The Quarantine Diaries, Week Two

Saturday 21 – Friday 27 March

Watching:

Had a Mike Nichols double-bill at the weekend in the form of The Birdcage (hilarious) and Primary Colours (gripping, poignant), and plan to follow-up with an Elaine May double-bill in the form of The Heartbreak Kid and A New Leaf soon.

Blasted through Season Three of The Americans. Some really dark and grisly moments in this one, and it was particularly good at exploring the trauma that comes with being a spy. It’s not all sex and gadgets.

SXSW have made all their short films available to watch and I’ve taken the opportunity to go to town. Some highlights below…

No Crying at the Dinner Table, directed by Carol Nguyen (doc); a painful, poignant, almost uncomfortably intimate exploration of family and memory, as Carol asks her parents to recall their experiences of growing up in Vietnam and her sister’s experience of being raised by them. They cover guilt, regret, sadness and of course, there is crying at the dinner table, but all the emotional tumult there is a stillness and composure that is really beautiful to watch.

Blocks, directed by Bridget Moloney (narrative); a surreal, existential comedy/polemic about a young mother who starts vomiting lego blocks.

Still Wylde, directed by Ingrid Haas (narrative); a charming, funny, sunny (until it suddenly gets very real and very sad) short about an on-off again couple reluctantly deciding to have a baby (until it doesn’t go to plan). Some great visual flourishes and a really candid script elevate this into quite the gut-punch of a film.

Reading:

I’ve started reading The Uninhabitable Earth by David Wallace Wells which is as bleak as every review forewarned. I always task myself with reading these types of books, because it is urgent and vital that we stay informed, but trying to process all the figures and analogies and general notion of the Earth’s combustion isn’t easy. So I’m doing this in lots of little sips. But this passage has already left an imprint:

The climate system that raised us, and raised everything we now know as human culture and civilisation, is now, like a parent, dead. And the climate system we have been observing for the last several years, is not our bleak future in preview. It would be more precise to say that is is a product of our recent climate past, already passing behind us in a dustbin of environmental nostalgia. There is no longer any such thing as a natural disaster.

I’ve also been doing lots of thinking about how we should be reporting about the climate crisis in the same way as coronavirus. In my opinion, the pressure to wash your hands and stay home for the greater good of everyone should be the pressure you feel to live a plant-based lifestyle, or at least be making some kind of substantial change to your diet / routine / consumption that has the power to reduce carbon emissions. Emily Atkin’s HEATED newsletter sent out a particularly good edition that touches on how powerful a collective mindset that influences individual action can be, and how that might apply to our response to the climate crisis moving forward.

Ruby Tandoh’s zine on mental wellbeing, which she uploaded for people to read for free. I particularly enjoyed Anna Lenkiewicz’s essay on how culture has stigmatised the word ‘crazy’ and tended to direct that word towards women.

Plus Jia Tolentino interviews Barbara Ehrenreich on her raging feminism, her distrust of solidarity, craving connectedness, narcissism and coronavirus. Also Jia Tolentino on how writing compares to cooking pasta for Bon Appetit. I liked this:

It is the self-perpetuating solace of discovering, over and over, that you don’t need much—you hardly need any equipment, you can get it done in strange places—to be satisfied, or even, occasionally, thrilled.

Of course, the same goes for making and eating pasta.

Listening to:

In a bid to really immerse myself in the above reading material, I also listened to the Longform podcast episode with David Wallace Wells, who talks less about the content and the stats (thank god) and more about how he came to write the book and what the reception has been like.

This beautiful, meandering conversation between poet Mary Oliver and Krista Tippett about listening to the world, for On Being. It’s a spiritually, philosophically-inclined podcast and they seem to be resurfacing some of their archival episodes, including interviews with Rebecca Solnit and Ezra Klein that I plan to check out.

Grace by Jeff Buckley. God I love this album. Its shiver-inducing but feels like a blanket all at the same time. Lilac Wine is probably one of my favourite songs in the world. There’s also something really validating and certifying about returning to an album you’ve consecrated and finding that it still does something to you. I go to a different place when I listen to this music. So its ideal when you’re on day fourteen of being in your bedroom.

The episode of Table Manners with Riz Ahmed, who seems intense! Like one of those worldly, sage people who have crammed so many experiences into their life that when you sit them down to talk about it, it can be a bit overwhelming. But I liked his explanations of the Pakistani food he loves to eat, and how he grew up thinking pitta bread was Pakistani and not Greek because it was deemed a better alternative than supermarket-bought naan.

Doing:

Trying not to fall into a pit of despair. Making a list of all the films I want to to watch during quarantine. Worrying that I won’t get through them all and will have scuppered my chances of supreme cinematic literacy. Walking around the Woodberry and Watlhamstow Wetlands and listening to the ample birdsong and the breeze. Making lots of tasty food (see below). Definitely eating more calories than I’m burning and trying not to think too much about that. You need layers for quarantine like hibernation right?

Cooking:

Potato curry

Potato curry! I diced up three jacket potatoes I had in the cupboard and popped them in the slow cooker with a tin of tomatoes, a tin of coconut milk. Plus some frozen peas, some leftover green pepper and chopped coriander. I added in chilli, turmeric, fresh ginger, paprika, cumin and salt. Easy peasy and delicious.

This week I also made vegan banana bread with a made-up recipe from my head and it turned out rather brilliantly, but because I didn’t write any of the measurements down it’s a gamble as to whether that will ever happen again. If you have a sweet-tooth I would recommend adding in some dates or brown sugar, because this was fairly unsweet.

  • four browned bananas, blended with a dash of oat milk
  • about 75g of coconut flour
  • a cup of maple syrup
  • a generous dusting of cinnamon and nutmeg
  • fresh ginger
  • a tablespoon of cocoa powder
  • a teaspoon of baking powder

And on Sunday I did a roast dinner for one, which was equal parts elegant and a little bit sad. Food that good deserves to be seen and shared. I roasted my potatoes with some colourful chantenay carrots and had lots of purple sprouting broccoli. But the pièce de résistance was this marvellous nut roast, again a cupboard-fuelled concoction. I literally whacked all the ingredients in a big pot and 100ml of vegetable stock and hot water and let it simmer for about an hour, until it was soft. Then blitzed it up with a little bit of flour and popped it into a loaf tin and cooked for another 30-45 mins.

In future I would probably add a more diverse array of nuts, and I’ve seen recipes that add nut butters which I definitely wouldn’t be averse to but the apricots added a really nice bit of sweetness, so can recommend!

  • 3 chopped celery sticks
  • 2 chopped carrots
  • 250g cashew nuts
  • chopped coriander & parsley
  • 1 chopped beetroot
  • a handful of dried apricots
  • salt and pepper
  • a sprinkle of chilli flakes

The Quarantine Diaries, Week One

Saturday 14 – Friday 20 March

Watching:

Is there a more perfect couple than Keri Russell and Matthew Rhys? I sense not. And I sense this is a predominant part of the reason I am currently (recurrently) obsessed with The Americans, the TV show in which the real-life couple play on-screen couple The Jennings; KGB spies who infiltrate Cold War era America by posing as, or rather being an all-American family. I can’t take my eyes off of them.

Well, I can. And I did. I watched Season One about four years ago and then forgot all about The Jennings . But now I’m 100% back in the game, and fully intent on finishing all five remaining seasons before my Amazon Prime free trial is up. It reminds me of The Good Wife in its enthralling blend of sex and politics, except with added anguish, pain, betrayal and murder.

Film highlights: It Felt Like Love, I Wish, The Wild Goose Lake

Listening to:

Halsey’s Manic, which manages to feel both angst-ridden and soothing. The Daily podcast, which can be a little bit Corona-centric, but the two special episodes they released this week on solace and Tom Hanks, provided welcome respite. As did the Ghibliotheque‘s first three episodes from their expedition to Japan. It’s an ambient sojourn through Tokyo, with segments on souvenirs, museums and cream puffs. A.k.a. pure joy.

Reading:

Two of my favourite literary Olivia’s have been writing about the coronavirus. First up is Laing on the consolations to be found amidst loneliness for The New York Times, picking up on the themes she first touched upon in her book The Lonely City

One of the hardest things to grasp about loneliness is that it’s a shared state, inhabited by a multitude at any time. Whatever anxiety you’re experiencing right now, you’re not alone... During a long spell of loneliness, I found that art was among the richest consolations, and that voyaging into other people’s worlds by way of novels, paintings and films had a magical capacity for making me feel connected, seen, met.

The second Olivia (Sudjic) has a new column for Buro (never heard of them before), in which she details her experience of contracting coronavirus and how to stay calm in a crisis. These are her abbreviated tips:

  1. write things down with pen and paper
  2. draw
  3. cook
  4. learn a language
  5. if you can’t concentrate on reading listen to an audio book
  6. move around
  7. call people
  8. sing or play music

It is perhaps, optimistic to expect to maintain a sense of zen 24/7, but the Creative Independent’s Toolkit for staying calm & centred is useful to return to in those moments when you’re feeling more off-kilter. Particularly this one on recession-proofing your creative practice, and trying as much as possible to define this as an opportunity to be meditative rather than productive.

I picked up the sequel to Call Me By Your Name in a pub that had books going for free on their piano, remembering how ravishing and romantic it had been. And André Aciman’s Find Me, more than delivers on continuing that thread. It’s less intense, and more contemplative, less sizzle, more wistful, but was nevertheless a welcome retreat. I particularly enjoyed this passage about meaningful people in your life not disappearing or forgetting, despite not actively being in touch with them, which is something we can probably all relate to at the moment…

he had forgotten nothing and didn’t want to forget, and that even if he couldn’t write or call to see whether I too had forgotten nothing, still, he knew that though neither of us sought out the other it was only because we had never really parted and that, regardless of where we were, who we were with, and whatever stood in our way, all he needed when the time was right was simply to come and find me.

I’ll admit, I’ve been fetishizing the apocalypse and predominantly eating canned goods and comfort food (with a healthy amount of veg thrown in for good measure to keep my immune system on virus-busting form), but I haven’t really been cooking. That impetus changed with this article in The Atlantic on the comfort of cooking a risotto in these anxiety-inducing times and so next time I venture out to a supermarket, I may just stray into a more adventurous aisle.

Speaking of comfort, I find it in coffee. I am part human, part caffeine. If you sliced me open, I suspect coffee granules or that hot, dense sludge you find compressed at the bottom of a cafetière would ooze out as much as blood or insides or whatever else entertains our entrails. I tend not to poeticise or romanticise the necessity of having a cup of coffee in the morning. It’s functional. I feel my brain fog clear and my organs stand to attention. I drink to think. That being said, I did enjoy this piece on LitHub on the metaphorical power of a good cup of coffee, especially the fact that the writer isn’t above microwaving coffee, adding milk or drinking instant, which I go through obscene amounts of.

the reason for that very first cup? The grounding, not the grind. To get a grip on the day. If ever there were a symbol of here and now, it’s coffee; standing in for every coffee that came before, preparing a person to get on with whatever comes next; holding her in between, suspending the present, whenever it is. Coffee lets us start, and start again, and start over—however old a person feels, however stunned to have gotten so old, fortified with coffee, she can carry on.

Doing:

Bedroom yoga. Bedroom everything, actually. Meditation with my housemate in our lounge to shake things up a bit. Bird-watching. Or more accurately, spying on the movements of one particular robin that frequents our garden. Running in the park. Teaching my parents how to use Zoom. Wandering about the house in a daze wondering what this all means.

I’ve also decided to treat this like an extended University reading week and will be trying to devote some time to learning new things; not for a qualification or a grade, but just for knowledge, enrichment and to focus my brain on something that isn’t the news. I stumbled on this list of free courses hosted by Ivy League colleges in the US via Twitter, and have promptly signed up to one on ‘The Ethics of Memory’ and another on ‘The Architectural Imagination.’ Also I’m planning to rinse the Sundance Collab site for their free filmmaking resources, masterclasses and webinars.

N. x

All of the film recommendations (by women directors) from my podcast guests in one place!…

Every week on the podcast I ask my guest to suggest a film by a woman director that they think is an undervalued gem (basically all of them, ever) and here are they are all in one place, ripe for a ready-made watch-list…

  • Madeline’s Madeline (2018) directed by Josephine Decker – recommended by Georgia Goggin
  • Leave No Trace (2018) directed by Debra Granik – recommended by Grace Barber-Plentie and Catherine Slater
  • Shakedown (2018) directed by Leilah Weinraub – recommended by Grace Barber-Plentie
  • Blockers (2018) directed by Kay Cannon – recommended by Helen Simmons
  • Innocence (2004) directed by Lucile Hadžihalilović – recommended by Maya Maffioli
  • Pariah (2011) directed by Dee Rees – recommended by Delphine Lievens
  • Fat Girl (2001) directed by Catherine Breillat – recommended by Caragh Davison
  • The Miseducation of Cameron Post (2018) directed by Desiree Akhavan – recommended by Emma Duffy
  • Mari (2019) directed by Georgia Parris – recommended by Beccy Ashdown and Natalie Samson
  • Revenge (2017) directed by Coralie Fargeat – recommended by Loran Dunn
  • Of Love & Law (2017) directed by Hikaru Toda – recommended by Jo Duncombe
  • The Rider (2018) directed by Chloé Zhao – recommended by Síle Culley
  • Embracing (1992) directed by Naomi Kawase – recommended by Chloe Trayner
  • Homecoming (2019) directed by Beyoncé – recommended by Ruka Johnson
  • Prevenge (2016) directed by Alice Lowe – recommended by Jen Moss
  • Just Charlie (2019) directed by Rebekah Fortune – recommended by Alexzandra Jackson
  • Where Do We Go Now? (2011) directed by Nadine Labaki – recommended by Amy Smart
  • Caramel (2007) and Capernaum (2018) directed by Nadine Labaki – recommended by Gini Godwin
  • Pin Cushion (2018) directed by Deborah Haywood – recommended by Amy Smart
  • Interview (1979) directed by Veronika Soul & Caroline Leaf – recommended by Rachel Pronger
  • All of Molly Dineen‘s films! – recommended by Ellen Evans
  • Garrett Bradley‘s short docs – recommended by Ellen Evans
  • The Second Mother (2015) directed by Anna Muylaert – recommended by Sophie Powell
  • Wanda (1970) directed by Barbara Loden – recommended by Flore Cosqeuer
  • Vendredi Soir (2002) directed by Claire Denis – recommended by Rowan Woods
  • Divines (2016) directed by Houda Benyamina – recommended by Sarah Brocklehurst
  • Shirkers (2018) directed by Sandi Tan – recommended by Roxy Rezvany
  • Zana (2019) directed by Antoneta Kastrati – recommended by Dorota Lech
  • Hustlers (2019) directed by Lorene Scafaria – recommended by Margaret Boykin
  • Desert One (2019) directed by Barbara Kopple – recommended by Elise McCave
  • The Rest of Us (2019) directed by Aisling Chin-Yee – recommended by Pamela B. Green
  • Measure (2019) directed by Karen Chapman – recommended by Robyn Citizen
  • Watermelon Juice (2019) directed by Irene Moray – recommended by Robyn Citizen
  • Portrait of a Lady On Fire (2020) directed by Céline Sciamma – recommended by Nicole Dorsey, Jess Jones
  • Rocks (2020) directed by Sarah Gavron – recommended by Nicole Dorsey and Clarisse Loughrey
  • Atlantics (2020) directed by Mati Diop – recommended by Nicole Dorsey, Jess Jones
  • The Souvenir (2019) directed by Joanna Hogg – recommended by Jess Jones
  • The Souvenir Part II (coming soon) directed by Joanna Hogg – recommended by Cate Kane
  • When They See Us (2019, TV series) directed by Ava DuVernay – recommended by Rebecca Day
  • Booksmart (2019) directed by Olivia Wilde – recommended by Jess Jones
  • Saint Maud (2020) directed by Rose Glass – recommended by Jess Jones
  • Dirty God (2019) directed by Sacha Polak – recommended by Corrina Antrobus
  • When Night is Falling (1995) directed by Patricia Rozema – recommended by Nia Hughes

Episode 047: Clarisse Loughrey, Chief Film Critic at The Indepedent

Listen on iTunes, Spotify & ACast!

This week I spoke to Clarisse Loughrey, the chief film critic for The Independent. She also acts as a regular stand-in for Mark Kermode on BBC Radio 5 Live’s ‘Kermode and Mayo’ and runs That Darn Movie Show, a weekly review channel on YouTube.

We cover lots and a lot of it is new ground for the podcast because I’ve never interviewed a film critic before – so we talk about the art of pitching, how Clarisse learnt what a good freelance rate was, how she learnt to trust her opinion and put it on the Internet, what her writing process is, the fear you get when your opinion of a movie differs from your peers and fair bit more, which I think will hopefully be insightful not just for people interesting in a career in film criticism, but also to anyone that reads film reviews – if that’s not too audacious – and what goes into that. So thank you so much to Clarisse for sharing that perspective. 

Episode 046: Nia Hughes, Organising Official at BECTU

Listen on iTunes, Spotify & ACast!

My guest this week is Nia Hughes, an Organising Official for BECTU, the union for creative ambition. They represent over 40,000 staff, contract and freelance workers in the media and entertainment industries and do a lot of important work to support and advise their members on issues such as pay and conditions but also career development, contracts of employment, hours, leave, maternity, pensions and bullying and harassment.

Nia was really integral to the Ritzy Cinema London Living Wage campaign, having started her career working for that very cinema and she is currently focused on supporting freelancers and making sure they know their rights. 

If you are a freelancer in the film industry this episode is for you! Towards the end, Nia talks about several things you can and should be doing to protect yourself and maximise your chances of having a positive professional experience. They are golden nuggets of wisdom and I am so thrilled that Nia came on the podcast to share them. 

Show notes:

  • Find out more about BECTU here.
  • Nia’s film recommendation is When Night is Falling by Patricia Rozema.

Episode 045: Corrina Antrobus, Founder of the Bechdel Test Fest

Listen on iTunes, Spotify & ACast!

This week I’m joined by Corrina Antrobus, who is very much someone I started the podcast with the intent to interview.

As you can tell by the runtime, we covered a lot, which is predominantly due to the fact that Corrina is a very busy woman and has had a really dynamic career, so there were lots of threads to explore. Corrina started out in VOD marketing for Virgin Movies, having worked her way up from receptionist and then moved over to Picturehouse Cinemas & Picturehouse Entertainment to become their Communications Manager, handling press and PR for releases such as God’s Own Country, Animals, The Wife, Out of Blue, Capernaum, The Last Tree and Monos.

She recently left that job to become Arts and Culture Communications Officer for Hackney, so we talk about what prompted that move, how she felt about slightly leaving the world of film and what projects she’s currently working on.

And then on top of that Corrina is the founder of Bechdel Test Fest –  an ongoing screening collective who present films with a positive representation for women in film that she runs alongside Beth Webb, Steph Watts and Caitlin Quinlan who are all incredible women with many a side hustle in their own right.

The first event I ever went to was a 25th anniversary screening of Thelma & Louise, and I’ve since been to several sold-out screenings that they’ve put on, always with a really thoughtfully considered panel that provides fresh context to older films. 

We devote a big chunk of the interview to talking about what prompted Corrina to start the festival, what her programming principles are and how she got the thing up and running. Alongside that we talk about the power of social media, the importance of seeing positive representations of women and people of colour, what Corrina has learnt since setting up the festival and the advice she would pass on to anyone wanted to run their own collective. And in a podcast first, we also discuss redundancy and how Corrina dealt with her experience of that.

It’s a really lovely episode I think – Corrina is incredibly smart and thoughtful and there are lots of other topics I could’ve and would’ve love to pick her brain about, but I think we’ve done a pretty good job of covering her many passions and pursuits and I hope you enjoy hearing about them.

Show notes:

Episode 044: Gini Godwin, Production Designer

Listen on iTunes, Spotify & ACast!

My guest this week is Gini Godwin, a whirlwind of energy who has worked on a really prolific number of music videos, short films and feature projects including last year’s Blue Story and has a number of exciting collaborations in the pipeline.

As Gini says later on in the interview, production design is about creating the world of the film and therefore incredibly integral to our immersion in the story. We talk about putting out metaphorical fires, the difference between naturalistic and stylised design, whether there’s a place for hand-drawing skills in an age of digital revolution, the brilliance of Nadine Labaki and which era Gini would most like to design for. 

You can see all of Gini’s work credits here.