Enjoyed a whistle-stop trip to Italy last week to chat with students at the American School of Milan, which is basically a U.S high school on the outskirts of the city. Surreal experience, like being in one of those films.

Also happy to report that my new short doc Brass Heaven will be screening at Hamburg International Short Film Festival. It's the first of a series of fly-on-the-wall docs, born of frustration when a lairy English stag party boarded my flight to Hamburg the year before.

I split the films section into fiction and documentary, for the compartmentalists out there.

An appointment at Regensburg Kurzfilmwoche gave me the opportunity to start my trip in Hamburg to shoot material for a new very short film. Footage in the bag, I was lucky enough to catch up with excellent friends before rising early to catch a Bavaria-bound train to Regensburg. En route to the station, via the Reeperbahn, I had the misfortune to witness a pair of extraordinary, grotesque butt implants. I'd never seen butt implants in real life, or perhaps they've just been too subtle to notice, but these were like footballs stuffed into an otherwise slim girl's jeans. She was standing beside an older, smaller man while he withdrew cash from an ATM, most likely steeling himself for an imminent freakshow. One hell of a strange sight at 6am, but business as usual on the Reeperbahn, I suppose.

I managed to photograph the solar eclipse from the train window during the six-hour journey south, although it just looks like a crescent moon. Meh.

Regensburg was very pleasant and relaxed. My retrospective screening was fun enough but my main reason for attending was jury duty, alongside Butheina H. Kazim (Dubai) and Arna Bersaas (Norway). We awarded the prize to Miguel López Beraza's Walls (Spain), but other notable films were Piotr Litwin's Flora and Fauna (Poland), Sébastien Laudenbach & Sylvain Derosne's Daphné ou la belle plante (France), Guido Hendrikx's Onder Ons (Netherlands), Carl-Johan Westregard's Cams (Sweden), Clément Trehin-lalanne's Aïssa (France), and Victor Asliuk's Almaz (Belarus).

It's been nine years (!) since I last visited this great festival. The birthplace of The Moomins seemed less cold than I remember, but more expensive. Soft featured in the opening programme and Stew & Punch was part of the excellent '5 Star Stories' programme.

There were too many films I didn't see and didn't want to watch on the small screens of the market in the hope of catching them at upcoming festivals. Some stand-outs for me were Hamy Ramezan & Rungano Nyoni's 'Listen' (Finland & Denmark), Monia Chokri's 'Quelqu'un d'extraordinaire' (Canada), Tiina Lymi's 'Just a name' (Finland), Sanna Liljander's 'Onni' (Finland), and a retrospective from Sámi filmmaker Marja Bål Nango (Norway). On the return journey I managed to bag a whole load of useful aerial footage for a cheeky new very-short film, and became fascinated by the look of the small aeroplane's propellor when seen through my phone's camera shutter.

Totally forgot to feature my preferred cut of the commercial I did in December:


30-01-15 / INSTAGRAM
Now on Instagram here, for little square observations of our big round world, or you can click the spanky new Instagram shortcut button at the top whenever you like.

A nice, if somewhat belated review of Soft by Sight & Sound magazine.

A thoroughly pleasant time was had at London Short Film Festival. My retrospective programme featured seven titles and I somehow got through the subsequent Q&A, despite a too-indulgent night before. This was the first time I'd seen my remastered versions of older films in DCP format up on the big screen, and I'd say it's definitely been a worthwhile slog - those diddy DV (sub PAL) films look better than they ever did.

Due to accommodation complications and having to hop around the four corners of London over as many days, I didn't get to see nearly as many programmes as I would have liked, but there was plenty to like about those I did see. Especially reassuring, at least in the programmes I saw, was a sense of confident, elliptical storytelling. It's no secret that many shorts continue to pull the most obvious strings in order to tick boxes and bait the biggest, dumbest awards. It's an uncomplicated game one can play, and win, if one's soul is up to the challenge. Balance is everything in life and there should always be room for all types, so long as too many of one kind doesn't perpetuate an abundance of derivative, voiceless, samey films designed to appeal to the broadest, most commercial, unquestioning audience possible. LSFF rightly represents the full spectrum - this is where film festivals thrive, and why festivals like this are so important to a healthy and balanced UK short film scene.

Spent the majority of the last couple of weeks sorting through my photography archives to finally give all those images a permanent online home. more on that soon. This site also needs an overhaul to be more phone and tablet compatible. In other news, it's been a pleasant Christmas and new year - I started and stopped myself writing a new short (aggghhh) which won't leave my head, I finished the treatment for my feature, and the anti-smoking commercial I recently directed has started scooping a fair bit of press. Some YouTube comments:

"No offence to your videos I know your trying to not make people smoke but this ad is gross please make ads what is not that gross"

"Everyone needs to 'pipe down' I personally think this should be shown to an all aged audience!"

"Tell that to my younger brother who threw up all while watching stampylongnose"


Also, David Blaine terrified me by following me on Twitter. Speaking of which, I'm not sure I have any shameless self-promotional tweets left in me to announce my upcoming retrospective show at London Short Film Festival. Grab your tickets here.

Spent a bleddy cold day in a park somewhere near Wembley Stadium this week shooting a commercial. We were already on borrowed time considering the short winter light (What About the Bodies all over again, brrrh) and a taxi balls-up robbed us of an hour by delivering an actor late. We hadn't finished by the time darkness cackled its way into proceedings, and I must remember to buy a pointy wizard hat for DP David Procter, who managed to seamlessly transform night into day (and I mean NIGHT).

Free films again! Jury duty in Wiesbaden for Exground Filmfest, my invitation being the result of winning the prize there last year with Stew & Punch. For me, the primary attraction of sitting on juries (apart from the opportunity to see justice, as I see it, is served) is to keep up with the current crop of festival films when I don't have a new title of my own to attend with. My fellow jurors, in their capacities as programmers for Hamburg Short Film Festival and Regensburg Short Film Week, had seen most of the films before. I had only seen ONE this time, which was smashing. Myself, Axel Behrens (Hamburg) and Insa Wiese (Regensburg) awarded a special mention to Nikola Majdak & Ana Nedeljkovic's Rabbitland (Serbia), while the main prize went to Adriano Valerio's 37°4 S (France). Some brilliant guests, super-welcoming hospitality, nightmarishly persistent hotel cleaners, and a damn good time in general. While smack in the middle of prepping a commercial and wrestling with a feature-length script, this year's trip to Wiesbaden turned out to be a much-needed hiatus that I can't forget in a hurry.

10-10-14 / CHINA
Jury duty at Shortvisions Film Festival in Ningbo, China. Virgin Atlantic provided an outrageous start to proceedings by announcing that a passenger's golden iPhone had been stolen and everyone in economy class (!) would be searched by police on arrival in Shanghai. People in premium economy and business class aren't capable of stealing, you see. This was just the final chapter to ten hours of bedlam, akin to a bazaar full of hectic hagglers, in the sky. Glad to be off the plane, the following three-hour journey to Ningbo was all potholed motorway madness, bleating horns and killer trucks seemingly intent on sandwiching our minibus. Thankfully, the fancy hotel room (with complimentary gas mask and electronically-controlled everything) was like a full-blown apartment. I finally slept, in a bed big enough for four, and in the middle of the night I leaned out of the window to see a doorman practising his fighting techniques outside the hotel entrance.

Despite the fact that the Chinese government have banned Facebook and Twitter, and even Google is almost impossible to access, there is no cinema classification system. This ensures that while children are safe from corruption via social media, they are perfectly able to go and watch violent horror films. Cinemas are allegedly taking it upon themselves to start imposing restrictions independently, despite the subsequent loss in ticket sales. Also, it seems perfectly acceptable to enjoy a loud phone conversation during a film. At one point I had to run from the front of the cinema right up to the back to stop someone from shouting into his phone. And I don't exaggerate when I say shouting; obviously he couldn't enjoy his chat while the pesky film was playing. Despite lasting several minutes, the public sitting around him didn't seem fazed at all.

Between jet lag and jury duties, there was sadly almost no time to explore Ningbo. When the jury decisions were made I took the Friday evening off to go and see the city. There were drinking games between groups at almost every table, a proper cowboy-style bar brawl involving chairs and everything, bar staff who breathed fire and juggled bottles, and an utterly unexpected but brilliant all-African club which, no pun intended, turned my white trainers black. Seriously.

After the confusing, ever-changing plans of the week (standard teething troubles for a virgin festival), awards night came around. We'd been asked to bring formal dress but I wasn't quite prepared for the glitz of an Oscar cermony. Having been swept into a black car, neither myself or anyone else had any clue that we were about to step out into a spotlight at the beginning of a long red carpet, flanked down both sides by an enthusiastic camera-wielding public. There was much fun to be had in the sheer Chinese glamour of it all, and I managed to steal a picture with the coolest dude in the place (below). Awards over, the after-party dry, and jet lag gave way to insomnia. I watched the clock in my room count every hour until finally falling asleep 30 minutes before having to wake up for the minibus to Shanghai.

All in all, the festival's guest organisation had its bumpy moments, but the staff, the other attending filmmmakers and jurors were all lovely people. I'm grateful for the experience and have no doubt that it will run smoother in coming years.

The 3 hour minibus journey back to Shanghai was once again dominated by blaring horns, swerving and enough sharp braking to prevent any chance of sleep. The "airport hotel" destination (nowhere near either the airport or the city) was extremely unfortunate. We had been spoilt with our Ningbo hotel rooms, but this place was grim indeed, being 90 minutes out of the city, with an unforgettable smell. Most filmmakers were flying home to their respective countries the following day and were keen to get stuck into their one day of exploring, so luggage was dumped and we all took the 90 minute metro ride into Shanghai, marvelling at the images on the tunnel walls which appear to animate in flipbook style as the train zooms through (mostly advertising, pff).

I had the pleasure of catching up with Australian director pal Kasimir Burgess, having first met him a few years back in Sapporo. I'm certain that it was the MSG in everything we ate that kept me awake for what became a 36 hour stretch. We ticked off some mandatory sightseeing of the Shanghai skyline on the Bund, where an unexpected fireworks display kicked off and hundreds of thousands of pounds exploded into bugger all. After much walking, and before the long cab ride back to Hotel Grim, there was time for late night food. The menu translations provided light relief to a long sleepless day (days, in my case) and while there is nothing unusual about a poorly translated menu, which provide cheap giggles in many countries, I couldn't help thinking that this one was deliberate mischief. Amongst the delicacies (and the things we did order were delicious) were Overlord Pig Knuckles, Spicy and remove the flesh and blood, Fuck a cuttlefish zhai, Fuck a bullfrog, Spiced salt blows up pig hand, Get rid of small lobster of head, Spicy screw, Dry pot Tofu with thousands of pages, and the curious sounding Millet Pepper loves big cock.

Next morning I transferred to an apartment in the more centrally-located French Concession district, a lovely area where I felt much more at home. I should have stayed there because during a brief stint in a much more industrial part of town I could actually feel my lungs burning. Suddenly, the pollution masks made sense. Traffic is utter chaos and it beggars belief how the cars and bicycles manouvre without clattering into each other. I didn't see a single cycling helmet, despite many bicycles having kids sitting upfront, yet I didn't see a single accident either. If you spend too much time gazing up at the buildings you could easily be hit by a scooter whizzing toward you on the pavement. As for other cultural eccentricities, I only experienced a handful of public burping and farting moments, but lots of spitting... even on the polished floors of shopping malls, by store owners. The ubiquitous sound of phlegm being hocked up and flobbed out, people shoving each other and conversing at such a volume you could be mistaken for thinking they are arguing, cars and even public buses regularly missing pedestrians by inches... A mellow evening in a jazz bar was just what the doctor ordered.

On my last day I got up early and set off in the rain to go and watch the older generation do their Tai Chi in Fuxing park, before a spot of filming in the old antiques market. I managed to rip myself off when the stall owner became so intent on selling me a second item that I escaped him without taking my change, meaning I managed to buy 'one for the price of two'. Walking a GoPro camera around on a monopod brought no end of attention, even in a country so full of technology, and a curious Chinese public think nothing of stopping and staring you in the face. Ate some amazing dumplings, refused to buy a plastic toy from an old lady, who then offered to sell me sex instead (just buy something damn it) then wound up in a club and decided to go through the night until my morning trip to the airport. Not my brightest idea.

Having arrived back at the apartment at 8am, I somehow decided there was enough time for an hour's sleep (noooooooo) so I set my alarm and promptly slept through it. Waking 90 minutes later than planned, I ran pell mell to the metro, then the MagLev train, zooming to the airport at over 400km an hour to inevitable failure. I was lucky to be transferred to the next day's flight for a reduced fee and booked myself into the airport hotel (thankfully in the airport this time). When I entered the room, the bed with a sad face (above) summed things up. After a few hours' unconsciousness on said sad face, and as the metro only cost 70 pence, I headed back into Shanghai for a cheeky bonus mooch around the beautiful and labyrinthine Tian Zi Fang and, like a ghost who wasn't meant to be there, made some relatively relaxed peace with a city I struggle to understand.

It's that time of year again, leaving Encounters Short Film Festival behind for another four seasons and suddenly having to adjust to being under a post-festival pisscloud. This was Encounters' 20th edition; definitely something to celebrate at a time when too many festivals are being forced to bring their shutters down. I was honoured to play my part by contributing an essay about the importance of film festivals to their anniversary publication and to take part in the retrospective insight talk. I finally got to attend the popular Late Lounge section for a barmy smattering of "trash" films (sex, violence, humour).

So a good time was had once again, and when it was all over I discovered the amazing boat transport from the city centre (right outside the main festival location) to the train station. Perhaps the festival should encourage people to use the service as it gives a great impression of Bristol for arriving guests. It certainly took the edge off leaving for me, at least until the subsequent torture of Sunday rail travel, when journeys take twice as long and are thrice as populated, with enough irritating 'whistle' alerts from Samsung phones to compose the Colonel Bogey March 57 times over. A poor lady at the next table suffered a very public panic attack when the train was redirected through a long tunnel, putting my irritable brain syndrome into humbled perspective.

And Stew & Punch received a special mention at Tenerife Shorts, yey!

11-09-14 / THINGS...
A scribble of things have been happening. The broadcast of Stew & Punch on Sky Arts went without a hitch, I'm collaborating with another photographer to resuscitate a short film I had aborted during prep four years ago, and I escaped the UK for a writing stint in Hamburg to develop my new feature film (!). Yes, a gentle but official ball has begun rolling so now I just need to get it to the top of the hill in order to roll it down the other side and see what happens.

While in Hamburg, the Wall is a Screen crowd were hosting a 'maritime' edition of their famed event, meaning a cruise through the lesser known areas of the Hamburg harbour with water-themed films projected from the boat onto docks, bridges and other ships. The always-unpredictable moments of these random screenings were typically present and correct, especially when Mark Baker's Jolly Roger had to be paused for another passenger boat as it passed in front of the 'screen'. The paused film, coincidentally frozen on an angry pirate's face, summed up the interruption and surely left the passing craft's passengers bamboozled. Great fun, and soon followed by St Pauli's annual weekend of culture (or something), involving fresh homemade sausages on the street, yum.

Somewhere amongst this, another session I shot for The Petebox was released, which you can check here. Also, I don't recall if I previously published a link to this nutty little favourite from last year.

News just in that Stew & Punch will now be broadcast NEXT wednesday (20th) instead of this evening, due to Robin Williams' suicide and sensitive content in the other film that screens in the programme.

06-08-14 / 'STEW & PUNCH' ON TV
Stew & Punch will be broadcast on Sky Arts on Sunday August 13th (the weekend after next!) as the opening episode of Rankin presents: Collabor8te. The programme features interviews with myself and the lead actor Marc Ryan-Jordan, and a trailer briefly featuring both of us can be seen here. 

Stew & Punch just won the special mention at Wiz-Art, Lviv International Short Film Festival in Ukraine.