Archive for the ‘documentary’ Tag

In Your Face wins Best Documentary in Lockdown Showcase

As mentioned in the recent Teach us rightly to number our days post, In Your Face, a mid-form documentary I conceived and commissioned for Real Stories/Little Dot Studios, directed and produced by my friend & colleague Simon Goodman of Showem Entertainment who worked his usual magic on the format, won Best Documentary in the Lockdown Short Film Showcase run by London Short Film. The standard of the showcase was very high with such excellent films as The Call Centre and UB-13.

Best-Documentary lockdown short film showcase

Here’s a short Q&A I recorded in lockdown for the showcase:

[8 min watch]

 

 

Athena Skates

This is my 2nd commission for Red Bull Media House. Athena Skates is an uplifting film spotlighting a new generation of empowered Athenian women.

Athena Skates short form still red bull media house

As Athens tentatively emerges from a decade of chaos, a group of young female roller skaters are fighting for space in their city. This new generation of Greeks grew up with few opportunities – but this taught them a valuable lesson: if you want to follow your passion, you have to do it yourself. While support and infrastructure for young people fell victim to the crisis, the girls are using roller skating to create their own community and express themselves.

Athena Skates is a filmic journey through the hidden skate spots and urban wastelands which punctuate this ancient metropolis. In the process, it shows what it means to be a young woman in Greece today and why finding a way to do what you love – despite the challenges – matters now more than ever.

At a time when so many are stuck indoors, Athena Skates is a liberating, dynamic film revelling in the freedom to move through your city and create your own space within it. The film opens in the spectacular location of the abandoned Hellinikon international airport as the sun sets over the Saronic Gulf. The skaters set off on a high-energy journey across the gritty concrete jungle that is Athens, culminating at the top of Mount Lycabettus, as the sunrise ushers in a new day – and a new generation.

Athena Skates was produced by Hijra Collective, London for Red Bull Media House, London & Salzburg – part of an initiative I have been running focused on excellent storytelling applied to human interest documentaries. Athena Skates is directed by London-based Elliott Gonzo, an outstanding young voice, distinctive and original, working in the realms of commercials, drama and documentary.

They Saw The Sun First [video - 8 mins]

Here is the first of my commissions for Red Bull Media House:

Directed by Stefan Hunt, an Aussie based in Brooklyn. Music by French multi-instrumentalist composer/performer FKJ. Movement directed by Vanessa Marian.

With city dwellers locked down across the world under the most trying of circumstances, They Saw The Sun First is a ray of light, an oasis of inspiration and uplift in the form of a highly original and beautifully crafted film. It is a genre-bending documentary using dance and physicality to explore themes of youthfulness, fear, regret and aging. The star of the show is New York, the metropolis itself.

The perspectives of elderly citizens of NYC are interpreted physically by younger generations through movement and dance. The words come from real-life interviews recorded with a diverse selection of aging New Yorkers. Each dancer was given a voice to interpret (without ever meeting the owner of that voice) through dance, movement, emotive states and space. Movement Director Vanessa Marian led this aspect of the film.

The film focuses on our commonalities as opposed to our differences. The director, Stefan Hunt, seeks to address this current age of echo chambers, divisive rhetoric and a deepening chasm between generations. It reframes what it means to listen to our elders. The title derives from an old African proverb:

“What older people say is not to be dishonoured – after all, they saw the sun first.”

They Saw The Sun First was produced by Fresh Film Productions, New York for Red Bull Media House, London & Salzburg – part of an initiative I have been heading up focused on excellent storytelling applied to human interest documentaries.

The music is specially composed by FKJ, the award-winning and much followed French multi-instrumentalist and singer, who is renowned for his solo live performances (featuring his multi-instrument skills through live loops) at music festivals like Coachella. He rewrote his track ‘Ylang Ylang’ for the film.

Stefan Hunt’s directing journey began in 2006 when he decided to travel through the USA in an ice-cream truck, armed with a camera and child-like resolve to cast an eye on all 50 states. He says of the film: “With all my grandparents gone, I felt a real lack of eldership in my life. I feel like we are bombarded with these authoritative opinions from young people on the internet, but where is the advice of those who have walked this earth the longest?”

The way I see it this uplifting and original film comes out just when the world needs it – it reminds us what makes life’s inevitable struggles ultimately worthwhile and strengthening.

Coincidence No. 489 – Malcolm X

I am travelling to Helsinki to do some work with broadcaster YLE and University of Helsinki about Public Service Media and young people. It is a 3-hour flight so the night before I download three programmes on Netflix on my phone. It is the first time I have done this for months. One is a British movie, ‘Northern Soul’. Another is an episode from Ken Burns’ Vietnam documentary series. The other is the first episode of the Netflix Original ‘Who Killed Malcolm X?’. I just picked the first 3 things I fancied watching. I watch the movie on the way out and the Malcolm X doc on the return journey – today, 21st February.

Malcolm X

The documentary starts. Within seconds it becomes clear that he was killed on 21st February 1965. I had no idea. Today is the 55th anniversary of his assassination.

who killed Malcolm X Netflix documentary

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

Coincidences No.s 277-284

No. 277 Re-righting

weebles wobble but they don't fall down

6/4/19 (Norway)

I am listening to an episode of the BBC podcast ‘Only Artists’ featuring the film composer Debbie Wiseman and the TV director Peter Kosminsky. Peter (who I knew a little at Channel 4 but I think I cheesed off because I disagreed with a cultural boycott he put his name behind) talks about how he guided Mark Rylance to play Thomas Cromwell in ‘Wolf Hall’ – “low centre of gravity” – and mentions those toys that bounce back up.

Six days ago (London)

I am watching a TED talk on YouTube featuring a consultant who lives in my neighbourhood and is currently close to death. A few months ago he did this talk, knowing that he had a terminal cancer diagnosis. He and his speaking partner – it is a two-hander, both psychologists – present 8 tips for being resilient. In one he links the tip to the toys with weighted bottoms that re-right themselves always. He reminds us of the name (Weebles) and the strapline from the TV ads (which I still remember without prompting) “Weebles wobble but they don’t fall down”. He champions the idea that we should recognise the wobbling as a part of our condition and allow ourselves to experience it without shame or guilt. I haven’t thought about Weebles for years and only knew them from the telly.

 

No. 278 Dried Cod

dried cod

4/4/19 (Trondheim)

Straight after a workshop on Short Form Video I am doing at the ISAK cultural centre in Trondheim, Norway for the MidtNorsk Filmsenter (a regional film fund) I walk down to the nearby fish market, the start of a guided tour of the city by my host, Line. She points out, for some reason, on the fish stall the dried cod.

1/4/19 (Trondheim- Oslo)

I get a message from my Norwegian friend, Hanna (who works at NRK, the public service broadcaster of Norway), which suggests what we might do on Sunday afternoon when I will be staying with her in Oslo, where she lives. “me and two friends Bente and Jan are having our first ‘spring meeting’ Sunday afternoon, planting a few seeds, drinking some wine, and me: making a nice bacalao (one of my specialities, with Norwegian dried cod).” I have never come across dried cod before.

 

No. 279 M&S

open city documentary festival poster

30/1/19

An email comes in reminding me about an MA Graduate Screening I am due to attend at Bertha Dochouse/Curzon Bloomsbury, London from the Open City Docs team at UCL. It includes a timetable item: 10.30 – Screening starts, introduced by Open City Docs Director Michael Stewart.

 

The next email that comes in is from (a different) Michael Stewart, an old friend of mine from Toronto, wishing me a belated Happy New Year. We exchange emails very sporadically.

 

No. 280 Golders Green

golders green clock tower

13/3/19

I drop my wife at our nieces’ place in Trellick Tower and drive home via Golders Green to post some VAT documents into my accountant’s closed offices around 11pm. As I walk away from the offices I notice various notifications on my phone and decide just to return one call – the one from my younger son. I normally might not have bothered calling back immediately but he’s been on a trip to Prague with his girlfriend so my instinct was to respond despite the late hour.

 

My younger son picks up my call. He says he is in Golders Green, just off a coach from Luton Airport and has ordered an Uber home. I ask him exactly where he is right now. I let him know that if I had a handy stone I could hit him from where I am currently standing. He cancels the Uber and I drive them home.

 

No. 281 Joy Division

unknown pleasures LP record vinyl cover

24/3/19 (Copenhagen)

I am having breakfast in Copenhagen with Mike Christie, director, who I became friends with while at Channel 4 (he directed ‘Jump London’, one of my two favourite things made at C4 during my 13 years there), and Bernard Sumner, guitarist of Joy Division and singer of New Order – as one does. Bernard is in town, like Mike, for a screening of ‘Decades: New Order’, Mike’s excellent film for Sky Arts about a brilliant show the band created for the Manchester International Festival and a subsequent short European tour. Suede’s Brett Anderson, star of another of Mike’s films playing at the CPH:DOX film festival, comes by to bid farewell and we shake hands. Not your average breakfast. I say to Bernard that the last time I saw him in the flesh was at the Lyceum, London when Joy Division were supporting Buzzcocks. “You’re a big fan then” he responds with dry Mancunian style. “He really is a big fan” my son pipes up “he’s always wearing his Unknown Pleasures T-shirt”. This shifts the conversation onto that design and I confirm “You found that image didn’t you?” He explains how he found it in a library book about astronomy and after a while tells me about a related coincidence. I didn’t fully grasp the science but the gist was that by chance the frequency illustrated in that famous graph (reversed out of black by Peter Saville, originally black on a white background in the book) is the same as a 45 rpm vinyl single. This is something Bernard found out a good while after the release of ‘Unknown Pleasures’.

 

No. 282 Time

nick drake singer

20/3/19 (Copenhagen)

I am putting the finishing touches to my PowerPoint presentation for Documentary Campus Masterschool I am due to deliver the next day in Copenhagen. It doesn’t have that many words, being composed mainly of pictures as is my wont, but I am adding the word “Time” to a list.

 

As I type the word “Time” Nick Drake sings “Time”. I am listening to Spotify, returning to Nick Drake because I have been reminded of him by Jamaican writer Marlon James on his Desert Island Discs earlier today. The song is ‘Time Has Told Me’.

Time has told me

You’re a rare, rare find

A troubled cure

For a troubled mind

 

No. 283 Polar Bears

polar-bear

21/3/19 (Copenhagen)

I wake up early and listen to the radio. On Radio 4 is ‘IPM’ in which a mother describes her teenage son and then how she lost him suddenly. The story of his death comes out of the blue, shockingly. He is on an adventurous camping trip with a group of friends somewhere frozen, I forget exactly where, Greenland or similar, and he gets attacked in the early morning by a polar bear while sleeping in his tent, mauled, killed.

 

Later in the day I am listening to a feature documentary pitch at Documentary Campus Masterschool in a community/youth centre in a Copenhagen backstreet. The pitch mentions being eaten by polar bears.

 

No. 284 Presqu’ile

Peninsula-Papagayo-wide-aerial-shot

6/4/19 (Oslo)

I am walking through Oslo city centre with my friend Hanna Førland and we are discussing the geography of the city’s coastline. We are talking about a peninsula but neither of us can think of the word however I can recall the French word for the geographic feature, “presqu’île”. We met 36 years ago studying French in Savoy/Savoie, South-East France.

7/4/19

Hanna and I meet up with a third friend from Chambéry, Marit Kolberg (also of NRK). We have brunch at Marit’s house in the suburbs just west of Oslo and we are discussing Cuba and a peninsula Marit visited there recently. She can’t think of the word in Norwegian or English but uses “presqu’île” in lieu.

Surf Girls Jamaica – out tomorrow

My latest commission for Real Stories is released tomorrow (6pm GMT).

 

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.

Huffington Post Screenshot 2018-12-14 17.14.36

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

huffington post Screen Shot 2018-12-14 at 17.28.54

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

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