IFF17 @EdenCourt – Bridging the Gap: Rebellion

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I normally see the Bridging the Gap short films at the Edinburgh Film Festival, so it was a little odd to see them in Inverness. This year’s theme was ‘rebellion’ apparently, which I’m not actually that sold on as a theme for the films. Looking at the piece I wrote last time I saw a full ‘Bridging the Gap’ screening, it appears that they normally assign the theme first – as the scheme provides new Scottish/based-in-Scotland film-makers with not only funding, but training and support as well – and on that basis I’m not sure that they fulfilled the brief very well. There are some quite nice little documentaries in the selection but none that really blew me away. There’s certainly nothing to compare to Pouters and Polaris from that last time. (Oddly enough I’ve since seen Polaris again since then twice at other short film screenings and I’m never disappointed to re-watch it.)

Teeth
Far and away the funniest film of the screening. Oddly enough it’s a kind of documentary that I usually hate, in which the director is making a film about some issue or other that they are a little obsessed about and talking to us via the voiceover. They’re usually either terribly worthy or terribly cringey. However, thankfully this one was an exception. I loved the conceit of filming the interview subjects’ mouths so that we focus on their teeth. Perhaps because I have had a difficult relationship with my own teeth and the dentistry industry. (My teeth were fine until I got my first wisdom tooth at fifteen, and it was all downhill from there.) Maybe because it didn’t take its subject matter too seriously and was genuinely funny in its tone. I’ve felt his pain, and so, wincing in sympathy, I laughed with him.

Inhale
This was the best film of the bunch I think. Apart from some weird arty shots of tadpoles and frogspawn at the start, it was a beautifully shot and perfectly pitched in tone film. It’s about grief and recovery and resilience. It helps that its central character has one of those really compelling voices; he’s lived an interesting life and can express himself well when he’s talking about it. One of those people that if you ended up talking to him on a train, you’d gladly go an extra couple of stops to keep talking to. It’s a subtle and very moving film, highly recommended.

We Are Here
An odd but charming film. It’s a film about friendship and about reconnecting with your best friend as an adult. In this case because the director’s best friend, Stuart, had an accident a couple of years ago and is recovering from a traumatic brain injury. It’s about memory and identity and living in the moment. This fascinating central concept that they agree on that this person is not who he was before the accident, that he’d never be that person again and that that’s fine. That they can still be best friends not just despite that, but also partially because of it.

There’s something missing from this film that I can’t quite put my finger on. Perhaps its just a feeling that there’s a question the director isn’t asking, that he would be asking if his subject wasn’t his childhood best friend. Regardless of this, I liked the film.

Plastic Man
This is a beautifully shot film and its central character is both odd and compelling – I can completely understand why someone would want to make a film about him. However, I came away from the film unsure about what it is he’s actually doing or for that matter what the film is trying to say about it.

Hold
Hold is an odd film. It’s about absence and loving someone who isn’t there. In this case because they’re in prison. From what little we learn its presumably white-collar crime – theft, a nine-year sentence, they’re very middle-class – and there’s a kind of naiveté about the whole thing. It’s weird that the little girl in the film seems more practical and accepting of reality – this is how our lives are now – than her mother. Her mother is the one who has, by her own admission, built a fantasy/fiction around the whole situation.

Only My Voice
This is a film about refugee women in Greece. Some of them we never see and the ones we do, we only see in fragments, as though to actively prevent us from drawing conclusions about them and their lives from their faces. This film also has some glorious sound design moments, taking the woman’s voices and playing with them and their context. It’s an interesting concept and is probably the film that best adheres to the theme of rebellion. Almost all the women talk about the way that coming to Greece has both extended and limited their freedom.

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I Have Heard the Future: Limetown Returns

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Back in the winter of 2015/16 when I was doing some data entry to get through the winter freelancing lull, I fell down a rabbit-hole of audio drama podcasts. It was Limetown that acted as my gateway into the genre proper. I’ve had an on-again, off-again relationship with Welcome to Nightvale since it started back in 2012, but it never made me want to go looking for other audio drama podcasts. But Limetown made me love, not only it, but also the genre and seek out other shows that I might love. I found some excellent audio dramas to enjoy, whether as short flings or long-term commitments, and perhaps equally importantly I found inspiration to write about sound and work on strange sound projects of my own again. Nonetheless, I would sporadically keep checking back on the show, hoping to find that the second season would indeed be coming soon.

This morning I refreshed my podcasts and for the first time since December 2015, there was something new waiting for me in my Limetown feed. A trailer for the Second Season. It’s short, creepy and intriguing, Lia’s voice speaking to us but not, it appears, actually Lia. I haven’t been this excited about a trailer for any series I like in years. And I won’t even be able to listen to the new episodes until at least the New Year!

In these days of on-demand viewing and binge-watching/listening – which to be fair is my preferred form of drama podcast consuming – it sometimes seems that both creators and fans have forgotten the pleasure of anticipation. The power of having to wait between seasons/series often with nothing but hope for and vague rumours about the next season to sustain you. That peculiar satisfaction and relief when you’ve waited ages and then the new content is good. (I grew up being a Doctor Who fan in the 1990s; it may have had a formative impact on my relationship with fiction.) It’s been two years and I’d pretty much given up on finding out the resolution to Season One’s cliff-hanger, but listening to the trailer there, all the feelings I had about the show came flooding back. What did happen to the people of Limetown? What happened to Lia Haddock? Will we find out, or will we find out something much worse but equally compelling? On one hand, I can’t wait; on the other hand the anticipation that I’ll find out soon, but just not quite yet, is absolutely delicious. After so long, I’ll need to re-listen to the show to get myself back into the mood for it and make sure I haven’t forgotten anything that turns out to be significant. I’m delighted to have the excuse to do so.

Well played little podcast, I’m hooked once more.

Monarch of the Glen & #RealLifeMonarch @InvMAG

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The art gallery portion of Inverness Museum and Art Gallery is currently playing host to the National Galleries of Scotland’s travelling exhibition of both Edwin Landseer’s Monarch of the Glen and Ross Sinclair’s specially commissioned response to it After, After, After…The Monarch of the Glen – Real Life is Dead. Two more different pieces of artwork it would be hard to imagine.

After, After, After…The Monarch of the Glen – Real Life is Dead

The thing that sticks with me, perhaps the most important thing to take away from the exhibition is that the two pieces have one important thing in common other than the obvious. Both pieces of art are much better in person than, they have a particular presence that causes them to lose something in photographs. The Landseer painting is such a familiar image that its become an almost ubiquitous image of picturesque ‘scotch-ness’, and as such should really have no power at all over anyone who isn’t invested in all the things it has come to represent. Yet, stand in front of it – better yet, stand a little off to the right of it – and there’s something curiously three dimensional about the painting. In the half-lit gallery space, the light and shade of the painting are enhanced and for a moment it seems as if the stag might actually step out of the painting. Away from the bright glare of the usual art gallery setting or the advertising billboard, it becomes just a painting once more, something that it seems possible to project your own meaning onto.

Close up

Likewise, Sinclair’s response is a very different beast to stand in front of. Where in photographs, it seems a messy garish sprawl, standing with it in situ, it has a raw and strangely elegant presence. It’s a literal deconstruction of the kind of ‘scotch-ness’ that the Landseer has come to embody. Like a strangely articulate howl of rage and grief or stumbling unexpectedly across some pointedly political graffiti where you’d least expect it. It manages to be both haunting and confrontational, at once questioning and illuminating – both figuratively and literally – the piece that it responds to. Both a demand for remembrance and a indictment of nostalgia. At once both a joy and cringe indeed.

After, After, After

Both pieces will be on display at Inverness Museum and Gallery until 18th November when they will continue on their tour of Scotland.

How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love ‘Bad’ Movies

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The other day there was a meme of sorts going round Twitter, challenging people to: Type one movie in the GIF bar that you watched more than 5 times and still love it today. Without a second thought I typed in The Fifth Element and up popped this most apt of GIFs. It sums up both what I love about that movie and my entire attitude towards other people’s opinions about the movie. It’s a great movie: fight me.

I didn’t go to university intending to be a film student – I went intending to be a journalist and took a swerve along the way – so I didn’t spend my late teens acquiring a connoisseur’s knowledge of Classic and New Hollywood as so many of my compatriots did.

The movies that shaped my film-watching identity growing up were cheesy 80s action adventure movies and those black and white B-movies that Channel 4 used to run on Sunday afternoons. I’ve still never seen John Carpenter’s famous The Thing but I did see the 1951 The Thing from Another World at an impressionable age. I arrived in film class unencumbered by any notion of film snobbery, other than a firm conviction that people who wouldn’t watch a film because it happened to be in either black and white or had subtitles, didn’t know what they were missing. I was in for a surprise.

The ‘serious’ film students that I knew – the ones who’d grown up watching movies obsessively and started making short films as soon as they could get hold of a camera – all had a favourite director. I was much more a fan of genres of films rather than any one director’s oeuvre. But it turned out to be the first thing that non-film students would ask you as soon as they met you, and the further through film class we got the more often classmates would ask that question on introduction and judge you accordingly. They might have a deep, abiding passion for martial arts movies or slasher films but they’d never try to claim they were great films.

So I did what anyone might do in the circumstances. I decided to troll people. I would pick a ridiculous answer and spend an evening claiming that they were my favourite director. I’ve forgotten the many names I used back then, because, one day, at a party, I claimed Luc Besson and it all went a bit pear-shaped.

Back in my first year of university, for our first proper film studies essay, we had to pick a scene from a movie that we knew well and deconstruct it. At home for the weekend, I scoured my shelves and came across, an old taped-off-the-tele copy of The Fifth Element and ended up deconstructing the fight scene between Leeloo and the Mangalores, focusing on the visual parallels created between Leeloo and the Diva. It’s a great scene, visually rich, cleverly constructed and joyful in its execution.

But what it meant, above all, was that when I claimed that Luc Besson was my favourite director and that The Fifth Element was his greatest film, was that I’d done the reading, and could in fact argue convincingly on the subject. Friends who were in on the joke would find me DVDs of obscure films he’d directed or produced – the less said about Kiss of the Dragon or the Taxi films the better to be honest – for me to watch as research and I picked up a second hand copy of a BFI directors book on him. Somewhere along the line, it stopped being a joke. I’d watched a ridiculous number of his films, and most of them I really liked. I had accidentally become a genuine fan of his work beyond my teenage passion for The Fifth Element. Perhaps it should have been embarrassing, but I was in too deep now for it to get a look in. And yet, there remained something delightfully amusing in watching that moment when the person I was talking to realised that I was serious in claiming Besson as my favourite director, that my love for The Fifth Element was entirely without irony. Even now, almost a decade and a half on from that fateful Christmas party, I still occasionally get asked and get to enjoy that moment once again.

(I have two kinds of film geek friends. The kind who are appalled when I suggest that Alien Resurrection is better and more true to the first two films than Alien3 and the kind who present me with obscure 80s Japanese films with the explanation: it’s got a giant animatronic centipede.)

My quest to watch his entire back catalogue, led me on an adventure first into the films of Marc Caro & Jean-Pierre Jeunet and through them down parallel paths to nouvelle vague and film noir, and into the gory glories of horror movies. To find myself enthusiastically bonding with my to-be lecturer at my Masters course interview about the joys of Eric Serra’s scores and the wonderful use of sound in Le Dernier Combat. For a while I even found myself having somehow become the go to person to write a serious academic film review of an obscure Hammer Horror film.

I love silent film and film noir, weird Japanese movies and films from Francophone West Africa, serious documentaries and whimsical European films about the meaning of life. But most of all, I love ridiculous sci-fi space operas, with big action sequences and even bigger hearts.

And that, ladies and gentlepeople, is the story of how Luc Besson became my favourite film director. He’s not the best director in the world, and not a director without flaws or failings, but nonetheless my favourite. I’ve never seen a film by him that I haven’t enjoyed and I still seek out his new films in the cinema whenever I can. Because what his films taught me was to embrace the things in cinema that I loved ironically, with genuine enthusiasm. That there is a place for both the silly and the serious in film – sometimes even within the same film.

Some things are indeed worth saving.

Leeloo

London Symphony @EdenCourt

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LondonSymphony Poster

This evening saw that rarest of treats for a silent movie fan, the screening of a new silent film. London Symphony is a love letter of film, both to the city of London and to that beautiful sub-genre of silent films; the city symphony.

From the pristine, gorgeous black and white photography, through the glorious art deco film poster to the bombastic and tender score, this was a film that knows and loves its genre. It’s very much a labour of love film, having been crowd-funded, and having a central creative team that had been at university together and then worked together on short films. (It was originally envisioned as a six-month project but expanded out into a four-year epic.) It’s a film that seeks to document its city subject in the early part of the 21st century in the same way that films like Berlin: Symphony of a Metropolis and Man with a Movie Camera did for their own cities respectively in the early part of the 20th century. While stylistically, it arguably owes more to formalism than to the avant-garde sensibilities of those films, it still manages to occupy that middle ground where documentary meets art film, and therefore I feel that it succeeds in its mission. Revealing the machine that is London, along with its all too human flawed and grubby heart, and making it beautiful not despite that but rather because of that.

I love films that hold a deep sense of place, that are embedded with a deep affection for their settings in all their glories and their grubbiness. From the Cat’s Eye view of Istanbul in Kedi to the back streets of Kowloon in Chungking Express, I love seeing cities away from the stock footage skylines and familiar vistas. This film was like the kind of tour of a city you get from a friend who lives there rather than the one your get from a tour guide. Where the big tourist attractions are incidental and the focus is instead on their favourite parks and markets, with a liberal sprinkling of odd views and favourite bits of obscure architecture.

As an additional added pleasure the film was followed by a Q&A session with the director Alex Barrett, who is currently touring the film round the country, answering questions both from the audience and from Eden Court’s film programmer Paul Taylor. I think it’s a film that benefits from having added context, whether that’s getting an introduction to the genre of city symphony films or as an opportunity to geek out about the genre with the director.

It was also, more than anything, that most unusual of films for me, one that left me feeling inspired and wanting to make my own film in that genre.

October Documentaries

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First up for this year’s Nano, we’re continuing the theme of September’s post, as I found myself watching a decent number of documentaries last month. I set myself the target of watching twenty feature-length documentaries at the start of the year and until about six weeks ago; I was pretty much resigned to failing miserably. However if I can keep up the current rate of watching documentaries I might actually make it.

Lost in La Mancha

Lost in La Mancha is a comedy of errors of a kind. It’s also kind of painful to watch if you’ve ever been involved in any kind of filmmaking of your own. The sheer fragility of productions, the brinkmanship and the way that sometimes sheer bloody-mindedness is all that will keep a production in motion is acutely familiar and painful. I spent enough time working on micro-budget short films at the start of my career, that I’ve worked on films that were even more of a disaster than this one – call that a rainstorm, try being in Sighthill in a deluge that barely let up for four days, while bulldozers brought down one of the towers – without the benefit of a director of Gilliam’s calibre and charisma to hold things together. And yes, if you wondered, when the insurance guys decide its over, it really is over. You can fight with anyone else but the only people scarier than the folks from the Insurance Company are the ones from HMRC…

Appropriately enough, it turns out that Terry Gilliam has in fact finally got the film made. It’s only taken him another SIXTEEN years, but apparently The Man Who Killed Don Quixote is currently in post-production and expected to be released next year.

Citizen Four & Risk

Next up we had an accidental Laura Poitras double feature. Having recently watched Citizen Four it seemed only right, when Risk was showing on BBC 2, that I watch that two and make a theme of it. And having seen both films, its now almost impossible for me to write about one film, without writing about the other, they are indelibly intertwined. Not least because Poitras was working on the film that became Risk when she started making Citizen Four. Having stopped making one film to make the other there is a little bit of footage that is shared between films.

Citizen Four is the more straightforward film. It’s a portrait of and interview with Edward Snowden in the first days of his emergence as a whistle-blower on the US intelligence community. Poitras’ style is very much observational, letting events play out in front of the camera. It seems to be a style that lets the subjects reveal themselves to the camera without fully realising just what they’re revealing. Which works very much in Snowden’s favour, and in Assange’s case…not so much.

Risk is a messier and more complex film, as is befitting its subject matter. It’s a film mostly about Julian Assange, but also about power and privilege within political activism. It’s a little bit like watching a Louis Theroux documentary about a cult where Theroux has been banished leaving a very worried cameraperson to pick up the pieces.

There is a fascinating and horrible streak of pragmatism that intertwines itself throughout the film. There is after all, a point in any kind of committed political activism against the state, where you have to ask yourself what you are and are not willing to sacrifice. That can range from things like anonymity or privacy, through whether you’re willing to be arrested at a protest, to the physical safety of yourself and those around you. I’m not sure that there’s anything or anyone that Assange wouldn’t sacrifice for this project. (One might argue, his own freedom, but I’m not convinced that being trapped in the Ecuadorian embassy for seven years counts as freedom in anyone’s book except his.) At the end of the film I came away with the feeling that Assange and the wider Wikileaks project had done important work, but that I didn’t trust either him/them or his/their motivations. Do good intentions matter if, in the end, you do more harm than good? And, I think, that’s exactly the question that Poitras wants us to ask ourselves. The conclusions that we draw beyond that are up to us.

Guerrilla: The Taking of Patty Hearst

This is such a strange film about a really odd series of events in the early 1970s. It’s one of those stories that of weird events in America that seems to have percolated its way into our collective consciousness, almost entirely divorced from its political and historical context. I’ve vaguely known the story myself since I was a kid, having Stockholm Syndrome explained to me. Patty Hearst remains the classic example, for many people, of Stockholm Syndrome.

The film was previously known, at least in the states, as Neverland: The Rise and Fall of the Symbionese Liberation Army and there’s definitely something dreamlike about the film. There was definitely a sense from the interviewees of being caught up in some weird terrible dream or bad drug trip. Adding to the surreal nature of the whole piece, in the middle of the documentary having been made, four of the surviving members of the SLA – some of whom served time for kidnapping Patty Hearst, all of whom had built new lives afterwards – are suddenly tracked down, taken to court and go to jail for a murder that took place as part of a bank robbery gone wrong, from several decades before. It’s a fascinating documentary, but it remains a story that, to me, makes less and less sense, the more you find out about it.

If there was a theme at all to October’s documentary watching, it was documentaries without narrators as, other than Lost in La Mancha, which benefits from Jeff Bridges comforting tones, the other three documentaries were almost entirely devoid of narration. Instead they prefer to use informative inter-titles at critical moments to provide additional context. (In Risk we get occasional extracts from Poitras’ film notes, as she gets intertwined in the story, but they seem more designed to admit her biases and illuminate the points where both she and we wonder if she’s being manipulated.) As though neither of the two directors wanted to pass judgement on their subjects and instead prefer to leave the viewer to make up their own minds.

Nablopomo is Returning

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Nablopomo is returning! 2017 has been a really successful one for me in a lot of ways. I’ve been massively busy on the freelance front – including working in Children’s television for the first time – but writing has somewhat fallen by the wayside this year. Which seems as good a reason as any to take part in NaBloPoMo this year.

For the uninitiated NaBloPoMo is a sibling challenge to Nanowrimo (National Novel Writing Month) where instead of writing a novel during the month of November, bloggers post every day for the month of November.

As usual, I’ll be dividing my posts between here and my food blog, and as usual when I made my list of potential topics to write about this year, I was amazed by how many ideas I had once I got started. But then, I guess that’s always the real point of this challenge, giving you the kick to get started and keep going. I love the challenge and the discipline of writing every day. But, for me, it’s always rather more about getting more of my many, many ideas written down than actually managing to post something each day.

Also, I’ve just passed the 10th anniversary of this blog (happy birthday little blog) so perhaps I’ll even manage some introspection on the subject of blogging and how different internet culture is ten years on.

The Sound of Learning

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This year I’ve been spending a lot of time working on my language skills. I’ve been learning Gaelic off and on for most of the last decade and at the start of the year, that this would be the year that I upgrade my language speaking status from the plateau of Intermediate learner to the slopes of advanced learner. I would develop an accent in Gaelic.

One of the less talked about difficulties of language learning, particularly when it comes to a minority language is the difficult hinterland of being an intermediate learner. There are – relatively speaking – tonnes of resources for beginner learners and increasing amounts of content and literature suitable for the fluent or native speaker of the language. But for the intermediate learner, there are few resources and even less classes, most of which are aimed at younger learners. As it is, I mostly read poetry and comic books in Gaelic. (One day I’m going to track down whoever it was that had the genius idea of translating Tintin and Asterix the Gaul into Gaelic, and buy them a pint.)

As part of my efforts to increase my fluency I’ve been slowly working my way through the backlog of Beag air Bheag, which is a programme expressly aimed at Gaelic learners. There was talk for a while about refocusing the programme on beginner Gaelic learners, because it was felt that the programme was getting too advanced. To my great relief they seem to have tackled this problem by dedicating a section of the programme to beginner learners. The programme as it is – both as a radio show and as a podcast – is one of the few resources that feels aimed at those of us caught in the middle so it would be a great loss.

Speaking of its podcast incarnation, during the season break in the show last year they produced a special mini series revising the Grammar points of the previous series. Oisean a’ Ghràmair is my favourite part of the show, so to have a mini-series dedicated to collecting it together is perfect for me. The series in general, uses examples from Radio nan Gaidheal programs, so unlike the stilted fake conversations of so many language learning courses, instead we have extracts of documentaries, news reports and interviews with poets, musicians, politicians or just people who’ve lived interesting lives. The extracts features colloquialisms, jokes and regional dialect variations, the natural use of the language, full of the nuance and detail that the learner can easily miss or misinterpret. To have those explained – along with their grammatical consistencies and inconsistencies is incredibly helpful. There’s something reassuring having these things treated as an aspect of grammar, as much a key to comprehension as recognising that a particular verb is irregular in certain tenses. There’s something delightful to listening back to the extract with your extra knowledge, and understanding all the things you’d have missed before.

Otherwise, I’ve been indulging my love of languages and linguistics more generally with a couple of excellent podcast series.

I’ve been listening to The World in Words for a while now, having come across it at the height of the Standing Rock protects, via an article about the protest that referenced their episode about the Lakota language outreach work that was going on alongside the protests. (The Standing Rock Sioux’s Other Fight.) The series is a companion piece to PRI’s The World focusing in on language issues, sometimes spun off from issues and stories covered on the parent program others by tangents their reporters have stumbled across while reporting other stories entirely. It mainly focuses on minority languages and diaspora languages, the cultural and political impacts by and on languages and the hows and whys of who speaks which language and where. It’s a really interesting series if you’ve ever wondered about how and why language – particularly minority language – is political.

The episodes are quite short and as such are more short introductions to the issues raised than in depth analysis but the show notes are often extensive and helpful if something piques your interest and leaves you wanting more.

Lingthusiasm is a more recent discovery, and very much more of a podcast about linguistics than about languages. It’s about the mechanics of language, how and why they are constructed and work. It’s actually really useful – in an abstract way – for someone like me who loves learning languages but struggles with a lot of grammar constructions because they don’t actually know what the equivalents are in English. I’m going to learn a lot of useful things as the series progresses.

It’s presented by two linguists, one Canadian – Gretchen McCulloch – and the other Australian – Lauren Gawne – and it’s of the genre of podcasts where you’re essentially listening in on the conversation between two very smart people geeking out about something they both love and are very knowledgeable about. It’s unashamedly geeky and enthusiastic about its topic, but really quite accessible for enthusiastic amateurs or non-specialist listeners.

It’s a lovely, intriguing little podcast and while the production values are a little…amateurish…to start with, it’s worth bearing with them. (For a while the next reward level on their Patreon was ‘lets buy Gretchen a decent mic’ and I’m sure I wasn’t alone in being delighted when they made it.) This particular audiophile finds the content well worth the occasional wincing.

I suppose the best review I could give it is this: when I first started listening there were 9 episodes available and I listened to them all – including a 3 and a bit hour special episode – over the course of one weekend.

Autumn Docs

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Autumn is upon us, and once again, as has become an odd sort of tradition on the blog, I find myself writing about having a documentary binge session. There’s something about the turning of this season that seems to bring on an urge to watch documentaries. And not just because we’re three quarters of the way through the year and I find myself looking at my progress towards whatever target for documentary watching that I’ve set myself that year with mild panic.

Autumn is the season of documentary watching for me, and this year is no exception.

An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power

Here’s a confession. I’ve never seen the film that won the Best Documentary Oscar in 2006. I was aware of it – it was hard not to be – but I never saw it. Mostly because, well, I didn’t need convincing about climate change. We were a recycling, composting, growing our own vegetables, using energy saving light-bulbs type household when I was growing up. In general, I go to documentaries to learn about something I don’t know very much about. So I went to see the sequel – in the cinema no less – pretty much by accident.

The film is both deeply depressing and also surprisingly hopeful. The predictions for climate change from the original film turned out to be underestimations rather than overestimations. Everything has gotten much worse. But on the other hand, the innovations in renewable energy technology are really quite extraordinary, lighter and smaller and cheaper is the motto all round. As with a great deal of life in general at the moment, it could be summed up as: everything is terrible, but there is still hope.

Salute

Salute is a documentary about the background to one of the most iconic photographs of the 1960s – if not the entire 20th Century. That moment at the Mexico City Olympics in 1968, on the winner’s podium after the men’s 200 metres final with Tommie Smith and John Carlos standing heads bowed, fist raised with Peter Norman wearing his Olympic Project for Human Rights badge in solidarity with them.

It’s a very Australian film, but the advantage of that is that it doesn’t shy away from showing the civil rights movement in Australia. Nor does it shy away from providing the context of the protests and state violence that took place in Mexico City in the run up to the Olympics. The film doesn’t cover the aftermath of the protest in great detail – perhaps because the director feels that story has already been told – focusing instead on providing both historical and personal context for the three participants actions. Indeed all three men point out in different ways that there were lots of layers of meaning and nuance to the protest, but that no-one seem interest in hearing their reasons or letting them explain, being more interested in demanding ‘how dare they’. Perhaps that’s the driving motivation of the film, of giving them a platform to explain in their own words.

At the heart of the film, is the friendship formed between these three athletes, their shared athletic prowess – as of the film’s release, Peter Norman still held the Australian record he set that day – and their shared moment of protest that destroyed all three of their careers in athletics and agreement that it was worth it. That it made a difference.

It feels particularly relevant in the wake of the recent spate of sports protests in the states and the continuing disproportionate approbation that is being heaped on the athletes involved for acts of quiet, peaceful protest on a public stage. Everything old is new again.

Murder on a Sunday Morning

This one was a discovery from the Storyville archive. When I was looking up which year An Inconvenient Truth won the Best Documentary Oscar, I glanced at the rest of the list for the 2000s to see how many I’d actually seen and spotted this film. The name was familiar and when I went and checked the iPlayer I was pleased to discover that it was one of the films available. Though only until this weekend, which seemed like a sign to watch it, if ever there was one.

Once I got past the weirdness of the cameras in the courtroom element, it was a really engaging watch. It helps a lot that the Public Defender who we follow Patrick McGuiness through the trial is an engaging presence who appears genuinely righteously angry about the miscarriage of justice he’s fighting to keep from happening. (That he keeps investigating after he’s cleared his client to find who really did commit the murder, says a lot in his favour.) It also helps, in a way, that the police detectives on the stand are almost cartoonish in their smug complacency, if this was a docudrama you’d tell the actors to dial back the air of lazy entitledness one of them in particular exudes. It doesn’t seem to occur to them to actually have a strategy to properly defend themselves with. They fully expect the system to protect them.

The boy at the centre of the documentary, Brenton Butler, remains something of an enigma throughout the film – for obvious reasons, he isn’t interviewed – we see him through the eyes of his parents, his defence team and the police reports. The only time we hear his own words are as a witness on the stand, as a witness to his own mistreatment at the hands of the police. He comes across as quiet and polite, and more than anything, so very young. Strangely after all that we now know about the extent of police violence in the US, its not the photos of the bruises nor the testimony of intimidation and violence that was most disquieting, but rather the shots of this young boy – just fifteen years old – in shackles.

One of the toughest things about watching the film, in the light of the current political unrest in the states, and the recent visibility of wider police violence and the way it disproportionately targets African-Americans, is that this film was made in 2001. It’s not an obscure film – it won an Oscar for crying out loud – and yet this topic still gets an incredible amount of push back.

Inside Job

Speaking of Oscar winning documentaries, Inside Job won the Best Documentary Oscar in 2010. Given that I was following the crisis itself fairly closely – I’d not long graduated from university and was working in financial services call centres and watching the number of media jobs available reduce at a terrifying rate – and how much I’ve watched and read about it since, it’s unnerving how much new information I gleaned from this documentary and how furiously angry it still makes me. Perhaps it’s a side effect of having literally watched the value of people’s pensions drop, of having had people cry down the phone at me about their mortgages and being utterly helpless to help them. It’s so strange seeing the greed and entitlement of many of the financial advisors I dealt with on a day-to-day basis all those years ago, writ large on senior executives and regulators.

That bone deep frustration I had back then is evident throughout the film, almost every time we hear the director on camera pressing his line of questioning, as so many of his interviewees squirm and prevaricate, his frustration and incredulity is clear. This is a documentary that is politely and firmly, utterly furious, we should be too.

Sounds of the City

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Last year I started making monthly posts about the audio projects and productions I was working on or enjoying each month. Despite being a highly enjoyable project, I somehow fell off the wagon back in April last year and never quite got back into the swing of it. As I seem to have fallen back out of the habit of writing anything at all here, I thought it was high time I resurrected the project.

I started this year with lots of plans and schemes for sound related projects that I would do this year and naturally life happened and most of them fell by the wayside. One of the major problems I have with making New Years Resolutions is that its easy to get half-way through the year and realise that you’ve not got round to half of them and just give up for the year. To tell yourself that you’ll ‘try again next year’. It’s easy to let it become a vicious circle of ‘next year I’ll write more’ or ‘next year I’ll do more field recording’ instead of just getting out there and doing more of the thing.

One of my plans for this year was to go out making field sound recordings more often. I started out with good intentions in January spending an afternoon making some field recordings and setting myself the target of doing that once a month to get myself into the habit. Of course the danger of starting that kind of challenge in January is that, well, it rains a lot in Scotland at the best of times and its really easy to find excuses/reasons to not go out sound recording. It’s entirely reasonable to not go out when you know your recordings are going to be ruined by howling wind or pouring rain. And then with the spring work picks up again and so the world turns.

It’s also all too easy to get hung up on getting the ‘perfect’ recording. Finding the perfect spot and the perfect conditions is all very well when you know the place well but sometimes it can interfere with getting anything recorded at all. And then there’s the ever present doubt of whether a sound is ‘interesting enough’ to be worth committing all that time and energy to capturing properly.

Last month I found myself in Budapest for a long weekend and I made the last minute decision to take my sound recorder with me. Being in Budapest neatly overturned all my doubts and worries about the ‘usefulness’ of the sounds I was recording. Almost everything I saw and heard in Budapest was new and different. The rattle of the trams and the chiming of the cathedral bells, even the buzz of conversation on the street was worth recording because it was unique to the place. I spent some glorious hours puttering around on public transport recording the sounds of engines, echoes and announcements.

I’ve long known that the world sounds different through a microphone and headphones, but I’d forgotten how differently you’re viewed when you’re wearing headphones and holding a microphone. In general there are two different responses to the giant headphones and a microphone, either people want to talk and to hear what you’re recording or you become completely invisible. In Budapest I became invisible, when I wasn’t focused on what I was doing, I watched people recognise what I was doing and – sometimes visibly – categorise me as harmless and ignore me. Even the dreaded ticket inspectors didn’t bother investigating what I was up to, apparently holding a microphone was a license to wander and lurk. The hawkers and street people, ignored me utterly, perhaps they’d learned by experience that I would likely be delighted to listen to their patter, but only interested in recording it. It was like slipping on a disguise or a costume, one that allowed me to shed my tourist skin and blend in as just another piece of street theatre.

I got some lovely recordings of trams and metro trains, of fountains and church bells and street performances. A small flavour of the city. Every time I look at the file marked ‘Budapest’ I feel inspired, I feel delighted, I feel…like I need a bigger memory card for my recorder…