Wednesday, 30 March 2011

Diamanda Galas rips up the Barbican this April

Diamanda Galás: her film Schrei 27 has its world premiere
at The Barbican in April

International performer Diamanda Galás will be launching her first major film collaboration, Schrei 27, at the Barbican's avant garde Spill Festival on April 22nd. Galás has been in the headlines in New York recently with the banning from their National Portrait Gallery of Fire in My Belly, a film by David Wojnarowicz which was inspired by Galás’ famous AIDS requiem Plague Mass and features one of her songs.
Schrei 27 is a 27-minute film comprising several 'chapters' which follow a person (played by Galás and a male actor, Salvatore Bevilacqua) who is taken into a mental hospital after being arrested for treason and is then subjected to horrific psychological and physiological torture in order to extract a confession.  Galás has created a unique vocal soundtrack of raw human sound, calls, chants and silence.  The score features passages - including extracts from the Book of Job and St. Thomas Aquinas - about transitions between life and death, salvation and condemnation, sanity and madness.
The film, by Diamanda Galás and Davide Pepe, will be at the Spill Festival of Performance at the Silk Street Theatre, Barbican, London, from 1 – 9pm on 22nd  and 23rd  April 2011. The Spill Festival of Performance at the Barbican Centre is an artist-led biennial festival of experimental theatre, live art and exceptional artists from around the world.  It was initiated in 2007 by artist/performer Robert Pacitti. His 2011 Festival is curated around the idea of ‘infection’.  
The film presents a powerful unrelenting psychological and physiological portrait of trauma caused to enemies of the state in a "medical facility" where trained doctors deliver incremental changes of shock, light, heat and cold to their "patients" in confined spaces.  Schrei 27 was commissioned from Galás by New American Radio in 1994, to explore themes of political or personal asylum and institutionalisation. It was further developed as Schrei X in 1996, as a live performance staged in darkness, and in 2007 curated as a quadraphonic installation, again in the dark, in Spain and the Canary Islands.
This is Galás’ first major film collaboration with Bolognese film and video artist Davide Pepe whose most recent feature Giardini di Luce, was presented at the 60th Berlin Film Festival’s Berlinale Shorts Competition.
Hailed as one of the most important singers of our time, Diamanda Galás has earned international acclaim for her highly original and politically charged performance works, as well as her innovative treatment of jazz, blues, and rembetika. 
Born to Anatolian and Greek parents, Diamanda Galás has lived in New York City since 1989.  She came to international prominence with her quadrophonic performances of Wild Women with Steak Knives (1980) and the album The Litanies of Satan (1982). Later she created the controversial Plague Mass, a requiem for those dead and dying of AIDS, which she performed at Saint John the Divine Cathedral in New York City in 1990 and released as a CD.  In 1994 Galas and Led Zeppelin bassist John Paul Jones collaborated on the visionary rock album, The Sporting Life.  Over the past two decades Galás’s wide range of musical and theatrical works have included The Singer (1992), a compilation of blues and gospel standards; Vena Cava (1993), exploring AIDS, dementia and clinical depression; Malediction and Prayer (1998), a setting of jazz and blues as well as love and death poems by Charles Baudelaire, Pier Paolo Pasolini and Salvadoran guerrilla fighter and poet Miguel Huezo Mixco; La Serpenta Canta (2004), a greatest-hits collection from Hank Williams to Ornette Coleman; Defixiones, Will and Testament (2004), an 80-minute memorial tribute to the Armenian, Greek and Assyrian victims of the Turkish genocides from 1914-1923; and Guilty Guilty Guilty (2008) a compilation of tragic and homicidal love songs.
Galás has contributed her voice and music to Francis Ford Coppola’s, Dracula, Oliver Stone's Natural Born Killers, Spanish/Nicaraguan filmmaker Mercedes Moncada Rodriguez’s El Immortal, and films by Wes Craven, Clive Barker, Derek Jarman and Hideo Nakata. In 2005, Galas was awarded Italy’s first Demetrio Stratos International Career Award. Galas was featured in Roza von Praunheim's films POSITIVE (1991).  Video collaborations have included 'Sleazy' Peter Christopherson, Roza von Prauneheim's mix of David Wojanorowicz and Diamanda Galás in the censored and most popular version of Fire In The Belly and Fred Sodima's Judgement Day. 

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Tuesday, 29 March 2011

The Rights of Women advice lines

Rights of Women’s legal advice lines are changing.
From 1st April 2011 the following new advice lines will be open:

1. Family law advice line for advice on issues including:
- domestic violence and abuse
- relationship breakdown
- issues relating to children, including parental responsibility, child contact and residence

Call 020 7251 6577 (telephone) or 020 7490 2562 (textphone):
Mondays 11am-1pm
Tuesdays and Wednesdays 2pm-4pm and 7pm-9pm
Thursdays 7pm-9pm
Fridays 12noon-2pm

2. Criminal law advice line for advice on issues including:
- sexual offences
- domestic violence and harassment
- the rights of victims, witnesses and defendants
- criminal injuries compensation

Call 020 7251 8887 (telephone) or 020 7490 2562 (textphone):
Tuesdays 11am-1pm
Thursdays 2pm-4pm.

3. Immigration and asylum law advice line for advice on issues including:
- the rights of EEA nationals and their family members
- claiming asylum in the UK
- trafficking
- domestic violence and immigration law
- no recourse to public funds

Call 020 7490 7689 (telephone) or 020 7490 2562 (textphone):
Mondays 2pm-4pm
Wednesdays between 11am-1pm.

Please visit the website of Rights of Women for more information.

This text is taken from the RoW press release; copyright is theirs, not mine.

Wednesday, 23 March 2011

Sky Sports magazine hails rapist Mike Tyson as a 'legend'

I’ve got Sky TV and every couple of months we automatically receive a listings magazine, plus Sky Sports magazine. In the February/March 2011 issue of Sky Sports magazine is a long and loving interview with rapist Mike Tyson (jail time: a super flyweight 3.5 years). He is named on the cover. He is named on the contents page, ‘The Legend: Mike Tyson’, with a picture of him holding a pigeon in his fist and kissing it so that its beak is shut tight between his lips. The three page feature starts on page 48, red-tabbed THE LEGEND at the top, and the headline quote is, ‘I’m extreme in whatever I do.’ The strapline underneath says, ‘He was the great heavyweight champion who became his own worst enemy. Now Iron Mike [the nickname is in bold] says he’s the happiest he’s ever been. We met him to find out why…’

The article is by a staff journalist, Claire Bloomfield, whose fawning write-up does not mention Tyson’s rape conviction or previous interviews in which he has said that he likes to ‘totally dominate’ women. The piece begins, ‘One of the last times you saw Mike Tyson was probably in hit comedy The Hangover …Yet Iron Mike’s enduring appeal means that he crops up in less starry surroundings too’, like his successful speaking tour, The Baddest Man on the Planet. I would contest this title: rape and brutalisation by men is mainstream and, to give Tyson some comfort, I do not think he is the worst perpetrator. He should be reassured that there are many men worldwide who have raped and beaten more women, children and other men than he has.

On tour, writes Bloomfield, Tyson ‘meets his people and answers questions about his extraordinary career.’ She also mentions his recent trip to Mecca, as though he is some kind of peace pilgrim or Deepak Chopra/the Dalai Lama, only with a rape conviction and face tattoos. Bloomfield notes with plangent sentimentality, ‘Such is the life he now leads, a far cry from his destructive final years in boxing when his life spiralled out of control.’

I feel disgust at the leeway, leniency, generosity and euphemisms here. They cover the reality of what Tyson has done. Out of all the sportsmen in the world, the ones who don’t rape, the ones who aren’t violent, this magazine chooses not only to acknowledge but cravenly to celebrate and lionise one who does, and in the most abject, glowing terms.  Bloomfield continues, ‘Tyson wants you to know he’s not the person he once was’ as ‘his darkest hours are behind him.’ Whatever darkness Tyson has experienced, it is as bright as the sun compared to what his victims have gone through. Mike Tyson, Iron Mike to his fans, Rapist Mike to the few people who care about his victims, is not ‘his own worst enemy’. He is women’s worst enemy.

When Tyson has not beaten and raped women for free, for the sheer enjoyment of it, he has beaten men for money. Bloomfield reminisces about Tyson’s heavyweight heyday, when he was ‘burning with a charisma not seen since.’ Perhaps it was this charisma which led to him being permitted to serve just three and a half years for rape.

Let me now just throw my abject disbelief onto the page and punch it until it begs for mercy or passes out from the pain (not that I’ll stop then). Bloomfield’s article exists in a morally inverse world in which rapists are victims, committing rape is something terrible that happens to a great man, rape victims don’t exist and a perpetrator’s existential pains (translation: his excuses, whingeing, projections, denial and petty grievances) are the basis of a heroic myth about recovery from devastation. But it is rape survivors who must recover from devastation.

Tyson is full of self pity, as though he has been unfairly treated: ‘If I won the Nobel Peace Prize I am still gonna be a scumbag to America.’ There is no likelihood of Tyson winning the Nobel Peace Prize as he has never worked towards world peace. I do not care if he feels like a sad little lost childlike soul on the inside; everyone feels that way at times. But not everyone is violent or a rapist. Tyson himself alludes to his raping: ‘Because this guy made a bad mistake in his life, does that mean it overrides everything he’ll ever do in life?’ Yes Michael, rape does mean that. One rape victim is one too many.

Tyson talks as though Fate has done something bad to him. But he is not a victim. He is a perpetrator. On his tours he connects with ‘a crowd of people that have pain, so I want to share mine with them and let them know that everything is gonna be alright.’ When a rape survivor truthfully reveals the pain of being hurt physically, psychically, psychologically and spiritually they are told they are lying to hurt men’s public standing. When a rapist lies about how he hurts existentially he is believed, forgiven and rewarded. Still, Tyson is right about one thing: everything will be all right for him, as it is for the overwhelming majority of all rapists and domestic abusers. They can look forward to enjoying the favourable odds of a virtually nonexistent conviction rate, notoriously low sentencing and the guarantee of financial, cultural, legal and career support from abuse-condoning people afterwards.

Tyson says, with risible piety, ‘I want to establish a healthy relationship with my family. I want my wife to realise that I’m not ever going to cheat on her. When we dated years ago, I admit, I cheated on her all the time.’ If I were in a relationship with Tyson I wouldn’t worry so much about infidelity, I’d worry about being beaten up and raped.

Tyson speaks like someone whose human rights have been violated and who will be in recovery for the rest of his life. He speaks as though he has had to use every ounce of inner strength to rebuild himself after a cataclysmic act of destruction, hatred and sabotage. He speaks as though he has had to overcome people’s unjust disbelief, mistrust, social stigma. But these are the things a rape survivor goes through.

A rape survivor feels alone but Mike Tyson is surrounded by cronies. He says, ‘when I’m overseas I enjoy the celebrity status’ and mentions countries including Turkey where ‘the president or the prime minister comes to meet me at the airport or at my hotel.’ There is an international community of powerful men who want to give him a great life, because they think he is a great man. His supporters include major players in film and TV, men with women colleagues, partners, daughters, sisters, friends, mothers.

Out of 3.5 billion men in the world, it was rapist Mike Tyson who was offered a role by Todd Phillips, the director of The Hangover. Another man, James Toback, made a sympathetic documentary about him (just like director Steven Soderbergh made a sympathetic documentary about rapist Roman Polanski). Tyson’s next project is an American TV series called Taking on Tyson, about pigeon racing. He will also be in the upcoming series of Entourage, the sequel to The Hangover and Men in Black 3. The producers of these shows are making a specific choice to help a rapist by actively enabling him to reinvent himself as a light entertainment figure. Who is helping his victims? Under-funded local counselling and medical services? Understaffed phone helplines? Do his victims live, like Tyson does, in a sympathetic, helpful, wealthy, well-connected world of wholly credulous employers, friends, family, society and media?

Amongst many other events and media slots Tyson has appeared at the SXSW festival promoting a video game modelled on his likeness, been interviewed on the Ellen DeGeneres show, been on Dancing with the Stars and featured in a spoof music video with Bobby Brown, the singer famous for beating up Whitney Houson in much the same way that today's hot young singer Chris Brown is famous for beating up Rihanna. The media coverage of all these events has been positive. The Daily Mail did not refer to Tyson's raping, just his 'controversial private life' and CBS News calls him 'a boxing legend' as do most other journalists. 

The directors, producers, crew, participants and actors in The Hangover, Taking on Tyson, Men in Black 3, Entourage and all his other projects, events and media outlets hate women. If they didn’t, they would refuse to work with Mike Tyson because he is a rapist. Instead, they reward him. They are making an explicit demonstration of their partiality by overtly helping the career, profile and bank balance of a man who’s committed one of the most common and destructive acts of hatred in the world. Men and women who refuse to boycott men who abuse women hate women. Men and women who actively praise and compensate men who abuse women hate women down to the last dregs in their stomachs.

No doubt violent men and their many fans say that ‘people’ deserve a second chance. I agree. The survivors of violence deserve a second chance to live their lives free from the threat of brutality.

The editor of Sky Sports magazine is Ryan Herman and the director of BSkyB Publications is Robert Tansey. They can be written to at BSkyB Publications Ltd, Grant Way, Isleworth, Middlesex TW7 5QD. A note on page 4 of the magazine says, ‘Sky Sports Magazine has the largest circulation of any sports magazine in the world.’

UPDATE: Within 90 minutes of this article being up, the deniers and apologists are already out. Someone named Wyn Lewis, finding the link to this article on my Facebook page, has left a comment saying this: I think you mean "rape". I have barred the user and the comment has been deleted, although I have kept the email alerting me to the comment and quoting it.

Friday, 18 March 2011

Orgasm Inc: business interests are not women's interests

Just because she's wearing a white coat
doesn't mean you should trust her.
Last weekend at the ICA I was privileged to be invited to chair a debate about sexuality, body issues and the pharmaceutical industry, following a screening of Liz Canner's documentary Orgasm Inc. The doc itself is a chilling examination of the false creation and medicalisation of a host of sexual 'dysfunctions' in women, prompted by the success of Viagra and companies' desperation to capitalise on the possibility of a female Viagra. While a series of funny and excruciating tests of female arousal for various pills, thrills, creams, patches and other devices throws some comedy over the issue, the underlying material is shocking. Canner's film shows executives at one of the pharmaceutical companies laughing amongst themselves and crowing over their stock options. When asked to justify their pathologisation of the 'female dysfunction' area, they can barely keep straight faces. Snickering, they say "The statistics never lie" but they become tongue-tied, evasive and nervous when questioned further. They push products which are proven not to work, and these products are endorsed in the media by a host of seemingly neutral physicians who, it turns out, are being paid to promote the products. This horrible, vast and lucrative world is thickly populated with quack doctors, opportunists and greedy tycoons - or wannabe tycoons - who do not give a damn about women, but give a big damn about big dollars. They are making money because there are so many women out there who are out of touch with their bodies, unconfident in their sexuality, unsure about what they 'ought' to be doing and oppressed by an absolutely artificial image of what satisfactory sexuality looks and feels like.

Contrasted with their avarice and callousness is a woman who is in a trusting, sensual and loving relationship, who has never been able to climax through intercourse alone. This is normal, but she doesn't know it. Instead she beats herself up about not having a 'real', 'proper' or 'normal' experience. She thinks that, despite the pleasure and joy of her life, there is a right and wrong way to do sex; when asked what she thinks about when making love she says immediately "war - fighting with myself." Her desperation to do it 'the right way' is painful to watch. She submits to any and every experiment, including the gruesome insertion of a nerve-stimulating device into her spinal cord. The risks of such a procedure are huge - she could die of shock or be paralysed - and the shot of the wires emerging from a hole in her back make the viewer shudder. The experiment fails utterly and one is left nauseated by the people who are, effectively, experimenting with the bodies, feelings and insecurities of these women, who trust them so completely.

I recommend the documentary, although it focuses more on the workings of the pharmaceutical industry than on the stories of the women who feel they need these products, even though they have proven to be ineffectual. To even up the debate, BEV invited the psychosexual health expert Dr Sandy Goldbeck-Wood and Sam Roddick, activist and owner of the Coco de Mer 'erotic emporium' (joke - I had promised her I wouldn't describe her beautiful shop of  sexy things in 1970s soft porn speak) as well as a leading figure in international fair trade and grassroots movements and the founder of Bondage for Freedom. These two speakers were an excellent combination: Sandy was crystal clear, calm, cerebral, very thoughtful and precise in referring to the women and men she treats; Sam was fiery and inspirational, a broad, warm and extremely engaging and voluble speaker. Together they provided a comprehensive and compassionate take on sexual 'dysfunction' in its commonest forms. Both advocated that people must learn to listen to and ground themselves in their own bodies, that the body is a barometer for the emotional self, that sex is something which happens between individuals and is not something that is done to you or that you 'do' to someone else, that pleasure flows from joy, connection and happiness and that there is - above all - no 'right way' to do it. We agreed that the image of sexuality which currently exists not only in the mainstream (say, in Hollywood romances or in novels) and in seemingly frank depictions of sexuality, like porn, are all falsified in some way. Either they are painfully raw, unsensual and workmanlike or they are airbrushed to perfection. As one woman in the doc comments, in a Hollywood film a couple is always beautiful, sex is natural and easy, it looks great, it's not messy, it's brief, nobody jokes around and they climax together. Every - single - time.

Both Sandy and Sam commented that, for all the seeming sexualisation of our culture, people are in fact extremely shy about talking about sexual problems with their doctors, with their partners or even with themselves. There is a fundamental split between the mind and the body, culturally, which leaves each person feeling alone and feeling as though they are a failure. Liz Canner's documentary shows what happens when huge corporations step into the breach and seem to offer solutions, which take advantage of individuals' feeling of inadequacy and reap the benefits while offering precisely no meaningful comfort, help, pleasure or care.

Thursday, 17 March 2011

The Birds Eye View film festival announces its 2011 awards winners

The 2011 Birds Eye View Film Festival (BEV) closed its seventh annual celebration of women filmmakers with a Gala London premiere of SXSW-winner Tiny Furniture alongside the Festival Awards on 17 March 2011 at BFI Southbank. The awards, including the presentation of WFTV Best UK Short to acclaimed stage director Marianne Elliott (War Horse) for her film debut Alice, were hosted by actress Hayley Atwell (Brideshead Revisited, Any Human Heart), directors Lucy Walker (Oscar-nominated for Waste Land) and Joanna Hogg (whose acclaimed Archipelago has just been released in the UK), and comedian Lucy Porter.

The 2011 Festival welcomed over 10,000 audience members to more than 70 events, including 5 UK premieres, 4 London premieres and 7 newly commissioned live scores, including a first full choral composition by Grammy-winning superstar Imogen Heap, performed live at Southbank Centre. The programme included the London premiere of Susanne Bier's 2011 Golden Globe and Oscar-winner In A Better World, which also wins BEV Best Feature; and a special preview of fellow 2011 Oscar-nominee Lucy Walker's Countdown to Zero.

Alongside record audience attendance, a roll-call of stars turned out to support the Festival. The Festival was opened by Zoe Wanamaker, quickly followed by Scottish actress Shirley Henderson (Bridget Jones, Harry Potter) attending to talk about her work on Kelly Reichardt's Meek's Cutoff and BRIT Award-winner Kate Nash, introducing Festival favourite Music Loves Video. The Festival's Equals on Film Gala in association with Oxfam for International Women's Day was attended by Livia Firth, musician Annie Lennox, supermodel Laura Bailey, actresses Thandie Newton and Maryam D'Abo, and Whistles' fashion supremo Jane Shepherdson among others. At a celebratory event for Birds Eye View's She Writes Lab, a collaboration with The Script Factory, Celia Imrie led a phenomenal cast in a screenplay reading to launch a new generation of female screenwriters.

For the first time, the Festival has also reached out to a global audience. The Innovation programme included a live Twitterview with IDFA Digital Storytelling Award-winner Katerina Cizek, talking about her interactive online documentary Highrise: Out My Window. And the Festival's Bloody Women: From Gothic to Horror programme, which ranges from silent gothic psychodrama to modern vampire chic, was rounded off with a live streamed Panel Debate from the ICA, with the Horror Channel's Emily Booth and FrightFest's Alan Jones among others.

The Festival also continued its pioneering Sound & Silents programme, commissioning new live scores by cutting-edge female musicians to accompany ground-breaking silent films by women filmmakers. This year's musicians included Imogen Heap, Micachu, Blue Roses, Seaming, Tara Busch and Lola Perrin.

Birds Eye View Founder-Director Rachel Millward said: "I'm delighted the Festival has been such a resounding success this year, with overwhelming response from audiences proving the wealth of talent that women filmmakers bring to our screens. We're particularly thrilled by the number of impressive debut features by women from across the globe, which we hope is a sign of a great future for women in film."


Awards were chosen by an esteemed panel of industry jurors. The title of the award and the name of the winner are at the top, followed by the names of the jurors.

Best Feature:  Susanne Bier for In A Better World
Mark Adams, Chief Film Critic Screen International
Kerry Fox, Actress Shallow Grave, Bright Star
Louisa Dent, Managing Director Artificial Eye

Best Documentary:  Suha Arraf for Women of Hamas
Maryam D'Abo, Actress The Living Daylights
Beatrix Campbell Author, Broadcaster and Journalist
Helen de Witt, Producer London Film Festival

Best Debut Feature:  Adriana Maggs for Grown Up Movie Star
Rosie Fletcher, News Editor Total Film
Esther Freud, Novelist Hideous Kinky
Katie Mitchell, Associate Director National Theatre

WFTV Best UK Short:  Marianne Elliott for Alice
Diana Quick, Actress Brideshead Revisited
Mandy Kean, Head of Cinema Soho House
Nikki Parrot, Co-Founder of Tigerlily Films

Best International Short:  Lisa James-Larssen for Little Children, Big Words
Kate Dickie, Actress Red Road, Somers Town
Bidisha Writer, Critic and Broadcaster
Joanna Hogg, Director Archipelago
Susie Wright, Media Project Manager Channel 4

Best Short Animation (joint): Niki Lindroth von Bahr for Tord and Tord and Joanna Lurie for The Silence Beneath the Bark
Lucy Walker, Director Countdown to Zero
Charlotte Cook, Documentary Programmer Frontline Club
Anna Kime, Project Manager Film London

Follow BEV on Facebook & Twitter:

For press information or interviews, contact Elizabeth Benjamin or Hilary Cornwell at Margaret PR: 020 7033 6868. /

· BIRDS EYE VIEW celebrates and supports international women filmmakers. Backed by leading lights of the film industry, it is a positive response to the fact that women make up only 7% directors and 12% writers in the world's most powerful medium. BEV is concerned with women’s creative vision in film, and wants to see more of it.

· In 2005 BEV launched the major UK women’s film festival. This has been a storming success, proving the wealth of talent and potential that women bring to film. BEV believes it is vital to the health and diversity of UK film that we raise role models, offer support and provide a forum for women in the industry, whilst encouraging the next generation to break new ground. As well as inspiring more women to write and direct their own work, BEV educates audiences about the importance of diversity in film, and through and extensive public campaigns and accessible events, BEV seeks to widen the audiences for women-made films and world cinema.

· BEV is led by Rachel Millward, named as one of the 50 "Women to Watch" by Arts Council England and the Cultural Leadership Programme and previously nominated as a ‘World Changing Woman' (The Guardian, 21.08.06.) and shortlisted for the Women of the Future Award in Media, November 2009. Rachel is currently the Clore Fellow for Film. Patrons include Mike Figgis, Mira Nair, Joanna Lumley, Juliet Stevenson, Martha Fiennes, Stephen Woolley and Gurinder Chadha.

· Birds Eye View's FIRST WEEKENDERS CLUB (FWC) supports women filmmakers at the box-office on the all-important opening weekend. The opening weekend of a film has a phenomenal impact on the movie’s life in cinema and beyond. FWC aims to make a tangible difference to women filmmakers, by mobilising national and international networks and connecting films created by women with their audience before a release, giving them the best chance of box office success. “The Birds Eye View First Weekenders Club is an excellent initiative, reminding audiences of their power to make a difference at the box office and to influence the success of women-directed features” - Gurinder Chadha, Director

· Birds Eye View LABS are specialised intensive training programmes to hothouse new female writing talent and bring new feature films by women into production. 2009's lab 'LAST LAUGH: Women Create Comedy' successfully brought three comedy feature films from female writers to the Warp X / Warp Films development slates, including work from Sally Phillips, Julia Davis and Lucy Porter. These films are still in development. SHE WRITES lab is ongoing in partnership with The Script Factory. Launching at the 2009 Birds Eye View Film Festival, this has given 10 emerging female screenwriters the chance to develop a screenplay, with expert mentoring across one year, plus residential and UK wide workshops, master-classes and industry dinners, providing these women with the skills and contacts they will need to bring high quality, commercial films into production. In 2010, the continuing partnership with Warp Films and support from Skillset and Scottish Screen saw the launch of REANIMATE, pairing ten exceptional women screenwriters with ten female animators and providing contacts, creative support and a residential retreat at Bradford Animation Festival to help advance their projects towards pitching for the Warp development slate.

· Birds Eye View commissions SOUND & SILENTS events, celebrating iconic women in silent cinema with live musical accompaniment from cutting edge female artists. Past musicians include Imogen Heap, Natalie Clein, Bishi, Mira Calix, The Elysian Quartet, Zoe Rahman, Broken Hearts DJs and JUICE.

Wednesday, 16 March 2011

Andrea Buttner wins the MaxMara Art Prize For Women

Andrea Büttner, Vogelpredigt (Sermon to the Birds), 2010, woodcut on 2 papers,
180 x 240 cm, courtesy the artist and Hollybush Gardens, London.
Image taken from Whitechapel Gallery web page about MaxMara Art Prize.

Iwona Blazwick OBE, Director Whitechapel Gallery and Chairwoman of the Max Mara Art Prize for Women, has announced artist Andrea Buttner as the winner of the third Prize. Büttner, who lives and works in London and Frankfurt, was honoured at the prize giving ceremony at London’s Whitechapel Gallery on 23 March. Shortlisted artists Becky Beasley and Elizabeth Price were also in attendance.

From 1 to 10 April 2011 at the Whitechapel Gallery. Andrea Büttner, the winner of the third Max Mara Art Prize for Women in association with the Whitechapel Gallery, will be showcasing the work of art made on her Italian residency after winning the Prize. Her work explores the crossover between religion and art using traditional materials such as woodcut prints. In the last five years Büttner has held solo exhibitions at Pawn Shop in Los Angeles, Crystal Palace in Stockholm, Goethe-Institute in Dublin, the ICA in London, and in 2009 at Croy Nielsen in Berlin, amongst others. She has studios in East London and in Frankfurt. There is an excellent write-up of her work at The Guardian, here.

The Max Mara Art Prize for Women promotes and nurtures talent based in the United Kingdom, enabling artists to develop their potential and providing each winner with an opportunity to produce new works of art. The Prize is awarded biannually to one UK based artist who has not previously had a major survey exhibition. Winners receive a fully funded six-month residency in Italy, based at the American Academy in Rome and the Pistoletto Foundation, Biella, as well as funding to realise a new work or works that will be exhibited at the Whitechapel Gallery and acquired by the Collezione Maramotti, Reggio Emilia, Italy.

For each Prize a judging panel of four art-world professionals, chaired by Iwona Blazwick, devise a short-list of between three and five artists. The short-listed artists are invited to the Whitechapel Gallery to make a presentation about their practice and the work or works they would make during or resultant from their Italian residency and funding.

The Max Mara Art Prize for Women celebrates the diversity and dynamics that female artists brings to the contemporary art scene in terms of aesthetics and discourse and provides them with a platform in which to reach a widespread audience. It is a unique initiative set up to promote and nurture female artists based in the United Kingdom, enabling artists to develop their potential through the conception of a new work. Shortlisted candidates are asked to develop a proposal for their desired projects, which is then judged by an all female panel. The inaugural Max Mara Art Prize [2005 – 2007] was won by film-maker Margaret Salmon and the second edition of the Prize [2007 – 2009] was won by Hannah Rickards who works with sound, video and installation.

The jury for this third edition of the Max Mara Art Prize for Women 2009-2011 was announced on 9th September 2009 at the Whitechapel Gallery on the occasion of the special opening of the film No, There Was No Red [2009] by Hannah Rickards. Chaired by Iwona Blazwick, the new jury comprises; Fiona Banner, Turner Prize nominated artist; Alison Jacques, Gallerist; Valeria Napoleone, Collector and Polly Staple, writer and Director of Chisenhale Gallery.

Read the press release for the Max Mara Art Prize Announcement 2009-2011

For further information about the Max Mara Art Prize for Women please contact Dorothea Jaffé at

Text taken from The Whitechapel site and from the offical MaxMara Art Prize press release. Copyright is theirs, not mine. 

Call for nominations: women of talent and promise in publishing

Nominations are sought for a wonderful prize - The Kim Scott Walwyn Prize - organised by Booktrust. The prize celebrates the achievements of any woman of talent who has been working in publishing for seven years or less. Do you know anyone who you think might be suitable? If you work in and around publishing, would you mind passing this article to any colleagues or friends who you think might be interested in nominating?

The Kim Scott Walwyn Prize was founded in honour of Kim Scott Walwyn, a Publishing Director at Oxford University Press, who died in 2002 at the age of 45. Relaunched this year, the prize recognises both promise and achievement amongst women who have worked in the publishing industry for seven years or less. This focus on emerging talent is complimented by a new partnership with the Society of Young Publishers (SYP) and the Publishing Training Centre (PTC) and this year’s winner will receive a cheque for £1000 sponsored by the SYP as well as a one-day training course of their choice, courtesy of the PTC.
This prize is an incredible chance for a woman early in her publishing career to receive not only the recognition of a distinguished committee, but a substantial monetary gift and a training opportunity. As there is now under a month left until the deadline for entries (21st March), we would like to ask you to pass along the details of this year’s Prize to any talented, ambitious, and promising female publishers you know. The Prize is open to those working in publishing, as agents, or at literary organizations. All details relating to submissions and entry criteria can be found on the website:

Tuesday, 15 March 2011

Sounds & Silents: Bloody Women from Gothic to Horror

Micachu, Seaming, Tara Busch, Imogen Heap & the Holst Singers performing to films by Lotte Reiniger, Maya Deren, Lois Weber and Germaine Dulac respectively, as part of the Birds Eye View film festival 2011.

It’s an eerie proposition. You and two hundred hipsters and tastemakers settle into the luscious James Bondian leather and wood panelled den of the QEH and wait in silence. On the screen play some of the creepiest and best short old films directed by women, shot in soundless monochrome. They’re accompanied by live scores performed by some of the most exciting artists around, keeping precise time with what’s happening on the film – every door slam, turn of the head, shock arrival, slip up or moment of peril. Beyond the basic synchronicity, however, everything is possible including total failure. Could it work? Does it work?

Triumphantly. The Sounds and Silents strand is the most exciting, creative and original thing to come out of the BEV programme. It goes beyond any film festival’s usual remit of new audiences + new films + classic oldies + expert talks and creates something entirely afresh, reaching across disciplines, decades and practices. It involves taking a risk with history. It involves reviving forgotten (by the mainstream) work from fifty years ago and commissioning new work from the megastars of tomorrow. And it does my favourite thing, which is combine different art forms to make something truly cutting edge and thrilling. This is a serious project which has been a long time coming, as the musicians have watched the films countless times and perfected their scores down to the last micro-second.

BEV has of course strayed successfully all over the artistic realm before: in this year’s programme it has featured events on film and fashion as well as music and film. But Sounds and Silents is a totally new approach and last Friday was a clear demonstration of its brilliance. It worked flawlessly.

The event opened with new-electronic genius Micachu performing to Lotte Reiniger’s film Hansel and Gretel, made in 1955. Whoever thought that cardboard cut-outs weren’t creepy is in for a horrible shock. Hansel and Gretel is a crisp, spooky and original rendition of the classic folkloric warning to children who stray (as well as a celebration of plucky kids’ ingenuity). The figures of the children and their parents, dwelling in a house in the woods, have been cut cute and bold, with wooden-seeming rounded limbs, jerky puppet-like movements and perpetual jumps and looks of curiosity. The forest is thick with cheeky playful squirrels, cute deer, brave birds and thickening trees, until the witch’s house appears, ghostly white and soft. The witch is truly frightening – a thousand times more frightening than any CGI sorcerer Hollywood could come up with these days – gathering her broomstick and taking easily to the air, throwing Hansel into a cage and loading down Gretel with buckets and mops to do chores. Her silence and quivering shape make her all the more menacing.

Instead of offering us a crumb of comfort, Micachu turns up the chills. I have been a long-time fan of this young musician’s work but had not expected such maturity, depth or precision. I thought I would get a cute analogue song to go along with the nice pictures. How wrong I was. Micachu’s score is conceptual, a crunchy, crackling and cerebral accompaniment that demonstrates her total absorption in the film. She has noticed and amplifies every nuance of the story, mining its psychological power and bringing depth and delight to these silhouettes.

The effect is devastating. Each time one of the cut-outs turns its head there’s a hideous bonelike crunching sound. From the moment we see the two kids wandering blithely in the forest, the score warns us that something terrible is about to come. The forest itself prickles with life and noise: rustling leaves, pock-pocking animals and clattering footsteps. The signature sound of the witch is a spectral hiss, like radio static, that makes the hairs on the back of one’s neck rise. Her snakelike movements and confident flying ability enable her to ooze all over the screen, as the score howls along. Micachu herself is a modest, very charismatic but calm performer, working in dark clothes and with her head bowed. It’s obvious that she wants us to notice the sounds and the silents more than the star – and, hideously intrigued, we do. With their brittle, brooding brilliance Micachu and Lotte Reiniger are a match made in heaven – or rather, hell.

Meshes of the Afternoon, directed by Maya Deren in 1943 and accompanied by composer, multi-instrumentalist and vocalist Seaming, is such a fresh, intelligent and modern-seeming film that I overheard someone in the audience say, impressed, “So, this is where David Lynch got pretty much all his ideas.” Meshes has been called a ‘trance film’ but I think it’s stronger, more plotted and less dreamlike than that phrase implies. A woman in a beautiful sunny American house in the hills has a dream within a dream within a dream, in which certain props – a bread knife, a key, a telephone, a mirror – combine and recombine to give various takes on the same scenario. There’s the comedic take, the murder mystery take, the nature film take, the nightmare take, the airy take, the claustrophobic take, the romantic take. It’s an astoundingly accomplished and cohesive piece of work, by turns sinister and witty, and incredibly technically slick. Its gently grainy black and white soft look is cut through with flashpoints of shocking imagery, like the knife suddenly glinting with light or the appearance of a hooded, robed character with no face.

It’s difficult to describe Seaming’s score and performance without getting submerged in superlatives. She is, basically, a total star, with the same creativity, talent and presence as some unique figures from Bjork to Grace Jones, early Annie Lennox or Laurie Anderson or (to choose from the current generation of new names) someone like Janelle Monae or La Roux. What was remarkable about her work with Meshes was its sheer variety, the layers of types of music, from haunting electro to soft live oboe broken by a frankly amazing operatic voice, all perfectly controlled and utterly present. Seaming is a musicians’ musician, a class act with wild capabilities. She did much more than accompany the action on the film – although this she did brilliantly, with exactly the right amount of humour, switching into all-out horror, histrionics, gore and spookiness. She gave us a performance and a composition of true originality, entertainment and independence. The variety of her talents as an instrumentalist, arranger and singer were encapsulated into this brief 14 minutes, but Seaming was undoubtedly the brightest spot of the evening. I would love to see her work more intensively with the film world; the seamless combination of stunningly original music with this intimidatingly excellent film was breathtaking to witness.

Suspense, a film directed in 1913 by Lois Weber, was a tougher call I think. It’s a frenetic fear-farce in which a man is at he office while his wife and baby stay at home. A tramp breaks into the house, cuts the telephone cord, steals the food and makes his way to the woman’s room while the husband tries to get home, despite being carjacked (or whatever the 1913s version of that is). It’s a strikingly bleak and cynical film, rather horrible in its bitterness, and nobody comes off well: the house is so lonely that staff members leave, the husband is rather hapless, as are his wife and their baby, and the tramp is strangely malicious. His cutting of the telephone cord with the bread knife he finds on the table is truly frightening for being so easy and prompting such a sick smile on his face. There is a rather sweet plot twist during a scuffle at the end, which I won’t give away, but generally the narrative of Suspense is frantic with cynicism. Where it succeeds however is in its technical mastery. Weber uses a split screen device at times, to show where her various characters are. Her framing of the acting is impeccable: our first view of the tramp is a steep shot down the side of the house, from the point of view of the wife who is in an upstairs bedroom. He tilts his head up – his eyes catch the camera and gleam and we know that this is A Bad Man. Similarly, the carjacking and subsequent chase are shot with enjoyable breadth and airiness, defusing some of the claustrophobia of the stalking in the house.

Tara Busch – a multi instrumentalist and vocalist like Seaming – brings tremendous energy, fizz and pizzazz to Suspense. Her score is thick with electronic beats, fuzzy with static, noise and pulse, driving the action forward. It’s melodious, loud, confident and full of adrenalin. One can almost see the husband’s old fashioned car spewing out trumpet tracks and strange riffs as it rounds the corner. The score had me wanting to get up and dance, and there’s no doubt that Busch is a wildly talented and inspired creator. But the sheer power of her work here pointed up the weakness and lack of subtlety of the film, which suffered from being placed alongside much more thoughtful, precise material. The score and the film did not quite click, probably because there was not enough context or depth in Suspense for Busch to hook her fantastic ideas to; there was no movement or flow, no fusion. Instead I was left simply wanting to listen to as much Tara Busch as I could, and wishing to see her perform live, unencumbered by the film.

Imogen Heap and the Holst Singers were the main attraction of the night, whose second half was devoted to Heap’s new score for The Seashell and the Clergymen, directed by Germaine Dulac. Imogen Heap’s brilliance as a composer, singer, performer, songwriter and musical arranger have been internationally recognised. She has won Grammy and Ivor Novello awards and performed her distinctive, wide-ranging and exquisitely written music all over the world. It was a real coup for BEV to get her involved in this year’s programme, and it is a commission that has worked with absolute success. Imogen Heap has taken the time to create a new, intricate, serious and major work of art to add to her list of accomplishments. She and BEV are to be congratulated on pulling off this project with such fine aplomb.

To get the film out of the way, The Seashell and the Clergyman is considered the first surrealist film and concerns the sexual and revenge fantasies of a lonely cleric whose lust-object has gone off with a portly war-general. Alone in his rooms the clergyman imagines dancing with his beloved, hearing her confessions in church and throttling her tubby boyfriend. Images of sensual delight and cod-romantic ritual (like the two imaginary lovers sitting together on thrones) mix with the kinky fantasies of daily life (a dozen maids in black and white uniforms dust a bowl in which his head appears, with big fluffy caressing dusters) and symbols of his frustration, like the endless stream of bell jars and empty bottles he smashes by his desk. I will be blunt and say that I thought the film was not for me. Nothing makes my heart sink quite like the phrase “A forty one minute long surrealist silent film made in 1928 about a clergyman’s sexual fantasies.” What saved it was the complete and utter gob smacking brilliance of Imogen Heap’s score, as performed by the Holst Singers with a precision and clarity that put me into a state of abject worship and admiration.

Heap has composed a full length, perfectly realised, significant, totally a cappella piece of work which stands entirely on its own and contains a multitude of nuances and perfectly balanced melodies, switchbacks, moods and movements. There is sweet and melodic whimsy, sinister clicking and thumping, waves of querulous sighs and gasps, as the singers appear to be caught up in this poor priest’s various manias and obsessions. It is perfectly controlled - and topped off with Heap’s own incredibly lovely and versatile voice – and yet so flawlessly performed and conducted that the viewer forgets the performers can’t see the film. They are following the conductor and written score created by Imogen Heap, whose directions are obviously so finely calibrated that the score and the film seem to have been created spontaneously by the same person at the same time, so naturally do they sit together. Heap is to be congratulated a thousand times on bringing cohesion and interest to a film which could so easily cause a spectator’s mind to wander (just like the film’s own protagonist’s does). Her score gives the film a backbone its antihero lacks.

Congratulations are also to be given to the Holst Singers themselves. Accustomed to performing anything from the traditional range of classical music across the ages, Heap’s fantastically original score must have been a challenge – one which they pull off with admirable ease and an enjoyment and togetherness which are joyful to watch. The voice work is accompanied by bodywork: they must thump their hearts, shuffle, yelp, slap their sides, all to create the depth and texture which makes the score sound so warm and full-bodied. This is about as far away from thin, noodly chapel singing as you can get. Imogen Heap and her amazing singers have taken a difficult, original film from nearly 100 years ago and brought is happily into the present day, glowing with musicality, movement, humour and texture. A stunning accomplishment topping off a stunning evening of totally original and often groundbreaking new work that illuminates and enlivens the past, present and hopefully the future.

Monday, 14 March 2011

Janice Kerbel at the Chisenhale Gallery, April - May 2011

1 APRIL - 15 MAY 2011
PREVIEW THURSDAY 31 MARCH 2011 6.30 - 8.30PM

Chisenhale Gallery presents a major new commission by Janice Kerbel. Described by Kerbel as ‘a play for stage lights’, Kill the Workers (2011) takes its cue from dramatic narrative but is executed solely by theatrical lighting.

Following the conventions and mechanics of stage lighting and dramatic genres and forms, Kerbel has written a cue script for lights in the vein of a mythic odyssey. Desiring to be seen as light itself, rather than as light serving to illuminate form, a single ‘spotlight’ becomes the key protagonist on an epic journey of conflict and transformation to become one with the ‘worker’ lights and to realise his dream of ‘open white’.

The piece condenses a 24-hour day-to-night structure into 24 minutes, within which dramatic tension and plot progression are conveyed through changes in the intensity, colour, pattern and direction of the stage lights. The work consists only of a lighting rig and the lights become both characters enacting scenes -‘the farewell’, ‘lost in the forest’ or ‘dream interlude’ - and technicians responsible for conjuring atmosphere. 

Kill the Workers ultimately disregards the conditions of theatre and its associated positioning of the audience, actors or the dramatic structures from which it is derived. Instead, a classic struggle is staged between the real and the symbolic through minimal and spatial means. This work continues Kerbel’s interest in ‘theatrical performance and the desire to find form for things that cannot be seen but which conjure alternative states’.

Kerbel’s work is often produced in relation to existing logic systems, re-configuring the principle applications of organising structures to better define the relationship between reality, imagination and illusion. Her work ranges from installations to book projects, prints and audio works. In 2006, Kerbel wrote Nick Silver Can’t Sleep, a radio play for insomniacs produced by Artangel Interaction and broadcast on Radio 3, starring Rufus Sewell and Fiona Shaw. Most recently, Kerbel presented Ballgame (2009–ongoing), for which she studied the language of baseball commentary in order to script a full 90-minute, 9-inning game for a voice actor. 

Janice Kerbel (b.1969, Canada) lives and works in London. Recent solo exhibitions include Art Now, Tate Britain (2010); greengrassi, London (2009); Kitchener Waterloo Art Gallery, Canada (2009); Remarkable, Frieze Art Fair Projects (2007). Selected group exhibitions include Poor. Old. Tired. Horse., ICA, London (2009); Gartenstadt, Kunstverein Hildesheim (2009); Magic, Hayward Gallery Touring (2009); 1st at Moderna, Moderna Museet, Stockholm (2006). Her book, 15 Lombard St (2000), is published by Bookworks, London.

Kill the Workers (2011) is co-commissioned with Badischer Kunstverein, Karlsruhe, Germany and will be presented there as a solo exhibition, 1 July - 11 September 2011.

Thursday 14 April, 7pm, Catherine Wood, Curator of Contemporary Art & Performance at Tate Modern in conversation with Janice Kerbel.

Saturday 7 May, 2pm, Writer and artist Cally Spooner leads a tour of the exhibition.

Chisenhale Gallery 
64 Chisenhale Road
London E3 5QZ

Text taken from the official press release.

Sunday, 13 March 2011

The fight continues

Below is my contribution to an article published by The Guardian last Friday in recognition of International Women's Day. The full article, found here, features writers who were in the Women of the Revolution: Forty Years of Feminism anthology, a full review of which can be found here.

At this time in women's history I feel proud and sad. Not angry. Proud because despite what is done to us, we show an almost super-natural strength. I do not care if women call themselves feminists or not. I care, beyond language, about women's self-determination, freedom, unity, justice and joy. There has always been a global women's movement and it has many names and many faces.

But I feel sad that whenever we speak about what is done to us, we are told that we are liars trying to get innocent men into trouble out of malice. It is rapists, harassers, exploiters, bullies, discriminators, stalkers, leerers and jeerers – plus the millions of silent men who do nothing to challenge their brothers – who act from malice. I wish they did not excuse, defend, even reward the perpetrators. I wish women had not absorbed all this loathing and turned it towards themselves and other women.

We have achieved some things in some places, but our position is still tenuous and can be revoked. The fundamentals have not changed, close to home and far from home. I am tired of how much we are despised – and horrified by how transparent this is. Freedom, justice and equal representation are withheld from us with laughable excuses. I wish, after thousands of years of abuse and exploitation, cultural contempt and casual dismissal, marginalisation and belittlement, for things to change. I wish people believed what we say about the things we experience and witness. We are telling the truth.

There is now an understanding that rape, domestic violence, harassment, sexual exploitation and labour exploitation happen endemically, not only in times and places of macho war-mongering but also in peacetime and seemingly happy societies. These issues are brought to the debating table when the men in power chat among themselves about what is best. But they have not actually ceased happening.

There is one thing that could halt the oppression of women virtually overnight. There is one thing that could save us from exploitation, from fear, from anger, from violation, objectification, baiting, mockery. The perpetrators could stop.

Friday, 11 March 2011

Soul Boy

Directed by Hawa Essuman

Viewers wanting an unsubtle, simplistic, sentimental and crude depiction of slum life could be advised at this point to watch Slumdog Millionaire instead of Soul Boy. Filmed around Kibera, Nairobi’s biggest slum, this is a light-footed, extremely funny and mischievous combination of youthful adventure and adult reality. A young man awakens to find his father in a difficult state – bleary eyed, unable to speak, having trouble remembering where he was last night.

A grownup would naturally blame the demon drink, but the father blames a demon woman. There’s a certain figure down at the edges of the slum, says he and the neighbourhood boys, who wreaks havoc on men’s souls. Once she’s taken cruel advantage of them, they’re shadows of the mighty characters they used to be. The son determines to get his father’s soul back…. and so begins a clear, fast, jaunty and well-populated trip through the slums and beyond. He visits this so-called demon woman, who cheekily sets him seven secret tasks which he much fulfil in order to restore his father’s soul/dignity. The woman is, of course, not a demon at all, but a persecuted hate figure against whom gossip and slander are used to divert attention from the perpetrators’ cheating and drinking. Our hero is assisted by his young sweetheart, a gobby and utterly charming, charismatic girl who goes through life with her chin tilted high against the assaults of the world.

Essuman does not shy away from depicting the dust, squalor and overcrowding of Kibera but her fair-minded portrayal also shows us the surrounding families’ industry and hard work, the way they are pressed by those a little higher up the social ladder to pay inflated rents on the small shops and businesses they run, the way local groups find and punish thieves, the playfulness of the young and the general cohesiveness, co-operation and energy of even this modest part of the city. Everyone, apart from the young, is engaged in work: the father at his shop, the mother making textiles, her sister as a maid to a rich white family living only a taxi ride away, where there are no slums, just stables, beautiful homes sunk into lavish gardens, peace… and black people to do all the work. And yet there are parallels – in both families it is the women, not the men, who do most of the work and claim to be unable to do housework because they are too caught up with their more-important tasks outside the home.

The film is a little ripe around the edges – a scene of drama in the white family’s luxurious home can be predicted five minutes beforehand and the kid acting by all except the protagonist is a touch too stagey. But Soul Boy succeeds by its humour and its cheerful overturning of our expectations about ‘a film about poverty’ because it widens sharply into something far greater: a romp about transcendence and games, a pert legend about what happens when a boy becomes a man while his father acts like a child.

Monday, 7 March 2011

Self Made, directed by Gillian Wearing

This new full length film by Turner Prize winning artist Gillian Wearing will be screened on Friday 11th March at the ICA Cinema 1 at 20:45 as part of the Birds Eye View film festival.


Dave, one of the Self Made participants
Revelation or manipulation? Therapy or torture? Self Made is such a chilling film that three days after watching it, I’m still waking up with its scenes in my mind. The set-up is simple. Ordinary people answer an advert inviting them to experience a series of Method acting workshops, culminating in a short film which pulls together the characters and stories they’ve developed from their own experiences.

Those selected to be filmed are vulnerable in some way, seeking closure, catharsis or revenge. The viewer’s dread is increased by footage of the initial warm-ups, voice exercises and small tasks designed to get the group to lose their self-consciousness and connect with their bodies. “Close your eyes,” says the tutor, and they do – but we keep ours open to watch them. We are in the realm of deep psychological excavation, voyeurs in a mental trip that the participants think is just a drama rehearsal. The voice exercises sound like funeral dirges and the sight of the participants, eyes closed, sitting on plastic chairs in a huge warehouse, circling their heads and shoulders, hiccoughing and crying, has a whiff of cultish control. It is these rehearsals which form the main body and interest of Self Made. The finished snippets the participants act in are often the least fascinating element (for us) of the experience.

Gillian Wearing is of course an internationally renowned artist working in photography and film. She gained mainstream fame for her much-imitated series of photographs in which people on the street were invited to write a phrase expressing themselves and hold it up to the camera. The most striking image was the well fed, suited city boy with his office pass around his neck, grinning confidently while his sign said HELP.

In Self Made, Wearing’s power uncovers the base wounds of people’s suffering, the childhood trauma stuff, while the sufferers themselves have no idea just how much they’ve revealed to the world through their speech, interactions and body language.  Well, tough for them, great for us. This is an extremely interesting and totally absorbing film. The viewer is struck but just how deep and eloquent, noble and sometimes sinister ‘ordinary’ people are.

There are some participants who are untrustworthy. There is Dave,* a warehouse worker man in his forties, a cold, frightening, blank individual who admits to bullying colleagues and whose professed vulnerability – revealed in an apparent confession after the acting tutor gently upbraids him for his bravado – does not convince. He introduces himself by saying “I’m reasonably amiable”, which reminds me of the truism that it’s always the ones who feel compelled to tell you “I’m a really honest person” who turn out to be the psychos, pathological liars and manipulators. In an attempt to intimidate and to give an impression of himself as a tough and mysterious guy he says he wants the Method sessions to be like an “exorcism” and describes his inner soul as “a wasp buzzing about inside myself.” He does not participate fully in the exercises, batting off the other participants with glibness, stupid jokes, silence, backchat or laughter. He visibly irritates the usually calm and understanding tutor. He claims that he is vulnerable, having been lonely since he broke up with his girlfriend way back in the mid-90s. But there is something not quite right about this anecdote, this token of “I’m a nice guy” persuasion, and he gives no further details. He does not crack or change during the sessions; his morbidity invites cynicism and mistrust, not sympathy. After the first  exercise he is asked for his reaction and, after hearing everyone else candidly confess to feeling lighter, or sadder, or braver, he shrugs and creepily says, “There’s nothing there. If my death was like that I’d be fine with it.” Later, in a moment of ‘weakness’ which again does not seem authentic he reveals, “I’ve chosen a day that I’ve decided I’m going to die.” But this suicide day, egotistically chosen because it’s a reconfiguration of his birthday, is some [delete: nearly fifteen] years into the future and I do not believe he will go through with it. Predictably, his chosen film snippet is the least interesting, most self-indulgent and sensationalist and most sordid. At the end of Self Made, his eyes glinting with self-satisfaction, he says that the project has not made any difference to him, his feelings, his personality or his plans.

The star of the piece has the quietest story and the quietest demeanour. She is a live-in carer, a woman of only forty whose life is a success in many ways and who gives much to the world, who wants love and a family. When asked whether she was hugged when she was growing up, after a long pause she simply replies, “My father  hugged me, but not in the right way.” She shudders. “I didn’t like him.” She is an intelligent, calm, perceptive and honest woman. She is one of the few participants who has a sense of humour about herself, explaining dryly at the beginning, “I don’t think the camera likes me… you know how the camera knows you’re photogenic? That’s not me.” After some initial wariness she is induced, in a delightful improvisation exercise about a shopper buying a dinner service, to throw plates and dishes against a wall. At first she is protective of the plates – “What’s it ever done to you?” – and then, with relish, away they fly.  This woman achieves something none of the other participants do, which is to get under the skin of the tutor. He tells her – sincerely and with liking and appreciation – that he’s impressed that she has taken her experiences and, instead of turning them into blocked rage or the desire for revenge, developed “this incredibly beautiful emotion called sadness.” He is right; the short black and white scene she acts in at the end of her story is, indeed, beautiful, and she is a wonderful actress.

The power of Self Made is that it reveals people’s hypocrisy and the ease with which childhood pain can turn into hatred and then into a fetish, a sexualised death drive whose target is often a projection or shift away from the real perpetrator. There is a local council worker named Asheq Akhtar [I had originally misheard this as 'humanitarian aid worker' and have now rectified it] in the group, a guy who’s always felt he didn’t fit in. He cries during every session and says that his worst fear, the most awful thing he can imagine, is being an aggressor – but he is very easily persuaded into kicking, with sickeningly powerful thuds, the corpse of a pig, which has been chosen because it is similar in density, weight, size and consistency to a human body. He really enjoys himself, then dissolves into solipsistic tears afterwards. This youngish man grew up with an absent father and is tormented by the memory of an abusive boyfriend of his mother’s, but when he is asked to do a word association exercise, looking at three static and silent actors posed to represent a father, a mother and a son, it is the woman he expresses the greatest hatred for. In his projection she is just a wife and mother, a contemptible parasite who has allied herself with a rich man out of “laziness” and “desire for an easy life."

It’s extremely disturbing that this person, the one who seems like the nicest and gentlest guy, appears in the end to be the biggest misogynist. When it comes to putting together the film he’ll be in, his fantasy is one of extreme violence against a physically vulnerable woman. In his real life, however, none of the aggressors or perpetrators have been women. They have been men. In justifying his choice he says that this is because it’s the worst thing he can imagine, but the quickness and zeal he brings to it and the self-pity he shows every time tell a different story. This makes his finished piece the most horrifying of the lot. It is excerpted at the beginning of Self Made and sets a tone of foreboding and concealed danger which permeate the whole project.

There is a terrifying underlying theme to the film, a terrible real thing moving beneath the surface: the commonness of male abusiveness towards women and also towards other men. All the aggressors and perpetrators, bullies, beaters, yobs and abusers identified by the participants are men. An air steward has joined the project because she wants to come to terms with the fact that her father was absent, left her mother to start a second family and often let her down. This young woman is intelligent, with a likeable bluntness and a determination to overcome her pain. It makes the heart lift to see that she makes quick progress which permeates and transforms her life beyond the film.  

Self Made reveals the wounds adults bear from their childhoods. Time has not healed them, it has made them suffer more. The cuts have gone deeper. They have spread. The pain has coloured everything. It has twisted their personalities in long-lasting and sometimes perverse ways. The sufferers know immediately, when asked, what has caused their pain. They know what the problem is, who the fault lies with and what effect it has had. An energetic young man who works in a bar explains the effects of childhood bullying: “It made me worthless.” When asked what makes him feel worst these days he says without a second’s hesitation, and with tragic simplicity, “Seeing people happy.” He conducts other actors in a recreation of a bullying incident and, again by that strange projection I have described, he seems to get off on directing the actors playing the bullies, his eyes bright with excitement as he breathlessly darts around the improvisation, urging “Take off his hat, it makes him more vulnerable – take off his jacket – knock him to the ground, he’s nothing.” In a stunning moment of violent ecstasy he acts out a wordless revenge attack after spotting the bully alone in a train carriage years later.

The variety of the ways these people act out their pain is intriguing. The woman with the absent father confronts him in an eloquent scene from King Lear; one in which she is tearful, but Lear is indifferent. The woman who wants love enacts a scene of mutual tenderness and poignancy. The local council worker viciously attacks a woman, crying crocodile tears all the while. He defends himself by saying “I wanted it to be metaphorical.” Guess what, pal. It isn’t. You really did just brutally attack a woman.  Dave, the suicidal, untrustworthy man only appears to hurts himself, in a grandiose performance which elevates him to heroic status. And it is all very interesting and very creepy and very haunting.

Gillian Wearing is to be congratulated once again. Self Made is an unflinching masterpiece of psychological horror.

*UPDATE, as at 11th October 2011. Dave, one of the participants in the film has emailed me. This is what he has to say. All capitalisation, spelling and grammar original and unedited:
dateTue, Oct 11, 2011 at 9:45 PM
subjectSelf Made, a film directed by Gillian Wearing (your review of)
Hello Bidisha,
     my name is Dave, I am one of the participants in Gillian Wearing's Self Made that got an art house cinema release at the start of last month. I read Your rather eloquent review that You posted earlier in the year, I suppose this is what You'd call a bit of (albeit belated) feedback.
     First of all I'd like to say thankyou for Your criticism as criticism in my book is of far more value than indifference and much of it is even quite valid, Your efforts may have even gone some way to raising the film's profile if only on the web.
     I'm glad that despite the inclusion of (maybe too many) males in the film You found it extremely interesting and totally absorbing, for what it's worth it was actually quite an interesting project to take part in.
    Your review which I thought was very impressive (and I'm sure You'll forgive Me if I say I found slightly amusing due to this anti-male thing You've got going on) does however contain a couple of errors. just for the record Asheq is not a humanitarian aid worker, He works as an arts development officer for a council based on the outskirts of South London. Also unless I've got My maths skewed the 16th of August, 2016 is not nearly 15 years in the future but less than 5. No big deal. That's all I wanted to say really. Anyhow best wishes and I hope You have a great life.  Dave 

Resonance FM celebrates International Women's Day

To mark the 100th anniversary of International Women's Day on Tuesday 8th March,  Resonance 104.4FM will broadcast a day of programmes curated by Martina Mullaney from Enemies of Good Art.

Women across art and media practices have been invited to contribute programmes throughout the day. Highlights include a live studio discussion on Motherhood, Power and Love, a session on Activism and Change chaired by me between 2pm and 3pm and featuring Kira Cochrane, Vicky Simister and Jess McCabe, Bloody Women: A Birds Eve View Special hosted by Virginie Sélavy and Daily Subversions: The Feminist Practice of Everyday Life chaired by Amber Jacobs. Other items will include Victoria Knight on Adoption and Motherhood, Ana Shorter's Pramscape from her toddler's buggy in Berlin, Toyin Fani-Kayode in conversation with the writer and poet Mary Powell and a performative manifesto from the women's art collective Putting On.

For schedule and programme details  see

Sunday, 6 March 2011

Women of the Revolution

"Our sense of excitement and joy had another reason: we knew that our message was radically different in style and content from anything that had gone before - that women's liberation would mean men's liberation and a whole new set of social and cultural values. We had another reason to feel euphoric: it is not often that you push a rock as big as a mountain and feel it shift."

Eva Figes, writing in The Guardian, 16th May 1978

Excerpted from Women of the Revolution: Forty Years of Feminism, edited by Kira Cochrane, published this year by Guardian Books.  Read a full review here.

Saturday, 5 March 2011

Grown-Up Movie Star

Directed by Adriana Maggs

One of the smartest, funniest, most irreverent films of the fest. If you ever wanted to smash in your TV or exit the multiplex after an unrealistically saccharine depiction of the low-calorie pains of youth, this is for you. It’s a hilariously scathing, snappily scripted nightmare vision of life in a bored, boring, dead weird, freezing Canadian harbour town where sexual intrigue is the only way to distract yourself from the fact that there’s solid ice up to your windowsill and the chill’s strong enough to strip the eyebrows off your face.
Ruby and her younger sister Rose have a flighty, wannabe actress mother (“I could have won an Emmy…this could be my chance to make it…I might get a callback from that Kentucky Fried Chicken commercial”) who leaves them to follow the yellow brick road of screen fame, which ends in an LA  motel room and the bowl of a crack pipe. They are left with their equally deluded but additionally selfish, vindictive, confused, angry, immature, alcoholic, bitter father, who used to be a local hockey star before he got busted, after one pathetically brief moment of fame, for bringing pot over the border. When he’s not berating his kids he’s ignoring them or they’re cleaning up his vomit after a night out with his one friend, an owlish guy in a wheelchair. Why’s he in a wheelchair? The dad shot him, apparently by accident.  As Ruby’s friend deadpans at the school bus stop, “Your life is so cool. I wish my parents would cheat on each other and get drug problems.”
Grown-Up Movie Star has much more to offer than sarcasm and Northern Exposure type weirdness, though. It’s full of totally wrong humour, like the scene where the two virginal best friends chastely practise kissing each other while a really raw-looking homemade porn tape belonging to one of their mothers plays in the background. They get caught and grounded, “for being lesbians.” There is a brilliant, laconic, stoned script, the lines so good that I am tempted to write out the whole thing. But here’s a bit:
Ruby to Dad: Some retarded girl told me you were a piece of gear.
Dad: What?! Only sluts would say that.
Underneath Ruby’s chippiness – actually, no, not far underneath, it’s obvious to everyone except her dad – she is a caustic, brave, sweet, funny, clever girl. Played by the unutterably brilliant Tatiana Maslany, she says exactly what’s on her mind, calls it as she sees it (usually correctly)  and never messes other people, or herself, about. Everything she does is misconstrued because everyone else is playing games. As the classic psychoanalytic joke goes, the sane person in a room of crazy folks feels like they’re the mad one. When a sweet American boy arrives at school, Ruby’s usual role as town quirk is disrupted because of the possibility of being real and then being hurt. So she teases and confuses him and begins to play the games and tell the lies she has so despised in others.
Lies are contagious: in a darker strand of the film we learn that Ruby’s father is not just the bitter bastard he makes himself out to be with lines like, “Let me tell you about your mother. She liked to fuck. But she didn’t always floss. And you could tell. She was a beautiful woman, but she had breath like a horse.” He is struggling with his sexuality and with the legacy of his own father’s bigotry, racism, beatings and cruelty. Sexual misdeeds of all kinds happen – with characteristic wit – in odd little overheated cabins and 4x4s with snow chains on the tyres. It is difficult to tell, at first, what is a benign joke and what will spill over into violence. Is the father’s wheelchair bound friend a nice ‘uncle’ who takes an interest in the girls, or is he something more sinister? And how are Ruby and her new young boyfriend going to clean up in the aftermath of the funniest virginity loss scene you’ll see this year?

Night Catches Us

Directed by Tanya Hamilton

Philadelphia, the late 1970s, tarmac-melting heat and a sweet and plaintive soundtrack composed and performed by The Roots. Night Catches Us is a simmering, dangerous look at passion: political fervour, family loyalty, violent anger, romantic love and community pride. Set in the immediate aftermath of the civil rights movement’s demonstrations, amidst ongoing police prejudice and a grassroots urge for armed resistance, a doe-eyed young man named Marcus saunters home. He’s served time in prison and has apparently betrayed a fellow Black Panther activist to the police after the murder of a local officer. He resumes a friendship with Patty, the driven lawyer he had been in love with – herself the grieving widow of the friend Marcus is said to have betrayed – and tries to curb the seething anger and breakout violence of a young local friend, Jimmy, who taunts the police as they taunt local black men.
Night Catches Us is meticulously crafted, from its gorgeous music and hand-drawn opening credits to its use of actual civil rights and Black Panther movement footage, newspaper articles and reportage photographs. Hamilton has captured the poignant contrasts of the city Marcus, Patty and Jimmy inhabit, from the shifting brightness and warmth of the summer to the crumbling warehouses, abandoned gardens, wide streets and emerging wealth and aspiration. The houses are beautiful but the feelings and prejudices are ugly, although they’re offset by Hamilton’s flair (or should I say flares) for visual humour. Every last detail of this style-defying decade has been recreated, from the two tone plastic radio to the high-waisted pants and red-lit dive bars.
But the panache of the late 70s and the joys of summertime are no compensation for economic reality, emotional isolation, ongoing persecution and the weight of the past. Jimmy and some of the local kids have to hustle for odd dollars, collecting up cans only to be cheated out of payment. The local police do a bit of vicious harassment as part of their lunch hour fun. The former members of the Panthers ostracise and threaten Marcus, whom they regard as a traitor, while Patty is caught between her grief, her own Panther history, her current cleaned-up incarnation as a community advocate and go-between (best line for Patty: “I can talk to them. They listen to me”) and her desire for a better life for her children. Although the acting is excellent across the board, it’s strange that there are no women characters in the film except Patty. Not a single adult woman speaks, apart from her, while her partner, Marcus, Jimmy and their antagonists and cronies get to snap out smart 70s slang and give voice to their frustration. Patty’s daughter, Iris, has one big conversation about….yep, another man, her father, whom she never knew. Poor Patty, for all her power as a role model, only gets to look aggrieved, sigh a lot, tell her kids off, hide her love for Marcus behind brittle anger and cover for men in trouble. It’s strange, because the featured original footage of the civil rights demonstrations shows countless women striding, marching, chanting, singing, declaiming and protesting in huge and marvellous numbers.
Although the general pace is reserved, almost stilted, the action plays out in brief, sharp scenes which tighten into an extremely impressive and multilayered vision of the psychological, economic and social effects of discrimination. The characters in this film are not saints, nor should they be. They are human beings with differing reactions to their experiences. Some are on the side of anger and violence, some have taken their anger and used it as motivation to improve things for all, others are confused while yet others withdraw into sadness or spirituality. Broad-scale rage is sublimated by infighting and factionalism; love and longing are hidden in games, sullenness and silence. There is a stunning scene in which a young man stands amidst the rubble of a house – the rubble itself standing amidst beautiful nature – and tests a tiny handgun, at first recoiling and flinching and then growing steadily more confident, more pumped up.
From this scene onwards what seemed like a slow, sober portrait of a society becomes a thrilling and disturbing series of smackdowns, twists and shocks which should make Night Catches Us a stunning classic of crime, politics, race, punch and drama.