Oxford

Why Alex Darby’s latest project is proof that student film cannot be ignored

Why Alex Darby’s latest project is proof that student film cannot be ignored

‘Festivals like to see a project rather than a product’, explains Owen Donovan, distribution manager for Waterbird | Catkins, as he steps off camera after filming a quick rave scene, and sits down with me at a table in The Cellar. Owen never expected to be in the final film, he had originally been overseeing the marketing and distribution of the two films, yet had been roped in to fill out the numbers for that particular shot.

I’d been invited down to the usually sweaty and packed club venue at 3 in the afternoon to watch some of the filming for two new student film projects, (the first, Catkins, and the second, Waterbird) both of them written and directed by Alexander Darby. If you are unfamiliar with Alex’s projects, go onto his Vimeo (available at vimeo.com/alexanderdarby) where you can see some of his fantastic work including a preview for The Wishing Horse, a film showing at a number of film festivals at the moment.

Darby decided to shoot both films together to, in effect, allow the project to work in two parts that complimented and augmented one another. Both have remarkably different story lines and themes – Catkins was largely set in an expansive, luscious countryside setting, whereas Waterbird, a film concentrating on the tensions of early adulthood, often has a lot more claustrophobic settings – as seen at The Cellar and later, when the team planned to do a night shoot in the Westgate Car Park. The two contrasting themes in the single project should provide an impressive result for viewers.

What was most striking about the project was how meticulously planned and flawlessly organised it was – even the rave scene, as Owen explains, was carefully orchestrated with specific entrances and exits done at regulated intervals. The day before, I was told, the crew had been out on the river with a boat specifically designed to hold the bulky camera; no expense was spared when it came to the visual quality of the eventual product.

Watching the few takes that I saw, it became clear that a strong working dynamic had emerged between the cast and crew – whenever a take didn’t feel right in Alex’s eyes or a boom mic may have poked into the shot, it was simply re-done without hesitation from anyone. It was this professionalism that clearly created the highest quality in student production.

Having come from a predominantly theatre-based dimension, watching this felt like a surreal experience to me, and it was clear that having a strong creative drive from Alex himself was keeping everyone focussed and patient.

I was lucky enough to be shown some of the footage from the day before (a relatively simple test shot of a jogger in the rain) and the results were incredible when slowed down – droplets of rain were almost visible across what may otherwise have been a dreary riverbank. It was small samples like that that ultimately make the end product all the more exciting.

Though the shoot is now finished, the work for Alex is far from over. Now he has to move to the editing stage (this would last through August apparently) and then the distribution and promotion of the project could begin, as had happened with Alex’s previous films including The Wishing Horse. Even with Catkins and Waterbird fully shot, there is no rest for the director and the rest of his crew, with Alex having recently been involved with the making of the trailer for The Pillowman (on at the Oxford Playhouse next term) and the directing of the video for the comedy song written by David Meredith and Will Hislop of the Oxford Revue (available here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qnSKzd8K8ug).

A night at the museum? Robots takeover the Tate.

A night at the museum? Robots takeover the Tate.

 

Art and robots: an irresolvable dichotomy between art and technology, or a symbiotic and novel way to exhibit art to the world? The Tate Britain’s showcasing of the After Dark project invited the public to decide. Created by design studio The Workers, After Dark was the winning project of the IK prize inaugurated this summer by the Tate Britain. Between Wednesday 13th and Friday 15th August those who logged onto the Tate’s website had the chance to view its galleries at night with the aid of four camera-equipped robots. This interface between art and technology begs the question of whether art is the experience of the viewer or the innovation of the creator.

The IK prize was conceptualised by the Tate with the ambition to “widen access to art through technology.” The Workers, a digital product design studio, received a prize of £10,000 and a £60,000 development budget in order to make the publics’ access to art fun, easy and educational. The robots were created in collaboration with RAL Space, and Colonel Chris Hadfield, former commander of the international space station, was the first person to test the robots out. The four robots roamed the deserted galleries and gave viewers a unique experience of nocturnal art accompanied with commentary on the pieces. Select viewers even had the chance to remotely control the robots and therefore what the rest of the world could see, and I was lucky enough to have this privilege.

I was left to wander through the museum at night, catch glimpses of dark corners, and see art against the backdrop of abyss-like uncertainty… Space was redefined and separated into the known and unknown.

At 9.58pm sharp I sat in front of my laptop praying that the online streaming was not going to be a cultural rendition of Robot Wars. It wasn’t. Instead I felt like a commander of a space station with four screens in front of me linked to four different robots in various exhibitions. I was left to wander through the museum at night, catch glimpses of dark corners, and see art against the backdrop of abyss-like uncertainty. The robots and the commentary ping-ponged back and forth through the centuries, rendering the commentary spontaneous and exciting.  A connection was forged between the commentator and the viewer since we were both at the mercy of the robots and we were constantly being taken by surprise. Throughout the night there was a heady sense of suspense. Space was redefined and separated into the known and unknown. Works by Turner, Henry Moore and Damien Hirst were excavated from unusual angles and areas of light. A Francis Bacon painting of three figures seemed ghoulish in the eeriness of the dark and cavernous space whereas Gainsborough’s ‘Carthorses Taking a Rest’ was bathed in synthetic light illuminating the colours, giving it a whole new concept of technological realism. After being randomly selected, I was able to control the robots on my keypad. This proved to be a challenge for someone who has no spacial awareness. I was allocated room 4- 20th century art, which housed pieces such as Damien Hirst’s ‘shelf’.  Once I learnt how to avoid hitting things, it was actually an enjoyable experience; but I lost focus on the art I was supposed to be viewing and instead became ensnared by this novel mode of transportation. For me the robots had taken over and the art was receding further and further into the dark.

 

[caption id="attachment_59282" align="aligncenter" width="779"] After Dark Interface[/caption]

 

One of the creators Tommaso Lanza said, “We’re not trying to give you this perfect representation of the art…It’s giving the art a different angle, and different light.”

 

[caption id="attachment_59284" align="aligncenter" width="779"]after dark screen shot 3 Screenshot of the experience[/caption]

 

The Tate Britain has joined the voyage into the modern, an odyssey of technology that promises to make our lives faster, easier and, in the case of art, damn right cooler, but I fear that on this journey we are travelling too fast to take in the view. Admittedly, the idea of enabling the whole world to see 500 years of British art would be impossible without this project. One of the creators Tommaso Lanza said, “We’re not trying to give you this perfect representation of the art…It’s giving the art a different angle, and different light.” He achieved this and at the same time pointed to an important dilemma; the notion that we must sacrifice personal experience for mass convenience. I couldn’t help but wonder if the robots were a fun kind of symbolism for our technologically capable society’s inability to stop and smell the roses. Often It was very difficult to see the paintings clearly since they were partially subdued in darkness and restricted by the diameter of the robot’s light beam.  I could not make out the individual brush strokes, materials or composition of the pieces clearly, nor have time to reflect on the effect the art works were having on me. Unless I was controlling the robot, I was completely at mercy to the will of others, saw what they wanted to see, heard what they wanted to hear. I found it hard to locate myself and connect to the artwork in this strained compromise of artistic experience and artistic globalisation. The experience was crazily cool and solemnly sacrificial.

So between the hours of 10pm and 3am I found myself wondering how ubiquitous can art ever be if it has to be technologically transmitted within the rigid constraints of time and at the will of those few who were in control? Is this a glimpse of the future or a subtle reminder that, although the world is becoming globalised, humanity is becoming perpetually cemented in front of an LCD display?

 

 

The Freshers’ guide to university life on screen

The Freshers’ guide to university life on screen

The results are in and teenagers all over the country now know whether or not they have secured a place here at this prestigious institution where they hope to continue their quests for knowledge and meaning that will more than likely turn into endless nights in Camera, Parkend, Bridge and Wahoo. Freshers’ minds are no doubt filled with questions, such as the ever troubling – Will I make friends? But more importantly – What’s the nightlife like?

If you’re a soon-to-be fresher, here is a guide to some films and television programmes from the last 5 years that will ‘accurately’ prepare you for what’s in store.

Fresh Meat

freshmeat

Fresh Meat represents some of the very best of British comedy and I haven’t met a single person from our generation who hasn’t found it hilarious. If Fresh Meat characters were colleges, Kingsley would be Mansfield (friendly, fairly liberal, kinda left wing), Oregon would be St Johns (loaded, but conceals it’s wealth behind those walls), Josie would be Jesus (she is Welsh after all), Sabine would be Merton (it’s ‘where fun goes to die’), JP would be Christ Church (red trousers.), Howard would be Corpus Christi (small, unnoticed, situated in Christ Church’s shadow), Vod would be Wadham (don’t think this one needs explaining).

“First year is beer year. Third year is fear year. But second year is spear year.”

(Good news – it’s on Netflix)

21 and Over

21-and-Over-610x310

This is the film for any impending fresher who had really strict parents growing up. The new-found freedom at uni will no doubt be far too much for them to handle and they’ll go completely cray-cray. It’s set in America so, of course, the legal drinking age is 21, but pretend this film stars a bunch of 18 year olds and it’s spot on.

“Yeah, she’s cute, but she’s not my type.”

“What is your type?”

“Girls who want to have sex with me”

(Also on Netflix)

Monsters University

monstersuni

Being a ‘Mike’ (Grade A nerd) and ending up with a ‘Sully’ (lads lads lads!) as your roommate is probably every fresher’s worst nightmare but you’ll grow to love your corridor/staircase/flat (probably). This story teaches you that nothing should get in the way of you and your bros and that despite your differences you can make friends with anyone! (Cheesy, I know – it’s Disney). Unfortunately nothing quite as exciting as the Scare Games happens at university, but we have University Challenge and that’s basically the same thing, right?

“Imagine a university…”

“Where I can be unique in a sea of thousands”

“Where I can learn to learn”

“and learn what I love”

- Said no one ever

The Social Network

socialnetwork

You can only hope that you’ll be creating something quite as amazing as Facebook during your time at university. Prospective E&Mers who think this is going to be the story of your university years, I’m sorry to break this to you, but that probably isn’t going to happen. When you leave university you’re likely to be broke, an alcoholic, and to top it all off you’re going to have to look for a ‘real’ job in the ‘real’ world.

“I need to do something substantial in order to attract the attention of the clubs.”

“Why?”

“Because they’re exclusive. And fun. And they lead to a better life.”

Inbetweeners 2

inbetweeners2

Finally, for those of you off on your gap yahs before heading to university, here’s what you’ve got to look forward to! You’ll probably have plans to travel far, far away from dreary old England, maybe even as far as Australia like Jay, but hopefully you’ll have something more meaningful planned than hunting for ‘klunge’.

“Everyone knows the backpacking girls are the loosest. That’s why it’s called a gap year”


 

These are just a few of my top picks for films and series to watch before heading off to uni. Of course there are tonnes of other student-based series worth noting: Legally Blond, American Pie, Starter for 10, Animal House, Greek and more!

 

Union hacks clash over electoral malpractice

Union hacks clash over electoral malpractice

Seven electoral tribunals have been launched amidst accusations of rule breaking in the aftermath of last Friday’s Union elections.

The allegations of electoral malpractice, with two leveled at candidates for President, are the first since 2011 which will be heard in front of a tribunal panel.

Unsuccessful Presidential candidate Sunny Jain has been accused of publicly soliciting votes, campaigning in written and electronic form and providing members with a list of selected candidates, all of which are against the Union’s stringent electoral rules.

Lisa Wehden, who won Friday’s election for President, has been called to a tribunal for allegations including taking part in a conspiracy, engaging in an electoral pact between candidates and systematic campaigning in public places and member’s private lodgings. Charlie Vaughan, who was successfully elected Librarian, has been hit with the same charges.

Other charges come from Chris Frost, last Friday’s third Presidential candidate, who is taking on OUSU Women’s Vice President Sarah Pine, whilst ex-Returning Officer Joshua Atkinson has submitted against Rob Harris, New, who was elected to Standing Committee.

Annie Teriba, a Wadhamite who lost her election for Secretary by three votes to New College’s Dom Merchant, is claiming innocent interference against the Returning Officer who administered the election, Wharton Chan.

Whilst in recent years similar allegations  have been submitted to the election’s Returning Officer, they have all subsequently been withdrawn.

The tribunals will be held on Friday evening, with the possibility of some of the cases continuing on Saturday morning.

The tribunal panel is composed of three ex-officers of the society, all of whom have left the University, who will adjudicate on the allegations. They have the power to strip elected officials of their positions, revoke memberships, impose fines, and in some instances call a re-poll.

‘The Riot Club’ and a tired, exaggerated caricature of Oxford

‘The Riot Club’ and a tired, exaggerated caricature of Oxford

There is a curious quaintness to The Riot Club. The Bullingdon Club and company have an incredible power over the media, somewhat understandably. In the middle of austerity, it’s bloody funny to imagine that some of the best-loved politicians in the country once spent their student days getting uproariously drunk and smashing up some poor unsuspecting restaurant. Recent scandals over drinking societies add to the allure of the whole matter, no doubt.

At its heart, though, The Riot Club appears to be the old joke at the expense of straw-man Oxford toffs, caricaturing a small subsection of the student populace before revelling in their self-destructive hedonism. It is hardly pioneering work: a group of jumped-up lads, presumably with double-barrelled surnames and titles to boot, get drunk and violent. Remove the tuxedos and the pseudo-edgy political overtones, and it’s Skins. Or a Saturday night out in Chelmsford.

I don’t want to be an apologist for the arrogance of drinking societies like the Bullingdon Club, but the supposedly moral drive of the film is flimsy at best. The members of the Riot Club do look unabashedly unpleasant by and large, but I can’t shake the feeling that even as the film prods us, saying “Go on, look at those nasty wealthy buggers! God, how I hate them!”, it’s also secretly fantasising over owning a golden hip-flask and fencing with the people who own half of Scotland. This isn’t a hard-talking documentary – it’s not even an outright condemnation of the lifestyle some members of Oxford lead. The Riot Club is set to be painfully formulaic with a veneer of tutting social condemnation – an orgy of sex, drugs and violence in sub fusc, if you will.

The fear that it will put students from lower-income backgrounds off applying is quite understandable, especially if the film does really spend the whole time focussed in on the ten members of the Riot Club. Realistically, however, there are bigger issues in the real-world which have cast shadows over Oxford – the I, too, am Oxford/ We all are Oxford clash; the fiasco over the Pembroke rugby club; the continuing ruckus in the Union. These are far more interesting issues than the corny stereotype of alcoholic Hoorah Henrys– they are far more important too. In comparison, the Bullingdon club is as distant to the majority of Oxford students as it is to the rest of the UK (bar Boris and friends, perhaps).

At any rate, I’m dubious as to whether potential applicants will be put off by one film if the years of cultural sediment which portray all of us as port-swilling aristocrats with a taste for peasant-and-pheasant hunting haven’t done so already. The day that admissions tutors should be scared about a lack of applicants is when my film ‘The Gladstone Clink’ comes out, and prospective students get to watch Oxonians rapidly wilting in an underground Doctor Who set without natural light, and finally deciding that being squashed between those rolling shelves is the only way out. You have been warned.

 

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PHOTO/Raiding the Parks

It happens here – sexual violence must never be treated lightly

It happens here – sexual violence must never be treated lightly

A few weeks into my first term at Oxford, I got into an argument with a guy who called me and some of my friends – both male and female – pussies. As I explained the derogatory nature of the word, the hurt response it has the capacity to evoke, and the problem of equating women’s anatomy with weakness, I received the usual “God, it’s just a joke” as a response.

On Friday, I overheard a group of students discussing the rape and attempted rape allegations that have been brought against the Union president, Ben Sullivan. The group seemed to divide into two sides, as I heard two male students asserting that it’s too late for these girls to come forward with rape allegations – “If they didn’t come forward right away, they shouldn’t have a chance to at all.” I heard the second group (of both male and female students) respond, explaining that in a world where rape victims are often blamed for the acts committed against them, or at a minimum have serious doubts cast on their claims, it isn’t always easy for someone to come forward right away.

Then last night, as I was writing a paper on gender based violence in refugee communities within the Middle East, I came across the video of men in Oxford walking around chanting about rape.

Let me start by saying – that in the latter two examples I’ve mentioned above – I don’t know the whole story and I won’t pretend to. I believe in the presumption of innocence, and in following due process of law, so if Ben Sullivan is innocent and has been wrongly accused, then I certainly hope that as the investigation proceeds, that will be brought to light. I also don’t know what the aim of the boys chanting in the streets over the weekend was. I would be very happy to learn that they were standing up in protest against sexual assaults committed in university communities, or globally, or anything along those lines, but I can’t say either way without having more information.

All I can say is I can’t believe we’re still having these conversations. Still in a world where in 2014 an educated graduate student thinks it’s appropriate to say something degrading because “God, it’s just a joke.” Still in a world where people don’t understand that rape victims can’t always just “come forward right away” – and that that misinformed perspective on rape and its victims is often the very reason why victims feel uncomfortable reporting the acts committed against them. Still in a world where survivors of sexual assault may have to cross paths with people chanting about rape in the center of town (especially, if indeed this was meant to be a joke or an attempt to degrade rape victims and delegitimize their claims).

On Wednesday evening, I along with Oxford Women in Politics and the Oxford Union, had the pleasure of hosting Alyse Nelson, President and CEO of Vital Voices Global Partnership. Alyse’s organization is committed to empowering women leaders worldwide and to addressing problems of ranging from economic and political gender inequality to sexual assault. As she responded to a question from the audience following her speech, Alyse called gender based violence “the great unfinished business of our time.” And I couldn’t agree more. As we’ve seen within our own community in recent days, weeks, and months, GBV isn’t just a problem that we as privileged, educated Oxford students have to go out into the world to address – among refugee communities in the Middle East, or in Nigeria following Boko Haram’s recent actions, or elsewhere. Gender based violence is not just a third world problem. It’s a problem right here – and every time someone thinks it’s appropriate to cast off a legitimate discussion about discrimination against women because he was “just making a joke,” we take one step in the wrong direction – one step away from making any progress towards gender equality and freedom from sexual violence.

I commend the efforts of WomCam, and It Happens Here, and all of the other organizations in Oxford dedicated to empowering women and eliminating gender based violence. But it’s going to take a lot more than those already committed to the cause continuing to fight in order to make real progress. It’s going to take a 20 year old guy at a club having the guts to tell his friend, “That’s not cool” when his friend makes a rape joke or calls someone a pussy or a cunt. It’s going to take all of us understanding the difficulty sexual assault survivors face every day – from the moment they decide to go (or not to go) to the police to living in a community that trivializes their trauma.

And if you’re not convinced that making the world – or Oxford – an equal place for women is a good enough reason (even though I sincerely hope you are) – remember that all of the problems I’ve discussed have a serious impact on men too. As much as a woman faces stigma if she decides to press charges against someone who sexually assaulted her, men face just as many if not more. A community where a man is a pussy, or loses his masculinity, if he is a victim of sexual assault is a community where men will also be hesitant to come forward against their assailants. And that’s a world where rapists get to continue committing these horrible acts, because we’re not standing up in solidarity to stop them.

Thank you to Alyse Nelson, to WomCam and It Happens Here, and to those students I overheard explaining the difficulties sexual assault victims face to their friends. I hope that many more will follow your example, in ways big and small, until gender based violence is no longer the “great unfinished business of our time.”

 

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PHOTO/Wolfram Burner

£1.8 billion development for University

£1.8 billion development for University

The University has recently unveiled blueprints for £1.8 billion worth of development in Oxford.

The plans include new developments in the science area as well as accommodation provisions for students.

A spokesperson for Paul Goffin, director of estates at the medical sciences campus, said “in order to compete with the best universities in the world to attract top students and academics to Oxford, we need to provide suitable research facilities and student accommodation.

“Our estate strategy over the next ten years will improve our provision of laboratories, libraries and study space, and house more students in University accommodation.”

The university is intending to carry out the plans between 2014 and 2024.

Goffin said of the wider effects: “We are pleased that jobs will be created in the construction and staffing of these buildings, and that our aim to house as many students as possible in University accommodation will ease the burden on Oxford’s rental market.”

Isobel Wilson, a first year English student, said that “I’m really glad to hear how much development is going into the university. I think education is one of the best uses for funding and it’s important that Oxford continues offering the standard of education it is capable of.

“As universities become increasingly international, it’s interesting to see how Oxford is responding, and I think improvements to academic provisions is a good step. Also, as a small-college student, having fantastic resources that are university-wide makes a huge difference!

“I also think it’s great that the university recognises the importance of student accommodation and housing. Oxford is a hard city to live in because of the cost so having more development in that sector can only benefit students”, she continued

According to building development website bdonline, the development is in response to international university competition and comparison of estates with Universities such as Harvard, Stanford and Yale.

At a recent Thames Valley Universities’ investment plans event, Goffin said the university has noted £900 million worth of “capital projects” for the first five years. So far, £700 million of that has been funded.

 

Growing success for Humans of Oxford

Growing success for Humans of Oxford

The Humans of Oxford Facebook page, launched in March, has seen great success in the first four weeks of term. 

The ‘Humans of’ movement was inspired by the now iconic Humans of New York blog, started by Brandon Stanton.  

The original page now has over five million followers on Facebook. Stanton published the Humans of New York Book in October 2013. 

It has since been emulated across the globe with popular examples including Humans of India, Humans of Paris, and Humans of Sofia. 

Humans of Oxford is run by Ed Klinger, Reeva Misra, Connie Bloomfield, Charlie Goodman and Nathalie Wright, all third year students at Wadham College. 

They started posting photographs on 3 March, but have since received over 2,700 likes in the past three weeks. 

“When we started it, I don’t think we really thought about how popular it would be,” they said.

“Of course, the “brand” names of ‘Oxford’ and the ‘Humans of…’ set-up is enough to get lots of people interested. 

“However, we want to hold their attention and present our page viewers with a different perspective of the city each day,” they added.

The group claims the premise of the ‘Humans of’ movement is very simple, and described it as: “One city, one photo, one person and a short quotation from the subject. Sometimes funny, sometimes poignant, sometimes banal.”

“It is an antidote to the faceless crowds of modern urban life. I guess we wanted to go out and meet people ourselves and also create a sense of community online,” they explained. 

“The best thing about the project is having an excuse to go up and talk to someone – anyone – you see on the street and have a chat. 

“It’s amazing how many conversational doors a smile and a camera can open.”

The Humans of Oxford page can be found here: https://www.facebook.com/humansofox

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