Thursday, 31 December 2015

Don't touch wild camels

"Don't touch wild camels" warned the tannoy announcement as I arrived at Hong Kong airport. Slightly confused, I boarded the train to the city centre, safe in the knowledge - I assumed - that my trip would be entirely camel-free.

What with the food, the people and the language, Hong Kong feels quite, you know, foreign. Until, that is, you charge your phone with a British 3-pin plug and it blows your mind, or you go for a drink at a pub called The Globe in the heart of Soho and you're surrounded by pompous, white city boys. It's little wonder so many expats feel at home here.

Hong Kong © Ryan Chapman


After all, this identity-muddled corner of China was under the thumb of ol' Queenie until as recently as 1997, when the British Empire completed its imperial liquidation by handing Hong Kong to the Chinese. That's more recent than such culturally signifiant events as Arsene Wenger taking charge of Arsenal and R Kelly believing he could fly. My point being, it wasn't very long ago.

On my flight from Heathrow I had sat next to a very helpful lady who took it upon herself to recite the entire Hong Kong Lonely Planet guide into my face. As a result, I had a fairly in-depth knowledge of all the tourist hot-spots, but ended up doing exactly what I usually do in foreign cities: wandering around aimlessly, taking photographs and drinking beer.

I stopped regularly at food stalls and snacked on a variety of local favourites from roast duck on a stick to curry fish balls on a stick and from grilled squid on a stick to chicken cartilage - the bits you’d usually spit out - you guessed it, on a stick. The stick, of the latter combination, being the more edible of the duo. 


Hong Kong © Ryan Chapman


On my last evening before moving on I took in the harbour view from The Peak (because everyone said I shouldn't leave town before at least doing that), caught up with some old friends who I belatedly remembered lived in Hong Kong and watched English football in the only bar I could find not screening the Rugby World Cup. All, I feel compelled to add, without any encounters with camels. The next morning, I headed north over the faintly drawn border to Shenzhen.

Hong Kong and Shenzhen are linked by their metro systems: it's like getting the Tube up to High Barnet on the Northern Line, crossing the road, and then being at the Morden of an entirely different, but equally large city. Small and insignificant until as recently as 1979, Shenzhen is a product of China's effort to prove that a capitalist economy can thrive under a communist government, or "socialism with Chinese characteristics" as they put it. Whatever it is, it's boomtown: growing from the size of Dover to the size of London in just a few decades.

I was in Shenzhen to point cameras at people talking about cameras in exchange for money. My accommodation was sorted for me by the client and, as such, didn't bare the usual hallmarks of somewhere I'd usually choose to book myself, such as damp walls and stained carpets. To the contrary I found myself in the ridiculously luxurious surroundings of the overtly five star Langham Hotel.

Greeted at the door by four people – two to open it and two to smile – my first impressions were accompanied by the gentle plucking of a harp. Suitably impressed, I dumped my bags on the polished marble floor, sweat dripping from hauling them across the city, and was tempted to ask the immaculately presented receptionist whether this was the backpackers hostel.

Thinking better of it, I handed over my passport to Sunny, who checked me in, and was then shown to the lift by Sunny's colleague, Rainy. I really hoped that the next employee I encountered was called Windy but I forgot all about that when I entered my room and found a pillow menu awaiting my perusal, along side a note telling me what the weather was like today (in case I couldn't work out how to open the curtains). I could tell most of these luxuries were going to pass me by.

Every morning my cables were tidied
(which was actually quite annoying)

Settling on the normal pillow-shaped and normal pillow-sized lavender scented option that came as standard - albeit tempted by the alluringly named full-body pillow - I went for a drink in the hotel bar where I was soon to discover the annoyances of five-star Chinese hospitality.

As I sat, watching Shenzhen go by from the 21st floor, I was overcome with horror when my perfectly measured Cuba Libre was flooded with Coca-Cola by the over-eager resident topper-upper. Luckily for them, there was no openable window or else they may have found themselves being ejected through it.

The next morning at breakfast, exasperation levels were only marginally lower when, half-way through my morning cup of tea, along came a waitress who topped it up with coffee. Such was their desire to serve guests their every whim, the only option was to greet such travesties with gratitude and a smile. Anything else would have no doubt seen some lower-lips begin to tremble.

On another night, when a glass broke near me and I bent down to help pick up the pieces, the look on the waiter's face was one of terror. I stubbornly continued to help until I was literally man-handled out of the way.

Somehow avoiding death after daring to touch broken glass with my bare fingers, and surviving the incessantly hindering helpfulness of the hotel staff, I finally got the chance to explore Shenzhen on my last day and found it to be a much greener, more pleasant city than I had expected. One thing I was particularly keen to check out was a park containing replica landmarks from around the world that filled a huge site just outside the city centre.

Copy of Venice, Shenzhen © Ryan Chapman
Divided into zones, visitors can enjoy the morning in South East Asia and the afternoon in North America. Though it got boring quite quickly, I stayed long enough to find the area depicting England and was amused to find locals particularly enamoured by a replica of Stonehenge.

I've heard it said at home that Stonehenge is "just a pile of stones", which is definitely true if you take away the historic and spiritual context, like here. However, that didn't stop people photographing themselves, selfie-sticks at full stretch, in front of the pseudo-ancient rock formation; safe in the knowledge they'd now never have to go to Wiltshire.

Copy of Stonehenge, Shenzhen © Ryan Chapman







Copy of Paris, Shenzhen © Ryan Chapman

The place had replicas of a whole lot more: from the Vatican City to an almost-life sized interpretation of Paris, complete with a Parisian cafe serving croissants. And then, just when I'd forgotten the advice from Hong Kong airport I entered the Egyptian zone and there, standing by The Sphinx, staring into my soul whilst munching on hay in an all-too sinister fashion was a very real and very large camel. And I swear, at that very moment, it winked it me.


Friday, 13 November 2015

Jeremy Corbyn v's The Establishment

Prior to Jeremy Corbyn's landslide Labour leadership victory Guardian columnist Owen Jones warned that, should he win, the response from the mainstream media would resemble "the mother of all fire-storms". "You need to be prepared" he warned Corbynites, "it is going to be pretty intense". Fast-forward two long months and 'intense' doesn't even begin to cover it.

Those attuned to political misinformation (propaganda, I think it's called) will recognise the still on-going onslaught for the slanderous smear campaign it unashamedly is. Wave after wave of attacks: twisting policies; quoting out of context; proliferating myths to match their agenda. The media are employing every tactic in the book. And, perhaps most worryingly, with undeniable success.

From the baffling (Corbyn would banish the army. He wouldn't, obviously) to the ridiculous (Corbyn is an anti-Semite. He isn't, obviously). And from the libellous (Corbyn's conference speech was plagiarised. It wasn't, obviously) to the hilarious (Corbyn rides a Chairman Mao-style bicycle. That's not even a thing). Nothing credible to see here.

Not fit for top job without top button in top button-hole


Even our Dear Tory Leader stood up, at his biggest speech of the year, and insulted the intelligence of every single man and woman in this country by repeating the Osama Bin Ladin "tragedy" line that had been debunked weeks beforehand. Why else would a recently elected Prime Minister stoop to such obviously desperate levels if other than being rattled by the emergence of true opposition. There's no question mark here because there isn't an answer.

And then, just recently, came perhaps the most absurd accusation to date: that Corbyn didn't bow deeply enough after laying his wreath at the Remembrance Sunday ceremony; the accusers seemingly caring so little about respecting fallen soldiers as to attempt to score political points based on pure and utter fabrication. It's the kind of lie you want to avoid confronting for fear of affording it a hint of vindication, but it eats you up inside until you can't resist, and in turn inspires you to write a bloody blog.

The Sun - forever existing in their own little world - even front-paged their complaint that he "refused" to bow. I can quite easily imagine their news team sat around a table unknowingly staring at a photograph waiting for it to move when they came to this conclusion: forgetting it's a still image and further foaming at the mouth with every passing second of Corbyn's statuesque stillness. Until they realised their faux pas, but printed it anyway.

At least, in the case above, it doesn't seem to be a widely held view of the public. Rather, just the inane garbling of spineless journalists. The danger is, of course, that we still live in a world where many people follow politics from the front pages of the gutter press and those online sensationalistic click-bait articles. The trouble being that even the most blatant tabloid lies, repeated over and over again, are absorbed into the public psyche and bandied around as facts.

Everyone to wear beige by Commie Law if elected


As Noam Chomsky once wrote (yeah, that's right, I'm quoting Chomsky, and yeah, of course it came from a meme), "the smart way to keep people passive and obedient is to strictly limit the spectrum of acceptable opinion, but allow very lively debate within that spectrum". The political lobbying operation, which poses as 'The Free Press', is doing just that.

So, what chance does Corbyn have against the evermore raging and outlandish establishment? The power of the Tory-adoring media shouldn't be underestimated. After all, it's not the first time their spin and lies have led Britons to a severely skewed perception of reality, and as sure as a Tory is blue, it won't be the last.

Take, for example, 'problems' that can be measured, such as benefit fraud. Blown out of all proportion in the media it leads the average person to honestly believe that 27% of social security is claimed fraudulently and that 41% of it goes to the unemployed. So, no wonder they're so angry about it. Except, of course, they've been had. The facts say 0.7% and 3% respectfully, but facts all too rarely influence opinion.

But still, somehow, I'm optimistic. Newspaper sales are falling rapidly, and unless there's a miraculous change in momentum everybody will soon obtain their news from the internet. That alone of course won't provide a solution, since all the newspapers exist in web-form anyway. However, with the exponential explosion of social media and the subsequent sharing of knowledge and ideas, truth - or at least a better understanding of it - is bound to prevail.

Actual, real-life protest in Queen's front garden, November 2015

Of course The Sun, The Times, The Daily Mail et al., are going to try and destroy Jeremy Corbyn. After all, reporting with any semblance of impartial rationality would see his popularity surge even further which is something their billionaire owners have a vested interested in halting.

Like telling you you're going to have a shit holiday and then making it rain all week, it's the establishment's labelling of Corbyn as 'unelectable' that may indeed prove to make him so. Unless, of course, we do something about it. Namely: expose the lies and share the truth.

Whenever you find yourself eager to bang your head against the wall having seen the day's front-pages, remember: The Age of Information is in it's infancy, and it's not going away. Enlightenment is inevitable.

Thursday, 1 October 2015

Dismaland

Dismaland made for a surreal, immersive experience making such a broad range of statements I left hating Seaworld, seagulls and David Cameron in almost equal measure. From consumerism to neo-liberalism, there weren't many modern-day 'isms' that escaped Banksy's brilliant ridicule.

© Ryan Chapman













Wearing their most despondent frowns, Dismaland staff were suitably dismal: from the abrupt security guards, to the cheating hook-a-duck-from-an-oil-slick attendants, to those offering maps of the site before tossing them on the floor in front of you. All staff were primed to be terrible except the bar staff. 

It would seem Banksy knows the British public well: we’re so fanatical about queuing that we’ll wait in line anywhere, and for anything; we find being demeaned by theme park staff curiously amusing; and we resolutely tolerate puddle-ridden festival-standard toilet facilities. However, we will not, under any circumstances, accept poor bar service or a low quality drinking experience. That would have been a step too far.


© Ryan Chapman















Everything from the piped music to the lighting was carefully crafted to compliment Dismaland's (un?)attractions, dotted around the dilapidated Disney-esque castle centrepiece. This housed arguably the main installation: Cinderella, slumped lifelessly out of the window of a crashed and upturned pumpkin carriage, lit only by the incessant flashing of photographers documenting her demise in an unmistakably Parisian paparazzi style.

The most sobering of the installations was billed as Banky's Mediterranean Boat Ride and consisted of model rafts crammed with migrants and a gunboat floating in a raised pond. But it was the visitor interaction that gave this spectacle its dark, sinister twist. By making the boats remote-controlled it seemed to not only become a sympathetic nod to the on-going humanitarian crisis, but a commentary on society's habit of consuming the plight of refugees as entertainment.

© Ryan Chapman



Like something from a Katie Hopkins fantasy, park-goers sailed the military vessel over face-down Action Man-sized corpses while enjoying a game of bumper-boats; ramming into the refugee-filled rafts with the haunted faces onboard watching on. After that, it's fair to say, I was thankful for the 2-for-1 vodkas.

On occasions it was easy to imagine Banksy having a laugh at his guests' expense. For £3 visitors could play a round of intentionally un-exciting and not-so-crazy golf and for £1 another sideshow challenged punters to topple over a cast-iron anvil with a ping-pong ball. “Is that it?” I overheard someone ask after they'd inevitably failed. “Go away now” replied the attendant, waving glumly at their face.

© Ryan Chapman






From the difficulty in obtaining tickets - being led to suspect the shambolic online ticketing system was all part of the prank - to the tannoy announcement when the park was closing requesting all guests kindly piss off, Dismaland both bemused and amused.

The more Banksy paints his outlook on society the more effectively the issues he highlights can be fought with the activism he promotes. After all, if his social commentary doesn't disturb and then inspire you, there is little hope.



Friday, 4 September 2015

[Film] The Other Human: "no victims are necessary"

With the ever-worsening humanitarian crisis unfolding in Europe, and the subsequent vilification of people fleeing violent conflict and untold misery, there are many who could learn a great deal from Kostas: the warm-hearted Athenian in this short film who believes "no victims are necessary".



The Other Human - my second film under the banner of Destination: Utopia - focusses on a volunteer-run social kitchen in Athens that has been feeding people free of charge and indiscriminately every day for the last four years. 

Since I was in Athens just a few months ago, and blogged about the political situation in Greecea lot has changed. What remains is an austerity-ravaged society struggling to deal with the influx of refugees and an ever-increasing amount of mouths to feed.



The solution is clearly not erecting fences and arming borders. So, while our leaders debate their next move, let's all learn from Kostas: that a little compassion goes a long way. 

Please share as you see fit and follow @DestUtopia on Twitter for more of the same: ideas, initiatives and stories from around the world that inspire positive change (also on Facebook).


Thursday, 6 August 2015

Signposts and Weathercocks

I never imagined myself blogging about the Labour Party. Never before a Labour voter - with a lingering mistrust for the party on account of Tony Blair - I raised an eye-brow when Jeremy Corbyn received the nominations to ‘broaden the debate’ and have since paid close attention as he’s blown it wide open.

For those who don't know - but, I suspect if you've got this far, you will - Jeremy Corbyn is one of four candidates hoping to take over the reins from Ed Milliband and mount an offence against the Conservatives in the next election.

From what I've seen - countless grillings on news programmes and about a dozen leadership debates (nothing much better to do before the football season kicks off, evidently) - the other three candidates are basically the same as each other: staunch Blairites with some suspiciously Tory-esque persuasions.




Corbyn meanwhile, is offering something different. Hoping to rebrand Blair’s New Labour as Corbyn’s True Labour, he has amassed a passionate following: going from 100/1 outsider to odds-on favourite in the process ("the biggest price fall in political betting history" say William Hill)

It is often said that his politics are too left wing for the British electorate to vote for. This primarily being because he stands so vehemently against austerity and all the associated cuts to welfare and public services. He also actively promotes nuclear disarmament, environmentalism and poverty eradication, so I'd say if you disagree with him you're not paying enough attention.

It's probably true that if the election were tomorrow Labour wouldn't win with Corbyn at the helm. But, the election isn't tomorrow: it follows five years of Tory rule and it'd be absurd to suggest Labour would win with anyone in charge right now given how spectacularly they failed just a few months ago.

In my view, people are too easily trapped in the short-termism that plagues politics. Say Corbyn did become Labour leader, yet failed to win the election in 2020: wouldn’t it at least be a good thing that Labour shifted to the left and back to their roots? Wouldn’t it at least build the foundations for a more equal, sustainable and peaceful future? Wouldn’t the next Corbyn be right behind Jeremy looking to continue the fight?

He hasn't come from nowhere, either. David Cameron had only been an MP for four years before he was handed the keys to Number 10. Corbyn, meanwhile, was elected MP for Islington North in 1983 - when Cameron was still at Eton revising for his A Levels - and has remained the voters' choice in his constituency ever since. That's thirty-two years.

Addressing the folk who couldn't get in to listen to him at a rally in Camden earlier this week.


Experience aside, his manner, his conviction, his honesty; they're all refreshingly likeable. He doesn't make me cringe (Ed Milliband), he doesn't make me want to throw random objects at the television (David Cameron) and he doesn't make me bring up little chunks of sick in my mouth (Nigel Farage). He ticks every box.

Most of all, I like the way he sticks to his principles, unlike his counterparts who seem to pick and choose what stance to take based on whatever they think will make them the most popular. There's a Tony Benn quote - the one Mhairi Black referred to in that maiden speech - that better articulates this than I ever could:
"I admire anyone who speaks their mind whatever their party and divide politicians of all parties into two categories: the signposts who point the way they think we should go and the weathercocks who haven't got an opinion, until they've studied the polls, focus groups and spin doctors."
Jeremy Corbyn is obviously, and by anybody's standards, a politician for the people. He’s not afraid to stand up to the establishment on behalf of his constituents; he doesn’t rinse taxpayers for expenses; and he deals in the politics of hope, not fear.

Moreover, he's the most sturdy of signposts while it seems to me his leadership rivals are nothing but weathercocks flailing hopelessly in the swirling wind of a politically diverse electorate.



Friday, 17 July 2015

What about China?!

"What about China?" is an excuse often blurted back at the suggestion we should clean up our act and phase out fossil fuels. The sentiment being, of course, that why should the West make an effort to reduce CO2 emissions when there's China: a country commonly thought of to be a) extravagantly irresponsible with the environment and b) so polluted you can poke the air with a chop-stick.

It may come as a surprise then to hear that the infamously oppressive state is spearheading something of a green revolution. After touching down in Beijing on a work trip last month, inhaling for the first time and tasting the smog-filled air, it certainly came as a surprise to me. Air pollution in China is so bad that as many as half a million deaths per year are attributed to it.

It is said in England - or, at least, was occasionally said by my nan - that fine weather is approaching if there's enough blue sky to make a sailor a pair of trousers. Well, I'd suggest if Chinese sailors seek smooth sailing they consider wearing trousers in a shade something more like dusty ochre. Of that, there is plenty. With the Chinese burning as much coal as the rest of the world combined it's hard to imagine a country more in need of a 'green revolution'.

Sunshine fighting through the smog, Tiananmen Square, Beijing © Ryan Chapman


The silver lining to that smoggy cloud is that China recently announced to the world that they're working hard to peak their CO2 emissions by 2030. Now, I don't know about you, but the Chinese government doesn't strike me as the kind that would fail to hit a target after announcing it to the world. In fact, many are predicting they'll peak much sooner than 2030 on account of the fact they're already well on their way.

At the same time that the Conservatives in Britain are diverting more and more priorities and funding away from renewable energies the Chinese are ploughing huge sums of money into solar, wind and hydropower - far more so than any other country in the world - and creating many jobs in the process. If you’re wondering why we can't do the same in the West let it be known that it’s not because we can’t.

According to a report published in Energy and Environmental Sciences by 'The Solutions Project', even the USA could be run entirely on renewable energy in as little as 35 years, with a rapid but entirely realistic phasing-out of fossil fuels. Another report, called 'Pathways to Power', concludes that Scotland could reach the same goal in just 15 years, so it's safe to conclude a UK-wide transition is not beyond the realm of possibility. The only trouble is, as you'd expect from a party backed by oil tycoons, those pesky Conservatives simply don't want it.

'The Solutions Project' infographic. More info at: www.thesolutionsproject.org


It seems to me that the political right are cornered by their own ideology. To acknowledge the threat of climate change is to admit that their economic philosophy is broken. It’s to concede that rampant, un-regulated capitalism cannot continue and that we must embrace collective responsibility and find more sustainable ways of living. And to accept all of this is to go against their dog-eat-dog, winner-takes-all view of the world, and so denial and inaction become all too convenient.

This, in turn, explains why we're sat here in 2015 with not an awful lot being done, despite the overwhelming evidence that says drastic action is needed. So, what about China? No global ambitions to combat climate change could ever be realised without them and they do, after all, owe the planet a huge favour.


Friday, 12 June 2015

[Film] FIFA and the Perfect Con

Today marks one year since the 2014 World Cup kicked off, so what better time to upload a tweaked and polished version of FIFA and the Perfect Con: made before and during the tournament. I released the film in three parts as the situation in Brazil unfolded but here it is in all its glory.



What next? We all know FIFA is a tangled mess of deceit and corruption; recent allegations and arrests have surprised precisely nobody. My only hope is that once their cancerous core has been removed, football can become the force for good that I know it can be. Imagine World Cups run for people over profit and for sport over sacrifice. Is that really too much to ask?

Thank you once again to everyone who contributed to my crowdfunding campaign which raised a good half of the production costs. With the news recently that FIFA's own film, United Passions, opened to a laughably bad $607 at the US box office I thought it'd be fun to try and beat it.

So, if you enjoy the film and want to buy me a coffee/beer (depending, of course, on the time of day) you can drop some e-change into the tip jar at theperfectcon.com and I'll be extremely grateful. And, if I beat FIFA's takings, well that'd just be hilarious...

Tuesday, 26 May 2015

The Other Human

Athens is tired and unwashed but wears a warm, resilient smile. Greeks have it tough right now: the crippling hand of austerity has inflicted almost irreversible damage. In January this year the socialist Syriza party won the election and now change is in the air, but it’s hard to distill from a fog of desperation.

Around four years ago, in the wake of austerity-driven devastation, Greece’s solidarity movement was born. Volunteer-run foodbanks, soup kitchens and health clinics sprung up all over the country, almost over night. Where the government failed, people stepped up. 

One such person was Kostas Polychronopoulos. Sick of seeing people rummaging through bins for titbits of anything to eat, he founded a social initiative called The Other Human. The aim: to provide free meals for anyone who's hungry.

Kostas at his Name Day party. © Ryan Chapman


Kostas is a bearded Athenian oozing character. His twenty-four carat heart bears overwhelming compassion and empathy. If the ancient Greeks had a god of charity - like they seem to have had a god for everything else - Kostas would be the modern day equivalent. Every day, since starting out in December 2011, he has taken his stove and a small army of volunteers to the streets to cook. "Free food for all" he told me, "for solidarity, respect and love for all people".

I went along to a few cook-ups to share his story and spread some inspiration in the name of Destination: Utopia (films coming soon - more here). He chooses busy locations - usually bustling with pigeons as well as people; often public squares - and prepares the meals in a large steel pot, rhythmically stirring the contents with a wooden paddle as he has done a thousand times before. 

When the meal looks close to ready his first patron gingerly approaches and gratefully receives their foil tray, usually containing potatoes and beans in a tomato sauce, always accompanied by a chunk of bread. In turn, others come forward; those who have been observing from afar and those who seem to appear from nowhere. Young and old; male and female; even a guy in a suit.

The Other Human's banner in central Athens. © Ryan Chapman


Greece is far from becoming some kind of socialist utopia, despite the best efforts of people like Kostas. The radical left's recent election triumph speaks volumes but the voice of the far-right is so loud and abrasive that Golden Dawn, the neo-Nazi party - whose flag is eerily swastika-like and whose leader openly admires the F├╝hrer - received nearly 400,000 votes. We’re not talking Nigel Farage-like casual racism delivered with a cheeky grin: Golden Dawn are all for violence-led extremism. Blood, honour reads their slogan.

Syriza received over 2.2 million votes, significantly more than Golden Dawn, but the friction between far-left and far-right is constantly threatening to boil over. This was highlighted during a chance encounter with a local legend called Tom, known for maintaining a street art gallery of sorts, comprising of left-leaning slogans and symbolism in central Athens.

When I tracked it down however, only ‘Make Tea, Not War’ was eligible through the hastily applied layer of blue paint covering his work. The reason for the cover-up? Fear. "I've had enough" he told me, "Last week they vandalised my home. Next time they said it would be Molotov cocktails. Enough is enough".

The Acropolis. © Ryan Chapman






Greece, the much-touted birthplace of democracy, is at a political cross-roads. Held over a barrel by the European Union, Syriza are struggling to forge the changes they promised, much to the disappointment of many voters. So far, only symbolic gestures - such as the removal of security fences around parliament - have come to pass. They have an Olympus-sized mountain to climb.

The ball, however, is rolling. Greeks chose socialism; they chose to fight austerity; and more than that, they chose a new brand of politics: that of grassroots initiatives, creative activism and taking matters into their own hands.  For as long people like Kostas are out there - nurturing a desire for social change, reminding us that we're all human beings - there is hope.


Saturday, 11 April 2015

[film] Iron Heart

For the second time in as many months, purely by coincidence, I found myself jetting off to the wind-battered island of Fuerteventura as part of a small production team filming an extremely fit person being more active than I've ever been. I took it as fate's way of telling me I should look at changing my lifestyle (just one more summer, fate, I promise!)

This time the truly inspirational Elmar Sprink was the focus of our attention. Elmar is a German triathlete whose extraordinary story will be told in our feature length documentary Iron Heart, coming later this year. For now, I've cut this teaser which we're all very proud of:



Over the next few months we'll be following Elmar around Europe - from the pine-filled hills of Northeastern Mallorca to Hansel and Gretel's very own Black Forest in Southwestern Germany - as he trains for the Ironman European Championship in Frankfurt this summer. The fact Elmar is even up and about is testament to his sheer determination; the fact he's competing in one of the world's most gruellingly competitive triathlons is nothing short of astonishing. 



Wednesday, 18 February 2015

[film] Destination: Utopia

For the last few months my glamorous assistant and I have been tweeting as @DestUtopia. (She'll hate the 'assistant' part, but at least I've sweetened it with a compliment). There's also an accompanying page on Facebook. Once you've read this, please do go forth and like/follow/share.



Destination: Utopia, for now in the infancy of an online community, will soon evolve into a series of short films. It's an ambitious project but the premise is simple: to share ideas and initiatives from around the world that inspire widespread, positive change. From innovate ways to live greener lives to confronting social injustice, the topics covered will be varied.

The aim is to turn the mainstream media's mantra of 'if it bleeds, it leads' on it's ugly head. 'If it inspires, it transpires', or something. Basically, we want to focus on all the reasons we have to be positive and avoid the all-too familiar sensationalist agendas that only serve to spread fear and hatred. 

Growing up I flirted with activism. I took her on a few dates and we enjoyed each other's company. There was the time I joined the anti-cuts march in London and inadvertently found myself part of an angry egg-throwing mob outside tax-dodging Top Shop whilst my girlfriend, browsing the new range of skinny jeans, was locked inside (needless to say, it didn't last); and the time I collected several hundred signatures on a giant homemade banner in protest against the sale of my local football club's stadium to property developers; but other than that, activism and I stayed casual.

Then I went to university to study film production and began getting quite good with a camera. In turn, I realised the medium's potential for encouraging change so I began making films about things I cared about, which took me on filmmaking missions around the world from Germany to Serbia and South Africa to Brazil.

I saw, first hand, how standing up for an ideal, or striking out against injustice, sends forth a tiny ripple of hope - I'm paraphrasing Robert F. Kennedy here, he said it better than I ever could - and when those ripples from a million different centres of energy cross they build a current which can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression.

People will tell you that change isn't possible. They'll tell you that the current political system is eternal. They'll argue that raging inequality is 'just the way it is' and that maintaining perpetual economic growth is more important than tackling climate change. I find these views shortsighted and illogical but being exposed to them is a constant stimulus for this project, so it's not all bad.

By demonstrating that change isn't only possible but inevitable, by highlighting good over evil and by encouraging activism at a local level, Destination: Utopia aims to send forth a tsunami of positivity that inspires the apathetic into action and crushes the status-quo. And that, Kennedy, is my own.


Thursday, 29 January 2015

Trouble in Paradise

There’s an archipelago everyone's heard of that's being threatened by reckless decision-making from a corrupt government a thousand miles away on a different continent.

The Canary Islands – of package holiday and winter sun fame – have been ruled from Madrid for hundreds of years and one particularly contentious issue has recently bubbled to the surface: oil exploration.

When Repsol announced their intentions to scour the surrounding seas for oil the islanders suggested they stick their rigs where the sun don't shine. Namely, not the Canaries. However, in August 2014 the Spanish government granted the Madrid-based energy company a three-year licence to drill as they please, infuriating just about everyone.

The only reason I came to know anything about this was due to spending a couple of weeks on Fuerteventura, the second largest of the islands. The nature of my visit – as part of a small production team making films about adventure athletes and their relationship with the great outdoors – meant I was well in tune with the environment and various related issues came to light.

One of our adventure athletes ridge running in Fuerteventura


Fuerteventura is rugged, windswept and attracts surfers in as equally high numbers as German pensioners. Thankfully though, the sprawling eye-sore resorts are out numbered by isolated vistas and wild beaches. It bathes in sunshine 320 days of the year and it’s possibly the most consistently windy place I’ve ever been. 'Fuerteventura' even means 'strong wind'. 

A perfect case study then, you’d think, of a self-sustainable island whose inhabitants live in harmony with their surroundings, relying on its bountiful natural resources to provide an abundance of clean energy. Nope, not even close. In fact, of the 3,195 Megawatts of installed capacity across all of the Canary Islands, solar and wind power can’t even muster a 10% share between them.

When Repsol began eyeing up the ocean off the coast of Fuerteventura the local government expressed concern. “The Canary Islands need tourists to survive, and tourism in the Canary Islands needs a clean sea.” were the words of Fuerteventura’s president Mario Cabrera, recognising the unavoidable risk of a spill. 

In the same vein - from the next step up the power ladder - the President of the Canary Islands, Paulino Rivero, described Repsol's plans as "incompatible with tourism and a sustainable economy" and dismissed them. "Our wealth is in our climate, our sky, our sea and the archipelago’s extraordinary biodiversity and landscape" he gushingly attested.

The people agreed. In fact, hundreds of thousands of islanders took to the streets across the Canaries in a flurry of protests and President Rivero subsequently announced a referendum to settle the score once and for all. However, foreseeing the outcome of this outlandish practising of democracy would be detriment to their interests, the Spanish government stepped in and banned it. Then, despite the uproar, Repsol moved in to drill.

Canary Islanders saying NO to Repsol.


This tale of woe highlights a broken democracy, the careless pursuit of burning fossil fuels and the sheer power and influence of oil and gas companies. However, it does have something of a happy ending. Just a couple of weeks ago, after extensive searching, Repsol gave up and fled the Canaries completely oil-less.

Repsol have simply moved on, to Angola, where they're not likely to come across such stiff opposition. As for the Canary Islands, perhaps this could be the wake up call they need to begin a fight for independence in the effort to forge a more sustainable future and one that isn't dictated by the shamefully unscrupulous politicians in Madrid.