night photo from Flickr by Thombo2

What Happened? Sandip Mahal on stereotypes in British TV

on . Posted in Media & Representation


For me television (and the 90’s) really started with Buddha of Suburbia, which had fully developed Indian characters that weren’t stereotypes to cringe at. Yes shopkeepers and arranged marriages were in there but it was done in a funny demented way that wasn’t patronising. I know there was My Beautiful Laundrette before it (from the same writer no less) but this was better. Add My Son the Fanatic which was years ahead of it’s time in terms of it’s subject matter, East is East (not my favourite but popular nonetheless) and then the ground breaking Goodness Gracious Me and after that…. Er that’s it.

We seem to have gone backwards again with Curry urchins on Eastenders, corner shop owners on Corrie (aka Currie?) and an ITV Call Centre comedy that seems to evoke Mind Your Language seeing as the latter had an LWT weekend slot. All this slow progress and progressive work has suddenly gone into reverse. Granted, we have Gurinder Chadha flying the flag but she is all alone out there and not much is being done to pan out the television schedules to reflect the diversity of the United Kingdom and when they do it’s with a resounding commercial and critical thump. I would estimate that we are 20 years behind American television we need to close the gap.

We need characters like the ones written for the screen by Hanif Kureishi rather than the caricatures in Eastenders and Coronation street. This can only be done by true talent spotting rather than diversity nights that the channels seem to be doing to ‘feel clean’.

Actors of colour like Dev Patel and Adrian Lester have already disappeared to America where characters are stronger, can we afford to lose more like them?


Special Edition # 44

on . Posted in Special Edition

We’ve just passed Halloween which means that it’s horror movie a-go-go as we have more remakes of classic scary movies (which, alongside the fact that Scream 4 has been announced, seems to indicate that the horror genre has run out of ideas entirely) and one film that is so disgusting that I think that I may not be able to eat for quite a while. Still, nothing’s as scary as George Osbourne. Special Edition # 44 has survived a cut in funding and I’m here to give a rundown of what to buy over the coming month. That’s assuming that you’ve got any money left.

Jackie Earle Haley gets pizza smeared all over his face (OK, I am sure that the make-up job is a bit more elaborate than that) as he takes on the iconic role of Freddy Kreuger in the remake of A Nightmare on Elm Street (Warner Brothers Home Entertainment). For those of you not familiar with Wes Craven’s 80s terrorfest, the film follows Krueger, a child molester turned evil demon, who is capable of killing people in their dreams. A group of teenagers must fight him whilst resisting the urge to succumb to sleep and enter the world in which Freddy has control. Whilst the film takes the character of Freddy back to his darker roots (losing the one-liners and bringing his background as a paedophile more to the fore) it all feels rather by the numbers and seems constrained by the history of the franchise even though it’s ostensibly a reboot. Hayley seems almost pantomime as Krueger whilst the young cast of victims do nothing to distinguish themselves from the usual cast of cannon fodder that horror films love to line up. Ultimately it’s another limp attempt at starting all over again. Why can’t people do something original...



Marwencol, The Arbor and Life in Day – Sheffield Doc/Fest draws to a close

on . Posted in Festivals


Sheffield Doc/Fest wound up on Sunday night after 5 full-on days. Capturing a flavour of the event overall did mean sacrificing time spent in screenings, but I caught two films up for a Special Jury Award; Clio Barnard’s The Arbor (premiered at London Film Festival in October) and Jeff Malmberg’s Marwencol (premiering in the UK at Sheffield).

Neither won, although Barnard’s film did get the Innovation Award also on offer. Being a fusion of doc and drama exploring the life of playwright Andrea Dunbar, it was fascinating and effective in its lip-synch acting device. But it didn’t have me seeping tears during the Q and A as Malmberg’s Marwencol did.

Every frame of this beautiful film locks you into the delicate, inspired and utterly novel world of its protagonist Mark Hogencamp, a man who was beaten so badly outside a bar in Kingston, New York state, the resulting brain damage largely knocked out memories of his life prior to the attack.

After scant rehabilitation – the reality of US health insurance - Mark builds a miniature Belgian town, ‘Marwencol’, which becomes the site of a WW2 fantasy-scape populated by Action Men and Barbies. He creates and photographs endless scenarios, including SS sieges and Barbie cat-fights in the local bar (called Hogencamp’s of course). The dolls here represent Mark and the people in his life, including his attorney and the married neighbour he has a crush on, Colleen, whose name he utters in sighs. Meanwhile, his mother is a James Bond Pussy Galore doll, and it is this suspension of reality and its simultaneous connection to the narrative of Mark’s new life that makes his story a fabulous balance of creativity as therapy and the sublimely cockeyed. This Action Man- scaled world isn’t surreal and it isn’t ironic; instead we’re witnessing play as a life-affirming force. And it is the compassion the film brings, with humour and a deep respect for Mark, resurfacing into the ‘real’ world disabled and managing PTSD, that tilts Marwencol into the realm of the rather special.

Rather than extraordinary lives, it is the very ordinary that director Kevin Macdonald is seeking for his Life in a Day project, inspired by the 1930s Mass Observation social research organisation. However, this time it’s the entire planet, not just Britain he’s hoping to get on board. As a crowd-sourced movie it confounded expectations around user-generated content on a couple of levels. A million dollars isn’t exactly budget documentary, but it was all needed. With footage from 197 countries, it turned out to be the Byzantine admin and huge translation costs which were the main budget-munchers.

And the quantities of everything involved are eye-watering: 81,000 video clips making up 4,500 hours of footage shot in 60 different frame rates. Tackling this were 24 ratings deciders who whittled down the work pain passed on to Macdonald. He saw a couple of hundred hours of footage (only the 4 or 5 star stuff) but Joe Walker, his editor, saw it all. It’s a web project all right, but not the hand-knitted, cottage industry endeavour You-tube - sponsored by LG to host the project - is normally used to.

They also concede content was pretty US-centric as that’s where they got most clips from. Even spending £45,000 on 470 cameras for poorer countries still didn’t get round the problem of people not conceptually getting the film-yourself narrative.

"Us westerners might think we’re endlessly fascinating, but not all cultures share the west’s capacity for online narcissism."


Sheffield Documentary Film Festival 2010: Joan Rivers, Kevin MacDonald + the MeetMarket

on . Posted in Festivals

If you want to meet documentary filmmakers from around the globe, Sheffield Documentary Film Festival is the place to be. The 17th year of the event kicked off on Wednesday evening with the UK premier of Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work. Interviewed yesterday by the chair of the Festival, Steve Hewlett, Ms Rivers replied to the loaded question - ‘why did she make the film?’ – with the pithy, ‘because they asked me to’. La Rivers acknowledged herself she will grasp the opportunities for exposure whatever their form, and, as the subject of a documentary film, sanctioned the all-access  footage of her life now available for an audience.

If access to Joan Rivers was a key element of that film’s success, it is also one of the defining USPs of this Sheffield event. However, filmmakers are here for access , not to celebrities, but to the people who commission, distribute, fund, buy and sell documentaries. The Who’s Who session on day one was an opportunity to ‘meet’, in a panel formation, the people coming from around the globe (24 different countries) seeking documentary fodder to develop, co-produce or buy.

This event, lasting an hour and a half, was a fast-paced, minute-per-speaker intro to these Decision Makers, all available between 9am and 6pm over the course of the festival (which winds up on Sunday) for chats, pitches and ear-bending. Delegates were cutely but firmly warned no pitching or chasing of decision makers outside hours or in the loos. Each ‘turn ‘ succinctly  informed the crowd of what they did precisely and what they were looking for. Delegates were advised to do their homework and target their proposals to the appropriate person.

Beyond the stats of the £14million in sales negotiated at last year’s MeetMarket - where pre-selected projects are offered scheduled meetings with financiers and mentors - a reason to be at Sheffield if you’re not quite at the deal-cutting stage is the nature and feel of the event. Consensus (from a well-researched pool of two) was that Sheffield works for documentary filmmakers because of the culture it operates within: welcoming, casual, sociable. It’s easy to approach people, and the vibe is one of access and connection. Even one of the decision makers at the Who’s Who made a plea for a relaxed approach to pitching and project schedules. The implication is, even if deals are not cut here and right now, there’s still time. And as the Festival shifts to a June slot in 2011, it won’t be such a wait to update what may get off the ground here between the 3rd and 7th of November.


King's Speech, Monsters, Arbor, Never Let Me Go lead noms for British Independent Film Awards

on . Posted in Awards


The nominations and jury members for the thirteenth annual Moët British Independent Film Awards were announced today, Monday 1st November at St Martins Lane, London by Jared Harris. The Film receiving the most nominations is The King’s Speech with eight, including Best Film, Best Director, Best Screenplay, Best Actor and two Best Supporting Actor nominations.  Monsters, Never Let Me Go and The Arbor all received six nominations, Four Lions five and four nods went to Another Year, Made in Dagenham and Brighton Rock.

Nominations for Best Actor go to Jim Broadbent (Another Year), Riz Ahmed (Four Lions), Colin Firth (The King’s Speech), Scoot McNairy (Monsters) and Aidan Gillen (Treacle Junior).  Leading ladies battling for the Best Actress are Manjinder Virk (The Arbor), Ruth Sheen (Another Year), Andrea Riseborough (Brighton Rock), Sally Hawkins (Made in Dagenham) and hoping to repeat last year’s success, Carey Mulligan (Never Let Me Go).

Newcomer Gareth Edwards receives an impressive four nominations for his directorial debut Monsters; categories include Best British Independent Film sponsored by Moët & Chandon, Best Director, The Douglas Hickox Award for Best Debut Director and Best Technical Achievement. Both Andrea Riseborough (Brighton Rock) and Manjinder Virk (The Arbor) are nominated in two categories, Most Promising Newcomer and Best Actress, with The Arbor also competing for Best British Documentary alongside Enemies of the People, Exit Through the Gift Shop, Fire In Bablyon and Waste Land.

The Raindance Award nominees for 2010 include Brilliant Love, Legacy, Son Of Babylon, Treacle Junior and Jackboots on Whitehall.  This Award honours exceptional achievement for filmmakers working against the odds, often with little or no industry support.  Elliot Grove, Founder Raindance Film Festival and BIFA added:  "The nominees for this year's Raindance Award show how vibrant and strong the state of independent film is in this country, despite the economic uncertainty. I am thrilled that we are able to support such great films, and know we'll see many more in the coming years"

The Pre-Selection Committee of 70 members viewed nearly 200 films, out of which they selected the nominations, which were decided by ballot. The winners of The Moët British Independent Film Awards are decided by an independent jury comprised of leading professionals and talent from the British film industry. The Jury for 2010 will include:  Mags Arnold (Editor), Finola Dwyer (Producer), Matthew Goode (Actor), Matt Greenhalgh (Writer), Andy Harries (Producer), Gemma Jones (Actress), David Mackenzie (Director), James Marsh (Director), Hannah McGill (Writer, Critic & Festival Programmer), Sean Pertwee (Actor), Jamie Sives (Actor), Jason Solomons (Film Critic), Gary Williamson (Production Designer).

The winners will be announced at the much anticipated 13th awards ceremony which will take place on Sunday 5 December at the impressive Old Billingsgate in London and will be hosted for the sixth year by James Nesbitt.

BIFA are proud to announce the following nominees for this year’s awards (after jump):


The London Film Festival closes tonight with 127 Hours

on . Posted in Uncategorised

canyonDanny Boyle's take on the true story of climber Aron Ralston, 127 Hours, will close the London Film Festival tonight.

The 127 hours in question entail the 5 days that Ralston spent in a crevice in Utah's Blue John Canyon. He had been climbing on his own and hadn't told anyone where he was going. When he falls and finds his arm trapped under a boulder, he has to make a terrrible choice in order to survive.




LFF Preview: Black Swan

on . Posted in Feature film


Darren Aronofsky's Black Swan will screen tonight at the London Film Festival's Jameson Gala. Starring Natalie Portman, Vincent Cassel, Mila Kunis and Winona Ryder, this drama/horror is set in the physically and mentally demanding world of New York ballet.

Never thought that a film about ballet would have you on the edge of your seat? Think again. It's less about ballet than about perfectionism, competition and control - the last word comes up again and again. Nina (Portman) is too controlled a dancer, says her over-attentive director, Tomas (Cassel), but, in fact, she is losing control of everything in her life.



The London Film Festival opens tonight with Never Let Me Go

on . Posted in Feature film

The London Film Festival opens tonight with a screening of Never Let Me Go, an adaptation of the 2005 Kazuo Ishiguro novel, starring Carey Mulligan, Keira Knightley and Andrew Garfield. The screenplay was written by Alex Garland, and the movie directed by Mark (One Hour Photo) Romanek.

The story takes place in an alternate England, where medical research has solved most illnesses, and the average life expectancy has passed 100 years old by 1967.

These great developments have come about thanks to the National Donor Programme, where human clones - who cannot reproduce but do think, feel and age just like us - are brought up in institutions and taught to accept their futures as organ donors. They will give away parts of their body, one by one, until they "complete," usually before the age of 30.

Kathy H, our 28-year-old narrator, is a carer watching a donor be put under for his operation. She starts to reminisce about her time at boarding school - a place called Hailsham - and about her time growing up with her friends Tommy and Ruth.

Warning: spoilers ahead


Freedom of expression, privacy, remix + autoblur - the 2nd Open Video Conference

on . Posted in Studio 2.0

It's taken me a while to gather my thoughts about the Second Open Video Conference which took place at the start of October in New York. It featured a vast mix of people and organisations interested in the future of video online - from tech and web shapers to creatives and lawmakers - there's not many places where you can end up round the table with implementers from the W3C, the Firefox and Safari developer teams, the inventor of VLC and someone whose mashup has just been retweeted by John Cussack and got half a million views.

Some background

Williamsburg Bridge CC by Nic WistreichThe first event in June 2009, came against the backdrop of the mass Iranian 'green wave' uprising. As the conference continued we could see first hand the importance of a free, open and impartial media space, as well as the importance of social media tools such as Twitter to share information and connect people. There was also buzz around the hopes for a royalty free video codec, Ogg Theora (just as web image formats jpg, png and gif are royalty free), while filesharing seemed certain to have changed the media landscape forever with filmmakers like Nina Paley explaining how she was staying afloat with a near-copyright-free model for her film Sita Sings the Blues.

15 months later and there's been some troubling moves. Britain has adopted the Digital Economy Act, France is already implementing HADOPI - both are 'three strikes and you're out' internet laws that will push the serious pirates into hidden and untracable proxy networks, while penalising with digital excommunication the casual or accidental downloader (or indeed anyone who shares a wifi connection with them), alienating and disconnecting the very audience indie filmmakers are desperate to engage with. The way such massive legislation was pushed through Parliament angered many of the copyright industry's former supporters and has been met with widespread condemnation through the tech, web and telecoms sector. While the LibDems said they would rescind the bill, it's been added to the many election pledges they've backtracked on. Google, meanwhile, appear to have also broken their word over network neutrality, at least on mobiles - breaking the internet's golden rule of 'all data is equal' by saying some data is more equal than others - if you're rich enough. Meanwhile the ACSLaw debacle shone some light on dirty world of copyright blackmailing, a 21st century 'get rich' scheme where consumers get bullied and frightened into paying a fine for an infringement that may or may not have happened. 

But it's not all bad - Google has also released the WebM video codec royalty free and claim that they will be better placed than Xiph, who develop Ogg, to defend patent claims - while Ogg still has widespread use through Firefox. Platforms such as Vodo are opening more of the film community's eyes to the benefits of P2P, while the P2PNext project has finally blossomed with a torrent streaming protocol (aka bandwidth-free streaming) implemented in the last few weeks with Wikimedia and a Firefox plugin. HTML5 is a browser reality and the next generation Javascript and WebGL languages are offering some truly dazzling glimpses of the future of video online (people are even saying nice things about IE9), while the Universal Subtitles project (and sister Drumbeats lab newling Popcorn.js) offer practical solutions for attaching meaningful metadata to online video, right now.

Freedom of expression vs privacy

Williamsburg BridgeIf there was one news story that - like Iran last time - backdropped the discussions at the conference, for me it was the tragic suicide of Tyler Clementi, a student at Rutgers university whose roommate had filmed him having sex on a webcam and uploaded it to the internet. As a generation we're only just beginning to understand what having our data carved in stone into the Internet for the rest of human history really means, and our free and open video space comes with huge privacy issues.

So for a major theme running throughout the conference, for me it was the tension between freedom of expression and privacy in the digital age. Take Arin Crumley, for instance, who's spent the last three years filming a docu-drama at Burning Man, his follow up feature to Four Eyed Monsters which he plans again to offer for free download. The preview trailer he showed at the Future of Exhibition panel we were both on looked incredible - visually stunning and unique. Anyway, arriving at Burning Man this year, with a changed production team and evolved project description, he was told that he couldn't film any more, and that he couldn't release his film without being sued. Burning Man - bastion of free spirited, well managed anarchy - was challenged about this new tough 'no photos, no cameras' policy by the Electronic Frontier Foundation, an organisation who curiously had the current head of Burning Man as their first legal counsel. It was an interesting debate with no simple answers, and when challenged by Arin, Burning Man's legal counsel Lightning Clearwater III (seriously) floundered and talked about BM videos being used in porn, a troll-like flame which Arin challenged him on as being irrelevant to his situation, ultimately to applause from the audience.

Interestingly although it was easy to support the freedom of expression argument within the limits of respect (don't film someone who doesn't want to be filmed) - the conference party that night with Eclectic Method sought to break the record for the most videos uploaded at a party, and as a result everything was being filmed. As the other panelists Jon Reiss and Eric Dunlap and myself remarked - what better way to discourage people from dancing and relaxing than having a hundred cameras threatening to render you to the internet for eternity! So even in the first night party, the issue of privacy vs freedom was present and intentionally or not the ever present Flip Cams gave a good moment for reflection - just as the constantly appearing logo for throughout the VJ sets was an implicit suggestion - to me at least - that ad supported was not the most elegant solution for funding content.

During the hack day on the Sunday after the conference, the talented folks from Witness - who use video to open the world's eyes to human rights abuses - created and demo'd a facial recognition and obfuscation filter, nicknamed Auto Blur the News. In short it's a prototype Android phone ap that can take the camera input and apply a blurred box around the head of someone in the shot. The potential is great, especially in realtime news situations, with phones now capable to IP stream video live from camera to website. Imagine someone at a demonstration filming an act of brutality, unable to get permission from the other protesters - being on video could endanger them or their family. An automated blur filter would offer protection, tho at present the technology is far from dependable. Perhaps the developers could work with the UnLogo logo blocking filter for video which launched around the same time and is also open source (and currently on a Kickstarter campaign).

Remix comes of age, at last

Brooklyn Bridge from Williamsburg Bridge

Another great things that happened at the conference was the world premiere, and subsequent explosion, of Jonathan McIntosh's Right Wing Radio Duck (Glenn Beck meets Donald Duck). Created over three months, McIntosh pulled together countless Donald Duck cartoons and far right ramblings from ShockJockFox Glenn Beck. So Friday, Jonathan (creator of the brilliant Buffy vs Edward Twilight shit-rip) was still putting the finishing touches to the film. Saturday midday he showed it at the conference, wherupon it got its Twitter explosion. By the end of the day it had been tweeted by Roger Ebert and John Cusack, and by the end of the weekend a quarter of million people had seen it. Over the following week, Glenn Beck responded, complementing it on being the best made propaganda he'd ever seen, suggesting McIntosh must be funded by the Democrats. Beck's response was then turned into a Mickey Mouse cartoon by YouTube user iKat381, and by the time the news channels picked it up, they were declaring this the moment that someone could make a big widely seen political statement through the web without any funding. It was also, perhaps, the first time many in the mainstream media saw the power of remix and mashup as an art-form and message-maker in its own right.

Another panel presented by Jonathan, with help from wunderblogger Anita Sarkeesian, aka Feminist Frequency, was Remixing Gendered Advertisements: A New Kind of Media Literacy Education. Here he talked about giving kids the tools to remix toy adverts to help understand the gender stereotypes enforced thru them. The more 'Boys are competitive aggressive battlers and Girls are nurturing fashion lovers' videos we saw the more I got quite upset. I'm not a fan of the myths perpetuated by advertising to begin with, proud to have written for Adbusters, but the blatant sexism and psychological manipulation targeted at children left quite a few of us in the audience in stunned silence. If our children were to follow the messages presented in advertisement alone (as opposed to, say, Sesame Street or Pixar) then there would really be no hope. The idea took hold and on the hack day one of the Kaltura developers created a tool to let people remix toy adverts in realtime, putting the tools in the hands of anyone.

But what about the art (and its sustainability)?

A big wow quote from the conference for me was from Saskia Wilson Brown, talking about the Curatorial Paradox - people benefit from curation (galleries, festivals, TV schedules), but nobody wants to deal with exclusionary practices online. It is another version of the old 'wisdom of crowds' argument, but at a time where BoingBoing goes from strength to strength and Digg is losing viewers, the importance of curators should perhaps be reassessed. Indeed what is a popular tweeter but a curator? For me, the smart money in the future is on the expert curators who will have sufficient followers and influence to be able to make (or break) the career of an independent creative, in turn helping raise money by promoting everything from handmade packaging to T-shirts and events.



Exhibition and Distribution: dirty words?

on . Posted in Cinema

Laurence Boyce, regular Netribution contributor and former director of GLIMMER: The Hull International Short Film Festival, give his opinion on the worrying trend to ignore exhibition and distribution in the UKFC debate.

(EDIT: Since being published, this article has also appeared on the Encounters International Film Festival website at

 A recent letter to Sight And Sound from the British Federation of Film Societies pointed out a crucial omission in many of the discussions surrounding the demise of the UK Film Council. Whilst its importance in the production of UK films has been justifiably analysed, it’s significance in the exhibition and distribution within the UK cannot be understated. Either directly or through Regional Screen Agencies, the UKFC has part funded almost all of the film festivals in the UK from the likes of the London Film Festival to dozens of regional festivals bringing movies and events to local communities. The aforementioned British Federation of Film Societies has received UKFC funding for a decade to help bring cinema to rural areas and give people access to film that they otherwise may be denied. It’s P&A fund has helped small films increase the number of screens they’ve been able to book whilst magazines such as Little White Lies have received funding from the UKFC’s New Publications Fund. With support such as this in danger, there is a huge chance that – in the UK at least – audiences are going to be denied the opportunity to experience a wide ranging choice of films from the UK and beyond.