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First Person–My one (and only) experience making a film

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CAPE TOWN, SOUTH AFRICA (APRIL, 2009)***–It all starts with a ball. Tossed onto a pitch—newly demarcated with white lines made of sand—black and white boys scramble to get the plastic and rope construction that is doubling for a soccer ball. It’s blazingly hot on this bit of scorched earth in the Retreat neighbourhood of Cape Town—thirty-four degrees in the shade –but the 15 and 16 year-old boys don’t seem to notice. They cheer and scream while scrambling for the ball—the rain-parched earth and white sand are kicked up, a dusty haze settling on the scene. One of the buildings has a spray painted mural of animals—“Come and Play” it reads—but juxtaposed underneath is a festering junkyard of broken glass beer bottles, wayward plastic bags and rusting corrugated roofing. But kids are kids—any space to play with a ball is good enough for a game of pick-up football or soccer as it is called here—and so loose directions are hollered in English and Afrikaans. Other children and parents watch from the sidelines, enthralled in this “pick up” game between two communities that under normal conditions would never meet together—let along play sport—due to social, economic and geographical realities in modern day South Africa. But they are all here—all concentrated between white lines focused on this make-shift ball. Sure it’s contrived and idealized, a literal example of what International Inspiration hopes to be all about— getting kids, whether in the midst of the pitch or shouting orders from the sidelines, enthused about sport. The parents are intrigued, the coaches are helping out and communities are coming together. Taking dead space and transforming it into a safe, fun place. Read more

Northern Michigan: Hollywood in the Woods?

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I admit I have not been to the Cherry Bowl in years. In fact, I think the last time I was there was in college–sadly about 18 years at this point. But I like the concept of the Cherry Bowl (one of the last drive-in cinemas in Michigan and the only one in the northern part of the state) being there in case I want to sit in a car and watch a movie under the Michigan evening summer sky. I love going to the movies when I am vacation in northern Michigan–it feels indulgent because not only am I on vacation but I can sit back, chomp on popcorn and watch a film with nothing nagging in the back of my mind, save for what time I am going to get up the next day and go for a run. A few years back our beloved Garden Theater in Frankfort looked like it was going to close. The cinema, with both a fantastic Art Deco interior and exterior, had seen better days and it was for sale. The seats were wobbly, the floor sticky and the bathrooms pretty much condemned. But luckily a group of local and summer residents decided to invest in the theater; as a way to raise money for the refurbishment people could buy seats and have their names put on the back with a plaque. It was too good of an offer and so I contributed money, thinking I will now always have a seat in the cinema. Things like this give the Garden a personal touch–not like the huge, impersonal multiplexes that are dotted all across the US that charge exorbitant amounts not only for tickets but for concession as well. The Garden in fact was featured in the backdrop of the film “Youth in Revolt”, a film starring Michael Cera. I have not seen it yet but its the top of my movie rentals this summer when I am on vacation in Frankfort. Read more

Whisky on Ice

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Went with a friend from work for a Whisky Master Class last night at London’s Whisky Exchange and while I do not love whisky it was interesting to learn all about how casks played an integral role to the overall flavor of a wee dram. The Hazelburn–eight years old–that is distilled in the southeastern Scottish coastal locale of Campbelltown has a strong peaty smell and a slighty salty nose because of the salt air that wafts into the distillery. The Clyneslish, 14 years old and distilled in the Scottish Highlands, also has a salty hint of its coastal home but the flavour is a completely different with strong earthy taste. Duncan, the whisky anourak who was running the class, told us that adding water to single malt Scotch is often times acceptable (though it did water down the delicate Balvinie Signature so much that it lost its flavour) but that ice is “controversial.” Read more

FIRST PERSON – BAFTAS Red Carpet Wrap Up

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It looked like some sort of choreographed scrum coming down the red carpet; with camera flashes popping, bobbies bobbing and fans screeching and beseeching Prince William worked his way through the crowd at the BAFTAs on Sunday evening at London’s Royal Opera House (RHO). Even for seasoned journos like myself, there was a bit of cooing going on in the press pen as the Prince, who became the president of the British Academy of Film and Television Arts, mugged faces with fans and seemed to control the vast array of photographers and security guards who surrounded him as he headed towards the doors. Though the BAFTAs this year lacked the A-listers from previous years–the biggest names were Dustin Hoffman who presented best film, Kate Winslet and Mickey Rourke–its still always a treat to be behind the scenes seeing how some actors blow off the print press (Kristin Scott Thomas huffed her way past us) while others like Quentin Tarantino kindly tried to understand a question, most assuredly lost in translation, from a Venezuelan journalist. (“Do I like blood? Sorry can you repeat the question?” he asked her, perplexed as to what she was implying.) Read more

The Art of War

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Growing up in 1970s Belfast, artist Paul Seawright saw his fair share of violence. But nothing prepared him for the trip he took to Afghanistan in 2002. Seawright, a photographer whose early work focused around The Troubles in Northern Ireland, was commissioned by London’s Imperial War Museum (IWM) to go to the war torn nation and capture life post-Taliban. After taking a week long war training course, Seawright travelled around Afghanistan with the landmine organization Halo Trust and his images, from the series he called “Hidden”, are stark and powerful. “Horizon 2002” at first glance appears blurry and cracked like a lunar landscape. But looking beyond the foreground, there are ominous round black objects littered everywhere. They are, of course, mines scattered across the desolate landscape. “I wanted to look at the impact of conflict, how the nature of conflict has changed,” says Seawright, currently a professor of photography at the University of Ulster in Belfast. “It was a very strange war because there was no bin Laden, no Taliban—it was all invisible and hidden.” Seawright argues that his work was different from the photojournalism coming out of the region at that time. “A photograph on the cover of a newspaper ends up in the recycling bin whereas art has to bear repeated scrutiny, it has to have enough complexity and layers to invite the viewer to come back and look again.” Read more