Month: February 2018

Dolly Parton donates 100 millionth book to children

Country superstar Dolly Parton went to Washington on Tuesday 27th February to hand-deliver her 100 millionth book donation for children to the Library of Congress through her foundation, the Imagination Library.

“When I was growing up in the hills of East Tennessee, I knew my dreams would come true. I know there are children in your community with their own dreams. They dream of becoming a doctor or an inventor or a minister. Who knows, maybe there is a little girl whose dream is to be a writer and singer. The seeds of these dreams are often found in books and the seeds you help plant in your community can grow across the world.”

Launched in 1995, the core aim of the project is to give free books to children from birth until the age of five in the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada and Australia. As of writing this, there are 1,212,915 children registered who receive to no cost to their family an age-appropriate book every month. Audio and Braille books are both included too to ensure that no child gets left out.

“Before he passed away, my Daddy told me the Imagination Library was probably the most important thing I had ever done. I can’t tell you how much that meant to me because I created the Imagination Library as a tribute to my Daddy. He was the smartest man I have ever known but I know in my heart his inability to read probably kept him from fulfilling all of his dreams.

Inspiring kids to love to read became my mission. In the beginning, my hope was simply to inspire the children in my home county but here we are today with a worldwide program that gives a book a month to well over 1 million children. Of course, I have not done this alone. The real heroes of our story are the thousands of local organisations who have embraced my dream and made it their own. They raise millions of dollars each year and wake up every day with a passion to make sure their kids have every opportunity to succeed.

It’s been quite a journey but we have so much more left to do. I would love for your community to join our family so please take the time to explore our website. Let’s share this dream that all children should grow up in a home full of books. The first step is always the hardest, but you’ll never know unless you try.”

Advertisements

In Conversation with Andrey Zvyagintsev

“There were several radical comments, even from notable figures in the political sphere, suggesting that certain artists ought to go out on to Red Square and ask for forgiveness from the entire Russian people.”

1500 miles from Moscow, director Andrey Zvyagintsev is held in a much higher regard. His latest work Loveless, about a divorcing couple whose son disappears, won the Jury Prize at Cannes, and his Q&A after our interview at HOME is completely sold out.

We meet in a stylish little bar adjacent to a cinema. Myself, joined by Elizabeth acting as translator, and Andrey, joined by his producer, Alexander Rodnyanksy. Andrey had a matter of fact appearance, wearing a plain grey t-shirt, blue jeans, and brown shoes.

Andrey is a calculated man. As he was asked each question he paused to ponder it for a few moments, formulating his answer. When at last he gave his responses he spoke with such assurance that, although I couldn’t understand a single word, I was gripped.

Alexander, on the other hand, had his chair facing slightly away from us, as if he could not be less interested. He spent the entire interview fixated on his phone, seemingly unable to reply to the wave of notifications faster than they came.

I became doubtful of his participation in the conversation yet, sporadically, he would lift his eyes to look over to Andrey, or Elizabeth, or myself and contribute as if he was sat on the edge of his seat as I was, hanging onto every word. Alexander has mastered the skill of appearing oblivious and I was amazed.

Growing up in Novosibirsk, Russia, Andrey can pinpoint the exact film that sparked his love of cinema, Michelangelo Antonioni’s L’Avventura. He described seeing it as a turning point in his creative destiny, which changed his beliefs of what cinema, and its language, could be.

“I came out of the cinema and it was as if I couldn’t move – I was in the street with my friend, and he was chattering away, saying, “come on, hurry up, let’s go!”, but all I could say was “Yuri, be quiet, just give me a minute…”

I’m convinced, but it’s just my opinion, that Tarkovsky [the revered and influential Soviet director] was heavily influenced by Antonioni. He never spoke about it, but I think it’s obvious from his films, because the 1960s were a time of renaissance for cinema, all over the world, and the event of the appearance of neorealism, in particular, Antonioni’s Italian brand of neorealism, was like an underground explosion. It had such an influence on everything.

This started Andrey down a path he still travels today. His directorial project was a small project for TV of three twenty five-minute short films. “In the year 2000, Dmitry Lesnevsky [an influential Russian TV and film producer and entrepreneur] suggested I make a series. I decided that I would film each of the three screenplays that the producer had given me with different cameramen — I wanted to play with the style and try things out with different ensembles.”

“Then in March 2000, almost exactly 18 years ago, I met Mikhail Krichman [cinematographer]. It was a complete coincidence, a friend of mine introduced us, and we’ve worked together ever since. I gave up on the idea of making three features with three different crews only thanks to the fact that I delegated the first of the three to Mikhail. After the forty days of filming, I knew I didn’t want to work with anyone else. I knew that I had found a creative partner.”

Their collaboration has spanned several feature-length films but none had an impact quite like their fourth film, Leviathan, about a Russian fisherman who tries to stop a corrupt mayor from seizing his ancestral home.

“On one radio station, the presenter put out the question of whether people considered the film “Russophobic”, despite never having seen it. 48 per cent of people who called in said yes. The reaction in Russia was certainly unambiguous, but there were more positive appraisals and enthusiasm too.”

The Russian authorities, having previously supported Andrey’s work, radically shifted their position after seeing Leviathan. Vladimir Medinsky, Russian Minister of Culture, criticised the film for portraying Russians as a ‘swearing, vodka-swigging people’. He noted that not a single character was positive and suggested that Andrey’s work was motivated by ‘fame, red carpets, and statuettes’ rather than reality. Medinsky went as far as to propose new guidelines to ban moves that ‘defile’ the national culture.

“I suppose things may well get worse. Recently it has been getting more and more difficult to maintain artistic and creative property, an artistic view on life and art, to pose difficult questions and a complex view of reality to your audience. Inevitably curiosity and attraction to the work wins out, without a doubt, this tendency exists all over the world. But I think that’s how it will continue to be. Platforms like the festivals in Cannes, Venice, Berlin, which support this kind of film and provide an outlet and a springboard for it, are very important. In Russia, put simply it’s very difficult.”

Despite the polarised reaction to Leviathan, they weren’t worried about the reception for Loveless. “I knew that Loveless would be divisive in some way, but the thing I couldn’t have predicted was the degree to which it would radicalise people’s opinions.”

“A lot of people were expecting after they had seen Leviathan to queue up and watch another “Russophobic” film. Some people couldn’t shed their opinions towards Leviathan and so they came to see Loveless still saying, “bah, this director has no love for his characters, no love for people at all, no love for Russian people at all”.

“Of course, Leviathan paved the way to Loveless having such a broad audience. And for many people, their interest in Loveless was dictated by their initial experience and views on Leviathan. You could call me a representative of Russian cinema, but I wouldn’t know what to do with that.”

“Taking on a title like that, I would be concerned that it might change my behavior. No one dictated to me what to do to make these films successful. I don’t carry out anyone else’s intentions. I’m not a representative of Russian cinema — that’s the last thing I need to think about. If that was the case, then I’d have to fulfill some kind of imposed role — I’m not interested in that.”

Andrey recognises that his cinematic future may one day lay outside Russia, but that isn’t something he is against. “Today we were walking around the city, and I was thinking we should make a film about Manchester. Maybe a comedy with the Manchester United team! But seriously, if suddenly an idea came to me that was relevant, fresh, and had to be in some other language or in a different country, and felt relatable to me and a natural next step, there wouldn’t be any obstacles in my mind.”

“I’ve already had a little experience on a project in New York where I was the only one who could speak Russian. I had an assistant who acted as a translator for me so she managed the communication. During the scenes with dialogue I wondered whether I would be able to interact with the actors, whether their language would just go over my head, but ultimately, I realised that in principle it was possible. So I wouldn’t see any obstacles there. There’s only one obstacle, and that is to find good people.”

Our conversation ended by asking Andrey whether he was in the process of starting another film. “I have plans, but it’s difficult to talk about it, not just because there are few details at the moment but because I don’t definitely know what the next step will be. I’ve already taken enough of a break, we finished the film in May last year – I’m ready for the next film.”

“It was something of a forced break really, because the awards season started, then winter came around, and now the awards are going on until the Oscars on 4th March. We’ve all just been thinking about that date, and now it’s not far off.” “It’s a good thing you’ve hung in there,” Alexander chipped in, “you’re a survivor.” With characteristic wry humour, Andrey laughed back, “No, we won’t survive, that’s for sure!”

Hunter S. Thompson – In Memoriam

February 20th marks thirteen years since the death of unimitable journalist and author Hunter S. Thompson.

Thompson redefined journalism working with Rolling Stone magazine. His work would come to be described as Gonzo, written as a first-person narrative without objectivity. It disregards the traditions and rules of media for an approach with much more personality and humour.

His most acclaimed work, ‘Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas’, began as a 250-word assignment for Sports Illustrated covering the Mint 400 motorcycle race. In preparation for the event, he took an astonishing amount of drugs with him including, but far from limited to, two bags of grass, five sheets of high-powered blotter acid and a salt shaker half full of cocaine.

The resulting piece was 2,500 words and was less about the race and more of, as he puts it, “a savage journey into the heart of the American dream”. Unsurprisingly it was rejected. He instead turned to Rolling Stone whose editor Jann Wenner loved it and so ‘Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas’ was born. It ran in two parts in November 1971, later published as a book and adapted into a cult film.

During his career Thompson penned many more extraordinary works, such as his book ‘Hell’s Angels’, but as he grew older and his health declined he became increasingly depressed. On February 20th, 2005 he took his own life, leaving a note titled ‘Football Season Is Over’:

No More Games. No More Bombs. No More Walking. No More Fun. No More Swimming. 67. That is 17 years past 50. 17 more than I needed or wanted. Boring. I am always bitchy. No Fun — for anybody. 67. You are getting Greedy. Act your (old) age. Relax — This won’t hurt

The following is a letter written by Thompson in April of 1958. Age 20 and in the United States Air Force, he was asked for life advice by his friend Hume Logan, this was his response. I hope you find the same beauty in it that I do.

April 22, 1958
57 Perry Street
New York City

Dear Hume,

You ask advice: ah, what a very human and very dangerous thing to do! For to give advice to a man who asks what to do with his life implies something very close to egomania. To presume to point a man to the right and ultimate goal—to point with a trembling finger in the RIGHT direction is something only a fool would take upon himself.

I am not a fool, but I respect your sincerity in asking my advice. I ask you though, in listening to what I say, to remember that all advice can only be a product of the man who gives it. What is truth to one may be disaster to another. I do not see life through your eyes, nor you through mine. If I were to attempt to give you specific advice, it would be too much like the blind leading the blind.

“To be, or not to be: that is the question: Whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, or to take arms against a sea of troubles… ”
(Shakespeare)

And indeed, that IS the question: whether to float with the tide, or to swim for a goal. It is a choice we must all make consciously or unconsciously at one time in our lives. So few people understand this! Think of any decision you’ve ever made which had a bearing on your future: I may be wrong, but I don’t see how it could have been anything but a choice however indirect—between the two things I’ve mentioned: the floating or the swimming.

But why not float if you have no goal? That is another question. It is unquestionably better to enjoy the floating than to swim in uncertainty. So how does a man find a goal? Not a castle in the stars, but a real and tangible thing. How can a man be sure he’s not after the “big rock candy mountain,” the enticing sugar-candy goal that has little taste and no substance?

The answer—and, in a sense, the tragedy of life—is that we seek to understand the goal and not the man. We set up a goal which demands of us certain things: and we do these things. We adjust to the demands of a concept which CANNOT be valid. When you were young, let us say that you wanted to be a fireman. I feel reasonably safe in saying that you no longer want to be a fireman. Why? Because your perspective has changed. It’s not the fireman who has changed, but you. Every man is the sum total of his reactions to experience. As your experiences differ and multiply, you become a different man, and hence your perspective changes. This goes on and on. Every reaction is a learning process; every significant experience alters your perspective.

So it would seem foolish, would it not, to adjust our lives to the demands of a goal we see from a different angle every day? How could we ever hope to accomplish anything other than galloping neurosis?

The answer, then, must not deal with goals at all, or not with tangible goals, anyway. It would take reams of paper to develop this subject to fulfillment. God only knows how many books have been written on “the meaning of man” and that sort of thing, and god only knows how many people have pondered the subject. (I use the term “god only knows” purely as an expression.) There’s very little sense in my trying to give it up to you in the proverbial nutshell, because I’m the first to admit my absolute lack of qualifications for reducing the meaning of life to one or two paragraphs.

I’m going to steer clear of the word “existentialism,” but you might keep it in mind as a key of sorts. You might also try something called Being and Nothingness by Jean-Paul Sartre, and another little thing called Existentialism: From Dostoyevsky to Sartre. These are merely suggestions. If you’re genuinely satisfied with what you are and what you’re doing, then give those books a wide berth. (Let sleeping dogs lie.) But back to the answer. As I said, to put our faith in tangible goals would seem to be, at best, unwise. So we do not strive to be firemen, we do not strive to be bankers, nor policemen, nor doctors. WE STRIVE TO BE OURSELVES.

But don’t misunderstand me. I don’t mean that we can’t BE firemen, bankers, or doctors—but that we must make the goal conform to the individual, rather than make the individual conform to the goal. In every man, heredity and environment have combined to produce a creature of certain abilities and desires—including a deeply ingrained need to function in such a way that his life will be MEANINGFUL. A man has to BE something; he has to matter.

As I see it then, the formula runs something like this: a man must choose a path which will let his ABILITIES function at maximum efficiency toward the gratification of his DESIRES. In doing this, he is fulfilling a need (giving himself identity by functioning in a set pattern toward a set goal) he avoids frustrating his potential (choosing a path which puts no limit on his self-development), and he avoids the terror of seeing his goal wilt or lose its charm as he draws closer to it (rather than bending himself to meet the demands of that which he seeks, he has bent his goal to conform to his own abilities and desires).

In short, he has not dedicated his life to reaching a pre-defined goal, but he has rather chosen a way of life he KNOWS he will enjoy. The goal is absolutely secondary: it is the functioning toward the goal which is important. And it seems almost ridiculous to say that a man MUST function in a pattern of his own choosing; for to let another man define your own goals is to give up one of the most meaningful aspects of life—the definitive act of will which makes a man an individual.

Let’s assume that you think you have a choice of eight paths to follow (all pre-defined paths, of course). And let’s assume that you can’t see any real purpose in any of the eight. THEN—and here is the essence of all I’ve said—you MUST FIND A NINTH PATH.

Naturally, it isn’t as easy as it sounds. You’ve lived a relatively narrow life, a vertical rather than a horizontal existence. So it isn’t any too difficult to understand why you seem to feel the way you do. But a man who procrastinates in his CHOOSING will inevitably have his choice made for him by circumstance.

So if you now number yourself among the disenchanted, then you have no choice but to accept things as they are, or to seriously seek something else. But beware of looking for goals: look for a way of life. Decide how you want to live and then see what you can do to make a living WITHIN that way of life. But you say, “I don’t know where to look; I don’t know what to look for.”

And there’s the crux. Is it worth giving up what I have to look for something better? I don’t know—is it? Who can make that decision but you? But even by DECIDING TO LOOK, you go a long way toward making the choice.

If I don’t call this to a halt, I’m going to find myself writing a book. I hope it’s not as confusing as it looks at first glance. Keep in mind, of course, that this is MY WAY of looking at things. I happen to think that it’s pretty generally applicable, but you may not. Each of us has to create our own credo—this merely happens to be mine.

If any part of it doesn’t seem to make sense, by all means call it to my attention. I’m not trying to send you out “on the road” in search of Valhalla, but merely pointing out that it is not necessary to accept the choices handed down to you by life as you know it. There is more to it than that—no one HAS to do something he doesn’t want to do for the rest of his life. But then again, if that’s what you wind up doing, by all means convince yourself that you HAD to do it. You’ll have lots of company.

And that’s it for now. Until I hear from you again, I remain,

your friend …

Hunter

In Conversation with HOME’s film programming team

By reaching out to all demographics of its area, independent arts organisations are a wonderful way to build community in large cities. Here in Manchester, we have HOME, a place where film, theatre, art, and dance converge. But how do film societies work, and what do they do?

A core element of building a film society is its programming, which involves developing an audience through the venue’s choice of films and events. Independent arts organisations such as HOME work on a basis of consent and consensus between the staff and the audience, meaning that the films and events put on must reflect the audience’s taste by finding a balance between the familiar and the unfamiliar, the old and the new, the popular and the obscure.

It is that balance that the film programming team attempt to perfect with every season though multiple facets.

A crucial one is the lengthened running time in the cinema or a slower turnover of what gets screened. HOME’s Cinema 5 allows there to be a rotation of films, a room able to seat around 40 people, and is a unique space that allows opportunities to approach artists through Q&As (although these can take place in any of their cinema rooms), which is a step towards making the cinema goer’s experience an immersive and enlightening one.

Being a part of a large city, the people working at HOME take it upon themselves to reach out to different demographics/communities in the area It is important for any film society to develop an ethos surrounding their film programming. HOME Mcr has done so by limiting the amount of Hollywood/Blockbuster films, ensuring that a certain number of films are UK/World cinema, showcasing a proportion of documentaries and animation each film calendar, but also by making sure each season to programme a film which reaches out to a certain community in the area. For example, hosting half of the Jewish Film Festival, discounted tickets for students in Manchester, a £1 ticket scheme for people from an impoverished background, or hosting a workshop in January for creatives with disabilities.

By installing such initiatives, HOME has seen results and proven how important programming is within the building of a film society’s audience and their loyalty to the organisation. There is a real creation of community, and the volunteers within HOME help this community function and thrive. Film societies depend on a large staff of both employees and volunteers, who either indirectly or directly tend to the audience’s experiences, by greeting the audience, introducing them to the concept of HOME or simply talking about the event they are about to or have just seen.

Places like HOME make it their duty to prevent certain films from falling into the abyss, or not being widely shared with future generations – planned well in advance, “States of Danger and Deceit” had been in the making for over a year in order to coalesce with the one hundredth anniversary of the Russian Revolution. This is when the idea to showcase a retrospective of European thrillers came up. Senior Visiting Curator for HOME and Film Studies Professor at the University of Salford, Andy Willis expressed his personal concern that some canonical, pivotal films of his generation had never been heard of before by his film students.

At the centre of the film team is the Film Programmer for HOME, Rachel Hayward, and is pivotal to the smooth running of each film calendar. Her role involves a lot of public relations, connecting and creating links with people in the industry, as in Arts organisations, the employees are all trying to share the art, whether that be theatre, paintings, or films. “Everyone tries to help each other,” Rachel explained, when talking about the process of putting together a film season for HOME, locating often niche material and obtaining the rights to showcase it.

HOME’s Artistic Director Jason Wood started off as a filmmaker, but after co-directing three films, realised “it was going to be quite hard to make a career out of”, then moving on to work in distribution. At Entertainment Film Distributors, Jason worked on releasing independent films, including Paul Thomas Anderson’s first two films, and Se7en by David Fincher. Progressing to work in exhibition at Picture House cinemas for ten years as programming manager, he then joined the team at Curzon Artificial Eye as director of programming for five years, and during this time began to write film articles, notably for Sight & Sound and The Guardian.

What appealed to Jason about Curzon, in the beginning, was that “they were a cinema which showed almost exclusively independent films, not many of the Hollywood blockbusters”. It was when “they wanted to go much more mainstream with their programming”, partly due to financial benefits, that Jason knew he couldn’t work with them anymore.

Previously, Jason had been involved with the Cornerhouse in Manchester and their film programme, and gradually developed much more affinity with their agenda than that of Curzon’s. The opportunity then came up at HOME for Jason to take on the role of artistic director, in “a cinema that was truly a space for independent thought and filmmaking.”

What Jason, Rachel, and Andy work towards developing at HOME is a “film programme led by culture, not by commerce”, showing films that might have an alternative point of view from the mainstream or an urgent commentary regarding race, class, gender and/or sexuality. HOME has “proven that you can show a film programme which is led by culture and not just a need to make money”. In fact, as HOME’s cultural led programming has been so successful, other venues have reached out to the programming team to programme their venues as well, such as the Art House in London.

The people behind places like HOME are truly committed to the idea of culturally led entertainment and have shown what the cinema-going experience can be like if you treat your audience with respect, sensitivity, but also financial inclusion.

Best Animated Short – 90th Oscars

With the 90th Oscars just 13 days away, James Gill and Eloise Wright assess the nominations for the Best Animated Short Oscar and choose their favourite to win the award. Click the title of each short to read our reviews and let us know who you think should win.

Dear Basketball

Directed by Glen Keane, 5 minutes

1044424-dearbasketball-034-lr

Garden Party

Directed by Gabriel Grapperon, Florian Babikian, Victor Caire, Vincent Bayoux, Théophile Dufresne, Lucas Navarro, 7 minutes

Garden-Party-frog-in-bottle

Lou

Dave Mullins, 6 minutes

lou-pixarshort-bully-football.jpg

Negative Space

Directed by Ru Kuwahata, Max Porter, 5 minutes

negative-space.jpg

Revolting Rhymes

Directed by Jakob Schuh, Jan Lachauer, Episode One (Nominated) 28 minutes, Episode Two 28 minutes

vlcsnap-2018-02-15-22h07m43s988.png

Our Predictions

James – Had both episodes of Revolting Rhymes been considered together it would have been a surefire winner, yet judging just the first half means it misses that magical conclusion. Therefore I think Negative Space will win the Oscar for its painstaking detail and heartfelt narrative.

Eloise – All five animated shorts nominated for an Oscar are of a rare quality and each deserves its place amongst the nominees, yet none equal the simultaneously succinct and strong essence of Negative Space, placing it in the most favorable position to win.

Review: Negative Space

In a moment of reflection, the protagonist of “Negative Space” recounts the way he bonded with his late father whilst growing up, through the art of packing.

Adapted from Ron Koertge’s poem of the same name (2014), film students Max Porter and Ru Kuwahata carefully created a masterpiece worthy of the sorrow and nostalgia that the story carries. The narrator takes us through the steps of perfectly packing his father taught him, each item laying itself out, folding itself up and making its own way into the suitcase, as if animated by a life of their own.

Remembering, the narrator revisits his memories of these times he felt close to his father, together and apart, now forever in the past. The short concentrates on just using Koertge’s short poem for narration, the rest of its message coming through the beauty and attention to detail it possesses. His father now gone, all that is truly left of him is this inherited special knack for making good use of any nooks and crannies, or negative space. Can you blame him for only being able to wish there was not so much wasted space in his father’s coffin?

“Negative Space” is not only a technical marvel, but also a strikingly moving story of lost parents, the characteristics we pick up on as children that make them our parents. The loss of a parent is one almost too painful to bear, yet it is through our memories of them, the traits we inherit from them (good or bad) that allow us to keep hold of something from them.

Review: Revolting Rhymes

Roald Dahl’s “Revolting Rhymes” is here brought to life in a two-part animated film co-directed by Jan Lachauer, Jakob Schuh, and Bin-Han To with breath-taking detail and care that gives the entire viewing experience magic. It takes some of our internationally canonical fairy-tales, such as Snow White or Jack and the Beanstalk, and provides a number of delightfully unexpected twists and turns to the original plots.

The first episode of the two opens one rainy evening in a small café, where a middle-aged woman settles in the window booth with her cup of hot tea. A lone, tall wolf dressed in a trench coat and hat follows in tow, asking the woman if he may join her as he waits “for an old friend”. We are as suspicious as the sweet lady, who, perhaps to her own detriment, is too polite and frightened to refuse.

The Wolf notices her book of fairy-tales on the table and, opening it, voices his dislike of Little Red Riding Hood, and pointing out the book’s error in Snow-White’s hair colour. Hence begins a small exchange which gives the premise to the wonderful story-telling we are about to behold.

In this version, the lives of Snow White and Little Red Riding Hood intertwine so imperceptibly that one wonders how this is not how the story originally goes. Other fairy tales are merged together throughout the two episodes, and much like a Russian doll, a story seems to naturally come out of another.

With each episode being 28 minutes long, only the first episode was able to be nominated for Best Animated Short, which rules out the second from being taken into consideration. As much of a delight as the first part is, the pure brilliance of the animation comes through when watching both parts as there is a continuity within this special universe where one is not quite sure what is make believe or not.

“Revolting Rhymes” ends with the unexpected, and was an incredibly emotional experience. Its beauty and eloquence were truly astonishing, communicating some truths that may have escaped its predecessors, bringing a perfect balance to the old and the new. Therefore, I am afraid that part one was not intended to be a stand-alone episode, and may suffer from that when it comes to selecting a victor amongst the 5 nominees for the Best Animated Short Oscar.