Perspective | It’s time we stopped with the phrase “gifted and talented”

By Stephanie Sprenger
@mommyforreal

Last week, I saw two toddlers wearing “Genius” T-shirts. When I saw the first one, I smiled, as I undeniably have a soft spot for ironic baby clothing. But when just hours later the second “genius” came waddling along, it gave me pause. I know these clever shirts proclaiming that our children are “brave like Daddy” or “sassy like Mommy” are just supposed to be funny and cute. Yet I feel slightly troubled by what lies under the surface of our attempts to label our children with myriad superlatives.

The “Genius” one left a distinctly bad taste in my mouth, and after a few days of pondering, I realized why. It was a tiny incarnation of the “gifted and talented” program, which is a concept I’ve been struggling with as a parent.

When I was in 5th grade, I was selected to participate in TAG (yes, talented and gifted), a program that took place during two hours of every Friday afternoon. I recall playing challenging brain games that required teamwork and higher-level questioning, completing independent study projects, on one occasion making a collage about photography (hmmm), and then trotting merrily back to class with my other above-average classmates.

I moved the following year, and was placed in a similar program with a different name: Alpha. Was it, shudder, because we were “alpha students?” It was my first and last meeting. Although I carried straight A’s—aside from my B in P.E.—after a snide comment from one of my fellow Alpha students, I chose never again to participate in a gifted and talented program.

Over the years, I’ve heard it referred to as ULE—Unique Learning Experience—and Exceptional Learners, but where I live now it’s straight up “GT—gifted and talented.” My experience with GT as a parent of non-GT students has been eye-opening.

When my oldest daughter, now 13, was in Montessori preschool, the staff provided a parent meeting where we could ask questions about kindergarten and elementary school options. Hands shot up all around the room: “Tell us more about the GT programs in the district.” “When can we test for GT?” Aside from the occasional inquiry about bilingual education programs, it was pretty much the same: How do we get into the GT program?

My husband and I raised our eyebrows at each other. Who knew that all this time our precocious little darling had been surrounded by entirely gifted students? Over the next few years, acquaintances would ask me when I was getting my daughter tested for GT. “I’m not,” I usually replied simply. The high-pressure program was not something I wanted for my child, who now is a 4.0 honor roll student in middle school. To be honest, I wasn’t really sure she qualified for GT; her grades have much more to do with her personality and determination. But the entire operation left a bad taste in my mouth.

Semantics matter to me, perhaps more than most people. Don’t even get me started on my hang-ups about the word “blessed.” To me, being “gifted and talented” sounds a whole lot like being bestowed with a well, gift, that others were not granted. It’s pretentious, and slightly obnoxious.

However, the value of these programs is undeniable. There are students whose needs are not being met in a one-size-fits-all curriculum: a multitude, and not just the above average variety. It is difficult to comprehend the challenge of teachers who must constantly adapt their learning experience to the diverse group of students they teach. These programs are absolutely essential and provide a much-needed, enriching, stimulating education for the kids who are becoming bored in their classrooms, who are potentially even causing problems because they aren’t being challenged.

The future of New York City’s public gifted and talented programming is now in the spotlight, thanks to the mayor-appointed School Diversity Advisory Group’s recommendation that the existing GT programs be replaced by magnet schools. A group of gifted education teachers have instead called for an overhaul and reform of the system instead of elimination, which they hope may affect other GT programs around the country. But perhaps there is more fundamental reform required than altering the selection process and addressing the issues of economic privilege and racial segregation.

Perhaps what we really need to address is what we call these programs and the way parents conceive of them. The pressure behind TAG, including the language we use to describe it, needs to change. So too the frenetic rush to test our kids, not necessarily because we want to accommodate their learning style, but because of the proclamation that they are gifted and talented and therefore destined for a higher purpose, will lead to a breeding ground of stress, anxiety, and self-esteem issues. And what does it do to the kids who are excluded from this elite group?

I often cringe when I hear someone counter the name of these kind of programs with the sentiment that “All kids are gifted and talented in their own way.” Because it sounds so trite—the equivalent of a participation award. And yet. At the risk of revealing myself as a special snowflake kind of person, I do believe all children are gifted and talented. Whether they are athletic, artistic, deeply empathetic, or bold leaders, or simply themselves. Platitudes be damned, they are all gifted and talented in their own way.

It’s time to change the labels of these advanced or specialized learning classrooms to reflect that. Our children are paying attention, and they can absolutely read between the lines. What kind of message do we want to send them?

Stephanie is a writer, mother of two girls, early childhood educator and music therapist, and Executive Producer of Listen To Your Mother Denver and Boulder.

Image: an actual shirt that was given to one of our editor’s children.

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‘Absolutely devastating’: Tributes paid after death of Detective Garda Colm Horkan in Roscommon shooting

Updated 3 hours ago

TAOISEACH LEO VARADKAR has paid tribute this morning to Detective Garda Colm Horkan who died after being shot in Castlerea, Co Roscommon overnight. 

Det Garda Horkan died following an incident in Castlerea which happened shortly before midnight. He was on duty at the time. 

It is believed that his official firearm was taken from him during the incident and he was shot with it. 

Paying tribute today, the Taoiseach extended his deepest sympathies to Det Garda Horkan’s family and friends of the Garda.

“Every day our Gardaí put themselves on the frontline of crime prevention, on behalf of all of us. This requires regular acts of bravery and courage. Sometimes the outcome is tragic and a Garda makes the ultimate sacrifice in the course of their duties,” said Varadkar. 

“Our thoughts today are with all those grieving as a result of this tragic incident,” he said. 

Garda Representative Association president Jim Mulligan paid tribute to Det Garda Horkan and extended sympathies to his family. 

Mulligan said Horkan was as an “experienced detective greatly respected by colleagues”. 

He is survived by his father, sister and four brothers. 

Shocked and saddened at the killing of a member of An Garda Siochana in Castlerea. Our thoughts and prayers are with his family, his community and all his colleagues who continue to bravely protect us all from harm every day.

— Micheál Martin (@MichealMartinTD)

President Michael D Higgins said Det Garda Horkan’s death in Castlerea comes “as a shock to us all”. 

“As President of Ireland I wish to express my deepest sympathy to the family and friends of the Garda, and to all those who have been affected by this tragedy.

An Garda Síochána play a crucial role in our communities and this loss of life is traumatic for our society as a whole.

“I have contacted the Garda Commissioner to express my deepest sympathies on this terrible loss of a member of the Force,” said Higgins. 

In a statement this morning, Minister for Justice & Equality Charlie Flanagan said: “I am deeply shocked and saddened at the shooting of a Garda member in Roscommon last night and a full murder investigation is underway. 

“The brave Detective Garda who died last night died in the line of duty, serving and protecting the community,” said Flanagan.

“His death will cause untold heartbreak to his family, loved ones and all his colleagues in An Garda Síochána across the whole country. It is also a loss to wider Irish society. His heroism and the debt of gratitude which we owe to him and his family will never be forgotten.”

‘Huge shock’

Speaking to RTÉ’s Morning Ireland, TD for Roscommon Galway Denis Naughten, said Det Garda Horkan’s death was “absolutely devastating”. 

Naughten said the reaction to the shooting locally is “one of huge shock”.

“The community in Castlerea would work very closely on an ongoing basis with Gardaí and particularly over the last number of weeks” due to Covid-19, he said. 

“This is a huge shock to the community as a whole, to the Garda force throughout the Roscommon-Longford Garda division which would be a close-knit Garda force here. Everyone knows everyone, it is a rural division,” said Naughten. 

“It is a huge blow to the force, to the community and, of course, particularly to the Garda’s family,” he said. 

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Awful news this morning coming from @GardaTraffic with the death of a Garda colleague in Castlerea. Thoughts from all @PoliceServiceNI with his family, friends and colleagues at such a difficult time. pic.twitter.com/e4ftmQYc20

— Simon Byrne (@ChiefConPSNI)

Local Sinn Féin TD Claire Kerrane, meanwhile, said the incident was a “truly shocking incident”.

“This is a truly terrible incident and has caused major shock amongst the entire community in Castlerea and the wider region,” said Kerrane.

“My thoughts are with the Garda’s family and colleagues at this very difficult time. I hope that whoever is responsible is speedily brought to justice,” the TD said. 

In a statement this morning, The Policing Authority’s Karen Shelley said: “The killing of a Garda, as well as being a wilful denial of the right to life, is an attack on the essence and the foundations of our democracy.”

“It is a fundamental assault on the principle of equality. In the midst of exemplary service to the community during the health emergency, the Garda Síochána will mourn the death of a colleague,” said Shelley. 

In a statement this morning, An Garda Síochana said one man has been arrested in connection with the investigation and is currently detained in Castlerea Garda Station. 

An Garda Síochana has asked for privacy for Det Garda Horkan’s family at this time. 

“It is with deepest sadness An Garda Siochána confirms the death of our colleague, resulting from fatal gunshot wounds received during an incident in Castlerea shortly before midnight,” a statement from An Garda Siochána said. 

“Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam.”

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Gulls, buckets and masturbation: a lighthouse keeper on The Lighthouse | Film | The Guardian

“God, I’m glad I never went to that one,” says Neil Hargreaves, as the closing credits of The Lighthouse roll. Neil is a former lighthouse keeper. I have brought him to see the film – centred around a 19th-century brick phallus on a godforsaken, storm-lashed rock off the coast of Maine – to get the insider’s view.

Actually, first I tried to take the film to him, to the cottage owned by Trinity House where he lives in Harwich, with a view from upstairs over the North Sea (tame today). But the DVD didn’t work, so he gave up his day and came back to London with me, to go to the cinema.

To be honest, I was a little apprehensive: what would Hargreaves – 73, old-school gent, proper polite – make of Robert Eggers’s nightmarish monochrome psychodrama? Of Willem Dafoe and Robert Pattinson going fabulously and terrifyingly insane in oilskins and knitwear? Of the flying semen, the unspeakable depths to which they plunge, all the way down to Davy Jones’s Locker? But he remains sanguine and stoic. “From a cinematic point of view, it was quite interesting,” he offers. “There is nothing entirely realistic about it.”

So, er, it doesn’t reflect his own experiences? “Oh no, no, no,” he says, quickly.

Hargreaves, originally from Lancashire, spent 16 years on lighthouses and lightships before taking voluntary redundancy in 1988 and becoming a security guard. He could see the end coming, with automation; since 1998, the UK has had no manned lighthouses.

His wildest, most remote posting was the Smalls Lighthouse, a granite tower perched on a rock 20 miles off the coast of Pembrokeshire, where he worked for two years – one month on, one month off, like in the film.

A key difference, though, was that there were three of them. That came about after an incident on the Smalls, a little before Hargreaves’s time in 1801, that changed lighthouse policy. It was before radio, he explains: the two keepers had no contact with the mainland and one of them died. “The other chap didn’t want the authorities to think he had bumped him off, so he kept him on the lighthouse, first inside the kitchen. Then, because they were overdue due to bad weather, he must have started to smell. So he took him out and lashed the body to the gallery round the outer part of the lantern. By the time the ship eventually got to him to relieve him, he had gone mad.”




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Hmm, a few echoes of the film there. After that, there were always three men on a lighthouse. “They were a good bunch of blokes,” says Hargreaves. “I made some good friends and I’m still friends with them. You got the odd one now and again, as you do anywhere, I suppose. The job did attract the odd loner, people who prefer their own company.”

Most keepers had hobbies; he knew a couple who knitted, like Pattinson’s character. Hargreaves made ships in bottles; yes, he spotted the one in the film, floating past in the drunken madness. The pisspot rang true, too; in the Smalls, it lived outside the shared bedroom halfway up the tower, by the window. “There was a streak down the side of the lighthouse,” he says. For poos, it was “bucket and chuck it” from the gallery.

Was there as much masturbation as in the film? “I suppose you’re only blokes, stuck out there a month at a time; some of that might have gone on.”

Did he ever feel like bumping anyone off? “It only happened to me once,” he says. At the Smalls, his first PK (principal keeper; a lighthouse had one principal and two assistants keepers) was an alcoholic. Lighthouses were dry, but this guy would be drunk going out “and you’d have to send him to his bed out of the way for the first two days”.

He was not the problem, though. When he was eventually sacked, it was his replacement who was the problem. “He was a bigot, a racist bigot. Homophobic as well. Watching TV, he would be cursing and moaning and going on about the … He was a real Alf Garnett, in spite of the fact that he knew my wife at the time was from the West Indies.”

Jesus, imagine being stuck on a lonely tower on the edge of the world with Alf Garnett! Instead of killing him, Hargreaves wrote to Trinity House and got himself transferred, to a platform on the North Sea where he spent seven years.

The gulls strike a nostalgic chord for Neil. There is one in the film who taps on the window with its beak, not in a friendly way, and it ends badly. Hargreaves never did that, but he remembers one they used to feed. It had only one leg and had to perform “a sort of crash landing”. He never saw, or did anything with, a mermaid. He did see a lot of lovely sunsets, though.

When Hargreaves left the job in 88, there were 174 keepers working. Many of them are no longer around. There will be a time, in the not too distant future, when there will be no one left who worked on a lighthouse. That is partly why he founded the Association of Lighthouse Keepers. “It wasn’t a job I wanted to walk away from and forget about.”

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On What Would Have Been the Launch of Cannes, a Celebration of 26 Film Festivals — and 26 Festival Directors | Filmmaker Magazine

&The Cannes Film Festival and Market

by Kaleem Aftab
in Festivals & Events
on May 12, 2020

Film festivals are all about a community coming together to celebrate an art form that we all love. They were one of the first group of events to cancelled when the coronavirus began to spread. The current crisis in the film industry (and across society and the economy as a whole) — the job losses and closures — made it difficult to publish my look back over my year in film festivals, as I’ve done on an annual basis for Filmmaker since 2014. (Also, I had broken my finger over Christmas so was unable to type for three weeks, which is when I usually pen these articles!) Plus, because last year I’d been to 26 film festivals, a record for me, the piece also took a long time to write.

Twenty-six film festivals is a lot. In December of last year, I promised my partner that in 2020, I would go to fewer festivals. Little did we know that my hand was going to be forced by the tragedy of a virus pandemic. Looking back, I’m so glad I went to so many in 2019, seizing the day like I was in the Dead Poets Society.

Sitting here right now, as Cannes would have begun, I believe we will be lucky to see a film festival happen in a traditional way again in the Fall — if then. For all the efforts to put festivals online, there is nothing that matches the intoxicating atmosphere and excitement of attending. That’s why I go to so many of them. I miss hearing a projector whir and seeing a film for the first time, listening to filmmakers talk about their projects, the conversations with fellow attendees, the pitching of projects, those celebrating great reviews, others commiserating. I even miss the 10-minute standing ovations made more out of courtesy rather than enthusiasm. I’ve even started doing this at home now.

So while it may seem odd to have a look back at 2019 film festival season in May, it also seems so fitting to publish today. Absence has made the heart grow fonder. Right now is a time when the role of film festivals is being analysed more than ever by festival directors, as they decide what is essential, what they have to keep, or for some, what they can replicate online. Most importantly, film festivals have to comprehend how can they stay relevant when the spectacle that is their heart is on life-support.

In my mind, there is nothing quite as exhilarating as attending a film festival. I look forward to the moment of being able to participate in more than 26 festivals in a year. (Just don’t tell my partner!).

The festival director is the public face of a film festival. They guide the program and set the agenda. But who are they? In 2019, I tried to meet as many festival directors as possible, and from time-to-time chat about the poster of the festival. I wanted to know if I could see the personality of the festival director at the event. Little did I know when I started this process in January that I would go to 26 film festivals, either as a journalist, moderating Q and A’s or giving talks on festival strategy. 

Tromsø International Film Festival 

Festival Director: Martha Otte

American Martha Otte first worked as a volunteer at the Tromsø International Film Festival in 1998. By 2005 she became festival director. 2019 was her last year as the position at Tromsø  I’ve known Martha for several years, first meeting her at the now-defunct Abu Dhabi Film Festival. We’ve bonded over films. I’ve appeared on the jury at Tromsø in the past, and this year, she asked me to do the Q&A sessions with Canadian filmmaker Philippe Lesage, following screenings of his excellent coming-of-age drama Genesis.

It takes a kooky personality to want to live in the Arctic Circle, where during the film festival, the sun never quite rises above the horizon. Despite all the darkness, the irony is that Otte is an insomniac. Luckily she’s found a profession where staying up in the dark is a necessary component.

Otte says of her philosophy to running the festival: “We are especially interested in films that are ‘off the radar’ and are not standard festival fare, which doesn’t mean experimental; it just means we want to make our own discoveries.”

I was too busy buying trinkets with Gaspar Noé and chasing the Aurora Borealis to make too many movie discoveries of my own. It’s that kind of place! The one discovery I made was Egil Håskjold Larsen’s Where Man Returned, about a lonely old white man lives in the Arctic wilderness with his dog. He listens to football and shipping news on his radio. It was a metaphor for so many conversations had at festivals this year. 

One thing that did catch my eye was the poster of the festival. It featured an image of a figure dressed in a thawb with the face drawn as the Tromso Film Festival logo. The poster was designed by Christopher Ide (AKA Doffa), of design office Tank, and he has been the go to guy for the festival for a number of years. The image was smart on so many levels. Since 2001, Tromso and Gaza have been twin cities. The festival also had a strong focus on Arab cinema with screenings of Sameh Zoabi’s satire of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict Tel Aviv on Fire, Dalia Kury’s prison recreation documentary Privacy of Wounds, and a section called Arabiyat — the Arab word for women — celebrating female filmmakers from the region and programmed in association with Morocco’s Cinematheque de Tanger.

Rotterdam International Film Festival 

Festival Director Bero Beyer

The next festival I attended was another festival where the festival director was looking to move their life away from festivals. In July, Rotterdam head honcho Bero Beyer announced that he had accepted a job as CEO of the Netherlands Film Fund, commencing in March 2020, after this years’ edition. More recently, it was announced that his replacement would be MUBI acquirer Vanja Kaludje, who had previously worked for the festival. 

2019’s edition was Beyer’s fifth in the post. He’s a confident guy. In the role, Beyer has grown the industry side of the festival and increased the focus on experiences rather than just watching films. The festival takes place when a lot of American eyes are on Sundance, but he’s keen on appealing to the 180 ethnicities found in Rotterdam. “The first thing we want to get right is that the program is representing the world and not just one side of the world,” Beyer tells me on his way to a Claire Denis seminar.

Beyer says of his philosophy to the festival, “We do what others don’t. We always go one step further. What makes us special is the stuff that is slightly crazy and on the fringe of things. People show up to watch avant-garde.”

The film festival posters are part of a campaign living under the umbrella of “Planet IFFR.” Planet IFFR is a concept formulated in 2017, where the emphasis was put on the number of people involved in the movie making process. The various staff on a set are in Rotterdam’s eyes, representive of the cultures and peoples of the world. “This year, we asked what makes us alive? It’s more than facts and truth because they are long gone, facts don’t matter – it’s emotions.” 

“In the poster campaign the faces and the words used to describe the expressions being pulled seem to conflict. There is a happy face, but the poster says angry. These seemingly oppositional emotions are reflected in the films we show. Our cinema doesn’t give you an answer – it gives you a question. The films don’t give you a feeling you have foreseen – they give you an emotion you have not anticipated it’s like a rollercoaster ride without a seatbelt.”

A case in point is Sacha Polak’s Dirty God, an international co-production that blurs fact and fiction by having Vicky Knight, who was a victim of an acid attack, play the victim of an acid attack. Yet from this starting point, a cinematic truth emerges, very different from reality. Or Present.Perfect, the Hivos Tiger Award winner, which is made up of footage of China taken from the Internet by Chicago based Chinese director Shengze Zhu.  

Beyer admits that the pluralism highlighted in the program could be better reflected in the diversity of the staff, stating, “That’s an on-going process.” And one from next year, he’ll presumably be pushing his successor to achieve.

Gothenburg Film Festival 

Festival Director: Jonas Holmberg

Gothenburg is Scandinavia’s biggest film festival, and just like Scandi Noir, it remains something of a mystery to me. It’s the one festival where I make an extra effort to watch the pitching session, where some filmmakers talk about the movies that they intend to make, and also others talk about the films that are deep into post-production. It’s intriguing as there is always something that ends up at Cannes, and not always what you expect. Usually, I hate seeing movie trailers or knowing anything about a film. Nonetheless, somehow I can listen to a Scandinavian auteur talking about their project in intricate detail, and yet see something entirely different on-screen. Is this because of what they say, or how I listen?

I did not know artistic director Jonas Holmberg before the festival. That despite the fact he’s been the head honcho at Gothenburg since 2014, when he was promoted from his position as international film programmer, and I’ve been to previous editions under his watch. His route into festival life was as a film critic. It’s interesting as that once familiar way into programming has gone into decline as dedicated film programmers appear, graduating from film schools, which have recently started hosting courses in curating and curating theory.

Holmberg seemed to be the quintessential Scandinavian when I met him. He dresses well and says all the right things. My younger self would have looked at him like the epitome of cool, but now I find him a little awkward.  He’s also good-natured. When I start by asking him about his poster, his reaction is a sincere, “How wonderful!” There’s a lot to like.

“We have a tradition of asking a local artist to design the poster,” states Holmberg. “They’re given a blank slate to design whatever they come up, and they come back to us with their design. It’s one of the most exciting days of the festival seeing what they have designed.”

It’s a very relaxed way of doing things and it has been that way since 1992. It also means that a look at the festival poster archive is like a journey to a gallery. The theme of the 2019 film festival was Apocalypse, which might explain how I came to watch a movie, Aniara, from the inside of a coffin. Jesper Waldersten was the artist chosen to create the one-sheet and created an eerie yet beautiful work in the style of horror and space movies from his childhood. Think, Alien, David Lynch and John Carpenter, then throw in a bit of Bergman, think of that image in black and white, and with a face populated by figures looking like they stepped out of Jake and Dinos Chapman’s Hell. 

The Scandi vibe was also apparent in Swede Anna Eborn’s fantastic Transnistra, a film that felt like the ’70s even though it is a breakaway state on the border of Moldavia in present day.

Berlin Film Festival 

Head of the Berlinale: Dieter Kosslick

It was Dieter Kosslick’s last stand at the Berlin Film Festival. The year before many prominent German film industry figures called for a change at the top of the Berlin Film Festival arguing that the festival had become irrelevant. The call was heeded and before the festival it was long since announced that his 18th edition would be his last. Kosslick is a unique character. His style and matter is defiantly old school, and eccentric. In his final year, Kosslick programmed a festival that was staunchly unapologetic. No bones thrown to those who criticised him. So the festival was full of challenging choices and featuring buried treasures for those who looked deep into the program. It will be interesting to see how and if that takes changes under the new guard. 

Kosslick attended an event that I organized to celebrate the life and work of publicist Richard Lormond, who had died from an illness a few months before the festival. Kosslick took time out of his busy schedule to say some kind words, and it served as a reminder that the work of a festival director at a festival is more than about selecting films and is also about social interactions. Acknowledging the work of those who help contribute to an event’s success is important as it takes many to put together a great festival.  

Later in the festival, as we sat down to talk about his legacy and the Berlinale poster, I couldn’t help but think that retirement had come at the right time for Kosslick as he was being outpaced by changing times. 

“The bear is our symbol. And for a couple of years now, Swiss artists have been doing our poster,” said Kosslick. “For a couple of years now, the bear has been cruising around going to different locations in Berlin. A lot of people have been asking who are these bears? We thought because it’s the end of my tenure, we would lift the secret of the bear. When the bear takes off his head, it’s the audience that is underneath. The bear is normal people who are on the way to the Berlinale.”

Over the past 18 years, he has worked with many agencies, and they all come up with very different designs, which is evident in the change in the style of the posters every few years. 

“This year, a discussion arose because there was a black person in one of our costumes and we talked about what would be the symbolism of having a black person in a bear costume,” admits Kosslick. “Would it look like discrimination? We wanted to show the variety of the audience that attend the Berlinale, but we have been afraid that if we used it, it would create a discrimination debate. Two people on our poster were from our staff were used as well. I don’t know all of the people personally. We thought about putting me in a costume, but in the end, we believed it was too much.”

The Berlinale like many other festivals this year signed the 50/50 by 2020 pledge to pursued gender parity. “The pledge was a political aim, but I think we are far ahead at the Berlinale,” says Kosslick. We have seven films from female directors in competition and with our staff and selection committee, there are a lot of women in prominent positions.’

Indeed, the film that stuck out most at the festival to my mind was a film screened out of competition, because it had been at Sundance, Joanna Hogg’s The Souvenir.

Stockfish Film Festival 

Festival Director: Marzibil Snæfríõar Sæmundardóttir

Taking place in Reykjavik, Stockfish Film Festival is an event that wants to showcase Icelandic films to industry people to film exhibitors, programmers and distributors from around the world. Several Icelandic bodies come together to promote their wares, and it’s a great excuse to go to one of the most beautiful places in the world, with a burgeoning and exciting coffee scene. Yup, already by early March, coffee was my fuel.

The main two strands at the festival are an industry-pitching event, which has an overlap with Gothenburg and a competition programme of short films. There are also screenings of best of the fests, aimed to get the local audiences out of their warm wooden houses and into the fabulous cinema Bíó Paradís. From floor to high ceiling on one wall of the cinema are some fantastic posters designed by local artists to coincide with the release of huge movies, so it’s no surprise that Stockfish take their poster design seriously as well.

Sæmundardóttir has been the Festival Director of the Stockfish film festival since 2015. Before that, she was a writer and director. It was her love of film, and life, that led to her taking on the festival director role. A social butterfly, she brings a lightness and fun air to the event and promoting movies.

“We use a young designer and last year he came up with a version of yellow, which we liked a lot, and that has become the color of the festival,” says Sæmundardóttir. “The poster is exactly the same as last year, except for the dates!”

This attitude seems about right for a festival that knows what it wants to be and has a focussed goal. It’s a festival that has a great atmosphere, mainly because all the films take place in one cinema. They pick at most 25 films, which they consider the best of the fests, in addition to the industry events. The one thing they want everyone to watch is the local short films, which is a good way to start taking notice of local talent, and for local talent to realise that they’ll end up needing to make European co-productions if they want filmmaking to be their job. 

Bergamo Film Meeting 

Artistic Director: Angelo Signorelli

I love going to festivals that are off the beaten track. The Bergamo film meeting is one of those delightful festivals where much of the joy is in seeing classic movies on the big screen. There are new films that play, but I was more interested in seeing Jean-Pierre Léaud turn up to a screening of The 400 Blows, as part of a retrospective on his films, an exhibition of photographs from the set of Pier Paolo Pasolini’s Arabian Nights and a retrospective on filmmaker and cinematographer Karpo Godina, an exponent of Yugoslavia’s “Black Wave.” In 2020 they were set to take an in-depth look at Jerzy Skolimowski. It’s a festival that loves outsiders. 

The desire to take a new look at the past is imprinted on the festival’s poster, which gives us a classic French New Wave shot of a young Léaud on the set of The 400 Blows in triplicate. Festival director Angelo Signorelli, who helped found the festival, struck me as a laid back, conscientious type. The easy-living style is one that he is happy to replicate at the festival with a communal ethos. A committee seemingly decides everything. No wonder it’s called the Film Meetings, because, in my two days in Bergamo, it felt like a shared experience, one where good coffee shops were not too far away and talking about films was as important as watching them. 

Signorelli had a similar attitude to the marketing material, “The poster is a collective choice. We liked the image a lot this year. It’s cinematographic, suggesting movement and different perspectives. The central focus is on the repeated image, which is also out of focus. In a way, it speaks about the complexity of cinema. How by looking at the cinema of the past, and the present, we see future trends. It reflects the multiplicity of the sections that the festival has.”

For the past four years, SUQ Republic has designed the poster. “They really understand the philosophy of the film meetings.”

Qumra  

Festival Director: Fatma Al Remaihi

The Doha Film Institute has been doing great work over the years, and industry gathering Qumra continues to be a success. It’s often a sign of confidence of an organisation when they are not afraid to admit to divided opinions and frank discourse. The following conversation between Festival director, Fatma Al Remaihi and DFI’s Director of Strategy and Development Hanaa Issa about the poster for this year’s event was one of my favourite moments of the year. 

Fatma: These images [on the numerous posters] represent the projects that we have, the jewels of Qumra. The principal image for the main poster and front of catalogue is from the first Qatari film in post-production and for us that is huge.

Hanaa: The circle in the poster is kind of our symbol. It reminds of the Q for Qumra and also the camera lens.

Fatma: But the question we had was, do we want to use an image that represented peace, or did we have one that was about war?

Hanaa: We had a long debate.

Fatma: We had different opinions. Do you want to tell him yours?

Hanaa: We had a debate. There was this one behind you, and in terms of artwork, it worked well with the colour and catalogue. I surveyed the office, and some of us felt that highlighting on the book of the projects and on the main catalogue an image of soldiers and war, especially of soldiers killing the farmers in Mexico, that this was perhaps the wrong message to send out to the world. We opted to go for something more peaceful. But then we had this debate around the fact that we do live in a hostile world, there is a lot of unfairness and injustice. Even though we want to highlight this, and make it part of the conversation, I thought to put an image that represented hope was more suited to who we are at Qumra, especially as our projects already contain a lot of stories about war and refugees.

Fatma: Whereas I thought that the world is a mess, and we should highlight it and not be afraid of it, we are not celebrating it, we are highlighting it. We spent the whole day with this discussion.

Hanaa: We argue all the time. We’ve known each other for a long time.

Fatma: It took the whole day this discussion. Going into work that day, I knew that we were going to have this discussion.

Hanaa: Me too, I ate a good breakfast, so I was ready to stand up for my view.

London Taiwan Film Festival UK

Festival Director: Aephie Huimi

I went to the opening day of the inaugural festival. They have a tie in with Stockfish, patly because Festival Director Aephie Huimi has strong links to Iceland and Taiwan. The opening was the UK premiere of Tsai-Ming Liang’s VR cinematic experience, The Deserted, with the director in attendance. I’d inadvertently had a hand in this happening, as I met Huimi through a producing pal friend of mine a number of times. When she revealed she was thinking of putting on a Taiwan Festival in the UK, I immediately mentioned The Deserted and said that she had to screen it. Little did I know that they would then have a retrospective of Liang’s work and he would come to London. It was a small but perfectly formed festival, which is how these looks at national cinema should be.

At first glance, I didn’t know what to make of the poster which seemed like a lot of undecipherable elements around an alien looking sea creature. Then Huimi informed me, “We wanted the poster to be as cute as possible.”

The poster designer, Ting Cheng, was also at the opening night party added, “She wanted something that would represent Taiwanese culture. I wanted something multicultural, and so we got a sea monster drinking Bubble Tea that is made up on the Taiwanese alphabet, which is full of symbols and these different shapes are representative of different cultures.”

Huimi adds, “You cannot define Taiwan in one shape, so every year, the festival will take on different forms, and that is why the sea monster is significant.”

All of a sudden, the poster took on a profound meaning that I’d not been able to see. It was a good reminder, not just of the value of art, but the importance of listening to others, and, of course, reading critics to elucidate and fill in gaps of knowledge. 

CPH: DOX 

Festival Head: Tine Fischer

“The posters for me are part of the core DNA of the festival. I’m so involved in the posters in a way that drives people mad. When we started working, we had external graphic designers, and now I hire designers so that they are employed inside the organisation and work with me for months! Each time I used agencies, I ended up being in massive conflict with them, mainly because, for me, it’s so delicate what you do with posters. When you said posters, I thought this is so fucking spot on, because it’s a nightmare each year, really a nightmare, because it’s challenging to find the balance in the posters from what I believe is the core DNA, namely a very active civic voice when it comes to political activism. You’re addressing something that people need to react to, not only will this look nice emotionally, but really react to it politically. Then it also needs to reflect an artistic profile that deals very much with non-fiction as cinema and as art. It can’t be a poster that will resemble an NGO perspective. So that balance has to be that it’s highly political and activist but also speaks with a more contemporary art, conceptual language. Then it needs to appeal to our audience, which is from young hipsters to grown-up decision makers. It’s a headache because it’s so difficult.”

“This year, I worked with the same graphic designer that I worked with for the last few years. So he works in-house for half the year, being a part of the process and understanding what the film process is about, but also what kind of films we will have. He saw climate change would be a big issue, but how do you do a poster on climate change? That’s almost impossible as all images relating to climate change have been used and overused. Then he came up with this image, with a woman’s breasts that have been sunburnt basically, but that makes it delicate to put out in public. It’s not overly clear what it’s about, but it is about someone who is not careful. We have the Morse code symbols on it to reflect a universal language, and then some images show images of climate change, there is a lifebuoy for example. There are lots of messages in that picture.”

I had started to feel like I’d seen most approaches to festival poster design, and just as I was beginning to tire of asking festival directors about it, CPH: DOX’s Tine Fischer blew me out of the water. But that will come as no surprise to anyone who has watched the festival over the years. She has taken the bull by the horns during her long tenure at the festival. She boldly changed the dates of the festival from the Fall to the Spring when she felt that the market was too crowded. The film choices have been radical, and she’s established CPH: DOX as one of the most exciting documentary festivals. 

The festival was also where I conducted one of my favourite interviews of the year, sitting down with Alex Winter. We discussed Bitcoin and The Panama Papers, as well as sexual abuse in the film industry. And of course Bill and Ted, we drank coffee together a couple of days after the announcement that he would appear in Bill And Ted 3. Of course, it was most excellent.

Panama Film Festival 

Artistic Director: Diana Sanchez

A few weeks before the Panama film festival took place Toronto International Film Festival announced that Diana Sanchez would be taking up a position in Toronto full-time. Much of Sanchez’s fantastic reputation that led to that Canada role has come from how she built up the Panama Film Festival into one of the most vibrant, forward-thinking and fun festivals in the Americas. Of course, from my side, it helped that Panama is home to Geisha Coffee, some of the best and most expensive beans on the planet. A competition-winning brew that would set you back $75 a cup in San Francisco retails for $9 in Panama. It’s still a lot to pay for a coffee, given that great blends retail at $4 here, but it’s not often that one can treat yourself daily to the champagne of the coffee world. The coffee and the festival were marvellous. This year it gave a great platform to films from Guatemala. It showcased how artists are trying to comprehend the human catastrophe caused by the years of dictatorship and, also the American support to the dictatorship. There is a similar sentiment in Panama where President George W. Bush ordered an invasion in December 1989.

In total contrast to the approach in Copenhagen, Diana Sanchez, in a somewhat more laidback manner, informed me that she didn’t get involved in the production of the poster. She is someone who knows what she likes to do and is happy to delegate the other jobs to others. She advised me to chat with Pituka Ortega, the Director and founder of the Film Festival, who was involved in the creation of the poster and appointed the new team that will be in charge of the 2020 edition.

“It’s the first time that we have worked with Cisco Merel, a Panamanian artist to create the poster,” Ortega says. “He works with geometrical shapes, and one of his masters is Venezuelan artist [Carlos] Cruz-Diez. When we spoke to him, he brought this concept to us that within these geometrical shapes that conveyed cinema. Artists are artists, and we just loved it and went with it. It’s a detachment from everything else we have done, and we loved working with an up-and-coming artist. It has opened a window for us to work with other up-and-coming artists from Panama. The unifying factor will be the logo. It represents the festival as a platform for new ideas and talent just like we are doing for a central American and Caribbean platform that we have invested so much energy and thought to, and our resources. ”

CineMAS 

Artistic Director Joe Wihl

Formerly, the United Arab Emirates was host to not one, but two great festivals. Then in 2015, the Abu Dhabi Film Festival closed after eight editions, and last year, far more surprisingly, the Dubai Film Festival closed. Fans of cinema in the UAE went from boom to bust. So it was great to see cinephiles take the matter into their own hands and launch an independent film festival at an excellent venue, Manarat Al Saadiyat (the MAS in CineMAS). It was a film festival designed by cinephiles for cinephiles that lasted a joyous four days, with master classes, workshops and screenings. The festival is a demonstration that good taste can be more valuable than finance.  

“The poster was made in Abu Dhabi by a branding agency who designed all our collateral,” Wihl told me. “We wanted a poster that connected film, cinema and the art world. We are lucky to show films that people don’t normally get to see, so we wanted it to reflect the artistic nature of the festival. The branding agency came back to us with three options, and we chose the one used because the brush strokes showed the interconnecting nature of the art world and film. We have five different colours that we used on the posters to reflect the diversity of cinema and the wide selection of films from around the world.”

Admittedly, it is hard for me not to like the festival director, since I played on the same soccer team as him for several years. He scored many goals in his time, so I wanted to go to support the festival. This festival may end up being a one-off, as rumours abound that Abu Dhabi may re-launch an international festival in 2020. But many rumours circulate here. 

Cannes 

Festival Director: Thierry Frémaux

Cannes makes a massive fanfare out of its poster. It is published before any film announcement and widely shared on social media. Arguably, this year’s poster featuring the recently departed French legend Agnes Varda was the most popular one-sheet in its history. And that is saying something! A great article by Sight and Sound’s Isabel Stevens argued: “Cannes has finally woken up to the power of the poster.” She posited that the photo-shopped reinterpretation of the iconic image of Varda standing on top of cinematographer Louis Stein when filming her first feature La Pointe Courte was created to demonstrate that Cannes is changing. Stevens argued, it “signals that the festival has, at long last, clocked that it needs to change. Does this change go deeper than a clever and overdue rebranding exercise? Only the number of female-directed films in future editions of the festival will tell.”

Sadly, not long after the poster release, the competition announcement came, and this change seemed to be an illusion with complaints circulating about the lack of female directors. The festival still snagged the best film of the year, Parasite, and one of the many joys of the film is the range of great posters that Bong Joon-Ho’s film has inspired by regional distributors around the world.

As for the likeable Frémaux, every year he proves how good he, and his team, are at their job of selecting the year’s best films. Nonetheless, using a classic image from the past shows how much he still looks back when so many people are crying out for him to look to the future. He is an enigma, just like his festival, whose policy to exclude films not guaranteed an exclusive first run in French cinemas seems more and more robust with every passing year. So far, it’s Netflix and not Cannes making changes to how they operate. 

Kultur Symposium Weimar

By June, unsurprisingly I had had my fill of film festivals, so it was a delight to be invited by the Goethe Institute to attend their second Kultur Symposium Weimar. It was an invite-only event that contained talks, performance art, films and debates.

For three days, more than 300 participants from all over the world came together at the Kultursymposium Weimar, including representatives from science, culture, politics, business, journalism and publishing. The first Kultursymposium Weimar took place in 2016 on the subject of The Sharing Game – Exchange in Culture and Society. The second edition from 19 to 21 of June 2019 was entitled Recalculating the Route. It was an incredibly inspiring event, and great to be somewhere where I did not see the same faces, and people were talking about social issues without the conversation being bound to a film. I also didn’t talk to anyone about the design of the poster for the event. Indeed from this point on in the year, my observation on the one-sheet became largely my own again. This event felt like a real marker separating the first part of the year focussing on the branding to the second part of the year, informed by trying to reconnect with the idea of looking at how film festivals relate the realities of the world and present the future. Of course, there were movies, but this event was really about new ideas and building better social groupings. 

London Indian Film Festival

Festival Director: Cary Rajinder Sawhney

The London Indian Film Festival celebrated a decade. It was a big year for Festival Director Cary Sawhney as he also collected an MBE for services to the film industry. His work is getting noticed. I dipped my toe into the festival attending a screening of The Flight, where it was my pleasure to be asked to host the Q and A with legendary Bengali Filmmaker Buddhadeb Dasgupta. It was a lovely event held at the Cine Lumiere in London. It reminded me how lucky I was to be living in London, where almost every night there is some great film festival of some sort or some fantastic filmmaker giving a talk. For the festival to reach ten years, and be more significant than ever, takes some doing.

Oh and I don’t think I looked at the poster. Sorry, Cary! And, really I need to stay in my home time more often! 

Nordic Youth Film Festival

Festival Director: Hermann Greuel

Having started the year in Tromsø, for a week when the sun never rises above the horizon, it was nice to be back in the Arctic Circle for NUFF when the sun never dips below the horizon. I mean, it’s cold whatever the time of the year one is in the Arctic, but on a clear day, when you can actually glimpse the sun it is gorgeous. At NUFF, the efforts to build a politicised film community are what brightens-up every day of this youth orientated festival.  

NUFF is an annual short film festival and film workshop for young filmmakers up to the age of 26. These talents get split into several groups under the guidance of a filmmaker. They have a week to make a short film from scratch. On the final weekend, the freshly made short films screen as part of a short films festival. The mentors included producer Racha H Larsen and filmmaker Egil Håskjold Larsen, whose film Where Man Returns opened the Tromso International Film Festival. The prolific award-winning short filmmaker Mahdi Fleifel, Anders Emblem, whose film Hurry Slowly I had missed at Tromsø International Film Festival but saw at a special here. Inuk Jørgensen from Greenland and Virtual Reality expert Marta Ordeig were also in charge of a group, and composer Rune Simonsen was producing music for the images.

I delivered a film appreciation seminar and hosted a masterclass event with Mahdi Fleifel talking about his short films, which we screened in chronological order, as well as hosting Q&A sessions with some of the talents attending the workshops It was an awesome time!

Festival director Hermann Greuel is such a great personality and so friendly. I wish that I could wipe away the years, and be young enough to be accepted as one of the participants. It’s a truly great event, and one that seemed to be practising the philosophy preached at the Weimar Kultur Symposium. The future is sunny. 

Karlovy Vary Film Festival 

Festival Director Karel Och

Karel Och is one of the great festival directors of our times. He has good taste, hosts a well-respected film festival that has great talents, juries, parties and writing courses. So what’s not to like? Well, somehow on the first night I was put into the world’s most noisy hotel, above a party that went on until 4 am every night. Add to this that the Internet in the basement house in Parasite worked better than it did at the hotel and I wasn’t a happy camper. Thankfully, the next night they moved me to the edge of town, and the smile returned to my face.

Apart from that blip, I saw many unique films. HBO put on a great party. I’d seen so many films at Cannes, that I wasn’t as side-tracked by catching up with Cannes movies as I have been on past visits to Karlovy Vary film festival. It’s a great place to get a taste of films from Eastern Europe and the Middle East. There was an excellent retrospective taking a look at the works of Egyptian maestro Youssef Chahine films. Even though I haven’t been for a few years, the festival seems familiar. Even the poster for the festival is the same design, this year the colours were changed to be black and white. So why is it, that I always leave Karlovy Vary with a but…

Every time I get home I think I’ll give Karlovy Vary a skip next time. But that’s usually because every second year clashes with a big soccer tournament. The festival will be happy that in 2022, the world cup is moving to the winter because of the hot Doha summer, that will probably be the year I’m not invited! The festival has a great press dinner, and at the main festival centre, there is a bar where everyone congregates. However, the festival still manages to get it wrong because it separates the industry, press and guests from each other. There feels like several festivals going on at the same time, which is a shame as really Karlovy Vary should be about breaking down those barriers between the different parts of the film community rather than reinforcing them. 

Locarno Film Festival 

Festival Director: Lili Hinstin

Locarno feels like a bit of a blur. It was the first year that Lili Hinstin was in the Festival hot seat. Her philosophy seems to be that evolution and not revolution was the best way to get her feet under the table. On my first night by the magnificent lake, I met her at an official dinner attended by Palme D’Or winner Bong Joon-Ho and also hosted were those programmers and filmmakers who put together the excellent Black Light retrospective. On the Industry side, the push to support filmmakers from around the world, especially from those areas without traditional support for independent cinema remains strong.

The poster also evolves slightly every year, but it noticeable evolved that little bit more this year, the main indicator of changes. What I like about Locarno is the use of the yellow and black leopard spots, which are always such a unique identifier. It’s also fun. There have been some inventive variations on the leopard theme, especially the kiss poster from the 59th edition in 2006, which remains one of my all-time festival favourites. This year, there was a bold reinterpretation that saw far more playful brush strokes, creating a more abstract version of the leopard, but one that seemed more playful, child-friendly and looking to the future. With it being Lili’s first year, it was understandably difficult to find time to catch her for a conversation on the direction of the festival, which I’m looking forward to doing in 2020

Locarno is a festival that has so much going for it, from the magnificent screenings in the Piazza Grande of more commercially minded films to the selection of more challenging fare in competition and elsewhere. Yet, as with so many other festivals, it has suffered from sales agents no longer using the film festivals as their primary location to source and sell movies. It will be interesting to see how Karlovy Vary and Locarno tackle the hurdles ahead, especially on the side of promoting cinema rather than movies. Festivals such as Locarno and Karlovy Vary have begun addressing this issue by being more supportive of a broader range of critical voices. Still, there must be more effort to make audiences feel part of the movie industry and encourage spectators to make bolder choices, not just at film festivals, but on a Friday night date.

Venice Film Festival 

Festival Director: Alberto Barbera

In the last couple of years, it’s been a surprise that the Venice Film Festival hasn’t just found a space to put the Netflix logo in the middle of the poster, given the preponderance of films from the streamer. I get it. Venice has been the primary beneficiary of the stance taken by Cannes on streaming platforms failure to heed cinematic windows, and they have reaped the red carpet rewards, with more stars in attendance and more media interest. It’s undeniable that Alberto Barbera has done a great job in making Venice a place to launch films, especially award contenders. Although it’s likely that for the second year in succession, unless Marriage Story does pull off an unlikely Best Film Oscar victory, that for the second year, the Oscar winner will not have debuted on the Lido. There is also a well-voiced and, quite frankly well-placed, concern about the dominance of English language films in the Venice competition. Again, the media and the trades desire to push films as Oscar contenders, that will result in them receiving advertising money from studios looking to win awards, is also part of the game. So it’s not in anyone’s interest to complain too much. It’s another example of how capitalism can limit choice, even in art.

Consequently, some great movies that could have done with the status push that can come with appearing in competition on the Lido get somewhat lost in the sidebar sections. I would like to see Venice be a bit bolder in its official selection. But if it’s glam you want, Barbera is your man. He is incredibly slick, has a big fun personality and could have been a character in La Dolce Vita. He is Italian Hollywood.

Even the choice of poster, which I love, reflects this debate. It’s a painted image of a couple being filmed kissing on the front of a boat. It’s a hint towards Titanic more than the refugee crisis, or the debate about how locals have turned against cruise ships, and the worry about climate change. The poster designed by Italian illustrator Lorenzo Mattotti (he’s also created the 2000 edition Cannes poster) emphasizes the water that makes Venice so unique, and the painted image connects the film festival to La Biennale, of which it is part. I liked the poster, and yes, I liked the festival. 

Toronto Film Festival 2020

Artistic Director and Co-Head: Cameron Bailey

I must admit it’s only now that I’m writing this that I’m looking properly at the one-sheet of the Toronto International Film Festival for the first time. The fall film festival season doesn’t allow for much navel-gazing. It’s the moment every year that I forget the sage advice from Ferris Bueller’s Day Off about life moving pretty fast and the need to take stock and look around once in a while. At Toronto, there is no such opportunity to stop. After the curated programmes of Venice and Telluride is the splurge of films in Canada.  The festival ends with the announcement of the winner of the Toronto audience award. Then we are all supposed to guess what will win the Oscars for the next few months. Of the Oscar frontrunners, only 1917 and The Irishman, which debuted shortly after at the New York Film Festival had not screened at this stag. It’s a shame that there is this enormous focus on what goes on in Hollywood in February because great stuff that happens in Toronto gets overlooked as a consequence.

One of which is the mentoring of film critics from underrepresented demographics. So at TIFF, I had the great honor of mentoring Valerie Complex at the festival. It was great to be able to meet up and hang with a young writer, who had exciting and differing viewpoints about films. She’s also making significant headway into the field of criticism, and has a prevalent Twitter account should you want to employ her. Together, we watched Anna Winocour’s space training epic Proxima, which we were still debating the next day. It was a film that grew on both of us, with Complex being the first to admit that the film was better than she initially thought. The joy of movies and not writing immediate tweets and reviews. As with many things in Toronto, it did feel like the critic mentoring scheme was another thing added, and need some refinement and more support from the festival, but it’s a great start for the initiative that I hope will grow. It came as no surprise to me that this initiative was taking place at a festival where Cameron Bailey is the head honcho. Despite all the talk around inclusion, white male critics still have so much more opportunity than women and people of color. And it’s no surprise that Bailey has overseen this initiative given his background. He’s a top programmer, and it won’t be long before his evolution at TIFF becomes a revolution. Of the big fall festivals, Toronto is the one making the most significant effort to bring about change not just to film, but also society.

But back to that poster, it’s a bit abstract and difficult to tell what it wants to be. Maybe I did see it during TIFF, everywhere, I just didn’t realise that it was the visual identity that was supposed to be representing the festival. Having said that, it kind of fits with some of my sentiments about a festival where a lot of films, seem to be put together abstractly, and where it doesn’t quite come together as a whole.

El Gouna Film Festival 

Festival Director: Ihtishal Al Timimi

I have a good rapport with Festival Director Ihtishal Al Timimi from his time at the Abu Dhabi Film Festival. Heading to Egypt meant that I had to miss San Sebastian, one of my favourite film festivals of the year, every year. I’m still crying, even if it was well worth the change of water and sun location. El Gouna is one of those friendly festivals, with a real hub where everyone mingles and chats about the movies that they have, or haven’t been watching. Its focus is on films from the Middle East and North Africa, and all of the key players from the region turn up, make plans and plot for the future. It comes a few weeks before Cairo and has a far more curated programme in which most films had a lot going for it. It was one of those festivals with not much to do in a resort late at night, so it was easy to mingle with filmmakers and festival programmers.

The poster is striking, albeit one more in keeping with it a perfume fragrance rather than a film festival. It shows a lady in a red dress walking across a stage from left to right, with the backdrop resembling a film reel. It wants to be modern but can’t help but feel retro. Much like this festival, the poser is a throwback to a bygone era, and that’s not always a bad thing. I’m hoping the festival moves dates to avoid a clash with San Sebastian in the future.

Zurich Film Festival 

Artistic Director: Karl Spoerri

Straight from El Gouna, I crashed into the Zurich Film Festival. This festival, with its green carpets, has been growing in stature every year. It’s the sister festival to San Sebastian and benefits from filmmakers coming straight from the Basque region to Switzerland. Zurich has improved a lot in recent years, but the selection has yet to catch fire. The big Swiss festival, Locarno, has a much more progressive and diverse programme. This year was a watershed for Zurich in many ways as it was the final year that co-founders Nadja Schildknecht (managing director) and Karl Spoerri (artistic director) were at the helm. They will be board members and advisors to the festival from here on in. Some months before the festival started, Zurich announced that leading film journalist Christian Jungen, the chief cultural editor at the German-language Swiss newspaper NZZ am Sonntag, had joined the Zurich Film Festival and would take over as Artistic Director in 2020. The appointment shows that good taste and a long career observing the film industry is still a way into festival curating (despite my earlier observation), especially for celebrations of cinema looking to be bolder in their selection.

One of the changes that can immediately be made, that would highlight a bit more risk-taking, is the creation of more captivating movie posters. I hope Jungen changes this up too. The Zurich Film Festival has a strong logo presence, but the desire to have a visual identity that appears on tickets, festival cars and stationery has led to the uninspiring and corporate logo dominating the festival poster. Where is the fun? The use of the logo on the poster is more bland corporate identity than art. Let’s face it, the formula for many film festivals is the same, you have films, industry talks and events with a bit of glamour on the carpet, it’s the other stuff that stokes the audience imagination that creates buzz. That starts with a good poster.

London Film Festival 

Festival Director Tricia Tuttle

The London Film Festival also went for the abstract approach to designing their visual identity. At first glance, it feels even more abstract than that in Toronto and less cohesive with it’s merging triangles and colours. The British Film Institute said when launching the poster: “Delivered in collaboration with creative agency DBLG, the design continues to develop iconography that was inspired by the beautiful NFT sign on our building at BFI Southbank, which was created in 1957 by Norman Engleback, and harks back to some of our classic Festival artwork from the 60s.” Hmm. If you say so! I’ve been to the BFI Southbank building countless times, and I’m at a loss about the beautiful NFT sign! 

London is my hometown film festival, so I guess that makes me harder on it, in the way that happens in families. It was the first year that Tricia Tuttle was officially in charge as festival head. The year before she was acting head, so 2019 wasn’t her first festival in the hot seat. Her promotion seemed to be an anointment rather than an appointment. I was surprised that there was not a more significant fanfare about the failure to open up the application process, but not too surprised. Tricia is very personable and is well-qualified for the role and probably would have got the job anyway. Also, it’s hard to imagine many clamoring for a position that involves programming a festival around talent that is coming to London for BAFTA screenings so that they can campaign for award season votes. London feels like a hostage to the awards season. 

That being said the clamoring for votes is terrific timing for the festival as it means it gets a host of talent to attend the festival because it’s the early stage of the awards campaigning when producers and studios are still unsure of what will emerge as the frontrunners. Consequently, it struggles to be a festival of discovery or even a festival of festivals, despite the introduction in recent years of competition segments. The surprising omission of Nadav Lapid’s Synonyms meant that this was the first time that I can remember that none of the Berlin, Cannes, or Venice Best Film winners played at the festival. (Someone will no doubt fact check this and prove me wrong!) 

As with any festival that has this many films and star names, the attention gets placed on the usual suspects. While film festivals are the life-blood of smaller independent films, it is harder than ever for them to emerge and break out into the mainstream. It’s a chicken and egg situation. London does try to make this push, but the sheer size and scale of the operation, and the need to get audiences through the door means it usually fails. How hard it is for films to get noticed is the struggle of our times, and it’s even harder persuading a distributor to release it after a festival appearance, which sounds odd given that more movies are coming out each week than ever before. London is just another festival that seems to favor the studios rather than the independents, as it’s easier to get bums on seats and ticket sales for blockbusters, even if the goal is to highlight smaller films and BFI funded films. However, I realize I know I’m more aware of the issues of the festival in regards to the distribution scene in the United Kingdom, as I’m much more often in contact with the local sales agents, distributors and exhibitors, which could be highlighting the problem. I’m sure the same story is being told elsewhere, but it is one that comes into sharp focus for me in London.

Lumière Film Festival 

Festival Director: Thierry Frémaux

When not presiding over Cannes, Thierry Frémaux is the director of the Institut Lumière, in Lyon. The museum and the festival are located within the grounds of the Lumière family house, around the site that the Lumière brothers shot one of their earliest works, Workers Leaving the Lumière Factory in Lyon. It’s often called the first motion picture ever made. The Institut Lumière was founded in 1982, and charged with promotion and preservation of film. Acclaimed French filmmaker Bertrand Tavernier is President and Frémaux is its director. It’s a job that Frémaux clearly loves. One of my best experiences in a cinema was watching Frémaux live-present Lumière! A film he directed in 2016, made up of clips and reels of early French cinema. The witty and engaging commentary that he delivers as the reels play is extraordinary and full of passion.

A decade ago, Frémaux decided to launch the Lumière Film Festival, which focuses on the history of cinema with a line-up dedicated to restored prints and retrospectives. There are some new films, presented when one of the many luminaries who come through the festival give a masterclass. Top talent comes, because of the connection to Cannes. The masterclasses are extensive, intriguing and unique, some of the best of the year. Go on their website and listen to the podcasts if you have not done so already, you will not be disappointed. It’s impossible not to have a fabulous time when spent watching the works of Lina Wertmüller, treasures from pre-code Hollywood, and re-mastered classics including 5 Fingers by Joseph L. Mankiewicz and Phillipe Garrel’s Liberty at Night.

The Festival poster is in keeping with the cinematic history theme. It’s a poster of Francis Ford Coppola directing on the set of Rumble Fish. It’s in black and white, of course, and chosen to celebrate the fact that Coppola was in town to pick up the festival’s big honour, Prix Lumière. Coppola had a great time. My particular highlight was seeing him introduce The Cotton Club. A couple of days later at The Godfather Trilogy all-nighter, I was struck by how The Cotton Club and The Godfather movies use entertainment as a mask for nefarious activities. It is a great film festival, and a joy to see cinema through the eyes of Frèmaux, in a way that is impossible at Cannes. Bravo!

Red Sea Industry Workshop

Red Sea Festival Director: Mahmoud Sabbagh

The decision to allow cinemas to open in Saudi Arabia after a 30-year ban has brought a vast new audience and film market hungry for cinema. Saudi Arabia, with a population of around 70 million, is full of cinephiles. The cinemas that have been opening have been booked out. There have also been several Saudi films that have started to appear at film festivals. Haifaa Al Mansour’s The Perfect Candidate vied for the Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival. The observational comedy Barakah Meets Barakah by Mahmoud Sabbagh is one of the most popular films from the region on Netflix. It is Sabbagh, a pioneer as a director, who is leading the drive to set up the Red Sea Film Festival, and also the Red Sea Lodge, an incubator for regional filmmakers that’s been set-up in collaboration with the Torino Film Lab. Two of the projects will win a production grant of $500,000. Next year, the Red Sea Film Festival will have its inaugural edition in March.

I jumped at the chance of going to the Old Town in Jeddah for the weekend to meet the filmmakers from the 12 projects selected for incubation. The filmmakers seemed invigorated at workshops where leading industry experts were discussing and dissecting their scripts for just over a week. I watched enthralled as one workshop leader used toys to highlight character journeys and some structural problems. Egyptian filmmaker Marwan Hamed delivered a masterclass, where he discussed his career, including the adaptation of The Yacoubian Building. I was most impressed by the attendance, where the local community sat enthralled throughout and came armed with interesting and intelligent questions. It was a surprisingly more engaged audience than I had seen at other Middle East Film Festival over the years. Cairo usually being the best. 

There was no poster as such, although on the literature that was released, often the writing would come over a photographic image of the Unesco heritage site in Old Town Jeddah. It will be interesting to see what happens in March when the first edition launches. Will the festival be seen as Saudi filmmakers celebrating film for the first time in three decades or will it be clouded and judged by a geo-political narrative? Much will be in the eyes of the beholder.

Films From the South 

Festival Director: Lasse Skagen

I found myself in Norway again, this time in Oslo for Films From the South Film Festival, where I delivered a master class at the Sørfund Pitching Forum on “Festival and Press strategy” to Norwegian producers, international directors and producers. At Sørfund Pitching Forum six selected filmmakers from Latin America, Africa and Asia pitch their films that they hope will be backed by the Norwegian film fund in 2020. One of the great advantages of this fund is that you don’t have to invest the money in Norway, but you need to woo a local producer, who will then be your Norwegian co-production partner. The standard of filmmakers is extraordinary. Two of the filmmakers pitching at the event had won Lion of the Future awards, for best first film at the Venice Film Festival.

So I didn’t attend a film at the Films from the South Festival. This was a festival that for me was about helping filmmakers further their career. In Oslo, I was the one in control of the show, or more accurately the Powerpoint presentation. It’s great to talk to filmmakers directly in this way. The aim of the talk is to give them an idea of a strategy that might attract the media to their films, including which festivals they might get the best results at, and when or where they will need to employ publicists, find sales agents, or just do it on their own. It always amazes me that independent filmmakers have to be both architects and realtors, they plan, create and when they have finished their film, they then realise that it’s up to them to sell their films. Even if they have a great team behind them, or working with them, often festivals can be a confusing and demoralising place for a filmmaker. 

I looked through the Films from the South catalogue, and it was an impressive list of films that were screening, and Sørfund can be proud of the success the films they’ve funded have had, especially last year. The screenings highlight how there are so many great filmmakers around the world, and how much stimulating and fascinating work gets created each year. On the minus side, it’s demoralising to see so many amazing films get ignored. As for Lasse Skagen, who is also the Artistic Director at the Oslo Festival Agency, and has been at the Oslo Films from the South Foundation since 1997, our paths didn’t cross, but I admire his work. I was in contact with the SORFOND team. As for the poster for the festival, I have only just looked at it now, and have to say I like it. A rainbow of paint is segmented to show the sun high in the sky casting a shadow down to the sea, a clear distinction of the world between the North and the South. Although some may balk at my interpretation as it can also be looked at as a representation of privilege. 

Ajyal 2019 

Festival Director: Fatma Al Remaihi

If you have made it this far, I salute you. You must be as exhausted as I was by the start of December. For my last festival of the year, I was back in Doha at the Ajyal Film Festival. This time it didn’t seem like Fatma Al Remaihi and Hanaa Issa argued very much about the poster, as it was in the spirit of the posters from previous edition, featuring an explosion of colourful splintered geometric shapes creating a circle with no borders. The use of the white background, a change from the previously used black background, made it pop out even more.

It’s been a few years since I’d been to this festival, and I have to say I was very impressed with how much better it is now, then from it’s baby years. Ajyal’s excellent goal is to foster a love of cinema in children and young adults. There are 96 films screened from 39 countries, with the juries for these films made up of these young spectators, split up into various age groups. Each age group were given 4 to 6 movies to watch and judge. There were also workshops for the 400 jurors from 41 nationalities, including 40 international jurors. 

I delivered a quick talk on how to watch movies and criticize them. What was surprising was how little help they needed, and that they were open to the fact that film criticism can come in many forms these days, not just print, but also with memes, video streaming and just chatting to your friends over a milkshake. It was the perfect end to an exhausting year, and as I finally finish writing this up, I realise that I went to a hell of a lot of events last year, and it’s impressive how non-repetitive and unique each festival is.

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Tony Allen: the Afrobeat pioneer’s 10 finest recordings | Music | The Guardian

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Listen to a playlist of Ammar’s selections:

Fela Kuti: Roforofo Fight (Roforofo Fight, 1972)




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Roforofo Fight is the earliest cohesive expression of Tony Allen and saxophonist Fela Kuti’s Afrobeat sound: part Yoruba polyrhythm, part Nigerian highlife melody, part calypso swing, and all shuffling swagger. Allen and Kuti had been playing together for the best part of eight years at this point, mixing highlife and jazz, but a 1969 trip to the US proved pivotal, exposing Kuti to the radicalism of the Black Panther movement and leading to the formulation of his militant aesthetic Africa ‘70 band. On the title track of Kuti’s second album to be recorded after the trip, Allen takes centre stage with his undulating groove, slapping the snare on the jaunty offbeats to counter Kuti’s forceful diction. An enticing taste of things to come.

Fela Kuti: Water No Get Enemy (Expensive Shit, 1975)




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Afrobeat rhythms seem deceptively simple: a steadily paced, off-kilter shuffle that holds the beat without succumbing to the western convention of landing the snare on the third beat of the bar. Try to play an Allen line, though, and you soon realise how much ghosting and embellishment is going on below the surface – doubles splayed on the first note of a phrase, kick drums scattered throughout. And yet, the groove remains even when it feels like it might fall apart. Water No Get Enemy is the perfect example: a hip-swaying mid-tempo horn line sits atop Allen’s liquid shuffle while Kuti uses the amorphous imagery of water to outline methods of resistance to Nigeria’s reactionary government.

Fela Kuti: Zombie (Zombie, 1976)




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By the mid 70s, Kuti’s politics of resistance was reaching its peak. Zombie was its most forceful expression, Kuti’s lyrics characterising the violent Nigerian army as mindless zombies. You can feel the force of his frustration through his blistering saxophone as it meanders over the highlife guitar line, while Allen’s snappy, shaker-heavy rhythm is the ever-reliable foundation for Kuti’s social message. The song’s success in Nigeria was not without consequences, leading to a severe beating for Kuti, the torching of his studio and his elderly mother being thrown from a window and killed.

Tony Allen: Nepa (Never Expect Power Always, 1984)

Kuti had a domineering relationship to his bandmates, demanding all recording royalties for himself despite Allen’s role as musical director. As the 70s wore on and the group’s popularity increased, so did the dissent in its ranks. By 1979, Allen had recorded three albums as bandleader and so decided to leave the ‘Africa 70, taking many of its members with him. The greatest recording of his new era is 1984’s Nepa – an attack on the notoriously unreliable Nigerian Electrical Power Authority. Here Allen continues Kuti’s lineage of playful socio-political criticism, this time updating the Afrobeat sound to include dub-inflected electronics and fusion funk. It would become representative of Allen’s all-encompassing musical appetite in the years to come.

The Good, the Bad & the Queen: The Good, the Bad & the Queen (The Good, the Bad & the Queen, 2007)

As the 90s continued and Allen was establishing himself as an architect of Afrobeat in his own right, especially in the wake of Kuti’s 1997 death, his own genre-eating journey was evolving further into electronics and collaboration. A longtime fan of the genre, Damon Albarn enlisted Allen for his supergroup, The Good, the Bad & the Queen, featuring the Clash’s Paul Simonon on bass and the Verve’s Simon Tong on guitar. The sprawling title track is the closest we see Allen to cutting loose behind the kit and producing an unabashed rock sound behind Tong’s voluminous closing solo – a testament to his energetic versatility.

Moritz von Oswald: Sounding Line 1 (Sounding Lines, 2015)




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Perhaps the strangest and least well-known of Allen’s collaborations is that with the techno producer Moritz von Oswald, who replaced his longtime drummer Vladislav Delay with Allen for his 2015 album Sounding Lines. Allen produces a truly remarkable sound: a warped and manipulated series of electronics. The opening track sees Allen superimpose an Afrobeat shuffle on to a wobbly dub that builds over 10 minutes to create a simmering, electro dancefloor odyssey.

Tony Allen: A Night in Tunisia (A Tribute to Art Blakey and the Messengers, 2017)




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Allen’s first love was always jazz and he referenced throughout his life the work of rhythmic mastermind Max Roach and explosive powerhouse Art Blakey as major influences. This 2017 Blue Note recording was a welcome opportunity for Allen to finally delve into those roots and lay down his own interpretations. Across its four tracks Allen tackles some of Blakey’s best-loved tunes, like a straight-eighths Moanin’, but his Afrobeat-inflected Night in Tunisia is a work of genius, transforming the horn line into a punchy, driving vamp.

Tony Allen: Wolf Eats Wolf (The Source, 2017)




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Continuing his jazz explorations, Allen delivered his first album of original compositions as a bandleader for legendary jazz label Blue Note. The culmination of his decades of musical exploration, it interweaves metallic electronics with warm percussion, bright horn lines and that ever-present drum language. On Wolf Eats Wolf, Allen is comfortably experimental, putting a Synclavier to work over a highlife guitar line and Kuti-referencing horns to create an eminently danceable new jazz standard.

Tony Allen and Jeff Mills: Locked and Loaded (Tomorrow Comes the Harvest, 2018)




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Never one to be pigeonholed, on 2018’s Tomorrow Comes the Harvest Allen paired up with techno wizard Jeff Mills to further the electronic experiments he had begun with Von Oswald. Largely formulated for modular live performances, the record has a wonderfully loose, improvisatory feel. It hits its stride on the propulsive Locked and Loaded as Allen’s shuffle dissipates into white noise beneath Mills’s distorting sub bass. Even in the grid-work of Mills’ techno, Allen manages to swing.

Tony Allen and Hugh Masekela: Never (Lagos Never Gonna Be The Same) (Rejoice, 2020)




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In 2010, Allen paired up with trumpeter Hugh Masekela, a longtime collaborator and giant of South African jazz. Rejoice was released a decade later, following Masekela’s death in 2018, and now stands as Allen’s last released recording. As its title indicates, the album is a sun-dappled, joyous listening experience celebrating both artists’ effortless ability to make us shake a leg. Never (Lagos Never Gonna Be The Same) plays as an homage to Kuti and it serves as a perfect reminder that although our musical greats ultimately pass on, their legacy lies in each note, ready and willing to be dusted off, played and reinterpreted all over again.

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When Universal Credit and benefits will change in 2020 and how you’ll be affected – Kent Live

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The General Election result meant a lot of things but it also ensured the continuation of Universal Credit.

Campaigners had been hoping for an end to the controversial scheme, with  Labour promising to scrap Universal Credit  altogether.

However, there will still be a number of changes to the benefits system this year – some of which will be good news for claimants, reports BirminghamLive .

Here’s the timetable of what will be happening – see how it will affect you.

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1. April 2020 – End of benefit freeze

The end to the benefit freeze would mean Universal Credit and other working age benefits rising by 1.7 per cent from April 2020.

The freeze was brought in by the Tories and came into effect from April 2016. It has meant that most benefits and tax credits have not gone up in line with inflation for four years.

Other benefits that have been frozen but are now set to rise are Employment and Support Allowance (ESA), income support, housing benefit, child tax credits, working tax credits and child benefit.

Adam Corlett

The increase means someone on £1,000 a month in benefits will get an extra £17, equivalent to £204 over a year. Those receiving £500 a month get an extra £8.50.

But according to think-tank the Resolution Foundation, families will still be hundreds of pounds a year worse off due to the past five years of bills rising while benefits have remained at the same level.

The Resolution Foundation’s Adam Corlett said: “While the benefit freeze is over, its impact is here to stay with a lower income couple with kids £580 a year worse off as a result.”

2. April 2020 – Pension changes

The Government also said the state pension – which has not been frozen – will increase by 3.9 per cent.

This is expected to be announced in the Budget.

It means retired Brits are in line for £5.05 a week extra on the ‘old’ basic state pension and £6.60 a week on the ‘new’ state pension.

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The bad news is that the  adult dependency payment is being stopped  in April, which could mean thousands of pensions cut by £70 a week.

In addition, the qualifying age for men and women will rise to 66 in October 2020.

It means anyone born after October 5, 1954, will have a state pension age of at least 66.

And there will be further rises too. The Conservatives have set out plans to increase the state pension age to 67 by 2028 and 68 by 2039.

3. April 2020 – Disability benefit changes

The Scottish Government is taking on responsibility for disability benefits from April 1 and will implement changes after that.

In summer 2020, Social Security Scotland will open to claims for the brand new Disability Assistance for Children and Young People, which is Scotland’s replacement for Child Disability Living Allowance.

By the end of 2020, Social Security Scotland will also open to claims for the new Disability Assistance for Older People. This is the Scottish replacement for Attendance Allowance and is for people over the state pension age who need someone to help look after them because of a disability or long-term illness.

Also by the end of 2020, children who receive the highest care component of Disability Assistance will be entitled to Winter Heating Assistance.

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Further changes will come in 2021, including PIP being replaced by Disability Assistance for Working Age People and Carer’s Allowance being replaced by Carer’s Assistance.

Social Security Secretary Shirley-Anne Somerville says the system will have a redesigned application process and significantly fewer face to face assessments.

There will be rolling awards with no set end points and those with fluctuating health conditions will not face additional reviews due to changes in their needs.

She said: ““Since the Social Security Act was passed by the Scottish Parliament in June [2018], progress has been swift.

““Our next priority is delivering payments for disabled people, as this is where we can make the most meaningful difference for the largest number of people.

“We have a duty to quickly reform the parts of the current system which cause stress, anxiety and pain. And I have been moved by the personal stories I have heard, many of which criticise the penalising assessment process.”

Around half a million cases – the equivalent of around 10 per cent of people in Scotland – will transfer from DWP to Social Security Scotland in 2020.

Ms Somerville added: “This is not simply a case of turning off one switch and turning on another. For the first time in its history, our agency will be making regular payments, direct to people’s bank accounts and our systems need to work seamlessly with those of the DWP.

“It is therefore essential we have a system that is fully operational for those making new claims and ensure we protect everyone and their payments as their cases are transferred – that is what those who rely on social security support have told us they want. We must work to a timetable that reflects the importance of moving quickly but not putting people’s payments at risk.”

During the transfer no-one will have to reapply for benefits, no claims will be reassessed and payments will be protected.

She added: “The timetable I have set out is ambitious but realistic and at all points protects people and their payments. I have seen the mess the DWP has made when transferring people to PIP and introducing Universal Credit, and we will not make the same mistakes.    

“There is much hard work to be done but the prize is great – a social security system with dignity, fairness and respect at its heart and which works for the people of Scotland.”

4. June 2020 – TV licence changes

Free TV Licences, funded by the Government, for all those aged 75 and over will come to an end in June. So you can get a free licence up to May 31, 2020.

From June 1, a new scheme means you can only carry on getting a free licence if you – or your partner – are receiving Pension Credit.

If not, you’ll have to fork out the cost of a TV licence – which is £154.50 per year for a colour TV, and £52 for black and white. You can choose to pay monthly (£12.87 a month), quarterly (£39.87 every three months) or yearly.

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So it’s worth checking if you can get Pension Credit to avoid the licence fee.

Pension Credit is a top-up benefit payment available if you or your partner have reached state pension age, or if one of you is getting housing benefit for people over pension age. You get more if you’re responsible for a child or young person who lives with you and is under the age of 20.

There are two elements to Pension Credit. Guarantee Credit tops up your weekly income if it’s below £167.25 (for single people) or £255.25 (for couples), while Savings Credit is an extra payment for people who saved some money towards their retirement and is up to £13.73 for single people and up to £15.35 for couples.

The Pension Service helpline is available on 0800 731 0469. Call Monday to Friday, 8am to 8pm. Calls to 0800 numbers are free.

5.  July 2020 – Universal Credit transition protection extended

From July 22, claimants are to get an additional two weeks of income-related Jobseekers Allowance, income-related Employment and Support Allowance, or Income Support if they receive one of these benefits when moving across to Universal Credit.

Universal Credit is intended to replace six existing benefits in total.

People are transferred on to UC if their circumstances change – such as moving home or having a child. This is called natural migration.

Everyone else on the six old benefits will have to move across in a managed migration scheme by the DWP that is set to be completed by December 2023 and is currently being tried out in Harrogate from July 2019 to July 2020.

Normally, existing benefits are terminated when a Universal Credit claim begins but the Government has amended the rules to allows a “two-week run-on” of the three benefits named above.

6. September 2020 – Universal Credit change for self employed

The DWP works out Universal Credit for self-employed people using what’s called a Minimum Income Floor (MIF).

This is roughly equivalent to the national minimum wage for each hour the claimant is expected to work.

It can mean Universal Credit is calculated on a higher level of earnings than you were actually paid.

However, this Minimum Income Floor is not applied to those who started a business within the past 12 months .

And from September 2020, this 12-month exclusion period will also not apply to “those who are naturally migrated in self-employment and all those existing UC claimants who become new gainfully self-employed.”

‘Naturally migrated’ means switched across to Universal Credit because of a change in circumstances.

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KentLive: We have Kent covered

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Here’s the link to our main Facebook page where we share our latest stories, including anything from breaking news to features, court coverage and much, much more.

For What’s On content such as the latest openings, events, and shopping news see here.

And we have a specialist Facebook group covering traffic and travel across the south east, where we provide the latest updates from any incidents on the roads or trains.

You can also follow KentLive on Twitter here, as well as on our Instagram page where we share great pictures of Kent.

For a round-up of the day’s top stories direct to your inbox, subscribe to our newsletter here.

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‘My bears are my lifeline’: the adults who sleep with soft toys | Global | The Guardian

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If you share your bed with a furry friend well into adulthood, don’t be ashamed – sleeping with soft toys is more normal than you might think. “It’s very common,” says Prof Bruce Hood of the University of Bristol, who has researched our attachment to childhood toys. He tells me that about one in three of the people he has questioned still sleep with teddies, and that it is probably more common for women, as it is more socially acceptable for them to do so.

Why are we hanging on to our cuddly toys? “My hunch is that it’s to do with sleeping practices,” Hood says. In western cultures, we tend to separate children from their parents after the first year – after which they sleep on their own, and self-soothe using blankets and soft toys. “These become part of the sleep ritual.”

It is not unusual for your attachment to soft toys as a sleep aid to persist into adulthood. A survey carried out last year found that 44% of adults have held on to their childhood teddies and dolls, and as many as 34% of adults still sleep with a soft toy every night. Meanwhile, researchers at VU University Amsterdam found that cuddling a soft toy can have a beneficial effect for people with low self-esteem, helping to alleviate their anxieties around death.

“It’s about having a sentimental attachment to things,” Hood says. “It’s completely normal for adults to continue to have these childish attachments.”

He doesn’t see any harm in sleeping with a teddy, provided you’re not obsessive about it. “They provide emotional comfort.” Plus, it is more hygienic than sleeping with a pet. Just don’t forget to bung your teddy in the wash from time to time.

We spoke to three Guardian readers about their furry friends.

Jeff Annells, 68
Receptionist from Banbury




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It all started when my uncle won me a big old bear called Brumas, when I was about five. He was named after the famous polar bear who was born into captivity at London zoo. I used to cart Brumas everywhere with me – until one day his head fell off. That sounds very traumatic, but it wasn’t that bad.

When I grew up, I started collecting teddy bears. I have about 60 Steiff and Charlie Bears. I pass out thinking about how much money I’ve spent on them – probably £20,000 over my lifetime.

My favourite bear is a 6ft-tall Charlie bear that I call Big Fella. He’s one of only 100 made worldwide. He cost me about £3,000. Everyone who comes to my house gets a photo with Big Fella. He stands in my corridor. When I was diagnosed with stage four prostate cancer in 2014, Big Fella came into his own. Having cancer is like living in a parallel universe. Everyone is going about their business and you have this thing hanging over you. You never get a break from cancer.

I’m often in a lot of pain. No matter how bad the pain is, I always say good morning to Big Fella when I wake up. My bears are my lifeline. I can say anything to them. I wake up and say: “Christ, I’m in agony this morning.” No one else needs to know that. I say it to Big Fella, and then I get myself ready and go to work and sit on reception smiling at everyone. They’re none the wiser.

I worry a lot about who will inherit Big Fella if I pop my clogs. I keep threatening people with it, saying: “I’ve left you Big Fella in my will.” A look of horror appears on their faces. Seriously, though, I would love for Big Fella to go a children’s hospice. I like the idea of the children being able to confide in him, like I have.

Emily Dove, 26
Personal assistant from Leeds




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I got Ted as a present for my 18th birthday from my auntie. He’s a brown teddy bear, about 12 inches tall. I have other soft toys that sit on top of my wardrobe. But Ted is the one who hangs out in my bed and comes with me when I go on holiday.

Ted and I have been to Glastonbury together six times. He normally stays in my sleeping bag. It’s nice to be able to get back to the tent late at night and have a cuddle, especially when it’s quite cold. Last year, going into Glastonbury, Ted got properly searched – I think security thought he was a drug mule! They gave him a good squeeze. Luckily, he didn’t get picked apart or anything like that.

A big part of my love for Ted is that I find it very comforting to cuddle him when I’m going to sleep. He’s been a big part of my bedtime routine for the past nine years. I just like having something to cuddle. I need to have something soft to hold by my body. Recently, I went to London for a few days, and I forgot Ted, so I had to cuddle a pillow instead. It wasn’t the same.

I haven’t had any bad feedback from partners. If they did say anything, I’d say that it’s Ted’s bed as well! I think everyone should have a soft toy of their own. It’s a constant, comforting presence in your life. And if you have a relationship and it ends, at least you still have a teddy to cuddle.

Chris Kirton, 33
Call-centre worker from Sunderland




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My girlfriend, Becky, got me into soft toys. She’s a huge soft toy fan – I’m always buying her birthday or Christmas presents from Build-a-Bear Workshop. I spend a fortune in there! When she moves in with me next year I think my spare bedroom will become a bear sanctuary.

There is so much pressure on us all to be adults, and it’s not always the nicest world to live in. It’s nice to forget about your worries for a little while and be a child again.

I bought Squishy for myself from Morrisons last year. He is your classic teddy bear. I bought him as a bit of a joke, initially.

When I’m at home on my own, I’ll talk out loud to Squishy. Just general stuff, like: “What am I going to do today, then?” It’s just a bit of fun. If I’m watching TV or texting people, I’ll have Squishy under one arm.

I enjoy the absurdity of talking to my teddy bear. My job is often very stressful – I’m always having to apologise when I’ve done nothing wrong, and deal with angry, rude customers. After a tough day at work, I can get home and be daft for a few minutes. It takes my mind off things.

Becky and I had been thinking about getting a pet, but I didn’t want to leave an animal unattended at home. Having soft toys gives you some of the comfort of an animal, without the responsibilities associated with it.

Additional reporting by Rachel Obordo

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Trump’s death march to November: If they’re not his voters, let ’em die | Salon.com

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If you listen to Donald Trump, before him there was nothing.

According to Trump, before he was elected, the United States military, which was fighting wars in two countries, confronting foreign navies on the high seas, launching drone attacks willy-nilly, and had soldiers stationed in more than 100 outposts around the world, had no ammunition. In the Rose Garden on March 30, Trump said, “I’ll never forget the day when a general came and said, ‘Sir’ — my first week in office — ‘we have no ammunition.'” 

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On Oct. 9 of last year, he told the same story: “When I took over our military, we didn’t have ammunition. I was told by a top general — maybe the top of them all — ‘Sir, I’m sorry. Sir, we don’t have ammunition.’ I said, ‘I’ll never let another president have that happen to him or her.’ We didn’t have ammunition.” 

But now that Trump is in charge, according to him, “We have so much ammunition. You wouldn’t believe it, how much ammunition we have.”

Before Trump, we had no supplies of any kind: “The shelves were bare,” he has told us over and over at his coronavirus briefings. The shelves he’s referring to are those of the national stockpile of emergency medical equipment, the same shelves we’ve seen in photographs of a warehouse stacked with pallets filled with medical equipment, all of which has been there for years. But according to Trump, before he came along “the shelves were empty.”

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Fuhgettaboutit it when it comes to testing for the coronavirus. “We took over a dead, barren system,” Trump told “Fox & Friends” on March 30. “We inherited a broken test.”  The “broken” test was created in February of this year by Trump’s Centers for Disease Control. 

At his briefing on April 18, Trump said, “I inherited broken junk. Just as they did with ventilators where we had virtually none, and the hospitals were empty.”

But not to worry, he reassured us at his briefing on Wednesday, when it comes to testing now, “We’re doing it at a level that’s never been done before. We’ve got ventilators like you’ve never seen before.” 

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There is so much about Trump like we’ve never seen before. 

We have never seen hospitals so crowded that patients in their beds are lined up in hallways outside emergency rooms and intensive care units because those rooms are full. We have never seen refrigerated trucks lined up behind hospitals to carry away bodies from overloaded morgues. We have never seen doctors standing mute in the White House while a president of the United States stood before television cameras and advocated bringing ultraviolet light “inside the body,” and injecting patients with disinfectants like isopropyl alcohol and bleach, medical “experiments” that were carried out on Jews by Nazi doctors in places like Dachau and Buchenwald. 

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Before Trump, we have never seen 26.5 million people apply for unemployment benefits in just five weeks. Before Trump, we have never seen 50,000 Americans perish from a virus for which the United States government was singularly unprepared. 

Before Trump, we have never seen a president who wakes up every day at 5 a.m. and obsessively watches television and sends out dozens of tweets all morning and waits until noon to descend from his living quarters to go to work in the West Wing. We have never seen a president who told more than 16,000 lies in his first three years in office, an average of nearly 15 a day. 

Before Trump, we have never seen a president change the color of his aerosol-sprayed hair three times in three days, from yellow to gray and back to yellow again. 

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Before Trump, we have never seen an election when people may have to risk becoming infected with the coronavirus to go to the polls, the way voters did in Wisconsin two weeks ago.

Before Trump, Republicans suppressed Democratic votes with ID requirements and closed polls and registration purges. Before Trump, we have never seen tens of thousands prevented from voting because they’re dead and buried in the ground. 

Has Trump decided to use the coronavirus to win in November?

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It sure looks that way. The tip-off came with Trump’s wild swing between Wednesday and Thursday over opening businesses in Georgia. On Wednesday, Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp was a genius for allowing businesses like massage parlors and nail salons to open on Friday, with restaurants and bars opening on Monday. But less than 24 hours later, Trump had changed his mind. 

“I wasn’t happy with Brian Kemp. I wasn’t at all happy,” Trump announced from the podium at the Thursday briefing. What had happened overnight to sour Trump on “liberating” Georgia? “Trump’s sudden shift came only after top health advisers reviewed the plan more closely and persuaded the president that Kemp was risking further spread of the virus by moving too quickly,” the Associated Press reported on Friday.

That same morning, the New York Times published a front page story with another clue right there in the title: “No Rallies and No Golf, Just the TV to Rankle Him: Feeling Alone, President stews Over Image.” Buried in the story was the news that among the few calls a frustrated Trump agrees to take as he molders away in the White House are from his campaign manager, Brad Parscale. After Trump has heard the bad news about the coronavirus from his medical experts at his daily press briefing, what do Trump and Parscale discuss? “The latest polling data,” the Times reports. 

Bingo. At six o’clock he’s hearing that the body count has hit 50,000. At nine, he’s hearing how far he is behind Biden in the key swing states of Florida, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Ohio. If he’s running behind now, with 50,000 dead, what’s it going to look like in October or November when the number tops 100,000?

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Trump is balancing the grim news from his medical experts against the equally grim news from his campaign manager. When the choice is between dead people or his reelection, it’s an easy call. He is going to let it rip. His poll numbers are already so bad, he doesn’t have anything to lose. What’s another 50,000 to 100,000 dead compared to four more years of profiteering from the White House?

But the key to Trump’s plan is who dies. Watch the way he plays the game as the rest of the states make plans to reopen. He’s seen the facts and figures that social distancing works. He knows opening the economy will cost lives. He’s going to be very, very careful with states he expects to carry, but narrowly, like Georgia. The states that are a lock for Trump, or the states he doesn’t stand a chance in? Let them rip. Get the dying out of the way now. Maybe by the fall the coronavirus infection numbers will go down, maybe not.  

The number of those killed won’t go down, but Trump doesn’t give a shit. He’s not the president of the United States. He’s the president of the Confederate States of MAGA. All he wants to do is win. If they’re not Trump’s voters, let ’em die

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