23-09-15 / EUROPEAN FILM COLLEGE / FLATPACK TALENT MODULE / ENCOUNTERS
A few days later I visited the European Film College in Denmark's Jutland peninsula, for two days of guest lecturing. Quite the eye-opener, this one. To namedrop previous guests Thomas Vinterberg, Werner Herzog and Joshua Oppenheimer, my being invited to this fantastic place was clearly something of an honour. Arriving late at night to the sound of chirruping crickets, beneath a "ahhhhhh" blanket of brilliant stars, it wasn't until the following morning that I saw the surrounding hills and forest. One hundred and fifteen students board in these grounds for eight months, living and breathing filmmaking. Only two weeks into their year and the sense of community was already apparent. I can only imagine the spirit that develops as the course goes on.
My first lecture, unexpectedly energising for me, lasted three whole Earth hours. In the evening, I screened Jonathan Miller's 1967 version of Whistle And I'll Come to You and Mike Leigh's 1976 classic Nuts In May to mixed reactions. I love pairing these titles as they dovetail beautifully in terms of eccentric [British] character study, despite being poles apart in tone and intention. The following morning I presented a selection of some favourite short films, with further yak about said films' relevance, not without a dash of regret at running out of time. The EFC students are a bright and enthusiastic bunch and I genuinely can't think of a better option than this place for anybody considering a film school route.
After a quick stint in London's Pineapple Studios to cast dancers for an upcoming BBC job, it was off to Birmingham to speak alongside old pals the Blaine brothers at a Talent Module event hosted by Flatpack Film Festival and Creative England. The Blaines and I talked about career-type-stuff for a couple of afternoon hours, then everyone relocated to a nearby screening venue to have our films forced upon them. Lucky to have a good, warm crowd again. It was smashing to catch up with Ben and Chris, who I have only been in cyber-touch with for too many years, and who are now blazing a trail with their feature debut Nina Forever. Looking forward to seeing it.
02-09-15 / RETROSPECTIVE IN SÃO PAULO
In no particular order, film highlights for me were Victor Lindgren's I Turn To You (Sweden), Truls Krane Meby's World Wide Woven Bodies (Norway), Ursula Meier's Quiet Mujo (France/Bosnia), Leonardo Mouramateus' The Party And The Dogs (Brazil), Vitor Medeiros' The Day I Remembered The Trip To Bicuda (Brazil - featuring the most painfully realistic sex I've ever seen on screen), and Isabel Joffily's Portrait Of Carmen D (Brazil).
Rua 25 de Março (March 25 street) was as edgy as they say, and while I managed to do some filming without incident, I'd say I was lucky. The marketplace was packed and the atmosphere quite literally electric with the crackle of tazers on sale (!), and depressing shouts of "Self! Self! Self!" as vendors thrust selfie sticks into my vicinity. Signs forbidding phones and cameras in the Metropoltian Cathedral didn't stop one vain little man from taking shameless pictures of himself. With one foot up on the step, using a big tablet because it wasn't on the forbidden list, he posed with Jesus right in front of a class of school kids. What is wrong with these people?
The non-vomiting record was reset AGAIN, in a very public way, after a smack of food poisoning from a random lunch buffet. The less said about that the better, but it definitely compromised what would've been a brighter dawdle around the city's street art. A small kink in the grand scheme of things. A dismally uncomfortable flight home with British Airways, but Graham the attendant looked like Ferris Bueller's dad, so that was good.
26-06-15 / PROJECTS UNDERWAY
17-06-15 / 'WORLD WAR CUP' SHOOT / HAMBURG SHORT FILM FESTIVAL
Hamburg was mint, as always. Plenty going on for me, with four screenings of Brass Heaven (learned the cost of featuring white text on white clouds for certain projectors), plus an open-air screening of Telling Lies and Stew & Punch. Managed a nomination as barman for a certain Russian's barmy karaoke party without my ears weeping. More images from Kent and Hamburg on Instagram, and for any Hamburgers out there, a Best of the Festival programme including Brass Heaven screens at St. Pauli FC's stadium on the 29th of this month.
Must mention the short documentary Symbolic Threats by Mischa Leinkauf, Lutz Henke and Matthias Wermke (Germany), which won both the Audience Award and the German Competition. In 2014 the filmmakers climbed up the Brooklyn Bridge in the dead of night and replaced the American flags with white ones, leaving the NYPD and the public bamboozled and paranoid. Well worth seeking out.
29-04-15 / MILAN / BRASS HEAVEN IN HAMBURG
Also happy to report that my new short doc Brass Heaven will be screening at Hamburg International Short Film Festival. It's the first of a series of fly-on-the-wall docs, born of frustration when a lairy English stag party boarded my flight to Hamburg the year before.
01-04-15 / HOUSEKEEPING
28-03-15 / REGENSBURG SHORT FILM WEEK (AND A LITTLE BIT OF HAMBURG)
I managed to photograph the solar eclipse from the train window during the six-hour journey south, although it just looks like a crescent moon. Meh.
Regensburg was very pleasant and relaxed. My retrospective screening was fun enough but my main reason for attending was jury duty, alongside Butheina H. Kazim (Dubai) and Arna Bersaas (Norway). We awarded the prize to Miguel López Beraza's Walls (Spain), but other notable films were Piotr Litwin's Flora and Fauna (Poland), Sébastien Laudenbach & Sylvain Derosne's Daphné ou la belle plante (France), Guido Hendrikx's Onder Ons (Netherlands), Carl-Johan Westregard's Cams (Sweden), Clément Trehin-lalanne's Aïssa (France), and Victor Asliuk's Almaz (Belarus).
10-03-15 / TAMPERE FILM FESTIVAL, FINLAND
17-02-15 / DIRECTOR'S CUT OF SMOKING COMMERCIAL
30-01-15 / INSTAGRAM
21-01-15 / LONDON SHORT FILM FESTIVAL
Due to accommodation complications and having to hop around the four corners of London over as many days, I didn't get to see nearly as many programmes as I would have liked, but there was plenty to like about those I did see. Especially reassuring, at least in the programmes I saw, was a sense of confident, elliptical storytelling. It's no secret that many shorts continue to pull the most obvious strings in order to tick boxes and bait the biggest, dumbest awards. It's an uncomplicated game one can play, and win, if one's soul is up to the challenge. Balance is everything in life and there should always be room for all types, so long as too many of one kind doesn't perpetuate an abundance of derivative, voiceless, samey films designed to appeal to the broadest, most commercial, unquestioning audience possible. LSFF rightly represents the full spectrum - this is where film festivals thrive, and why festivals like this are so important to a healthy and balanced UK short film scene.
06-01-15 / COMMERCIAL LAUNCHED ONLINE / RETROSPECTIVE SHOW IN LONDON
"No offence to your videos I know your trying to not make people smoke but this ad is gross please make ads what is not that gross"
"Everyone needs to 'pipe down' I personally think this should be shown to an all aged audience!"
"Tell that to my younger brother who threw up all while watching stampylongnose"
Also, David Blaine terrified me by following me on Twitter. Speaking of which, I'm not sure I have any shameless self-promotional tweets left in me to announce my upcoming retrospective show at London Short Film Festival. Grab your tickets here.
07-12-14 / NEW COMMERCIAL
28-11-14 / EXGROUND FILMFEST, GERMANY
10-10-14 / CHINA
Despite the fact that the Chinese government have banned Facebook and Twitter, and even Google is almost impossible to access, there is no cinema classification system. This ensures that while children are safe from corruption via social media, they are perfectly able to go and watch violent horror films. Cinemas are allegedly taking it upon themselves to start imposing restrictions independently, despite the subsequent loss in ticket sales. Also, it seems perfectly acceptable to enjoy a loud phone conversation during a film. At one point I had to run from the front of the cinema right up to the back to stop someone from shouting into his phone. And I don't exaggerate when I say shouting; obviously he couldn't enjoy his chat while the pesky film was playing. Despite lasting several minutes, the public sitting around him didn't seem fazed at all.
After the confusing, ever-changing plans of the week (standard teething troubles for a virgin festival), awards night came around. We'd been asked to bring formal dress but I wasn't quite prepared for the glitz of an Oscar cermony. Having been swept into a black car, neither myself or anyone else had any clue that we were about to step out into a spotlight at the beginning of a long red carpet, flanked down both sides by an enthusiastic camera-wielding public. There was much fun to be had in the sheer Chinese glamour of it all, and I managed to steal a picture with the coolest dude in the place (below). Awards over, the after-party dry, and jet lag gave way to insomnia. I watched the clock in my room count every hour until finally falling asleep 30 minutes before having to wake up for the minibus to Shanghai.
All in all, the festival's guest organisation had its bumpy moments, but the staff, the other attending filmmmakers and jurors were all lovely people. I'm grateful for the experience and have no doubt that it will run smoother in coming years.
The 3 hour minibus journey back to Shanghai was once again dominated by blaring horns, swerving and enough sharp braking to prevent any chance of sleep. The "airport hotel" destination (nowhere near either the airport or the city) was extremely unfortunate. We had been spoilt with our Ningbo hotel rooms, but this place was grim indeed, being 90 minutes out of the city, with an unforgettable smell. Most filmmakers were flying home to their respective countries the following day and were keen to get stuck into their one day of exploring, so luggage was dumped and we all took the 90 minute metro ride into Shanghai, marvelling at the images on the tunnel walls which appear to animate in flipbook style as the train zooms through (mostly advertising, pff).
I had the pleasure of catching up with Australian director pal Kasimir Burgess, having first met him a few years back in Sapporo. I'm certain that it was the MSG in everything we ate that kept me awake for what became a 36 hour stretch. We ticked off some mandatory sightseeing of the Shanghai skyline on the Bund, where an unexpected fireworks display kicked off and hundreds of thousands of pounds exploded into bugger all. After much walking, and before the long cab ride back to Hotel Grim, there was time for late night food. The menu translations provided light relief to a long sleepless day (days, in my case) and while there is nothing unusual about a poorly translated menu, which provide cheap giggles in many countries, I couldn't help thinking that this one was deliberate mischief. Amongst the delicacies (and the things we did order were delicious) were Overlord Pig Knuckles, Spicy and remove the flesh and blood, Fuck a cuttlefish zhai, Fuck a bullfrog, Spiced salt blows up pig hand, Get rid of small lobster of head, Spicy screw, Dry pot Tofu with thousands of pages, and the curious sounding Millet Pepper loves big cock.
Next morning I transferred to an apartment in the more centrally-located French Concession district, a lovely area where I felt much more at home. I should have stayed there because during a brief stint in a much more industrial part of town I could actually feel my lungs burning. Suddenly, the pollution masks made sense. Traffic is utter chaos and it beggars belief how the cars and bicycles manouvre without clattering into each other. I didn't see a single cycling helmet, despite many bicycles having kids sitting upfront, yet I didn't see a single accident either. If you spend too much time gazing up at the buildings you could easily be hit by a scooter whizzing toward you on the pavement. As for other cultural eccentricities, I only experienced a handful of public burping and farting moments, but lots of spitting... even on the polished floors of shopping malls, by store owners. The ubiquitous sound of phlegm being hocked up and flobbed out, people shoving each other and conversing at such a volume you could be mistaken for thinking they are arguing, cars and even public buses regularly missing pedestrians by inches... A mellow evening in a jazz bar was just what the doctor ordered.
On my last day I got up early and set off in the rain to go and watch the older generation do their Tai Chi in Fuxing park, before a spot of filming in the old antiques market. I managed to rip myself off when the stall owner became so intent on selling me a second item that I escaped him without taking my change, meaning I managed to buy 'one for the price of two'. Walking a GoPro camera around on a monopod brought no end of attention, even in a country so full of technology, and a curious Chinese public think nothing of stopping and staring you in the face. Ate some amazing dumplings, refused to buy a plastic toy from an old lady, who then offered to sell me sex instead (just buy something damn it) then wound up in a club and decided to go through the night until my morning trip to the airport. Not my brightest idea.
Having arrived back at the apartment at 8am, I somehow decided there was enough time for an hour's sleep (noooooooo) so I set my alarm and promptly slept through it. Waking 90 minutes later than planned, I ran pell mell to the metro, then the MagLev train, zooming to the airport at over 400km an hour to inevitable failure. I was lucky to be transferred to the next day's flight for a reduced fee and booked myself into the airport hotel (thankfully in the airport this time). When I entered the room, the bed with a sad face (above) summed things up. After a few hours' unconsciousness on said sad face, and as the metro only cost 70 pence, I headed back into Shanghai for a cheeky bonus mooch around the beautiful and labyrinthine Tian Zi Fang and, like a ghost who wasn't meant to be there, made some relatively relaxed peace with a city I struggle to understand.
22-09-14 / ENCOUNTERS / SPECIAL MENTION FOR 'STEW & PUNCH' IN TENERIFE
So a good time was had once again, and when it was all over I discovered the amazing boat transport from the city centre (right outside the main festival location) to the train station. Perhaps the festival should encourage people to use the service as it gives a great impression of Bristol for arriving guests. It certainly took the edge off leaving for me, at least until the subsequent torture of Sunday rail travel, when journeys take twice as long and are thrice as populated, with enough irritating 'whistle' alerts from Samsung phones to compose the Colonel Bogey March 57 times over. A poor lady at the next table suffered a very public panic attack when the train was redirected through a long tunnel, putting my irritable brain syndrome into humbled perspective.
And Stew & Punch received a special mention at Tenerife Shorts, yey!
11-09-14 / THINGS...
While in Hamburg, the Wall is a Screen crowd were hosting a 'maritime' edition of their famed event, meaning a cruise through the lesser known areas of the Hamburg harbour with water-themed films projected from the boat onto docks, bridges and other ships. The always-unpredictable moments of these random screenings were typically present and correct, especially when Mark Baker's Jolly Roger had to be paused for another passenger boat as it passed in front of the 'screen'. The paused film, coincidentally frozen on an angry pirate's face, summed up the interruption and surely left the passing craft's passengers bamboozled. Great fun, and soon followed by St Pauli's annual weekend of culture (or something), involving fresh homemade sausages on the street, yum.
Somewhere amongst this, another session I shot for The Petebox was released, which you can check here. Also, I don't recall if I previously published a link to this nutty little favourite from last year.
13-08-14 / 'STEW & PUNCH' BROADCAST RESCHEDULED
06-08-14 / 'STEW & PUNCH' ON TV
27-07-14 / SPECIAL MENTION FOR 'STEW & PUNCH'
|Tweets by @SimonEllisFilms|