29 January 2017

The Dead Cities of Syria: Ancient Abandoned Cities Now Repopulated by Refugees

The Syrian civil war continues its tragic evolution with the death toll surpassing 400,000 by the end of 2016. It is the latest of many upheavals the country has been through since its formation as a state.  As the conflict continues, much of what remains of Syria’s long and unique history has also, inevitably, come under threat.  Perhaps the best known, the crusader castle of Krak des Chevaliers has been shelled while the giant waterwheels of Hama are in daily peril. While the preservation of human life is forefront in the minds of any person concerned about the ongoing bloodshed, these ancient sites represent history in situ which is of immense importance not only to Syrians but to the world.

Jabal Al Zawiya, Syria
In the northwest of the country are lesser known reminders of past turmoil and upheaval. Over 700 abandoned settlements bear the collective name The Dead Cities of Syria.  The name might perhaps be considered ironic, bearing in mind what is happening in the country’s modern cities at the moment.  Yet these dead cities have become home to thousands of refugees, who have fled from the civil war and now live in the caves beneath the ruins.  Some have even dug up the ancient stone graves and are using them as makeshift homes.  These pictures show the Dead Cities before the war as well as a number of their new residents. There is little or no access to places like this while war rages so the true nature of the devastation will not be known for some time.

28 January 2017

A Tribute to John Hurt: The Alchemist’s Letter

The late John Hurt plays an alchemist, who writes a letter to his estranged son to be delivered after his death in this visually stunning animation. It may seem a little odd to feature, as our tribute to John Hurt, something in which he does not physically appear.  Yet we felt that this visually rich, darkly inventive fairy tale directed by former Student Academy Award finalist Carlos Andre Stevens, is quite appropriate, given its content. Good-bye Sir John, you will be missed.

Julian Lennon - Saltwater 25 Years

Well, knock me down with a feather and call me Gladys.  Is it really 25 years since Julian Lennon released (probably his best known track) Saltwater?  The answer is no, since now we’re in 2017 it’s effectively 26 years which doesn't make me feel any the younger, for sure. That aside, Trunk Animation have come up with this beautiful video to accompany Lennon’s remix of the song and have just released it on Vimeo.  It was directed by Layla Atkinson and Jock Mooney with illustration by the latter.  Mooney's illustrations nod decidedly (and blissfully) in the general direction of Heinz Edelmann, art director on a film made by Julian’s dad who was also quite famous. The animation was done by Trunk’s Leslie Dart, Rok Predin, Simona Ciraolo and Layla Atkinson.

A Lovesong

Do you like a little modernist poetry with your morning coffee? Then take a look at A Lovesong, directed by Laura Scrivano and starring Daniel Henshall. Taking TS Eliot’s poem The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock as its starting point, this short features a solitary man wandering the streets of New York, a mass of indecision.  It is the first film in The Passion series and bodes very well for what will come in the future.

25 January 2017

Oxfam: It's Time to Even It Up

Eight people, half the world. It’s strange how just five words can stagger the imagination but there are eight billionaires alive today who, combined, own as much wealth as half of the population of the world. Perhaps it’s time that it was evened up – certainly the good people at Oxfam who have just released this video seem to think so. Take a look and see if you agree too.

22 January 2017

Huanglong – Land of the Yellow Dragon

The Minshan Mountain Range is situated in the north of China’s Sichuan Province.  An area of outstanding natural beauty it is home to a four kilometer stretch of travertine landforms and pools.  Even in its home country the place is relatively little-known. Yet Huanglong, literally Yellow Dragon, is a place of wonders.

Over the millennia the springs around this small crease in the mountains have deposited limestone which has built up to create a series of pools – over 3,000 of them - which extend to almost four kilometers in length.  The chain of pools are said to resemble a huge golden dragon, which gives the place its name.

Meet a 90 Year Old Ice Skater

At 90 years old, Yvonne Dowlen was still ice skating at least five days a week. She rose to fame as an Ice Capades star and never officially retired.

This short film is a celebration of longevity and resilience.

Yvonne certainly comes across as a wise, witty and wonderful woman. Edges was created by Balcony Nine Media.

15 January 2017

Han Solo: A Smuggler’s Tale

What do you call a Star Wars movie set before A New Hope?  That question has recently been answered (Episode 3 ½) but here’s another.  Who would you get to play a young Han Solo?

My vote, after watching this short but very well made fan film is Jamie Costa.

Not only does he look a little like Harrison Ford he has obviously spent a long time studying the nuances of the character: from the facial expressions to the delivery of lines, Costa is spot on.  Han Solo:

A Smuggler’s Tale was written and directed by Keith Allen.

8 January 2017

The Gelada: Unique Primate on the Roof of Africa

High up in the Ethiopian mountains lives the Gelada. It lives nowhere else and, isolated in these remote Ethiopian Highlands, the primate has developed a way of life all of its own. To begin with there is that patch of red skin; one might guess something with which to attract the opposite sex, but why there? Moreover the gelada exhibits behavior that has led scientists to believe that deceit, crime and punishment are not simply human traits after all.

The Ark in Space has a photo-filled feature on this amazing primate in the wild.

Image Credit Flickr User copepodo

The Unseen Afghanistan

Afghanistan has never been filmed like this before so the unique landscapes of its valleys are here now for us to see – and they are quite an eye-opener.  Whatever your preconceptions of this country, this will probably do something to change them.  Short earlier this year by Afghani director and filmmaker Khyber Khan, this was created as a ‘passion project’ by him to show his homeland in a new way, one which has never been seen before.

7 January 2017

10 Female Assassins and their Intended Victims

History shows us that the vast majority of assassins are male. Every now and again, though, the fairer sex let the side down (or not, depending on your perspective).

However, there is a lamentably short list of female assassins in the annals of history and – more often than not – they fail to kill their intended target. Perhaps that is nothing to be ashamed of, after all.

Here, though, are 10 of history’s female assassins and their intended victims.

Shi Jianqiao
1935, Tianjin, China. Sometimes the only way to kill someone is when they have their defenses down. So it was when Shi Jianqiao slipped in to a Buddhist temple and fired three shots in to Sun Chuanfang’s head while he was praying. She then threw the gun down and explained her act to terrified and astonished onlookers.

She had even taken the time to print up and copy a document explaining her actions. Chuanfang was not mourned. He had been involved in the repression of strikes in Shanghai, opium trafficking and was a well-known collaborator with the Japanese. Jianqiao was opposed to all of these actions.

Moreover, he had had her father executed by decapitation and had ordered his head put on a pike outside a railway station for all to see. So, quite rightly she was angry – very angry. She was put on trial with three different courts handing out contradictory verdicts. With public opinion resoundingly on her side she was eventually released and was given a full pardon. She died in 1979.