Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Films at Edinburgh International Film Festival

As most readers of this blog will know, I have a press pass for Edinburgh International Film Festival and am positively overdosing on great films for the next two weeks. I'll be reviewing most of the films over on Crafty Green Poet, but some will be on this blog. I thought it might be useful to have an overview post with links to all the reviews, so here goes (click on the links to read the reviews):

1. Shut Up Little Man! (noisy neighbours, invasion of privacy & copyright issues. Documentary)
2. Calvet. (how art transformed one man's life. Documentary).
.......and an interview with Jean Marc Calvet and the film director Dominic Allan
3. Project Nim (can we teach chimpanzees to communicate using language? Is it ethical to even try? Documentary).
4. Borrower Arrietty (gorgeous anime based on Mary Norton's classic children's book The Borrowers)
5. Cityscapes (experimental short films about cities across the world)
6. Mysterious Object at Noon (surreal storytelling on a road trip through Thailand)
7. some thoughts on nature therapy after watching King of Devil's Island
8. Convento (kinetic art in rural Portugal. Documentary)
9. Off the Beaten Track (rural life in Rumania, Documentary)
10. Burning Ice (art and science respond to climate change. Documentary.)
11. Almanya - Welcome to Germany (entertaining drama about a Turkish family in Germany)
12. Albatross - (coming of age drama focussing on an aspiring writer)
13. A Better Life (depressing story about an undocumented Mexican family in California)
14. Perfect Sense (romance against the backdrop of an unknown epidemic)

A Better Life

Yesterday I reviewed Almanya (you can read my review here) - an upbeat, entertaining film about a Turkish family in Germany. Still on the theme of immigration, today I saw A Better Life, a low beat, depressing film about a Mexican family in California.

Carlos is an illegal immigrant working a regular job as a gardener, but his boss is selling up and moving back to Mexico. He offers Carlos the sale of his truck, but Carlos can't afford it and hasn't anyway gor a driver's licence.

This truck forms the centre of the film as hopes are raised by Carlos' sister lending him the money to buy it. But where this should help Carlos to create himself a better life, things aren't that simple.

Meanwhile Carlos' son Luis is skipping school and getting into bad company. He is much more Americanised that Carlos. Where his Dad tries to keep in the background, Luis is quite quick to fight. Over the course of the film though the two become much closer and start to understand each other's perspectives.

This is a very well observed film about the issues around being undocumented in the USA. Behind the main characters there's a whole world in view, as the action passes through many areas of Los Angeles, showing fights, political rallies and lines of illegal immigrants looking for work.

I saw a press screeing of this film at the Edinburgh International Film Festival. Public Screenings are: 19.45, 24 June and 17.45, 25 June, both in Cameo 1. You can book tickets on the EIFF website here.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Almanya - Welcome to Germany

'Am I German or Turkish?' This is the central question in Almanya - Welcome to Germany, an engaging and highly entertaining drama about a Turkish family who have lived in Germany since the 1960s.

When grandfather announces he has bought a summer house in Turkey, just after he and his wife have finally become German citizens, a journey starts, taking the family through their past and their two cultures. We see how the identities of grandfather and grandmother have changed so much since they first left Turkey for Germany, where once they identified totally as Turkish, they now feel just as Turkish inside but have become totally used to life in Germany and find elements of Turkey quite alien now they return. At the same time their grandson finds he isn't accepted by his school friends - he's neither properly German nor properly Turkish.

The film is beautifully structured and filmed, using a documentary approach to the historical elements of the story and with wonderful surreal touches to highlight the emotional journey of the characters. There are dream sequences including grandfather's hilarious nightmare about what German citizenship might involve.

There are wonderful details, such as the embroidered handkerchief that grandfather had given to grandmother when he had first gone to Germany, which add subtlety and depth to the story.

And viewers may well be advised to make sure they have a handkerchief at the ready too, this is a film that will make you laugh and cry.

I saw the press screening of this film at the Edinburgh International Film Festival. Public screenings are 17.45, 23 June and 13.00, 25 June, both in Cameo 1. You can book tickets on the EIFF website here.

As ever, red text in this post contains hyperlinks which take you to other websites where you can find out more.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Unthinkable Skies CD launches

The CD of Unthinkable Skies, which features my poetry set to music by Belvedere Mountain Express is now available as a download from CD Baby, or as a home-made (and beautifully packaged) CD-R from here.

As ever, coloured text contains hyperlinks which take you to other webpages where you can find out more!


I'm in the middle of reviewing the Edinburgh International Film Festival! I've seen ten excellent films so far, but one that made a particular impression on me is Calvet (you can read my review here). This is the amazing story of how Jean Marc Calvet's life was transformed when he discovered art.

I was delighted yesterday to be able to chat with Jean Marc and with Dominic Allan, the director of the film.

Jean Marc Calvet had a hard childhood and an early career as a bodyguard, a French Legionnaire and a vice cop. He abandoned his partner and young son to take a shady job in the USA, which led to him absconding to Central America with huge amounts of cash he had stolen from his employer.

Dominic Allan has worked in TV, directing such films as The Pipeline; Mandela: The Living Legend and Israel Undercover. He was travelling in Nicaragua in 2004, when he met Jean Marc in a restaurant, which was decorated with huge paintings. These paintings of Jean Marc's made a big impression on Dominic but it was only two years later that he had the idea to make a film about how art had transformed Jean Marc's life. Jean Marc admitted in our interview that at that stage he hadn't entirely seen Dominic's vision, but that he saw the film project as an extension of the therapy that art already was for him.

The most memorable part of the film for me is where Jean Marc discovers painting as therapy. There is an extended sequence of impressionistic visuals and soundscapes that recreate the drug-fuelled hallucinations that Jean Marc experienced for several months while he had imprisoned himself in his house in Costa Rica. At some point, he discovers several pots of paints and literally starts throwing the paint around the rooms. At this stage, Jean Marc says, he would deny he was an artist, when people asked him. It was only five years later, when someone contacted him wanting to put on an exhibition of his work in New York that he realised that he was a real artist.

Jean Marc has used lots of different styles in his art. In his early days as a painter, people would compare his work to Jackson Pollock or Jean-Michel Basquait but he'd never heard of these artists. So he set out to learn as much as he could about art and became an avid reader of art magazines. He is entirely self-taught and uses different styles depending on what best fits what he wants to say. Art, he said, is like a 'big walk inside' himself.

Jean Marc is now a respected artist and is inspiring the next generation of artists, not least his own daughter, who is deaf. She is allowed a lot of freedom in his studio where she enjoyed expressing herself through art and she appears briefly in the film.

Dominic had wanted to use film techniques that would best capture the immediacy of Jean Marc's art and the intensity of his life story. He wanted to mostly avoid reconstructions of the past (though one scene in Jean Marc's old house on Costa Rica is a very effective reconstruction with slides of his first paintings projected onto the now white-washed walls). Dominic chose to intercut the narrative with segments of impressionistic film to suit the mood of the story. This approach works brilliantly and really does give the film a sense of immediacy and emotional impact.

Dominic said he wants to make films that are inspiring and Calvet certainly is! The film should be touring various film festivals in the next few months and hopefully should get released into cinemas after that. If you get the chance, see it! Meanwhile you can see some of Jean Marc's paintings and read more about his life on his website here.

The website for the film Calvet is here and there's also a Facebook page here!

Thanks to Edinburgh International Film Festival for making this interview possible and to Jean Marc and Dominic for making the time to chat to me!

As ever, coloured text contains hyperlinks which take you to other webpages where you can find out more. This article also appears on Crafty Green Poet.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Edinburgh International Film Festival

This lunchtime I went along to collect my press pack for the Edinburgh International Film Festival! As I've said before, I'm very impressed with this year's programme, based purely on the fact that there are more films I want to see than there have been for years. So I'm looking forward very much to seeing lots of films over the next week or so. I'll review most of the films I see over on Crafty Green Poet, but one or two might find themselves reviewed on this blog. And of course I'm delighted to find myself mentioned in this article on bloggers to watch out for at the festival.

As ever, text in green contains hyperlinks to other webpages where you can find out more.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Leamington Lift Bridge, Union Canal

Leamington Lift Bridge is a vertical lift bridge located near the end of the Union Canal in Edinburgh. It was built by Armstrong of Newcastle in 1906 and was originally located further up the canal, which then extended further towards the centre of Edinburgh. When the canal was shortened, the bridge was moved to its current location. You can read more about this fascinating bridge (and see animations of how the mechanism works!) here.

Edinburgh City Council is holding a consulation on the future of the Union Canal, which you can read and comment on here. You can read my blog post about the consultation here. You can read more about our most recent visit to the canal here (which includes a photo of a family of swans).

For Sunday Bridges

Monday, June 06, 2011

The Passion by Jeanette Winterson

This is Jeanette Winterson at her best. I've read most of her novels and this is one of my favourites. The story follows Henri, a French peasant who hero worships Napoleon. He is torn between his pride in serving Napoleon his meals as the army travels Europe and his feelings of not belonging in the army.

The second strand of the novel follows Villanelle, a young Venetian, born with webbed feet (as myth suggests all Venetian fishermen are). She dresses as a boy to work in the Casino, where she meets a mysterious married woman, who becomes her lover for a while while her husband is away.

Eventually the two narratives merge - everything is connected.

The novel is beautifully written. The language is gorgeous, but also concise, there's barely a word out of place. There are wonderful touches of surrealism, as in the shapeshifting Venice of everchanging waterways and the fishermen's webbed feet. It feels like an exagerrated picture of Venice as it really is, and the reader can almost accept it as being real, just as we can almost accept as real the alternative version of history we're presented with.

Wonderful book.

The Passion by Jeanette Winterson, published by Penguin

For the LGBT Reading Challenge and the Italy in Books Reading Challenge

Wednesday, June 01, 2011

Hollywood Haiku

I was delighted that one of my film haiku was a runner up in the Best for Film Hollywood Haiku competition! You can read the winning entries here.

My entries were originally posted on this blog here and here.

I'll be reviewing lots of films during the Edinburgh International Film Festival, mostly over on Crafty Green Poet. You can read my initial thoughts about the festival here and here.