Wednesday, September 01, 2010

Save the World Get the Girl

I spent the weekend at one of my favourite festivals, Greenbelt , which superficially appears to be a happy clappy Christian festival but fear not my friends entry does not require one to sing Shine Jesus Shine with one's eyes closed whilst 'jumping together in Christ' as my wonderful friend Joanne discovered.

No Greenbelt is something of a lefty gathering with fantastic speakers, filmmakers, artists, actors and charities from all over the world giving performances, workshops and talks on a huge range of issues. To give you a quick flavour this weekend I watched some hip hop from Long Beach, heard a talk on LGBT rights in Africa, watched a series of monologues based on the experiences of Palestinians and saw some amazing films all of which I will be describing in more detail in my upcoming 'Greenbelt Diaries'.

My highlight of the weekend was a performance from ska/folk/rock/punk/reggae (!) protest band The King Blues. This band are hugely outspoken on all things social and political and have been rather successful in recent months, two factors that do not usually go hand in hand. They really stirred up the crowd, getting us jumping and screaming protest lyrics into freezing night air.

My favourite moment however was when lead singer Johnny 'Itch' Fox came back on stage for an encore and treated us to an amazing poem about women he'd written entitled '5 Bottles of Shampoo'. He shouted powerful words and pulled no punches in shaming those who try to abuse and dishonour women using humour and cheeky rhymes to get his point across. I'm thinking of writing a piece on this for Thursdays in Black so watch this space.

Here's a video of Itch performing the poem at another gig;

Greenbelt is a haven for me, a place that challenges and inspires and fills me with hope that there are people fighting every day for the rights of others and to make the world fair for all. As Itch says 'Integrity is what black eyes were invented for' so don't ever be afraid to keep fighting, keep questioning and keep challenging and believing in the change you can make just by speaking your mind and lending your voice to a cause.

And Finally.....
Inevitably after a rather awesome bank holiday weekend with some of my favourite people I was slapped back into reality by my work email inbox bright and early on Tuesday, what joy to be a grown up!

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Thursdays In Black: Embrace Your Inner Girl

Here's my latest blog post for Thursdays In Black:

I was doing a bit of casual Internet surfing the other day when I came across this blog post by Jaqueline Campbell about feminism and femininity. Her post 'My Right to be a Feminist' features on the MTV Staying Alive campaign website as part of their 'Right to be Me' season.

Jaqueline's post is inspiring as she strives to dispel the myths around feminism and expresses that to be a feminist is not a declaration of hatred for all things male nor is it a rejection of female sexuality. She defines her concept of feminism in her powerful parting statement:

'Feminism is my right to say that painting my nails red and studying physics are not mutually exclusive.'

Her post reminded me of an amazing speech given by Eve Ensler, writer of the Vagina Monologues and founder of V Day. Her speech for TED Talks discusses the presence of the 'girl cell' in all of us that we have been taught to suppress.

'I want you to imagine that this girl cell is compassion, and it's empathy, and it's passion itself, and it's vulnerability, and it's openness and it's intensity and it's association, and it's relationship, and it is intuitive.

And then let's think how compassion informs wisdom, and that vulnerability is our greatest strength, and that emotions have inherent logic, which lead to radical, appropriate, saving action. And then let's remember that we've been taught the exact opposite by the powers that be, that compassion clouds your thinking, that it gets in the way, that vulnerability is weakness, that emotions are not to be trusted, and you're not supposed to take things personally, which is one of my favorites.

I think the whole world has essentially been brought up not to be a girl.'

She goes on to share terrible stories of genital mutilation, rape and abuse endured by women the world over. She exposes how much the world degrades, marginalises, tortures and humiliates girls and how little value is placed in them.

'I've seen that we cut girls and we control them and we keep them illiterate, or we make them feel bad about being too smart. We silence them. We make them feel guilty for being smart. We get them to behave, to tone it down, not to be too intense. We sell them, we kill them as embryos. We enslave them. We rape them. We are so accustomed to robbing girls of the subject of being the subjects of their lives that we have now actually objectified them and turned them into commodities.'

Powerful words indeed. Eve also argues that men have a right to embrace their 'girl cell' and suggests that this culture of teaching our boys to suppress emotions of compassion, vulnerability and empathy is the root cause of some of society's biggest problems.

Eve's passionate speech calls us to recognise that to be a girl is not to be weak. Being a girl is to be a powerful, resilient and resourceful being. To be a girl is to be 'an emotional creature' and Eve's piece at the end of her speech is a call to empowerment for everyone with an inner 'girl cell'.

Jaqueline is exercising her right to be a girl and so should we all.

Bedtime Reading

I re-read one of my favourite graphic novels recently, Blankets by Craig Thompson. It's a huge tome of a book at a couple of inches thick but a nice angsty read perfect for devouring in one (very very) long sitting with several cups of tea.

The story follows the author through his teenage years as he wrestles with family strife and questions of faith and belief. If that's not enough the boy then falls in love with a troubled and fragile girl who he meets at a summer camp. The novel follows their intense relationship as they  face the challenges of temptation and separation.

At times this book is overwhelming in its frankness and honesty. Craig truly lays himself bare for the reader and you are fully immersed in his story body and soul. The artwork is also masterful in its own right. Each frame beautifully captures the subtle nuances of every day life that make moments between two people special. The snow scenes are particularly mesmerising but you'll have to read it for yourself to see what I mean.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

This month I have mostly been watching....

After years of DVD frugality I peeked through my fingers at my bank balance this month and realised I had a few pennies to spare on all the films people never buy me. My pechant for foreign cinema can isolate me at times, no one could conceal the jaded looks of disappointment on the faces of my loved ones as I carefully unwrapped each exciting Amazon bundle to reveal yet another subtitled film. Ah well I am in Euro cinematic bliss. Here are a few that I've recently discovered/ found my way back to.

Paris, je t'aime (2006)

Twenty short films by twenty different directors this film is an homage to the great city of love. The films are tantilisingly only five minutes in length and show every kind of love from maternal to adulterous and even supernatural. With a sprinkling of familiar stars ranging from the fabulous Juliette Binoche to Natalie Portman, Maggie Gyllenhaal and Elijah Wood every snippet will move and astonish you in equal measure.

Some of my favourites include:

'Le Marais' directed by Gus Van Sant. A boy enters a print shop with his mother and while waiting for her becomes smitten with one of the assistants.

'Tuliers' directed by the Coen brothers. A tourist falls vitcim to paranoid lovers on the metro

'Bastile' directed by Isabel Coixet. An adulterer meets his wife to end their relationship only to discover she has terminal leukemia during which he nurses her and falls in love with her again.

'Places de Victoires' directed by Nobuhiro Suwa. A woman grieves for her son

'Faubourg Saint-Denis' directed by Tom Tykwer.  The relationship between a blind man and an aspiring actress.

'14eme Arronissement' directed by Alexander Payne. A lonely American tourist falls in love with the city itself.

There are so many fantastic pieces from the story of how a boy's two mime artist parents found each other to a late night love affair between a vampire and her not unwilling victim! I could rave on about this film for ages but you really need to see it for yourselves. Good food for the soul and a great way to find new directors.

Belleville Rendez-Vous (2003) Sylvain Chomet

With Chomet's latest film The Illusionist about to hit the cinemas I was desperate to see this film as it's one I've wanted to see for many years. Belleville Rendez-Vous tells the story of Madame Souza and her grandson Champion, an aspiring cyclist who is abducted during the Tour de France. His grandmother then embarks on a dangerous quest to retrieve Champion from the clutches of the Belleville underworld. It is a fascinating piece of animation with minimal dialogue, slapstick and caricature that hark back to the days of silent cinema.

I found it enjoyable but not wholly satisfying as I didn't develop any kind of attachment to Champion, a fretful child who transforms into a deformed and largely emotionally ambiguous character. His kidnap, exploitation and eventual recovery were fairly unemotional affairs during which he barely acknowledged the presence of his heroic, limping grandmother and trusty dog Bruno which left me thinking he was a bit of an ungrateful sod!

Despite this one of my favourite scenes comes near the start of the film where Madame Souza massages her grandson after a hard evening of training. Slumped over the kitchen table she pummels his shattered muscles with whatever household utensil or appliance comes to hand from an egg whisk to the vacuum cleaner!

The film is not without its charming moments and the singing Belleville Triplets and the underground mafia are quite intriguing characters with fabulous affectations so please don't think I hated it.  I just wasn't left with that certain feeling one gets when you have been truly moved by a film. Ah well from what I've seen of The Illusionist from the trailers that looks to be more my kind of thing.

Watch this space for more film reviews over the next few weeks.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Flashmobbing for the faint hearted

We've all heard of flashmobs but with everyone and their mum creating chaos in public spaces to get their own message across it's a vehicle that is beginning to look a little tired. Indeed as a good friend of mine said earlier this week 'when are using flashmobs in their adverts you know they aren't cool anymore'.

Last week I attended a workshop where I learnt all about these amazing events called 'subtle mobs'. If, like me, when you hear this you immediately think of a really tame flashmob for beige wearing people that are too afraid to make a tit of themselves in a public place then YOU ARE WRONG!

How it works
People are invited to download an MP3 from the subtlemob website and then meet in a specific place at a certain time where they will press play. On the track is a series of instructions, narration and beautiful music that generates a filmic quality to everyday life. Multiple tracks are often available with different instructions for the listeners to follow which means that they take it in turns to be the observer or performer depending on the instructions they are given. The overall effect is like a beautifully choreographed film sequence which is completely undetected by the general public around the listeners (hence the subtle bit!). Get it???

It's extremely hard to explain as you need to actually be involved in one to fully understand but here's how they explain it on the website....

Imagine walking through a film, but it’s happening on the streets you live in

This is about trying to make films without cameras

It’s about integrating with a social or physical space, not taking it over

Want to see what audiences thought about it? have a look at this video . . .

I can't wait for them to come back to Bristol as it seems like a movie geek's dream! To find out more go to:

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Irene Stables

Earlier this month I was hit with the devastating loss of my grandmother. She had battled illness for many years and in the final months of her life her altzheimer's had become so severe that in truth I lost her a long time ago. Unfortunatley it was impossible for me to attend her funeral but I wrote the following words to be read out in my absence. She was a great lady.

I am sorry I can’t be with you all today but I wanted to send a few words to tell you about my grandma.

My grandma was a famously practical woman although she was always glamorous to me with long painted nails and her hair curled just so and a wardrobe full of colours that smelled of exotic perfumes. Stood on a kitchen chair by her side with one of her aprons tied several round my waist to keep it off the floor I learnt how to scramble eggs, polish silver and make the tastiest chocolate rice crispie cakes. These and many other little things will stay with me but her greatest gift to me were her stories.

I would sit by her chair, plying her with cups of tea while she told me stories of her travels around the world and of her childhood. I would love picking out an object from the many shelves and ledges around the house and ask where it had come from and she would always be able to bring to life the marketplace in some foreign land where she and my grandfather had stumbled upon the piece. Her stories were filled with funny character sketches of the people they met and wondrous descriptions of the interiors of foreign palaces and the sounds and smells of beautiful beaches. She had a story for every continent and her vivid tales and the faded postcards in the kitchen of their house gave me ideas for many make-believe adventures as a child.

My favourite stories however were the ones of our own family. Her stories introduced me to my great grandparents and family members I would never know, gave me glimpses into the lives of my mother and auntie growing up and I really enjoyed hearing tales of the scrapes she herself got into as a child during the war. At the age of eleven I remember very seriously interviewing grandma about her experiences as an evacuee, carefully writing it all down and swelling with pride as I handed it to my teacher, priviledged to have a real life account from someone who had seen history happen.

I may never be able to conjour the fabulous embroideries she created, heaven knows she tried on numerous occasions to teach me how but my tangled efforts and bleeding fingers defeated her in the end. I do however seem to have inherited her talent for story telling and now I tell stories every day in my work to inspire people to action and to try and make a difference in this world.

Now my grandma is gone an ever bigger challenge falls to me and to all of us to keep sharing these stories and paint her picture to pass on to my children. I know you all have stories you can share so as fellow guardians of our family history please help me keep these stories alive.

Thursday, June 10, 2010


On my 23rd birthday I was lucky enough to be off jet-setting to Copenhagen in Denmark for an international steering group meeting and to visit refugee projects in the city. My impressions of the trip can be best explained through the medium of facebook statuses.....

06 June 22:58
Cheered up tonnes by all your birthday messages. Survived 3 airports alone without getting lost, asked a lot of people a lot of really stupid questions and made it only to find a distinct lack of tea and coffee making facilities, shockingly primative! First impressions of Copenhagen are that it is very flat and very expensive!

06 June 23:15
Obersavtion 2: Double Bed, single duvet, one tiny pillow which is really more of a cushion. Tis a strange land here indeed, maybe they still have rationing?!!

07 June 23:19
Amazing day! met some truely awesome people at the Danish Red Cross, got soaked to the skin in the worst rain I have ever experienced in my life, ate a phenomenal toasted roast beef sandwhich, was puzzled by the danish love of horse raddish which is in everything! ate at a michelin star restaurant, drank an enormous beer and wandered around this beautiful city. Bring on tomorrow!

09 June 21:09
Reflections on Denmark: Ace countdown system at pedestrian crossings with heartbeat monitor noise that flatlines when you're out of time + about to be hit by a car! No mermaid as stolen by the chinese, accidentally spending £8 on postcards, energy saving escalators that stop when no one is about (spied on them from afar and saw them slacking!), flowers are quite nice in food. cool furniture shops.