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The Oscars Selma Snub and the Whiteness of the Academy

One of the judges from the Academy who saw the film explained why she voted no, and said there was "no art to it." The cast of the film then shows up with "I can't breathe" t-shirts on. Insanity on both ends. More here: http://www.nydailynews.com/entertainment/movies/oscar-voter-casts-new-drama-selma-snubs-article-1.2120060

There's a greater point being missed here and it makes me insane that Hollywood higher-ups like Oprah Winfrey don't champion it more.

The Oscar win for an actress/actor of any NON-WHITE race (there's too much focus on this being a white vs black thing -- there are actors of other races too, you know) must count for more than just their having won because of their skin colour, or even for their performance -- at this point what needs the most stressing is the type of stories these artists are involved in telling. Too often, the most high-profile "black wins" are about the same story of struggle against a white establishment, or slavery, or the results of slavery. Their winning for these roles is almost like a pat on the head for holding up the standard of keeping oppressed minority talking only about their oppression. There are love stories, heroism stories, science fiction and crime thriller stories and all the rest of it, that could be made with more actresses and actors of colour, and be just as successful as their white counterparts. If they won for that, then it's a real triumph, because finally it's a sign of moving forward. Eddie Murphy said at the Oscars in 1988 that he wanted blacks to be recognised as people on and off screen, that this was key, and he's right. People in all their colours, dimensions, abilities, struggles, joys, woven into film with imagination, is what film is about. Show that. Award that. Don't keep awarding (or snubbing) slave and civil rights films and have the audacity to say "look how far they/we have come".

Shorts on Tap: And the Winners Are...

Shorts on Tap, the wildly popular short film event in Shoreditch, brings Londoners the best in short film from seasoned and brand-new directors. With the likes of Shooting People and the London Film Academy joining their list of partners, SOT's stream of featured talent is secured for a long time to come.

If this is your first time hearing about Shorts on Tap, this is how it goes: In accordance with the theme of the night, seven to ten short films are divided between a first and second half. The judges panel is formed of previous winning directors, along with bloggers and other film industry folk. The directors screening their work come up at the end of each half to briefly talk about their film and answer audience questions. At the end of the night, the judges undertake the often grueling task of choosing the three winning films.

The themes of SOT are always challenging, engaging, and full of some pretty wild surprises. I'm especially looking forward to the upcoming Beyond Scotland event, where the short films will explore what the referendum means to the people of Scotland.

Tonight's event, A Touch of Noir, featured some excellent shorts in the genre, some bordering on the down-right terrifying. As always, three winners were chosen from the bizarre, darkly funny, and psychologically impacting lineup.

Here's a recap and the week's winning films.

Reign of Death - Directed by Matthew Savage
A classic gumshoe detective in the far, far, faraway future tracks down the robot he's convinced is his "man" in a veiled whodunnit mystery.

lot254 - Directed by Toby Meakins
More horror than noir but just as gripping, Meakins' three-minute freakout is about a man repairing a mysterious camera known only as  Lot 254. 

SLR  - Directed by Stephen Fingleton
In my opinion the best film of the night. Fingleton's SLR follows a man whose obsession with voyeur porn photography comes back to bite him.

Stay glued to Shorts on Tap's glorious new website, Facebook and Twitter pages for the latest on upcoming events and which films will be featured. If you're curious to know more about Shorts on Tap, check out my interview with the wonderful organiser, Filippo Polesel. And if you're thinking of coming along for the next event, don't forget to RSVP! The venue fills up and fast!

See you in the dark!

Evaporating Borders, and an interview with Iva Radivojevic

"Like DuBois, I wonder: 'Who shall let this world be beautiful?'" This is one of the most striking lines in the incredible documentary by Iva Radivojevic, which takes a lyrical and factual look at the pain, confusion, anger and death surrounding immigration in Cyprus.

I was honoured to get a short mailterview with Iva on the makings and thoughts behind the film. Enjoy. 

ML: How long did it take you to make the film? 

IR: It took about 3 years, from the concept to finish.

ML: Was there anything you witnessed that didn't make it into the film? 

IR: There were many people we met, and a lot of stories we heard that didn't make it to the final cut. There is only so much that can fit into one film and no one film will ever tell the full story, it will tell a story.

ML: What prompted you to make it? 

IR: I was an immigrant to Cyprus myself. My sister, mother and I moved after the war in Yugoslavia started. I'm very much interested in migration, the sense of identity and hybrid existence. My experience in Cyprus was of course much different from those of the new migrants coming to the country, who are fairing much worse. The same phenomenon being present through out the world, not just Cyprus. I thought it was something that needs to be talked about.

ML: The narrative feels like a series of journal entries. Did you do it this way deliberately or are they observations during your travels? 

IR: I make extensive notes and write journals while I travel and shoot. I enjoy that process. The notes where later used to translate into the narration of the film. It reads like a letter to a friend or an essay. The essay film is something i wanted to explore with this project. I don't know if the next film will be the same.

ML: How did you learn about the scams, like the education scams and other underground activities? 

IR: It's really not difficult.  Institutionalized racism is part of the social fabric. It's not hidden. In general, there is very little understanding what racism means or what tolerance means (in Cyprus) and so it's out in the open, more exposed. Unlike in the US, where we try to be politically correct but underneath the surface the story is quite different. 

ML: How did you get to talk to the people at the Hotel Onisillos? Was it hard to gain the trust of anyone you spoke with? 

IR: It was tricky because the staff always wanted to be present and we needed special permission to film there. We had to ask them a number of times to leave and let us talk to the people in private. The people themselves were eager to tell their stories, to be heard. We had to explain the misconception that just because we have a camera, it doesn't necessarily mean that telling their story will have a direct result for their situation. According to them, unlike other journalists who came through, we took time to listen and kept coming back.

ML: How did it feel to hear all these different views from the pro and anti-immigration groups? 

IR: Well, you always feel sad and disturbed that such hatred could exist in people. It's scary. The issue of migration is a sticky subject, especially in times of economic crisis, but when it comes to racism, it should be clear. You are either a racist or an anti-racist, choose which you will work toward.

ML: As a woman, what was it like for you to be in this country and setting?

IR: I'm trying to come up with am coherent way to answer this question and i could lend a few thoughts,  but I can't know for certain if they are true or not. So I'll leave it like this, vague. ;)
ML: What song is the woman singing in Greek in Part 4, which also appears in the trailer? It's beautiful. 

IR: It's a love song, not related to the migrants at all. It is very beautiful and she radiates it. The band that performs it is a Cypriot band called Sandy Brour.

ML: Did the film answer for you any of the introspective and retrospective questions you pose toward the end? -- Why do we cling to fixed identities, who is afraid and of what, etc.? 

IR: Yes, it did but it's not a simple answer. It's a constant search and assessment. It's not one sole self reflective moment. We all have issues and prejudices and particular ways of looking at the world. It requires a process of constant self-reflection to check and re-check your approach, thoughts, actions, participation in the world. How are we contributing and how are we harming. It's not easy and we often forget, but the idea is to keep returning to that place. 

ML: Have you ever come to find out what happened to some of the people you interviewed? If their papers went through or if they were ever allowed to stay or leave, and so on? 

IR: Yes, I'm still in contact with some of the people. One family is Indonesia, waiting to make their way to Australia. Another family is in Turkey. Most people have left Cyprus because they couldn't bear it any longer. Yassin, the boy who assimilated, is still there. He's graduated high school and trying to figure out what's next.
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Evaporating Borders was a hit at this year's SXSW, HotDocs, and the International Film Festival Rotterdam, among other events where it was screened. Follow the film's Facebook page to keep up with more about the film and Iva's upcoming work. My thanks again to Iva!

Regeneration, and an interview with James Burt

At last month's Absurdia event, we were perplexed, amused and challenged by some interesting short films compiled around the theme of the magical and surreal. Among the best was James Burt's Regeneration, a film which he introduced as having to do with a woman releasing a past trauma. I was somewhat expecting a visceral or disturbing piece, yet what I saw was an oddly beautiful journey through the marriage of the manmade and the natural, the psychological and the otherworldly. Really beautiful work.

London's James Burt has been quietly sneaking up on us with his talent and intuition. I got some answers to my "who is this guy?" questions via mailterview with the man himself. Enjoy.

ML: What brought you into the world of film?

JB: I've always had an obsession with film since I was child. I used to make short films with my dad's DV camcorder and edit them in-camera to VHS -- this is where I developed a fascination with editing. The first match-cut I ever made with this horribly painstaking method was a great satisfaction, and it wasn't until after I came out of uni with the intention of becoming a writer that a bleak-looking future somehow forced me to rediscover filmmaking. Something otherworldly took my hand and lead me back towards editing, and within a year of looking at a non-linear editor for the first time I had my first freelance editing job. Now, four years later, I am Senior Editor at a rapidly growing production company and spend a lot of my free time making short films and experimenting with my other love -- getting hands-on with cameras and using them to express my ideas.

ML: The first film I saw of yours was To You My Love at Shorts on Tap a few months ago. That film, combined with several of your others like Through the Looking Glass and Tiger Bread, contain some interesting depictions of women. Is there any particular motivation behind this?

JB: As a white middle class man I've always been able to take a lot of things in life for granted, and as I've matured and become more outward-thinking I find myself being a lot more conscious of and a lot more interested in the experiences of others. I thank my girlfriend, Ellie, for my becoming a feminist. I know that through film it is unlikely that I will ever be able to communicate the feelings and experiences of a woman as truthfully as a woman could, but I've come to realise that it's just as artistically interesting to communicate what I -- a self-conscious man -- feel a woman's experience is, not that there is actually such a thing as linear and succinct as 'a woman's experience'! I suppose what I'm interested in are the fears and vulnerabilities and biological implications that a man would never have to worry about, and through film I am trying to understand and relate to these things.

ML: I really love the way you film nature and man-made space, especially in pieces like Hainault and Regeneration. What inspires/has inspired you to film them the way you do?

JB: I grew up in a town in Kent which, despite the natural beauty of its surroundings, I have never felt comfortable in. Every few weeks my parents would drive me into East London to see my grandparents, and I always found something so magical about the skyscrapers drifting past on the horizon. As I grew older I would spend as much time in the city as I could, fascinated by the different cultures and the energy and the things happening everywhere. I am a skateboarder so the smooth streets and concrete everywhere was my playground. It felt like the environment matched the speed of my brain activity, when in the countryside I was fizzing away and bored and angry because I felt like I was surrounded by people who were unhappy with themselves, and so in turn unhappy with others, and had no intention of doing anything about it. (Since I've moved to London it's only when I go into the suburbs that people shout insults from their car windows at me, and since I've moved to London I haven't met any more casual racists). 

However, in the past few years of living in the city, and still loving it, the pressures of work have made me re-evaluate my relationship with the countryside and nature, and I have rediscovered my absolute love for walking through forests. I go to the forest to clear my mind, but quite often I take my camera with me and actually never manage to clear my mind at all for getting to excited about creating another film! My film FOREVER is about the experience of happening upon the quiet peace and subtlety of nature and feeling in that moment truly connected with it.

I'm working on a film at the moment which is trying to express the same thing but about the city; feeling connected with the environment and pure racing joy of just being there -- in London -- in the element. With this film I'm also trying to return to one of my other inspirations, the marriage of jazz and beat poetry, which always sets me on fire with ideas.

ML: Is there a particular type of film you'd like to make in the future? 

JB: Yes! I'm really drawn at the moment to documentary. I've got a couple of simple short docs in the pipeline with the view of experimenting with style and gaining confidence to tackle something more interesting. I'd also like to up my game with a really good narrative short, though my scripts so far haven't been up to scratch. I've directed a couple of commercials for my day job, which has boosted my confidence and have been working with some way more experienced directors. I am hopefully learning enough from [them] to lead my career in that direction, towards artistic commercials. I'm thinking more Nike, not Daz Doorstep Challenge.

ML: What's coming up next for you?

JB: Next, as mentioned, are some short docs. I'm up-ping my game now visually, while trying to retain the style of camera work that I feel most elemental and creative doing. I have almost finished a short documentary that I filmed last year, in which I follow a young woman to the grave of her mother in a small, remote village on a hill in Gloucestershire. She lost her mum when she was fourteen and has never been able to see her grave apart from on disparate, stuffy family visits, and not having her close has has a tremendous effect on her grief. The film is a quiet, intimate journey to this hillside. Its been edited, I just need to pick up one more shot before I can release it, but this something that I'm hoping some people might be able to relate to and find comfort from.

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For more on James Burt's work, stay glued to his Vimeo page. My deepest thanks again to James!

Eye Love Music

Greetings all,

These are busy times of bounty and transition, but don't worry, I've not forgotten about my beloved blog. Soon coming back with new reviews and interviews with James Burt, Iva Radivojevic and much more. Until then, enjoy this list of some of my favourite concert/music films. Whether it's because of their artful direction or general connection to artists who often feel so untouchable, this is a list of music for the eyes. Enjoy!

Depeche Mode - The World We Live In and Live in Hamburg
Dark, gritty, and oddly claustrophobic with its fever-dream reds and yellows. Layered shots and cleverly layered crowd sounds build a sensational mood for the Mode. This is a nerd paradise for all us hardcore Depeche fans, but if you're feeling nostalgic definitely watch this.

U2 - ZooTV Tour
Probably one of the most intelligently crafted concerts in history, the storied Sydney show from U2's ZooTV tour goes on sensory overload with dozens of screens churning out challenging images and messages.

Led Zeppelin - The Song Remains the Same
Because the 3-night compilation filming of Led's New York City shows aren't enough, the wonderful sets are accompanied by wild, weird and downright spooky fantasy sequences.

Madonna - Truth or Dare
One of the few rockumentaries I've watched back to back twice. The first time I saw it I felt like I was going on an adventure. Though interestingly it's often left me wondering if Madonna was a lonely person during that tour.

Madonna - MDNA
Just. Beautiful. The stories and the choreography matched with the mega high-tech set is seriously astonishing.

Pink Floyd - The Wall
Classic among classics.

Nine Inch Nails - Live at Lollapalooza
I know. ALL of NIN's tours should be in this list... I worship the people who do their set design and production.

More great picks are on Total Film's 50 Greatest Concert Films of All Time.

Alex Grybauskas - The Bot Detector

Remember Alex Grybauskas? He's back with a new short that'll explain the roots of your enemy and mine, the Captcha. Enjoy!