The art of community-mindedness: Click into Culture at Fabrica, Brighton – Q+A with Clare Hankinson

Street view of Fabrica’s exterior, Brighton.

Having settled in the deconsecrated Holy Trinity Church in Brighton’s city centre 25 years ago, arts organisation Fabrica has since worked tirelessly to engage with the local community as a social hub and support centre. 

The past twelve months have presented new challenges to the continuation of outreach programmes, tailored to the needs of vulnerable groups, that Fabrica has spent years developing. 

While their physical exhibiting space and workshop facilities have remained closed due to external factors, the arts organisation’s team of staff have been striving to extend socially-minded community programmes into the digital sphere.

Clare Hankinson, Fabrica’s Audience Development Manager, has been an indispensable driving force behind many of the organisation’s groundbreaking outreach initiatives in recent years. 

Her altruistic approach to audience development has given rise to the creation of community programmes that provide an exceptional level of local support from the multifaceted arts hub that she has worked with for just over a decade.

“One of our key aims as an organisation is to reach the broadest audience possible; that’s really inherent in our bones,” said Hankinson.

We spoke over Zoom this week about Fabrica’s community outreach initiatives, including their brand-new digital programme Click into Culture, which has been designed to assist people who might have difficulties with mobility or their personal health (that may ordinarily affect their access to art institutions) in experiencing artworks from home in a supportive online environment.

“Of course, with COVID, a lot of people are struggling to get out of the house but what we identified, really, was that it isn’t a new problem for a lot of people,” she said, and explained that Click into Culture has been designed with a post-pandemic future in mind.

We also discussed the opening of Olafur Eliasson’s upcoming exhibition at Fabrica, which has been in the works for a number of years and will be opened up to members of the public in May.

Although we were separated by the distance between two terminals of a Zoom call, it was easy to get a sense of the unmistakeable enthusiasm and passion Hankinson has for her work. 

Read the Q+A in full below:

SIS: Did Click into Culture start as an offshoot of the established Going to See Culture Together programme Fabrica runs monthly for older audiences?

CH: It is a bit of an offshoot of Going to See Culture Together. Click into Culture is probably the culmination of a few things. Luckily, we applied to take part in a Tech for Good research and development programme […] before the general lockdown happened. 

It was a 12 week program, and some of my colleagues took part in research, developing ideas, talking to the people we work with, participants we work with, digital engagement, what people use.

This gave us the chance to really dig down into where the barriers were for that group – or, actually, where there were opportunities – so as part of that project I got to develop some prototype ideas. 

We’d gone in specifically thinking about older people with low mental health, and one of the prototype ideas was basically what Click into Culture has become. We got really great feedback from the prototype testing that we did with some of our participants, but we realised that it wasn’t something that only older people might take advantage of.

Click into Culture, I hope, will be one of the things that we take forward as a digital activity in the long run, because we could be engaging people outside of the city – there should be no restrictions on where people are. So that might be exciting for [a new group] to connect with each other as well.

Our mental health programmes and lot of our older audiences programmes are heavily oversubscribed, so we’re always thinking of ways we can diversify and reach new people because otherwise you just feel like there’s so many people who are missing out.

SIS: How did Fabrica’s mental health support events and group workshops emerge – were these parts of a broader therapeutic arts initiative that the organisation has always worked towards?

CH: A lot of arts organisations over the last five or ten years have started to consider themselves as working on a health and wellbeing agenda. I think it’s taken us a while to really see ourselves as [an organisation] that could really apply to health-related funding. 

A big step change for us was when we started doing Men in Sheds, as that was a Public Health funded commission. I think that put us in the right networks to start […] working with doctors’ surgeries, and also with mental health organisations, with Public Health and suicide prevention services.

Often you still feel like the odd one out in the room, because the arts feels – when you’re working with frontline services – a little bit soft, but there’s obviously value there.

Those guys we’ve been working with through Men in Sheds for years […] – as soon as we weren’t able to open our doors we were phoning them every week. We were trying to suggest things to do from home, and trying to connect people together, and getting them involved in anything else that we were doing. We ended up really trying to find [things that would be] suitable to each individual that we know.

SIS: Have you been able to continue your regular workshop programmes and support events for children and young audiences, such as CHOMP, throughout the pandemic?

CH: The situation of lockdown has meant that we’ve tried and tested so many routes to keep engaging people, and I would say it’s certainly – unsurprisingly – not a ‘one size fits all’ situation.

There were a few things we’d planned for young people and children that haven’t gone ahead […]. We run a lunch club for low income families that just couldn’t run as an event […] and the really big opportunity with that event is that the families get to meet each other, mix and mingle, and create together and support each other.

Several community programmes were sending out food hampers to those families, so […] nine times we sent out a hundred activity packs alongside the food hampers so that they were getting something a bit more interactive physically to do from home – obviously making sure that they had some materials provided, and that it was something that was also replicable – something using household recycling materials, and things like that.

SIS: It must have been difficult to shift programmes that you’ve spent so much time building up as people’s needs and capabilities changed during the past twelve months – and some vulnerable groups have been struggled even more to engage with the wider community as many of us have not been connected in the ways we would ordinarily be. Do you think that when Fabrica is able to reopen as an arts hub, interest in those small group events will return?

CH: A lot of our events run really regularly. And I can’t think of one that has totally lost touch over lockdown.

Access to digital [technology] has obviously become a much more understood disadvantage, if you can’t get online; we’ve had a relationship with city council-led Seniors Housing for a long time and they have free wifi, but only in the lounge – so when people didn’t want to leave their flats during lockdown they were totally away from the wifi connection.

We’ve been able to engage people with the bespoke projects we do [but] where we’ve probably lost a big part of our dialogue is people coming in to see an exhibition and having a really good chat with the front of house team, and […] coming across it in this church, and not knowing what to expect. I think that’s something you can’t replicate online in the same way.

SIS: You must be looking forward to having the option to organise in-person events again soon; is part of the pleasure of audience development seeing the reactions from your visitors and groups in the moment, in the physical space?

CH: Yes, and there’s something about trust as well with these programmes – a lot of the work we do is about getting someone’s trust, especially if they don’t think that art is for them, or that it is elitist … 

It’s very hard to get all of that through a digital medium, and we’ve all had to become accustomed to that, haven’t we?

SIS: Fabrica’s upcoming exhibition, Olafur Eliasson’s The Forked Forest Path, is going to be shown through a Click into Culture event in April – but will it also be open to the public in the gallery’s main art space?

CH: Yes, from the 17th of May, when non-essential businesses can open. That’s the plan, and we’ve extended it into June to make the most of the show.

It’s one of those shows that we’ve been working on for a few years and it is [a piece] that is very encompassing, and physical, and fun – all of those things that are classic Fabrica. It’s like a little magical forest.

SIS: Looking ahead, are there any projects that you’ll be working on this year that you’re particularly excited about?

CH: There’s existing projects that we haven’t been able to do recently, like the dementia-focused programmes – I’m really looking forward to getting back into discussing those and getting the gears turning again.

I am hoping that we’ll get something that will give us a bit of longer-term support towards Click into Culture. There’s always so many ideas, and so little time!

Fabrica will be exhibiting Olafur Eliasson’s The Forked Forest Path between 18 May – 20 June. Accessibility information can be found here.

For further information about Fabrica’s special events programmes, visit their Events site here.

Many thanks to Clare Hankinson for her time, and for speaking with Sophie I See.

Still, in motion: Julian Vilarrubi’s Shifting Moments exhibition breathes life into the Phoenix, Brighton

One of the most generous aspects of contemporary landscape art is its ability to translate a pastiched visual language of urban development – mixtures of modern and historical architecture, natural effects and organic structures – into something harmonious and profoundly beautiful.

From jagged scaffolds to the potent beams of an evening sun, Julian Vilarrubi’s most recent series of works on paper – Shifting Moments, currently on display in the Phoenix Art Space, Brighton – encompasses a full and enveloping experience of the artist’s perception of his exterior environment from a principal vantage point.

In various mediums, at numerous intervals, Vilarrubi renders a view of St Peter’s Church as he observes it continuously in transient glances from the window of his working studio upstairs at the Phoenix, which stands on the opposite side of the road. 

“It’s a visceral, in the moment response. A reaction to something.”

Vilarrubi is a warm and thoughtful conversationalist, with astonishing self-knowledge and an enthusiasm for reflective artistic practices.

With faces covered and distancing observed, the artist and I took a tour of his exhibition, while he illustrated the process of creation behind the artworks on display along with the lasting influences and inspirations that fed into Shifting Moments.

‘St. Peter’s Sunset’, 2021, 154 x 119 cm. The final work in Vilarrubi’s Shifting Moments, on display in the Phoenix’s Canvas Coffee Bar.

When I met with the artist shortly after the show opened to the public, he spoke of his fondness for producing works in rapid succession – something he encourages his students to do in exercises when teaching painterly techniques.

“There’s this strange ‘no man’s land’ between being conscious of what you’re doing and being […] in the moment,” he said.

“If I’m under pressure, then I’ve got to do something quickly – and I love working quickly.” 

Vilarrubi attributes this, in part, to time he spent working under a Fine Art tutor during his studies at Newcastle University.

His tutor had once led a trip to the Swan Hunter Shipyard by the Tyne, where the students were asked to paint inside the immense industrial sheds on-site in natural conditions – while it was half-lit and bracingly cold. 

Those paintings produced in-situ inspired the artist’s working method throughout his most recent series, which exemplifies a passion for painting with immediacy, and employing fast-acting materials. 

Vilarrubi also commended Sky’s Landscape Artist of the Year for giving him the opportunity to explore new modes of on-site painting guided by set conditions, and to practice responding “from reality”, when he participated in the programme back in January.

‘Swan Hunter Shipyard II’, 1983, 59.4 x 42 cm. One of two early works on display in Shifting Moments.

Two of the paintings produced in the Swan Hunter sheds are on display at the Phoenix, and occupy the first and second positions in the Shifting Moments exhibition.

“I only decided to put those two there right at the last minute,” he said. The decision was motivated partly by a recognition of parallelism between the recent studies of St Peter’s and his early studies of the Swan Hunter buildings.

“It’s about having those restrictions: going to the same place, working in the same way … in the same scale.”

When initially offered the corridor exhibition space at the Phoenix, he had planned to produce a series of 8 or 9 identically sized paintings that would lead a viewer through the effects of changes in the time of day on a single landscape. 

The artist had a working deadline of 6 weeks to develop and finish the series, which pushed him to adapt his initial conditions to suit the constraints that he had, for the most part, imposed upon himself.

Having created an inceptive piece which measured 60 x 80 centimetres in its frame, Vilarrubi sought to replicate the dimensions across all the works in Shifting Moments, but found that the number of identical frames he required would not be available for the exhibition – so he decided to make use of older frames he had stowed away which were diverse in proportions.

“The frame determined the composition,” he said, as he indicated towards outer edges of a painting in the series that had been deliberately spliced onto a painting of St Peter’s in order to extend the image and create a Baconesque focus on the central subject.

Vilarrubi adjusts focus and perspective in his compositions by working in layers, and considering the effect of “deep space” at each stage of production.

Six of the works on display in Shifting Moments are iPad drawings, and the artist enthused about the freedom digital drawing awards as the layers in each piece are able to be transformed, modified or repeated to great effect.

‘Morning Rain’, 2021, 29.7 x 21 cm. One of Vilarrubi’s six limited edition iPad prints in Shifting Moments.

“The top layer is the rain on the window, and then the next layer is the balcony, then the trees and the sky,” said the artist, in describing Morning Rain – the first iPad drawing encountered in the exhibition. “I started playing with the space even more.” 

The framing of space is a prominent motif across Shifting Moments, and mature works like St. Peter’s Brighton VII showcase the artist’s ability to draw depth by capturing details that create an interplay between foreground and background.

“Actually, what I’m painting is […] the space between me and the church,” said Vilarrubi. He explained that by representing dust, streaks and speckles on the glass of the window from which he observed St Peter’s, he was able to render the ephemeral moment more accurately.

The artist described the difficulty of creating landscape scenes that are true to life, even when painted plein-air. “There’s a gap between what you see and what you do. Therefore, in that gap, you’re memorising what you’ve seen.”

The soft psychedelia of Vilarrubi’s acrylic colour palettes suggests that he is open to creative renditioning of a direct environment, and working with electric colours was imperative for the artist when painting from life in Malibu or Tenerife. 

One of the more exacting challenges he has faced in his most recent series is developing and discovering greys or flat tones that are so ubiquitous across everyday Brightonian scenes over winter. 

View of St Peter’s Church, Brighton, in the spring.

Tuning into the moment and translating that moment into a composition simultaneously involves a great deal of control over practical methods, and a freedom of thought.

“It’s not relaxing at all. It’s full of tension, and the risk of potential destruction,” said Vilarrubi, while admitting that this process of creation can yield remarkable results, and therefore tends to be highly constructive.

Shifting Moments is a delightful exhibition which showcases the artist’s manifold talents across different media. The concept of a fixed central point being observed through changing points in time is acutely relevant in the context of recent months, and the delicacy with which Vilarrubi depicts his surroundings inspires the onlooker to seek such vibrancy in their immediate environments.

Shifting Moments is currently showing at the Phoenix Art Space, Brighton. The building’s main entrance is accessible to wheelchair users via ramp.

Many thanks to Julian Vilarrubi for his time, and for speaking with Sophie I See.

Coded Bias: Review (AMPLIFY! Film Festival)

(Originally published on Overtime Online, 16th November 2020.)

We have given artificial intelligence power and jurisdiction over decision-making processes that can be simultaneously nuanced and personal. We trust that algorithms are a neutral, objective factor in this system, and are less prone to corruption as they are not vulnerable to the effects of human error. But from whose perspective is this the case?

Shalini Kantayya’s documentary film Coded Bias takes steps towards breaking down and exposing the in-built structures of power which feed into machine-learning and AI tech. The director achieves this through conducting interviews with an array of academics and members of activist groups who are monitoring a broadly unregulated area of tech development. 

Together, the subjects have all uncovered some uncomfortable truths about rapidly developing technologies which are presently being evaluated through non-consensual or otherwise discrete trials on the general public.

The documentary follows the progress of Joy Buolamwini, an AI researcher at MIT and founder of the Algorithmic Justice League, as she takes her ethical concerns about facial recognition technology to a hearing with Congress in the US

Buolamwini was mobilised to take action against the irresponsible programming of facial recognition tech based on the incidences of automated discrimination she experienced while conducting her own experiments with AI. 

She found that the facial recognition programs she had been encoding into her work failed to register visual information about her face, but when she held up a plain white mask to cover her skin and features the program was able to detect a face – despite the fact that the mask had almost no human qualities about it. 

The inaccuracies in the AI that Buolamwini studied were specifically biased against people of colour and, to a significant degree, against women; for example, IBM’s facial recognition tech could identify the face of a white male with 99.7% accuracy, whereas its ability to identify the faces of women of colour was reduced to only 65.3% accuracy. 

This is what Buolamwini considers as an embedding of unconscious bias, based on the – likely unintentional, but nonetheless destructive – myopia which resulted from the homogeneous backgrounds and experiences of the field’s initial programmers. To achieve objectivity of an algorithm, we must first be able to assume that all its variables are equal.

But as this has not historically been the case, what real-world effects does this inequality in information have on the lives of everyday people? Kantayya explores this in Coded Bias by focusing in part on the work of Big Brother Watch, a UK-based activist group led by director Silkie Carlo, who are campaigning against the exploitation of data rights and civilian privacy, which the group consider to be violations of civil liberties.

Kantayya’s film captures an important moment where a 14 year old schoolboy is accosted by police, fingerprinted and added registered on their criminal database as a response to a suspected match in facial profile detected by cameras police stationed in the area capable of facial recognition.

The match was a misidentification—entirely incorrect, but the boy’s data was still logged on file. The use of an inaccurate and biased profiling algorithm resulted in harassment of an underage child by police. 

Coded Bias sheds light on a number of other case studies which are equally as important to stimulating discussion over the moral culpability of big tech in cases of digital injustice. The film also does an excellent job of demystifying AI development as a discipline; as Cathy O’Neil says in her interview segment, it really is “just math” [sic]. 

With present-day events being intercut with our glamorous visions of intelligent futures—clips from the cinematic adaptations of Minority Report, 2001: A Space Odyssey and 1984—Kantayya has constructed an enjoyable and broad-ranging study of pressing ethical issues contemporary tech development, while giving its audience space to appreciate the women on the front lines of tech research who are championing the defence of our right to privacy as global citizens.

Coded Bias is available to stream instantly via Eventive until 22 November as part of the AMPLIFY! film festival.

  • AMPLIFY! is an online film festival running November 6-22, with digital programming curated by four of the UK’s biggest film festivals: CINECITY (Brighton), Cambridge and Cornwall Film Festivals, and FilmBath.

Body of Truth (AMPLIFY! Film Festival)

(Originally published on Overtime Online, 12th November 2020.)

Evelyn Schels’ documentary carries a combined case study on four artists and their diverse bodies of work, creating a tether between them based on their mutual use of the self as a core form across multimedia and performance art mediums.

The film’s title, Body of Truth, describes that connection the four artists (Marina Abramović, Katharina Sieverding, Sigalit Landau, Shirin Neshat) share; each of them has an artistic practice that is tied into a politicised use of their own bodies in the construction of images. 

This corporeal presence is, in turn, attached to the narratives of conflict, pain and persecution which are common threads in the personal histories of all four women, though they manifest in divergent ways.

Marina Abramović’s work is dark, gothic, and frequently involves invasive treatment of her own body. A child of Serbia (former Yugoslavia), the artist’s parents were both respected members of the National Liberation Army during WWII, and subsequently became attached to Tito’s government when he assumed power. 

Abramović identifies herself as being ‘angry’ about the manner in which she was raised by her parents – particularly by her father – and describes incidences of personal trauma across her childhood which work to explain the extreme nature of her artistic performances.

She engages in self-harm onstage in her installation spaces, and has employed biological materials as active agents in works such as ‘Balkan Baroque’ (1997), wherein she continually laboured over washing clean a mound of bloodied bones – representative of the irreversible imprint war and brutality leaves on a nation and its people.

Katharina Sieverding similarly explores the atmosphere of post-conflict societies in her conceptual practice, but she does so in ways that are more abstract. She admits that she finds self-injury in art unappealing, and argues that the body should be representative of the world which surrounds it.

Sieverding has used photographic self-portraits as a recurring central motif throughout decades of work. Born in Prague and shifted into Germany through stints in postwar internment camps, the artist has often made a point in her work to subvert legacies of cultural conservatism; she achieves this by using the medium of photography to draw progressive ideals closer to reality, without really taking a position on a formal ideology. 

Although ‘Deutschland wird deutscher’ (1992) makes use of inflammatory language through text, it is only as ideologically charged as the audience makes it, as the sentiments displayed in Sieverding’s work have all been part of social debate across German media; these are offset against playful self-portraits which are in conflict with the overlaid text.

In contrast, Sigalit Landau produces work which is overtly political, but through a personal lens; much of her work self-referential, revolving around the history of her family, and her experiences of her immediate environment – her home in a village in north Jerusalem populated by Holocaust survivors. 

The artist describes the incongruity of living in a Jewish-Israeli community which sits entirely separate to – but also neighbouring – an Arabic village across a valley, and some of Landau’s most striking pieces are those with installations situated in the Dead Sea: the salt lake that defies borders but can host no life.

Like Abramović, Landau has used physical harm and violence against herself – performed on her own body – to confront audiences with the realities of nations in constant and futile states of conflict. 

‘Barbed Hula’ (2000) is particularly difficult to watch, and involves the use of barbed wire – a symbol of annexation and antagonism – to illustrate these themes in moving image.

Iranian artist Shirin Neshat represents the fourth case study in Schels’ documentary, and her approach to the art of liberation is the most delicate of the practices exhibited. 

Neshat seeks to visualise what she terms the ‘dichotomy’ of her experiences of an upbringing in Iran under multiple distinct political regimes, and to draw attention to the fact that women’s bodies are often symbolic battlegrounds as indicators of national progress and identity.

She speaks lovingly of her family, and describes her parents as modern progressives living in a split environment. The artist is keen on human presence in her work, and often combines monochromatic portrait photography with Farsi calligraphy, or uses props to stage a scene – sometimes both.

In her ‘Women of Allah’ (1995) series, Neshat sought to elucidate the contradictions she saw in religious female Muslim communities in Iran during the 1979 Islamic Revolution. 

Her photographs convey the simultaneous senses of beauty and threat that she identified with groups of female militants who chose to arm themselves and engage in conflict to fight for the identity they desired for their nation.

The works of all four artists are exceptionally interesting in a cinematic context, and work well shown on screen in sequence, in proximity to one another. How can you assess the artistic merit of a film which is itself about artistic merit?

Schels’ film is thoughtfully produced, with interviews which encourage enough self-analysis on a personal level to give the viewer a depth in understanding of the complex and enigmatic personalities of the documentary’s four highly articulate subjects.

Because of the wealth of artistic material which could be covered when considering the combined work of the artists, creative content does feel as though it is spread rather thinly throughout Body of Truth, but this really stems from a frustration about the runtime being unable to accommodate further case studies drawn from these seminal bodies of work.

Body of Truth is available to stream instantly via Eventive until 16 November as part of the AMPLIFY! film festival.

  • AMPLIFY! is an online film festival running November 6-22, with digital programming curated by four of the UK’s biggest film festivals: CINECITY (Brighton), Cambridge and Cornwall Film Festivals, and FilmBath.

Luxor: Review (AMPLIFY! Film Festival)

(Originally published on Overtime Online, 10th November 2020.)

Director Zeina Durra described Luxor as a vehicle through which its audience could “armchair travel”, which seems especially poignant when considering the context of this film’s release. 

Durra’s film follows an astonishing journey through the city of Luxor, a place which appears so vibrant, so free – so enveloping, that it would take a tremendous amount of resolve to resist its cosmopolitan charm.

It is a loss to be without a cinema screen while you take in the very deliberately shot immersive environments in the city after which the film is named; it is evident that Luxor had been designed with scale in mind, in part to give a sense of the power that place holds over person. 

But the beauty of this story comes not only through sublime images of a city “pregnant” with history – teeming with those bastions of cultural, historical and artistic human achievement. 

At its heart, Luxor is about healing; the long process involved in mending a psyche that has been so tortured by trauma and violence that the individual has forgotten how to live.

Hana (Andrea Riseborough) is a British surgeon returning from a stint of aid work near the border between Syria and Jordan. Her trajectory around the city of Luxor is the film’s guiding force, and her travels begin with a slow dragging of the feet across dry earth. 

It is made plain from the onset that Hana is struggling with post-traumatic stress disorder, and is having difficulty connecting herself to the present despite her environments.

At first unable to sleep, and reticent to let herself become vulnerable to emotion, Hana’s internalised distress has the effect of keeping her mostly arcane as the film’s central subject. 

It is really the coincidental meeting she has with her impossibly charismatic past lover, Sultan (Karim Saleh) which causes Hana to unravel as she begins to show her innermost self, which still remains but has been damaged during the years of tension she has endured through her work in conflict.

As Hana and Sultan reconnect, the audience comes to understand that the lovers and the city of Luxor have been entwined for decades; their recollections of memories shared across different eras promote so much warmth between the pair that it is difficult not to feel it in the room. 

The textures, the colours and the visible climate of the locations are enhanced by the presence of two people who are connected in a most exceptional way – a love performed beautifully by Riseborough and Saleh through subtle intonation and pensiveness.

Accepting help and care is difficult for Hana, but her instinctive trust in Sultan is what really sets her on a path to recovery. The first time she sleeps the night through, it is clear that what she has been craving is company, and comfort. 

Somewhere to inhabit in relative safety. This is surely something which, regardless of the relative gravity of our own personal situations, we can all appreciate in times like the present.

An astonishing film about the ability of individuals to repair their lives after experiencing great hardship, set against a profoundly dazzling landscape.

Luxor is available to stream instantly via Eventive until 12 November as part of the AMPLIFY! film festival.

  • AMPLIFY! is an online film festival running November 6-22, with digital programming curated by four of the UK’s biggest film festivals: CINECITY (Brighton), Cambridge and Cornwall Film Festivals, and FilmBath.

Lockdown Streamtown: things you might have missed this autumn on Netflix and Amazon Prime

(Originally published on Overtime Online, 9th November 2020.)

As the UK enters its first full week of Lockdown II (or Lockdown 2: Election Boogaloo), some of us will be scrolling through our streaming services of an evening wondering how we could have exhausted all the meaty, jaunty or otherwise worthwhile titles over the past few months. Autoplay is no innocent party in this offence.

So, here are a handful of streaming gems worth watching that you may have missed this autumn.

The Personal History of David Copperfield (2020)

A charming and whimsical adaptation of Dickens’ sempiternal tale of abuse, hardship, triumph and generosity of spirit; Dev Patel is an inspired choice for fully-grown incarnation of the story’s eponymous hero, David Copperfield. 

His David is bright-eyed and energetic, bold and intelligent, sweet and talented; all the admirable human qualities that continuously seem to land David/Davy/Daisy in hot water. But he proves time and again to be quite capable of assimilation, adaptation – survival.

Because David’s life and work both revolve around the vivid characters he encounters throughout his eras of fortune and misfortune, director Armando Iannucci treats us to a most satisfying display of eccentricity and poetry. 

The essence of the people David grows to know is woven into the spaces around them. There is a musicality in the way that people and their environments blend together, and flow into each other, that creates an effortless sense of movement in the film’s trajectory.

This is a showcase of British film industry brilliance, from the titanic casting to the wry wit in scripting, and the story remains as fresh today as it ever has been. Its lessons on the precariousness of our place in society—how close we all are to adversity at any given time—will be relevant as long as our divisions stay the same.

Available now to stream on Amazon Prime Video

The Forty-Year-Old Version (2020)

Winner of a 30 under 30 award for dramatic writing and a dedicated—fairly underappreciated—teacher, Radha Blank (name shared with the film’s writer-director) still has it all ahead of her, but seems to have lost her footing on a path to greatness.

In the film’s first act, Radha is fighting for a small piece of prestige for her laboured efforts in the dramatic arts. She tries—unsuccessfully—to ingratiate herself on a pretentious Afrocentric theatre owner, who thinks she won’t write truth in her plays. She then settles on having her play backed by a manipulative middle-class producer who fetishises Poverty Porn, and who employs Black writers to showboat his own pseudo-politics while brutalising their work.

Simultaneously, Radha is struggling through her own crisis of identity as she has discovered, almost by accident, that she is a fierce rapper with a unique perspective on life. She invents a moniker (RadhaMUSprime) and seeks out a producer to work with, nervously anticipating discrimination in the rap scene due to her age and her gender. 

When she meets D, a young DJ who is complex and thoughtful, he embodies the openness and innovative qualities of the rap community; he makes it clear that there is a place for Radha’s voice and politics in Hip Hop, because it is—at its core—honest, modern poetry.

D helps Radha understand that her natural talents are worth more than success in a cultural sphere that doesn’t respect her individuality. Their creative flow together plainly becomes the most important thing in either one’s life. 

Ultimately the movie is just as powerful, just as funny and only half as messy as its principal character who is as real and ebullient as her real-life counterpart, writer Radha Blank.

Available now to stream on Netflix

Truth Seekers (2020)

Would Elton John make a good exorcist? Can I please see Malcolm McDowell’s eyeballs in even more detail? Is Prawn Cocktail really a socially acceptable flavour of crisps? Should these all be questions that keep you up at night, and you find yourself in want of answers, tune into Truth Seekers.

If there is anything the 21st century has proven, it is that Frost/Pegg will go down in history as a more formidable pairing than Frost/Nixon. 

This silly, sweet, tongue-in-cheek series dishes out equal shares of scares and giggles in a structure that has been well-tested throughout the Cornetto Canon. The homeliness and simplicity of Truth Seekers is a brilliant antidote to the chaos of the unknown in our outside world which we grapple with daily. 

The series takes the very real and valid fears about every part of our lives being increasingly saturated with advanced telecommunications (from cables to clouds) and uses fanciful supernatural scenarios to prove that our tech could simultaneously be one of the greatest threats we face, but also the most effective path to our salvation.

Unfortunately, this series will only eat up about 4 hours of lockdown time. But this issue can be resolved by watching the entire thing three times in a day. Therefore, you can avoid Monday entirely and skip straight to Tuesday. No, you do not get to collect £200 as you pass through.

Available now to stream on Amazon Prime Video

Challenger: The Final Flight (2020)

This four-parter is an elegant documentary series about a true American horror story: a flight that ended the lives of seven people as a result of a catastrophic failure to make correct decisions at levels that seemed apparently insignificant. 

The harrowing story of the Challenger Space Shuttle’s failed 1986 mission (STS-51-L) is explored in detail through impeccable historical archive footage of the event and its surrounding context. This is combined with interview material capturing a cross-section of the parties who were most critically involved in the Challenger disaster. 

The series’ primary focus is on the very human element of the tragedy: the losses of six accomplished NASA astronauts onboard, and their first civilian space passenger—New Hampshire teacher, Christa McAuliffe. 

Episode three, ‘A Major Malfunction’, is directed as though it were a doomsday thriller; you are made to watch the days and weeks preceding the mission unfold in their innocent mundanity while anticipating the approach of the final blow, wishing you could reach out and stop what has is already been set in motion.

Recollections from the families of the Challenger crew in their respective interviews do much to bring the story even closer to home, honouring the memory of those lost in the disaster by reminding us that they were all ordinary people; family people, whose fates were determined by a system of bureaucracy which failed to place the value of human life over inhuman interests.

Available now to stream on Netflix

The Mole Agent: Review (AMPLIFY! Film Festival)

(Originally published on Overtime Online, 8th November 2020.)

It is difficult to imagine how, exactly, the events captured in this Chilean documentary came together; at first, we are led to believe the story will take shape as a hard-boiled exposé with espionage led by a carefully selected post-pension-age Columbo figure, Sergio. 

He is unassuming, polite, highly intelligent, and at 83 years old he looks to be a perfect fit for an infiltration job being set up by Romulo, a private investigator. 

The PI’s client is the daughter of a resident at a nursing home, and she is concerned that her mother is suffering abuse under the home’s care, so Romulo hires Sergio to investigate the home while posing as (and thereby becoming) a resident himself. 

Sergio soon finds, however, that the real mistreatment of the residents occurs as a result of a different kind of neglect largely unattached to the nursing home.

While this documentary’s subjects are mostly in their twilight years, the film is so full of life and splendour it is easy to lose sight of the investigation which is supposedly the focus of the story. Instead the kinship between the residents, enhanced by the arrival of Sergio, becomes a far more meaningful thread to follow. 

He is adored by all because he is kind, patient and understanding, and something of an enigma when he first arrives. Sergio’s sleuthing eventually takes a back seat to his growing personal involvement in the home’s community, as he finds that the population of the home all care for him just as much as he begins trying to care for them.

He makes some incredible friends during his stay, and finds a particularly special connection with resident Marta, who should – by all the classic principles of a good detective story – be his adversary.

The final moments of the film are moving in unexpected ways, and we are made to understand that small acts of goodness and generosity can cure the most painful cases of loneliness among vulnerable people – that everyone deserves meaningful companionship in life, whatever form it takes.

The Mole Agent is available to stream instantly via Eventive until 13 November as part of the AMPLIFY! film festival.

  • AMPLIFY! is an online film festival running November 6-22, with digital programming curated by four of the UK’s biggest film festivals: CINECITY (Brighton), Cambridge and Cornwall Film Festivals, and FilmBath.

Hey! We’ve got to hide that film away… Legacy art + The Beatles

One night, in a plush room after a few rounds of Sambuca, when the evening was drawing to a close, a question was asked among friends – half in jest.

“What do you think music would be like today if not for the Beatles?”

As the rules of conversation had ceased to be coherent, this was answered with another question.

“Well, if the Beatles weren’t the Beatles, do you think anyone would have listened to the songs?”

Could we ever really live without you?

Friends ponder over this for a moment. And the idea begins to bloom.

“If the Beatles were around today, would they still be successful? Would people LIKE the Beatles?”

Call it pure conjecture, naturally, but this could well have been the session of revelation that planted the seed for Jack Barth’s ‘Cover Version’, which later became Richard Curtis’ Yesterday

This is a story adapted for film by Danny Boyle, and it begins to seem as though it’s a comic tale about a young man, Jack Malik, and his interminable love for music which is given a boost by his opportunistic commandeering of the Beatles’ work. 

But why? What makes it so special?

Jack, an unrecognised talent in the music industry and a sort-of schoolteacher by day, is hit by a bus on his way home from a gig after being dropped off by his ultra-loyal manager and admirer, Ellie, and finds that when he regains consciousness, all memory of the Beatles has been erased from his world – including their music.

He decides to take on their songs and perform them as a one-man Beatle, reaping the historic fame and rewards that came with exceptional songwriting and performance. At its best, the film should have been about the corrupting pursuit of fame – about deception, greatness and singularity.

Unfortunately, in its cinematic iteration, Yesterday comes across as a clinical, shallow and confused example of a self-involved love story; the result of an ideas tap running dry before the tub filled up. 

While it is fair to conclude that Yesterday came from a place of admiration and love for those boys in the band, it really had nothing at all to say about musicianship.

That film demonstrated no real understanding of the fabric of the Beatles – what made them truly exceptional in their own time, and in ours, too. It wanted to decontextualise the music, and argue for timelessness.

But the Beatles were a context-heavy band. They are woven into the cultural zeitgeist of the 1960s, and one of the most enchanting things about their work is how serendipitous each of their creations were.

It all starts with a word.

In fact, it is easy to lose sight of how much chance was involved in the meeting of minds between John, Paul, George, Ringo. In Craig Brown’s raucous and colourful tome of Beatleology One Two Three Four: The Beatles in Time, he opens early in his book with an illustration of two scenarios for the reader.

First, scenario a). While they don’t consider each other potential romantic partners, Jim McCartney and Mary Mohin have spent some time together as Mary lodges with Jim’s sister. During an aerial bombing in wartime Liverpool, Mary has to stay overnight at Jim’s mum’s. They talk and talk, and know they’ve got a connection. They marry. Macca is born. 

Then, scenario b). The air raid never comes. Mary never stays overnight at Jim’s mum’s. Macca is never born. The Beatles never are. 

Time and place are truly integral to the birth of the band and their trajectory. The summit of their careers coincided with pop movements across cultural institutions in Britain – and across the globe – whose missions were to create works that reflected the throwaway trends and fast consumption that defined the sixties.

Ironically, of course, many of these artists produced pieces that became timeless markers of an exploratory era. 

From Fluxus to Boty and Paolozzi, the legacies of the artist contemporaries of the Beatles now exist dichotomously as momentary spectacles and everlasting displays of experimental artisanship.

The products of the Beatles’ craft are enjoyed still perhaps because of their innovative technical qualities, their whimsy, the encompassing worldview and personality injected into all songwriting.

Curtis and Boyle’s Yesterday misrepresented the connection between the Beatles and the people. If one man could pluck the songs from the void, perform them with no real motivation or understanding – other than the fact that he can, and he wants to – then that music is cheapened, and made meaningless.

It would be like trying to paint a de Kooning in 2021. You’ve got all the ingredients, you know the style. You can mimic, and you can recreate – you can even nail the texture, and make the painting breathe. 

But you’re not de Kooning. And the time for his work has long since passed. It wouldn’t impress, and it certainly wouldn’t make sense.

How can that sole day last forever?

There’s no magic in Yesterday’s vision of the creative process. And the songs that the writers chose to illustrate the story were fairly counterintuitive to the theme.

Why did the filmmakers choose the tracks they did? 

Instead of going with:

Moment when Jack is weighing up his fame with his life outside of music = Can’t Buy Me Love

Moment when Jack is a struggling musician who can’t catch a break and is stuck in a creative rut = Nowhere Man

They went with:

Moment in studio = I Want To Hold Your Hand.

Moment in studio = I Saw Her Standing There.

Early days. Avant-garde in situ? Of course.

Why choose songs that – while brilliant and highly listenable, in their own right – are arguably some of the least likely to be able to break through in this era with the lyrics as they are?

“She was just 17, if you know what I mean.” Would we know what that meant? And if we did know what it meant, would we still really want to hear it from a global megastar’s mouth? And what about the name of Penny Lane?

But how closely, then, could you tie a narrative into all manner of Beatles tracks based on lyrics alone? 

Very closely. The boys did this themselves, and the payoff was – for the most part – spectacular. 

Think about A Hard Day’s Night. That rambling, freewheeling, youthful, technical masterwork which had its own genre-defining style.

“He’s very clean.”

The Beatles were self-mocking, and seriously witty. You’d be hard-pressed to find another British comedy film from ’64 that can still stand up as a source of ultimate fun. 

(And on that note, it isn’t difficult to think of plenty of examples that can be watched only through the cracks in your fingers. Probably with clenched teeth.)

Something troubling about the way the Beatles’ music is presented in Yesterday is that it becomes straight-laced, too perfect – dull. 

There are missed opportunities for gags all over the place, but the film also lacks any serious tension; here’s a lad who’s allowed to do exactly as he pleases, with no one to stop him but himself.

And when two Beatle-knowing mystics arrive to presumably throw a spanner in the works as they confront Jack about his appropriation of the Beatles’ songs, they merely appear to congratulate and thank him on his good work bringing the music back into the world – then, they’re away.

Where there should be conflict, we find none. John and Paul were notoriously different in character, but the collision of their occasionally polarised perspectives was a driving force behind the storytelling within their songs. Conflict was not antagonistic, but healthy – and realistically productive.

And there were times when the band themselves were unhappy with what they produced. Myth can be mendacious, so to assume that all the work felt triumphant when it was still in the making is a fallacy.

The problem with the concept of a one-man Beatles in the first instance is that they had to be a gang of four. They inspired each other with abundances of influences, and tempered one another’s wilder creative tendencies. But there was always a space for each to have their voices heard.

Their creations were open, embracing, and fed from the outside in. Yesterday’s power dynamic is all wrong. There, the creations are closed-off, owned, and earnest.

Inspiration starts at home. Open hearts, open minds.

Even the love story in Yesterday is colder and far more outdated than a sixties pop song. Poor Ellie, who hasn’t been given a personality or life of her own (apart from “teacher”, which is an occupation rather than a human trait), pines after Jack and lives to serve his every whim when he has no time for her. 

He lies, he mopes, and behaves in selfish ways – but has little self-awareness, and fails to put any of those experiences into a musical medium.

And as soon as Ellie decides to regain some agency by pursuing the life she wants and finds a little happiness, she chucks it at the first sign of interest Jack offers her. Only once he’s decided to chuck in his own music career.

All of this, of course, is truly inconsequential to the legacy of the Beatles: their music, their talents, their lives, experiences, the art they created. 

Which is why Yesterday should be kept distant from the Beatles’ back catalogue, especially from their lives on film. It never asked why the Beatles’ songs were so revered, it merely stated: because.

That something.

What I hope Peter Jackson’s Get Back will be able to show is the symbiotic relationship between four talented and eccentric young men that nourished their creativity, and catalysed the writing process behind profoundly unparalleled pieces of music.

“If the Beatles were around today, would they still be successful?”

Probably not. And who cares? Whatever “success” is, it can’t be replicated. And if you’re seeking it out, then you’re miles away from where the fab four began.

Instead of worrying about what could have been in the Beatles’ legacy, take some advice: let it be.

Looking for something to stream this February?

If you’re searching for some worthwhile films and series to fill your quiet weekend at home, try these titles; all available for UK viewers to stream now on their respective platforms.


Since VOD-born series have pushed forward changes in the release tactics of television shows, the way we anticipate tuning into those programmes has also become drastically different. In this sense, it is a gratifying feeling to find yourself frustrated about staggered releases. Lupin is so addictive, so shrewd and mirthful, that you will be left longing for more of the magic the show brings—at the heart of which is an exuberant protagonist, Assane Diop (Omar Sy), who has a taste for danger, a bone to pick with a tyrant of the establishment, and a fixation on the literary works of Maurice Leblanc.

Modelling himself on Leblanc’s gentleman thief—and subject of many popular works of fiction—’Arsène Lupin’, Diop uses his charm and cunning to undertake missions that seem nigh on impossible to achieve. The payoff in each episode is, naturally, enough to wrap up the questions around the hows and whys of his adventures, but these instalments are clues which fit inside a larger high-stakes mystery. If you can manage the wait between now and the release of the series’ latter parts, give it a watch with subs and French audio. You won’t regret it.

First five episodes available to stream now on Netflix


Essential viewing for film buffs, this documentary sees trans* representation in mainstream cinema through the eyes of the people whose voices matter in the coverage of trans* histories. The success of Disclosure’s format is due to its smart and straightforward structure; the documentary is comprised of a series of interviews with influential Hollywood figures, who analyse the presence of trans* people in the products of popular culture that their generations were attuned to.

What Disclosure makes clear is that popular media is capable of shaping people’s minds and imaginations, and to use this power responsibly Hollywood must make fair and accurate trans* visibility—in consultation with trans* people—a critical part of its present-day cultural vision. It is only fair that everyone should be able to get to see themselves illustrated on-screen, presented as the nuanced, bright and complex people that they should be; to let them feel loved, and to inspire young people to hope for an outstanding future.

Available to stream now on Netflix

One Night in Miami

Brought to the screen by Regina King, this adaptation of Kemp Powers’ stage play of the same name is a bittersweet celebration of great young minds and Black talent, blighted by an undercurrent of dread anticipating the loss of two of the gifted people in that hotel room in Miami. Sam Cooke (Leslie Odom Jr.), Jim Brown (Aldis Hodge), Malcolm X (Kingsley Ben-Adir), Cassius Clay (Eli Goree) (who was about to join the Nation of Islam and take up his chosen name, Muhammad Ali)—same place, same night. 1964.

King’s direction keeps the scenes tightly focused on the exchanges between four vibrant, contrasting characters—each of whom has their own perspective on the progress of Black civil rights in America, and all of whom are fighting for a common good, albeit in separate ways. What the film captures so brilliantly is the disquiet that is so often at the heart of political movements, the lack of cohesion weighing heavily on members who strive always to remain strongly principled in ways that meet their own unyielding expectations.

Available to stream now on Amazon Prime Video

Can’t Get You Out of My Head

As much as this sounds like hyperbole, Adam Curtis really is one of the most watchable documentarians in television today. He commands your whole attention without ever appearing on screen. This six-part series sketches out a history of power relations in the UK, USA, Russia and China by encompassing the views, movements and grievances of groups and individuals in the aforementioned nations.

Conducted through a mixture of archival mashups and narration, Can’t Get You Out of My Head journeys in and out of the human subconscious, tapping into fears but reaching out to the rational aspects of our natural thought processes—if they truly are independently instinctive. The docuseries is like an immersive, psychedelic experience, and it gives you the chance to truly meditate on images and stories we see daily but infrequently connect together.

All six episodes available to stream now on BBC iPlayer


A bizarre, seething body-horror with a moody score and elegantly dressed minimalist sets, Brandon Cronenberg’s most recent feature film is well-executed and creatively paced. Suspense ebbs and flows throughout, with moments of staggering brutality puncturing a gradual, sustained movement towards true mindlessness – a state of non-being, accompanied by nihilistic cruelty.

This film was capable of getting under my skin, inside my head – a troubling watch, but absolutely captivating. Cronenberg has found a way to take a fear of surveillance to new heights, enhancing the violating nature of complete invasions of privacy by introducing an element of human error. Possessor also demonstrates how easy it is to forget how to be a person when we cease to recognise the value of every life there is.

Available to rent now on BFI Player

RE: Mank

“You cannot capture a man’s entire life in two hours. All you can hope is to leave the impression of one.” 

These words from Oldman’s Mankiewicz (Mank, to his many associates) describe perfectly the achievements of two separate films that converse with each other through time.

They build each other’s myths up, forging links between generations that add new dimensions to the cortex of Hollywood’s (occasionally justifiably) self-aggrandising lore.

All players agree, in Fincher’s sparkling and tender-hearted Mank, that the script Herman J. Mankiewicz has drafted is the best thing he’s ever written. 

In the context of its lasting legacy, that script has proven to be arguably one of the best English-language screenplays ever written.

Mank is the man who wrote Citizen Kane.

He is given, by Oldman, a vivaciousness that does justice to a man who appeared warm, droll and often self-aware, but ultimately compelled towards his vices in too destructive a fashion to accommodate the full extent of his talents.

Fincher’s film traces the life of Mankiewicz over intervals throughout the 1930s, moments during which led inevitably to the development of an anarchic relationship between Orson Welles and Mankiewicz, which produced the screenplay that brought Charles Foster Kane into public consciousness.

There is a distinction between “smugness” and admiration that critics frequently fail to account for, and Fincher’s film is a celebration of the innovative mastery of medium that Citizen Kane exhibited.

Mank pays homage to the source material through its recurring shots in deep focus, its tightly paced and witty dialogue exchanges, and its ability to layer moments – past and present – so that threads in the story running concurrently help establish a full sense of a person. 

This effect is created without a hint of elitism. Not every homage is accessible only to an inside circle. 

Mank will certainly provoke a hunger to revisit Welles’ magnum opus, but it will do so having laid out a roadmap, signposting structural qualities of the film in a framework which can be used to watch that fine yarn with a purpose.

The most astonishing thing about Herman J. Mankiewicz and his screenplay is that he could just as easily have never written it

(Although, on balance, that could be said about almost all works of culture since time immemorial.)

Part of the charm of early Hollywood is how unbelievably messy it appeared. Hard-nosed and demanding executives pushed for innovation, but also popular appeasement, and hired their creatives in a manner that was relatively organic.

Sometimes all it might have taken to get a picture made was dumb luck and privilege. The production process was corrupt, exclusive and selective.

But there were certain renegade qualities about the film industry that disappeared with the professionalisation of moviemaking, including the magic of spontaneity that manifested in imperfectly shot takes.

That sense of danger that came from the trial-and-error production modes and the embodied, human experience of filmmaking was brilliantly rendered in the scene which has Mank walk into a shoot for one of William Randolph Hearst’s (Charles Dance) Westerns.

Marion Davies (Amanda Seyfried) is about to be burned at the stake on set, in character. She sees Mank approaching across Hearst’s San Simeon estate, where filming is underway, and beckons him over. 

Their rapport is instantaneous, and Davies is played by Seyfried as a radiant, playful wit who is at once self-assured and self-deprecating. Asking Mank not to laugh, she confesses: “I am being burned at the stake and I am dying for a ciggie-boo!”

Cinema was full of risk-takers, which goes a long way to explain how a nonlinear narrative like Citizen Kane could ever have been adapted for screen, especially at a time when enthusiastic audience reception was the determining factor in a picture’s success.

What Mank expresses so intelligently is that perfectionism is miles apart from flawlessness.

Flawlessness is dull, and professionalism – that is a myth in itself, emphatically driven by the compulsion contemporary society has towards placing an exchange value on every element of our productivity in and out of work.

Commodification of creative thinking is the death of our natural propensity for curiosity, and desire for lifelong learning.

In the film, perfectionism manifests itself as auteurship, and it is – paradoxically – shown to be an imperfect and unprofessional quality that is difficult to manage, but is of inestimable value to the creative process.

Mank’s approach to writing is a fair representation of the synthesis of creative ideas, which should allow for periods of crescendo and flow to the same degree that it permits aridity and blankness.

His method is haphazard, and the shadow of his alcoholism looms over his broken body, ready to engulf him while he is stationed in bed – having been seriously injured in a road accident (depicted as being largely the fault of a fast-talking friend.)

But his addictions and his misfires – the social faux-pas that he committed in front of Hearst and Mayer (Arliss Howard) – they do not detract from the man’s vivid personality. 

His storytelling is made richer from his experiences, and his growing antagonism towards those Hearstian figures in his acquaintance allows him to express the contrast between his values and theirs indirectly by constructing the proto-Murdochian Charles Foster Kane.

Mank is rather dysfunctional across all areas of his life, propped up continuously by his practical antitheses – the female figures who are steadfast elements in his otherwise chaotic lifestyle. 

“Poor” Sara (Tuppence Middleton), his endlessly tolerant wife, and Rita Alexander (Lily Collins), his  stoical but sensitive secretary, are the facilitators of Mank’s work, providing him with the support he needs to survive in the material realm so that he can retreat into his metaphysical one. 

The interconnectedness of memories and episodes in Mank’s life over a series of years give the impression that the vintage ‘selves’ that he has been before have never left him, and they continue to live on as he – a mature man, with an elaborate personal history – evolves and matures himself, as time moves forward.

The film is a retelling of a man who is retelling another man’s life, and turning that into a picture about a man’s life being retold. This is the beauty of storytelling; the more Mank’s microverse expands, the further we can trace the labyrinthine connections that wove his art together.

Mank shows what it takes to be an auteur.

It is about the fact that something spectacular can emerge from the right combination of chance factors and a full, passionate application of vision in the development of a unique idea.


it’s about the man

who wrote
Citizen Kane.