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

Monday, 9 March 2015

Sci-Fi - a week of reflection

It's been more than a week since, I along with many other members of the university and general public, listened to Professor Stuart Price's lecture at Cultural Exchanges. Unlike many of the attendees there I didn't know a lot about what I was about to listen to, but the title of the lecture (Violence, Knowledge, Repetition) interested me enough to book a seat.

I decided to hold off on reviewing this event in order to see how much of it really sunk in after time had passed and I am pleased to report that I still have fond thoughts of the lecture. What's more, the knowledge I gained has indeed sunk in. 

One thing in particular that sticks in my mind is, as the title suggests, how important and commonly used repetition is within cinema. I have never thought about how similar some scenes are in different movies. Indeed, Price showed us two different movies using the same shots, angles and references to each other. He talked to us about why this is what we recognise within cinematography. I certainly learned a lot about something I knew very little about before.

At the end of the lecture, the professor asked us out of interest if the people listening were Film students and when he found out that some were not, he smiled, almost surprised. I smiled too, at the surprise that was the delight of this lecture. Until next year, Professor..

"Amazing Stories March 1929" by Published by Experimenter Publishing Co. - Scanned cover of pulp magazine. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons -

Lewis Bagshaw

Dystopia now

"Mockingjay filming district two Tempelhof airport Berlin 02" by Lienhard Schulz - Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons -

Professor Stuart Price's lecture on sci-fi alluded to a wide array of tropes that we see in most Hollywood Sci-Fi blockbusters, ranging from gender stereotypes to the protagonists’ common loss of identity.

Alongside these themes was an underlying message in the lecture that stood out to me. The point that Professor Price made is that cinema isn’t portraying a dystopian future in these action sci-fi movies. It’s actually a dramatization or a cinematic portrayal of modern day life itself.

Are we already in the beginning stages of what we call a dystopian future? Was film director Alfonso CuarĂ³n right in saying that “The tyranny of the 21st century is called democracy”?

Either way, I was fortunate to hear Professor Stuart Price discussing these important topics and sharing his insights.

Sam Ellison

Violence, knowledge, repetition

What can be better than spending an hour in a darkened room listening to a guy talk about Science-Fiction movies? Well, a lot, to be honest, but it’s still a pretty decent way to kill an hour of your time if you’re a total Sci-Fi nerd like I am.

Professor Stuart Price has A LOT to say about Science-Fiction cinema - particularly, as the title of the event suggests, about Violence, Knowledge and Repetition in Science-Fiction cinema. His observations on the narrative themes commonly found in Sci-Fi stories - repetition, where characters experience the same situation over and over again (evident in such films as Edge of Tomorrow and Source Code) and knowledge (evident in such films as Minority Report) - were both fascinating and unsettling. Why do Sci-Fi storytellers do this? What is the reason, the meaning, behind such repetition? Why is knowledge so important?

As both a student of Media Studies at A-Level, and of Film Studies here at DMU, I found I was able to understand quite a lot of Professor Price’s lecture. His mentioning of de Saussure’s Binary Opposition theory, Propp’s Character theories, and Todorov’s Equilibrium theory (concepts that propose the media follows a particular set of narrative restrictions) in fact made the lecture feel very reminiscent of my usual classes. And of course, I was familiar with all the films Price took examples from.

All in all, I found Professor Price’s talk both enlightening and enjoyable.

River Apparicio

The Demon Crew - into reality

There were at least eight of them in the room. They sat nervously biting their lips, watching us take off our coats and settle into our seats.

These are some of the final-year Creative Writing undergraduates. We’re here to see their poems, their stories and anecdotes. They’re here to show us their hard work, as they prepare to take their work as writers out into the real world.

Each piece of work was a delight to listen to. It was great to see each author and how happy they were with each piece of work. The event had an excitable charge to it, with the audience and speakers all eager to hear what would come next.

My favourite poem of the event was called ‘An Average Life’. It was witty, clever and totally unexpected.

I will definitely be going back next year.

Annabel Easton

'a social war against all'

The short film, The Condition of the Working Class, sets out to explore the differences between working-class Britain in 1844 as described by Friedrich Engels and working-class Britain of today.

I was shocked, yet not surprise,d at how static this country has remained. Britain is bound by tradition, scared of change and just as in 1844, in the midst of a 'social war against all'.

Like most present, I found the film funny, charming and, most importantly, honest, conveying the struggle of hard-working people in this country.

Once again the poor are getting poorer and the rich are getting richer. So, when will we stop living in the past, stand up and be counted? When will 1844 be a distant memory?

Charlotte Batey

The Seven Wonders of New Walk

It became clear within the first few minutes of the art collector's speech that the Seven Wonders consisted of Anthony D’Offay's most prized paintings. The passion in his voice didn’t waver as he guided us through each piece of art, detailing why it was iconic and why he had spent a portion of his life bringing these paintings to New Walk Museum.
Each painting had its own anecdote behind it. Anthony also took us through his childhood, explaining how his love of museums grew from when he was a child, where he would often travel to a new museum to see its works of art.

I was surprised to enjoy this event so much. Not only did I hear about the famous paintings, including one of Anthony's’ personal favourites ‘The Red Woman’, but I was pleased to hear wise words from a man who appreciates art, and just wants the world to see it too.

According to Anthony d'Offay, ‘An Art Dealer's job is to help and encourage artists, to bring their work to museums for the world to see’.

Annabel Easton

The after-effects of Carol Ann Duffy

I've been a fan of Carol Ann Duffy's work for a long time - and slaved for hours over A-Level coursework about her poems. So when I went to her poetry reading, I wondered what she would be like. Arrogant, perhaps? Dull? Maybe even shy?

But as Duffy began to speak, my preconceptions disappeared and everyone in the room was drawn to listen. We moved from hysterical laughter at her reading from The World's Wife to mournful silence in response to a poem about her late mother. I found myself wanting her to talk for longer; she has a way of drawing the listener in, leaving them eager to hear the next word.

As I returned home, I found myself thinking about ideas for my own poems. I don't even like writing poetry, but Duffy is the kind of poet who makes you want to pick up a pen and write. I don't see myself becoming poet laureate any time soon, but if I can entice and amaze people the way Duffy does, then surely it's worth a try.

Lily Hood 

Sunday, 1 March 2015

Pop Up Play: a symposium

Fun, Clever, Inspirational, Innovative, Educational - and that’s just the concept. In reality, the final product is so much more.
Pop Up Play is a new piece of software that introduces a whole new easy-to-use immersive education experience whether it be mainstream education, special needs, ESL or in students' own homes.
Thanks to The Spark Arts for Children, De Montfort University and Dotlib Ltd., any child with access to a computer, projector and webcam can enter their favourite video scene. And with the use of Pop Up Play’s tracking capabilities via the use of a Window’s Kinect, that same child can also track any item/picture to their body including a full character suit. The child can choose to be a pirate, a fairy, or even a favourite toy. The only issue is keeping up with how fast the kids can think up new scenarios. Time for another arts and crafts lesson!
It was a pleasure to attend the software’s launch at DMU during the 2015 Culture Exchanges week. The symposium began with a rundown of the program's development through four separate case studies in Leicestershire schools around Leicestershire, and it had everyone’s undivided attention from the start. After a quick lunch, we were all whisked upstairs in DMU’s PACE building to see the program in action. There were a few children ready to help and they showed us adults how tablet control should be done - and what fun could be had.

Since Pop Up Play is open source software and free to download HERE. Your imagination is the only limit.

Daniel Jensen

Facing the backlash

Creative director, Kieran Smith joined us all to talk about the controversial documentary, Make Leicester British, which was screened last year.  Channel 4 in the past has produced similar documentaries such as Make Bradford British where they focused on the segregation between different communities and cultures in Bradford.

The production company responsible is Love Productions, which has also produced Benefits Street, Immigration Street and The Great British Bake off.

Kieran explained why Leicester was chosen, and its attraction is evident; it’s a city full of multiculturalism, community cohesion and integration. But what was interesting was that the documentary initially wanted to focus on Eastern Europeans coming into the UK,and this governed the company's choice of participants.
One member of the audience pointed out the show should have been named ‘Big Brother on Immigration.’ Those who attended the event felt Leicester was misrepresented and that the producers wanted to create problems that weren’t initially there.

It was brave of Kieran to attend given the backlash he received, but he answered calmly and held his hands up to the choices that were made for entertainment purposes.

According to Kieran, it’s safe to say that there are no future plans for Making Somewhere Else British.

Humairaa Patel

Make Leicester furious

The talk began with a prelude of apologies, and an acceptance that everyone in the room had a bone to pick with the Creative Director; Kieran Smith of Love Productions. Now, I hadn't known the great depth of feeling that the controversial documentary, Make Leicester British had sparked in its viewers, but by the end I was well aware. One woman even succumbed to tears in the Q&A. I think the way Kieran gracefully handled the less than warm welcome was admirable, especially when taking into consideration the event was free. 

We were given insight into the work behind the scenes of the documentary, how long it took to create, and in particular how people were chosen. The people who took part in the documentary were chosen as they seemed to have a capacity to change, and, as the reason for Make Leicester British was to "generate debate", "try to change peoples views and help them learn" - this was obviously important. As Kieran put it, he wanted to portray a "journey of understanding", and I think in many ways he and his team did that. 

Though many in attendance disputed almost everything about the documentary, by the end of the talk I could see that this upset had not been Love Production's, and in particular Kieran's intention. A certain amount of controversy comes with such delicate subjects as immigration, racism and the like. And while Channel 4 may have highlighted these aspects in the name of ratings, I believe it's necessary to have a debate on these topics and, if Make Leicester British sparked this, that's a good thing. 

Laylah Grewal

The Monochrome Spy

A mysterious man walked onto the stage in front of the screen at the Phoenix Cinema, and introduced his latest work. It was obvious that he was both nervous and excited as he thanked everyone for attending. Then the screen flickered. 

What followed was an all-action, satirical spy film set in 1964. This tongue-in-cheek nod to the famous television series' of the 1960's, had all the expected genre conventions: a narcissistic Bond-esque protagonist named Guy Boulton, a Soviet villain, a murder-mystery, a beautifully oblivious female called Elizabeth Landers; and the omniscient American organisation controlling the entire thing - named, rather aptly, Control. 

It ran for an impressive 1 hour 11 minutes, after which three men took to the stage for a discussion. They introduced themselves as Dick Fiddy, Tim Meadows, and Paul Gosling, the creator of the project. The discussion that followed revealed that Gosling aimed to make his movie emulate the black and white 35mm shows, such as The Saint and Dangerman. 

The Monochrome Spy had been an idea for 8 years, filmed entirely in Leicester with a budget of £1300 and all of the constraints that one would expect. And it was, at least in my opinion, a raging success. It was amusing without being insulting, engaging without being tedious; and the acting talent was far beyond any expectations I had when learning that it was an independent film.

The event ended with a quote from Fiddy regarding the secret of scriptwriting: "Bottom to chair, pen to paper!"

Hayleigh Lynch

A benefit to us all

I left the Arts in Prison event feeling quite moved. I feel the work Alistair Fruish and his team do is extremely under appreciated in society as many people I know believe prisoners should not be provided with 'luxuries' or help as they have committed a crime and therefore need to serve their time without support. I disagree with this. Working with prisoners as Alistair does is extremely important in helping them move forward and develop themselves as people, not just as criminals. And, as Alistair says, "It's not just prisoners that benefit from the art; the whole establishment does."

The talk was wonderfully informative and engaging and I came away wanting to know more about the creative work people do with prisoners. I learned that work with prisoners is not limited to just reading and writing, but instead it branches out to various other creative means including plays which are broadcast on prison television and radio stations.

I cannot stress enough the importance of people like Alistair Fruish. The work he does is viewed by many as pointless and worthless but it is quite the opposite. With the levels of illiteracy in prisons so very high, it is important that there are people like Alistair looking out and offering support to those who need it in prison.

Casey Whiting.

For Ducks' Sake

The day started as it usually does - with an almost IV drip of coffee. I had planned to go to three talks during the day, finish and unwind with 'The Image is the Servant II' which boasts a collective of talented musicians, artists, dancers and poets - and a bar, score. To say I was looking forward to this event is an understatement, but alas, I couldn't find it! 

I took a cab to where google maps assured me Hansom Hall was, where the cab driver assured me it would be - it wasn't there! After over an hour of searching I decided to call it a day as it was getting a little dark to be lost in Leicester. Still, I thought, let's do something blog-worthy. So I fed the ducks. 

And let me tell you, as much as I wish I had been able to find the event, (especially after hearing how amazing it was) no time spent feeding ducks is a waste of time. 

Laylah Grewal