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Planeat – documentary film review

13 Nov

As a failed vegetarian and one-time vegan, I attended the premiere of Planeat, a new documentary by Shelley Lee Davies and Om Shlomi about the benefits of eating less meat, fully prepared for an hour long moral guilt trip…how wrong I was.

image: planeat.co

Through interviews with scientists, deeply passionate farmers and inspired chefs (and even cupcake makers) the film presents the global, environmental, health and culinary benefits of eating less animal protein.  Never once did it feel like I was being told to give up meat, but it made me think twice about it in the way that no other film has done so far.

Offering no prescriptive or patronizing advice, the film rejects shock tactics, guilt and moral arguments to take viewers on an informative, inspiring and very human journey.  Beware the trailer on the website though, it really over-dramatises the film. Continue reading

Review: Moolaadé by Osmane Sembène

29 Oct

Moolaadé,  Senegalese director Osmane Sembène’s last film, tells the story of Collé and her plight to protect others, in the small village of Burkina Faso, from female genital mutilation (FGM). The starting point comes from four girls who seek refugee with Collé and ask for protection from their impending ‘purification’ (circumcision) ceremony. After losing two daughters during childbirth due to her own aggressive circumcision, Collé becomes an advocate for these children and vocally stands up against FGM in the community.

By using FGM as the central issue in Moolaadé, Sembène opens the gate, not only to issues such as perseverance and the power of the community, but also to gender stereotypes and how their social constructs bear no relevance to the strength of individual character. The men of the village only inherit their power and are often portrayed as ineffectual and ignorant in their actions. However, the women, and more specifically Collé, have the passion and conviction to stand up for what they believe in despite the often violent consequences.

Sembène skilfully portrays village life with warmth through his colourful cinematography and flashes of humour. He casts a light on how religion can be wrongly used as a tool to manipulate the women into submitting to obsolete traditions, such as FGM. The conflict between traditional values and the influence of modern ideas is also evident in the film. While the men desperately cling onto the old values and therefore their power, the modern ideas, represented by the presence of the radio and television, point to the modern age and a shift towards more forward thinking women.

It would have been an amateur, but tempting, choice to graphically portray the horrors of FGM in Moolaadé but Sembène, in his experience and wisdom, is more subtle than this.  His suggestive camera shots and the power of the unsaid leaves more of a lasting impression than any invasive glimpse into the actual procedure would. A good example of this is the elusive children (who the viewers never see) who throw themselves down a well for fear of having to undergo the circumcision. We are invited to contemplate the horrific nature of FGM and how its possibility prompts two children to kill themselves in order to avoid it. Continue reading

Suffering from post-Spending Review confusion? Join the club

21 Oct

I don’t know about you, but here at Soundboard the budget, flaky coalition promises and threats of double dip recessions have done nothing more than cause furrowed eyebrows and a few more worry lines. If we are to believe everything the government says at face value, well, we’d be slightly naive, but we’d also be inclined to think that all these cuts equate to some kind of victory we should all be grateful for. But far from the barbaric jeers and back slaps in the House of Commons, the common (wo)man is feeling far from jovial. What exactly will all these changes mean for us?

Here are some of the most comprehensive articles we’ve found on the budget and its implications.

The Spending Review in full (for the brave and time rich!)

The summarised low down: Continue reading

Interview with Walter Astrada, photojournalist

17 Oct

In his desire to show through photography that “Violence against women is not only the most widespread example of a human rights violation, but probably the least evident,” (more here) three times World Press Photo winner Walter Astrada has already documented femicide in Guatemala and sexual violence in Eastern Congo.   His latest project is ‘Undesired’, a multimedia documentary funded by the Alexia Foundation and produced by MediaStorm.  Watch the full video, as well as his commentary, by clicking the image below:

Along with an incredible series of photos, the film explores the economic pressure for women to give birth to boys in India, and the subsequent abortion, neglect and murder of girls and women.  It is a piece about people who are undesired and denied social worth and freedom from conception, and the inspiring women who refuse to comply.

After watching the film transfixed and wondering what had happened to the feminist I used to be, I contacted Walter.  He kindly found time to chat to me, put up with my increasingly embarrassing Spanish and answer a few questions.

When did you first decide you wanted to be a photographer?

When I was thirteen I saw a photojournalism exhibition in Argentina and decided that’s what I want to do when I grow up.  After I finished secondary school I started studying photography, and about two and a half years later started work for an Argentinian daily newspaper.


photo: Walter Astrada

Did you always want to focus on human rights?

When I worked for the newspaper, my photos were of wide-ranging, general subjects.  But I wanted to do more photo stories, so after about three years at the paper I quit, went travelling and started working for an agency, which meant I could photograph more of what I was interested in.  I was lucky to start working for AP, but I also wanted to do projects that were more personal, so I quit again and I started working as free lancer and doing assignments for AFP, first in Haiti and later in Eastern Africa.  I actually still work as a freelancer, represented by Reportage by Getty Images.

What made an Argentine male photographer decide to document violence against women in India?

To answer that, I’ll ask you a question first:  If my project had been on Child Labour, would you have asked me the same question?  People often ask me that, and my answer is always ‘Why not?’  I see no contradiction in being a man and wanting to document such an important subject. Continue reading

Hetain Patel: ‘Honesty in work really appeals to me’

15 Oct

Hetain Patel took time out of his busy tour to talk to me about his influences as an artist and the inspiration behind his performance TEN.

For those who are unaware of your work, could you tell us a bit about your background?

Well, I’m a visual artist based in Nottingham. For the past 6 years I’ve been producing photography, video and live works, all shown in art galleries nationally and internationally. All the work takes a personal perspective to British and Indian identities as a starting point and then evolves to ask wider questions about language and identity in general. Also, in most of my work I use my own body as the site for these investigations. TEN is my first piece for theatre.

How did you become interested in photography and art? What made you choose to study Fine Art at university?

I’ve been interested in different forms of art all my life. I’ve always been good at drawing and trained in making photorealistic oil paintings during my A-levels. Then, as I took a natural progression into an Art Foundation course and a Fine Art degree, the scope of what art could be got wider and wider. Photography started as a way to document the more sculptural works I was making at uni then I got seduced by the visual quality of the medium itself.

Who or what would you say your main influences are?

There are so many from different places; Visual artists including Bruce Nauman, Bill Viola, to Ron Mueck, composers include Steve Reich, Nitin Sawhney, choreographers such as Jonathan Burrows, Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui and Akram Khan and aesthetics from slick American music videos. Physically, I’m really taken with martial arts from the personality of Bruce Lee to the movement of Shaolin Monks. Also, much more mainstream elements from comedy like The Office, In-betweeners and older stuff from Eddie Murphy. Honesty in work really appeals to me.

What was the inspiration behind TEN?

It was a few things coming together:

It started as an experiment to make one of my video pieces into a live work. In the video I perform 4 parts myself (aided through video editing), whereas the performance asks what it means to ask somebody else to be you.

Secondly, it became an outlet to experiment with an aspect of my practice which hasn’t had a creative voice yet: writing. I loved writing this piece.

Also, I really wanted to share with an audience all the wonderful things I was getting from learning Indian Classical rhythm through my tabla drumming lessons.

The challenge with this last element, however, is that when I present Indian elements in my work it often puts up an exotic barrier. There are a lot of assumptions made about the authority I might have over these Indian elements or that I have a natural connection to them. One of the main purposes of TEN is to challenge this idea. Continue reading

Review: Hetain Patel’s TEN

15 Oct

It’s hard to define TEN, by Hetain Patel. It’s not a play and to call it a monologue would unjustly discredit the role of the two drummers, Mark and Dave. A performance might be getting warmer but that doesn’t seem to account for the element of honest- and at times seemingly spontaneous- dialogue that Patel uses. Nor does it give credit to Patel’s ease on stage, his tales of memories from childhood and the questions he asks without the need for immediate answers. Then again, you get the impression Patel doesn’t search to apply such a neat definition to this piece. Much like the red turmeric powder (Kanku), thrown by the fistful in the air during the performance, TEN is just as free and symbolic and very much a mirror on our cultural identity as it is on Patel’s.

There is no real beginning to TEN, just a casual slip into a conversation from Patel, as if we are rediscovered friends in need to hear his story. The most central theme comes from Patel’s discoveries from learning about Indian classical music and how he uses these lessons in his search to feel more of a connection to his culture. Through physical demonstrations from the trio, Hetain, Mark and Dave, we are shown the nature of a ten beat rhythm cycle. The rhythm is off beat, seemingly with no beginning or end. The concept of cycles is key to the performance and we are given the impression that even Patel’s cultural journey follows the same cyclical nature of the ten beat rhythm; his mother tongue being Gujarati, his adolescent shift towards English culture and then eventually coming back to rediscovering his Indian roots some years later. Patel’s exploration paves the way to much wider and deeper themes, such as what it means to be Indian and where our origins and sense of identity truly come from. Continue reading

Interview: Mikey Watts on Mining & Human Rights in Peru

19 Feb
All photos:  Mikey Watts 

On March 14, LAMMP (the Latin American Mining Monitoring Programme) is holding an international conference on ‘Mining, Women and Human Rights in Guatemala’. One person who’ll be filming there is young British documentary maker Mikey Watts, who I caught up with last week to talk about his last film and forthcoming projects.

I’d first heard about Mikey’s film Laguna Negra back in October. Perusing The Guardian, I noticed a video and article about alleged torture in the province of Piura, northern Peru, linked to a mining company called Monterrico Metals. It was a British company, and yet there was barely a whisper of news about it in the UK. In 2003 Monterrico had pressed ahead with a copper mine project that the local population had not agreed to. The mine was going to occupy vital agricultural land and would pollute the valley’s water sources. Monterrico had a legal requirement to obtain the consent of at least two thirds of the population. They didn’t, but were supported by the government nonetheless and so went ahead with the mine. In 2005, locals, including children and the elderly, made their way to the mining site in a last attempt to have their objections recognised. They were tear gassed, arrested and allegedly tortured by police and the mine’s security guards.

It was a Peruvian photographer friend, Adrían Portugal from the collective Supay Fotos, who first sent me a link to Mikey’s video on VimeoLaguna Negra is a 20-minute study of how mining has affected people in the Huancabamba valley, northern Peru. The film follows two people, Servando and Cleofé, as they describe their lives, land, protest, how they are perceived, and question the purpose of environmentally and socially destructive ‘development’. It has won a series of awards, including: Grand Jury Prize World Cinema Student at the Amsterdam Film Festival 2010, Best International Documentary (Festival Internacional de Cine de Lebu 2010), and the Rights in Action International Award (Bang! Short Film Festival 2009). I met Mikey last week to discuss how it all started, his stay in Piura, Huancabamba, the impact of and inspiration behind the film, and the projects he’s working on now.

Continue reading

Sustainable Fashion – An Oxymoron?

18 Feb

Diamante2

Illustrations by Zoe Barker

Sustainable Fashion, what does that mean? This was the question posed by Vanessa Friedman at the beginning of London Fashion Week’s Estethica guide. I approached LFW with a fair amount of scepticism. Despite wearing my UK Press Pass with the secret pride reserved for a total LFW novice like moi, bien sûr, and being in total awe of how much work our fashion ed Rachael, all the writers, photographers and illustrators had put into it all, I was hesitant.

Is fashion that great? One part of me thinks it’s essential to be constantly re-inventing and changing things, challenging what we take as a given and celebrating new creativity. And that fashion is another form of individual and social expression and even a tool for rebellion against restrictive archaic norms. But another part thinks that the fashion industry is responsible for an attitude that waste is OK as long as it provides a fleeting moment of self-centred happiness, and that we need to be constantly re-inventing the way we look. That fashion stands for endless buying, and the sanctioning of a kind of mass egomania. Alternatively, it means the production of things that are so well made they will last forever, but which are destined for an elite few whose monthly wages allow for it. So should this kind of thinking now be greened and made sustainable? Hmm…it doesn’t really appeal. And, while it admittedly takes a very narrow view of fashion, I loved Tanya Gold’s blunt, honest piece on ‘Why I Hate Fashion’ in The Guardian a few weeks ago. It does raise the question though: what does fashion, let alone sustainable fashion, even mean?


Illustration by Zoe Barker Continue reading

BTCV Green Gyms – Review

17 Feb

My muscles are aching as I type, my cheeks are glowing more than ever and I have a satisfied grin on my face…why?  I’ve spent half the day clearing woodland and sawing huge branches in the name of biodiversity and, admittedly, fitness…

hedge stage 1
All photos: Zofia Walczak

Today I took part in my first ever Green Gym session, an initiative run by BTCV (the British Trust for Conservation Volunteers).  Funded by NHS Camden, the Green Gym is basically a combination of volunteering on biodiversity projects in London’s green spaces, getting a good work out and meeting new people.  As someone who detests gyms (positively loathes them), I was keen to find out exactly what these ‘Green Gym’ sessions entailed.  The thought of working out in a green area, fresh air and not doing exercise just for the sake of exercise appealed greatly.

I have tried gyms extensively, and failed.  Gyms make me feel tired and bored.  The constant monotonous whir of exercise bikes and running machines, coupled with people in their own bubbles looking stressed and thinking about other things, monitoring their heart rates and counting every calorie they burn makes me depressed.  Likewise, seeing my reflection in the mirror-covered walls everywhere I turn, under the unflattering lights that make everyone (even the buffest-looking posers in the highest-end gym wear) look like sad, old potatoes, has made me finally admit to myself that gyms are not the answer.  After a run in the park (rare, lately) I always feel energised and glowing, but the gym just makes me look and feel grey, sweaty and blotchy…more like I should be in bed on medication than like I’ve just had a 45-minute workout.

Green Gym area

Photo: Zofia Walczak Continue reading