a nerd I've of course been following the Oculus Rift since the initial Kickstarter, and after reading about how players of Oculus were getting lucid and very vivid dreams - even in people who hadn't remembered a dream in years - I became fascinated how this insanely powerful and immersive piece of technology could impact our neurology.

I remember a short film I saw at IDFA a few years back about how virtual reality was being used to treat chronic pain with a form of mindfulness training using virtual environments that responded to breathing. As the 'player' wondered around a virtual space, trees would blow and blossom as their breath slowed, and they calmed down, helping to reinforce the neural pathways that associated being calm and mindful with the 'reward' of a pleasant, blissful environment. VR has also been used quite a lot with post-traumatic stress disorder apparently pretty successfully.

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Two Short Nights Film Festival 2014 Call for Entries

Two Short Nights Film Festival 2014 is calling for submissions.

Films of any genre, under 15 minutes are invited to enter the 12th Annual Short Film festival. Two Short Nights celebrates and promotes short film and the people who make them. Now in its 12th year, the festival is proud to nurture new and emerging talent and offers a platform for regional, national and international short films to be seen.

View the Two Short Nights 2013 trailer. https://vimeo.com/80476873

Two Short Nights 2014 will take place on 11 – 12th Decebmer 2014 at Exeter Phoenix, Exeter, UK.

DEADLINE: Entries close Friday 18 July 2014. Visit www.twoshortnights.co.uk for more information and to enter.

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"Don't make us feel small. Remind us to be larger."

"From another perspective, the news is not good at all. Everybody's miserable. Everybody's had about enough. People are sick to death of being valued only as potential buyers, as monetary grist for some modern-day satanic mill.

They're sick of working for organizations that treat them as if they didn't exist, then attempt to sell them the very stuff they themselves produced. Why is a medium that holds such promise — to connect, to inspire, to awaken, to enlist, to change — being used by companies as a conduit for the kind of tired lies that have characterized fifty years of television? Business has made a ventriloquist's trick of the humanity we take for granted. The sham is ludicrous. The corporation pretends to speak, but its voice is that of a third-rate actor in a fourth-rate play, uttering lines no one believes in a manner no one respects.

Oh well. That's OK. We'll get by. We've got each other.

I have to laugh as I write that. The Internet audience is a strange crew, to be sure. But we're not talking about some Woodstock lovefest here. We don't all need to drop acid and get naked. We don't need to pledge our undying troth to each other, or to the Revolution, or to the bloody Cluetrain Manifesto for that matter. And neither does business.

All we need to do is what most of us who've discovered this medium are already doing: using it to connect with each other, not as representatives of corporations or market segments, but simply as who we are... Tell us some good stories and capture our interest. Don't talk to us as if you've forgotten how to speak. Don't make us feel small. Remind us to be larger. Get a little of that human touch."

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LFF review: 12 Years A Slave

ejioforfassbenderThe third feature from artist-turned-director Steve McQueen needs little introduction.

It's a visceral, unpredictable tale of life as a slave in 1840s America, based on the true story of Solomon Northup (played by Chiwetel Ejiofor, who, as ever, disappears effortlessly into the demanding role), who was born a free man in New York.

 

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LFF review: Captain Phillips

held at gunpoint

 

The 57th BFI London Film Festival opened with this belter of a thriller, based on the real-life hijacking of a US container ship by Somali pirates in 2009.

Tom Hanks stars as Captain Richard Phillips, an American, whose job it is to steer the MV Maersk Alabama through the danger-filled Somali Basin to mombasa, Kenya.

(watch out for spoilers below)

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