Archive for November, 2009

Coventry Conversations – Tom Hunter, Photographer

Posted in Film Reviews And Conversations with tags , , , on November 28, 2009 by Adam Broome

After turning to up the talk an hour late due to an error at the train station, Tom Hunter entered the lecture theatre and got straight to it. He is a photographer, most notable for his work photographing his squatter friends in in the town of Hackney (see Being Opinionated About Photographs). The talk followed a biographical structure, taking us through Tom’s life, including his inspirations, his challenges, and his most prided achievements.

Tom began by talking about his childhood. He was born in Dorset, and commented on the lack of culture that was around when he growing up. He was initially influenced by the ‘punk’ movement – namely The Sex Pistols – which influenced his early photographs. At 21, Tom moved to London and got a job as a tree surgeon, where he began taking his first photographs.

Once he’d decided photography was for him, Tom took an A-Level course in art and design, and had to become a squatter in the London borough of Hackney (‘squatting’ was very popular at the time). Hackney was seen as a run-down and rough place, full of no-good people. Tom defended Hackney through his photos, seeing the improvisation going on around his as a form of ‘true culture’. Subsequently, his photos became very political, as he was determined to show a different side to ‘squatting’ – beyond that which the media had already stereotyped (poor, rough people living in run-down and broken houses). Some people (such as government officials) were worried about these photographs – possibly afraid of the politics that were pushing them. Tom succeeded in promoting the lives of his squatter students, and managed to save many homes because of the publicity his photos had made. These series of photographs are called ‘Persons Unknown’, and are perhaps the works Tom Hunter is best known for.

After leaving college, Tom became a part of a new movement – the ‘rave’ scene of the early nineties. Again, he took photos of people in their homes, similar to his student friends in Hackney before. Again, the media had portrayed the rave scene in a bad light, and Tom was out to show a different side (possibly a ‘true’ side) to the scene that he was attracted to because of it’s cultural significance  (as Tom described, DIY culture). This was followed up by his ‘Tower Block’ project, which involved taking photos of people in their homes within a tower block which was about to be demolished. These ‘factory homes’ were yet another form of culture that Tom was drawn to.

Tom concluded by talking by talking about his more recent works. He is currently interested in doing a project on migration, which would again be influenced by the culture of the people in his photographs. In all of his work, Tom also mentioned that he has been influenced by older paintings and images. Tom mentioned the Pre-Raphaelites as one of the stronger influences in his later photographs. As it stands, the last ‘commercially successful’ exhibition he created was the exhibit called ‘Living In Hell’ (again shot in Hackney), which caused much controversy upon release due to it’s strong sexual undercurrents. Currently, Tom has ten exhibitions touring the world.

In the post-talk questions, Tom said that he understood the importance of where his photos were exhibited. The National Gallery often show his exhibitions – which is a good way to promote the photos, given their strong political messages. These messages are conveyed through the individual stories captured in each of the photographs – another factor that Tom considered very important. Tom did consider being a writer in his early career, but has since realised that his talent is in photography. He commented on that fact that social impact was hard to gage, and that every project was essentially a gamble, as the predicted response is not always guaranteed. However, photographic art has given him a ‘voice’ by which to communicate with people. A voice which he uses with gusto, and intends to use in years to come.

A Piece Of Our Lives Review

Posted in Film Reviews And Conversations with tags , on November 18, 2009 by Adam Broome

So after a quiet, yet interesting, introduction from our special guest Adam Torel, the audience finally prepared themselves for the main event. Most sat in eager anticipation, as the film A Piece Of Our Lives had not been released anywhere in the world. The sense of privilege could definitely be felt in the room. It quickly evaporated.

Opening by introducing us to the character Haru (a character you will learn to hate), we essentially follow the story involving her chance meeting with a female prosthetics designer called Riko, and the attempted lesbian love affair that follows, laughs, tears and all. Both characters are at the film’s centre, Haru being a shy, indecisive and naive university student – Riko being a rather lonely and intricate character, who is tormented by her sexuality.

Evidently, this film is focusesd primarily on drama. For me, I thought the acting was relatively well handled by the two leads, as their performances did convey some emotion through the situations the pair found themselves in. But my praise for this film well and truly ends here.

It’s hard to know where to begin critisicing this film. Right from the first five minutes, you get the feeling that the film is attempting to be an art-house style film. However, with the exception of one scene every thirty minutes, the film is rather realistic, meaning that when something surreal does actually happen, it feels woefully out of place, thus only serving to confuse you.

To say this film focuses on the two main characters for about an hour and a half, even after watching the whole film I can’t tell you a great deal about either of them, other than their occupations. Haru spends the entire duration being moody and emotional, whilst making absolutely no attempt to make her life any better. Her screams, her shyness, and her tears will soon have you tearing your hair out. Meanwhile, Riko is locked up inside herself, rarely coming out her shell except to obsess over Haru’s apparent beauty. Riko and Haru get together and break up about three times, which is all that really happens in the whole movie. It’s like a Jane Austen book, but even less saucier.

This brings about the next point, which may sound like a typical ‘boy’ remark, but the fact that there’s not one sex scene in the whole movie also made the characters seem even more two dimensional. Scenes of intimacy are extremely rare (I clocked only three in the whole film), which defeats the purpose of the film considering it’s subject about sexuality and lesbianism. Considering the content, it’s not one you’d take your children to see, so the absence of a sex scene couldn’t be anything to do with the censors. Because of this, you never get any sense of the two characters being close at all – all we get to see are the arguments that occur afterwards, which are loud, noisy, and exaggerated, and which quickly become tiresome.

With failed surrealism, two dimensional characters and an equally mundane script, the last thing this film needed was repetitive music. But that’s what it got, and right from the first shot, practically through to the last, we are beaten by two piano keys being played over and over and over again.

By twenty minutes in, people had realised what they were in for. Some had been hypnotised into sleep by the recurring piano notes. Some were wondering just how they were going to sneak out without getting noticed – about a fifth of the audience made it back to base camp. Others, like me, prayed that the film we had so eagerly waited for was going to suddenly become great, and boy did we wait. After what seemed like three hours, the lights came on, people looking bleak and tired, and nobody daring to say anything.

When this film does come out next year, it should prepare for a cold reception, at least from students this side of the world. It’s called A Piece Of Our Lives. It’s certainly a bizarre piece of something, that’s not very good, nor interesting.

3 / 10

Coventry Conversations – Adam Torel, Third Window Films

Posted in Film Reviews And Conversations with tags , , , on November 18, 2009 by Adam Broome

Adam Torel is a distributor of Third Window films – a company that aims to bring unreleased and unknown Asian cinema over to this side of the world. It’s uncommercial, it’s low budget, and it’s proud of it. Ahead of the viewing of ‘A Piece Of Our Lives‘, Adam Torel gave a brief talk introducing himself, the film, and the company as whole. The talk lasted about forty minutes. Adam claimed he was ‘bad at giving speeches’, which prompted one of our fellow lecturers to give a sort-of interview, which led the conversation.

The first topic Adam touched upon was the current mission he was on – to use Third Window films to introduce new genres to a Western audience, beyond those which has become almost stereotypical of Asian cinema (namely, ‘hair horrors’ and surrealist films). I did immediately wonder about the comedy genre, as this is the most difficult genre to disperse through different cultures. Only a few weeks ago my class were given the chance to watch a small extract from a film called Yatterman. People were laughing nervously in confusion, which goes to show how much our infamously ‘British’ sense of humour differs from everyone else’s.

Adam Torel used to work for Tartan, which have become to main distributors of Asian cinema in this country. Tartan are possibly responsible for such stereotyping of Asian cinema in the name of profit, which is one reason why Adam left – Tartan were neglecting less-obvious genres and films. As he put it, they had ‘destroyed their own market’. Adam is definitely one for more unusual, low-budget films, that focus more on acting and scripts, rather than doing what has already been done before. From this, we can assume Adam Torel is definitely one of those risk-taking entrepreneurs, who are willing to back anything up as long as they are convinced it has a market. Adam did say his main focus was always on the audiences and the markets, and introducing them to Asian culture through film. To be honest, it’s a good idea to keep tabs on audiences who watch less-obvious Asian films, as clearly it is a niche market, and the customers you get are likely to be long-term, but harder to come by.

Adam reflected on whether he thought awards led to sales. He was certainly more interested in the rating of films rather the awards it won, although he clearly understood the importance of winning awards, and how this can increase popularity for a company such as Third Window. As he focuses on the less mainstream, it is wise not to think too big in terms of awards – but certainly, ratings are the way forward, as there is many a cult film that has won little awards (take Troll 2, for example). Adam also mentioned the importance of finding out societies such as the one here in Coventry, and using them as a distribution channel, and as a way of introducing films to as many people as possible, in order for the films to achieve such cult statuses.

The only film Adam wished he’d picked up at Third Widow was a film called ‘The Pastures’. After answering a few more questions from students, Adam promptly left, leaving our lecturer to introduce the film (see A Piece Of Our Lives Review).