Category Archives: EIFF2010

Sad Day for Hyperlocal Edinburgh

Everyone has a paper, don’t they.  I don’t mean the local one that you sort of have to get, for births and marriages and news of jumble sales, I mean the national one that you actually choose to read.

In my house, it’s always been The Guardian.

I appreciate it’s crap for news of stuff that’s going on in Scotland, but the Graun has always been good for features.  I’ve found tons of columnists there whose styles I admire and would like to emulate – Charlie Brooker, Grace Dent, Jim Shelley, Alexis Petridis, Hadley Freeman, Lucy Mangan, Zoe Williams, Stuart Heritage, Tim Dowling, John Crace and Mil Millington, to name several completely off the top of my head.

They also seem quite willing to do things that other nationals don’t – support the Liberal Democrats, for example, or pioneer hyperlocal news websites.

I’ve wanted to work for them since I decided I was interested in journalism about a decade ago, and the closest I’ve got thus far was being interviewed for the job of the Edinburgh Beatblogger on November 27 2009.

I remember I got there ridiculously early (I was worried about going to the wrong place) – early enough to see the candidate before me leaving, actually.  It was a man, a bit older than me maybe, with brownish cords and reddish hair.  I was later able to identify him as Tom Allan, and it was he who got the job.  I did however receive easily the nicest rejection letter I’ve ever had from Launch Editor Sarah Hartley; commending my community knowledge and saying she was hopeful there would be ways we could work together in the future.

I’ve followed the project with interest since that point – or rather, since the site was formally launched in early March 2010.  Whilst the Leeds and Cardiff pages remained in the hands of John Baron and Hannah Waldram throughout, the Edinburgh page was curated first by Tom, then for a few weeks by Nick Eardley (who I believe was just finishing a journalism degree before taking on a job at The Scotsman), and finally by Michael MacLeod, who opened up the page far more and made it many people’s first port of call for local news every day.

I say finally, because as you’ve probably already heard, The Guardian has decided to wind the project down.

According to the paper’s Head of Social Media Development Meg Pickard (who lulled me in to a false sense of security by complimenting my shoes at interview, the cad), “the project is unsustainable in its current form.”

On one level this is understandable.  The pages are free for the public to access, but the paper still has to pay three hacks and an editor to maintain them.  Although one wonders whether they looked at advertising in any serious way – using the notice board on the page is £10 for a week, but the likes of Facebook charge more like $20 a day for an advert the same size.  And inevitably the decision prompted mutterings that if the paper can afford to expand into America, surely it could find a bit of cash for this.

Pickard also pointed out that the project was always experimental.  Now, I knew that, and the people doing the blogs presumably knew it too – but I don’t think it was explicitly stated to the general public.  Which is a little bit insensitive, given those were the people using the service. 

Still, you can’t argue with fact, and these are the notes I wrote after the interview:

As you can see in the middle, I wrote “they have no idea how it would progress – ttl speriment (‘total experiment’ for those who can’t grasp my shorthand!).”

Unfortunately, it seems like they didn’t really take into account the fact that the experiment might work, and that people might be really upset that The Guardian would start up this great resource with amazing potential, then take it away again without warning.  Several readers commented that this would stop them reading the main site again and I can’t say I blame them.  The success of the project has encouraged several other groups to throw their hyperlocal hat into the ring too, supported and publicized by the Guardian bloggers, so it’d make sense to decamp to them.

The page has been used in a variety of ways; from publicising campaigns to save Blindcraft and The Forest Cafe to covering council meetings and student protests.  It’s acted as an umbrella linking to many local sites, including Greener Leith, the blogs of local councillors, The Broughton Spurtle, Tales of One City, Edinburgh Spotlight, ReelScotland, Song by Toad and countless others.  It has given a platform for local authors, journalists and campaigners to get their voices heard in the form of guest posts.  Rather than trying to do everything alone, it has very much been used as a community resource, signposting existing articles, events and experts rather than rewriting stories in a slightly different way. 

It seems odd to me to close the project on grounds of unsustainability, given that so much content has been generated for free via networking and goodwill.  I also can’t help thinking that they knew from the beginning that they were putting money into a model that wasn’t going to make a return. 

I can’t pretend to know the ins and outs of the advertising world, but surely the logical thing to do would have been to employ a marketing person from the start, whose job it would be to generate income from local advertising?  And it wouldn’t have hurt for the blogs themselves to get a bit of promotion – on the Guardian’s main page, at the very least.  There certainly weren’t any posters or bus shelters or events publicizing the thing in Edinburgh, so the success of the site was pretty much entirely down to the networking skills of the individual journalists.

And yet the site was and is known and popular, a testament to the tenacity of those involved (she said, alliteratively).

But even more than making me and other residents aware of a whole host of events, resources and websites across the city, Guardian Edinburgh has helped me develop on a professional level.  Being re-tweeted on Twitter and included in the morning roundup of what’s going on has raised my profile and generated traffic for my own sites, as well as introducing me to other contacts.

It was an RT by Guardian Edinburgh that put me in touch with The Edinburgh Reporter, and contributing to that has given me the opportunity to attend the Film and Television Festivals, to interview a whole host of interesting people, and to help cover an historic election.

My inclusion in the Literary Blogosphere, whilst slightly baffling at the time, was hugely flattering and gave me the impetus to concentrate more on fiction and features – so maybe some of the blame for 12 Books in 12 Months even lies there!

And it was Michael from Guardian Edinburgh who encouraged me to write guest posts, which means I can tell people “I write for The Guardian” just like I wanted when I was a teenager.

It was, from my point of view, a very successful experiment – good enough to continue, in fact.  Hyperlocal Edinburgh, saturated with content though it may be, will be a darker place without it.

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Gravity

EIFF review of Gravity for The Edinburgh Reporter

Do you enjoy films that are darkly violent, like A Clockwork Orange or American Psycho?  Why not go to see Gravity.  It’s not as extreme as the aforementioned titles, but it has its moments.

Gravity is the tale of a German banker (Fabian Hinricks) facially similar to Jimmy Carr, who is deeply dissatisfied with his lot.  He is still in love with an ex from seven years ago, he has no real friends, and his job is so crap that when a client shoots himself right in front of Frederick’s face, nobody even asks him if he’s OK.

He therefore embarks upon a crime spree in order to spice things up a bit, enlisting the help of an ex-con he knew at school.  This gives him a greater sense of self-confidence, in a very intense and brooding kind of way.  But all he really wants is for someone to go see psychobilly band The Electric Snakes with him.

These forays into the underworld of crime take their toll, and eventually our anti-hero is close to unraveling completely.  You should definitely go and see it to find out how that resolves itself.  Beautifully shot, and with lots of laugh-out-loud moments, this is one of my picks of the festival.

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The Good Heart

EIFF Review of The Good Heart for The Edinburgh Reporter

If you haven’t worked out the plot of The Good Heart within the first five to ten minutes, you’ve probably been indulging in a sneaky catnap.

That said, it’s not designed to be a pant-wetting, nail-biting thriller.  This is more of a character study, where the focus lies not on the plot or its sense of inevitability, but in seeing how the actors reach their final destination.  And it’s an engrossing journey.

The screening was briefly introduced by one of its stars, Brian Cox.  He described it as “An Icelandic interpretation of a downtown New York bar… so it’s a little eccentric to say the least!  But I think it’s really a very interesting movie.”

This is a fair assessment.  What Cox neglected to say is that a huge part of what make it interesting is the fact he plays a blinder.  He is by turns bitter, angry, inappropriate, paternal and hilarious.  Supporting actor Paul Dano is brilliant too, with his awkward mannerisms and total warmth tinged with underlying sadness.  But the slightly unhinged, coffee loving curmudgeon who brings his Alsatian to hospital with him is the one to watch.

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Huge

Review of Huge for The Edinburgh Reporter

As a fan of the Armstrong and Miller shows, I was interested to see Ben Miller’s first film, Huge, which is about a pair of comedians trying to make it.  If nothing else the director/co-writer has the research under his belt.

Unfortunately, the film is a little bit flat.  The main problem is that there is no evidence that the comedians, Warren (Johnny Harris) and Clark (Noel Clarke) are funny.  In any way.  We hear the same three lines of their material over and over again, which is of symbolic relevance in terms of different stages of their relationship – but the bit isn’t that funny and certainly doesn’t stand up to constant repetition.

For some reason Warren and Clark think they are hilarious.  Whilst Russell Tovey is brilliant as Clark’s horrible manager, Thandie Newton does a hilarious coke-addled talent agent, and nice guy Darren (Oliver Chris) is very funny when he finally stops being nice, the so-called comedians are just a bit sad.  If anything, having so many very strong moments courtesy of the supporting cast adds to the feeling of unfulfilled potential of the main protagonists.

If we found out more about Warren’s wristbands, or saw a conclusion to Clark’s unrequited love, maybe there would have been some emotional resonance.  If we had seen some more of their material, maybe we’d have got behind them more in the knowledge that they genuinely deserved to be huge.

Instead this was a film about two fairly average blokes, both of whom are desperate to escape the drudgery of daily life.  They might be funny or they might not, it’s hard to tell.  And they argue a lot, which is probably realistic if nothing else.  It’s not a terrible film by any means, but neither is it the one thing you need to rush out and buy tickets for before the festival ends.  Do watch it when it comes on telly, if only for the numerous cameos, but don’t expect the likes of the RAF Airmen sketch, because Warren and Clark are no Armstrong and Miller.  Or Mitchell and Webb.  Or Lee and Herring.  Or Pete and Dud.  Or even their own idols, Morecambe and Wise.

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International Animation 2

There has been a lot of hype about animation at the Film Festival, with premieres of Toy Story 3, The Illusionist, and the insanely brilliant Jackboots On Whitehall.  But I have read less about the international animation shorts, which is a shame because there were some gems available.

Particularly beautiful was Cages, a Mexican film where magical realism is made visual.  Sinister and sad, it makes a statement about child exploitation in Mexico using visuals that would not be out of place in a Tim Burton film.  Another very pretty film was the German Lebensader, in which a little girl discovers the world inside a leaf. You can watch a clip here.

Two emotionally gripping stories were the Swedish Tussilago, about the girlfriend of West German terrorist Norbert Kröcher who planned to kidnap the Swedish politician Anna-Great Leijon in 1977; and the American Prayers for Peace which is the honest and moving testimony of a man who lost his brother in Iraq.

There have been many more shorts shown at the festival, and hopefully some of them will be made into full-length features, which is how the Michael Powell Award nominated Skeletons came into being.  There are the seeds of some great things in there.

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Skeletons

EIFF Review for The Edinburgh Reporter

Like all the best films, Nick Whitfield’s directorial debut Skeletons features an unlikely duo: in this case an eccentric Danish single mother and a gently threatening man in a flat cap known as The Colonel.

As the blurb will tell you, this is the tale of two emotional exorcists who traipse around Derbyshire removing guilty secrets from people’s lives.  Exorcising the metaphorical skeletons in their closets, you might say.  And watching them do so is a lovely experience.

EIFF literature points to the obvious comedy of their physical differences.  Bennett (Andrew Buckley) is very tall with an untidy mop of red hair whilst Davis (Ed Gaughan) is short and dark with a well-clipped moustache.  Oh ho ho, One is big and one is small, that’ll have folk rolling in the aisles.

Frankly, to concentrate on the opposite sizes belies the fact that they have brilliant chemistry and really work well together.  This is particularly evident during arguments about moral ambiguity.

In terms of characterization, Bennett is the gentle giant, who worries about how clients will cope with the aftermath of hearing dark secrets about their partners.  Davis, meanwhile, professes not to care.  But on an assignment that could lead to promotion he begins to change his tune, for a variety of reasons both comic and sad.

One of the most refreshing things about the film is its treatment of the supernatural.  You don’t physically see any ghosts or ghouls, so the aura of magic is created purely by good camera work and direction.  Half the time Bennett and Davis are either doubting their ability to do the job, bickering about the other’s ability to do the job, or discussing the fact that the clients probably don’t really believe they can do the job.  This makes a welcome change to expensive, time-consuming special effects.

I’m sure that other reviews of this film will be jam packed with adjectives like ‘quirky’ and ‘charming’, and I would hesitate to overuse such phrases… if it weren’t for the fact that Skeletons is quirky and charming.  And worth it just for the mad, staring eyes of Jason Isaacs.

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The Crab

EIFF Review for The Edinburgh Reporter

The Crab is not a film for 9am on a Sunday morning. Yet that is when the press screening occurred, so that is when I saw it.

The hero of the piece is Levi Taylor, a nihilistic academic who suffers from ectrodactyly or ‘Lobster Claw’ syndrome.  Essentially his fingers are all joined together so his hands look a bit like claws.  Near the start he explains,

“If I were in the circus, they’d call me lobster boy.  Although I prefer to think of myself as a crab.  I prefer pubic hair to fancy restaurants.”

This is a good signpost for what is to come, certainly in terms of dialogue.  Levi is on a mission to be deliberately crass in an effort to upset people, so if you’re easily offended, I’d give this one a miss.  If not, read on.

Our hero (Guy Whitney), is almost entirely unlikeable, although as his friend’s girlfriend Jane (Cass Bugge) points out “you’re kinda funny in a mean, drunk, nasty kind of way.”  He mistreats his girlfriend, picks fights with strangers, takes too many drugs and refuses to do anything constructive with his life.  But in a terribly witty and acerbic manner.

His search for validation leads to engaging encounters with a female-to-male transsexual known as Transman and a karaoke singing hooker, as well as staging a campaign to steal his best friend’s girlfriend.  Clearly this is not your traditional rom-com, and his methods for finding love are a little bit weird.

The film lurches about in an unsettling way in order to convey Levi’s bi-polar tendencies, careening from moments of laugh out loud comedy to graphically depicting various sexual encounters imbued with an acute sense of misery.  It can be hard to watch in places, but consistently compelling.

So, we have a main character who is utterly furious with the world, frank depictions of sex, drug use and disability, and plenty of off-colour humour.  This probably isn’t the pick of the festival for your granny, but it’s definitely worth a watch.

Image from movie website http://www.thecrabmovie.com

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