23 December, 2009

Simon Roberts – We English

The upcoming photographic exhibition, Simon Roberts: We English explores national identity and people at leisure in England’s rich landscape. The project was developed from Simon’s childhood memories, and the range of associations and images they evoke, how landscapes formed an important part of who he is, and a fascination with ideas of belonging and memory, identity and place.

As part of the exhibition, the National Media Museum asked for suggestions from the public for an outdoor leisure activity or event happening in the Bradford District, which could be photographed by Simon Roberts and included in the show..

We wish to thank everybody for their suggestions, and for providing us with so many possibilities – it was impossible to visit every event but all the suggestions received were greatly appreciated. Please visit http www.nationalmediamuseum.org.uk/simonroberts for more information, and see the result of Simon’s dedicated and personal exploration of Englishness and the English at leisure when the exhibition opens at the National Media Museum on 12th March 2010.

So in August 2007, Simon – intrigued by the tradition of the road trip in photography - took to the road in a motorhome with his pregnant wife and daughter, in search of landscapes and depictions of the English at leisure. It is this subject that led to him touring the Bradford District on a cold weekend early in December, with a dedicated team from our Exhibitions Department, in his search for the exhibition’s final photographic work.

Here is a brief account of that weekend and some of the locations visited:

The team set off on Saturday morning at 9.15am, and after venturing to Lister Park in Bradford to observe the Saturday morning power walkers, the next port of call was the Cow and Calf rocks on Ilkley Moor. In Simon’s words:

“I was pleasantly surprised to discover a crisp winter’s morning when we headed out to Ilkley Moor. On arrival, I saw a group of fell runners on the horizon, unfortunately too far in the distance to work in a photograph. The [moor’s] rocks themselves were very photogenic and offer spectacular views of Ilkley, and I could see a lot of potential for photographs in the summer months when there would be hordes of people clambering over the rocks, picnicking and hiking. Alas, there were only a few walkers about today. As the rain set in, I ran for cover, and headed back to Bradford.”

“The next stop was Myra Shay Park, home to BD3 United FC, where that afternoon the under 13 boys team had their training session photographed under the watchful eye of coach Michael Purches, who married into the city’s Pakistani community and now goes by his Muslim name of Abu Bakr. Simon first came across this location several weeks ago and was struck by the “excellent panoramic views of the Bradford skyline including the chimney stacks of Lister Mills, once the largest silk factory in the world.”

Simon and the team headed towards Haworth in search of ‘Top Withens’, a ruined farmhouse and popular walking destination, said to have been the inspiration for Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights. As the light faded across the Yorkshire Moors our team disbanded for the day, ready for round two the following morning.”

Of the second day, Simon reported:

“On a bright and sunny Sunday morning I photographed the first half of BD3 United’s match against Calverley United at Priesthorpe School. No exciting views this time, however I was able to shimmy on top of a Portakabin to get a good vantage point over the pitch. Calverley United’s supporters turned up with a sandwich toastie maker, and were doing a good trade in bacon butties. BD3 won 4-2.”

Aside from the obvious advantages of a clear vantage point at a football match, Simon explained that photographing from elevated positions enables him to get a greater sense of people’s interaction with the landscape and with one another.

“Sunday was certainly a game of two halves. Sandwiched by a brief journey to Five Rise Locks in Bingley it was back to the football pitch, this time to watch the second half of Second West versus New Tyke Rangers at the Carr Bottom Stadium off Little Horton Lane in BD5, just up the road from the Museum.”

Simon said: “There was an excellent vantage point from a bridge overlooking the game, which was part of the Bradford Sunday Alliance Football League. The pitch was nestled in the centre of a small housing estate.Well I say pitch, it was more of an undulating quagmire with twenty two men sliding about and shouting obscenities! Second West won 4-1.”

The Museum’s own winning team concluded the weekend with a well-earned meal at the Karachi Restaurant, finishing the day’s film interviews (to be included in the exhibition alongside footage of Simon on location around the Bradford District).

On her return from the weekend trip, I spoke to the Exhibitions Organiser Ruth Haycock, who told me that having stood for hours in the cold that weekend, she really admired Simon’s complete commitment and passion for the project, in fact, that of his whole family. Not only in dealing with the weather conditions (which, on this particular weekend, were somewhat fitting considering Simon’s road trip in 2008 was undertaken during one of the wettest years on record, and therefore this final piece was shot in similar conditions to those he endured a year ago), but his incredible level of patience in waiting for just the right moment to take the shot, capturing “We English” enjoying our most cherished and loved pastimes.

18 December, 2009

Avatar - how we get it on the IMAX screen

It is almost time to "Enter the world"...

It was late Saturday night when, fresh off of the plane from Los Angeles, a large delivery of numerous crates of IMAX film reels were delivered to the National Media Museum. Avatar had arrived! But the work had only just begun.

With an estimated construct time of 23 man-hours, our hard-working projection team started to splice and fuse all the reels into the one complete film. At 165 minutes, Avatar is the largest and longest IMAX film print ever made.

Here you can see some exclusive behind-the-scenes shots of our IMAX manager Dick Vaughan and projectionist Tony Cutts putting the final touches to the final reel of the right eye portion of the film. The aspect ratio for the IMAX version is 1.78:1 giving an image that is proportionally taller than previous DMR releases – these are films that have been digitally re-mastered to be shown on the giant IMAX screen. This format has been chosen by James Cameron personally after extensive consultation.

Guarantee your seats by booking online now for James Cameron's Avatar in IMAX 3D via the National Media Museum website

15 December, 2009

‘King Coal’ fires up Cubby

Last Sunday evening in Cubby Broccoli cinema I got to host a fascinating package of short films to a near-capacity audience. King Coal is a specially-curated collection of short films currently touring the UK, which chart and describe Britain’s coal industry from 1901 to 2004. Even better, Katy McGowan, Non-Fiction Curator at the British Film Institute (BFI) travelled to the Museum to introduce the films and set them in context.

There are fifteen short films in the package, whittled down from the collections in the BFI’s impressive National Archive. Katy’s job, as part of a curatorial team of six, was to select a range of films that together give a representative sense of the history of coal mining in Britain.

Thanks to the availability of footage from several traditions in British documentary making, from very early amateur documentaries to official films commissioned by industry, the screening included early ‘actualities’ (Miners Leaving Pendlebury Colliery, from 1901), promotional films (King Coal, Big Job), an artful documentary on miners’ leisure time (Gala Day), recreations of tragic folk songs (the three Songs of the Coalfields shorts), management training films (the amusingly stilted What About That Job) and films designed counteract press reports of the Miners’ strikes of the 1980s (Not Just Tea and Sandwiches), as well at the legacy of one picket line in particular (The Battle of Orgreave).

After the screenings, we conducted a lively and searching discussion of the films and the issues surrounding them. Several issues captured people’s imagination, and people commented on their own memories of the political climate of various periods and the way they were depicted. The discussion also took in a range of other connected areas, from curatorial politics to media rights issues.

With debate spilling out to the foyer at around 10.30pm, I remembered again the power that films have to generate debate and to help us learn about the past and about ourselves. I’m certainly keen to repeat it with other archive screenings at some point in the New Year.

I asked Katy for her own feelings on the event:

“It was a privilege to be invited to present this curated programme of films from the BFI National Archive showing coalmining through the 20th century. I was extremely heartened that so many people came out on a cold winter night to watch these remarkable films and it was great that members of the audience took the opportunity to take part in a discussion at the end of the screening.”

With many thanks to Katy McGahan for her time and for supporting such a great screening and talk.

11 December, 2009

2009 at the Cinema - Best films of 2009

At the end of the first decade of the new century, how did this year’s cinema-going stack up? Did new classics emerge? Were there five new films that you just had to recommend to friends? Here’s a brief end-of-year survey of some Museum staff’s cinematic highlights, from our own programme and beyond.

Each contributor was asked to list their favourite films on general release in the UK in 2009. The Wrestler, with three top-five mentions, is our favourite by a nose, with Moon, District 9, Looking for Eric and Let the Right One In an honourable tie for second with two votes apiece. After that, the floodgates open with a great big broad list of films.

Seen many? Of course, the whole point of lists like this is for people to agree or (more often) to disagree! – So please add a comment, or your own list, at the bottom of the page.

Tom Vincent, Film Programmer:

1. Sleep Furiously - Out of the blue, an uplifting, unforced British film that told us about ourselves.

2. District 9 - There were no films more pleasing than this thunderous, satirical sci-fi jolt.

3. The Wrestler - The most transcendent last five minutes of any film I can remember.

4. The Beaches of Agnès - Agnès Varda is living proof of the joy that a life in films can bring.

5. Synecdoche, New York - Could so easily have felt redundant, yet it kept its heart, staying both funny and true to its wild ideas.

Neil Young, International Consultant, Bradford International Film Festival:

1. The Wrestler - Best of the year? No contest - this is one of the top half dozen of the decade!

2. District 9 - A fine year for intelligent sci-fi, and Mr Blomkamp might just be the new Paul Verhoeven...

3. Revolutionary Road - Who says great novels can't become great films? Who says the Oscar voters have any clue about cinema? Who says Michael Shannon isn't the best actor in current American cinema?

4. Two Lovers - Worshipped in France, absurdly underappreciated in the English-speaking world, James Gray confirmed that the terrific We Own the Night was anything but a fluke. Both are available on DVD - ideal Xmas presents for the cinephile in your life.

5. The Last House on the Left and A Perfect Getaway - Because gems sometimes lurk in the unlikeliest of places: your local multiplex, for example...

Ben Haller, Duty Manager and Film Programmer, Bradford International Film Festival:

1. Frozen River – Hauntingly atmospheric and chillingly thrilling, a gripping narrative about characters with very little to live for desperately holding on to the precious little they have.

2. Fish Tank – Brilliantly manoeuvres through a story strife with lost innocence and edgy promiscuity, unveiling what I think is a shattering reality of modern-day England.

3. Mesrine: Killer Instinct and Public Enemy No.1 - Engagingly explosive and refreshingly innovative. Both had me glued to the screen throughout.

4. When Life Was Good – Gaining its European Premiere at BIFF 2009, Terry Miles’ poignant vignette is an intriguing insight into the lives of twenty-somethings in Canada today.

5. The Visitor – Robbed of the Best Actor award at this year’s Oscars, Richard Jenkins is majestic as a man who re-discovers the importance of love and friendship at a time in his life when he believed them gone forever.

Sarah Crowther, Internet Gallery Researcher & Film Programmer, Fantastic Films Weekend:

1. Martyrs - Possibly not a film you’d watch twice but it’s brave, brutal filmmaking and further proof that the French are currently leading the world in the horror genre.

2. Drag Me to Hell - Welcome home Sam Raimi – now please stop playing with that Peter Parker boy, you’re in with the wrong crowd.

3. Moon - Finally a strong cerebral sci-fi to chew over – great first time direction by Duncan Jones and a poignant performance by Sam Rockwell.

4. Colin - A zombie movie with a heart – and an incredible achievement by director Marc Price who brought the film in for just £45 (mainly spent on biscuits).

5. Let the Right One In and Dead Snow - A haunting Scandinavian take on the vampire legend in Let the Right One In, then more supernatural problems for the Scandinavians as Nazi zombies battle snowboarding holidaymakers in Dead Snow - what’s not to like?

Ben Eagle, Film Festival Producer:

1. Mary and Max – A near-perfect animated film, with amazing comedy timing and the ability to tug every possible string of the heart.

2. The Wrestler – With a very honest and authentic performance from Mickey Rourke as a fading wrestling star, the film was definitely a firm fave.

3. Moon – A surprising and very different take on so many sci-fi classics. A very original and intelligent film with a stunning performance from Sam Rockwell.

4. Looking for Eric – An entertaining and fresh look at obsession, loneliness, friendship, football and the reasons why seagulls follow trawlers...

5. Frost/Nixon – Adapted from the electric stage play, this equally stunning film version is full to the brim with tension and excellent performances from Frank Langella and Michael Sheen as the on-screen battle of words commences.

Tom Woolley, Curator of New Media:

1. Let the Right One In - A chilling and beautiful tale of friendship and first love.

2. In the Loop - Venomous, often hilarious dialogue and an excellent cast.

3. Looking For Eric - Another Loach classic and an inspired turn by Cantona.

4. Le Donk and Scor-Zay-Zee - A fun mockumentary – great banter between Considine and Meadows but the real star is rapper Scor-Zay-Zee.

5. Star Trek - Fantastical reboot of a classic movie franchise.

03 December, 2009

Sleepover Fun

At 6.30pm on a regular Saturday evening the National Media Museum’s galleries would be tucked in for bed. But not so on 21 November. 71 Brownies and Guides from various troupes came marching through the doors, sleeping bags and teddy bears in hand, to prepare for a sleepover.

I was fortunate enough to be one of the staff members that would be sleeping alongside them on the floor of our galleries. Yes, actually on the floor and not sneaking off to a cosy, quiet office once the little cherubs were fast asleep!

At their first workshop of the evening, the group were charged with recording a TV advert for the museum, using the Museum’s video cameras. Excitement was paramount as the campers had the entire place to themselves; there was more than one giddy Brownie running about! All participants successfully managed to capture this energy on film and we had some excellent footage to edit.

Then there was just time for a quick snack and a drink then it was time for workshop number two, an animation workshop where the children had the opportunity to recreate Morph. All worked together brilliantly to create fun animations and there was definitely an appreciation for the work which goes into stop-motion films like Wallace and Gromit.

After the second workshop it was time for bed. Museum staff that weren’t sleeping over had to bid their fond farewells; there was even a cry of “we’ll miss you Bob” as Bob Harriman, one of the ushers, said his goodbyes.

The campers snuggled down in their sleeping bags and were read a selection of bedtime tales. I chose the slightly disturbing Roald Dahl's Revolting Rhymes, which provide an alternative version to classic fairytales. I heard more than one snigger when reading “The small girl smiles. One eyelid flickers. She whips a pistol from her knickers” from Little Red Riding Hood.

Despite the earlier excitement the campers must have been pretty tired as they were soon off to the land of nod. As I settled down to sleep in our Experience TV gallery I barely heard a whisper.
Lights were back on at 6.45am and there was no time to roll over for a further snooze. We were up, dressed and heading downstairs for a breakfast of scrambled eggs, baked beans and toast.

Oone moment I found particularly moving that morning (bearing in mind my high state of emotion may have been due to a lack of sleep!) was seeing one girl take her Brownie promise. It was lovely to see all the girls stand in a circle and hear her recite the Brownie code; the new inductee was then presented with a badge and two other Brownies came and grabbed her hands to take her to join the rest of the circle.

Next we settled ourselves down for an IMAX film followed by a prize giving. I admit I struggled to keep my eyes open as Santa vs. The Snowman 3D played.

Finally the sleepover came to a close and there were many glum faces as it was time to get back on the coach. Fortunately a little ray of joy put an end to the sadness as Bob Harriman turned up for his morning shift, to shouts of “yay, Bob’s back!”
To book on the next sleepover check out the sleepover webpage.