Tuesday, 17 November 2015

Preview: 53rd Festival Internacional de Cine de Gijón

My preview / overview of Gijón's line-up can be found at Eye for Film - here.

For further coverage during the festival, check out my new site (details in sidebar on the right).

Reviews of Spanish films screened in Gijón:

Tuesday, 8 September 2015

Berwick Film & Media Arts Festival 2015

    Berwick Film & Media Arts Festival 2015 has two Spanish films in its line-up: Vampir-Cuadecuc (Pere Portabella, 1970) and Sueñan los androides (Ion de Sosa, 2014). You can find the screening times (and the rest of the 2015 programme) here.

Monday, 10 August 2015


    I am now putting the blog into hibernation. I've only ever had a banner image temporarily (such as during Almodóvar Month back in August 2011) because it has always seemed 'too much'. But because I currently need to leave the banner in place (for obvious reasons), I am instead removing the tiled background in an attempt to make things look a bit tidier. I will post my new online location when I have it up and running, but for now (as I indicated in the previous post) you can find me on twitter.

Saturday, 8 August 2015

Copyright (Or: Fuck you, my thoughts are my own)

This was the original header background. It's an image from the finale of the film that gives this blog its name
 - Nadie conoce a nadie / Nobody Knows Anybody (Mateo Gil, 1999).

A summary of the situation so far can be read in this earlier post.

    Technically, it's not plagiarism. Nobody is putting their name to my work in a proper sense. It's not one of those cases where someone at a bigger publication thinks that they can lift copy from a blog or smaller site because no one will notice. But nonetheless it's still my work (unattributed) being put to a use other than I intended.
    It's called 'scraping', which sounds clinical and vaguely unpleasant...possibly invasive. How long has it been going on for? I don't know, but the domain was registered in May, so possibly for three months. It's usually done via the RSS feed and often it doesn't replicate the entire post. Aside from the fact that the entire 4.5 years of my blog has been scraped, what's slightly more unusual is that in this instance the bot is overwriting certain phrases within the text and hyperlinks in a way that obscures my identity as the author. That's a bit odd because my full name has never appeared on the blog itself (although it has long been straightforward to find it out, especially since I started writing for other places and linking to them from here) and, in terms of the intent behind scraping, the content is largely irrelevant apart from keywords (I won't claim to understand quite how this works but I think that when you click on links within the scraped site it redirects you through advertising - I don't know how you would end up on the scraped site to begin with). So I could be writing about shoes (unlikely, to be honest) or squirrel baiting (is that a thing?) as much as Spanish cinema. But given that the replacement phrase is 'film exhibition', it's not a coincidence that they've chosen a cinema blog. However, there is a joke to be made about someone who thinks that they can make money through the combination of film exhibition and Spanish cinema.
    The general advice seems to be that as long as malware isn't involved (it doesn't seem to be), you should just ignore it and continue to post - the logic goes that the scraped site will end up directing traffic back to you, especially if you interlink to more of your own posts within each piece. Well, I interlink a lot and that's not going to work because this bot has been programmed to overwrite the URLs with the scraped site's equivalent link. I spent Friday rewriting hyperlinks throughout the blog (not all of them, obviously - there is too much material on here - but popular posts, guest posts, links to my writing elsewhere, and ongoing projects) with the aid of a URL shortener (introducing a random element that I hope will elude the bot). For the time being the scraped site now links to the 'correct' places, but that may be only temporary (I don't know if such bots get reprogrammed). I have added the banner at the top of the page because I knew that it would be automatically replicated on the scraped site - as the information is contained within an image, the bot cannot read it and therefore cannot overwrite it. There is a legal route that you can go down but the domain of the scraped site is registered in Russia (that's not necessarily where the person responsible is located), so I don't know that it's worth the hassle. If someone were passing off my writing as their own in a professional context, I would pursue the matter (and them), but that isn't what scraping is about. But I am going to continue to think this option through.
    I started this blog in February 2011, almost a year after I had been awarded my PhD and more than a year since I had done any writing. Writing is like a muscle - if you don't use it, you lose it. I was not doing a job that challenged me in any way and I could actually feel my brain atrophying and my vocabulary shrinking. It has only really been in the past year that I've begun to feel that I'm not having to stretch quite so far to find the word or expression I'm grasping for, and that I'm regaining some of my former dexterity or facility with language. Back in 2011 I only put my first name on the blog because I wasn't sure how it was going to go and I was embarrassed by how clunky my writing felt to me. I set up a separate twitter account in an attempt to put my identity at one remove - but I closed that account last year (detailed here) and someone else has since taken the Spanishcineblog handle, so please be aware that it isn't me (that it tweets in Russian should be a giveaway - yeah, I know, a coincidence no doubt). Writing has never been 'easy' for me; it has always been something that requires effort. The best personal reference that I have ever had was from the person who supervised my undergraduate dissertation - he wrote that my academic accomplishments were 'more the result of application and organisation than natural brilliance'. A friend of mine at the time said that she would be seriously insulted if someone had said the same about her - but I took it to be a compliment. What comes easily is never valued - what I value and enjoy about writing is the effort that it requires me to make, that it stretches my brain and challenges my thinking (plagiarism as a concept or strategy for getting ahead genuinely baffles me because where is the sense of accomplishment? What do you get out of it as a person?). I think through the act of writing.
    But I digress...as I often have done on here. Going back through older posts as I was rewriting interlinked hyperlinks I retraced thought processes that had unfolded across months (or in the case of that Javier Bardem article, years - summarised here and here, elaborated on further here, before finally resulting in something quite different). This blog has been a way of thinking out loud without writing 'formally' - there are some posts on here that I regard as 'proper' writing, but most of that kind of writing I have published elsewhere. Obviously a blog is not a private setting, so these thoughts aren't private - while there hasn't been a great deal of conversation with other people on this site, I know that what I write here is read by others (hopefully you're not all bots). But I don't feel comfortable continuing to post my unstructured thoughts (or my structured ones for that matter) when I know that they're going to be replicated elsewhere unattributed. Reading other accounts of this sort of thing happening, it is this feeling of having your voice appropriated that generally upsets people. It's not that I believe that what I've written on here is startlingly original or insightful (although it's still the case that the things that I personally find interesting within Spanish cinema - and that feature as recurring strands within my writing - are not written about in English by many people), but it's mine and the result of my efforts.
    Back in February 2014 I mentioned that I also wanted to write about non-Spanish cinema. I started doing that when I began writing film reviews for other sites, but reviews aren't the same thing as analysis (in my opinion) and I haven't managed to address that distinction satisfactorily in terms of finding somewhere to write in that way (or developing a line of thought about non-Spanish films by writing about them). I have been thinking about that while AWOL and - taken in conjunction with this current situation - I think that this blog may have served its original purpose and that it's time to start again somewhere else with a broader scope. I will not be closing this blog down (whatever this scraping is doing, it can't do anything to the actual contents of this site - my writing on here is staying here, and it now has my name on it) - maybe it should be considered a hibernation of sorts. I will continue to have a focus on Spanish cinema (it is my specialism and I am still interested in it) but whatever I do next will not be exclusively based around Spanish cinema. I have several outstanding projects / ideas that I will continue with - Spanish documentaries, 'el otro cine español', and the (intermittent) Carlos Saura Challenge are the ones I intend to develop and see through to 'completion' (and there are other things that could be revisited). 
    The new site will not appear immediately - I want to take my time to think through what I want to do with it and what form it should take, and I'd also like to have some writing lined up for posting before I reappear. In the meantime, you can find me on twitter. I know that not everyone is on there - when I have the new site, I will flag it on here as well (and I will continue to receive notifications if anyone comments on a post here).
Hasta pronto (and thanks for reading)!

Thursday, 6 August 2015

Echoes (Or: some hijo de puta has copied all of my writing from this blog)

Here’s the situation.
    While looking at the stats for the blog earlier in the week I noticed a referring site I hadn’t seen before. I clicked on the link only to be redirected back to my own blog – but the URL ended .fr rather than .co.uk. I tried googling the referring URL and discovered my own blog posts listed in the search results – but the phrases ‘Nobody Knows Anybody’ and ‘Rebecca’ had been replaced by the phrase ‘Film Exhibition’. In addition, an email address was visible in the descriptions that you see below links in google search results. This concerned me because it wasn’t a replacement of existing information (I don’t have an email address visible on this blog); it was an insertion.

    So I asked about it on the Blogger forum – the discussion can be found here - and also asked someone at work with more experience relating to websites. None of the responses gave a positive spin on the matter. This morning I clicked on the original referring URL again and this time it didn’t take me to my blog, it took me to a site that has wholesale copied 4.5 years of my blog posts. The website is here.

Spot the difference

    Actually ‘wholesale copied’ isn’t accurate because certain things are missing – namely all links that identify me by name. So in the copy of this recent post about my interview with Miguel Llansó, the link to the East End Film Festival is there but the link to Eye for Film (which is where the interview is published – with my name at the top) is not. Likewise, from the right hand column the links to my PhD thesis and my writing on other sites (Eye for Film, Big Picture Magazine, Mediático, Spanish Review Film Club, and Take One) are all absent. My twitter avatar is still there, but in the place of my twitter account as the point of contact there is instead the email address that I could see in the google search results (no, I haven’t emailed them).
    I don’t know the intention of the person doing this. I can’t see what they gain from duplicating my writing. Will they duplicate this post (replacing correct phrases and getting rid of links)? Who knows. For the time being I won’t be posting anything further on here – I can be found on twitter until then.

UPDATE: This post appeared instantly on the copied site - as you can see, the same phrases are replaced and the Eye for Film link is missing UPDATE: I have done something to rectify that (but not the others as yet - presumably because those links only appeared in the right hand column and not within actual posts - which tends to suggest that a bot is involved and the programme doesn't tell it to disable those links at the moment).
UPDATE 2: The forum thread has been updated, including a comment that I should remove the links to the 'pirated' site as I'm just giving them traffic - so I've removed the links (but the address is visible in the search results photo above).

My follow up post can be found here.

Saturday, 25 July 2015


    It seems to have become an unfortunate annual tradition that every summer my place of work undergoes some kind of upheaval. It's not quite like clockwork (the Powers That Be are a couple of months behind schedule this year), but those events are now underway again. I'm a bit distracted and haven't been writing, but I hope to get back into it in a week or so.
    I've been watching some Spanish short films (and I should write about a couple of them) and I'm also intending to pull together something on some of the documentaries I've been watching over the past year - that may start off as shortish considerations of individual films, but I have a group of them in mind to use to look at a specific issue / phenomenon. Plus, La isla mínima / Marshland is getting a UK theatrical release in early August, so I will finally write up something about that as well.

Thursday, 9 July 2015

Interview: Miguel Llansó

Photo taken from the Lanzadera Films website

    This is the last of the interviews that I conducted at D'A Festival in Barcelona back at the end of April. It was by far the longest of the three interviews I did there, which is why it's taken a bit longer to materialise - as I've said previously, learning to translate and simultaneously transcribe audio has been a bit of a sharp learning curve (I'm going to investigate whether there is such a thing as a phonetic Spanish dictionary) and it definitely gives my brain a workout - but given that I didn't have the time to do it when I first returned home, it made sense to hang on to the interview until Crumbs was screening somewhere in the UK. It is showing at the Hackney Picturehouse as part of the East End Film Festival tomorrow. Crumbs remains my favourite film of the year so far - I definitely recommend seeing it if you're in the area.
     In terms of the interview, the length means that it has been split into two parts. Part 1 went up today and I'll add an additional link to this post when the 2nd part is online:

Friday, 26 June 2015

EIFF: Macario (Roberto Gavaldón, 1960)

    Overall at EIFF this year, my favourite screenings were the classics - I saw The Taking of Pelham One Two Three (Joseph Sargent, 1974) and The Driver (Walter Hill, 1978). But Macario was the surprise of the festival for me. A magic realist fable set in the 18th century - but nonetheless feeling incredibly modern - Roberto Gavaldón's film is at times jaw-droppingly beautiful (courtesy of Gabriel Figueroa) but also sharp and humorous in its presentation of a simple woodcutter in a deal with Death. My review is now up at Eye for Film - here.
    David Cairns has written about Macario (herein his regular 'The Forgotten' column - like him, I'd like to see more of Gavaldón's films because on the basis of this one he merits further investigation.

    This is the last of my EIFF posts. I reviewed nine films for Eye for Film in total, four of which were Mexican films that I've already linked to on here, but among the remainder The Iron Ministry (viewable over at Doc Alliance), Precinct Seven Five (which I think is getting a UK release later in the summer) and Prophet's Prey are all interesting documentaries about very different subjects - the latter is quite harrowing viewing, but I'd watch the other two again (in fact it was my second viewing of The Iron Ministry). Normal service on the blog will resume shortly...

Thursday, 25 June 2015

EIFF: 600 Millas / 600 Miles (Gabriel Ripstein, 2015)

Tim Roth and Kristyan Ferrer

    A tense and suspenseful road movie - and effectively a two-hander for much of its running time - Gabriel Ripstein's directorial debut seems to me to have a good chance of acquiring at least a limited release in the UK, not least because of the presence of Tim Roth and the bilingual nature of a story that unfolds on both sides of the US / Mexican border. 
    Roth plays Hank Harris, an ATF agent who gets taken hostage and taken over the border into the badlands of Mexico when he attempts to bust two young gun runners (Kristyan Ferrer and Harrison Thomas) who are aiming for the big time. It's revealing that this central scenario is born out of a combination of lack of planning (Harris spots the two men by chance while he's doing his rounds of the gun shows in the area and mistakenly thinks he sees an opportunity when they part company) and panic (Carson (Thomas) acts impulsively towards the threat but it is the unsteady Arnulfo (Ferrer) who then decides to bundle the agent into his truck and drive back across the border alone) - throughout the film, all of the characters are required to think on their feet when events do not turn out as planned and they must try not to let fear get the better of them.
    I actually don't want to say too much about 600 Millas / 600 Miles before more people get the chance to see it. I've read some reviews since I saw the film in Edinburgh and a lot of them reveal too much information given the suspenseful nature of the narrative - I'd advise you to go in as blind as possible because I think my experience of it was all the more effective for knowing only the one line synopsis. But the other reason that I'm not going to say too much is that I was so engrossed in the film that I barely wrote anything down (and what I did write down, I wrote over the top of what I'd already written because I was looking at the screen)...which I guess is indicative of a recommendation, but it's not exactly helpful for analysis.
    But I will say that it's an interesting representation of the performative nature of masculinities - learning to put up a front, living up to familial expectations, the play and display of homosocial bonding, and knowing that certain situations require different modes of behaviour - particularly in the performances of Ferrer and Thomas whose youth underlines the malleability of the personalities of their respective characters (they are still defining themselves but are also (self)conscious of how they are seen through the eyes of others). But Roth astutely also demonstrates that less is more in his interpretation of an inherently watchful and shrewd man. Ripstein and co-writer Issa López expertly crank up the tension through the skilful use of extended silence and (an often related) lack of comprehension, in a range of contexts - shock at violent events, fear, the sense of being out of your depth, and also not understanding what is being said because it's not your language. The bilingual aspect is also used to indicate shifts in the balance of power onscreen. 
    In short, I'd like to watch it again because I think it's a really tightly constructed film that pays attention to - and economically employs - the mechanisms of cinematic suspense but is also rooted in its characters and their relationships in a way that we don't see often enough onscreen. I recommend it if it plays near you.

Wednesday, 24 June 2015

EIFF: La Danza del Hipocampo (Gabriela Domínguez Ruvalcaba, 2014)

"Like salt in the sea, we are made of an infinite number of moments"
    La Danza del Hipocampo / The Dance of the Memory (Gabriela Domínguez Ruvalcaba, 2014) screened at the Edinburgh Film Festival as part of the Focus on Mexico strand. Structured around the question of which seven memories you would use to sum up your life (our short term memory can only hold seven items), Gabriela Domínguez Ruvalcaba's essay film delves into her long term memory (located in the hippocampus) and personal family archives for a lyrical meditation on the meaning and formation of memories.
    The film includes an exploration of the fragility of memory formation and maintenance, i.e. the biology of it - the haphazard nature of electrical impulses (memory effectively exists in voids or, from another perspective, fills them) and the fact that of the five senses, taste and smell are also stored in the hippocampus (hence those Proustian rushes of memory that can be triggered by flavours and scents). But the director concentrates on our efforts to 'fix' memories in place through the use of visual mementoes and recordings, described within the film as "leaving breadcrumbs through time" - the physical traces that we use to find our way back into the past. She also looks at how - in the accumulation of moments that make up this "intimate cartography" of selfhood - we co-opt the memories of those close to us.

All images taken from the trailer
    Every family has shared experiences - stories that are retold over and over, running jokes, and significant moments that crystallise a given event - but we don't need to be present at all of them for them to in some way shape us. Hence Domínguez Ruvalcaba decides that one of her seven memories will be one that actually belongs to her grandfather - it is not an experience that she has lived (and it is not technically her memory) but, in the telling of it, her grandfather has made it part of the fabric of her identity and that of her family. Family is important to the director and central to her film. As she goes back into her past, she relies on home movie footage - an uncle who worked in film "dedicated himself to making a 'behind the scenes' of his own life" resulting in a copious amount of footage of the director as a child - but the compulsion to record (to see life through a lens) seems to have been passed down from one generation to the next because the moving images (in a range of formats) date all the way back to her grandparents. By extension, this sets up a further question - do you remember the event itself, or is your memory influenced (distorted?) by the recording of it?

    The director gets up close to the texture and form of the different film formats, an element that reminded me of José Luis Guerin's Tren de sombras (1997) - which is a different kind of reconstruction of the past, but the extended inclusion of the actual fabric of film seemed like a connection to Guerin's playfulness with form and representation. As Domínguez Ruvalcaba points out, a film cannot change (the image is photographically fixed onto celluloid or digitally stamped into pixels) but it changes because we change - each time we revisit the film (or still photograph) we see new details, and view events with the benefit of hindsight or the changing perspectives that come with ageing. Within that context, the degraded state of the films that La Danza del Hipocampo scrutinises - the scratches, colour desaturation, and lost definition - stands as a metonym for the mutability of memory and how it fades over time.

    The film also touches upon the idea of physical places as repositories for memory - both in the sense of troubled histories but also as a stimulant to recall the past - but ultimately this is a personal meditation on the accumulation of the scattered moments that define us as individuals. The process of making her film seems to have changed the director's perspective on the need to embed her memories in visual physical manifestations - she decides that some things deserve to be remembered (as a conscious decision) while we are living them rather than recorded to be revisited at one remove at a later date. However, as a record of its maker and her familial web of memories, La Danza del Hipocampo is a skilfully crafted and visually distinctive essay film - worth seeking out if you get the chance.

Tuesday, 23 June 2015

EIFF: María Candelaria (Emilio Fernández, 1944)

My review of Mexican classic María Candelaria is now up over at Eye for Film (here). I was a bit disappointed by it - I'm not sure what I was expecting but I found the acting very stilted and film to be quite dated overall. The quality of the print also meant that Gabriel Figueroa's cinematography was not as impressive as it could have been (having seen clearer still images elsewhere) - although, as I've said in the review, there were still several standout compositions that made it worth seeing. Perhaps it's also just not my sort of film. But Edinburgh maintains its record of screening the best subtitle of the year so far: in this case, "[indistinct shouting]".

Monday, 22 June 2015

EIFF: Llévate mis amores and Viento aparte

    The first of my reviews of films in the Focus on Mexico strand at EIFF 2015 have now gone online:

  • Llévate mis amores / All of Me (Arturo González Villaseñor, 2014) - a documentary about the tenacity of a group of women who, on a daily basis, attempt to feed the hundreds of migrants onboard the train known as "The Beast" as it passes through the village of La Patrona. Recommended. My review is here.
  • Viento aparte / A Separate Wind (Alejandro Gerber Bicecci, 2014) - a sibling road movie in which two adolescents have to make a 2,500 kilometre journey across Mexico on their own. My review is here.

Still to come in terms of my Eye for Film reviews are the two classics: María Candelaria (Emilio Fernández, 1944) and Macario (Roberto Gavaldón, 1960). I will also be writing blog posts about two other Mexican films - 600 Millas / 600 Miles (Gabriel Ripstein, 2015) and La danza del hipocampo / The Dance of the Memory (Gabriela Domínguez Ruvalcaba, 2014).