22 December, 2010

2010 at the Cinema

With great style, no shortage of black humour, and an intriguing concept at the heart of its strange tale, Greece's Dogtooth has topped our poll of Museum staff's favourite films of 2010.

Dogtooth had a relatively small cinema release, so has become something of a grassroots champion, one that made a big impression on those who saw it back in spring. Early birds caught this story of an isolated family and their misinformed way of life when it previewed at Bradford International Film Festival in March - proof that you can trust us to seek out the good stuff! – and the film has just been entered as Greece's contender for the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar.

In our survey each member of staff was asked to list their five favourite new films on general cinema release in 2010, and were also asked to list any films they're looking forward to for early 2011. Did you see many of our staff's choices? Do you agree with us, or have we got it all wrong? Please add your own list in the comments section below. It's fun to share!

Toni Booth, Collections Manager

Ponyo - Miyazaki effortlessly creates another magical world, very nearly reaching the heights of My Neighbour Totoro.

Dogtooth - a perfect mix of unsettling visuals and narrative.

Exit Through the Gift Shop - Was I being made a fool of? I didn't really care as this was smart, entertaining and at times hilarious.

Revanche - a stunning, serious film dealing with adult themes whilst avoiding the usual melodrama pitfalls.

Hump Day - this one just saw off The Kids are All Right, for its less polished, more awkward and entertainingly juvenile world view.

For 2011: The Great White Silence - Very much hoping to be able to see Herbert Ponting's restored film of the Scott Expedition on the big screen in 2011. Cave of Forgotten Dreams - Herzog's dramas are always entertaining (Bad Lieutenant), but it's his documentaries where he really shines.

Sarah Crowther, Internet Gallery Researcher:

Enter the Void - Hypnotic and mind-bending. Not so much a film as an experience.

Dogtooth - Brave and stylised filmmaking. Simultaneously hilarious and disturbing in equal measure.

Micmacs - Fun, quirky and charming. A Gallic delight to warm the cockles.

House of the Devil - A love letter to 80's horror - slow-burning and utterly involving. Extra points for the simultaneous VHS/DVD release.

Alice in Wonderland - A visual feast as ever from king of the genre Tim Burton.

Ben Haller, Duty Manager:

Inception - a masterpiece in modern suspense cinema that achieved new heights in cinematography. Nolan's meticulous study into the depth of character was a revelation.

The Town - a captivating reinvention of the heist movie, with stand-out performances from Jeremy Renner, Blake Lively and Pete Postlethwaite. The prison scene with Ben Affleck and Chris Cooper is the best scene I've seen all year.

Splice - haunting look into genetic research which pushes the boundaries of comfort with horrific intent. I was gripped throughout, Adrien Brody and Sarah Polley are brilliant as scientists caught between love, science and reality!

A Single Man - luxurious in style, elegant in process and harrowingly honest in character...Colin Firth's finest role to date.

Bad Lieutenant - Nic Cage delivers an inspired performance as a corrupt cop weaving his sinister way through the destruction of post-Katrina New Orleans. Magnificent filmmaking!

For 2011: Never Let Me Go, Blue Valentine, The Fighter, Immortals, Captain America - The First Avenger.

Kathryn Penny, Film Manager:

Dogtooth - dark, funny and different - that poor cat!

Winter's Bone - gripping tale of determination - amazing performance from Jennifer Lawrence.

Inception - great fun and visually great - just don't think about it too much.

Four Lions - I laugh every time I see a Mini Babybell. Great to see the premiere at the Bradford International Film Festival.

For 2011: Animal Kingdom. Intense Australian suburban crime drama - marry me Guy Pearce!

Sven Shaw, Assistant Gallery Developer:

The Social Network - Utterly compelling, slick interpretation of the events leading to creation of the website that defined an era.

The Arbor - Highly original, haunting account of Andrea Dunbar's life and the family she left behind.

Cemetery Junction - Very funny re-visitation of the Kitchen Sink genre which keeps the audience guessing.

Greenberg - Good characterization and great performance from the leads in this existentialist black comedy.

Valhalla Rising - Slow paced, atmospheric and immersive Viking drama.

Jen Skinner, Film Education Officer:

Toy Story 3 - What a rollercoaster ride of emotion, I had to sob silently so that my four year old son didn't notice, definitely the film of the year in terms of personal engagement with the characters.

A Town Called Panic - Animated equivalent of popping candy, totally exhilarating and a joy to watch.

Exit Through the Gift Shop - Clever and inventive. Really lifted Banksy to another level in my view.

A Prophet - Intense, brutal and beautiful.

Dogtooth - I watched this film very early on in the year, at 9.00am without knowing anything about it, I think it took me a while to digest it, I knew it was good but it has grown on me so much as the year has gone on and is now my top new film of the year, so powerful, it's incredible, a breath taking film.

For 2011: I'm very excited about the new Coen brothers film True Grit and I've seen Animal Kingdom which is brilliant.

Tom Vincent, Film Programmer:

The Arbor - Achieved much in many many ways. The British film of the year was also the most vital talking point on Bradford's screens.

Still Walking - Deep emotional impact that accumulated so subtly - I sometimes forget that films can do this. Ozu would approve, and Kore-eda is a great.

Jackass 3D - Along with Piranha, this strange film, the gayest multiplex movie since Top Gun, is the crass, joyous state of 3D art; no need to pretend otherwise.

The Social Network - Mark Zuckerberg's overactive brain races his status anxiety and loses by a whisker. Obsession breeds obsession in Fincher's movies.

I Am Love - The font used in the opening titles told us this was going to be great. Tilda Swinton reclaims melodrama from middlebrow pap.

For 2011: Black Swan (Aronofsky), 13 Assassins (Miike), Animal Kingdom (Michôd), The Descendants (Payne).

Tom Woolley, Curator Of New Media:

The Social Network - excellent script, punchy dialogue and great acting had me gripped. Also proved that it's possible to make a compelling film about websites.

Heartbreaker - a smart, stylish and highly enjoyable comedy with another star turn by Romain Duris.

A Single Man - beautifully shot and dripping in style, Tom Ford's debut perfectly captures those rare moments of clarity. Transcendent and moving.

The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo - a thrilling introduction to Stieg Larsson's world of corrupt media, computer hacking and twisted family trees.

Ponyo - an enchanting animation that deserves to be seen by as many people as possible.

In 2011: I'm especially looking forward to seeing the film version of Murakami's Norwegian Wood. From the stills it looks like Anh Hung Tran has captured the mood of the novel and a soundtrack by Radiohead's Jonny Greenwood makes it a must-see. Also intrigued to see new documentary Catfish and the forthcoming drama Never Let Me Go - after The Social Network and Red Riding, it’s exciting to see Andrew Garfield's ascent to stardom.

Neil Young, The Hollywood Reporter, International Consultant, Bradford International Film Festival:

Involuntary - Ruben Östlund's glacial, brilliant dissection of social boundaries world-premiered in 2008, but was only released in UK cinemas this year – all things Swedish now being apparently very cool thanks to Lisbeth Salander, Kurt Wallander and Let the Right One In.


The Disappearance of Alice Creed

My Son, My Son, What Have Ye Done - 2010 proved a banner year for Werner Herzog, with Bad Lieutenant sneaking into multiplexes and his jawdropping making-of-Fitzcarraldo diary Conquest of the Useless finally appearing in English-language paperback.

I Am Love

For 2011: Darren Aronofsky's Black Swan; John Carpenter's The Ward; Joanna Hogg's Archipelago; Elliot Lester's Blitz and the re-release of Frank Ripploh's Taxi Zum Klo.

Thanks to our Film Programmer, Tom Vincent, for putting this together, and to all the staff who submitted their top fives.

Do you disagree with any of these choices? Let us know your films of 2010.

17 December, 2010

Annie Leibovitz Visits the National Photography Collection

World renowned photographer Annie Leibovitz visited the Museum on Tuesday - the latest stop on a personal journey she is undertaking looking at places relating to inspirational and culturally significant people.

Her travels, which will be documented in an upcoming book titled Pilgrimage, brought her to Bradford to view and photograph items belonging to Julia Margaret Cameron (1815 – 1879), part of the Royal Photographic Society Collection in the National Photography Collection which is held here.

Annie looked at personal letters, photographs, albums and a folio, all of which belonged to Cameron, one of the earliest pioneers of photography. Cameron, like Annie, was celebrated as a great photographer and for her work producing portraits of famous people and historical figures of the era.

Our Collection includes photographs Cameron took of Charles Darwin, Alfred Lord Tennyson, Robert Browning and Sir John Herschel.

Annie said:

"I am very impressed with how you care for such legacies – of Julia Margaret Cameron's work and items from the Royal Photographic Society period. There really are treasures here.
"It is one thing to take care of such work but to give this access to anyone who wants to study or see it is fantastic."

To view a selection of items from the National Photography Collection including Cameron's work, visit our website:

25 November, 2010

Mind the Gap Theatre Group Photographed in the Foyer for Denis Darzacq Project

A very well known French artist, Denis Darzacq, stopped by the Museum today with Bradford based theatre group Mind the Gap to take some photographs for a new project they are working on together.

Museum visitors watched as the group was photographed moving across the Museum floor together.

Denis has been capturing similar images across the city which will feature in an exhibition he plans to show across large scale exhibitions in Bradford and Paris.

More of his work can be found on Denis' website:


12 November, 2010

Fay Godwin Cameras On Loan from the British Library

Our Fay Godwin exhibition 'Land Revisited' recently received a welcome addition when a delayed loan from the British Library was finally installed.

Colin Harding, Curator of Photographic Technology, who curated the show, can be seen here installing several pieces of Fay Godwin's photographic equipment. These include two of her cameras, together with some of her original printing notes and contact sheets.

There are two of Fay Godwin's cameras on display - a Hasselblad 500C/M camera fitted with a Planar f2.8 50mm lens and a Leica M6 camera fitted with a Summicron f2 35mm lens. Both of these cameras would have been used to produce some of the images included in the exhibition.

Also on display is a folder containing some of Fay Godwin's contact sheets. Contact sheets show an unaltered positive print of the original negative that has not been enlarged. They are useful to show the quality of the negatives and are used by photographers to select which print to enlarge. Colin has chosen to show the contact sheet for one of Fay Godwin's most celebrated images, Flooded tree, Derwentwater (1981). Careful study of the contact sheets reveals that she photographed this location several times on different occasions, waiting until the conditions were exactly what she wanted.

A folder containing Fay Godwin's original negatives is also added to the display, open at the page containing her negatives for the Flooded Tree image. She made careful notes on a pencil sketch of the photograph to remind her how best to print from the chosen negative. These notes show areas highlighted to 'hold back' and others which need additional exposure. Such detailed attention resulted in the final exhibition print, framed and on show next to the display case.

These loaned objects add a further insight into the absolute clarity of Fay Godwin's photographic vision, her meticulous attention to detail, and her quest for technical excellence. It was this approach which ultimately resulted in the beautiful exhibition prints currently on show in Gallery Two until 27 March next year.

Thanks to Colin for this post.

11 November, 2010

Nexus Retrospective - BAF 2010 Part 5

Professor Paul Wells sat in conversation with three of the Nexus team: Alan Smith, Adam Foulkes and Jim Le Feuvre, before which the audience were treated to a retrospective of their work, which includes (impressively), an Oscar nominated short, Grammy Nominated and MTV Award winning music videos, and Cannes Grand Prix, Gold Lions and Black D&AD pencil winning commercials.

The three talked about how they got into animation, and early successes during the Channel 4 animation boom. At this time, animation was embraced by the commercial market, and though there is an assumed schism between arts culture and commerce, the commercial world provides the necessary revenue to move individual talents forward.

Despite this, Nexus advocate choosing work wisely and trying out new styles wherever possible rather than returning to a comfort zone. All three are still very much exploring the craft of animation, remembering that 'form follows feasibility'.

When asked about the tension between old and new school animation styles, their resounding opinion is 'Digital Tools? Bring them on!". For Jim, sometimes the most satisfying thing is the context of the animation, not the visual finish - he cites as an example the Beefy and Lamby series of adverts.

An interesting discussion took place around the issue of archiving - obviously something that's very close to the Museum's heart. Adam, Alan and Jim say that they almost never think about it, though they recognise the importance of preserving their output for future generations, having experienced animation being exhibited alongside art which is generally considered as belonging to 'high culture'.

Somewhat surprisingly, according to the three, animators don't consider that their work is worth saving even though they realise the importance of other people's work.

Thanks to Adam, Alan and Jim, for their insight into animating for the commercial world, and their resounding passion for the art of 'making stuff move'.

BAF Game day 2 overview - BAF 2010 Part 4

Tom Woolley, Curator of New Media at the Museum and BAF Game programmer, provides an overview of the final day of BAF Game at Bradford Animation Festival 2010:

The second day of the BAF Game talks took place up the road from the National Media Museum in the luxurious surroundings of the Great Hall at the University of Bradford.

Tim Heaton, Studio Director at the Creative Assembly kicked things off by talking about the history of the company and explaining all the different roles in the team behind the BAFTA winning Total War franchise. Tim also talked about the devout following the Total War games have attracted and revealed that the award-winning strategy games have nearly 1 million players with an astounding average play time of 91 hours.

Next up was Adam Green, Director of Assyria Studios, a small independent development house Adam formed last year during his University gap year. Assyria specialise in addictive, casual games for mobile platforms and have already caught the attention of Sony and Apple. Adam’s talk was an inspiring presentation with lots of practical advice on the challenges of setting up your own studio. Continuing the casual game theme, Simon Barratt from Bradford based studio Four Door Lemon then spoke about the ins and outs of making games for Apple devices such as the iPad, iPhone and iPod touch.

3D glasses were given out to the audience in the afternoon so they could enjoy Ian Bickerstaff's talk about the history and uses of stereoscopic 3D technology. A Senior Engineer at Sony, Ian is heavily involved with the recent push behind 3D technology. He explained how to get the best results from using stereo 3D in games to create more immersive experiences. A fervent crowd then welcomed Andy Brunton to the stage. Lead animator at Lionhead, Andy has worked on both Fable 2 and Fable 3 and revealed how the animation team works with coders to produce seamless interactive game characters. Andy showed lots of examples of animation tests and even added a few rather brutal execution scenes that got cut from the final game.

The concluding panel session chaired by Game Republic’s Jamie Sefton offered perspective on how technology impacts the games industry, particularly relevant considering the day’s release of the Microsoft Kinect peripheral. The discussion carried on over drinks in the University atrium before the Street Fighter 2 tournament took place in the Museum’s Games Lounge.

Enslaved: Ninja Theory - BAF2010 Part 3

Based on an ancient chinese story, Enslaved: Odyssey to the West is the latest game produced by Cambridge-based studio Ninja Theory whose Lead Animator, Guy Midgeley and Senior Animator, James Stevenson joined us to talk about character animation, narrative, and the involvement of actor Andy Serkis and writer Alex Garland in the project.

It was important to consider character interaction and realism: Originally Monkey had a brutish nature and Trip was a futuristic goth, but the two characters need to relate to each other as their relationship builds, and so their physical forms were toned down for congruity.

For fidelity, ease and so the characters can perform actions in-game that you can't recreate in real life, the in-game animation was hand drawn rather than produced using motion capture. We were shown a series of videos shot at Ninja Theory HQ with the team acting out some character motions used as a reference point for their animations - a process which the team highly recommend in order to understand how the body works and create realistic looking in-game movement.

To avoid videogame cliches, Alex was brought in as a story writer, and Andy Serkis came on board as cinematic director and actor for the cut scenes which were shot using motion capture - he had worked with the team previously on Heavenly Sword. The cut scenes drive the story, develop characters and give the game a cinematic feel. To avoid the pitfall of disconnction between cut scenes and game play, Alex was involved throughout the process and played through the game to ensure its integrity.

In summary, the talk was a useful lesson in story and character development with the audience being taken through Ninja Theory's creative process and what to consider when you want a cinematic game with a decent story.

BAF 2010 day one came to a close with the Guardian Tech weekly podcast captured live in Pictureville cinema. Hosted by the Guardian's games columnist Keith Stuart, the session featured interviews with the aforementioned games guru Charles Cecil, writer and journalist Keiron Gillen. and games artist Dan Pinchbeck.

Look out for the podcast or listen from the Guardian Tech Weekly Podcast page.

10 November, 2010

Doctor Who: Adventure Games - BAF 2010 Part 2

BAF welcomed back legendary games developer Charles Cecil (last seen at the Museum acting as an official invigilator when we beat the World Record for simultaneous Nintendo DS gaming) alongside Sean Millard from Sumo Digital and Anwen Aspden, BBC Executive Producer - all here to talk about their involvement on the Doctor Who: Adventure Games series.

So why did they do it? The BBC had planned on producing four interactive episodes for the latest reincarnation of the series, but went one step further and created something special with free downloadable games - over 1.6 million downloads so far, and more episodes to come.

The pitch went out all over the world, but landed in Sumo's lap. Charles had worked successfully with the Sheffield based company before (Broken Sword) but it was their grasp of the brand and production values in only two scenes of their pitch video which sealed the deal.

The Doctor - with sonic screwdriver acting as a skeleton key allowing him to go virtually anywhere, and his tendency to negotiate rather than fight, is an unlikely game hero, but Sumo overcame these issues by using avoidance, discovery and infiltration. The developers also need to ensure that they didn't assume gaming knowledge nor make the game too complex for Doctor Who's expansive audience range.

Sean is obviously thrilled that he was given the opportunity to create a Doctor Who character - the Cyberslaves - which could potentially appear in a televised episode; he claims it's the coolest thing he's done during his 20 year career. Charles went through the process of creating the cyberslaves under the protective guidance of the Beeb, and concluded that it is the human behind the monster which is most frightening.

The actors movements (Matt Smith and Karen Gillan) were shot using rotoscope rather than motion capture, which enabled Sumo to animate the characters in game. The resulting facial textures were too realistic and the BBC felt that it was "too dark", so removing the texture and smoothing out any lines was the computer equivalent of putting the actors into make up. An interesting analogy.

"The second coolest thing" for Sean is seeing his company's game advertised during primetime - this level of publicity is generally a rap on the knuckles for disrupting the nation's youth.

Charles revealed that his experiences working with the BBC on the Doctor Who Adventure Games are "a lesson in how to market": Keep it a secret, then blitz it and surprise everybody.

During the Q&A we learned that the funding for the game came from public service money, but it created such a buzz at Comic-con that there are plans in place to sell it abroad.

The audience expressed a desire to see some of the Doctor's previous incarnations crop up in the game, and the team, as passionate as they are about the brand and their product, clearly hope so too. And so the celebrated heritage of the Doctor continues.

09 November, 2010

Brink: Splash Damage - BAF 2010 Part 1

Bradford Animation Festival is here once again. Day one of the biggest annual event at the Museum, indeed the biggest animation festival in the UK, and the crowds alreading gathering in the foyer and Pictureville show signs of this being yet another successful year.

BAF's audience is always a joy to see - a devoted bunch of enthusiasts, industry professionals, industry hopefuls and students just starting out on the road to a hopefully brilliant career. Enough of the scene setting... on with the show.

The first session of the day was an exclusive with Tim Appleby and Lauren Austin from Splash Damage who talked about the concept art and character design behind one of the 'most queued-for' games at this year's Eurogamer Expo: Brink.

A round of applause followed the cinematic trailer - there is a definite buzz surrounding this game. The pair took us through the story, the style of the two main factions, how they developed those styles, and then on body types, character customisation, overlays and tints. Everything from initial concepts to facial hair.

One thing which does stand out about Brink is that there is not one recognisable character - but about twenty of them, each with their own name and identity - a useful tip for game character designers.

"Customisation doesn't lend itself to quality", but Splash Damage wanted to focus on the quality, and in doing so discovered that "limitation spurs invention". Now, I couldn't go into too much technical detail* - partly because you might not understand it, mostly because I certainly don't, but it does make a lot of sense.

For example - all heads need to be the same width to ensure the head gear can be used for all characters, so instead they played about with length.

Lauren clearly had a lot of fun developing these characters, sometimes taking her inspiration from celebrity mashups (Danny Trejo vs Jason Statham, anyone? Sounds post-apocalyptic to me!)

And in a sea of post-apocalyptic first person shooters, this game stands out. Not only is it colourful, but it has a whole range of characters and customisation options which helps with player investment and gives Brink an instantly recognisable look.

So, here's Splash Damage's three golden nuggets:

1. Start simple and protoype early.
2. Make sure there is close collaboration as you develop your characters.
3. Designs need to reflect technical limitations.

*If you want to hear the finer technical detail, look out for all the podcasts from BAF 2010 which will appear on the new National Media Museum website in the very near future.

27 September, 2010

Aamir Khan Talks Indian Cinema & his Career

Bollywood superstar Aamir Khan ("the Indian Tom Cruise", I heard from one of my colleagues) was in our midst last week. He sat in conversation with Dr. Rajinder Dudrah, Hindi Cinema expert from the University of Manchester. Fans flocked to the Museum to meet their hero, and filled our Pictureville auditorium to hear his words.

I'm sorry to say I missed the event, but I asked my favourite guest blogger - Tom Vincent, Film programmer here at the Museum, to fill you in:

Wednesday evening was a huge amount of fun. A short delay built up the anticipation, and at just after 8pm, Mr. Aamir Khan appeared on Pictureville stairs to rousing applause, cheers, even screams from younger fans. Aamir is a true star; a thoughtful, honest and generous guy with much to say about Indian cinema.

During an hour's conversation, Dr. Rajinder Dudrah did a sterling job of gathering Aamir's thoughts on Indian film past and present, his own industry beginnings, and Hollywood's interest in the Mumbai industry. Wednesday was very much a fans' event, and Rajinder gave a sizable part of the interview over to moderating questions from an audience made up of all generations.

At certain points it seemed that almost everyone had their hand up, and Aamir got through quite a range of topics, from Method acting, to his thoughts on potential collaborations and future possibilities for Indian film.

At 9pm, with several questions still waiting to be asked, Aamir himself requested that we extend the conversation a little to consider a few more – a really generous touch. Then, after a final few minutes on Peepli [Live], Aamir's new film as producer, and with some regrets from the man himself, Aamir was away into the night, with a few keen fans at the front treated to a final goodbye handshake.

Aamir and Rajinder could likely have continued talking for longer, had time allowed, but for me the best thing about the event was that so many people got to speak with Mr. Khan. I think this made everyone's night. This morning I caught up with Rajinder to gather his own impressions:

"Mr. Aamir Khan was a real gentleman. He listened to all the questions carefully and responded to the audience's Q&A in detail and with sincerity. The Bradford fans were especially pleased when upon Aamir's own request we extended the Q&A by an extra 10+ minutes. An exciting and memorable evening was had by all and gauging by the enthusiastic reaction, Peepli [Live] was a success too".

A great big thank you to everyone who came, and who helped make it so enjoyable.

Peepli [Live] will be showing at the National Media Museum from Sunday 10 October 2010.

If you missed it, the podcast is now available to download from our podcasts page.

Were you there? What did you think of the evening, and the man himself?

10 September, 2010

Simon Roberts: We English Exhibition on Tour

Our temporary exhibition galleries are now closed while we prepare for two brand new exhibitions to open on 15 October.
Robbie Cooper's Immersion will be replaced by Land: Revisited, to mark the 25th anniversary of Fay Godwin's Land, a celebration of the British landscape.
Simon Roberts' We English will be replaced by From Back Home, a body of work by contemporary Swedish photographers Anders Petersen and JH Engström, which became an award-winning book and is being exhibited in this country for the first time in our Gallery One space.
If you enjoyed We English, you'll have another opportunity to view the work when it tours to Croyden Clock Tower - not the only National Media Museum exhibition to go on tour...
Ruth Haycock, our Senior Exhibitions and Partnerships Organiser, has developed a Touring Exhibitions strand whose aim is to increase public access to our Collections both here and abroad, develop cultural partnerships, boost the profile of the Museum and champion our world-class Collections.
We English and three other exhibitions taken from our photography Collections are available to tour: Lives of the Great Photographers, The British Landscape and The Art of Arrangement: Still Life and the Photographic Tradition.
Our exhibition and design teams will create a graphics and identity package for the exhibition, and while we provide core pieces, the host venue may extend and compliment the exhibition with work from their own collections to make it their own - we can work with the host venue to develop layered interpretations to meet their requirements and the needs of their audiences.
If you're interested in hosting a National Media Museum exhibition, or would like to find out more about our Touring Exhibitions programme, talk to Ruth Haycock:
Tel: 01274 203 343
Email: ruth.haycock@nationalmediamuseum.org.uk.

11 August, 2010

Film and Events Highlights for August-September

We've some unmissable screenings and events coming your way in our August - September film programme.

To coincide with the release of Tamara Drewe, we will be welcoming her creator, Posy Simmonds, on Tuesday 28 September. Posy will be sitting in conversation with comics expert, Paul Gravett. A must for any comic strip fans.

If you love animation, you'll be delighted with The Illusionist, based on a script by Jacques Tati, and directed by Sylvain Chromet of Belleville Rendezvous fame. I asked our Film Programmer, Tom Vincent, to tell me his highlights for the month - and here's his expert opinion:

"The Illusionist is one of the loveliest films you'll see all year. An animated tale of an outmoded French entertainer in the Scotland of 1959, the film reminds us of one of the most enduring pleasures of cinema, of entertaining without words (and those who remember the same director's 2002 film Belleville Rendezvous will know what to expect). There aren't many films around currently that have the confidence to use image and sound so effectively in their storytelling, and it's always a refreshing delight to be enthralled in this way. The film opened this June's Edinburgh International Film Festival, with the Festival organisers laying on street performance outside the theatre that recreated characters, magicians and trapeze artists, from the film, which conjured up the pleasures of a bygone age.

"At an interview event in which he explained the process of making the film, director Sylvain Chomet spoke about his love for, and artistic debt to, Jacques Tati. It's Tati's unfilmed script from which the film was developed, and his influence is all over both of Chomet's features to date. The illusionist of the title was modelled on Monsieur Hulot, Tati's most famous creation, the script was written, poignantly, for Tati's own daughter, and in one glorious episode Chomet's character comes face to face with the ever-polite, ever-bumbling, celluloid Hulot in an Edinburgh cinema. In offering pleasures alternative to 99% of all new cinema, The Illusionist seems like an affirmation of the past, nostalgia made relevant.

"The Illusionist is also made with precisely the same comedic DNA as Tati's films. Tati's humour was pretty unusual (ITV's Mr. Bean offered an anaemic version of it); absurd visual gags were set up and left hanging, the humour coming not from punch lines but from the delicious situations themselves. An incident from Tati's schooling planted a seed for all this: In Tati's English class an enthusiastic teacher would encourage students to act out commands while repeating target phrases, in this case "I open the door, I close the door". Spotting the chance to make the class laugh, Tati volunteered, wandered over to the door, opened it ("I open the door"), stepped through and, ("I close the door") shut it behind him. Outside the classroom Tati wondered for a moment which would be funnier; to go back in and meet his peers' applause, or to hide in the toilets until the end of the class. In the end he simply snuck out of school entirely and spent the rest of the day at home, leaving his improvised joke hanging absurdly forever."

Speaking of animation, Bradford Animation Festival 2010 is upon us - find out more by visiting www.nationalmediamuseum.org.uk/baf/.

To celebrate the centenary of his birth, we bring you a season of Akira Kurosawa films, which begins with the epic Seven Samurai on Friday 20 August. See for yourself why he is known around the world as a master of his art.

And if that wasn't enough, Bollywood superstar Aamir Khan will be in our midst, we look at the career of Sean Connery as the Scottish superstar turns 80, and Stephen Fry will appear live via satellite broadcast in The Fry Chronices.

Phew - it's going to be a busy month!

Find out more by visiting www.nationalmediamuseum.org.uk/filmandimax or downloading our new Film Guide (PDF 2.4MB).

If you want to be the first to find out about films and events at the National Media Museum, sign up to our e-newsletter.

30 July, 2010

The National Media Museum Breaks a World Record

On Wednesday we broke the World Record for the number of people playing Nintendo DS games simultaneously in the same place for 10 minutes. The record was previously held by the MCM Expo in London with 586 DS players. We beat their record with an impressive 659 gamers. Here's the video to prove it.

We opened the doors for registration at 10.00 and saw hundreds of people flock to the Museum throughout the day to enjoy a barbeque, have their face painted, try their hand at big screen gaming in our cinema, join in with family events, and watch Toy Story 3D in our IMAX theatre. But most importantly, they were there to sign up for the World Record attempt that evening.

We were joined by Real Radio who pumped out the latest chart hits from the balcony above the Media Wall. Presenter Dixie was our compère for the day, and he did a grand job of rallying up the crowd and telling them where to go and when to be there.

Super Mario himself arrived at around 15.00 to the delight of all the kids who converged upon the Nintendo icon for hugs and photographs as soon as they caught sight of him.

We also welcomed some of the Bradford Bulls and local PCSOs to help us supervise the event, Bulls' Chief Executive Ryan Ducket and gaming guru Charles Cecil who were official invigilators, and Gaz Deaves, Gaming Editor of Guinness World Records, who was there to make sure everything was above board, and of course, to present us with our certificate when we claimed victory.

It was fantastic to see so many people come down to the Museum to be part of the attempt - so many that they spilled out to the front of the building - but that's not to say it was easy to pull together. Our event coordinators Kat Martin, Elaine Richmond and Sophie Choudry certainly had one or two sleepless nights in the run up to the event, but I daresay they would agree that it was all worth it in the end.

Sarah Mumford, Learning Manager, who originally conceived the idea describes the moment of truth:

"The atmosphere was electric and the excitement was palpable. We didn’t know 'til immediately after the attempt whether we had broken the record or not and when the man from Guinness announced we had broken it everyone cheered. And what a relief that was!"

I was stood in the crowd when Gaz announced that we had broken the record, and it certainly was exciting - I don't know what we would have done had we not taken the record, but no doubt everyone would have held their consoles in the air to celebrate a good try.

When it was all over, the proud participants collected a badge and certificate, but some remained for the Street Fighter 2 tournament in our Games Lounge. I had escaped back to the office to upload my photographs so I missed it, but I asked organiser Foz Bano for a quick report:

"The [tournament] went really well with 32 players competing and Tom (Woolley - New Media Curator) got Mario to join in! It was a tightly fought contest and over the course of an hour 31 games were played. All ages got involved and Gaz Deaves from Guinness got through to the semi final but was beaten by Dhaood who went on to win."

Congratulations, Dhaood - and well done to everyone who came down on the day to support or take part in the World Record attem... no, VICTORY!

If you want to see Tom's video of Mario playing in the Street Fighter 2 tournament, I've selected it as a favourite on our YouTube channel.

Photographs from the day can be found on our Flickr channel, and you can upload your photographs to our DS World Record Breakers group.

Don't forget to check out our programme of Summer Fun, and if you would like to receive news about events, films and the latest IMAX blockbusters, sign up to our e-newsletter online.

06 July, 2010

Leslie Grantham Visits the EastEnders25 Display in TV Heaven

Leslie Grantham, most famous for playing Dirty Den in EastEnders, is currently starring as Pte. Walker in Dad's Army at the Alhambra Theatre in Bradford. He took a break between rehearsals and performing to visit the National Media Museum today.

We invited Leslie to view our EastEnders25 display in TV Heaven, which celebrates the 25th anniversary of one of Britain's best-loved television programmes, and is part of our year-long Soap Season, dedicated to examining the impact, popularity and longevity of British soap opera.

Looking casual, Leslie arrived in the TV Heaven gallery accompanied by Claire Thomas, Assistant Curator of Television. The Museum's Photographer, Media Developers and I ran around with cameras while Leslie chatted to Claire about the EastEnders props on display.

The opportunity to photograph Leslie on the 'bench of tears', holding the dog doorstop which killed Dirty Den, or sitting next to Den's gravestone, was too good to miss. We were joined by a photographer from the Telegraph & Argus and a reporter from Pulse Radio.

View some of the photographs taken on the National Media Museum's Flickr channel.

Soap Season began in February with the launch of the EastEnders25 display, and is set to continue throughout the summer months with an exciting programme of events and activities.

For more information, please visit Soap Season on our website.

As part of our summer programme for families, this coming weekend (10 - 11 July) and next month (9 - 15 August) we will be hosting some special events to tie in with our soap celebration.

Highlights include Soap Comes to Life in which you can help us produce a scene from EastEnders, Animated Soaps Workshop in which you can use stop-motion techniques to create an animated soap scene, Create a Soap Soundtrack, and the chance to test your knowledge in our Super Soap Quiz.

For more information about family friendly activities at the National Media Museum, please visit our Family Events page.

28 June, 2010

Hussain Currimbhoy Introduces Errol Morris Documentary The Fog of War

Last week, Hussain Currimbhoy from Sheffield Doc/Fest visited the National Media Museum to introduce Academy Award® winning documentary The Fog of War: Eleven Lessons from the Life of Robert S. McNamara.

The Fog of War, directed by Errol Morris, is the story of American foreign policy as seen through the eyes of the former Secretary of Defense, Robert S. McNamara. It was selected to complement our current Gallery Two exhibition - Robbie Cooper: Immersion.

Immersion considers the many ways in which people choose to engage with screen media and disengage from everyday life, and to present this concept, Cooper adopted the same Interrotron technique used by Errol Morris in his groundbreaking film.

This method enables the subject to retain eye contact with the camera and the audience, which results in emotionally powerful footage.

Find out more about the Immersion exhibition by visiting our website, or follow the Immersion Project on Robbie Cooper's blog.

You can listen to a podcast of this event by visiting the National Media Museum Podcasts page.

18 June, 2010

Simon Roberts in Conversation with Greg Hobson

Simon Roberts, whose We English exhibition is currently running in Gallery One, returned to the Museum yesterday to sit in conversation with Greg Hobson, curator of photographs.

The event is one of many organised by the Museum to complement our temporary exhibitions, and yesterday began with Greg asking Simon why he took up photography.

When he was 14, Simon went on a family holiday to Yosemite National Park, California and during their stay visited the Ansel Adams Gallery. Simon described the ‘extraordinary experience’ of viewing YNP through the eyes of Adams, which opened up the landscape and revealed elements which Simon hadn’t previously observed.

Simon studied Human Geography, at Sheffield University - a useful framework for documentary photography. He described himself as a ‘transient person’ interested in exploring social issues; photography enabled him to adopt his preferred lifestyle.

Simon explained that he didn’t enjoy the ‘quick turnaround’ nature of newspaper photography, so he began working on his own project, following the career of a young boxer from Sheffield. This earned him the Sunday Times Magazine Young Photographer of the Year Award in 1998.

After a bad experience with a John Prescott photograph, Simon decided to take a departure from magazine work and produce his first major project, Motherland. Simon and his wife travelled across the country for a year, cataloguing the landscapes and people they came across, trying to capture the spirit of ‘Russianness’.

Simon had preconceived ideas of what the experience would be, but wanted to challenge these stereotypes. Published images of Russia tend to focus on the despondent, and Simon wanted to move away from this, without trying to paint a ‘rosy picture’. “I was trying to make the person complicit in the act of representation.”

During the event, Simon described his technical choices, logistical planning, and the obstacles he met along the way, including an undesirable camping trip, and several short stays in prison!

Find out more about the Motherland project by visiting www.motherlandbook.com

Experiencing the ‘unbelievable sense of patriotism’ which exists in Russia led Simon to begin questioning his own sense of belonging, and this influenced Simon’s decision to being a similar project back home, We English.

Currently on display in Gallery One of the National Media Museum, We English is a very personal exploration of the English at leisure, which opens up a dialogue between people and the landscapes in which they choose to spend their free time.

Simon and Greg discussed technical aspects of the project, including the decision to photograph from an elevated position, and revisited the notion of representation. During his tour of England, Simon encouraged people to invite him to events all over the country, which helped build an audience, and acts as an archival document in its own right.

Simon presented a selection of the images, explained how he is fascinated by the editing process, and talked about the framing decisions he made for some of the photographs.

“We’re so saturated with images all the time so I try to create images where you’re rewarded the more you look at it.”

You can find out more about We English by visiting our exhibition website www.nationalmediamuseum.org.uk/simonroberts.

Simon was selected as the official election artist for 2010, the results of which will be exhibited in the House of Commons this summer.

With this project, Simon took the idea of representation even further, by inviting people to produce their own images of what the election process means to them. These pictures will be displayed alongside Simon’s own work.

Simon used social media to generate as many photographs as possible in a short space of time, the results of which can be seen at www.theelectionproject.co.uk. Simon feels that this process helped generate an archive of the political landscape created by the public.

After the discussion, Simon and Greg led the audience on a tour of We English to further discuss his work, and the images he drew on for inspiration.

You can download or listen to a podcast of the event on the National Media Museum Podcasts page.

Today, Simon returned to the Museum for a Portfolio Review Session, which gives aspiring photographers the opportunity to have their work reviewed by a panel of experts who offer guidance, a personal perspective, and advice on how to succeed in the field.

To find out about forthcoming events at the National Media Museum, sign up to our newsletter and tell us what you’re interested in by visiting http://www.nationalmediamuseum.org.uk/TalkToUs.

11 June, 2010

Stanley Long on Roman Polanski & Tony Earnshaw's Review: FFW2010 Day 3

First of all, an apology; I promised I would deliver the Fantasma podcasts on Wednesday, however the audio/visual key-keepers have been otherwise engaged until today. By the time this blog is posted, I’m hoping it will include a link to the newly updated podcasts page. Fingers crossed…

First film of the day was Psycho. The screening was preceded by an original trailer featuring Alfred Hitchcock, which I would have liked to have seen, but alas, 11.00 was not a sensible hour for me to get into Bradford that day.

Sarah Crowther (aforementioned horror expert) managed to make it in a little earlier and watched Patrick, a rarely screened Aussie horror which pays homage to Hitchcock in its visual style.

On Sunday evening, I attended the Stanley Long Screentalk. Stanley is a veteran of British sexploitation movies; credited as director, producer, writer and/or cinematographer during a 46-year career in movies. He is responsible for the “Adventures of…” series, and dipped his toes into the world of horror with The Sorcerers, The Blood Beast Terror and Screamtime.

Stanley also worked on Repulsion with Roman Polanski. In the following clip from the Screentalk, Stanley discusses the infamous writer-director and his pranking tendencies.

During the conversation with Benjamin Halligan, Senior lecturer at the University of Salford, Stanley also talked about the science of making people jump (though he doesn’t reveal the tricks of the trade), his healthy attitude toward sexuality in films, and the obstacle of today’s health and safety laws.

Stanley offered this advice to budding film-makers: “A small budget film starts with the script; it has to take the budget into account from the start... You wanna know how to make a low budget film? Keep it in one place.” Which invited a fitting conclusion from Benjamin: “It’s not the size of your budget, but what you do with it.”

After the Screentalk, Stanley stayed to sign copies of his new book “X-Rated: Adventures of an Exploitation Film-maker”.

To hear more from Stanley A. Long, please visit the National Media Museum podcasts page. As promised, you can now download the podcasts from Friday’s Fantasma symposium.

I spoke to Sarah the following day about what she’d seen during FFW2010 day 3. She only managed to only catch the last half of Robocop, a National Media Museum archive print which received high praise for its quality.

Here’s what Sarah had to say about The Living Dead at Manchester Morgue:

“[The film] proved a fitting closure for the Fantastic Films Weekend, which celebrates rare, classic – and dare we say kitsch - horror and fantasy alongside new and exclusive releases. Although shot in England (the film’s key scenes were filmed in St Michael’s Church in Hathersage), the 1974 film has the very European feel of 1970s zombie films. Indeed, director Jorge Grau is Spanish and the cast hail from all over Europe. Interestingly, the film’s original title Don’t Open the Window is rumoured to have inspired Edgar Wright’s 2007 fake trailer Don’t which featured in Grindhouse.”

I asked Tony Earnshaw, FFW Artistic Director, about his festival highlights. He offered the following:

“Two veterans of the once booming ‘60s/’70s UK horror scene were reunited at the 9th Fantastic Films Weekend. Exploitation king Stanley Long and writer/director Michael Armstrong recalled the gory, glory days of movies like The Sorcerers and Mark of the Devil, both of which screened during the weekend. Personal faves of the artistic director included Jorge Grau’s tremendous zombie shocker The Living Dead at Manchester Morgue and a spankingly good re-release of Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho. Undoubtedly the film of the festival was the rarely-seen portmanteau gem Three Cases of Murder, featuring Alan Badel in three roles and a deliciously sinister rendering of Roderick Wilkinson’s short story In the Picture. FFW regulars also lapped up Horror Express, a perennial favourite and one of many titles forming part of the National Media Museum’s growing and unique print archive.”

That’s all for FFW2010. Thanks to all the regulars and new faces for your support. Don’t forget that you can add your photos from the event to the FFW flickr group, and check out videos from the festival on the National Media Museum YouTube page.

07 June, 2010

Michael Armstrong on David Bowie & Hanger Attacks: FFW2010 Day 2

On Saturday afternoon at FFW2010, the Screentalk with Michael Armstrong was preceded by a screening of The Image, which stars a young David Bowie in his first role. In this video clip, Michael talks about his working relationship with David, and how the filming was beset with difficulties.

The writer-director in our midst is a prolific and eloquent story teller -- indeed, the ‘conversation’ was almost a monologue -- and I was genuinely fascinated by what he had to say.

When asked about his influences, Michael told us he was enamoured with fairytales, folklore and mythology from an early age. He believes that “the only carnal sin [in art] is to bore.”

Michael was fervent on the issues of actor training -- “Acting is a craft, as skill… [a part] is not something [actors] can ‘make they’re own’” -- and the screenwriting business today -- “They now start the screenplay with the merchandising” -- neither of which received high praise from a man who is well-versed in both.

The decline of the British Film Industry during the 1970s, combined with the Eady Levy tax on box office receipts, meant that British films needed to fill a quota, so new production companies were given opportunities, and “horror was their best bet…independents gave opportunities to young film-makers, which was a very exciting time.”

Today, however, “[the film industry] is very nepotistic and based on networking…it’s like television, it’s very cliquey, and if you’re not part of the clique you’re an outsider.”

“The problem in the UK has always been investment, and that falls on producers. The good ones go to America. We lack film-thinking, creative producers based in the UK.”

Michael told the story of the making of Mark of the Devil, which had some audience members crying out with laughter. The original script included some ghastly character names amidst an unnecessary proliferation of S&M torture scenes and unintentional plot metamorphosis. On top of which, the filming in Germany with translators gone AWOL meant that it was a real Tower of Babel production.

Perhaps surprisingly, Michael describes himself as a very anti-violent man. His aim in making Mark of the Devil was to “make people feel sick…to show the crassness and unpleasantness… One tends for a comfortable life to put these things aside… This film shows the cruelty of what man is doing to man.” He told us about screenings of the film in America, which were accompanied by nurses waiting to attend to fainters, and vacated auditoriums smelling of vomit.

So I wasn’t going to stick around for the film itself, and decided instead to go and watch the zombie-tastic 28 Weeks Later. I asked our resident horror expert, Sarah, what she had managed to watch that day amidst all the hobnobbing.

First film of the day for Sarah was The Giant Spider Invasion, which was “very kitsch, got big laughs, and was a good warm-up for Birdemic…a giant furry spider on wheels with some horrendous acting.”

Sarah attended the two director-accompanied films on Saturday evening: David Gregory’s Plague Town, and James Nguyen’s Birdemic. Both guests were affable in the bar before and after the films, staying to chat and discuss their offerings with FFW attendees.

“David was a guest at the Museum ten years ago when he brought a double bill of Texas Chainsaw Massacre and The Last House on the Left, so it was like welcoming an old friend. The film had some spectacularly creepy touches – he has clearly learned from the masters throughout his career as horror documentary film-maker.”

Birdemic was, by all accounts, the star of the show but for all the wrong reasons. Audience members were inexplicably given coat-hangers on their way in, which was clarified when characters attempted to fight off killer birds with this as their chosen weapon. It certainly invited some great audience interaction in the style of Rocky Horror.

Sarah tells me there were cheers and howls of laughter, however the director absolutely believes it’s a romantic thriller and is quite surprised it’s been taken on at horror festivals. He is currently in talks with Hollywood about doing a sequel, which he hopes to bring to our screens in 3-D! You heard it here first.

Day 3 is the next and final blog about the Fantastic Films Weekend. Look out for a video clip of Stanley Long’s Screentalk, and closing reviews from Sarah, and the Festival’s Artistic Director, Tony Earnshaw.

If you want to hear more from Michael Armstrong, please visit the National Media Museum podcasts page, where you can listen to or download an audio podcast of the event.

06 June, 2010

Fantasy in Academia & Lizard in a Woman’s Skin: FFW2010 Day 1

A 60°F June morning was a far from allegorical setting for the launch of the 9th Fantastic Films Weekend on Friday, but nevertheless, here we are on the last day of what has been a great weekend with some fantastic turn-outs for our film selections.

I only managed to make it to a splattering of events, but I had resident horror fan and dedicated FFW attendee Sarah Crowther acting as reconnoiter – more from Sarah later.

The main event on Friday was the Fantasma symposium of speakers discussing everything from Italian Horror to British Sex Films. Mark Goodall from Bradford University introduced the event which he organised in partnership with the National Media Museum, due to the recognition of a growing community interested in and treating the subject seriously.

First up was Ian Hunter, who talked on the subject of British Sex Films – an apt subject as we welcomed veteran director of said genre, Stanley Long, to FFW2010 earlier on today. Despite once being described as having “no redeeming features whatsoever”, Hunter pointed to the genre’s importance, as it was sex films which propped up the British film industry during its collapse in the 1970s.

Ian talked us through the key genres, and showed how, like horror films, they responded to changing social trends, for example, the emerging discourse of a consumerist attitude toward sex, and how they often played out a conflict between an older repressed, and younger permissive generations.

From the carnal to the incorporeal, the next guest was David Robinson talking on his paper The Infected Idyll: The Living Dead at Manchester Morgue, a film which is showing tonight.

David spoke about the film in terms of the cultural anxieties of the age, all of which are hinted at in the “crass juxtaposition” of the opening scene, and concluded with a reading of the film which posits an enduring conflict between urban and rural. The film although set in England, is European, and is evidently worth seeing for the confused geography and variety of regional accents alone!

I ducked out just before Russ Hunter took centre stage with his whistle stop tour of Italian horror films, which I’m not sorry I missed since he had apparently chosen some particularly gory clips to entertain us with just before lunch! I also missed Gail-Nina Anderson’s Dracula’s Cape. But not to worry – all the talks will be available as podcasts to listen to or download from our podcasts page on Wednesday.

Last speaker of the day, and star of the event in my book, was Jeremy Dyson. I’m only really familiar with Dyson’s work on The League of Gentlemen, as I’m sure most of you are, but what a sweet-natured and engaging man he is!

In Shadows and Fog, Jeremy considered the feelings evoked by watching horror and fantasy cinema from childhood, and explored the question of how terror sensations are created within cinema and television productions, when they are often so difficult to articulate. What is it that makes I Walked With a Zombie chill-inducing, while LOTR: The Return of the King leaves him cold? Obviously the answer doesn’t lie with special effects and a huge budget, instead “what you need to get this sensation is a space between what’s being shown and what’s being represented.”

Dyson took some questions from the crowd, and the use of CGI came up on more than one occasion. On this subject, Dyson was enthusiastic.

“I think we’re living in amazing times. It has to be looked back on as a golden age…we have incredible resources, but you can be swamped with choice. This is the challenge now, how you navigate that [choice]. It would be foolish to be luddite about it.”

Fantasma concluded with a screening of Secret Rites, and this was only one of a few films on offer on Friday, as the symposium was the focus for Day 1. I asked our resident horror geek, about what she had seen, and Giallo being Sarah’s favourite genre, top of the list was always going to be Lizard in a Woman’s Skin.

“Lizard in a Woman's Skin is the film that nearly caused the incarceration of its director, Lucio Fulci. The notorious director only escaped jail time thanks to the testimony of his special effects artists who produced the mannequins of the film's gore-soaked dead dogs that the court had believed to be real. Ironically, Lizard is one of Fulci's less visceral films, instead a psychadelic trip into giallo as a woman struggles to separate dream and reality following a gruesome murder. A busy house at the Museum certainly enjoyed the Festival's first foray into Fulci - and can look out for more from the horror maestro at future fests.”

More fantastic films in the next post, along with a video clip of the scintillating screentalk from Michael Armstrong.

Don’t forget that podcasts of all the talks will be available on the National Media Museum’s podcasts page from Wednesday, and are yours to download and listen to at your leisure.