Archive for the ‘documentary films’ Category

Top Documentaries on UK TV 2017

BBC Ambulance documentary series

My favourite documentary series of the year

Title Channel Share % Viewers ‘000s
         
1 Blue Planet II BBC 1 45.8 14,011
2 Diana, Our Mother: Her life + Legacy ITV 36.7 9,390
3 Diana, Seven Days BBC 1 32.9 6,425
4 Rio Ferdinand: Being Mum + Dad BBC 1 26.2 6,345
5 Spy In The Wild BBC 1 25.7 6,218
6 The Real Marigold Hotel BBC 1 23.3 5,999
7 Wild Alaska Live BBC 1 31.9 5,998
8 Attenborough and the Giant Elephant BBC 1 20.3 5,378
9 The Real Full Monty ITV 24.2 5,362
10 Fake Or Fortune? BBC 1 26.0 5,127
11 Snow Bears BBC 1 23.6 4,969
12 Paul O’Grady For the love of Dogs ITV 21.1 4,960
13 Diana: In Her Own Words CH4 20.6 4,923
14 The Truth About… Sleep BBC 1 20.3 4,704
15 Ambulance BBC 1 21.1 4,660
16 Police Tapes ITV 20.5 4,522
17 Easyjet: Inside The Cockpit ITV 20.2 4,488
18 The Real Marigold On Tour BBC 1 18.3 4,411
19 An Hour To Catch A Killer ITV 18.1 4,362
20 Inside London Fire Brigade ITV 18.7 4,317
21 Britain’s Busiest Airport – Heathrow ITV 18.5 4,309
22 The Met: Policing London BBC 1 19.5 4,224
23 Martin Clunes: Islands Of Australia ITV 19.4 4,222
24 The Cruise : Mediterranean ITV 17.3 4,216
25 Galapagos BBC 1 16.9 4,173
26 Elizabeth And Philip: Love & Duty BBC 1 14.6 4,149
27 Sir Bruce Forsyth: Mr Entertainment BBC 1 21.7 4,094
28 Reported Missing BBC 1 16.6 4,051
29 Prince Harry & Meghan ITV 16.8 4,034
30 Joanna Lumley’s India ITV 18.3 4,025
31 The Week The Landlords Moved In BBC 1 18.2 3,982
32 The Fifteen Billion Pound Railway BBC 2 17.4 3,908
33 Italy’s Invisible Cities BBC 1 14.6 3,859
34 Ross Kemp Behind Bars ITV 17.1 3,848
35 Sugar Free Farm ITV 16.3 3,840
36 Gordon Ramsay On Cocaine ITV 16.4 3,839
37 Diana: The Day Britain Cried ITV 14.6 3,817
38 Spy in the Wild: Meet the Spies BBC 1 17.6 3,784
39 Serial Killer with Piers Morgan ITV 15.9 3,683
40 The Ganges with Sue Perkins BBC 1 15.9 3,671
41 How To Stay Young BBC 1 15.9 3,648
42 Britain’s Best Walks with Julia Bradbury ITV 17.1 3,619
43 A Very Royal Wedding ITV 14.9 3,588
44 Gone To Pot: American Road Trip ITV 13.5 3,585
45 Killer Women with Piers Morgan ITV 15.7 3,553
46 Britain On The Fiddle BBC 1 14.1 3,459
47 The Truth About Stress BBC 1 14.7 3,451
48 The Harbour ITV 14.4 3,431
49 I Am Bolt BBC 1 15.8 3,409
50 The Sheriffs Are Coming BBC 1 14.1 3,400
51 Orkney: When The Boat Comes BBC 1 17.0 3,380
52 Winterwatch BBC 2 14.0 3,378
53 Harry & Meghan: Royal Engagement BBC 1 16.0 3,377
54 Russia With Simon Reeve BBC 2 14.0 3,287
55 Call The Midwife: The Casebook BBC 1 17.0 3,234
56 Devon & Cornwall Cops ITV 14.6 3,206
57 Planet Earth II: A World Of Wonder BBC 1 19.6 3,174

blue planet II natural history documentary series BBC

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Coincidences No.s 359, 360, 361 & 362 – Back in the Old Country

first edition ulysses james joyce 1922 paris book novel

A snip at €30,000

No. 359 – 06:12:17

I am packing for a trip to Dublin to address the board of RTÉ, the national broadcaster of Ireland. There is one area of the subjects I am covering which I’m not feeling 100% confident about.

As I take stuff out of my work bag to make space, an old copy of Broadcast (the TV industry trade paper) surfaces. It’s from late September. Two pages have become detached from the centre. They are about exactly the subject that was niggling me.

No. 360 – 06:12:17

I am at Luton Airport in the queue to get on the plane to Belfast (I have a meeting at BBC Northern Ireland before heading south to Dublin). The plane is heading to Belfast International / Aldegrove which is north of the city in Co. Antrim.

My phone goes while I’m in the queue. It is Home Counties-based Northern Irish radio broadcaster Peter Curran. We almost never talk on the phone – we do face to face and use email/text to arrange getting together. He tells me he is recording a programme in Antrim and something he saw made him think of me. I tell him that that’s a bit weird as I’ll be in Antrim in about 55 minutes.

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A snip at €5

No. 361 – 07:12:17

I go to a reading of James Joyce’s ‘Ulysses’ in the old pharmacy (Sweny’s) near Merrion Square where Leopold Bloom buys his lemony soap in the novel. (I’d seen a copy of the ultra-rare 1st edition a few streets away earlier in the afternoon – see photo above.) People show up ad hoc and each person reads a page from where the group had last gotten to – the reading goes round the attendees for the duration of the session. To make it feel just right an auld drunk fella showed up to take advantage of the warmth and light. The section they are reading today happens to be my favourite in a 733 page book.

I go to turn my phone to silent before the reading starts. My phone shows 19:04 – the year ‘Ulysses’ is set in these streets of Dublin.

Earlier in the afternoon I drop into the old pharmacy (now run by Joyce volunteers) and buy a bar of the lemon soap in a facsimile wrapper.

As we read we read the line “To wash his soiled hands with a partially consumed tablet of Barrington’s lemon-flavoured soap”. A couple of pages later we read: “in Lincoln Place outside the premises of F. W. Sweny and Co. Limited, dispensing chemists”. Between we read:

“What reminiscences temporarily corrugated his brow? – Reminiscences of coincidences, truth stranger than fiction…”

(I have just noticed Sweny’s intials – F W. I came to the reading directly from the National Gallery of Ireland, 3 minutes away. I had been at an exhibition of F W Burton (Frederic William) called For  The Love of Art.)

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Lorraine Chase

No. 362 – 02:12:17 & 09:12:17

The name Lorraine has been following me around this week.

At the start of the week (last Saturday) I am directing a documentary about cycling. I go to interview a couple in Birmingham. The wife is called Lorraine and is an ex-church minister – I have pictured her as a thin white sticky woman, influenced I think by Lorraine Chase, the woman made famous by the Campari TV ads in the 80s (catchphrase: “Nah, Luton Airport!” – see No. 360 above).

As it turns out the interviewee is a substantial black lady.

At the end of the week (yesterday, Saturday) I go to a screening of ‘I Am Not Your Negro’, the feature documentary by Raoul Peck about James Baldwin and Black Lives Matter (from the 40s to the 2010s). I sat next to documentary veteran Peter Dale, my old colleague from Channel 4. During the film I noticed in the archive footage a sign for a diner in one of those southern towns like Selma, I forget which: it is called Lorraine.

Real Stories hits 1m subs

real stories one million subscribers documentary channel youtube

Here’s an update by Little Dot Studios Co-Founder, Andy Taylor, of the progress of this online documentary channel for which I have been commissioning the first original content.

This week at Little Dot Studios, we are celebrating a major milestone. Our documentary channel, Real Stories, has hit 1 million subscribers.

Real Stories is only two years old, but is now running at over 700,000 views per day. It’s become a major success in a small window of time, leading to big projects and investments in the brand. But the launch of the channel was not the product of strategy reviews, business cases or investment committees – it was a small number of employees from different departments who developed their insights into ideas, and then had the initiative to see them through.

The history  

Two years ago, our ContentID team – the team overseeing YouTube’s copyright management tool – kept telling us that documentaries were big on YouTube. They were ‘claiming’ over 40,000 television shows for our production, distribution and broadcaster clients and kept finding that full-length documentary content was attracting significant viewing. In came our Insights team, who pulled all our viewing data and put videos into different genres: comedy, kids, entertainment, factual/documentary. The data showed that factual was the second-most viewed genre in our portfolio (after pre-school kids). There was an opportunity to create a genre-specific YouTube channel for full-length documentaries.

This was a novel idea at the time. Most people at this point still viewed YouTube as a short-form platform for ‘viral videos’ – certainly not the home of premium, long-form documentaries. But the data was on our side, so we opened a page called Real Stories, and our partnership managers went to all our clients to see if they would license us full, one-hour documentaries for use on YouTube. Within 3-6 months we had around 1000 documentaries.

Two years later, we have a phenomenal success story, all born from data, insights and people not being afraid to put ideas forward. A brand that didn’t exist two years ago and a channel for which we haven’t yet produced an original video now has 1 million subscribers. And we’ll pay out c.$1m to our partners this year. The prospects for 2018 are exceptional.

The evolution:

In August, we committed to two initiatives. First, to launch Real Stories on Facebook. It was always going to be tough because the brand is unknown on the platform and we have long-form content, while the platform demands short, snappy videos. 4 months later, Real Stories has over 200k Likes and achieves 200k views almost daily. On good days, it hits 1m views and has hit highs of 10m a day. We re-edit and repurpose one-hour docs for the Facebook audience and have licensed content from Vimeo and other platforms to bolster the content output. One of those videos has done 6m views. We’ve also run competitions and ‘live’ broadcasts to experiment with the Facebook algorithm. 

Second, we’ve been commissioning Real Stories ‘Originals’. We’ve brought in Adam Gee from Channel 4 (where he headed Factual Commissioning for All4) and within 4 weeks he’d signed off nine commissions. These commissions have gone to a range of new, emerging talent – different voices to the usual with a huge platform on which to tell their stories. We’ve subsequently signed off a further two and they’re all now in production. They’ll go live on Real Stories in January and, with a bit of luck, we’ll then be able to sign off more films.

Looking forward:

Looking even further forward, in Q1 2018 we’ll be launching Real Stories as an app on iOS, Android, Amazon Fire, Roku and other devices in the UK, US, Australia and Canada. It’ll be a ‘beta’ launch to learn about these new platforms and to continue to build the brand beyond YouTube. For us, it’s another step into the unknown for a brand that keeps pushing us out of our comfort zone.

Cycle of Life

Anglia Television TV Norwich

Norwich

I heard one of those stories the day before yesterday that makes you despair of mankind. I was in Norwich to deliver a lecture on online video at NUA (Norwich University of the Arts). Actor John Hurt served proudly as its first Chancellor until his sad passing at the beginning of the year. The course leader (Film & Moving Image Production) who lead me through the charming city was telling me about the new yellow bikes that have appeared in the city recently as one crossed our path outside the lecture hall building. It is a city scheme which the students are testing out enthusiastically. He told me a new bank of bikes had appeared outside his house the day before. But when he came down that morning they were gone. He found them soon submerged in the river, chucked over the wall. Why would anyone do that?

As it happens, I’m working on a documentary about cycling, cyclists & bikes at Little Dot Studios which includes the story of a university cycle scheme. With a bit of luck the tapestry of stories will be nearer the uplifting end of the scale.

I’m writing this at Venue No.2 of the Aesthetica Short Film Festival in York (a multistorey bar), killing time before Evensong at York Minster. I went yesterday afternoon too – it’s pretty uplifting even if religion is not particularly your bag.

I served on the jury of this year’s festival, judging the Documentary category among others. I’m just out of one of the Docs screenings which concluded with a short entitled Dial-a-Ride about a minibus service for the elderly and remote of Brecon. It was the other side of the human coin, propelled by a caring driver who appreciated the rich mix of stories of his mainly elderly passengers.

And so the wheels of life turn…

York Minster cathedral

York Minster

Sheffield Doc/Fest 2017

Highlight of Doc/fest for me this year was meeting the legendary Walter Murch, sound designer and editor, who created the picture and sound editing magic of ‘Apocalypse Now’ and the Oscar-winning sound montage of ‘The Conversation’. He gave some real insights into the practice of editing, from overarching comparisons to architecture and choreography to frame-level detail in search of the perfect cut.

Apocalypse Now fan

The link between the ceiling fan and the chopper sounds suggested itself when shots between were removed

Another highlight was an energetic, extended conversation in the wake of ‘You Have No Idea How Much I Love You’, a documentary by Pavel Lozinski – or is it? (a documentary) On the way out of the Showroom Cinema I accosted a fellow producer and asked her whether she’d had the same reaction to the end of the film (basically a punch to the guts). We were then accosted by Amir Bar-Lev, director of the new Grateful Dead doc ‘Long Strange Trip‘ (just released on Amazon Prime) who had the same question. Between the Showroom and Exchange Square with stops along the way the three of us had our own Q&A discussing the ethics of shooting therapy sessions and how they can be shot in an ethical way which doesn’t disrupt the therapeutic benefit. I’d gone to see the film in the first place because one of the films I’m currently working on, ‘Love Lies Bleeding‘ (w/t, directed by Leslie Lee), includes scenes of this kind. Leslie and I spent the week before Doc/Fest working with the wise, seasoned expertise of the likes of Peter Symes and Jihan El-Tahri at Documentray Campus on the story structure.

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You Have No Idea How Much I Love You (Poland 2016)

 

A past Doc/fest: 2015 (rock, Kurt Cobain, etc.) ; Shorts ; Black Panthers ; Drones.

The Next Day: fragments of Bowie

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Outside 155 Hauptstrasse Schoeneberg Berlin – Bowie’s apartment – 17 Jan 2016

So today is The Next Day – the day after Bowie’s birthday, after the anniversary of the release of Blackstar, the day before the anniversary of his death, the middle day, the limbo day.

As promised in yesterday’s birthday post, The Man Who Rose from Earth, in this one I’m going to gather some of the Bowie posts from across the years of Simple Pleasures part 4. As a blog about Creativity and the quest for Happiness through the Simple Pleasures of life Bowie was always bound to feature as a great creator, an outstanding innovator and a man who worked hard to know himself and find Peace.

So adding to the photo album of my Bowie’s Berlin trip last January and my post on hearing of his death (Blackstar Rising) from yesterday’s post are:

Bowie: The Next Day [11 January, 2016] My reflections on his death

The Berlin Trilogy 1 [16 January, 2016] the first day oy my trip to Berlin in the days after his death

The Berlin Trilogy 2: Where Are We Now? [17 January, 2016]

The Berlin Trilogy 3: Goodbye to Berlin  [19 January, 2016]

Heroes Mystery Solved [27 January, 2016]

David Bowie locations in Berlin [22 January, 2016] a ready-made tour

Heddonism [11 April, 2012] a first-hand account of the unveiling of his plaque in Heddon St.

A Bowie Moment [13 January, 2016] Ziggy Stardust plaque unveiling video

4 for 66 (Happy Birthday David Bowie) [9 January, 2013] 4 of his best songs

Sound & Vision [12 November, 2016] the best of Bowie’s art collection

Cut up by Bowie’s Black-out [20 January, 2016] a Bowie-style cut-up

Where Are We Now? [11 January, 2016] an animation

100 Greatest Songs [12 January, 2008]

***

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Outside 155 Hauptstrasse Schoeneberg Berlin – Bowie’s apartment – 17 Jan 2016

Celebrated The Big Man’s birthday yesterday evening by watching David Bowie: The Last Five Years, a new BBC feature documentary commissioned by my friend and former Channel 4 colleague Jan Younghusband. It is an excellent watch, breaking new ground with its focus on his last half decade and last two LPs in an intelligent and insightful way. It was directed by Francis Whately. There are various clips here.

Three Days a Week

 

Eight Days A Week

Eight Days a Week

Day 2: Liverpool

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So I’m sitting in front of Liverpool Town Hall in the Indian summer afternoon sunshine. I’m discussing a documentary with a Scouse film-maker, the protagonist of the film and the cameraman. We’ve just arrived, the beers have just landed and out of the open balcony door of the Town Hall tumble the strains of Let It Be. Then more Beatles. Then a female singer doing covers of their songs. I couldn’t have scripted or timed it any better. My fantasy Liverpool afternoon. After the meeting I trotted down the street to the Odeon for the world premiere of the Beatles documentary, Eight Days A Week, put together by Ron Howard. The red (actually blue) carpet shenanigans were broadcast live from Leicester Square to this and other cinemas around the country and beyond, including the arrival of Paul and Ringo. Where better to watch it than in Beatlesville. The moment and song that punched out was when John composed Help. It stood out as the point when their song-writing went up a gear or three.

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Day 1: Sheffield

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Spent the day working with an indie producer in Sheffield – which was fun. After we wrapped for the afternoon, I headed into the city centre from the atmospheric, leafy burbs. In the golden early evening sunlight surveyed the city’s excellent array of street art, not least the excellent work of Rocket01.

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After a fine Mexican beano, hung out chatting in the Peace Gardens with their monumental fountain portals and all-round perfect mix of water, stone and grass. I’m usually in the city for DocFest in the summer so it was good to see it under other circumstances. It has some of the finest regeneration in the country, with a brilliant passage from the station up to the Peace Gardens. The blade sculpture bordering the station with a thin layer of water flowing over the gigantic knife-edge of shining steel. The tower of the university bearing a poem by Andrew Motion about standing looking at the tower of the university. The art deco Showroom cinema. The art deco Library and (Graves) Gallery. The wooden ribs and hothouse glass of the Winter Gardens. The Victorian Town Hall, sheltering the Peace Gardens.

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Day 2: Sheffield

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Edith Sitwell by Roger Fry

Began the day at a working breakfast with a Sheffield-based film producer who is a very nice guy. Then a quick visit to the Graves Gallery to look at the hidden treasure that is their permanent collection. Catching my eye this time: Christ Carrying the Cross attributed to Luis de Morales (late C16), a prematurely aged, weary Jesus, right beside a striking painting of a man holding a skull, a dark momento mori where the difference between the head and skull is marginal; The Hours by Burne-Jones, six ladies representing the sweep of the day, their dress ranging from dawn blue to late afternoon russet and back to night-time blue-black; a Paul Nash landscape, an Auerbach cityscape of Mornington Crescent; Sam Taylor-Wood suspended from the ceiling (flashback to young John Lennon); a portrait of Edith Sitwell and her languorous hands – one of the best galleries in the land.

Then the train to Liverpool across the Peak valleys bathed in Indian summer gold.

Day 3: Sheffield

Rain after the early hours thunder, making the work at Roco (a new creative co-operative space) all the cosier. A good creative session, inducing headache in the journey to a possible break-through, wrestling with knotty problems between cups of tea. A burst of sun as we left to mark the conclusion in grand style.

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“So we sailed on to the sun”

The Beatles – Yellow Submarine

 

 

Dream of Life

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Patti Smith: Dream of Life

I met Patti Smith one time – it was in St Luke’s Church near Old Street roundabout after an intimate gig of hers. We talked briefly about Rimbaud and the time he spent in Camden Town with Verlaine. Rimbaud of course features in a scene of the ten-years-in-the-making poetic hotchpotch of a film that is Steve Sebring’s documentary ‘Patti Smith: Dream of Life’ which I saw on the big screen this afternoon at the Arthouse Cinema in Crouch End thanks to Doc n’ Roll.

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On Rimbaud’s toilet

I went with my old friend, film-maker and teacher Roddy Gibson. We went to see Patti in 2007 at The Roundhouse where she did a wonderful gig centred on her album ‘Twelve’. I’ve probably seen her play live around ten times, always in London, from the Union Chapel to St Giles-in-the-fields by Denmark Street – and even in one or two places that weren’t churches.

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Patti Smith & photographer Robert Mapplethorpe

The best moment of the film for me was when she, without warning, pours out from an exotic urn Robert Mapplethorpe’s ashes into her hand, explaining the texture, that it’s not like normal ashes or dust. Their connection is a fascinating one, not least as it overlapped with her intense marriage to Fred Sonic Smith.

Her smile which punctuates the film is another thing that stays with you.

I liked the moment when she meets Jesse Jackson at an anti-war demo, as it struck me that he bears the names of both her children – Jesse is the daughter (on piano), Jackson the son (on guitar).

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Patti Smith & Allen Ginsberg

The presence of Allen Ginsberg in the film really resonated for me. I have been writing about him in recent times – here’s an extract. His poetry, in my experience, has the marvellous effect of inspiring the reader to write poetry. Patti is clearly a descendent of his, and that they were friends is inevitable. Blake, Corso, Baudelaire, Rimbaud, Burroughs are all present in the film as a constellation at the centre of a particular cultural universe – one that really sings to me.

The line that punched out for me was where Patti asserts that we all have a voice and a responsibility to use it. As I watch my 19 year old wrestle with the shape of his identity and life mission it’s a salutary reminder to tread softly as someone lays their dreams at your feet, to be careful not to crush nascent ambitions or visions, to enable them to use their singular voice and realise their dreams of life.

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With 1930s guitar given her by playwright Sam Shepherd in the 70s

My mission is to communicate, to wake people up – it’s to give them my energy and accept theirs. We’re all in it together, and I respond emotionally as a worker, a mother, an artist, a human being …with a voice. We all have a voice. We have the responsibility to exercise it, to use it.

 

The Black Lesbian Handbook

This is a documentary project I’m really proud of. I recently commissioned the 2nd series this time set in Atlanta, Georgia but featuring some of the people who appeared in the London-based 1st series.

Channel 4 has really got behind it promotion-wise and it’s doing really well, finding a significant audience on All 4.

What’s particularly pleasing is the warm reception online like these:

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The films were directed by Andy Mundy-Castle and produced by Rukhsana Mosam at Ten66 in Sussex.

Bach in the DDR

[25.X.15]

Been away so long I hardly knew the place
Gee, it’s good to be back home

back in the ussr beatles 45 single cover record

Started the day bright (the clocks went back during the night) and early with a jog in search of a park I knew to be nearby according to my trusty guide ‘Leipzig Highlights’ (which I picked up on my last trip to Leipzig in 2014). p.24 Clara Zetkin Park. I did a bit of a reprise of yesterday running past the Great Synagogue site with its empty bronze chairs, round the corner past my grand-parents’ married home and on down the former Promenadenstrasse, empty in the early morning. I paused at a stretch of canal in some trees (mistaken initially for the lost park) and then carried on, listening all the time to Desert Island Discs on my vintage orange iPod, companion of many runs in many countries. The guest was Stephen Fry and blow me if he didn’t play some Bach as I ran through the park and back towards the Thomaskirche. He said he hadn’t really got Bach until later in life when Glenn Gould’s playing had enabled him to see beyond the clever patterns. My friend Jon Turner gave me a Glenn Gould CD for my birthday many years ago but I’m afraid even that didn’t do the trick for me. Bach just doesn’t move me. The only great Bach experience I ever had was being taken by my mother to hear the Brandenburg Concertos from the gods of the Albert Hall at the Proms. That – as I lay on the high-altitude floor – struck a chord and probably kicked off a liking of baroque music.

Following a hearty breakfast in the shadow of Bach’s church, his statue staring in through the hotel window, I headed up with Oregon-based documentary buyer Louise Rosen to the MDR campus for Day 2 of Documentary Campus. [[ When I type “Oreg…” into Google to check my spelling, weirdly (or maybe not) its first suggestion is “Oregon Bach Festival”. ]] Listened to another morning of documentary pitches, overall a high standard. This batch included one on freeing white slaves in Russia (produced by my Russian pal Vlad’s Mrs) and another fabulous one about a young musician travelling around collecting songs that are dying out in Central Europe (shades of the marvellous 1 Giant Leap).

In the afternoon I wandered off through the allotments adjacent to the MDR, savouring the autumn colours. I ate a pear and an apple. I read ‘The Moor’s Account’ in Connewitz Cemetery. I headed in the direction of the hospital where my father was born, just a kilometre or two from the MDR. I walked past a corner shop with the name Noah on its hoarding. I walked past a car with a number-plate with 4444. Signs. People were with me. I came out suddenly at the back of the hospital and ended my journey under the 1935 clock of the S. Elisabeth Krankenhaus. The leaves were gold. The weather of the first official day of wintertime mild. In a partial way I’d come home.

I was reflecting recently that most people’s lives are in some way a journey home.

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