The biometric chip in my passport is broken: A free verse, slam poetry-esque rant by Flo

Yes, in the interests of accuracy, this is a photo of my actual passport even though it could just have easily been a stock photo.

The biometric chip in my passport is broken.
Or rather, the biometric chip in my passport is half-broken.
Although, I’m not sure broken is the correct term since it has never worked.
Not since the day my passport was issued
Which, by the way,
Was in 2012,
Before I turned eighteen:
The age you have to be for an epassort with a biometric chip to work.
I feel like that might have something to do with it.

While this doesn’t bother me on a day to day basis,
It makes any international journey excruciatingly irritating.
Which, as someone with a life in one country and a family in another,
Happens often.
I arrive at the gate and my passport is accepted by the first machine.
They point me to the ePassport gates:
“The biometric chip in my passport is broken” I say.
“If it worked here it’ll work there” they reply.
This is because my chip is only half-broken.
My Dad’s passport works every time on both machines.
My Mum broke hers and it works never,
but mine is half broken so I get the worst of both worlds.

I place the passport in the machine:
“Error. Please wait. Veuillez patienter. Erreur.”
“It does this every time, the biometric chip in my passport is broken” I say to the attendant.
“Oh no just try it on another machine they’re temperamental sometimes”.
I humour them and try, but I wonder why the machines are never temperamental on anyone else’s passport.
Only on mine.
Every time.
That sounds more like a sentient machine programmed to exact revenge on me than a temperamental system, if I’m perfectly honest.
Or maybe it’s because the biometric chip in my passport is broken?
I don’t know.
It’s just a theory.

So I go to the non-eu passports and confused chinese families wonder why I’m skipping the line.
Only to be told:
“Oh the biometric chip in your passport is broken. You should’ve queued up here from the start.”
Is it now?
I had no idea.

Now I could just replace my passport but that costs nearly 75 quid and the passport still has five good years on it.
Also I want to keep a GB/EU passport as long as possible.
Also I like the photo in this one and I don’t want to have to find my deed poll again to justify my name when I renew my passport.
Furthermore I may have a French passport within the next few years.
Although that will probably also require my deed poll, and my grandparents blood types while we’re at it.
In fact, I think I could apply for it now But you need two years of higher education and I don’t know if that means two years of consecutive successful higher education or bac+2.
One I have, the other I don’t
And the website is unclear.
Or maybe i’m not understanding the nuance of the French,
In which case my naturalisation demand is somewhat laughable.
If it’s bac+2 I could do the paperwork tomorrow and have a passport surprisingly soon
And I could travel with that passport,
Which won’t have a broken biometric chip in it.
We live in hope.

But if it’s two consecutive years I won’t have that ’til next summer.
And at that point I may as well wait another year and apply at the 5 year residence mark, which is less likely to be rejected.
But article 50 has been triggered already and waiting the full five years would leave me in France with a non-EU passport for a full six months.
Which seems like a situation I would rather avoid.
So whatever happens I probably have at least another year using this passport. The one that has a broken biometric chip in it.
And quoi qu’il en soit politiquement,
It’s a pain in the arse.


Five films about War.

Dunkirk (2017)

This week Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk came sputtering into cinemas with all the empty pomp and circumstance of a victory parade. The film is an immersive hour and forty-seven minutes of impressively shot action and tension underpinned by a hackneyed and didactic score. Despite all the means imaginable Dunkirk fails to convey anything about the Miracle of Dunkirk or war itself that isn’t contained in anecdotal knowledge of Operation Dynamo. With no characters beyond allegorical figures of the soldier, the father and the general, Nolan actively cuts the viewer off from having any connection with what happens on screen and one is left with a kind of moodboard of slick cinematography and vintage machinery. After my initial bafflement at the thunderous reception Dunkirk has received I came across comments from Nolan stating that Dunkirk isn’t so much a “War Film” as a “Survival Film”. Such a distinction doesn’t change my reaction to Dunkirk but it did get me wondering; what does it actually mean to be a “War Film”?

First off, it’s unclear whether “War Film” is a genre at all. There are war comedies, war musicals, war epics. Do all of these fall under the same umbrella? What about films that focus in on one particular aspect of a war like Son of Saul where the focalisation is so strongly with Saul in the concentration camp that the finer political implications of wartime seem irrelevant? Furthermore there are hundreds of films where the war is the backdrop to events but is far enough away from the characters, be that in distance or time, that it’s really nothing more than set-dressing. I would consider this to be the case in films such as Gone With the Wind and Frantz.

What makes something a war film for me is the portrayal of people navigating experiences and events that only exist in war. This means that it doesn’t have to be a film directly about soldiers, battles or even the political actors of war. Civilians in a war zone, prisoners of war, families dealing with the absence of their soldier sons and even army officials with desk jobs all fall into this category. The category is, admittedly, vast, but limiting how we talk about war exclusively to front-line action would be dishonest and one thing I love about films is their capacity for honesty.

Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk (2017)

Most recently this honesty blew me away in Ang Lee’s 2017 film Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk. After the poetic opulence of Life of Pi, this film had all the same visual mastery with none of the whimsy. Billy Lynn, a young soldier in Iraq whose actions in the heat of battle have earned him and his comrades a victory tour of the United States, encounters a much less pleasant America than the pageantry would have us believe. Hidden barely a scratch under the surface is a society built on insincerity and insensitivity that knowingly exploits the hopes of those in need and those who serve. The film builds to a flawless and terrifying set-piece; the half-time performance at a baseball game, where the gulf between the treatment returning soldiers need, and what they receive, is felt more and more with every uncomfortable passing second. Lee lures the spectator in with tales of heroism and spectacle before opening a much-needed dialogue on PTSD among veterans and the struggles of America’s working poor.

This is a great quality of war films, to reveal the ugliness in what is normally dressed up as heroism. The very premise of war is that there is an enemy to be defeated but this can, and often is, turned on its head by the end of the film. Take two great films about the Vietnam War. In Apocalypse Now we are thrown into the action so completely that we don’t even get opening credits during which to get our bearings. Instead we open on a hopeless soldier who is only going to have more to endure. The mission to be carried out starts impossible and grows to become a grotesque over-simplification of the horror. Through sequence after sequence Coppola allows us to travel into the darkness and absurdity of the dense, dark jungle. The enemies are omnipresent, on his side, on the other side and potentially even inside himself. On the other hand there is Good Morning Vietnam where over half of the film focuses on the trials and tribulations of a rebellious DJ (Robin Williams, in one of his most touching turns). It just so happens that this DJ is on the radio in Vietnam’s demilitarised zone. This backdrop of relative peace allows him to form personal relationships with Vietnamese locals. As such he enters into a complicated middle ground where he is friends with the Vietnamese, reviled by his military superiors and adored by the thousands of troops who listen to his show. Good Morning Vietnam is light without being flippant. When the brutality of war finally rears its ugly head in the third act it is rendered all the more terrible by the joy that preceded it since the enemy is no longer a faceless aggressor.

All of these qualities and more are present in Empire of the Sun. It’s not Spielberg’s best-known film, hell it’s not even his best-known war film, but it’s my favourite by a long way and holds a place in my top three films of all time. Featuring the best performance from Christian Bale before The Big Short, Empire of the Sun is the adaptation of J.G. Ballard’s semi-autobiographical story of coming of age in a Japanese prisoner of war camp. The war is abstract and out of reach yet permeates every action the young boy, Jim, can take. We see him wrestle with his identity, sexual discovery, betrayal and good and evil all at once. The changes are irreversible and the film is a poignant reminder that while we may carry some things with us the vagaries of time and circumstance are beyond our control and that one has to keep up with this irreversible current or be swept away.

Empire of the Sun (1987)

The War Film has the potential to be and say so many things. It seems therefore a strange label for Nolan to be shying away from especially with a film that so boldly refuses any context or grounding apart from war from the very get-go. Survival is obviously important, but it’s the prerequisite to telling war stories, not the story in and of itself.

No Context in Retrospect.

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It’s been three weeks since No Context ended. In case you missed it, No Context was my 400 day long project that consisted of a thirty second video every single day. In the real world that means that for over a year I looked at the world almost exclusively as something to film, edit and publish. The project spanned a house move, a university change, two stolen phones, two film festivals, three editing programs, at least five cameras (mainly due to previously stated phone theft) and a good number of important personal developments. In other terms, I started this project in a pre-Brexit, pre-Trump world.

I want to take this moment to thank the people around me who put up with incessant filming for all this time, and the people who watched the videos regularly (I noticed and appreciated it, honest) but especially to the people I’ve met since I started and who have never known me without a camera in hand and a twenty-four-hour deadline to meet. I promise that it won’t always be the case but you have been very patient. There’s also about ten people that made it into more than twenty videos each. I commend you.

What’s happened in the last three weeks has been a strangely liberating process. The sun has set twenty one times in streaks of lovely colour and I have not filmed it once. Nights in with my friends watching dvds and debating the merits of social action or standing on a balcony in a heatwave, as well as nights out with my friends playing music in bars have passed by calmly and not been turned into frenetic montages. I’ve been in good moods and bad moods and turned none of them into aesthetic, and before I decided to write this sentence the only people who knew about my new tattoo were those who’d seen it person. I’ve been able to go to bed without touching editing software and not be wracked with guilt. I’ve also had the time to develop and film more complete, longer projects, which has been something I’ve had to patiently wait for until this point and am hugely enjoying.

I do, however, somewhat miss the urgency and purpose that this gave every single day. Yes it was difficult to find things and time to film during exam weeks and when I wasn’t doing anything dynamic, but the challenge was part of the fun. Looking back at the project I barely recognize the style or content of the first hundred or so videos, they already feel like a drastically different person filmed them. I’m sure that in time this same veil will descend over the most recent videos, the last two or three months that almost feel like I’m still living them when I watch them back. All in all, I think it’s good to no longer have this way to spy on my past self or to have to produce and publicise my day-to-day existence anymore. I think I deeply underestimated the time this project would take and the effect it would have on how I live and experience my own life. I just jumped in with all the naivety I could muster (not much) and while I don’t think I’d do it again, I’m glad I saw it through to the end.

This is the final chapter of No Context, but not the last of the project.


Thoughts on London

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I was in London last week. This is where my family lives and it’s always good to change environment every once in a while but London isn’t my home town. I grew up in the home counties so going up to London was reserved for shows, exhibitions or school trips. These days it’s Christmas, elections and the film festival that seem to call me back most often, so every visit to London feels like I’m walking around in the space between the end of one chapter and the heading of the next. Some strange mix of the political atmosphere, my family being together and my internal state sets the mood for the months to come until I board another Eurostar.

Every time I go to London they change something. I feel like I can never get my bearings. Leicester Square, like Les Halles, has been under construction for as far back as I’ve known it. This time I noticed that what used to be my favourite ice cream place to go between film showings had gone out of business, but on closer inspection it wasn’t even an ice cream place. I’d missed an entire iteration of that small piece of real estate without ever noticing. When I went in February I saw a new £5 note for the first time. These notes are now the only ones in circulation and the pound coin I grew up with is gone. I used to collect every unique design of coins and I remember the public outcry that the bimetallic £2 coin was garish and too like the euro. Well, if you wanted garish the new pound coins are dodecagonal and bimetallic. So now our currency looks even more like the euro. I never collected euro coins, even when I used to leap on any foreign currency my Dad would bring back from travels. They just seemed dull and brassy. The new pound coins are based on thrupenny bits, which was the first ever coin I ever had in my collection but lost one day at primary school and have never seen another since. It’s one of those things that I lost so long ago but secretly hope will turn up one day despite being about five house moves and eight schools away from reality, like my old blue mp3 player or my Prisoner of Azkaban Top Trumps set. They’re not particularly valuable things and I wouldn’t have a use for them if I did find them but I miss them anyway.

Sometimes I don’t know if it’s London that changes or me. I could post photos from previous trips back and I doubt anyone would really notice the difference. The overall London spirit has been going since time immemorial and doesn’t show any sign of slowing down. Yet for me each visit is inexorably linked to very specific times and specific people. When I look at my friends each time I go back I notice the haircuts we have or haven’t had and how much further and further out of touch I’m becoming from their reality and the reality we shared. The updates are short but significant. I wonder how quickly I’d get left behind entirely if I somehow couldn’t make it back one year or how different our relationships would be if I’d stayed.

Cannes Diary 23/5/17


I arrived in Cannes on the 16th, just before the festival. That was a week ago. I can tell you now that a week in Cannes is unlike a week anywhere else. The most obvious question here is “How many films have I seen in that time?” and the truth is that I saw four back to back some days and can no longer see straight so I don’t know. In fact I am currently so frazzled that I came back to where I’m staying in Cannes at one point to find that my roommate had used a spoon instead of a knife to spread Nutella and I am actively distraught about having to now decide between using a spoon or washing the spoon and getting a knife. It’s better than the first three days though when I was so excited that I forgot to eat and then promptly nearly fainted while walking to a screening.

What day of the week is it? Who knows. The calendar says Tuesday but to be honest I can now only mentally classify days by which film headlines that day. This is not helpful on days like when there were more than ten films premiering, and that does actually happen. I am vaguely aware that Cannes has not always seemed like the back of my hand and that my normal life awaits me far far away from the croisette. Somewhere out there is what I used to do with my time before my main hobbies became standing in or next to queues at all hours of the day. And it really is all hours. Very early on I went to a 10pm showing followed by an 8am showing the next day. This was an error and I hope to never do it again. Other people have been to a midnight screening followed by an 8am screening. These people are insane.

Cannes is batshit insane on every possible level. Firstly, anyone you  know instantly becomes your friend. If you recognise them, even if you never really spoke they are now you’re best buddy, especially if they have a higher level badge and can get you into more films. Everyone’s a potential ticket, even random strangers. The best method to get into films you want to see in the main screen is to entirely ignore Cannes’ ticketing system and get really good at making signs with the name of films on them. (hey, turns out bubble writing does have a use after all). I remember the first ticket I was given like this and how amazed I was at its very existence in my hands. That took ten minutes and a lot of talking to strangers. I have now got to a point of blasé where I showed up to an 11:30 showing one morning at 10:44 with no ticket and a sign. By 10:57 I was in the auditorium which, by the way, has a dramatic lack of leg room and are for some reason air-conditioned to -1000 degrees while it’s hot enough to cook bacon outside. Good luck dressing for that ! But, then again good luck dressing at all.

Cannes has a dress code. So that’s fun. “tenue correcte exigée” what precisely is ‘correct’ and are they really checking? who knows. Rumour has it people get thrown out for not having socks. I saw a girl at an evening showing wearing a khaki jacket one time. Beats me. Heels are pretty obligatory though, so my feet are now made of 70% blister, 10% mosquito bites and 20% toe-nail polish. I also lost a shoe somewhere in my adventures, a fact I blame entirely on the existence of beaches and the amount of sand that ended up stuck to my shoe forcing me to momentarily abandon it and then have to work up the courage to ask around if staff had found a solitary shoe. Turns out they had and they were so confused by someone losing one shoe that they even kept it. It’s worse in the evening when everyone has to be dressed up to the nines. You want to see people in tuxedos in a mcdonalds in broad daylight? Come to Cannes, it’s not even the weirdest thing you’ll see here.

This has been a stream of consciousness rant about an incredibly eventful week. If you want to read my considered opinion on the Classic films I have been seeing at Cannes, click here. Otherwise, hang around long enough and I might just share my opinions on some of the other stoning films at this year’s festival. You know, once I’ve slept and stuff.

floliketheriver is going to Cannes!


Well, you read the title. I’m off! In fact, by the magic of scheduled posts I am currently in a train on my way to Cannes as you are reading this. So why am I headed to Cannes? Because I can(nes)! And now that that joke is out of my system I am very pleased to announce that I am one of six student authors of the Cannes Classics 2017 Blog and we will be sharing our impressions of the films, the festival and many more exciting and interesting things during the two weeks. So go give it a read!

For everything that isn’t Cannes Classics I will be updating this blog and my twitter with comments on the rest of the festival, the films and ~the ambiance~ on the triply reliable basis of: when I remember, when I physically can, and when I have something cool to say, so stay tuned, it’s certain to be a wild ride. Also if I die of exhaustion it’ll make a neat addition to my obituary.

Dark Rooms and Headsets

I am so legitimately impressed that my overly-specific search term found this image that I don’t even mind the watermarks

When I watch films it’s normally in one of three ways. On a computer, on a DVD player or in a cinema. I feel like that’s basically how audiovisual content is consumed these days by the vast majority of people. However, I have recently had the opportunity to experience a few different forms of moving images and it’s been an interesting journey.

The first that kept surprising me was the idea of film as a physical commodity. I guess somewhere in the back of my mind I always knew this was the case but I hadn’t ever thought about the implications. Now that I study cinema at Uni the implications, I have realised, are wide and varied and they come up when you least expect them. Early manuals on how to edit films talk about how many feet of film a certain shot ought to be. Film was rationed in some countries during the second world war and this helped solidify 90 minutes as the length of a film. Subtitles had to be manually added to every frame of a film print and couldn’t be removed at the touch of a button. All these things blew my small 21st century brain, but at least it got me thinking.

I spent a good deal of time this term watching films projected on original 35mm copies and while thinking about these films (for reasons that will soon be very apparent. Wink wink, nudge nudge) I came to realise how different the experience of watching a physical copy of a film is to a digital copy. A physical film turns itself into an event every time. It can’t be seen without dimming the lights and projecting it from the back of a dark room. Yes, of course, this is still what happens in any cinema projecting any kind of film but it’s no longer necessary. We keep the spectacle of the cinema experience without actually having a cinema experience. Everyone knows that a digital overhead projector works just as well in an open-plan boardroom as a hushed cinema screen. Secondly, a physical film makes noise. Well, the large mechanical projector makes noise as it shows the film. It clicks, it whirrs, it makes a low humming noise and sometimes, just sometimes, the bulb flickers. There’s no point when you can forget the physical presence of the film; especially not when every ten minutes or so the reel needs changing. Here the projectionist has to execute a smooth change or pull the audience out of the film for the second it takes to figure it out.

Apart from anything else, a film on 35mm jumps into life from white, not from black. A dead computer, TV or phone screen is black. Even the default “no media” screen in editing software is black. But a projector, before the film is loaded and blocks the light is a square of white light on a white sheet. The people, places and situations that you see aren’t what’s projected, it’s what’s blocking this pure white light. Very literally a 35mm film is a series of photorealistic shadows telling a story. It’s really no wonder early thinkers likened this to hypnotism and ghosts.

On the other end of the scale I also recently had a chance to see a film in 360 VR. I’d seen 360 videos around but until now had never put on a VR headset and tested the immersive experience. I don’t recommend it for people who get travel sick in trains or cars. If that’s you, you’re gonna have a really bad time in VR. If not, go for it, you don’t really get the hype or potential of the medium until you’ve seen it for yourself, and it is a new medium. The whole experience is different even on the most basic physical level. In a cinema if you’re moving, shifting in your seat, looking around it most likely means you’re bored (or me hiding from the screen in literally any horror film). In a VR headset moving is how you know you’re engaged with the story. You reach out to touch things, you brace yourself for balance when the camera moves and you look around frantically following sources of sound. If a cinema paralyses you when it’s good a VR film is like an invitation to a dance.


Culture Shock.

If I hadn’t moved to France I would write the year like this:


And everyone would understand. End of story.

However I moved to France and, I’m not too sure when, at some point I started writing 1s like this:


Instead of like this, how I always used to write them:


So now when I write the year it looks like this:


And if I write quickly no one can understand the difference between the 1 and the 7. So now I have to write the year (and any number with a 1 and 7 in it) like this:


I hate those bars on sevens. I’ve always found them phenomenally ugly and swore I’d never switch over to using them like all the silly French people. Guess I’m laughing on the other side of my face now.

My phone got stolen a while back and on my new phone I never installed the English keyboard so now when I try to put apostrophes in words they get interpreted as accents and I say “wére” to people on a regular basis.

More often than not, when I write a question, I find myself going back to delete the extra space between the end of a sentence in English and a question mark instead of having to go back and add it in in French. I had to go back through this blog post and capitalise the nationalities where I forgot they were meant to have capital letters. I also had to go back and check that non of my Q’s or A’s were mixed up because I now switch between qwerty and azerty keyboards. This makes touch-typing a password, or anything at all, nigh on impossible, as anyone who borrows my computer knows.

I had to write a presentation for my English class a few weeks back and found myself searching for an English translation of my French idea and the grammar getting all mangled in the process.

When I go to London I get all the discomfort of the unfamiliar without the joy of discovery. People laugh when I call the tube the metro and I forget how early the tube shuts so I find myself walking and being really thankful for the LOOK LEFT reminders when I cross roads.

Over 90% of my interactions now happen in French and one of the biggest problems my close friends deal with is knowing whether I’m in a good enough mood for them to correct the errors that pepper each sentence. Some of them address me in English and I reply in French so no one is speaking their first language anymore. Sometimes I refuse to speak English because I’m too tired to translate but sometimes I can’t express anything I’m aiming for in French.

LA Devotees

An exploration of LA through the prism of La La Land, The Neon Demon and Tangerine

There are places that have a certain personality to them, even if you’ve never been there. Where does this impression of familiarity come from? Culture. The films, songs, poems, photos of a place build up something intangible yet immutable. You only have to look at the stereotype of Paris as the city of Love and the disappointment felt by some tourists when they discover that Paris is, in fact, a city ‘comme les autres’.For me, as a cinema student, one of the largest and richest mythologies in my mind has been built up around LA (it’s close-run with New York but I have actually been to New York so it’s hard to detach myth from memory). LA I have never been to, not even as a child too young to remember. I don’t think I even know anyone who’s spent a significant amount of time there. Everything I know about LA has been passed down to me through cultural artefacts and, as it is the home of Hollywood, largely through the films produced there. I became acutely aware of this imaginary LA over the past year as I seemed to see more films rooted in the city. La La Land (Damien Chazelle 2016), The Neon Demon (Nicolas Winding Refn 2016) and Tangerine (Sean Baker 2015).

So what have the movies told me about their hometown?


Spoilers. For everything. Consider yourself warned.

Tangerine is the story of downtown LA on Christmas eve. We couldn’t be further away from the glitz and glamour normally associated with the City of Angels. “LA is a beautifully wrapped lie.” proclaims one character. If so, what is the lie, and where is the beauty?

La La Land takes us to the heart of the LA lie, the conceit even. The title itself calls to mind the idea of LA as the Dream Factory – a place where hundreds upon hundreds of anonymised workers can make production line dreams and sell them to a production line audience. The rip-roaring success of La La Land only really serves to underline this point. The machine’s still running, even if it has become self-aware.

The Neon Demon brings us closer to a balanced picture. The city is huge and intimidating and this young innocent model seems determined to rise up the ranks from her grimy motel room. From Sunset Boulevard to those dancers in the opening number of La La Land these characters come to LA with big dreams and “without a nickel to their name”.

In these three recent films the characters deal seem to be striving towards goals that recede away from them, never quite becoming who they’re trying to be, or maybe worse, making huge sacrifices in order to progress. This is not only lauded as the way to make it to the top, but those who don’t make these sacrifices are punished. Jesse (Elle Fanning in The Neon Demon), the naturally beautiful model who realises that she doesn’t have to diet and undergo plastic surgery to make it big is promptly killed by those who have worked harder, longer and suffered more. Similarly in La La Land, removed from their upbeat earworm backing track, the lyrics to Another Day of Sun tell a similar story of glorified hardship.

“Climb these hills/ I’m reaching for the heights/ And chasing all the lights that shine/ And when they let you down/ You’ll get up off the ground”

The whole film begins with a young woman gleefully singing:

“I think about that day/ I left him at a Greyhound station/ West of Santa Fé/ We were seventeen, but he was sweet and it was true/ Still I did what I had to do”

Her smile as she recounts her sacrifice foreshadows what will eventually happen to our protagonists who will mutually decide to give each other up for their individual dreams. The heartrending epilogue as Seb (Ryan Gosling) plays out his fantasy of being with Mia (Emma Stone) confirms our suspicions – had he followed his heart his dream would never have come true. Mia herself is ground down like the runway models by a world where rejection from casting directors is not only omnipresent but entirely indifferent. She goes through the same gruelling experiences as Jesse, surrounded by identical actresses for every role. Jesse is picked for her outstanding physical presence, Mia permanently left to fall by the wayside. The difference between them is desperation. Mia wants every part she applies for, the rejection “just hurts too much” every time. Jesse seems to be there by accident, she knows she has no real talent. “But I’m pretty, and I can make money off pretty”. Her meteoric ascent is due mainly to this innocent nonchalance that is so refreshing compared to her desperate and bloodthirsty competition. Mia, in her own way, also has to lose all of her confidence, resilience and her relationship to get to a state of innocence and spontaneity that eventually brings her success.


Tangerine plays out like the gritty b-side to La La Land. The lowest point for Seb in La La Land is arguably his getting fired on Christmas eve from an uptight upmarket cocktail bar. Whereas the character that populate Tangerine spend their Christmas eve in seedier and seedier joints, a motel full of prostitutes, a donut shop cum drug dealer headquarters. Here there are no grand dreams of fortune and fame, the characters are simply trying to play the roles laid out for them by society. This is underlined by two central characters being transwomen and prostitutes, a line of work that demands a very performative femininity of them both. One of them, Alexandra (Mya Taylor), wants to make it as a singer but seems to accept that there’s no real future for her. The other, Sin-Dee (Kitana Kiki Rodriguez), spends the film trying to gain and fill the role of Chester’s (James Ransone) fiancée. The action kicks off from Sin-Dee’s rage at being cheated on with a cis woman, a role she cannot by definition fill. Not to say that she seems to want to. Often during the film she refers to herself as “a girl like me” while gesturing towards her crotch. Her status as a transwoman is accepted and embodied without any suggestion of contradiction. In this way the film offers a wide perspective of different roles offered to women. Two trans prostitutes playing up their femininity, a cis prostitute in a line of work that is by its very nature performative, a mother-in-law trying to be an authoritative matriarch and form her family into the ideal and lastly the wife of a man who frequents these trans prostitutes. The film ends in a confrontation between all of these characters where Yeva, the young wife and mother, admits that she has been turning a blind eye to her husband’s nighttime activities. The ideal life she wants to pretend she has comes at the price of pretending nothing is going wrong.

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In terms of addressing sexuality Tangerine’s “I’ve never had a pimp that didn’t fuck me” is a far cry from La La Land‘s technicolor universe where our leading couple kiss, I believe, twice, once in a dream sequence. La La Land, a film which Damien Chazelle openly refers to as his love letter to Hollywood seems to take place in a parallel aseptic and asexual universe where the only real forces at play are art and love. It’s the Hollywood universe par excellence full of the influence of historic American censors, and a puritanical work ethic. The musical form replaces the need for any visual or verbal representation of sex between the characters. Every emotional and, for metaphor’s sake, physical climax is replaced by a dance. This dynamic is particularly evident in the Planetarium sequence where a journey into a physical relic of Hollywood history leads to a kiss. However this kiss is delayed by the intervention of Hollywood magic. Instead of consummating their desire physically they are thrown by Hollywood convention into a metaphorical dance and only then share a kiss which is no sooner seen than vignetted and removed from view. However there is another logic for this lack of physicality in La La Land. If the film is a love letter then who can blame Chazelle for leaving out the poverty, misery and grime. Everything we see here is LA through rose-tinted glasses. His love for the city, the dreamers, the jazz and the industry makes us love it just as much. “People love what other people are passionate about.”

What of Refn in all this? Anyone familiar with Refn’s work will not be shocked to find that he doesn’t shy away from these darker themes despite presenting a film focused on the fashion industry – the only industry arguably more superficial and false than Hollywood itself. It’s also not the first time Refn has shown us the underbelly of LA. Drive is to LA what Taxi Driver is to New York. Here however the point of view is much more feminine than that shown in Drive. The women in The Neon Demon are slap in the middle of an industry which, unlike Hollywood, is not driven by passion and hope. There are no stories to tell, just bodies to sell. Jesse arrives in LA the picture of innocence and is quickly inducted into the adult world. Bodies are product in this world, as they were for the pimp in Tangerine. In Tangerine a woman with a vagina is referred to as ‘fish’. For the fashion models bodies are judged on their age as “sour milk” or “fresh meat”. Death, sexuality and food are linked in an uneasy triangle which can be seen as four women discuss lipstick.


“Red rum – that what it’s called. They say women are more likely to buy a lipstick if it’s based on food or sex.”

When Jesse is eventually killed it’s not really certain whether it was a woman scorned or a jealous rival that brought about her downfall and it doesn’t seem to matter since both are so linked in her story. The only thing that was certain was that she was going to die. As soon as the film shows you a swimming pool in an LA mansion you can’t help but feel that someone’s ending up face down in it. Jesse is inducted into sexuality, almost raped and then killed all by women. This sits in stark contrast to the repeated suggestions of a male threat to her wellbeing. The men in the film fall into two categories: they are either generalised predators who will be easily distracted by the next female they find. These is, of course, disturbing, but not nearly as much as the second group of oddly emasculated photographers and fashion designers who are searching for something so specific that, finding Jesse, they immediately proceed to fetishise her image while posing no direct threat to her body. The gold photoshoot sequence shows this best. The experience is unnerving and sexually charged but ultimately there is nothing aggressive or predatory in something so entirely aestheticised. This aesthetic runs through the film, elevating scenes of necrophilia, murder and cannibalism into an eloquent treatise on female sexuality and corporality as product. A commodity that’s somehow unique to each individual and infinitely replaceable and perishable: “That’s LA, they worship everything and value nothing.”

“LA is a beautifully wrapped lie.” says a disenchanted character.

Agree to disagree” comes back the reply.

So what here isn’t sordid or untrue? If La La Land is the beautiful wrapping, a film made of years of stories and traditions of stories overlapping and inter-referencing each other to the point of creating a secondary city, where is the reality it’s covering? Certainly it won’t be found in a film set on the Warner Brothers lot, where they manufacture the roles everyone else feels they have to play. It’s not to be found in the high-fashion fever dream either.

In the middle of Tangerine is an odd interlude. Sin Dee has spent hours dragging Dinah by the hair round downtown LA screaming at her for sleeping with her man. As they listen to Alexandra’s show they sneak off to smoke crack together. Suddenly the two women who have been ostensibly competing to be seen as Chester’s girl for the whole film are in a moment of complicity and extreme tenderness. The music softens and we’re left with an oddly beautiful moment of two women coming together. This is echoed in the film’s final sequence. After even Alexandra and Sin Dee fall out the film seems set to end on the bleak note of nobody being able to fulfil the role they so badly want to. It is here that Sin Dee is attacked for being a transwoman. The personal drama fades away and Alexandra comes directly to her aid to restore her femininity and confidence at the expense of her own, literally giving Sin Dee her hair. the gesture is poignant and loving despite the maelstrom of awful sordid circumstances that led up to it.

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“Agree to disagree.”

These tender moments are what brings the portrayal of LA out of the sordid mess or the over-glamourised. While The Neon Demon offers no redemption, painting the whole city as desperate, soulless and exploitative, La La Land and Tangerine offer up two, very different, but equally strong truths. Truths between people. Both films finish on two people who acknowledge a relationship beyond circumstance and hurt.

The characters in these films aren’t just the victims of their environment. They make choices, real decisions that would be difficult for anyone. Obviously, their surroundings, a city that gives way into arid desert and brush doesn’t help. LA is an oasis where everyone fights one another to drink, we only have to look at the traffic jams leading into LA in La La Land compared to the great ease with which Mia flees the city into small-town oblivion. The difference between the lives loves and dreams of the people in LA is the competition. Any role you could fill could be filled by anyone else. You will age and lose opportunities, your idols will get ‘samba tapas’ed’ and people cheat on each other. The cut-throat environment means that only the strongest and truest things survive, love and passion.

Maybe LA is just the same as everywhere else then, it just happens to be the prism we’ve been offered.


A summary of a series of odd events and circumstances that lead to 2017

There we go, another year that we can all cross off our calendars then try to describe as a whole as if there were any relevance to calendar years apart from the psychological idea of a new start.

But that’s what I too am doing on this cold January morning. For me 2016 seemed to rush by in a never-ending sequence of train windows and changes but somehow I appear to have landed in 2017 on my feet with signs pointing up (although we wouldn’t want to jinx anything so let’s say signs pointing at like 45 degrees from the horizontal just to be safe).

This is not to say that 2016 didn’t try to finish me off. Beady eyed observers will notice the flagrant absence of blog posts for most of November and December. This is linked to a farcically long series of events and circumstances that have sapped my energy and start with delays on a parquet floor that prompted two months of not being in my actual apartment.

It all started when I wanted to experiment with gluten-free flour and made myself a cake. The cake cooked slower than one would expect and so I had to check on it every few minutes. This involved the unreasonable act of walking across my floor. Now, I live in an old building. The floor was old and it made noise. We’d put rugs down but the noise was still very very annoying. This day I discovered that it was not only us that found this noise annoying. My downstairs neighbour appeared just as my cake was actually cooked to tell me to stop making noise. I explained that I was just walking but this seemed to be to no avail. I promised to be softer on my feet and I truly did make an effort.

Cut to a few weeks later and I have overslept my alarm for an 8AM class. I will freely admit that taking an 8AM class was a mistake in itself and I plan to never do it again. However, the situation was still that I had an 8AM class and it was 7:35. I live 15-20 minutes away from Uni depending on transport. I therefore was not paying a lot of attention to my footfall as I raced around trying desperately to find clothes and books in minutes I did not have. My neighbour did not appreciate this at all and appeared at my door banging and shouting, arguably making more noise than I considered any floor/ceiling could ever make.

After some soul-searching it was decided that the floor would have to be replaced. “It will just be four weeks and we’ll stay nearby so nothing changes”, said my mother. “ok”, said I. “Can’t believe she bought that pack of lies”, said the floor fitters to each other.

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“We don’t have the wood. There is a shortage of French pine at the moment.”

“We’ll have the wood by Tuesday then it’ll be done by the end of the week”

“Oh did we say it was a delivery problem? We meant supply problem. The wood has not been sourced yet.”

“It’ll be done by next Thursday/Wednesday/Saturday”

Four weeks quickly became five, which extended itself almost instantly to nine weeks. At one point they sent a workman over who did nothing but eat lunch then leave so they could say they’d had someone on the job. This meant that I moved into a hotel for the last two weeks of term. One of which was my finals week. I don’t know if I blocked all of this out of my memory or if my mind just stopped recording due to stress and lack of sleep. It’s about 50/50. (oh yeah, did I forget to mention the thing where I moved countries on my own at age 19 but also hate change. Yeah. Stay tuned it gets less self-aware later.)

During my exam week a pipe burst in the ceiling of the apartment where there was no floor and flooded half the building as well as knocking the lift out of action. Ok.

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Once I had finished my finals I (less than twelve hours later) went on a break to Berlin with a friend. This trip had been planned for a good while and although it fell at a time when I didn’t really feel like travelling I was glad as soon as I got there to be doing something new and different. There were two missions in our heads for this trip – bars and Christmas markets (both of us had previously been to Berlin and checked off the rather more worthy and sombre attractions). We did both, fortunately for us, we picked the evening when the Christmas market got attacked by a terrorist in a truck as the only evening we didn’t spend in said Christmas market. I think the moral of the story is not to travel with me I am clearly a bad omen.

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My next stop was to head to London for Christmas. Upon my first morning in my family home I awoke in a panic with no idea where I was. I put this down to the fact that this was the fourth or maybe fifth bed I had woken up in in the last month, none of which had been my actual bed. All official sources say I spent eight days in London. I do not believe them. Quite apart from three of those days being Christmas and therefore feeling like they were beamed from another dimension I just simply do not remember that time containing five normal days. As I packed myself off to return to Paris on the 30th of December I still did not feel like my feet had touched the ground since October.

I opened my apartment front door, having taken the lift (now repaired, but still flashes up that it’s passing floor 96 in between floors 1 and 2) half expecting it to vanish into thin air as soon as I opened it. It did not. I breathed, I sat down. I slowly felt myself relax and actually be able to see and appreciate the things around me. I even did some walking around. It was the most chilled hour of my life. Then I heard a knock on the door. I ignored it, not wishing to restart the cycle of wishing I could have a flying carpet just to become less acquainted with my neighbour. The knocking came back much louder accompanied by the shout “It’s the firemen”.

You can’t really ignore firemen. If you don’t answer they break your door down and having locked myself out once I know how much those doors cost and it’s not pretty. “Do you know your downstairs neighbour? He’s not been heard from.” (we very quickly established that they were talking about my other downstairs neighbour, not the one who disliked the floor) “can we use your balcony to see how we can get into his apartment?” The firemen looked from my balcony, wished me a good evening and ten minutes later a firetruck with one of those huge ladders like you see on TV appeared in my road. The firemen kicked in the window just below me and then left without telling me anything of what happened. The next day I heard the piano music that neighbour always listens to floating up to my apartment. I really don’t know what to make of the whole scenario.


That’s it. There’s no real conclusion to this. It was bizarre. Life’s looking less bizarre and stressful but who knows really? See you around more often in 2017 blog readers!

No Context at 200

‘Paths Well Worn’ – my 200th video

I have now published 6000 seconds (or more simply, 100 minutes) of my life in my project No Context. It’s a wild ride that’s still not stopping but I’m taking another moment to gather my thoughts on this milestone.

Firstly, I’m really grateful to the people that watch these little videos, who tell me what they think of them and who notice when I’m filming and respectfully fall silent, or even the ones that belligerently refuse to quieten down and make the videos more interesting.

One of my English friends said to me that they felt like they could get to know my friends in these short snippets but somehow I didn’t seem to be there. I found it strange since the only thing they all have in common, by definition, is that I was there and there was a camera. I can’t even say that I shot all of them since there are (rare) occasions when a friend takes control of the equipment around me. So it’s true that  all my friends come through very clearly, but then again, people keep saying that you’re the average of the five people you spend the most time with, so they must reflect something of me.

Something I’ve done more of is watch my own videos back. For the first four months or so I never gave these videos a backwards glance and there were honestly times when I would forget entirely what I had filmed or what the final video looked like. However, recently people have been telling me that it’s somehow more interesting, and oddly meditative, to watch them in a chunk, in order or out of order. I gave this a try. Personally, I watch them in order since I know exactly what sequence of feelings and thoughts correspond to each 30 seconds and watching them out of order feels like some kind of dizzying time warp happens between every video. What I noticed is how other people and places seem to weave in and out of the story at different rates and intervals. There are people who are inescapable, roads that I’ve somehow found a million ways to film and well, my apartment. Then there are people that aren’t there often but appear every so often like a thread in a tapestry that just comes to the forefront before settling into the background. Then there are the things that were there and then vanish, places I saw on holiday and then never again or people that pass by strongly and fade out quickly.

The real challenge I’ve faced since my last post about No Context has been a challenge to the very core of the project: the idea of recording something beautiful or interesting each day. This worked great for a time. I recorded a whole wild summer which, despite a couple of low points was exciting and different. Now that I’m back in Paris where the project started a lot of the decors are the same. Thankfully it’s not the same university so a new neighbourhood has come into play (and studying films all day has had a huge influence on my style and ideas). I worry that sometimes the things I love around me are all the same things that I’ve already put out there. That only becomes more and more probable now that I’ve developed and settled into my new routine.

Aside from that, which was a risk from the start, I’ve had to confront what happens when there was nothing I wanted to record. Bad days happen. Bad weeks happen. There are days you never want to think about ever again let alone have to go back and confront through your own images. How are you supposed to edit a bad day and still make it something you’d want to watch? More urgently how do you film the innate beauty of your life when you’re not feeling all that optimistic? I was lucky because te project started when I was on such a high note I never really considered what would happen in this case. So I’m still working on it. Working on somehow still seeing the little things, or the big things that are worth filming but knowing how not to film them through rose-tinted glasses. I’m still creating No Context and I still want it to be a faithful and true vision of my life every day.

Check out the last few chapters in these playlists:

It’s taken two damn years…


This week when I looked in my post box there was an envelope.

But this, ladies and gentlemen of the jury, was not just any envelope.

This envelope had the little green words “carte vitale” printed on it.

I opened it, awaiting another hurdle, another form to fill, or the declaration that my application had been refused because the wind had blown over a gnome on a tuesday in march and the circumstances were as such not conducive to my receiving a card.

But no.

I have a Carte Vitale.


I feel like a hacker that has finally broken into the pentagon.

This means that next time i get myself into an improbable situation like being mugged or getting concussed I can let France pay for my stupidity instead of me. This also means that I can complete the inscription process for the association I have been part of since last October (the official inscription form for me at the moment reads ‘no social security number’ as if I didn’t exist. But all that has changed now. I am counted as an actual physical human being living in France who can get payback on medical costs! (said like that it doesn’t sound so great). This battle is over.

However in a cruel reversal of fate I still don’t have a student card. I was going to write a whole post about adjusting to my new university but I looked at the draft I had saved and frankly I feel like it sums up the state of bewilderment when confronted with a new environment better than anything else I could write:


Una (2016)


I saw 10 films at the London Film Festival and while I have a lot to say about many of them, that will come later in its own time. Today I want to talk about the film that has stayed in my head since the moment I saw it, Una.

Una is directed by Benedict Andrews, starring Rooney Mara, Ben Mendelsohn, and Ruby Stokes and is adapted from the play by David Harrower. It bears the aura of being adapted from a stage play, as many such adaptations do. However I don’t feel that this is necessarily a bad thing. One of my favourite films of all time bears this same aura and it’s that which makes David Hugh Jones’ Betrayal so special. But back to Una. Benedict Andrews is a long-time theatre director just now making his first film. What strikes you straight away is that this doesn’t have the shy, mannered feel of a first film. It could just as well have come from a director with 20 blockbusters under his belt. Although this is due in large part to the three key performances that hold the film.

Rooney Mara plays a woman, Una, who has come to confront, or maybe even simply see, the man with whom she had a relationship with, be it sexual, loving or abusive 15 years earlier. Over the course of an hour and a half the two dig up the past, going over what happened between them and what went wrong. The question of right and wrong is almost totally ignored as the film focuses in on the emotions between the two. The film opens on the young Una going in search of something or someone and cuts before we see what she does. Fifteen years and some exposition later we see who she’s looking at in a sweeping long shot that starts on Rooney Mara’s defiant yet vulnerable face, zooming out to show her standing in a warehouse, dressed to impress before swinging round to Ben Mendelsohn, Ray, whose face bears the absolute lack of composure of someone who has seen their own demons brought to life. There is no cut,  no shot reverse-shot. Their meeting is a strong and shared moment that fills the immense space in time and the physical warehouse space chosen for the film.

This is Andrews’ touch of genius, to have transformed a stage play that takes place in a single room into a winding story of spaces and windows and the opaque. The young Una (Ruby Stokes) waits behind a glass pane for Ray to return. Now Ray shoves her into a break room to talk in private, compartmentalising the situation. Yet the break room is made of glass walls and so their drama has to play out in words alone so that it won’t be seen. In a demonstration of a continuous rebellious personality in Una she refuses to sit and wait, in either case. She walks the empty streets as a child and the towering warehouse structures looking for Ray, looking for the one simple answer. One of the few lines spoken by Ruby Stokes as the young Una is to ask Ray why he left and it’s this question that she still wants to ask now. As a child she could never have the answer, the question is asked to Ray through a television screen and so any real communication has been blocked off, once again, by a pane of glass. Here Ray can hear and see her but she has nothing. They get close to communicating when they are forced into hiding in dark rooms, finding once again the codes and habits of how they used to relate to each other Later in the film the two share genuine intimate insights while physically divided by a cubicle wall. We know there is something between them but we don’t see the wall, the frame stays just on their faces and they seem to talk to each other properly for the first time. As much as seeing each other rendered them speechless, not seeing seems to allow them to talk.

This is not to say that everything is resolved. The best that can be said is that a void that lasted Una’s whole life has been filled, at least to her satisfaction. What truly happened between them, truth or lie, right or wrong, remains unknown. Ray’s life and behaviour is certainly no more stable, but this isn’t his story, this is about Una, who, after years of searching, finally walks away.




Trust me this picture is as weird to you as it is to me and I’m in it.

I think a great test of whether or not you could truly love doing something as a job for the rest of your life is to do it for a really long time every day and see if you want to run away screaming. Unless it’s your life’s passion this will most likely be the case. I know from experience that weeks of four films a day in uncomfortable cinema seats, 12 hour shoots and 18 hour editing marathons as well as endless paperwork have not turned me away from my film-based dreams. Theatre, however, is a different story.

A lot of people seem to think theatre and film work must be similar environments. I mean I suppose both are entertainment mediums and involve actors so there are undeniably things in common. Personally, I feel the relationship is more like the one between the two very definitely opposite and differently formed sides of a coin.
Now don’t get me wrong, I really like theatre. The distinction I’m making here is that I don’t think I could dedicate my life to it (but then I’ve got such problems being consistent that I’m too scared to buy a plant in case I get bored of it – so this may change) For the last six months I’ve been surrounded by more theatre than I ever could have expected. Granted, a lot of this was because I was filming and editing live theatre performances (which, by the way I recommend as an experience to any aspiring director) It’s a strange task that puts you halfway between crew and spectator. You have a job to do but that job involves watching the performance and, if the performance is good, it’s relatively impossible not to end up enjoying it and being moved like any other audience member. In two months I had filmed seven different student plays ranging from the bizarrely provocative to the sublime and at least twice was brought to tears by what I was seeing. There were some truly amazing shows in there that I would otherwise never got an opportunity to watch.
During this time I’ve remembered or maybe rediscovered a lot of things that lay dormant since my amateur theatre days. Because yes, I too, had a time when I performed on a stage. I wasn’t a revelation, I was far more interested in the lighting box and bossing people around. Besides, my theatre group wasn’t exactly the Cambridge Footlights but I’ll be damned if we didn’t have fun. There’s a joy in the backstage that doesn’t exist in any other place. My first discovery was that if you have to ask “am I allowed to go there?” the answer is no. Within a professional working theatre me and the shooting team quickly found our boundaries. The auditorium? Free rein, even with a red rope across it. Stage manager’s box? Fine, so long as the stage manager’s in there. Offices and equipment store? Basically our terrain. Green Room? NO. Are you INSANE? The ARTISTES are in there. Enter at own risk or if invited specifically by a friendly company member.
My next foray into theatre land has been a little more prolonged, and I’ve had the pleasure of being witness to, if not entirely part of, a rehearsal team and residential from the very start of a theatre project. I’m working on the video-projection for a production and so I was invited to the residential to see the production come together. (If the director happens to be reading this, yes I am actively working on this, yes it is slow, I am more than aware). I was thrown in at the deep end to the world and habits of actors. I was once very in touch with this atmosphere and even good at the kinds of games and physical exercices that are used as warm-ups. Somewhere along the line, however, all of this became associated with the feeling of a very specific time and place and being younger. I was almost shocked to find that there are people to whom this is still normal, everyday life. It certainly resembles nothing I currently know.
This whole theatre immersion came to a head when I spent two consecutive nights at theatre events, the first of which was an introductory presentation of the most recent play from a famous French theatre director. It was an opportunity I couldn’t quite believe to be able to attend and I listened attentively to everything said, excited to be hearing it at all. The next night I went to see that old theatre group of mine (by my calculations I spent over 10 hours on trains that weekend – someone remind me why I thought moving was a practical long-term arrangement?), or at least what the next generation of them has become. They’re far better now than they were when I was there and I was moved to tears by a show for the third time in six months. The group is now directed by a friend I had while I was there. The play I’m working on in Paris also happens to be directed by a member of that same group. My experiences and impressions of backstage life are pretty inextricably linked to that little local theatre. While I’m very happy to see these plays or even be involved in as much as I can, this recent theatrical immersion has mainly served to inspire and point me back towards a cinema and a camera, equipped with new skills friends and ideas that I wouldn’t have got from anywhere else.

Rentrée #3


Is there anybody thereee…..ereee…..eeee


Is it an impression of a man in a valley, this blog and its readers or Paris in August? The world may never know.

rentrée scolaire
Before moving to France I thought images like this were half-jokes. Nope, turns out French people actually write like this and still use blackboards in the 21st century.

Be that as it may the strange phenomenon of the french rentrée has now kicked in and while the whole country is nigh on uncontactable and silent on August 31st at 9AM on 1st September everyone clicked back into action as if the holidays had never happened. Somehow I too have internalised this “life truth” that everything must start on September 1st. I realised this when a friend told me she was had not yet properly moved back to Paris for the school year on September 5th. This is, quite clearly, insane since not a single university actually starts back until the 19th.

So where am I in all this? Well, in age-old style, I, who greatly dislike change and disruption, have moved house and am starting a new course (again) this September. So far my review for my university’s admin procedures is “better than my last university”. But then again we all remember how well the quest for my student card went last year. Although one must never speak too soon. I have had to redirect my post and since my student card is meant to arrive by post it’s all too possible that it just won’t. Because post, because France, because there is no way I could actually arrive somewhere with all paperwork completed.

But all that aside I am now preparing for my rentrée in a cinema course. This shouldn’t be such huge news, especially since I’ve sort of known it was what I wanted to study since I was 17. Somehow, however the winds of fate made it so that I am only beginning my official studies at the age of 21. Looking back, I don’t really know how this happened. I mean, I have two and a half years of blog and four years of diaries that ought to explain it but and it really really seemed to make sense at the time. I think we can all take a moment to have a deep breath and hope this one lasts more than a year. Either the home or the school, I’ll take anything at this point. At least I have my student association that I joined last year and am still a part of. Let us celebrate the small amount of consistency in the things I do.

There’s been a lot going on behind the scenes over this summer that will all come out in later posts I hope. My posting schedule has been held up by the general impression that August is not a real month and that anything I wrote during it would never be read. Also I was travelling and couldn’t fix my laptop which currently has an issue where it sounds like a small aircraft at all times which makes it surprisingly difficult to concentrate on writing anything.

So, talk soon, sooner than October by any rate.

PS: while writing the title of this post I realised with shock that this really is my third French rentrée which really ought to mean I’m better prepared….

No Context in retrospect | What I’ve learned from 100 days of videos.


If you’ve landed here from my facebook (hello) you’ve probably seen or heard about my project No Context. If not, No Context is the ongoing project where I film, edit and post online 30 seconds of my life every single day. Yesterday, the 9th August I posted my 100th video in this series and I want to share some of the things I’ve learned in starting this and seeing it through up to now.

The first thing to know is that this project came from a place where I felt I didn’t have the skills to use my equipment. I had changed cameras in December and still felt, four months later, that I did not know how to use it. This was compounded by having to change editing software since Final Cut 7 finally became incompatible with my OS in January. (Just let that sink in: I was using software released in 2009 in 2016). One of my primary goals was therefore to learn to use my camera and find what editing software suited me – and I did! After a dalliance with Premiere Pro (CS5 in case anyone’s curious) I settled into a regular rhythm of using Final Cut X for editing then colour grading in Da Vinci Resolve. I’d say over 60 of the 100 videos so far were created in that workflow but I recently got the hang of the (highly unintuitive at first) colour correction capabilities of Final Cut X. I remember the days when I swore blind I would never use Final Cut X. I now use it literally every day. All it took was some patience.

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A difficult thing about this project is that, although it’s only 30 seconds a day, there are days when even that seems too much. One rule I set myself is to not use footage filmed for another purpose in No Context. Mainly this avoids running into any issues where organisations who I have worked with could claim I used footage produced for them but it’s also a good personal integrity failsafe. I never feel like I can just cheat a day and re-use some footage. The effect of this has been that there have been days where I have been solidly filming for hours on end but struggled to film No Context. The other occasions when this project seems huge is when life simply gets too much. This happens rarely but every so often I will have to make what feels like a monumental effort to produce something whereas the day after I could be sorting through three possible edits of a day. Life isn’t equally spread out but part of the fun is seeing through the ups and downs and watching the periods of rush and calm that come out in the project as a whole.

But these are technical goals and challenges. More than anything this project is about creating something and sharing something of myself and my life. That’s been beyond eye-opening. These last 100 days have been divided between three primary locations, spent with a huge variety of people and included one of the happiest weeks of my life, as well as a very difficult moment that I had to deal with. The videos that mean the most to me are often those that others find impenetrable or simply boring. On the other hand a video that took hours to edit and never seemed right at any point thanks to footage I didn’t like or a day when I felt like I had nothing to film have often been the videos that had the best reactions. It’s endlessly mysterious to me but I guess it’s in the nature of the project that it varies between pure aesthetic and more personality or story driven extracts.

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Case in point: one of my favourite days

People have told me they find the project voyeuristic, others have said it’s calming. I’m still not sure what it is yet but I’m sure I still have more to learn just from making sure I am creative and aware of my surroundings every day.

I said this in one of the videos and it was the idea that pushed me into this project so I leave you with the thought:

If I don’t spend 30 seconds of any given day in front of something beautiful or worth recording I should change what I’m doing with my days.

See the project from the start in the playlist below and subscribe to the channel if you want to see more. I’m still going.

Place de la République.

I think I have been to Place de la République six times. Potentially I’ve passed by or passed through a couple more times but I only actively remember six occasions and for reasons that will shortly become evident the place has taken on quite a weight of symbolism for me. The account that follows is all true, but tinged with memory, symbolism and things and people that later became more important to me than they were at the time.


The first time was the 8th January 2015. Our history teacher let us out of class half an hour early so we could go to the protests in solidarity with the Charlie Hebdo victims. This was the day I had to very quickly learn the words to the Marseillaise. I was there with a particular friend who we will call A who I didn’t know too well at the time. After I left (my accommodation had a curfew) she sent me a video of herself later on at the top of the statues. Everyone was climbing them that evening and she smoked a cigarette looking out at the protest. I never made it to République during the march on the 11th. There were too many people.

Nine months then passed with me having absolutely no need to go to that part of Paris because the next time I showed up there was the 14th of November 2015. Obviously this was an awful time, but I found it touching to see that everyone had spontaneously come together and that, more importantly, we knew where to go because we’d all already been there to stand together. I went with one friend who had to leave Paris the day after and didn’t want to miss the sight of all the candles. Simultaneously, A texted me to see if I was around – so I agreed to meet her at République. Knowing that A would forget, I took two tealights and a pack of matches with me so that we could add our candles to the glowing mass gathering around the base of the statues. You couldn’t get very close to the statues because there were already so many flowers, candles, paintings and messages all over. While she was lighting a candle a photographer snapped a picture of A and she ended up in an English newspaper with the caption “young women mourn at Place de la République.” I guess I must technically be in the photo in the black shadows since I was standing right behind her. Across the square stood the wooden boards hiding a small construction site with a huge graffiti “Fluctuat Nec Mergitur” in silver on a black background.

Later in November I was meeting some friends in a bar that was close by. I decided to walk around the whole statue to see all the tributes and messages. The whole affair had been formalised a little, the dead flowers and faded pieces of paper taken away. What remained were messages of defiance and support graffitied on the stone and a ring of empty glass candle holders with occasional paintings, laminated photos and a huge part of the base taken up with victims names. I made it a habit from then on to walk once around the statues every time I went to République, partly out of respect, partly out of a fascination to see how time would change and wear away all these things written and attached to the statues.

On the 14th May 2016 an English friend was visiting Paris and Nuit Debout was still in full swing. I had been busy and hadn’t yet gone and he was only there for a few days so we dropped by. I called a French friend who knew Nuit Debout like the back of his hand and we had a look around and a drink. I remember my English friend being surprised that there were still so many messages relating to Charlie Hebdo on the statues and I shrugged and said “we covered the whole thing, how were we to know we’d be needing all that space.” In huge words on the statue the words “thou shalt not kill” stood out strongly. I found the whole thing horribly depressing for a reason I couldn’t quite make out; later I came round to thinking that it was wonderful that there was something positive and fun being associated with this place, instead of it becoming a sad place that only held the memory of terrorism. Now there was music, a falafel stand and a faint smell of smoke that didn’t seem entirely to smell like cigarettes. All in all I felt like maybe the people were being a bit over the top about it but they were taking back this place to be somewhere positive.

In late May I went back to République to meet a friend before we went to the theatre. This girl, M, started out as A’s friend and so I knew her quite well but I think this was the first time we met up without A. In fact, I had to text A to get her number since I was early and she was late. I texted her that I’d meet her next to the lion –it’s a pretty obvious meeting place, given that there’s only one lion and quite a large square. Besides, I liked the lion because it was the centre of where the last remaining flowers and candles were and it was somehow humbling to see that they were still there, fewer but still many and still a strong memory. I noticed that the wooden boards had become a café, called Fluctuat Nec Mergitur. I watched a kid try to teach himself a skateboard kick for five minutes solid. He did not achieve it. Then I saw a great production of Cyrano de Bergerac.

30th June 2016 – A had got into a highly selective school so naturally a celebration was in order. I was busy during the day so we proposed to meet at around seven at République since it is, after all, a good place to go out at night. I got there at about five past, walked around the statues. I saw that some parts of the friezes had been spray-painted gold and I found it cool. Parts of the “thou shalt not kill” had been painted over. Nuit Debout seemed a memory, the sign was still painted as “Place Commune” instead of “Place de la République” but there were very few stands still up and instead a temporary skate park had been installed at the far end of the square. I texted A to propose that we all meet at the lion. As I said, it’s an easy meeting spot. An old lady next to me was relighting every candle that still had a wick and praying from time to time. A lot of the names had fallen off or been ripped off. I suppose if they’d been ripped it was a little disrespectful but I was in a good mood so I felt like it was just a necessary part of the rejuvenation. Yes, the past would sometimes be taken away violently but there would still be the memory and it would get less painful. The candles would still be there but the graffiti would become unrecognisable. All the scars would heal over and calm down. I’d had a great day. I was proud of A, I’d found a jacket in a lost property free-for-all that I really liked and the sun had finally come out. I was listening to a new album that was really good and just at that point a feather was falling, not in a swerving arc like they do normally. Somehow it had ended up on its point in mid air and was being caught and spun by the wind while upright. It must have taken a full two minutes to fall and I’d never seen anything like that before. I had my phone out waiting for a text anyway and so I took a selfie while I waited.

Then I got mugged. I’m not sure of the exact series of events but I ended up on the ground and I think I got kicked. When I got back up I had no phone, wallet or headphones and a cut on my face that was pouring blood into my eye and mouth. It was a group of about five girls around my age that beat me up. In the struggle they ripped off my sunglasses but I grabbed them back in some glasses-wearer instinctive fear that they were taking away my sight. As it happens I was wearing contact lenses, but I’m glad since I really love those sunglasses. My iPod somehow made it from my pocket to my bag and stayed there paused at the point where the headphones had been ripped out for a couple of days. A group of strangers then surrounded me offering advice, tissues, disinfectant wipes and to call the police. All of these were done and a couple of them led me into the Fluctuat Nec Mergitur café to get myself cleaned up and gave me a glass of water.

My friends arrived later. One of the people who helped me went out to find them while I cleaned myself up. A told me later that she had tried to call me since I wasn’t by the lion and a strange old lady told her to be careful with her phone in this neighbourhood. We figured out from our descriptions later that it was the same lady who had been relighting the candles. I spent the rest of the night in A&E with A, M, and three other good friends who had all meant to be spending the evening celebrating with A. Given the circumstances we made quite a good evening of it and I’m sure we lightened the mood for a few other waiting room inhabitants that night. One group of girls had sent me to hospital and another group had stayed with me until I left.

I haven’t been back to République yet but I will. For me the overwhelming memories are not my most recent visit and never will be. They’re scrambling through a bag to find a pen to hold to the sky last January, sitting in sad silence with A next to the candles last November, watching my English friend and French friend get along like a house on fire despite neither priding themselves on language skills and mostly, how I felt sitting next to the lion watching that feather thinking that, yes, bad things happen, but they fade in time and become just a small part of something bigger and better.


When you walk out into the future you will undeniably be walking on shaky ground.


I’ve noticed with a creeping, growing sense of irony, that I have been waiting to start my new, shiny united blog until I had confirmation that my two previous blog subjects were going to be united (namely, that my cinema blog and my education blog would meet in the middle as I head off to study cinema). Recent developments, that would make even the most experienced of red tape warriors cry, (including a situation where I had to provide a piece of paper I never had, due to a previous series of poorly-planned decisions), have brought home to me that this might not be something that happens.

In a clumsy segue, my country just pulled a shock move and voted to leave the European Union. I am a British student living in Paris. That’s the most technical definition, but I am also European, English and the daughter of an immigrant. Until this morning none of these identities seemed to be a contradiction in terms. There’s talk of an independent Scotland, an independent London, and a re-unified Ireland. We have no Prime Minister, potentially no leader of the opposition, and no unity.

Everything is up in the air but we have to keep moving until it hits the ground.

I’ll check in if anything happens.

You can’t steer a stationary object. [ORIGINALLY POSTED 29/04/2016]

Une Éducation

But I’m not sure that’s an excuse for careering haphazardly through life like a derailed train.

For those who were still taking notes : remember when I talked about that film school I was applying to? Well, that didn’t work out so now I have to decide what I want to study next year since this year has shown me that studying Classics when you’ve finally realised that you want to be doing Film Studies does NOT WORK. I suppose it didn’t really take a genius to figure that out but what can I say, my conclusions can’t always be groundbreaking. I mean, I’m not the best at foresight – I haven’t followed a coherent academic course the whole way through since before 2011 and yet I thought I’d be able to not only complete a Khagne but keep a consistent blog about it. Let us all laugh in unison…

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Top 10 things that annoy me about the French. [ORIGINALLY POSTED 9/1/2016]

Une Éducation

Taking time out of my busy schedule of destroying my academic future and avoiding paperwork I would like to engage in that Great British pastime we all know and love: French-bashing. Before any of my French friends get offended I would like to remind you all that I came to live in this country voluntarily and I love you all very much. However one cannot love anyone or anything without acknowledging and accepting their faults and believe me Frenchies you do have some.

10. Cheers!


Imagine the scene: you’re out with friends, everyone’s just got themselves a drink and you’re gonna get started for a fun night out. At this point someone will raise a glass vaguely and say “cheers” (or santé at the very least) and everyone raises their glass towards the centre and reply then start drinking. OH NO MATE. You’re in France now. Not only must you individually clink everybody…

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