Aberystwyth Storytelling Festival

Well, as the date nears (30 Nov – 2 Dec), we have been very busy. See our shiny new website http://aberstoryfestival.wordpress.com/

I was going to tell you about all the great stories for adults and kids, puppets, fairies, kings, corpses, knights, a most unusual bear, fairy tales, classical tales, stories from Brittany, improvisational performances, art films, rare old fairy tale films, workshops to save the planet, music from the Celtic world, from India, from the imaginations of the strangest and most creative minds in Wales, from the gentle and dark side of the folk scene, fiddle, hurdy gurdy, sitar, djembe, live French and Breton music that will dance you into another world (yes, there is dancing), but it all seemed too much, really.

You’ll just have to look at the website for details and plan your weekend yourself.

All I can say is, you might get an opportunity to meet Rrose Sélavy in person and do something surreal.

And fairy cakes. Rumour has it there will be fairy cakes.

Let the fest begin!


Wim Wenders Wings of Desire

It can’t possibly be 23 years ago that I saw this film in the theatres! How can life do this to a person?  Anyway, saw it again tonight on the big screen at the Arts Centre and want to share some responses. You can read a plot summary and lots of critiques elsewhere – in short, an existential tale of very secular angels overlooking Berlin in the days before the wall was torn down.

Here I’ll talk about two threads running through it that resonated on very deep personal levels.

I’d forgotten the ethereal soundtrack. Running throughout the film are interior voices of the people of Berlin, thought fragments that are captured by the angels, as if tuning in a radio across many channels. I sometimes have very vivid dreams, some of which stay with me for a lifetime. One of them is a striking dream I had in 1984-5 when I was teaching in China. In the dream, I was tuning into the thoughts of the people in Harbin in the middle of the night, just like tuning in a radio. The effect was just like the film, but that came out in 1987, several years after I returned from China, so I couldn’t have remembered the image from the movie. I think I was just on a similar wavelength with the vision of the film. Watching it tonight, I had the sense of re-experiencing that vivid dream. In reality, we inhabit the same space, and pick up snippets of other people’s lives through observation and random bits of conversation overheard as people walk past, thus connecting even when there is no direct communication. In the dream, this goes deeper, we are somehow witness to the very personal revelations of inner thoughts and dreams. We are like fish in the sea, responding to the same currents.

The other resonant thread that runs through the film is from the poem, in particular the line where the child muses on why he is one person and not another. This also connects with the previous image, doesn’t it?  But the specific articulation of this question led me to very philosophical musings in my early teens (maybe it is a childish thought, who knows – did you think this way as a child?). I had the same question, and decided that it was by pure chance that I’d been born into precisely this life and not someone else’s. This is great for developing empathy. I did a thought experiment and ran a little ‘test’ to check my preconceptions – if I imagined myself born into another life (different race, culture, or just another specific person’s shoes) and the preconceived ideas held up, then I thought they were pretty solid. If the preconceived ideas fell apart when I imagined myself in another person’s place, then I abandoned them. This was one of my most formative experiences, and I still hold true to this test.

I won’t tell you in what year I was in my early teens, but it was prior to the film 🙂

Anyway, perhaps the film could benefit from ‘judicious editing’ as someone put it, but I still found it beautiful and moving.

Film ‘Shine a Light’

The Martin Scorsese film ‘Shine a Light’, which records two concerts of the Rolling Stones in New York, is just fantastic.  Intimate portrayal of the band members on stage, interacting with each other and the audience. Intense energy (not a surprise), ecstatic tone to the performance (more of a surprise, somehow). There were quite a few different (highly pedigreed) cinematographers so every nuance is captured, and they get all the righ angles to see facial expressions, interactions, and details of fingers playing. The level of intimacy is such that you feel not as if you were in the audience but as if you are on stage performing and interacting with them.  Filmed for IMAX, even in a regular cinema the experience is one of heightened reality. 

On the act itself, my initial thought was, ‘Mick is still doing the same routine as ever’ which could be considered stale, but the energy level and ecstatic tone meant that it didn’t feel stale at all.  Aging rockers, yes, but not exactly faded and definitely still rocking.  I was glad that the ‘Spinal Tap’-like bits in the open sequences were dropped early on in favour of just showing the performance.

The music is almost entirely great, I defy anyone to listen to the whole concert without moving and dancing in your seat at least a little. Highly recommended even if you are not the world’s biggest Stones fan.

How did they do the crane shot at the end…long tracking shot where the camera follows the band from the stage to outside the theatre, goes face-to-face with Martin Scorsese saying ‘Go Up! Up!’, becomes a crane shot as the camera swivels to rise above the crowd and face the theatre marquee, then helicopter? up and over New York City to take in the full panorama of city lights from far above the skyscrapers…all in one single smooth shot.


British Animation Awards – public choice

I have just come from the British Animation Awards public choice programme 1 (out of three).  A series of British animated films are shown, and the public gets to rate them. The winner wins the award. This is worth seeing, so if you have the chance, do go.

Some of these you can watch online.  Here are my favourites from the first programme:

  1. The Imperfectionist – This was my favourite. By Asa Lucander and Vicki Kitchingman, Blackwatch Productions. Hilarious, warm, self-deprecating humour and very inventive. It was premiered on Channel 4’s Mesh programme of digital animation.
  2. Cat Man Do – By Simon Tofield, this tells a story that all people who are owned by a cat will recognise. People were laughing out loud in the cinema.
  3. The Human Zoetrope – Originally called Round-up after the fairground ride, this is by Mark Simon Hewis.  The story is one man’s life from birth to death, and features a range of illustration styles and a certain dry irony. What is especially interesting is the way he made it, though, putting people into one of those spinning fairground rides.  Each person has a book with the stills from the animation, and he filmed each frame as the people spun past, flipping the pages of the book. Channel 4 FourDocs has video clip of him talking about making the film.

The rest of the programmes are on next weekend, so I’ll be sure to go.