Reviews and comment from the Demon Crew - creative writers at De Montfort University, Leicester.

Thursday, 29 March 2012

Tick box - which box?

Sonia Sabri first engaged the audience by showing off her skills as an acclaimed dancer with a short video. After it had finished she asked the simple question of "What box did that tick?" vocalising in one question all of what she stands for as an individual, a dancer and a choreographer.

Growing up in an Asian family in Birmingham, Sonia's Father wanted her to complete the dream he himself did not succeed at - becoming a famous Bollywood face. This, she said, was the main influence that got her into dance. Having been rejected from a Kathak dance group and told to come back a year later, she returned as asked. She was eight years old. Although she appeared confident, combating shyness was a struggle. Once it was conquered, Kathak became her life.

Wanting to break the perceptions of 'Exotic dance' as a heading covering every type of Indian dance we see, Sonia has gone as far as exploring links between Kathak and Hip-Hop, uniting dance forms and broadening scopes as she goes in her latest tour KathakBox.

Sonia's one big aim is not to abolish 'tick boxes.' While she admits that sometimes ticking the right box can open the door to new opportunities, she's determined to show that dance is not something that can be put into a certain box or category. Sometimes in life it is "safer to just choose 'other'" as an option to avoid confining yourself.

Celia Wilding

Snapshots of a career

Thursday afternoon saw the arrival of accomplished photographer Eamonn McCabe to Cultural eXchanges week - and this was one of the highlights of the festival.

This hour of anecdotes and illustrated by examples of some of McCabe's greatest photographs was lapped up by all, and not just aspiring photographers.
McCabe's career has included sports and music photography, portraits and a spell as picture editor of The Guardian. His recollections ranged from three Olympics and the 1981 Royal Wedding to the more sombre subject of the Heysel Stadium Disaster in Brussels.

While I've never considered photography as a career option, McCabe's enthusiasm and passion for the subject made me believe that it really is the best occupation imaginable. It's not the standard 9 to 5 job - and he's spent time with James Brown, Bono, Morgan Freeman, John Hurt and Robert Harris.

A single hour just wasn't enough to fit in all that McCabe wanted to share, and I don't think any of us would have objected to a second hour. Here's hoping that he may return soon for yet another captivating talk.

Jack Arkell

Srtipping away excess

A short film written and directed by Adrian Lester (Mickey from BBC One's Hustle) brought tears to my eyes. A moving tale of a family having to make life-changing decisions, Adrian's new venture into directing went down a storm with all who came to his Thursday night screening.

Described as a perfect "marriage of experience and talent", Adrian, along with the two producers of Of Mary, wife Lolita Chakrabarti (established writer and actress) and Rosa Maggiora (acclaimed Theatre Designer) shared with the audience the highs and lows of working on this piece.

When asked why he had taken the leap from acting to directing, Adrian cracked a smile towards the audience and stated "One day I was combing my hair - and found a grey one..." He showed the audience that not trying everything wasn't an option for him as he delved into his range of past achievements from Hollywood film to Shakespeare on stage.

Concentrating mainly on the hidden detail associated with the short film, he compared the editing process to that of a sculptor saying you must "take away the excess until all you have left his the bare essence". He also went on to say that his biggest fear as a director was knowing that an audience "might not get it".

All three went on to share advice and future plans with the audience showing themselves to be experienced (as well as humorous) individuals which made an already amazing evening an even greater success.

Celia Wilding

Lester in Leicester

The star of the hit TV show Hustle entered the lecture theatre to excited whispers, and I'm sure quotes such as "you can't cheat an honest man" were running through many a person's head. Yes, Mickey Stone himself, aka actor Adrian Lester was in Leicester today, to show a short film both written and directed by himself for the Cultural eXchanges week.

I wouldn't be surprised if a lot of the audience had turned up as fans just wanting to see Adrian rather than being interested his short film, but the same couldn't be said by the time they left. Adrian has left his mark on British television already as an accomplished actor, starring in shows such as Hustle and Merlin, and has also done stage shows playing parts like Hamlet. The short film Of Mary is his time to prove he is more than an actor; he's a talented writer and director too.

Well, he certainly proved that during this showing of Of Mary. The lights went down and the film started, simple yet serious the entire way through to make it seem incredibly realistic even down to the last detail. Twenty minutes later the credits rolled. It was only after the credits were done that the audience seemed to shake itself from silent awe and break into rapturous applause. Clever script-writing and subtle visual hints lead to a twist in the plot right at the end, leaving the viewer thinking "ah yes, I should have spotted that. It's all so obvious now."

Not only was the film cleverly written and presented, it was focused on a soldier returning home to his wife and child, a subject that should be handled with great care. Of Mary dealt with this expertly, creating a film that was so moving, it's amazing it was as short as it was. Being able to toy with the audience's emotions so intensely is a rare gift. A gift that Adrian Lester and the rest of the Lesata Productions team clearly have.

Sarah Kate Beckett

Of darkness and tissues

"It's hard to move an audience in twenty minutes." Adrian Lester was as humble as pie in the Q&A session he gave after the screening of what he described as his "first effort at directing." The film Of Mary takes its name from a poem by John Eclair.

As the credits rolled the silent theatre audience rubbed its eyes and drew out tissues. I shan't be describing the plot in this review - it has to be experienced, and requires darkness, peace and concentration. What I shall say is that it's not anything you'll be expecting - it's better.

Adrian Lester, Lolita Chakrabarti and Rosa Maggiora working together as Lesata Productions have this year carved a deep and artistic notch in the tree of British film. They say they plan to go on and make feature lengths - personally, I can't wait.

Raegan Sealy

Tuesday, 6 March 2012

A poetry first

On Thursday I went to a poetry evening which consisted of two lovely poets, Geraldine Monk and Alan Halsey. It had been a beautiful summery day. I was in high spirits. I sat down and prepared myself to be inspired. Needless to say, I was. In our first term at DMU we spent it looking at and writing poetry. To be completely honest, poetry has never been my favourite subject but hearing these two read out their work so passionately and proudly inspired me to take more of an interest.

First reading was Alan Halsey. He started off quietly, setting the atmosphere. I enjoyed the poetry but at times I felt quite young -there were definitely more than a few jokes I didn't understand, but I enjoyed it all the same.

Following Halsey came Geraldine Monk. Her writing style was distinctive and fun and so was her reading. She read a few poems from the Lost and Found series she's written and I really enjoyed them. The readings were dramatic and she engaged with the audience.

Overall I really enjoyed my first experience of a poetry evening. In some ways it reminded me of being read to when I was a child, relaxing.


Surprised by poetry

On Thursday evening I attended a poetry evening with Geraldine Monk and Alan Halsey. I must admit I wasn’t particularly looking forward to it. I’m not a big fan of poetry but we were encouraged to book Cultural eXchanges events we wouldn’t normally attend so I decided to pick this as one of mine.
I was pleasantly surprised when the poets started reading their work. First up was Alan Halsey and although I didn’t understand some of the references and some of the humour went straight over my head, I still found his work enjoyable. Even better was Geraldine’s work. I liked the way in which she read it out; the sounds and rhythm of her work was emphasised by her expression.
I have never attended a poetry evening before and I think that having the actual poet read work out to you makes it much more entertaining than sitting reading it from a book. I would recommend anyone who isn’t a massive fan of poetry to attend an event like this, maybe one at next year’s Cultural eXchanges. I'd certainly love to be there.

Bonjour, Good Morning, Guten Morgen

They sound from every corner of the studio: announcements, news reports, weather forecasts, entertainment programmes, advertising slogans. Snippets from radio shows are repeated, cut apart, newly composed.

The presenter and composer is Leigh Landy, who holds a Research Chair at De Montfort University.

Although he points out that the listening experience is the most important, he has provided subtitles to follow the content. The BBC's characteristic voice is only present in one out of three series. The other two sources are “la radio” in France and “Deutschlandfunk” in Germany. It is the first time all three of them can be heard in one performance.

The effect is astonishing. Weird noises, absurd contexts, different layers of the word “Good morning”: More than once, ringing laughter mingles with the electronic sounds. Familiar logos and styles make this artwork especially enjoyable (although I was the only one laughing during the German slot).

Between the radio collages, Dutch flautist Jos Zwaanenburg proves his finger dexterity on five different types of flutes. He also experiments with sounds. Using corks and other tools, he produces surprising notes, which fit with the recording in the background.

A cultural mix of electronic and acoustic music - I've never heard anything comparable to it before. While I'm not a huge fan, I definitely enjoyed this tonal collage.

Katharina Maria Kalinowski

Greening festivals

With the festival sector becoming one of the most talked about topics in recent years, it was fitting that De Montfort University's Cultural eXchanges Festival was host to a talk on the sustainability of such events.

With the economy at fault for many smaller festivals lacking the resources to keep running, a large amount are forced to close down. Paradoxically, the larger festivals such as Glastonbury and Reading/Leeds are booming, with a price rise of roughly 15% each year, yet selling out all the same.

The focus of this talk was Green and environmental issues with regards to outdoor festivals, and whether or not such problems could be putting these events at risk.

Included on the panel of speakers was Ben Challis, a founding member of the Greener Festival Awards. His scheme to recognise the efforts of festivals around Europe towards the goal of increasing efficiency has proved very successful so far, with much improvement by the majority of festivals that have joined in with the campaign. Still, Challis conceded that the uphill battle has only just begun.

He also claimed that the most recent objective has been to work with festival attendees as much as organisers through schemes such as Love Your Tent. A common misconception is that tents left on festival sites at the end of a weekend are recycled or given to charities. The truth is that it is often impossible to do either, especially when the tents in question are damaged.

Chris Johnson of Shambala Festival chose to focus on power and CO2. He claimed that the cost of power is one of the main reasons that smaller festivals are struggling.

A question and answers session brought up more issues of efficiency. One audience member asked whether we can really be efficient at festivals, as they are a time of celebration and having a good time rather than cutting back. Challis answered that whereas there is a minority of festival goers who are almost anti-environmental in their actions, most people at festivals are either conscious of such matters or open to persuasion.

In a debate way too expansive for so short a space of time, the panel could be forgiven for only scratching the surface of the topic, yet their knowledge was more than enough to make for an intriguing hour.

Jack Arkell

Excitement - and nerves as well

If I had some disappointments at Cultural eXchanges, the Demon Crew Launch very much made up for it.

A wide variety of written forms were on display. There weren't just books; prose and poetry appeared on t-shirts, plates, posters and websites. There were something that appealed to pretty much everyone. The audience were allowed to look around the room before, after and during the break in the presentation.

The presentation served as in introduction. Students explained what inspired them as well as their decisions and choices they made in producing pieces. What was even more inspiring was that some of the writiers have been offered publishing deals for their work. That could be me in three years' time! - there's a thought to make me excited and nervous at once.

The amount of material on offer to look at, read and even buy was vast and very, very interesting. An inspiring afternoon!

Matthew Goostrey.

Talent to break down walls

Today, I looked into the future. About 2 years into the future to be more precise. What did I feel? Fear? Awe? Anticipation? All of the above.

The Demon Crew showed publications of the 3rd year Creative Writers, and after seeing them on display, I can honestly say I feel safe in the knowledge that this generation of writing is in good hands. Ranging from poetic plates to fairy-tales turned on their head, multi-vocal poetry performances to a guide of "How to be an Award Winning Boyfriend", the event was a success. If talent was a tangible thing, the walls of Clephan 2.29 would be breaking open due to the sheer amount within it.

Beforehand, I must admit, I was afraid that all the pieces would be pretty much the same thing. Thankfully I was proved wrong. There were vast differences between the pieces of work, and each one was uniquely important to the writer. Clearly a lot of effort (and money) had been put into them. There were also so many angles to the different pieces of work, some of them purely humorous or entertaining, others tackling serious issues, like discrimination against homosexuals.

I feel I can speak for all the first year Creative Writers when I say "Oh god, I hope I can live up to that."

Sarah Kate Beckett

Looking to the future

The publication launch by Demon Crew undergraduates was a ‘last but not the least’ occasion in my week at Cultural eXchanges.

I was amazed at the amount of talent these third year Creative Writing students had, especially since I'm a first year on the same course.

The wide range of mediums students used to showcase their publications was intriguing. They ranged from short story and poetry pamphlets, mix and match playing cards, and whole websites, to mugs as witnesses, poem bags and podcasts as virtual tours from the past. I was always left wondering what the next person to read would present to us.

It was a very enriching experience for me as it really got me thinking of the many possible publication ideas I may wish to use in my final year. I thoroughly enjoyed the occasion and it was a great end to my Cultural eXchanges week.

Maryam Sameja

Demon Crew launch spectacular

The Demon Crew Launch was a smorgasbord of Creative Writing delights to tickle and tantalise your literary taste buds. Honestly, if you missed it, you really did miss out.

Will Buckingham’s warm welcome and the audience’s rapturous applause throughout gave the event an amazing vibe. The range of work displayed by the Third Year CREW students was awesome and inspiring. We were actively encouraged to read, look, touch, feel and talk so that the whole experience was fun and informative.

Creations ranged from traditionally printed pamphlets, to more unusual writing forms: a deck of playing cards, in which each card contained a 52-word story, a fun Poetry Generator with 10,000 possible poetic combinations and a series of posters that packed a powerful message. Nimble-fingered students created poetry on bags and clothing. Stories adorned plates, napkins and even mugs. Podcasts, websites, ebooks and an EP of original songs were offered by the more technologically and musically intelligent students. A wide range of media were employed to great effect and it was obvious from the high quality of writing, that it had been crafted with much love, enthusiasm and passion, which is a credit to both the Creative Writing staff and their students.


Demon Crew and proud of it

The room was bustling as excited students with proud tutors and organisers greeted us for the Demon Crew Creative Writing Launch.

The Demon Crew Launch is a chance for DMU's own third year students to exhibit and read their own work, which today was full of inspiring ideas.

Will Buckingham (Senior Creative Writing Lecturer at DMU) introduced each writer in turn and they had two minutes to introduce their piece and offer some background if they wished.

Pieces ranged from poetry on plates, clothing, bags, a deck of cards, to already successful e-books, and from crime fiction to music websites.

Although the whole the Launch lasted two hours my concentration and enthusiasm never faltered as the creativity of all of the pieces and the humility of their creators kept me listening.

Celia Wilding

Monday, 5 March 2012

Harry Potter and the "difficult teen phase"

Since the first Harry Potter film (The Philosopher’s Stone) came out in 2001, families everywhere have been to see every installment up until the final one (The Deathy Hallows Part 2), a decade after they began.

On Wednesday James Russell's lecture on Harry Potter was a sold out. He's a comical and enthusiastic speaker. He set out to show how and why the Harry Potter films have changed over the years, as well as their development from early ideas to the cinema.

The crowd was treated to a few clips and images from the early and latter films to show the distinct differences between them. Russell, openly not a fan of the early films as he felt they were 'an advert for not having children', explained how he preferred the later ones as they become increasingly darker - an effect achieved by a 'silverscreen' colour scheme and art-film like visual suggestion.

James Russell went on to give details about the mechanics of the film process, and how they came into being, starting with production manager David Heyman's acquisition to the final finished cut. As well as this, we were shown that the freedom given to the four directors was largely responsible for changes in the films.

As the crowd left their seats, many will, I’m certain, watch the films with new awareness thanks to the insights of James Russell.

Grant Cole

Drafts worth millions of galleons

How to fill a lecture room? Put on an image from the Harry Potter film, show a few clips and call your talk "Harry Potter ... something". The visitors are going to beat a path to your door.

Including me, I should say, as I am a devoted Harry Potter fan. In contrast to the talker, James Russell, at least according to his own statement. And I'm not going to discuss to what extent buying the books the day they are released qualifies you as being a fan...

Nevertheless, it was interesting to get some information about the film industry behind the wizarding world. I didn't know how less influence WarnerBros actually took in this massive project. They provided loads of money, but then stepped back and trusted the producer David Heyman with the creative control.

Unfortunately, the details about the four different directors of Harry Potter were nothing new to me – I belong to those freaks, who even know each of them by name. For normal people, it must have been enjoyable to get to know how the directors' personal styles shaped the films.

However, the talk was strongly coloured by Russell's often controversial point of view. It's rather bold to claim that the books are more preliminary versions, while the films present the finished drafts.

And by the way, Mr. Russell, the "K" in Rowling's artist's name doesn't stand "for nothing", it's the initial of her grandmother's first name "Kathleen".

Katharina Maria Kalinowski

Never tell a bookworm the film is better

So, went and saw James Russell's talk on Harry Potter. Sold out. Understandably, he is a rather engaging speaker. You can actually understand what he's talking about and he just generally gives off the vibe of a good guy. So the talk had James himself going for it.

Next point, Harry Potter. I have to admit that I am a Potter nerd. I'm in love with the franchise. Granted, the books needed more editing and the acting was rather under-developed here and there; but the world Rowling made and the characters and the lessons they taught us... I'm a sucker for it all. So, Potter was another thing this talk had going for it.

I did learn a lot about the films I never knew before. I never realised that there were four different directors, although it seems pretty obvious now. I didn't realise that it wasn't purely Warner Bros that had exclusive rights to it - that actually it was through a smaller company owned by Heyman. These little facts were interesting for me, as any Potter info tends to be. Hey, I'm biased.

However, the warning at the start by Russell should have made me realise straight away that I would disagree with some of his views. He does not like the books as much as the films. Blasphemy in the house of Potterheads.

But I listened, I was fair and I gave the talk a chance.

The first two films were most definitely more products than films. That I agreed with. However, that just supported the books which were also over-edited and really just exposition for the rest of the series itself. Russell made sarcastic comments at the wonder and joy and random magic of the first film, which made me laugh but really they were the point. Harry was new to this world of magic and he was young; the cinematography and Hollywood style enhance Harry's own wonder and joy at this new fantastical world as any magic at that age must be wonderful. It worked well for these films.

The books themselves became less edited, with longer descriptions and expositions (that I quite honestly skipped over - I'm a bad fan) So it makes sense for the films to reflect that. The characters are growing up, becoming adults, so obviously the films would do the same in style to reflect the content. Yes, the changing directors cause the change but the books also contribute hugely to these changes. Making the first book a dark art film would have been an idiotic move just as much as making the final book into a happy Hollywood. You cannot disregard the material being used when it effected the films so greatly.

So, I am sorry, James. You had good points, but the books' influence can't really be ignored in the case of Mr Potter.

Elise Cook

Enterprise for all

The talk on social enterprise was full of information and ideas.

Social enterprise is a business where by, surplus value does not benefit one or a small group of individuals, such as in private enterprise. In social enterprise a community of the people involved in the business, all have say - like a direct democracy - on the business running, and all profits are split among those involved in the business and to developing the business even further without a single individual becoming a millionaire.

Why is a social enterprise business better than other forms of businesses? Of course all forms of businesses strive to argue that they are the best form of enterprises. Social enterprise benefits everybody, it is not a simple share holding where you get your investment income every month: it is where everybody involved hold as much power as the next person in the business regardless of how much money they invested into the business. But of course most of this is theoretical; in truth no businesses is quite as fair and even, charity organisations are supposed to be social enterprises but there is no denying that somewhere there someone hitting the jack pot from it.

Most common social enterprises are found within communities, where the people come together and raise funds to build a youth centre and whatever the youth centre may earn though organised events such as talents shows, fundraising, art shows etc. The money goes towards the sustenance of the youth centre.

Sharon Simon

Thursday, 1 March 2012

Poietic leakages

The Cultural eXchanges event on electroacoustic music, the MTI Symposium, explained a lot for those unfamiliar with what the twenty-first century term ‘electroacoustic’ could refer to. It’s an umbrella term for all genres of music produced through electronic means: musique concrète and EDM (Electronic Dance Music) are just two examples.

The talk focused on more general issues to begin with, such as the relationship between the artist and the listener. This introduced the aforementioned idea of ‘poietic leakage’ - basically what the artist envisioned in the piece of music in comparison to the listener’s interpretation. This led to a discussion on the upcoming website – OREMA (the Online Repository for Electroacoustic Music Analysis), which plans to act as a Wikipedia of sorts for people who wish to upload their analyses of electronica compositions.

The most inspirational part of the discussion followed as several speakers presented their own analyses of a variety of electronic compositions. Though I felt the idea of using so many demonstrations did begin to drag, what stood out was the diversity of genres covered. Hugh Le Caine’s “Dripsody” came from as far back as 1955, was explored - a piece created simply from tape reels and a recording of a drop of water! Alongside this was IDM music in Monolake’s “Internal Clock”, and noise music in Merzbow’s “Meattrapezoid” (which, when blasted across the room, shocked just about everyone).

Overall, the event created the impression that electronic music is beginning to be observed as a whole. There’s a sense of unity, respect and pride in the subject that would not have even been there even as little as twenty years ago, and a desire to build on that. Above all, I strongly recommend keeping an eye on OREMA for anyone who’s interested in exploring electroacoustic music as a whole, inclusive category.

George Forster

An impossible objective

Although I knew little about the subject, I found myself enthralled by Professor Richard Evans' talk on Germany losing the Second World War.

Over the hour, Professor Evans detailed Hitler's plans for the world, including the transformation of Berlin into the "World Capital", and the complete domination of Europe and the East. He explained that it was all too evident that Germany's aims were overreaching; the very fact that its plans were limitless ensured that they would never be fulfilled. At the same time this one country was facing insurmountable odds from the combined forces of the British Empire, America and Russia. This led to a fascinating dissection of how it was near impossible for the Germans to have won.

The talk was intelligent, concise and - speaking as someone who doesn'tt know a great deal about the details of this particular aspect of the War- utterly absorbing.

Edward Spence

Why Germany lost

Richard Evans, author of the Third Reich trilogy, begins his talk on World War II in front of a completely packed-out lecture hall. Right from the off, the room is silent with everyone entirely attentive, laughing at every joke and paying attention to every word. We look too, as the lecture accompanied by pictures from the period.

Evans splits the loss into different reasons including the economy. Germany found it impossible to keep up with the production of the British Empire, the USSR and the USA.

As well as this, Evans claims that the aims of Germany were so large they could never be achieved. Hitler was said never to be rational and this came across throughout the talk. As Richard finished there was a large round of applause from the interested crowd.

I'd been looking forward to Richard Evans' talk and I appreciated his raconteur style. It reminded me why I loved history back in my A-Level days.

Grant Cole