Helen in the famous BeyondTV director's chair
ugly high-rise buildings on the seafront
ugly high-rise buildings across the river
This year, once again a change of venue. The last two years the Dylan Thomas Centre, this year the Taliesin Arts Centre.
Friday night, a party at the Monkey café, a café during the daytime, which magically turns into a nightclub at night.
Early evening, films downstairs, then music upstairs.
Shown was a music video of Seize the Day, a film of a group, no idea who they were or the relevance, alternative party culture, the film that was shown last yet of Lesbian Marriages, which appeared to have undergone substantial editing and a film of surfing and climate change.
Friday night was something of a disappointment, as only the Seize the Day video and the alternative party culture were worth watching (gay marriage I had seen the previous year).
There was a problem watching any of the films due to the screen being split down the middle, constant back ground noise and disco lights either flashing in your eyes or across the screen.
The group from Guildford were not very good, overloaded amplifiers, nothing but noise. Full marks for enthusiasm making up for lack of talent.
The group who played into the early hours of the morning were much better.
I was there until at least 3-30am, walked home and got in around 4am. Next day I felt rough, and slowly got worse.
Saturday was split into three sessions, with a fourth session Sunday afternoon. You could either pay for individual sessions, or buy a weekend 'season' ticket, at ten pounds, incredible value for money. And, as with all good film festivals, you got a 'goodie bag'!
Saturday and Sunday was at the Taliesin Arts Centre at University of Wales, Swansea. Out of the way, which may explain the low turn out. The venue was impressive. The famous BeyondTV director's chairs, looked lost on such a large stage.
One of the Saturday 'stars' was Zahra and her film Circus For Life, which is also a project in Afghanistan.
When Zahra talked of her work, she held everyone spellbound.
It is hard to believe, but under the Taliban, music was banned, the children were not allowed to sing, play music, fly kites.
Circus For Life is teaching children to play, giving them an education.
Zahra was able to show the audience that not everyone is a Muslim fundamentalist, not all women are downtrodden.
These are the people the Americans bomb.
There seemed to be very little structure to the games the children are playing, but at least they are playing, are smiling and look happy.
Had the Americans provided the evidence following 911, the Afghans would have been prepared to hand over Osama bin Laden, but the American preferred instead to bomb the Afghans back to the Stone Age.
That the US decided to attack Afghanistan had nothing to do with Osama bin Laden or the Taliban (Bill Clinton was negotiating with the Taliban), it had everything to do with protecting oil and gas pipeline routes. It is no coincidence that the US bases in Afghanistan jut happen to be on pipeline routes.
The Mobile Mini Circus for Children, an NGO, has been working in Afghanistan since 2002. When Zahra made her film, over 450,000 children had either watched the performances or taken part in the workshops. For many of these children, it was the first time in their lives they had been entertained.
I would have been very happy to have spent all day chatting to Zahra, but it would not have been fair on either her or other people.
Repression of women is deeply embedded in Afghan society, but it was not always so. Women were educated, Afghanistan was one of the first countries to give women the vote.
For more on Afghanistan, apart from watching the film Circus For Life (we are trying to arrange a showing at Ramparts Art Centre), also read
The Bookseller of Kabul by Åsne Seierstad
The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini
A suggested film for a future BeyondTV: Crossing Continents (evening Monday 3 December 20007, BBC Radio 4), looked at a film that was about a nine-year-old Iranian girl, sold into prostitution by her family. When, at the age of 18, arrested, charged, found guilty and sentenced to death by hanging, the judge called her 'the source of all evil'.
Another 'star' was Richard Rowley, co-founder of Big Noise films. Extracts were shown from a couple of his films, including Fourth World War, then a short film on homelessness in the States.
Richard has recently been embedded with the various militias in Iraq. He said there were no good guys, be it the occupying forces or the various militias. He said the US and other occupying forces should withdraw, and when they do there will be a bloodbath. He added that it was the occupiers and their continued presence who had created the conditions for the bloodbath and the longer they stayed, the worse would be the bloodbath.
Unlike the mainstream journalists, who never set foot outside of the green zone, Richard was out and about on the streets of Iraq. Richard will have a film out soon on the current situation in Iraq.
For more on Iraq (by people who were on the streets during the bombing and immediate aftermath) read
Iraq: A Journey of Hope and Peace by Peggy Faw Gish
The Freedom: Shadows and Hallucinations in Occupied Iraq by Christian Parenti
A Hundred and One Days by Asne Seierstad
More Seize the Day, two excellent animations.
The surfing video On the Push, shown the previous day, was shown again. Surfers have done much to expose polluted seas, especially dumping of raw sewage, now they are turning their attention to climate change. The film showed beaches washed away on the Gower during recent storms.
The attitude of the surfers smacked of hypocrisy. I remember surfing in Cornwall in the 1960s, it was fun. Now it is dominated by big business, the surfers fly in from around the world, their boards and other paraphernalia are oil-based products. Carbon-offsetting does not work, eco-friendly boards is a drop in the ocean.
To ram the message home, the surfing movie, was followed by The First Wave showing remote islands being washed away by rising sea levels, lovely white sandy beaches with the trees toppling into the sea.
During the summer, there was a photographic exhibition on the beach at Brighton showing several different remote islands and how they were being inundated by rising sea levels. For some of these islands, their highest point was only 2-3 metres above sea level.
The first film of the afternoon, was an introduction to bush craft, the edible wild plants we can all eat.
For more on this read
Food for Free by Richard Mabey
Tara Awake directed by Charly LaMarchant, showed the the destruction of prehistoric ruins in the Tara Valley in Ireland. The message it put across would have been even stronger had it said a little bit more about the ruins. Charly has passed through the Undercurrents filmmakers programme.
Those Left Behind by Camcorder Guerrillas looked at dawn raids in Glasgow to remove immigrant families and the traumatic impact it had on the friends and neighbours left behind.
The simplest ideas are often the best. Want to cheat on your partner, go off and have sex with someone else. No problem. Go to the Cheat Neutral website, make a payment and they will offset your activities by making a payment to reward a couple who have manged without these activities. Sound familiar? Carbon offsetting?
Two films, The Land on which we stand and Eco Village Pioneers, looked at eco-friendly homes and communities and the problems they have gaining acceptance within the planning system.
So difficult is it to gain planning consent, it is best to go ahead, then apply for retrospective planning permission.
This is what they have done in Totnes in Devon. They now have an uphill struggle for planning recognition.
Another community is trying a different approach, being upfront with the planning authority and hoping to gain approval.
What is sickening is that conventional development, no matter how bad, is automatically rubber-stamped, local objections ignored. But then money talks.
During session 3 a brief overview of Vision on TV. Install an application package, choose what you wish to watch, and high quality video downloads in the background.
Questions were raised of bandwidth. According to Hamish, many fibre networks are dark, ie unused, therefore the capacity and bandwidth is there. ISPs are artificially restricting bandwidth to keep costs to end users high.
Beyond the Forest, a look at the making of a thriller on a man-eating tiger. Should it have been shown, being little more than what you get as a filler when a film is released on DVD? There was more appropriate material that could have been shown, for example, out in the foyer a film of the violence during the anti-globalisation protests at Genoa.
Shock Doctrine was a very grim film by Naomi Klein of the shock tactics used by the CIA, and people were warned to leave. Electro-convulsive shock treatment, where to beat to cause maximum pain, loud noise, sleep deprivation. Once softened up, questioning can begin.
This shock treatment equally applies to societies. If a society is subjected to a strong enough shock, use the state of shock to push through all sorts of unpopular measures. George W Bush did this in the immediate aftermath of 911, which once again raises questions on 911.
Naomi Klein produced the film to publicise her book of the same name, which looks at how the Shock Doctrine has been used to soften up societies in order to push through unpopular measures.
It was not only the CIA that made use of electro-convulsive treatment. It was used for many years and still is to deal with what society regards as deviant behaviour.
Brazilian author Paulo Coelho was subjected to electro-convulsive treatment to 'cure' him of his deviant desire to become a writer. He describes this in his novel Veronika Wants to Die.
After such a dark film as Shock Doctrine, the mood was considerably lighted by the showing of an old favourite Cows With Guns.
Coca Zero looked at the production of coca leaf in Bolivia. Coca leaf has been used by the indigenous people of Bolivia long before the Spanish arrived. It is part of their indigenous culture. The US is using its War on Drugs in the same way that it is using its War on Terror, to invade and control other countries.
Sunday was unusual, in that a matinée was showing. First, examples of films from filmmakers who had been through the Undercurrents film school, followed by Black Gold.
Of the three short films, Dim Smoking Girls was outstanding, a young filmmaker with considerable talent. It highlighted the stupidity of young girls who think it cool to smoke. Copies should be sent to the Secretary of State for Education and the Secretary of State for Health with a recommendation that copies be distributed to every school in the country. It could be a huge money earner for Undercurrents and the young filmmaker and hopefully lead to a change in bad habits
Black Gold depicts the atrocious state of affairs for coffee growers in Ethiopia as seen through the eyes of one man as he tries to obtain a better price. The conditions of the coffee growers contrasted with the people who drink coffee at Starbucks. Starbucks, along with other other major players in the world coffee market, refused to be interviewed.
The film was too long, and yet left many questions unanswered.
Mention was made of the collapse of the World Coffee Agreement, that there has been a sharp increase in retail sales of coffee. But this was not pursued or enlarged upon.
In a normal free market, if demand doubles, then we would expect the price to to the growers to increase, and yet in the last ten years the world market has collapsed. Why?
World Coffee Agreement helped stabilise prices, it also kept rubbish coffee off the world market. The market has since been flooded with rubbish coffee. Cheap coffee is chemically adulterated to masquerade as quality coffee. The world market is controlled by a handful of large multinational companies who dictate the prices. Vietnam, not a traditional coffee grower, was encouraged by the World Bank to grow coffee, with guaranteed contracts and prices. Ten years on, when Vietnam was ready to sell, there were no buyers. Vietnam flooded the market with coffee. Vietnam is now the second biggest producer after Brazil!
Our hero checked the shelves of a British supermarket. He noticed consumers were not discriminating towards Fairtrade coffee. But it is worse than that, they are unable to discriminate quality coffee and will drink any old rubbish, hence the mass sales of branded instant coffee.
For quality coffee, try Zapatista coffee, an Aribica coffee from the autonomous region of Chiapas in Mexico.
Surprisingly, one of the supermarkets stocking quality fairtrade coffee from Ethiopia under its own brand name was Asda!
A couple of hundred years ago, fashionable London hung out in London coffee house. It was the meeting place of men of letters, journalists, scientists, writers, it was where the beginnings of the stock market arose. Today, London is where world coffee prices are determined, where traders buy and sell other people's livelihoods.
Caffeine is an alkaloid, a narcotic. Poetic justice then that coffee farmers in Ethiopia are now grubbing up their coffee trees to grow more rewarding narcotics.
For more on these issues read
No Logo by Naomi Klein
Not on the Label by Felicity Lawrence
The Sunday matinée session was preceded by a session on Vision on TV.
Out in the foyer in one corner films being shown, in another two more of the famous BeyondTV director's chairs. This was the location for conducting interviews. The interviews will be 'broadcast' on Vision On TV.
Vision On TV is intended to be broadcast quality Internet TV channels. In addition to the interviews, many of the films shown over the weekend will also be available.
If I had a wish list, top of the list, as every year, would be the films shown available on DVD. Too few people see these films and they need to get out to a larger audience.
Overall, the professional quality of the films shown was very high.
Suggestions for next year
- We – The unauthorised Arundhati Roy
- Manufactured Landscapes
Arriving at Swansea always reminds me of Brighton. The end of the line, a city by the sea, surrounded by hills, the same road down to the sea, lined with run-down, boarded up shops. There is even a thriving alternative culture. The main difference is that no attempt has ever been made to develop the seafront.
These days there is little point in wandering around any town as they are all the same. Swansea is no exception. The same boring High Street names as to be found in any English town, even the charity shops are all the same! The one exception is the indoor market, but I arrived so late that all the stalls were closing.
The train journey down to Swansea was a nightmare, that back an even worse nightmare.
Due to cancellation of a previous train, the train I caught was crowded. It was then diverted around Bristol due to signal failure. I arrived in Swansea an hour late. Those who travelled down later in the day and the following day had even longer delays.
Sunday, due to rail works, a bus from Swansea to Cardiff. At Swansea a half hour wait in the cold, at Cardiff another half hour wait in the cold. At Reading, an hour wait in the cold for a connecting train to Gatwick.
During Sunday, before the afternoon session, I took a walk along the beach and around the marina. Probably not wise as I had not been feeling well since Saturday night (I do not think I have the stamina anymore for all night partying) and there was a gale blowing with winds of 70 to 80 miles per hour.
I was shocked by the amount of development that had taken place since last year, on the sea front, on sand dunes, across the river on reclaimed brown field sites.
It would be an understatement to say the buildings are ugly. They are also inappropriate, the tall buildings block the view of the surrounding hills. These should have been low-rise buildings, not high-rise.
The buildings on the seafront, will in a few year's time, be inundated by high seas, intense storms, and strong waves crashing into the buildings. No doubt when this happens, the occupiers will be bleating and demanding public money to be spent on sea defences.
Sand dunes are a rare and important habitat, they form valuable sea defences.
No competent planning authority would have approved any of these developments. It begs the question: are they all on back handers?
I also looked in on the National Waterfront Museum overlooking the marina.
The National Waterfront Museum is unusual, not only for the quality of its exhibits and the building itself, but also for the fact that it hosts a series of community events. The day I looked in it was hosting a Craft Fayre, a Green Fayre and a Farmers Market!
I find once you have seen one Green Fayre, you have seen them all. It was unusual to see a Farmers Market held indoors. I was surprised how few stalls there were, especially as Swansea is surrounded by countryside. The only explanation I can give for this anomaly, is that Swansea has an excellent indoor market (claimed to be the largest indoor market in Wales), selling a wide range of fresh produce, and maybe this lessens the demand or need for a farmers market.