Poets of Protest: "You need to get out fast and now!"

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Roxana Vilk is producer of the POETS IN PROTEST series made by SDI Productions for Al Jazeera English. She's also the director of the episode on Yehia Jaber: Laughter is My Exit.

There is something very enticing about filming poets. Here are these characters, reflective and questioning by nature, living through a truly historic time of change in the Middle East. 

The idea for the documentary series Poets of Protest came after I had been commissioned by Reel Festivals to make three short films during their poetry festival in Beirut in 2011. I was curious to see the changes in the Middle East through their eyes and their poetry. There is also an added creative challenge: How do you bring their poems to life on screen? Poems are an art form in their own right, and film is a whole new artistic language. I wanted to explore where these two art forms could meet and create something new together. And I was keen to have an equal number of female and male poets, three men and three women. I proposed the idea to Al Jazeera English during the Edinburgh Pitch hosted by the Scottish Documentary Institute, and they liked the idea!

Lebanon_IMG_2045.jpgYehia Jaber is a well loved and very funny Lebanese poet. Back in June 2011 when I first met him, it was his laughter that immediately drew me in: it is warm, infectious, and can’t help but gather you up in its path. With his shock of white hair and a cigarette constantly perched precariously on his lip, he is everything you imagine a poet to be, questioning society and politics around him, and spot on with his sharp, funny observations of life. I immediately warm to his poems, which are both incredibly funny and deeply emotional. I knew in my gut we had to make a film together.

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Bridging the Gap – in progress: Pouters

Reports from the production of this year's Bridging the Gap short documentaries, part 2

I've spent the past three months hanging around on wasteland in Cranhill, Glasgow. Cranhill is perhaps best known for spawning Scotland's most successful rock brothers Angus and Malcolm Young who formed AC/DC and, least we forget, another famous son of this fine scheme – Junior Campbell from the Sixties' beat group Marmalade, but perhaps best known as the man who penned the iconic theme tune to 'Thomas the Tank Engine'.

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Rab and Michael keeping their eyes in the sky, hoping for a capture.

Prior to my film endevaour, Cranhill represented something different to me. When driving from Glasgow to Edinburgh of an evening, you pass three tower blocks on your right as you leave Glasgow. These blocks with their semi-circle reflectively-glazed peaks were the first blocks in the city to incorporate what can only be described as a visual bungle. I am talking about the city authorities' attempts to brighten up our city's night skyline by adding insipid lighting decorations to every housing tower block over 15 metres high. These particular blocks with their ill-conceived illumination have always felt like they mark your exit or your return into Glasgow, and for that reason, I find them a reassuring landmark which has become a focal point in my short film.

Over the past three months, I've spent days hanging around directly in front of these tower blocks, spectating and documenting a century-and-half old, little-known Scottish sport called doo fleein' – or pigeon flying, if you're not familiar with the colloquial terms.

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Bridging the Gap – in progress: Takeaway

Reports from the production of this year's Bridging the Gap short documentaries, part 1

Chinese takeaway is one of the most popular carry-out foods in the UK. However, working as a takeaway driver might not be the most delightful job. Through the eyes of a takeaway driver, we are not only able to look at the world beyond the takeaway counter, a mysterious catering community that provides our familiar late-night snacks, but also at the city we thought we knew everything about.

Here are some pictures from the shoot for this film:

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DoP David Lee (left) and director Yu-Hsueh Lin (right) enjoying a dinner break at the takeaway, the driver Jerry watching telly and not hungry at all.

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Ramallah: The Freedom To See

It’s a bar in Ramallah called Beit Aneesh. Apparently named after an old lady that lived there. A laid-back place with posters from the history of the struggle of the Palestinian people. We had just completed a documentary workshop in Ramallah, and Tue Steen Müller, who has helped so many emerging filmmakers from all over the world, suggested anyone who likes joins us for a beer or coffee at eight.

Few have come. Most have long, unpredictable journeys through the occupied territories where they will undoubtedly be stopped several times.

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Khaled Jarrar has turned up though – just arrived from France where his work as a radical conceptual artist has become celebrated. We’re so pleased to see him – a filmmaker of huge promise as well as an artist. Tue has just seen the rough cut of his first film which is about the wall. He shows us a scene with him with a tiny chisel, chipping little bits of the wall off. Tue suggests he end his new film like this. It’s a futile act of defiance, made funny by its impotence.

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Doping finally a thing of the past

SG_main.jpg"We can grow a professional cyclist from stem cells," claim scientists – backed up by filmmakers.

Scientists in Edinburgh today announced that they would theoretically be able to grow professional athletes from induced pluripotent stem cells (iPS) in the lab. They are now urging the Scottish Government to grant them permission to go ahead with this experiment, the first of its kind in the world.

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Tripoli Stories: Asking for the impossible?

Following in the footsteps of Dhaka Stories and Rabat Stories, the Scottish Documentary Institute went onto another mission with the British Council. The latest workshop took place in Libya.

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Our arrival in Tripoli was an anti-climax, all the clocks had stopped. There was no life at the airport, even the duty-free shop was closed, the shelves empty. A driver from the British Council had patiently been waiting for our delayed flight. We would soon learn that time is of no consequence in Libya... But this whole workshop was going to be a race against time: delivering basic film skills, engaging our 13 participants with creative documentary, showing them clips of doc gems so they open up to a new form of storytelling – beyond their Aljazeera experience – and produce a short film suitable for international festivals. Yes, I agree, we were asking for the impossible – but hey, we are filmmakers!

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Thinking about audience before you start
(and a tool that helps with that)

visual-_9_.jpgAs part of our Virtuous Circle initiative, we've partnered with Moving Targets, a Scottish-based knowledge exchange project exploring new media audiences. We recently tested Visual Engagement, a tool for developing innovative approaches and strategies for audience engagement. The tool has been developed by Angela Fernandez Orviz. 

So what's this tool good for?

Visual Engagement is a brainstorming and planning tool to be used at the beginning of a project. Supported by the visual representation of a variety of engagement forms, it helps creators to map out their audience engagement strategy while keeping the big picture in mind and aiding formulation of an action plan.

With the aid of the visual cards we brainstormed how different groups of audiences could be involved at various stages in the creative and production process. 

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Dance the Kossakovsky

(Part of Lou's diary from Berlin.)

12th Feb 2012

No point in describing the dance of Victor Kossakovsky across the stage – the camera did its best to catch him and missed. No, ok, missed from my static seating position. A little lesson here in how to interact with a film-maker with the fanciest footwork I've ever seen. Either his feet dance with his thoughts, or vice versa. Anyway, unable to move with him and get the photograph I wanted I shifted and cursed in my front row seat for the first 10 minutes, watching the official photographer move around him with inconsolable jealousy. 

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Finding my ultimate user persona: Crossover Lab

Editor's note: 'The Nightshift' in this article refers to Carol Cooke's interactive documentary series The Nightshift, not to be confused with the Bridging the Gap short documentary Night Shift

Arriving at Crossover Lab 2 in Antwerp, I felt like a definite contender for Channel 4's hit series Faking It. Targeted at “creative professionals with a unique crossmedial concept” and billed as “the answer to all your questions”, it seemed like the perfect course for me and my latest project. The Nightshift originally began life as a photo documentary on prostitution which I had developed for the BBC's Why Poverty pitch. However, having spent the summer on ESo Doc learning all about the wonders of multi-platforming from the likes of IDFA's Caspar Sonnen and Katerina Cizek from the National Film Board of Canada, I was beginning to get a wee bitty overexcited about The Nightshift's cross-media potential and had a lot of questions that needed answering.  So Crossover couldn't have come at a better time and I was delighted when I found out I'd been accepted.

The_Nightshift_Mood_Board_.jpgWhat I'd failed to realise however was that by the end of this five day workshop, I would be doing a live pitch at the 2011 European Games Summit in front of a panel of award winning 'Games Masters' and some of the biggest names in the industry. It was at this point total panic set in and my Faking It journey began because, what I'd failed to mention in my application, was that I hadn't actually played a computer game since I was 12 so my last experience of gaming was as a skateboarding Bart Simpson on my big brother's Amiga.  And now, 16 years on I had just 5 days to develop my very own game and convince some of the biggest players in the industry that it could be a hit. Cue Faking It titles and an utterly exhausting but totally inspiring following five days...

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Global Speed Matching in Berlin

(Part of Lou's diary from Berlin.)

11th Feb 2012

I'm writing this for those of you who might want, someday, to take part in the Berlinale Talent Campus. As one young film maker said, "There is life before the Talent Campus and there is life after the Talent Campus." And, looking back on it, he did have a point. It is a game-changer. 

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