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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Andrea Hayden Twins’ strength and conditioning coach | Minnesota Twins

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FORT MYERS, Fla. — Andrea Hayden isn’t too accustomed to having Twins players upset with her. But she was thrilled about it.

Several players had seen Hayden featured in a television segment that highlighted her as the first female strength and conditioning coach in Major League Baseball, and they approached her in the weight room, aghast that they hadn’t already been aware of Hayden’s place in league history.

“How did we not know?” they asked her.

“I wear that as a badge because you’re not supposed to know,” Hayden said. “‘Good. I’m doing my job, because you shouldn’t be aware. You need to focus on what we’re doing and where we’re headed as an organization.'”

Hayden officially became a member of the Twins’ coaching staff last November, when strength and conditioning director Ian Kadish promoted her to assistant coach following a year-long fellowship during the 2019 season. Nobody was really aware of it at the time, but that made her not only the first female strength and conditioning coach in MLB history, but also the first full-time female member of a Major League staff.

It was only later on that Kadish and Hayden got curious and looked through the MLB staff directory to see if there was anyone else. There wasn’t. (Gabe Kapler and the San Francisco Giants have since hired Alyssa Nakken to their Major League staff.)

“OK, cool,” Hayden told Kadish. “Let’s move on. We have work to do.”

That workmanlike attitude defines how both Hayden and the Twins’ organization have approached this move. Kadish offered her the job because he saw her personality as a great fit on his staff and he felt a strong connection to her working philosophy. Kadish considers Hayden to be more of an expert than himself in Olympic lifts and has given her a lead role in the Twins’ performance-testing initiatives.

Hayden is here to contribute her knowledge to the championship push of a 101-win team, and that’s a responsibility she takes very seriously.

“She’s got a great personality, she’s got great knowledge in her field, and she’s adapted to the Major League clubhouse, it feels like effortlessly,” Twins manager Rocco Baldelli said. “It didn’t take very long for a lot of our players to come forward and say that they really enjoyed working with her, and it was a pretty straightforward, pretty easy decision for us to want to have her here and have her here full-time and do her thing, which is great.”

Hayden laughs as she reflects on what her life was like just one year ago, when she was very happy in her role as an athletic performance coach at Lindenwood University, near her hometown of St. Louis. Even without considering her budding Major League career, she’s the first to admit that her professional career has been anything but traditional.

Her interest in the field stemmed in part from her own experiences of looking for any competitive advantage when she played basketball, softball and soccer when she was young. (“I’m five-two-and-a-half with shoes on,” she says with a laugh.) Academics didn’t come easily to her, so she started her career as an 18-year-old as a physical trainer and managed some gyms around the St. Louis area until she “got burnt out of training soccer moms.”

That gave her important, hands-on experience with developing people skills and sharing her knowledge with a wide variety of people. When she found that she needed the scientific background to bring out her full potential in the field, she went to college at age 24 and emerged with degrees in exercise science and human performance. Her career has since seen stops at EXOS, the University of Louisville, USA Hockey and Team China Women’s Hockey.

“I think it’s just a love of what the weight room means and the power that it can have in the culture that is kind of driven out of that, where we work hard and we see the benefits of it on the field,” Hayden said. “And not to say that that’s everything, but it is something really powerful.”

One day last February, a former colleague, Aaron Rhodes, told her on the phone that a friend had an opportunity in baseball. He asked her to call and just to listen to what the friend had to offer. That friend was Kadish, and he and Hayden immediately had a strong connection as the pair discussed an opportunity with the Major League team.

Except, well, Hayden thought she was missing something.

“I remember being like, a third of the way into our conversation, he hadn’t brought up one time that I was a girl,” Hayden remembers. “And I’m like, ‘Does he not know?'”

“So, do you have any more questions?” Kadish asked at the end of the call.

“Yeah, like, I’m female,” Hayden recalls. “Where do you see that as being an issue or a problem?”

She remembers Kadish laughing.

“Look. Your job is the same as my job,” Kadish told her. “The only way it’s going to be difficult is if you do it differently than I do it. I’m not viewing it at all any differently than what I have to do.”

“He never once flinched at it,” Hayden said. “It never was an option. Like, it never was a disadvantage because of being a female. He only saw it as an advantage.”

Five days later, Hayden was in her car, driving down to Spring Training in Fort Myers. She left a full-time job with benefits and her hometown behind when she left Lindenwood for the fellowship with Kadish and the Twins.

“A personal motto is ‘courage over comfort,’ and choosing the things that maybe are unknown and scary and taking that leap,” Hayden said. “It’s always paid off. And I’m really fortunate that it has.”

It’s a reflection of Hayden’s personality and the seriousness with which she takes her role on a winning team that she’s never really looked to carry herself as any sort of figurehead — and there’s nothing about her day-to-day life that really makes her feel the need to do so. She calls the players her “brothers” and gives and takes friendly jabs with the best of them as she works the weight room.

She jokes that the only difference is that all of her team shirts are in men’s sizes.

“She wants to be low-key,” Kadish said. “She wants to lay low and do her job to the best of her ability and let her work speak for itself. I commend her for that in every aspect. I have no problem blowing her tires up and bumping her up, because she deserves it.”

“I think my success in my career, it’s secondary to [the players] and our success as a team, and I feel that I’m part of them,” Hayden said. “So I’d never want to make myself feel as if I have an individual platform. I have a platform with the Twins. And I really take that seriously. So every win, every loss, I wear that.”

Whether fairly or not, she knows the expectations for her — at least, looking from the outside in — might be higher than they would be for others in her position. She is aware that her success and how she carries herself in this position could open or close the door for other women to follow.

With that in mind, Hayden also said she feels that Kadish, Baldelli, the Twins’ organization and her network also deserve the acknowledgment for putting her in this position and giving her the well-deserved opportunity.

“I attribute a lot of it to a really powerful network of people,” Hayden said. “I’m so humbled that they put their name on me. I say I wear a jersey with a lot of people’s names on my back that have taken a risk on me, whether that was when I was 18 or currently in the big leagues. People have taken a risk to allow me to do what I love, and so I take that really seriously.”

Still, she’s careful to acknowledge the fact that other women around the industry may not have the strong base of support and understanding to facilitate such an easy transition into the industry. Hayden understands that there could be uphill battles and double standards for others in her position.

But that’s not the path she’s forged in the Twins’ organization. And for that, she remains encouraged — and grateful.

“It’s a direction that is obviously needed in the game, and one that nobody sits and stops, and really, it’s what times have evolved into, for the better,” said veteran starter Rich Hill.

“My story has just been awesome,” Hayden said. “And it’s so good and so supportive and being with all these dudes is awesome, and I wouldn’t trade it for anything. So that’s honestly the best part.”

Do-Hyoung Park covers the Twins for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter at @dohyoungpark and on Instagram at dohyoung.park.

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Pluto’s famous heart powers icy winds on the dwarf planet | Live Science

Pluto’s icy heart is beating.

The dwarf planet’s famous heart-shaped feature, which NASA’s discovered during its epic July 2015 flyby, drives atmospheric circulation patterns on Pluto, a new study suggests.

Most of the action comes courtesy of the heart’s left lobe, a 600-mile-wide (1,000 kilometers) nitrogen-ice plain called Sputnik Planitia. This exotic ice vaporizes during the day and condenses into ice again at night, causing nitrogen winds to blow, the researchers determined. ( is dominated by nitrogen, like Earth’s, though the dwarf planet’s air is about 100,000 times thinner than the stuff we breathe.)  

These winds carry heat, particles of haze and grains of ice westward, staining the ices there with dark streaks.

“This highlights the fact that Pluto’s atmosphere and winds — even if the density of the atmosphere is very low — can impact the surface,” study lead author Tanguy Bertrand, an astrophysicist and planetary scientist at NASA’s Ames Research Center in California, . 

And that westward direction is interesting in itself, considering that Pluto spins eastward on its axis. The dwarf planet’s atmosphere therefore exhibits an odd “retrorotation,” study team members said.

Bertrand and his colleagues studied data gathered by New Horizons during the probe’s 2015 close encounter. The researchers also performed computer simulations to model Pluto’s nitrogen cycle and weather, especially the dwarf planet’s winds.

This work revealed the likely presence of westerly winds — a high-altitude variety that races along at least 2.5 miles (4 kilometers) above the surface and a fast-moving type closer to the ground that follows Sputnik Planitia’s western edge.

That edge is bounded by high cliffs, which appear to trap the near-surface winds inside the Sputnik Planitia basin for a spell before they can escape to the west, the new study suggested.

“It’s very much the kind of thing that’s due to the topography or specifics of the setting,” planetary scientist Candice Hansen-Koharcheck, of the Planetary Science Institute in Tucson, Arizona, said in the same statement. 

“I’m impressed that Pluto’s models have advanced to the point that you can talk about regional weather,” added Hansen-Koharcheck, who was not involved in the new study.

New Horizons’ Pluto flyby revealed that the dwarf planet is far more complex and diverse than anyone had thought, featuring towering water-ice mountains and weird “bladed” terrain in addition to the photogenic heart (whose official name, Tombaugh Regio, honors the discoverer of Pluto, ).

The , which was published online Tuesday (Feb. 4) in the Journal of Geophysical Research: Planets, reinforces and extends that basic message.

“Sputnik Planitia may be as important for Pluto’s climate as the ocean is for Earth’s climate,” Bertrand said. “If you remove Sputnik Planitia — if you remove the heart of Pluto — you won’t have the same circulation.”

Mike Wall’s book about the search for alien life, “” (Grand Central Publishing, 2018; illustrated by), is out now. Follow him on Twitter . Follow us on Twitter or

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The Devil Devours His Own – Crisis Magazine

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The sordid life of Jeffrey Epstein serves to highlight the decadence of the deplorable epoch in which we find ourselves, as do the suspicious circumstances surrounding his death. The web of vice and viciousness that he had spun was widespread, serving to entrap not only underage girls but also the rich and famous who preyed upon them. Using the allure of underage sex to lure his wealthy associates into his web, Epstein secretly filmed them in the act of sexually abusing minors, thereby turning his “associates” into his blackmail victims.

Epstein seems to have believed that the powerful people whom he’d entrapped in his “insurance policy” would have a vested interest in keeping him safe from the law, a strategy which worked for a while. In 2008, Epstein was convicted in Florida of sexually abusing a fourteen-year-old girl, receiving a scandalously light sentence, but due to a plea deal he was not charged with sexually abusing thirty-five other girls whom federal officials identified as having been abused by him.

After a further ten years in which Epstein masterminded the trafficking of young girls to satisfy the pornographic and pedophilic appetites of his powerful network of friends, he was finally charged in July of last year with the sex trafficking of minors in Florida and New York. A month later, he was found dead in his jail cell. Although the medical examiner originally recorded the death as being a case of suicide, there are so many anomalies and mysteries surrounding the circumstances of Epstein’s death that many people agree with Epstein’s lawyers that the death could not have been suicide.

One thing that is certain is that Epstein’s death removed the possibility of pursuing criminal charges. There would be no trial, and therefore Epstein’s powerful associates would not be exposed by their victims in a court of law. Seen in this light, or in the shadow of this possible cover-up, it is tempting to see Epstein’s “insurance policy” as his death warrant. He was too dangerous to be allowed to live when the lives of so many others depended on his timely death. It is no wonder that “Epstein didn’t kill himself” has become a hugely popular meme, nor that HBO, Sony TV, and Lifetime are planning to produce dramatic portrayals of Epstein’s life and death.

One aspect of Epstein’s life which is unlikely to be the focus of any TV drama is his obsession with transhumanism. For those who know little about this relatively recent phenomenon, transhumanism is usually defined as the movement in philosophy which advocates the transformation of humanity through the development of technologies which will re-shape humans intellectually and physiologically so that they transcend or supersede what is now considered “human.” At the prideful heart of this movement is a disdain for all that is authentically human and a sordid desire to replace human frailty with superhuman or transhuman strength.

Transhumanism rides roughshod over the dignity of the human person in its quest for the technologically “created” superman. Its spirit was encapsulated by David Bowie in the lyrics of one of his songs: “Homo sapiens have outgrown their use…. Gotta make way for the Homo superior.”

Most of Epstein’s so-called “philanthropy” was directed to the financing and promotion of transhumanism. The Jeffrey Epstein VI Foundation pledged $30 million to Harvard University to establish the Program for Evolutionary Dynamics. It also bankrolled the OpenCog project, which develops software “designed to give rise to human-equivalent artificial general intelligence.” Apart from his support for the cybernetic approach to transhumanism, Epstein was also fascinated with the possibility of creating the “superman” via the path of eugenics. He hoped to help in a practical way with plans to “seed the human race with his DNA” by impregnating up to twenty women at a time at a proposed “baby ranch” at his compound in New Mexico. He also supported the pseudo-science of cryonics, whereby human corpses and severed heads are frozen in the hope that technological advances will eventually make it possible to resurrect the dead. He had planned to have his own head and genitalia preserved in this way.

In addition to his bizarre association with the wilder fringes of technological atheism, Epstein also co-organized a conference with his friend, the militant atheist Al Seckel, known (among other things) as the creator of the so-called “Darwin Fish”—seen on bumper stickers and elsewhere, it depicts Darwin’s “superior” evolutionary fish eating the ichthys symbol, or “Jesus fish” of Christians. Seckel fled California after his life of deception and fraud began to catch up with him. He was found at the foot of a cliff in France, having apparently fallen to his death. Nobody seems to know whether he slipped, jumped, or was pushed.

Apart from his unhealthy interest in atheistic scientism, Jeffrey Epstein was also a major figure amongst the globalist elite. According to his lawyer, Gerald B. Lefcourt, he was “part of the original group that conceived the Clinton Global Initiative,” which forces underdeveloped countries around the world to conform to the values of the culture of death. Even more ominously, Epstein was a member of the Trilateral Commission and the Council on Foreign Relations, two of the key institutions responsible for fostering and engineering the globalist grip on the world’s resources.

As we ponder the sordid and squalid world of Jeffrey Epstein and his “associates,” we can’t help but see his life as a cautionary tale, the moral of which is all too obvious. It shows that pride precedes a fall and that it preys on the weak and the innocent. It shows that those who think they are better than their neighbors become worse than their neighbors. It shows how Nietzsche’s Übermensch morphs into Hitler’s Master Race and thence to the transhuman monster. It shows that those who admire the Superman become subhuman. It also shows that the subhuman is not bestial but demonic. It shows that those who believe that they are beyond good and evil become the evilest monsters of all.

Those of us who have been nurtured on cautionary tales such as Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein or C. S. Lewis’s That Hideous Strength will know that fiction often prefigures reality. We see that the real-life figure of Jeffrey Epstein is a latter-day Viktor Frankenstein, reaping destruction with his contempt for his fellow man and his faith in the power of scientism to deliver immortality to those who serve it. We can also see that the transhumanism which Epstein financed is a mirror image of the demonic scientism of the secretive National Institute of Coordinated Experiments in Lewis’s prophetic novel. We may even be grimly amused by the fact that the “leader” of the demonic scientistic forces in Lewis’s tale is a severed head which has apparently been brought back to life.

There is one final lesson that the pathetic life of Jeffrey Epstein teaches us. It shows us that the adage “the devil looks after his own” is not true. It’s a lie told by the devil himself. The devil hates his disciples as much as he hates the disciples of Christ. Once he has had his way with them, he disposes of them with callous and casual indifference, much as Jeffrey Epstein disposed of his victims.

Photo credit: Getty Images

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Nats double down on commitment to coal, Joyce rants against wind and solar | RenewEconomy

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If there were any questions over the National Party’s commitment to the coal sector after the loss of Matt Canavan from the resources portfolio, they were quickly answered by new deputy leader David Littleproud who reasserted his party’s commitment to a new coal generator in Queensland on his first day in the job.

In an interview with ABC’s RN Breakfast program on Wednesday, Littleproud trotted out the three consistent assertions of the coal lobby; that you can reduce emissions using more coal, that more coal generation is necessary to lower electricity prices and that baseload power is a necessary feature of the future energy system.

Each of these three assertions have been repeatedly debunked, but it confirms that it’s business as usual in a Morrison cabinet that will continue to face internal divisions over a need to act on climate change and the fossil fuel advocates within its ranks.

It is understood that Queensland Nationals MP Keith Pitt is the front runner to take over Canavan’s former positions as the minister for resources and Northern Australia when new ministerial appointments are announced by Prime Minister Scott Morrison on Thursday.

Pitt himself has been an outspoken advocate for a new coal-fired power station in Queensland, so while Canavan – who liked to describe himself as “Mr Coal” – has exited the federal cabinet, the pressure to push forward with the Collinsville project is likely to continue.

Pitt has also been a strong supporter of a nuclear industry in Australia, and will have the backing of failed Nationals leadership candidate Barnaby Joyce, who again argued for nuclear power to be considered as part of Australia’s efforts to reduce emissions as part of a bizarre Facebook rant against renewable energy.

“We have to recognise that the public acceptance of wind towers on the hill in front of their veranda is gone, and the public dissonance on that issue is as strong as any other environmental subject,” Joyce said.

“If zero emissions are the goal then surely nuclear energy should be supported, but it is not. If wind towers are a moral good and environmentally inoffensive, why can’t we have them just off the beach at Bondi so we can feel good about ourselves while going for a surf? It would cause a riot.”

“Do you want a 3,000ha solar farm next door to you? Lots of glass and aluminium neatly in rows pointing at the sun. I am not sure others will want to buy that view off you when you go to sell your house.”

The coal industry might have lost its most enthusiastic advocate from the federal cabinet, but the Nationals were quick to show that it won’t lead to any changes on the party’s energy and climate change policies.

In his interview, Littleproud, who is also tipped to take on the now vacant agriculture portfolio, told the ABC that investments in new coal generators would help lower emissions and lower electricity prices.

“You need to make sure that you create an environment in the marketplace with a mix of renewables and coal-fired power stations, and if you can improve the emissions of coal fired power stations, you should make that investment if it means that we hit our targets and we reduce energy prices,” Littleproud claimed.

It has been well established for some time that the cheapest source of new electricity generation capacity are renewable sources like wind and solar.

A recent update to the CSIRO’s GenCost assessment of the costs of different generation technologies re-confirmed that new wind and solar are, by far, the cheapest sources of electricity generation. Even when additional storage is accounted for, prices of firmed renewables are competitive with fossil fuel generators when the costs of carbon emissions are considered.

Renewables are already helping to drive down electricity prices.

This week, the ACT, which has recently achieved its 100 per cent renewable electricity target, is also set to see an almost 7 per cent fall in its electricity prices this year, as the territory’s investments in wind and solar projects have helped deliver lower electricity prices for Canberra households, ensuring they continue to pay some of Australia’s lowest electricity prices.

But this also didn’t stop Littleproud asserting that it is possible to achieve reductions in greenhouse gas emissions while still embracing coal.

“You can invest in clean coal technology in and reduce emissions,” Littleproud said.

“I’m not disputing the science, what I’m saying is I’m not gifted academically to have that science background myself.” – @D_LittleproudMP when asked about his recent statement that he didn’t know if climate change was man made. #abc730 @leighsales #auspol pic.twitter.com/sFh44eNP2a

— abc730 (@abc730) February 4, 2020

Again, there are fundamental limits to how much emissions from coal-fired power stations can be improved. Even with a complete transition to the Coalition’s favoured high-efficiency low-emissions (HELE) coal power station technologies, the most generous estimates put the amount of emissions reductions at 20 per cent.

In his review of the National Electricity Market, chief scientist Dr Alan Finkel compared the emissions intensity of different generation technologies, showing that the HELE coal-fired power stations promoted by the Nationals will still produce 0.7 tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent for each megawatt-hour of electricity produced, and is only slightly below the NEM’s current average emissions intensity.

When the science, and the international commitments made under the Paris Agreement, are calling for governments to achieve zero net emissions by 2050, a 20 per cent cut in coal power station emissions is going to be grossly insufficient.

It’s a position that leaves the Nationals at odds with science, but also the business community which is undergoing an accelerating exit from the coal industry. This includes BlackRock, which manages USD$7 trillion (A$10.15 trillion) in investments, which announced in January that it was divesting its portfolios from thermal coal companies.

Littleproud argued for the need for “baseload” power, suggesting that coal-fired power stations are necessary, as Australia currently lacks sufficient levels of battery storage.

“We’ve still got to have baseload, the thing is that we don’t have battery storage to the capacity that we need to be able to keep the lights on,” Littleproud said.

With the emergence of new energy management technologies, a growing market for energy storage that is outpacing growth in coal generation in Australia, demand response platforms and the falling prices of renewables, the concept of baseload is quickly becoming outdated.

With system planners recognising the crucial role that a ‘flexible’ energy system will have into the future, pushing new inflexible baseload power stations, like a new coal generator, into the energy system will only be counterproductive.

Chair of the Energy Security Board, which has been tasked with redesigning Australia’s energy market in response to the widescale transformation underway in the energy sector, labelled Australia’s existing “baseload” generators as “dinosaurs”, singling out coal-fired generators Bayswater and Liddell saying that their inflexibility made them poorly suited to a future energy system.

There has been a surge of installations of large-scale battery storage systems, and new investments continue to be made in deploying storage projects, while coal-fired generators are readying to exit the market.

The renewed push from the Nationals for a new coal generator appears to have been bolstered by the findings of a $10 million feasibility study into a potential new coal-fired power station in Collinsville. The feasibility study was funded as part of the government’s Underwriting New Generation Investments initiative and has yet to be released publicly.

“Collinsville, there’s a there’s now a report that’s come back to say that that business case should advance and then obviously, that will be backed by the economics of it,” Littleproud told ABC’s RN Breakfast.

The saga of the Collinsville power station has been a source of tension within the Coalition party room. Outgoing resources minister Matt Canavan had been desperate to get the project off the ground, and confronted prime minister Scott Morrison when he thought progress on the proposal was progressing too slowly.

Those tensions continue to play out in the party room, with a fiery confrontation occurring during the first coalition party room meeting of the year, and after a summer dominated by bushfires and calls for stronger climate action.

Several Nationals members shouted down calls from moderate Liberal MPs, who called for the Morrison government to demonstrate that it was taking climate change seriously.

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Coronavirus spreads to more than 800 in China: First death outside epicentre | Stuff.co.nz

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China’s National Health Commission said Friday afternoon (NZ time) the confirmed cases of the new coronavirus had risen to 830 with 25 deaths.

The first death was also confirmed outside the central province of Hubei, where the capital, Wuhan, has been the epicentre of the outbreak.

The health commission in Hebei, a northern province bordering Beijing, said an 80-year-old man died after returning from a two-month stay in Wuhan to see relatives.

The vast majority of cases have been in and around Wuhan or people with connections the city. Other cases have been confirmed in the United States, Japan, Taiwan, South Korea and Thailand. Singapore and Vietnam reported their first cases Thursday, and cases have also been confirmed in the Chinese territories of Hong Kong and Macau.

Many countries are screening travellers from China for symptoms of the virus, which can cause fever, coughing, breathing difficulties and pneumonia.

The World Health Organisation has decided against declaring the outbreak a global emergency, a step that can bring more money and resources to fight a threat but that can also cause trade and travel restrictions and other economic damage, making the decision a politically fraught one.

The decision “should not be taken as a sign that WHO does not think the situation is serious or that we’re not taking it seriously. Nothing could be further from the truth,” WHO Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said. “WHO is following this outbreak every minute of every day.”

The coronaviruses are a family of viruses that originate in animals before making the jump to humans.

Chinese authorities moved to lock down at least three cities with a combined population of more than 18 million in an unprecedented effort to contain the deadly new virus that has sickened hundreds of people and spread to other parts of the world during the busy Lunar New Year travel period.

Chinese officials have not said how long the shutdowns of the cities will last. While sweeping measures are typical of China’s Communist Party-led government, large-scale quarantines are rare around the world, even in deadly epidemics, because of concerns about infringing on people’s liberties. And the effectiveness of such measures is unclear.

“To my knowledge, trying to contain a city of 11 million people is new to science,” said Gauden Galea, the WHO”s representative in China. “It has not been tried before as a public health measure. We cannot at this stage say it will or it will not work.”

GETTY IMAGES
People wear face masks as they wait at Hankou Railway Station in Wuhan

Jonathan Ball, a professor of virology at molecular virology at the University of Nottingham in Britain, said the lockdowns appear to be justified scientifically.

“Until there’s a better understanding of what the situation is, I think it’s not an unreasonable thing to do,” he said. “Anything that limits people’s travels during an outbreak would obviously work.”

But Ball cautioned that any such quarantine should be strictly time-limited. He added: “You have to make sure you communicate effectively about why this is being done. Otherwise you will lose the goodwill of the people.”

GETTY IMAGES
A resident wears a mask to buy vegetables in the market in Wuhan.

During the devastating West Africa Ebola outbreak in 2014, Sierra Leone imposed a national three-day quarantine as health workers went door to door, searching for hidden cases. Burial teams collecting corpses and people taking the sick to Ebola centres were the only ones allowed to move freely. Frustrated residents complained of food shortages.

In China, the illnesses from the newly identified coronavirus first appeared last month in Wuhan, an industrial and transportation hub. Local authorities demanded all residents wear masks in public places and urged civil servants wear them at work.

After the city was closed off Thursday, images showed long lines and empty shelves at supermarkets, as people stocked up. Trucks carrying supplies into the city are not being restricted, although many Chinese recall shortages in the years before the country’s recent economic boom.

Analysts predicted cases will continue to multiply, although the jump in numbers is also attributable in part to increased monitoring.

KEVIN FRAYER/GETTY IMAGES
A Chinese passenger that just arrived on the last bullet train from Wuhan to Beijing is checked for a fever by a health worker at a Beijing railway station.

“Even if (cases) are in the thousands, this would not surprise us,” the WHO’s Galea said, adding, however, that the number of infected is not an indicator of the outbreak’s severity so long as the death rate remains low.

The coronavirus family includes the common cold as well as viruses that cause more serious illnesses, such as the SARS outbreak that spread from China to more than a dozen countries in 2002-03 and killed about 800 people, and Middle Eastern respiratory syndrome, or MERS, which is thought to have originated from camels.

China is keen to avoid repeating mistakes with its handling of SARS. For months, even after the illness had spread around the world, China parked patients in hotels and drove them around in ambulances to conceal the true number of cases and avoid WHO experts. This time, China has been credited with sharing information rapidly, and President Xi Jinping has emphasised that as a priority.

Health authorities are taking extraordinary measures to prevent the spread of the virus, placing those believed infected in plastic tubes and wheeled boxes, with air passed through filters.

The first cases in the Wuhan outbreak were connected to people who worked at or visited a seafood market, now closed for an investigation. Experts suspect that the virus was first transmitted from wild animals but that it may also be mutating. Mutations can make it deadlier or more contagious.

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Nigerian Youths Should Choose Life, Not Death — Emmanuel Onwubiko

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Statistically, the global authority on health issues known as the World Health Organization (WHO) has released a highly frightening but realistic rate of suicides committed by members of the global humanity per annum. It says that close to 800 000 people die due to suicide every year, which is one person every 40 seconds.

Suicide the World Health Organisation observed succinctly, is a global phenomenon and occurs throughout the lifespan.

It reckons that effective and evidence-based interventions can be implemented at population, sub-population and individual levels to prevent suicide and suicide attempts. There are indications that for each adult who died by suicide there may have been more than 20 others attempting suicide.

Suicide occurs throughout the lifespan and is the second leading cause of death among 15-29-year-olds globally.

Suicide is a global phenomenon; in fact, 79% of suicides occurred in low- and middle-income countries in 2016. Suicide accounted for 1.4% of all deaths worldwide, making it the 18th leading cause of death in 2016, so says the global agency on health matters also known as World Health organization in its website just visited by this writer.

I must state that although the fact remains that suicide is a worldwide trend, but for us in Nigeria just like in other African nations, the death of someone is a huge loss not just to the immediate family but to the society and the nation at large. Given the African set up of the typical family tree, members of a given family belong to both the nuclear and the extended family units. So the matter of suicidal demise of any member brings about phenomenal amount of sorrows to a greater percentage of people in Nigeria.

However, due to a number of factors not unrelated with psychological, emotional, financial and sociological factors, a lot of young Nigerians have fallen into the traps of suicide in the last couple of years particularly in the last one year. Around June of last year, Samuel Elias, 25, a final year student of Department of Religion and Culture, University of Nigeria Nsukka allegedly committed suicide by drinking sniper.

The mother of the deceased, Mrs. Kate Elias a staff of the university, told the News agency of Nigeria that the unfortunate incident happened on Monday June 17, around 5.30pm in her house at Justina Eze Street Nsukka.

Elias said she came back from work on that fateful day and discovered that the mood of her first child was bad and he was staggering when he came to collect a bottle of coke from the fridge

“I followed him immediately to his room and started talking to him but he could not respond and when I looked closely, I discovered that his teeth had tightened up.

“As I looked around, I saw an empty sniper bottle; at this point I raised alarm and my other children rushed to the room and we tried to give him red oil but his tightened teeth did not allow the oil to enter his mouth,” she said.

According to her, he was rushed to the hospital, where he eventually died.

“We immediately rushed him to Faith Foundation Hospital, Nsukka and were later referred to Bishop Shanahan Hospital, Nsukka, where he eventually died.

The mother of seven said her son could have died of depression, noting that he had been lamenting his inability to graduate from UNN because of his final year project, which he has been working on.

“I know two things he usually complained, his inability to graduate from UNN since 2016 because of the project that he has not finished as his classmates have all gone for their National Youth Service Corps.

“Also, how his father’s family in Ihechiowa in Arochukwu Local Government of Abia State abandoned us since their father died.

“Whenever he complained of these things, I usually advised him to trust God, who is capable of solving every problem.

“I do not know why he will go to this extent of committing suicide. I have seven children and he was my first child.

“It is still like a dream to me that my first son and first child has died,” she said in tears.

Reacting to this incident, Prof. Tagbo Ugwu, the Head of Department of Religion and Culture in UNN, said somebody called him and told him about the unfortunate incident.

“I received the news with shock and surprise.

“I will find out from his supervisor what is wrong from the project that has stopped him from graduating,” he said.

When contacted Mr Ebere Amaraizu, the Police Public Relations Office, in Enugu State, confirmed the incident and said police would investigate the circumstances surrounding the death.

“The police is aware of Samuel Elias’ death. He was a final year student of the Department of Religion and Culture in UNN, who committed suicide on Monday by drinking sniper.

“Police will investigate circumstances surrounding the death,” he said.

It would be recalled that barely five weeks after Chukwuemeka Akachi, a 400-level student of Department of English and Literary Studies in UNN ended his own life after taking a bottle of sniper. In August of last year, from the Obafemi Awolowo University (OAU), came the story that the school community was thrown into mourning mood following the death of a final year student, Opeyemi Dara. The deceased was said to be a student of Faculty of Arts, Department of English Language, who allegedly committed suicide after taking a suspected dose of lethal substance popularly known as “sniper”. News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) learnt that she allegedly took her life following her poor academic performance, although the details of the incident were still sketchy.

The media stated that the authority of the institution confirmed that the deceased committed suicide following depression occasioned by poor academic records.

Dara’s academic records obtained by a journalist who worked on the story for one of the National dailies indicated that she had five outstanding courses and 12 Special Electives.

Also the Public Relations Officer of OAU, Mr Abiodun Olanrewaju confirmed the incident and promised that the institution would investigate and make its findings public. Olarewaju appealed to students not to contemplate committing suicide because of poor academic performance.

“We sympathize with the parents and guardian of the deceased known as Dara.” We just want our students and young ones to know that depression is not a thing they should encourage, no matter the situation or circumstance they find themselves. “ Some people in the past have passed through the same situation and circumstances and came out clean. “Now, suicide can never be an option and people, especially the young ones who believe that taking their own lives is an act of gallantry should know that it is not. “We want to appeal to students, particularly OAU students to take things easy. Any child that fails; that is why the university says you can rerun a course, you can resit a course.

“People out there also face challenges and when you are in school, failure or repetition of a course or particular subject is also part of the challenges students must face. “The university will get to the root of the incident and get back to the public,” Olarewaju said. Just before this case, there was another story from Edo state.

That was precisely at the Faculty of Arts, University of Benin, UNIBEN, main campus came the heartbreaking story that a final-year student jumped from the second floor of one of the hostels and died.

The deceased male student, whose identity is still unknown as at press time, committed suicide after failing his examinations, which made him suffer depression for failure to graduate. The next case is that of a girl that reportedly took her life following a break up of a relationship and this also happened at the University of Benin like the aforementioned the deceased was a three hundred level student.

The corpse of Miss Christabell Omoremime Buoro, aged 21, a 300-level student of the department of Medical Laboratory Science, University of Benin (UNIBEN), was discovered in her hostel flat at Plot 4 Uwaifo lane, Newton street, Ekosodin area, behind the university fence, so reports the newspapers. Miss Christabell reportedly was discovered after she allegedly took some deadly substance to end her life. It was gathered that the undergraduate linked her suicide to her breakup with her boyfriend.

The media states that an empty sachet of Klin detergent was found in the spot where she took her life.

According to the source of the media information, “A small girl of that age will take her life all because of one boy. The policemen that came to evacuate the body were very angry after reading out loud the note she dropped.

“Thank God that she even dropped a note, if not the roommates would have been in hot soup, because investigation would have began from that point.”

As are with all cases of suicide, the police officers in this case situated at the Ugbowo police station have invited two person for questioning over the content of the letter.

It was rumoured that the deceased Christabel mixed the deadly insecticide, popularly called Sniper with Sprite drink, and reportedly left a suicide note where she stated that she was about taking her life because the guy she loved didn’t love her in return after her boyfriend broke up with her.

Sadly, the year 2020 has also seen another case of suicide by a youngster and in this developing story we were told that the girl stated that she was depressed and that she no longer find life attractive.

The Enugu State Police Command only at the weekend confirmed that a serving National Youth Service Corp member in Enugu State, Miss Bolufemi Princess Motunrayo, has committed suicide.

It was gathered that Miss Motunrayo, a Batch ‘C’ corps member serving in Girls Secondary School, Ibagwa-Aka, Igbo-Eze South Local Government Area of Enugu State took her life on Friday, January 10, 2020, when she allegedly drank a substance suspected to be sniper.

The Corp member hailed from Ijumu Local Government Area of Kogi State and a graduate of Banking and Finance from Prince Abubakar Audu University formally called Kogi State University was reported to have taken two bottles of snipers.

One of the media reporters who worked on this emerging story said it was learnt that she had before committing suicide dropped a short note that read, “I did this because I see nothing worth living for in this world”.

Confirming the alleged suicide is the State Police Public Relations Officer, Ebere Amaraizu, who described the incident as unfortunate.

Amaraizu, a Superintendent of Police in a text message to the Punch newspaper correspondent said, “The incident has to do with the taking of sniper insecticide by one Bolufemi Moturayo Yetunde, a female corper from Kogi State but, doing her service with Girls High School, Ibeagwa-Aka, Igboeze South L.G.A on 10/1/2020.

“She was later rushed to the hospital where the doctor confirmed her dead,” he said.

In the version written by The Guardian, one of the friends of this absolutely beautiful graduate and a serving member of the National Youth Service scheme (NYSC) raised alarm that there is need for a thorough investigation of what triggered the ‘suicide’ because in the thinking of this person, the girl who killed herslf allegedly was having a swell time and was not known to have any case of depression or loneliness.

From all these and many other stories of suicide and suspected suicides especially the cases of suicide by Students, there is a glaring evidence of a lacuna fundamentally in the administration of these tertiary institutions. These cases of students killing themselves due to frustrations attendant with their inability to successfully graduate could be tackled if these schools can set up functional mechanisms for looking into all cases related to inability or otherwise of their students to graduate. There has to be a system in place to seamlessly monitor and ensure that the process of writing and supervision of projects of students are transparent and open to such an extent that no single person should become the last hope of any strident from graduation. The schools should have a reporting mechanisms whereby cases relating to inability to pass these projects and graduate are looked into by dedicated members of staff who should play the role of arbitrators for the students. The school system in Nigeria is too commercially oriented to an extent that Students are put under intense pressure to raise money from all means possible to bribe lecturers marking their papers to enable them graduate and most of these students who can’t raise money to pay their ways are left with no option than to be sexually abused by some professionally incompetent lecturers. The University and tertiary institutions must be made to put on a human and humane face even as there has to be a system in place to give access to students to step up and dialogue with dedicated teachers who would offer counselling and also hear cases related to frustrations witnessed at any stage of their educational journeys. The school must be prepared to vote cash to cater for this sort of important human relationship Counseling mechanisms to stave off the rising cases of suicide. The school must not be all about profitability.

The Nigerian police and other relevant law enforcement agencies like NAFDAC must monitor the activities of traders who deal in chemical and drugs related products such as snipers with a view to ascertaining identities of buyers and the use to which these products would be put into. There is also the need for state governments and the Federal government to embark on deliberate but massive public enlightenment programmes to warn youngsters to choose life over death and to resolutely beat back all suicidal tendencies through the cocktails of effective means of communication and getting counseling service from toll free lines that should be publicized for all Nigerians to be conversant with.

For instance, the European Council on Human Rights has successfully repealed the death penalty because of the overwhelming rating of Right to life in Europe. In Article 2 of the European wide laws on human rights, it is legally provided that: “Everyone’s right to life shall be protected by law. This right is one of the most important of the Convention since without the right to life it is impossible to enjoy the other rights. No one shall be condemned to death penalty or executed. The abolition of death penalty is consecrated by Article 1 of Protocol No. 6.”

The Nigerian Constitution in Section 33(1) provides that “Everyone has a right to life. ”

*Emmanuel Onwubiko is the Head of the Human Rights Writers Association of Nigeria.

The post Nigerian Youths Should Choose Life, Not Death — Emmanuel Onwubiko appeared first on Information Nigeria.

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Volcanoes: Fires of Creation – 3D Nature Film | AMNH

[Overheard view of a smoking crater among clouds, then a volcano, viewed from the side as the Sun sets behind it.]

[POPPING, EXPLOSIVE SOUNDS.] 

[Bursts of lava, then views of lava flows down slopes.]

NARRATOR: Volcanoes are astounding forces of nature.

[A group of three people, seen from the back, observe a fiery scene below them.]

NARRATOR: They possess the power both to destroy

[Gusts of smoke and water during an eruption somewhere in the ocean] 

NARRATOR: and to create.

[An aerial view of the ruins of an ancient city below a bright blue sky.]

NARRATOR: Throughout the ages, we’ve built our cities

[The peak of a volcano rises, smoking, with several towers of a church-like building in the foreground.]

NARRATOR: In their shadows.

[A fly-over shot above green fields dotted with palm trees, with a volcano in the background.]

NARRATOR: Drawn to their rich soils. 

[An aerial view of a big crater at the top of a volcano, with a city spread out below.]

[EXPLOSIVE SOUNDS.]

[A view of another crater, spewing clouds of gas, rock, and smoke.]

[SECOND MUSICAL SCORE BEGINS] 

[An underwater view of an eruption.]

NARRATOR: From the depths of the ocean

[Scenes of an elephant walking, lions playing in a field, and a group of gorillas, including a silverback, among greenery.]

NARRATOR: to grasslands and tropical forests, volcanoes help shape 

[A view of a smoking volcano top, a view of a coast line.]

NARRATOR: vibrant ecosystems.

[A view of an explorer walking with bags away from a campsite dotted with tents.]

NARRATOR: Join National Geographic photographer Carsten Peter

[Two people, tethered with ropes, stand on the edge of a tall cliff.]

NARRATOR: and his team

[A view of two people descending down towards a lake of lava.]

NARRATOR: as they go where few would dare.

[A close-up of the boiling lava.]

CARSTEN PETER:  The whole Earth is rumbling, the whole Earth is shaking

[A view of the two climbers, tethered, raising their arms with their backs to the lake of lava.]

CARSTEN PETER: It’s absolutely incredible.

[Bursts of lava.]

NARRATOR: Discover the exciting science

[Two orbs, one large and one smaller, collide in space with a burst.]

NARRATOR: behind Earth’s origins.

[A view of a fractured surface, with moving pieces and in parts erupting with lava.]

NARRATOR: Every rock tells a story.

[A view of a person in protective gear, holding on to the edge of a rocky slope, above a lake of fiery lava.]

NARRATOR: So imagine what this one will reveal.

[Sparks and flying bits of lava. Text reads: Volcanoes. The Fires of Creation. Vocalnoesfilm.com. #Volcanoesfilm. Logos display at the bottom.]

NARRATOR: Now playing on IMAX and giant screens.

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Collapses: The Venice Biennale and the End of History | Art Practical

Collapses: The Venice Biennale and the End of History

The 2019 Venice Biennale feels like the end of everything: the end of art tourism, the end of vacations, the end of the beach and the climate of pleasure. With bad news about the climate crisis worsening every day, the nationalistic turn of governments from the U.S. to Britain to Italy to India and Brazil, it’s unclear whether the liberal ideology that produces world-scale cultural events like the Biennale can hold much longer, or whether the economic or ecological structures of global tourism can continue to support it. The liberal democratic order of free markets and free will is undermined around the globe by violent nationalism and economic protectionism. The Biennale exhibition, May You Live in Interesting Times, offers little but a hollow scream in opposition. The whole thing feels a bit like buyer’s remorse, a magnum opus from a lapsed believer in Francis Fukuyama’s promise that we’d reached the End of History.1

Arthur Jafa

Joint Italy-EU military vessel with helicopter, Piraeus Port, Greece, August 2019. Photo: Anuradha Vikram

Both the main exhibitions and the various national pavilions feature more women and artists of color this year than any previous. Diversity is manifest with respect to types of work, interests, materials, biographies, and ages of the artists on view. Curator Ralph Rugoff states that “[the artists’] work grows out of a practice of entertaining multiple perspectives: of holding in mind seemingly contradictory notions, and juggling diverse ways of making sense of the world.”2 Diversity and multiplicity appear here to be set up as counternarratives to universalism, the ideology that has historically governed the international contemporary art discourse. But is this in fact the case? Fukuyama says, “The spectacular abundance of advanced liberal economies and the infinitely diverse consumer culture made possible by them seem to both foster and preserve liberalism in the political sphere.” If, as Fukuyama suggests, there are  “fundamental ‘contradictions’ of human life that cannot be resolved in the context of modern liberalism, that would be resolvable by an alternative political-economic structure,”3 diversity is not one of those contradictions. Rather, pluralism reinforces the “common ideological heritage of mankind,”4 while fascism’s resurgence around the globe and the popular embrace of nationalist identity are more of a contradiction in light of the realities of international markets. This is the turn of events that market utopians like Fukuyama failed to anticipate.

Rugoff never comes off as a utopian, given his pervasive air of weary detachment. Rather, the exhibition transmits how it feels to watch the ascent of Donald Trump and the unfolding catastrophe of Brexit from the “all-knowing,” cool remove of the contemporary art insider—omniscient, yet impotent, and unable to divest from toxic habits. George Condo, Sun Yuan and Peng Yu, Christian Marclay, and Arthur Jafa channel an anxiety bordering on panic. Construction, shipping, air travel, commerce, monuments, the body, gender—all once fixed as concepts in the Western imagination, with clearly associated positive values, are now invoked by artists such as Yin Xiuzhen, Nicole Eisenman, Slavs and Tatars, and Martine Gutierrez as hazardous, unstable, and volatile. Nowhere is this instability more evident than in the work of Mari Katayama, a Japanese artist whose self-portraiture tableaus tease the boundary between agency and objectification. These artists, more than the comparably straightforward representation advanced by artists like Zanele Muholi, Njideka Akunyili Crosby, or Gauri Gill, capture the zeitgeist of not just the show but the present time. Our historical moment is monumentally catastrophic, and the usual serious response to extremism doesn’t seem to be working. Instead, the images range from abject to absurd.

astronaut

Indios antropófagos: A Butterfly Garden in the (Urban) Jungle. Peru Pavilion, Venice Biennale 2019. Photo: Anuradha Vikram

Especially relevant are the artists who toy with the fetishization of Indigenous bodies and cultures for Western consumption. Within the main exhibition curated by Rugoff, Gutierrez situates her U.S.-born Latinx, trans body within a series of photographic landscapes, Body in Thrall, that challenge touristic notions of indigeneity, cultural authenticity, and romanticized poverty around non-white people. She occupies diverse personas, from a film noir femme fatale to the terrifying Aztec deity Tlazolteotl, “Eater of Filth,” always negotiating the high fashion aesthetics of desire with a subversive decolonial aggression. Similar themes and tactics appear in Indios antropófagos in the Peruvian Pavilion, curated by Gustavo Buntinx, in which historical artifacts from the Spanish colonial era and large mosaic tile works by Christian Bendayán depicting frolicking Indigenous youth come together in a scathing critique of cultural tourism. In the French Pavilion, curated by Martha Kirszenbaum, artist Laure Prouvost references the oceans and the sea life projected to die out by 2048, only 29 years into the future, with a number of glass animals seemingly cast into the sea floor, strewn across a landscape of refuse and discarded technologies.

Back in the real world, there’s no way to excise or sequester the beautiful parts into a future that can outlast the very real catastrophes happening now. The overwhelmingly urgent need for a complete lifestyle change played in my head over the week following my visit to the Biennale, as I recuperated from a difficult personal and professional year on a seven-day Greek Islands cruise with my young children, partner, and parents. Looking over the waters where thousands of migrants have drowned, from the top deck of a massive, yet outdated, luxury vessel, I considered how the looming climate crisis creates a condition of simultaneous enjoyment of the modern world that is all around us, and a mourning for its obvious and inevitable loss. Is this the end of curating? The traditional role of the curator as guardian of the world’s collected treasures seems as irrelevant as the contemporary job of mounting resource-heavy exhibitions for an international crowd of jet-setters. Conceptualism has begun to rot from the head, as when Rugoff controversially chose to include Christoph Büchel’s installation of a salvaged boat that, in 2015, sank in the Mediterranean with more than 800 people aboard. I reflected on this watery tomb, recommissioned as a tourist attraction, while looking out across Piraeus port. In the distance, a military troop (jointly operated by Italy and the European Union) performed exercises atop a warship in a city where anti-immigrant attacks are on the rise. In the seventeenth century, the Venetians gained and lost control of Athens in a rivalry with the Ottomans. Today, it seems the EU’s primary objective in the Mediterranean is to sever thousands of years of interconnection between these three regions. Two years ago, the regenerative promise of art as a universal cultural good was undermined when documenta 14 recreated the financial dynamics of German austerity policies in Athens, Greece afresh. Debts went unpaid, workers uncompensated, all in the name of “fiscal responsibility” that nearly shuttered the sixty-year-old event for good. What better outcome ought we to expect this year from an art event born out of universal nationalism?

Christine Wertheim

Halil Altindere, Space Refugee, 2016. May You Live in Interesting Times, Venice Biennale 2019. Photo: Anuradha Vikram

An explicitly utopian impulse is fugitive in May You Live in Interesting Times, but it manifests in the intersection of art, science, and technology. Margaret and Christine Wertheim’s Crochet Coral Reef raises awareness about preservation of the oceans through a crowdsourcing practice that combines mathematical learning with environmentalism and craft. Tavares Strachan’s meditation on African American astronaut Robert Henry Lawrence, Jr., locates metaphysical discourse about the afterlife within a scientific conversation about space travel—where elsewhere Halil Altindere complicates this view with the tale of Syrian cosmonaut Muhammed Ahmed Faris and his persecution by the state. Ryoji Ikeda bathes us in cleansing white light and describes a massive, thunderous universe of data that takes breathtaking shape before our eyes. Hito Steyerl’s This is the Future is a post-internet pastorale in which computer vision is applied to the Venetian landscape to depict a state of perpetual, dreamlike futurity in which the present persistently refuses to resolve into view. The protagonist of Steyerl’s installation seeks out a garden that she had previously hidden in the future in order to protect it from the ravages of the present.

The song of the Lithuanian Pavilion Sun & Sea (Marina) still rings in my ears:

“When my body dies, I will remain,
In an empty planet without birds, animals and corals.
Yet with the press of a single button,
I will remake this world again”

The finale of Sun & Sea (Marina) details the 3D printing of facsimiles of species in widespread collapse, taking comfort in their simulated resurrection as one would in the cold rays of a dying sun.

Greek Islands

Sun & Sea (Marina), Lithuanian Pavilion, Venice Biennale 2019. Photo: Anuradha Vikram

The gentle tenor of the apocalyptic visions in Sun & Sea (Marina) perfectly encapsulates the feeling of living at the outside edge of the story of the human species on planet Earth, with the knowledge that history as we know it may well be about to end because our species is one of millions undergoing collapse. The emptiness of our endeavors is invoked by Shilpa Gupta, whose wildly swinging metal gate hammers an effigy of national borders into a gallery wall. Otobong Nkanga’s drawings in acrylic on crayon reference the mechanical, industrialized nature of exploitation in the 21st century. Unlike the bees, whose society is organized around abundance, we humans have engineered systems to maximize our suffering. If humankind can truly lay claim to a common ideological heritage, as Fukuyama once argued, we have only ourselves to blame for our impending end.

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Against the Death Cult: We Must Not Let Ruthless Ideologues Destroy the Climate and Kill Us All

person tie
Agriculture

The Niger delta is burning. The oil companies plumbing the river basin of its black gold have found an ingenious way of dealing with the natural gas they consider a waste by-product of the extraction process. Capturing the gas would be costly, inefficient – so instead, they flare it off. Across the delta, towers of flame burn day and night, some of them stretching ten storeys into the sky.

Gas flaring was officially banned in Nigeria in 1984 – but still, two million people live within four kilometres of a flare site, at risk of the cancers, neurological, reproductive and respiratory problems linked to the pollutants released into the air. The soil is hotter, and crop yields have dwindled; “You plant, and before you know it, everything is dead”. When the rains come, they are black. Oil spills spew from the pipelines of Shell and ENI, the biggest operators in the area. Shell has reported 17.5 million litres lost since 2011; Amnesty International say that’s likely a hefty underestimate. The spills have poisoned drinking water, and destroyed the livelihoods of the fishermen who once combed the delta. 

We are over the brink. People have already lost their lives to hurricanes and bush fires and flooding, to toxins and crop failures – all disasters rooted in fossil-fuel dependent extractive capitalism, bankrolled by a deregulated financial sector. People continue to lose their lives. Global temperatures soar, and a monstrous future slouches towards us from the ecocidal imaginations of the handful of humans directly invested in a doctrine of global annihilation. Now, the death drive built into the heart of our economy reveals itself in ever more undeniable terms; the skull is showing through the skin. 

Scientists at ExxonMobil confirmed the truth of climate change in the 1980s, at the very latest. Since then, Exxon and its fellow fossil fuel companies have spent decades sponsoring climate change denial and blocking efforts to legislate against apocalypse. Under their auspices, newspapers and broadcasters and politicians revelled in a vicious subterfuge disguised as pious gnosticism; asking how we can know for sure that climate change is caused by human activity. In recent years, this strategy has buckled under the weight of public outrage and scientific proof.

The science is clear: only an ambitious, rapid overhaul of the fundaments of our economy gives us hope of survival. And that hope is tantalisingly within our grasp. We have the technology, and we have the financial capacity; all that’s missing is the political will to give those solutions heft, muscle and cold hard cash.

Now, culprit companies are suddenly flouting their green credentials to shore up their position as custodians of the future. Shell Oil has made a big song and dance about its investments in green technology. Goldman Sachs has funded research into how to make cities “resilient to climate change”. These are little more than attempts to seduce and cajole worried publics and skittish investors. Still these companies hoard over-valued assets, continue ploughing resources into carbon-heavy industries, show no signs of leaving enough fossil fuels in the ground to avoid the breakdown of the climate, the potential collapse of civilisation and the extinction of life on earth. Negotiators were banned from mentioning climate change in recent UK-US trade talks. the UK government has subsidised the fossil fuel industry to the tune of 10bn in a decade, and its legislators continue to take its lobby money in return. They defend their right to starve out and flood and burn chunks of human existence – and make money doing it. 

We are being held hostage by a cabal of ruthless ideologues whose only loyalty is to a doctrine of global death. Their success thrives on silence, isolation, manipulation, denial. They are united in their opposition to reality, in their determination to hunt down or hound out real alternatives that threaten their mortal stranglehold on power. All other doctrines are heresy, and their preachers envoys of a sinister delusion. They are unique guardians of a dark and dazzling reality.

If this took place among a handful of hippies beckoning oblivion from the heat haze of a california desert we would call it is: a death cult. Instead, it is orchestrated from sumptuous glass towers, from the velvet inner chambers of parliament – so we call it business as usual. 

To these science-backed suggestions that economic alternatives are possible – even urgent, necessary, beautiful – they react with vitriol and incredulity. Saving the world may sound appealing, but it clashes intolerably with the cultish diktat: ‘There Is No Alternative”. Partisans of the Green New Deal like Alexandra Ocasio Cortez are dismissed at best as well-meaning dreamers or childish hysterics, and, at worst, nightmarish envoys of backdoor totalitarianism. Indeed, grassroots activists have been murdered for organising against big polluters. The political allegiances are clear: Defending life is foolish. Annihilation is inevitable. We have only to accept it graciously, to walk into its arms.

Rightwing politicians barter casually about the difference between a decarbonisation target of 2030, 2045, 2050, 2060 as a matter of messaging and electoral success. As though that difference were not cashed out in millions of deaths. Such differences slide off the sunny, addled mind of the cultist, for whom life and death are indistinguishable. 

A chosen few will be spared; the golden ones who walk in the light. As the asset-stripping and plundering continues apace, so the market for luxury disaster insurance packages has grown, with companies offering high-tech flood defences, private firefighters, private security to guard against mobs of looters. Theirs is a gilded world where disaster can never truly happen to them – because it never truly has. That no insurance policy in the world will provide them with breathable air or sustainable agriculture is a matter for the others, the ghosts, the un-living, those whose existence never really registered. Us.   

Broadcasters tried to haul Boris Johnson before the court of the living on Thursday night for the climate change debate, to account for Conservative policy proposals which present a 50% risk of tipping the world into irreversible, runaway climate breakdown, to account for his fossil fuel backers. He responded by threatening them with censure and legal action. Cult leaders can tolerate no scrutiny of their fragile world picture, no challenge to their power. 

We can break the stranglehold, and commit the death cultists to the bleak annals of history where they belong. It is time to choose only those who have chosen life.   

Eleanor Penny is a writer and a regular contributor to Novara Media. 

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