Archive for the ‘documentary films’ Category

Adventures in the Writing Trade: Day 2

The tide was wrong in Malahide. Something about the boat was wrong. But the energy and the weather was right. We cast off from a pier in Rush, at the end of the beach I’ve spent years walking on, running round, sometimes meditating on. It was a kick to get the perspective from sea from onboard the Shamrock and then gazes turned to the island, some 20 minutes away across a millpond channel in bright autumn sunshine.

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Lambay

As we approached the harbour on Lambay the whitewashed buildings came clearly into view, almost all designed by or renovated by Lutyens. I could see the one person I knew on Lambay, my connection to the place, on the pier and she gave me a warm welcome. Welcome was important in Lutyens’ designs. We were given an orientation talk on a circular patch of lawn near the buildings – the castle, the white house and the workers’ cottages. The architect considered circular forms welcoming by nature.

I was shown my room in the white house – charming, spacious, resonant of its (art deco) times. The house was built in 1932. It is symmetrical as it was built for two daughters with two large (around six children each) families, one wing each. I am writing this at the end of one wing in the library. I use posting on Simple Pleasures part 4 as a warm-up to get the writing juices flowing in the morning, a practice I devised on my sabbatical from Channel 4 in 2013/14.

There is A General Map of Ireland to accompany the report of the Railway Commissioners shewing the Principle Physical Features and Geological Structure of the Country (constructed in 1836, engraved in 1837/38) on the light red brick wall behind me. There are four glass cases of dead birds also displayed against the brick. An upright piano with Scott Joplin sheet music. A small case of books old and young, some old Penguins among some more vintage volumes. I’m sitting at a very solid wooden table, oak, which contrasts well with this old MacBook Air with a green sticker of the map of Ireland on the other side of it at the heart of other stickers including a Mod target, a Mexican skull in an American Football helmet (San Francisco 49ers colors) and the latest, from a surfing place, which says Shoot Rainbows into Fascists. I bought it in Milton Keynes when out with my brothers (alongside a quite loud summery shirt) because it reminded me of Woody Guthrie’s “This Machine Kills Fascists” written on his tool of choice, his guitar. On my iPad, which I rarely use, is a quotation from the Russian filmmaker Dziga Vertov, famed for his Man with a Movie Camera (1929, within spitting distance of the construction of this house) which I first studied at University on a European Avant-Garde Comparative Literature, Art & Film module, on which I also first encountered Joyce’s Ulysses (1922). The quote is:

“I, a machine, am showing you a world, the likes of which only I can see”

as mentioned recently in my list of My Favourite Documentaries.

Woody_Guthrie singer songwriter guitarist this machine kills fascists

I was told last night after dinner in the drawing room which marks the centre of the house, along with the kitchen, about a set of documentaries made on another island, Fogo Island, off Newfoundland, Canada. They were made (as the writing mentor, Jonathan Gosling, on this retreat detailed) by a group of Toronto film students in 1967. They now reside online with the Film Board of Canada set up by Brit documentarist John Grierson. I knew its head for several years, Tom Perlmutter.

Commercial Break: Coincidence No. 476

When I just went to check when Tom left the NFBC I noticed his birthday:

Born: September 6, 1948 (age 71 years), Hungary

Today is September 6. A 1 in 365 chance I guess.

The series of short docs depicted life on the island. They were sent to politicians in Ottawa who were on the point of giving up on the sparsely populated island and winding down its public services. On seeing the documentaries they changed their minds and the island population also got to see that the remote politicians they despised did actually care about them. Care is a very important thing in life, I have decided, whether you are a teacher, a psychiatrist, a film-maker, or whatever. It becomes even more important in the age of AI and automation, as depicted very well in Netflix’s recently released doc American Factory. Care distinguishes us from the machines. (By the way, the new Terminator film (Dark Fate) is due out soon and it looks like it’s worth the watch, check out the new trailer.)

Once installed in the (other) white house – talking of which check out Netflix’s excellent Knocking Down the House, a documentary following grassroots Democrats taking on incumbent Senators in the recent mid-terms to try to reconnect the House with its people (I saw it the other night on the big screen, at Soho House, a few doors down from the building where my fascination with film was born, but that’s another story…)  – once installed, we soon began writing work reflecting on Beginning Writing.

Lambay Island Whitehouse edwin lutyens

I did my first session out in the late afternoon sunshine in the grassed yard formed by the three sides of the house. The open side looks up to the small chapel on a hill. This morning I walked around the headland, where to my pantheistic delight I saw numerous seals both on land and poking their heads out of the waves, up to the chapel. I took advantage of the Catholic space to meditate to the music of three sounds – the wind, the sea and the rain on the wood-lined roof. I doubt it was an accident that Michael Powell’s Black Narcissus (as mentioned yesterday) ramps up the overwrought erotic tension of the film with an accompaniment of ceaseless moaning wind.

After the first writing session, we had drinks in the central lounge early evening before dinner in the mirror room of this library, the dining room at the other end of the house looking onto the sea near where we landed.

Earlyish night, bit of Dickens’ Our Mutual Friend (which I’ve been reading since 2001(!), have been thoroughly enjoying, but am still miles from the end), frapped le sac. Dreamt of the house. Up early, out for that walk and the seal watching.

After breakfast, straight into this second writing session and now my juices are flowing…

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My Favourite Documentaries – Take 2

see My Favourite Documentaries for the background to this list

being blacker molly dineen adam gee

Being with Blacker

  • Man with a Movie Camera (Dziga Vertov, 1929) – I came across it while studying Avant Garde literature, painting & film as part of my Modern Languages degree – my iPad is engraved on the back “I, a machine, am showing you a world, the likes of which only I can see”, a quotation from Vertov
  • German Concentration Camps Factual Survey (Sidney Bernstein & Alfred Hitchcock, 1945) – perhaps the most important documentary ever made
  • Up (Michael Apted, Paul Almond 1963>) – what I learnt from Michael Apted in Rome
  • Don’t Look Back (D.A. Pennebaker, 1967) – my visit to the location of the Subterranean Homesick Blues promo
  • Woodstock (Michael Wadleigh, 1970) – last watched it (in part, on multiple screens) at the brilliant You Say You Want a Revolution exhibition at the V&A
  • Meeting the Man (Terence Dixon, 1970) – James Baldwin at his best, shot by my first boss Jack Hazan
  • A Bigger Splash (Jack Hazan, 1973) – British vérité; still hoping to do a James Baldwin doc with Jack
  • World At War (Jeremy Isaacs, 1973 – esp. Holocaust episode) – I found out about the Holocaust from this series when I was 15 or 16; I briefly met Jeremy Isaacs at Channel 4, in whose founding he was instrumental, and we discussed multiplatform TV
  • Rude Boy (Jack Hazan & David Mingay, 1980) – my first employers
  • Shoah (Claude Lanzmann, 1985) – the great directorial lesson in the use of detail to prompt memory
  • Hearts of Darkness (Werner Herzog, 1991) – spinning out my favourite movie made in my lifetime
  • When We Were Kings (Leon Gast, 1996) – captured the legend of Ali perfectly, above all in the shot of the dented punch-bag
  • One Day in September (Kevin MacDonald, 1999) – distributed by Redbus who funded my dot com start-up
  • Bowling for Columbine (Michael Moore, 2002) – he sent an email to my book group at my prompting when we read his Stupid White Men
  • Clowns in the Hood (David LaChapelle, 2003) Jess Search gave me this one – still have the VHS
  • Jump London (Mike Christie, 2003) – the 2nd best thing made at Channel 4 during my 13 years there (Cost of Living, with DV8 was the best)
  • The Future is Unwritten (Julian Temple, 2007) – made at Film4 during my time at C4
  • Waltz with Bashir (Ari Folman, 2008) – the most convincing, organic use of animation in documentary
  • Man on Wire (James Marsh, 2008) – had dinner with James in Brussels in 2008 with my friend Jan Younghusband, then Arts Commissioning Editor at C4
  • Oil City Confidential (Julian Temple, 2009) – captured the legend of Wilko Johnson perfectly, above all playing Roxette
  • Requiem for Detroit? (Julian Temple, 2010) – execed by my mentor, Roger Graef
  • Searching for Sugar Man (Malik Bendjelloul, 2012) – saw Malik and Rodriguez (performing) at Sheffield Doc Fest in 2012
  • Night Will Fall (Andre Singer, 2014) – was with André when he went to Yad Vashem during the making of this; have been working on a spin-off project related to this on and off over the last 5 years
  • The Black Panthers: Vanguard of the Revolution (Stanley Nelson, 2015) – discussed the film with Stanley in Sheffield in 2015: I said things hadn’t improved much for African Americans since the Panthers, he thought they had
  • After The Dance (Daisy Asquith, 2015) – first encountered Daisy in 2006 working on My New Home at Channel 4
  • 13th (Ava DuVernay, 2016) – a heart-rendingly powerful argument (that slavery was morphed into the penitentiary)
  • Faces Places (Agnes Varda & JR, 2017) – a perfect blend of still and moving pictures
  • Minding the Gap (Bing Liu, 2018) – I saw Bing present the film at Doc Fest; I use it often when lecturing as an example of iterative development (it started life as a skating short)
  • Being Blacker (Molly Dineen, 2018) – met Blacker at the premiere [see photo above]
  • Three Identical Strangers (Tim Wardle, 2018) – crossed paths with the Producer, Becky Read, at C4
  • RBG (Julie Cohen & Betsy West, 2018) – a fascinating protagonist
  • Marianne & Leonard: Words of Love (Nick Broomfield, 2019) – had a brief email correspondence with Nick about the film after the Sheffield DocFest screening in June (2019)
  • Rolling Thunder Review: A Bob Dylan Story (Martin Scorsese, 2019) – was high for four days after watching this, it was so good
Rolling Thunder Revue: A Bob Dylan Story by Martin Scorsese

Being with Joan

 

My Favourite Documentaries

faces places agnes-varda-et-jr-en-tournage documentary

Faces Places – JR & Agnès

My first meeting tomorrow is with Brendan Byrne, director of ‘Bobby Sands: 66 Days‘ among many other excellent documentary films. His latest is about poverty and alienation in New York City – ‘One Million American Dreams‘. On the way to our breakfast I will be carrying on reading ‘Say What Happened‘. Its author, Nick Fraser, kindly gave me a copy a few days ago before I went on a short holiday and I am just on the home straight with it now, a very entertaining and thought-provoking read. As a result of reading it I have watched numerous docs these last few days, including the first three episodes of ‘7 Up‘ by Michael Apted. (I met Michael in Rome last year, at the MIA film festival/market, as recorded in this post.)

Reading Nick’s book has prompted me to post a list of my favourite documentaries here on Simple Pleasures. I’d love to hear your suggestions for your favourite docs.

  • Man with a Movie Camera (Dziga Vertov, 1929) – I came across it while studying Avant Garde literature, painting & film as part of my Modern Languages degree – my iPad is engraved on the back “I, a machine, am showing you a world, the likes of which only I can see”, a quotation from Vertov
  • Up (Michael Apted, Paul Almond 1963>) – what I learnt from Michael Apted in Rome
  • Don’t Look Back (D.A. Pennebaker, 1967) – my visit to the location of the Subterranean Homesick Blues promo
  • Woodstock (Michael Wadleigh, 1970) – last watched it (in part, on multiple screens) at the brilliant You Say You Want a Revolution exhibition at the V&A
  • A Bigger Splash (Jack Hazan, 1973) – British vérité; still hoping to do a James Baldwin doc with Jack
  • World At War (Jeremy Isaacs, 1973 – esp. Holocaust episode) – I found out about the Holocaust from this series when I was 15 or 16; I briefly met Jeremy Isaacs at Channel 4, in whose founding he was instrumental, and we discussed multiplatform TV
  • Rude Boy (Jack Hazan & David Mingay, 1980) – my first employers
  • Shoah (Claude Lanzmann, 1985) – the great directorial lesson in the use of detail to prompt memory
  • Hearts of Darkness (Werner Herzog, 1991) – spinning out my favourite movie made in my lifetime
  • When We Were Kings (Leon Gast, 1996) – captured the legend of Ali perfectly, above all in the shot of the dented punch-bag
  • One Day in September (Kevin MacDonald, 1999) – distributed by Redbus who funded my dot com start-up
  • Bowling for Columbine (Michael Moore, 2002) – he sent an email to my book group at my prompting when we read his Stupid White Men
  • The Future is Unwritten (Julian Temple, 2007) – made at Film4 during my time at C4
  • Waltz with Bashir (Ari Folman, 2008) – the most convincing, organic use of animation in documentary
  • Man on Wire (James Marsh, 2008) – had dinner with James in Brussels in 2008 with my friend Jan Younghusband, then Arts Commissioning Editor at C4
  • Oil City Confidential (Julian Temple, 2009) – captured the legend of Wilko Johnson perfectly, above all playing Roxette
  • Requiem for Detroit? (Julian Temple, 2010) – execed by my mentor, Roger Graef
  • Searching for Sugar Man (Malik Bendjelloul, 2012) – saw Malik and Rodriguez (performing) at Sheffield Doc Fest in 2012
  • The Black Panthers: Vanguard of the Revolution (Stanley Nelson, 2015) – discussed the film with Stanley in Sheffield in 2015: I said things hadn’t improved much for African Americans since the Panthers, he thought they had
  • Faces Places (Agnes Varda & JR, 2017) – a perfect blend of still and moving pictures
  • Minding the Gap (Bing Liu, 2018) – I saw Bing present the film at Doc Fest; I use it often when lecturing as an example of iterative development (it started life as a skating short)

I’ve left out loads which I’ll add over time as they occur to me.

joe strummer mick jones the clash rude boy documentary

Rude Boy – Joe & Mick

The Golden Envelope

Exactly this time last week I was at the Festival Hall, London entering the auditorium for the Television BAFTA Awards. Our film ‘Missed Call’ was nominated alongside three BBC productions and, while I had faith in the quality of the film, I didn’t have high hopes of a win. It had been shot entirely on a smartphone. No broadcaster was involved at any point. It was fully funded by a privately-held UK indie (Little Dot Studios).

The team assembled in the afternoon sunshine in an urban garden on top of the adjacent Queen Elizabeth Hall. On the taxi ride in I’d noticed our table number was 007 so I was feeling positively Bond like in my John Pearse jacket. John I suspect is the only Savile Row-trained tailor cum filmmaker in London.

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At the appointed time we dropped down onto the red carpet and shuffled along. Greg Dyke was just in front of me. He soon gave way to Rob Brydon and Lee Mack.

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Once inside I found myself chatting to a man from BAFTA’s marketing company – he proved an important character in the night’s drama. Let’s call him X.

Oiled with champagne, I talked to various colleagues from the industry, many from my alma mater Channel 4. I entered the hall behind David Mitchell (who was talking about how we all pretend not to care about awards – but can’t help but care when we win) and Victoria Coren-Mitchell (who was talking about women not wearing pants). I had a brief exchange with Steve Arnott from ‘Line of Duty’ – he turned out to be Scottish, who knew?

As Graham Norton kicked off the show I felt increasingly like we had no chance. Until the Live Event award was announced and a Remembrance Day programme beat the Royal Wedding – at last, an underdog. I put in a small prayer for help from up there to my dad. I had bought a Farah shirt for the night the day before to invoke his spirit – he used to wear these very conservative Farah “slacks”. Apparently some how (Christ knows how?!) the make is becoming trendy again (again???).

Then it was the moment – Short Form Programme. They showed the clips, including one featuring Jodie Comer, the hottest of properties thanks to ‘Killing Eve’. Then two beautiful young things, boy and girl (still not sure who they were as I’m in my silver fox period and phenomenally out of touch) opened the golden envelope and said the words “Missed” and “Call”. There began a week-long buzz I can still feel. Our director, Victoria Mapplebeck, and me had a moment – made all the more beautiful by the fact that Jim, her son and co-star in the documentary, was on her other side. As we walked down to the stage I passed Andrew (Moriarty) Scott clapping with genuine enthusiasm and in front of him Phoebe Waller-Bridge being equally generous. That moment was both humbling and perhaps the highlight of the night for me. On the stage Victoria did a beautiful speech, Jim getting very well deserved applause, as did the iPhone Victoria brandished as the main tool of her trade. Hearing my name in that context was of course a kick. Victoria and I had started the project as a BBC3 series (which they rejected) just before I started at Little Dot Studios and I took advantage of the new job to realise one episode which became ‘Missed Call’, a high risk 19-minute unscripted piece whose ending we didn’t know when we embarked (would Jim get to meet his long AWOL father?) Watch the film here to find out…

The other thing that really struck me was how enthusiastically our win was greeted. Jim’s 15-year-old presence will have helped a lot. But so to did X because he promised to make a noise if we won and he whistled so loudly his wife smacked him.

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When we shuffled off in a lovely daze we went through an efficient assembly line of photos, signing for the individually numbered BAFTA mask, being interviewed. Victoria, Ananda Murphy (our stalwart producer) and I were the named individuals representing the winning production team. The next day I took the heavy bronze award into the Little Dot offices, holding it aloft like the FA Cup, and these are the massive smiles it lit:

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Eventually we were reinserted into the hall in our original seats and tried our best to concentrate, while texting our mums, spouses, children.

Then a bit of a shock which put it all into perspective. The memorial section in which, to my dark astonishment, the name and face of Anthony Owen appeared. I had no idea he had passed away. I checked after and he had texted me three days before to congratulate me on my new job at Red Bull Media House. Everyone used to envy his job title at Objective – Head of Magic. He got my kids tickets for Derren Brown, always generous and warm. I last saw him at The Story conference in February. A total shock. (You can help his family here.)

After the awards/programme recording concluded, a big photo of all winners was taken on stage. I was standing right behind Benedict Cumberbatch who was clearly very emotional about his first BAFTA win. To my right was Fiona Shaw who is an acting idol of my Mrs and Joan Bakewell. I had a brief exchange with that other underdog Huw Edwards (of the Remembrance programme).

On the way down from the hall I bumped into my old Channel 4 colleague, John Yorke, then Head of Drama. We discussed how I apply his book ‘Into The Woods’ (of which I am a huge fan) to documentaries, applying story structures more often discussed in relation to drama and movies.

Next a very nicely presented dinner with my team from Little Dot and ‘Missed Call’ and wafting around in a delightful daze. At one point I was accosted by a charming older couple who wanted to cop a feel of the mask. They did and we got chatting and it turned out they were the parents of Ruth Wilson. ‘Mrs Wilson’ was one of my favourite contenders for this year’s awards and I voted for it for everything possible. The gentleman was one of the son’s (Nigel) of Alexander Wilson featured in the drama. They introduced me to Ruth and we had a long chat, including about the fact I’d made a film about another Ruth Wilson last year ‘Vanished: The Surrey Schoolgirl’.

Ruth_Wilson_tv bafta awards 2019 actress

A whirlwind of chat and booze until 3am. I bumped into these delightful colleagues from Little Dot who had arrived from BAFTA’s offices at mudnight, having clipped up the broadcast for YouTube – small world.

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After two and a half hours sleep I got up to go deliver a lecture at Ravensbourne film school. “The bad news is this is the first lecture I’ve ever done still a bit drunk. The good news is I have a great excuse…” Pulls out heavy, shiny mask (from the unglamorous plastic bag I was using to take it into the office after).

 

 


Winner’s acceptance speech by Victoria Mapplebeck for Missed Call in the Short Form Programme category

Oh my god!  I just want to say thank you to Adam Gee who commissioned this.  He is at Little Dot Studios, commissioned it for Real Stories. This was a tricky film, as you can see, because I’m both director and parent to the fantastic Jim, and that meant I needed ongoing support from this fantastic dream team of commissioners and editors and producers.

I think it’s proof… I hope the film is proof that small is beautiful, because I shot the whole thing on that phone, and when we needed an end credit composer, Jim took his phone out and composed the end credits, and even better gave me the rights for a pair of trainers.

So, yes, I just want to say — I think you deserve it every bit as much as we do.  Jim is the star of the show.  It’s hard being in a film at 15 and he did brilliantly.  So thank you.

 

Come Trip with Me

Mind-Explorers-Poster real stories little dot studios documentary

My latest commission for Real Stories channel is The Mind Explorers: a psychedelic weekend . This half-hour observational documentary follows ordinary people on an extraordinary trip, centring around a 4-day psychedelic retreat in the Netherlands, where psilocybin-containing ‘magic truffles’ are legal. With new research suggesting that psychedelics can effectively treat depression, accessible retreats abroad are appealing to a new wave of curious ‘psychonauts’.

Following participants before, during and after the experience, the film explores the potential of psychedelics to transform people’s lives in the long term when taken in a therapeutic setting.

The participants range from a marketing manager on a self-improvement quest who grew up in Soviet-controlled Kazakhstan, to an IT specialist from Chicago who is a big fan of psychedelics of all types. Grandmother Mary hasn’t told her husband she is going on the retreat, and 30-year-old business owner Lucy wants to know how taking psychedelics recreationally differs from this more therapeutic experience. After delving into the unknown, we follow how the experience changes their minds – for better or worse.

After many refusals to other producers, this is the first time filming access has been granted to one of these retreats.

In the last month psilocybin has been granted ‘Breakthrough Therapy’ status by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA). The designation was given to London-based COMPASS Pathways’ psilocybin-based therapy for treatment-resistant depression. The UK life sciences company is backed among others by PayPal co-founder, entrepreneur/venture capitalist Peter Thiel.

The Mind Explorers: a psychedelic weekend is an original production from Real Stories. It was directed and produced by Rebecca Coxon and executive produced by Anna Hall of Leeds-based True Vision Yorkshire for Little Dot Studios. You can watch it for free here.

The director’s experiences making the film were featured recently on the homepage of the Huffington Post.

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Huffington Post 14/12/2018 I Took Psychedelic Drugs on a Self-help Retreat

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Missed Call smartphone doc wins AHRC Award

AHRC Research in Film Awards 2018 at BAFTA

Missed Call, one of my Real Stories Originals commissions, a documentary made entirely on an iPhone X, a story which revolves around smartphones, their media and communications, picked up a distinctive and prestigious award recently. It won the AHRC Research in Film Award for Social Media Short, one of just 5 categories. As veteran documentary-maker (and my mentor) Roger Graef pointed out on the night, it is not often Research gets centre stage and yet it is the vital underpinning of all great docs.

AHRC Research in Film Awards 2018 at BAFTA Sophie Morgan Channel 4

Channel 4’s Sophie Morgan revealing the winner

The award was presented at BAFTA to director Victoria Mapplebeck and her teenage son Jim, the protagonist of Missed Call, by Channel 4 presenter Sophie Morgan (Rio Paralympics 2016).

The following day Victoria and Jim appeared on ITV News in this item about children reconnecting with their estranged parent – video is at the bottom of this page (click here).

itv news report missed call documentary

AHRC Research in Film Awards 2018 at BAFTA Sophie Morgan Channel 4

A cool 2 mil

Real Stories (the online documentary channel for which I commission and exec) hit 2 Million subscribers on YouTube today – which is nice…

real stories documentary channel 2 million subscribers youtube

Missed Call in The Sunday Times

From today’s Sunday Times:

2018-11-04 Missed Call Sunday Times Real Stories Little Dot Victoria Mapplebeck

Boy’s search for father shortlisted for film award

Missed Call, an account of a 13-year-old trying to track down his dad via a vintage Nokia handset, has been nominated for a short-film prize

James Gillespie

November 4 2018, 12:01am, The Sunday Times

A teenager’s desperate search for his father

Jim Mapplebeck had no memory of his father. The 13-year-old had not seen him since he was two. All he had to remember him by were the gifts he once bought and the modest digital footprint he left behind: two emails and some texts archived in a vintage Nokia.

It was enough.

Enlisting his mother, Victoria, to help, Jim went through the ancient phone and other digital sources until they had a number and sent a text.

As they were doing this, Victoria was filming the events on her iPhone, and this week the resulting documentary, Missed Call, is shortlisted for a prize at the Arts and Humanities Research Council awards at Bafta.

The touching film, which can be viewed on YouTube, shows the close relationship between Victoria, 53, and Jim, now 14, as they search. The clues were a pair of baby pyjamas, a Christmas card, the two emails and 100 texts.

Their initial attempts to make contact took an agonisingly long time.

Victoria sent a text last year – and there was no response. For 13 days they waited until finally the father came back to them.

“I’d given up. I thought it was not going to happen,” said Victoria. “I was so worried for Jim. I was trying to manage expectations – it might not work out. He [the father] may not respond.”

Jim was the product of a brief, eight-week relationship between Victoria and his father – “It wasn’t the love of our life” – and then she found out she was pregnant.

The first surprise was that his father had a second son by another relationship. After Victoria and Jim made contact, the father talked things through with his current partner.

After exchanging texts a meeting was finally set up in March this year.

Jim did not know what to expect. “I was worried, but I think it was the right thing to do. I had a stereotype view and I dreamt a lot of him. But he wasn’t the stereotype I had imagined. My mum had shown me a picture of him and I thought he looked like a California surfer dude – and he’s the total opposite.

“I missed having a father when I was younger but as I have grown older I don’t seem to miss it as much. When I was growing up, it was on my mind and I was confused by it.

“The first time I met him, I really enjoyed it and got to know him. The second time I felt a bit more discouraged— I don’t know why. I’m hoping to meet him again soon.”

The pair live in Camberwell, south London, and Jim attends school in Croydon. He is thinking of a career either in acting or counselling.

Victoria said she thought it was hard for Jim missing out on a relationship with his father. But now they have met, she added: “It’s tough working out how you build that relationship. There is no easy happy ending.”

The time machine in your pocket

Real Stories Original Missed Call , shot entirely on an iPhone X, has been nominated in the Social Media Short category at the AHRC Research in Film Awards 2018, which take place on 8th November at BAFTA in London. Extracts from a related article championing smartphone filmmaking in this week’s Broadcast:

2018-11-02 smartphone filmmaking article in broadcast adam gee victoria mapplebeck

The time machine in your pocket

The intimacy and ubiquity of smartphones make them ideal for telling personal stories, argue Victoria Mapplebeck and Adam Gee

Missed Call

Production company Field Day Productions
Commissioner Adam Gee, Little Dot Studios
Length 19 minutes
Producer/director Victoria Mapplebeck
Executive producers Amanda Murphy; Alex Hryniewicz; Andy Taylor

Making the most of the smartphone

Adam Gee
Commissioning editor, Little Dot Studios

I commissioned Missed Call partly because I am a massive advocate of smartphone filmmaking. I also consider Victoria’s 2015 film 160 Characters a pioneering work in this territory.

What’s so special about what is effectively the prequel is that not only was it made largely on mobile phones, but also the narrative is derived from the contents of one old mobile in particular. It contains a resonant text thread that captures the story of a key love affair in the life of the director-cum-protagonist.

Missed Call similarly revolves around mobile phone content – video, photos, emoticons, animations, texts. The aesthetic of the film is rooted in this content, which gives it an original feel.

Between the old Nokia of the first film and the new generation iPhone of this second, the technology has advanced, the details of the graphics evolved, so the look & feel has moved on.

Because the commission coincided with the noisy launch of the iPhone X, I thought we might as well take advantage of the coincidence and be pioneers with the new tech.

I’d seen Michel Gondry’s scripted short Détour, which was shot entirely on iPhone 7. That planted the iPhone seed and I asked Little Dot to buy the then brand-new iPhone X for Victoria to use.

She complemented it with a decent mike (Rode SmartLav+ Lavalier) and a stabiliser (Lanparte 3 Axis Handheld Gimbal) and then got the ball rolling. She started by using it for audio-recording conversations with her son Jim, to make sure he was comfortable, eventually segueing into video recording.

Intimacy and ubiquity

The power of Smartphone filmmaking is intimacy and ubiquity. The kind of intimate conversations Victoria and Jim managed to capture in a natural way were the result of the camera-phone being small and unobtrusive, with no crew attached – part of everyday contemporary life.

And it’s in your pocket all your waking hours (and not uncommonly beside the bed even in your non-waking ones, as we see in Missed Call).

Between this distinctive pairing of characteristics, a whole new highly accessible realm of film-making opens up.

real stories original missed call victoria mapplebeck adam gee jim mapplebeck

Victoria Mapplebeck
Producer/director
Reader in digital arts at Royal Holloway, University of London

How do you reconnect with a father who’s been absent for over a decade? What do you write, what do you say? Add to that dilemma a teenage boy and the realisation that this private journey would very quickly become a public one. There were a lot of sleepless nights on Missed Call, the first commissioned short documentary to be shot on an iPhone X.

The doc is a sequel to 160 Characters, my first smartphone short, which I made for Film London. It brought to life a three-year SMS thread between myself and my son’s father, charting the story of how we met, dated for just a few months, broke up and subsequently dealt with an unplanned pregnancy.

Missed Call explores my relationship with my now fourteen-year-old son Jim. His father came to see Jim a handful of times when he was a baby before deciding that he didn’t want to be involved. Last year, Jim decided he wanted to meet his father and asked if I would make contact with him again.

Executive producer Amanda Murphy helped me navigate the many compliance and ethical issues we faced throughout production. Our aim with Jim’s dad was to preserve his anonymity and to protect Jim in an uncertain unfolding narrative. Squaring the circle of being both filmmaker and parent made this one of the most challenging films I’ve ever made.

For Jim, being filmed by his mum with an iPhone X was no big deal. When he looked into the lens, all he saw was me.

But in my 25 years as a self-shooting director, the camera I film with has gone from needing a bag the size of a small suitcase to one that fits in my back pocket.

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Our phones are like time machines

There’s a great scene in Mad Men when Don Draper is meeting with the team who invented Kodak’s Carousel. As he clicks through his own family album in a darkened boardroom, he begins his pitch:

“In Greek, ‘Nostalgia’ literally means the pain from an old wound, it’s a twinge in your heart… It’s a time machine. It goes backwards and forwards, it takes us to a place where we ache to go again…”

Our mobile phones have become our time machines. My vintage Nokia lies at the back of my kitchen drawer, holding that all-important first text message from Jim’s dad. My new iPhone X can access that devastating last email from him before he cut all contact a decade ago. It also contains the first text I sent him after 12 years of radio silence – and 13 days later, his reply.

My phone contains good memories too: 26,000 photos; 3,000 videos; and the jokey texts Jim sends me from bedroom to living room, requesting another five minutes on the Xbox.

You may love your phone, you may hate it, probably both, but hold it close. It’s your own personal time machine – it connects you with your past, your present and your future. It holds the traces of all your time travel, all the stories that shape you, the good and the bad… forever.

real stories original missed call victoria mapplebeck adam gee jim mapplebeck

{extracts courtesy of Broadcast – full article is here}

 

Oh Geno (Gee Knows)

screening of oh geno at curzon bloomsbury 23 october 2018

Curzon Bloomsbury 23 October 2018 – Dalton Deverell (Prod) Sophie Shad (Wr/actress) Onyinye Egenti (Dir) GENO Washington ??? (Ram Jam Band bass player)

On arrival at the Curzon Bloomsbury on Tuesday evening to see a drama-doc short ‘Oh Geno!’ I was greeted with a lovely surprise – the director Sophie Shad welcomed me and explained that the film had come about because of me. I had no idea. But was delighted. Here’s how it happened…

I was introduced to Sophie through a fellow trustee at the Phoenix Cinema, East Finchley, the oldest purpose-built cinema in the country (which is about to join the Curzon group – there’s a Company Members’ meeting going on as I write but I’m 8,000 feet above Finland so unfortunately can’t be there).

Sophie had just produced her first scripted short ‘Kitty’s Fortune‘ (2016), a story set in Auschwitz, and came to see me at Channel 4 about next moves with her producing partner Dalton Deverell. They were thinking of following up with another holocaust story. During the course of the chat it came to light that Sophie’s grandfather is none other than Geno Washington, the soul singer (who I first came across through Dexy’s Midnight Runners’ eponymous song).

That man took the stage, his towel was swingin’ high
(Oh Geno!)
This man was my bombers, my dexys, my high
(Oh Geno!)
How the crowd, they all hailed you, and chanted your name

I gave the opinion that at that particular juncture a holocaust story might be especially challenging to get off the ground and perhaps the Geno connection was a more joyful route for the times and a better use of weapons in their young armoury.

We discussed a short form documentary series in the wake of that meeting but it never quite came together, I left Channel 4 and our ways parted (largely because their focus was on scripted).

geno washington ram jam band my bombers lp cover design

A few weeks ago an invitation arrives for the screening and I am surprised and delighted the Geno project came off. What I hadn’t realised was that it was on leaving that initial meeting at Horseferry Road that the pair of them determined on making a film about Geno.

Sophie kindly explained my role in the genesis of the film in the Q&A after the screening to 150 delighted audience members. Besides her and Dalton on the panel was the director,Onyinye Egenti, and the great man himself, Geno. Geno bantered with me in the audience, saying I was to blame, with his crazy infectious laugh.

Oh Geno short film poster geno washington

The film is to debut at Aesthetica Short Film Festival in York next month. It is a really well scripted piece focused on the meeting of Geno and his wife-to-be, Frenchy (Sophie’s grandmother) in a London club in the mid-60s. He was just out the US Air Force, getting to love Britain. She was a Jewish refugee from France, a single mum and feisty club manageress. Sophie plays her own grandmother – which has a certain resonance – with a beautiful stylishness (the camera loves her). The moment zoomed in on is just right to capture the essence of an extraordinary couple. And the ending is pulled off with aplomb – avoiding the common pitfall of the punchline-type ending of short dramas (it has the punch-line dynamic but it is subtle and judged just right).

sophie shad plays frenchy in oh geno short film

Sophie Shad plays Frenchy

At the screening I found myself sitting beside the young actor who portrayed Geno, Edward Nkom. He captures the physical charm of Geno well.

Edward_Nkom_actor HSA_associates

Edward Nkom plays Geno

It will be interesting to see if this nugget develops further and into what – scripted, drama-doc, it could go in various directions. I’d love to see it evolve into an iterative project centred on this fascinating couple.

Geno_Sheet_Muisc_1 dexys midnight runners

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