Tuesday, 1 December 2009

Irish Tour - day seven

So, our last day. We got ready to leave while watching the news coverage of the floods in Cumbria. The breakfast was a little odd. Some of the staff seemed a grumpy – it’s hard to say why. I think it was more to do with inter-staff tension than us but it made us feel a little weird.

Anyway, we checked out and were back on the road, dragging my £16 suit case with wheels along the pavement. Those wheels have survived some dragging. The case may be one of the best value purchases I’ve ever made.

We got off the bus at O’Connell Street and pulled the suitcase even further to Connolly Station. We were off to Maynooth – Ireland’s university town.

Anika met us at the station with a warm welcome and a very friendly smile. It has been strange to turn up to these places and wait for someone you don’t know. I never really knew if I’d met my DAAD hosts before so I didn’t know who to look out for. Having said that, I never had any difficulty spotting my rendezvous – I just learned to look out for the person standing alone and smiling at me. Weird to think they all knew me.

She introduced us to one of her senior colleagues and we all went for lunch. We discussed why German people seem to like Ireland. I’d theorised earlier in the week that the British love to hate the Germans (and the French, and the rest of Europe – but there’s a particular thing about the Germans). In many ways, Ireland represents a slice of something very similar to British life but without the Nazi jokes. I think I’d appreciate that if I was German.

The campus at Maynooth is lovely – especially the old bit. It had a collegiate atmosphere and we took a quick look at St Patrick’s. Very impressive. The screening itself had taken place earlier in the day so I was only due to do my presentation and discuss the film. A few technical hitches and a lecture theatre change later, I made a start.

I’d been sad for a few days about the prospect of the tour coming to an end. The whole week was a little bit like an episode of Mr Benn (NB that’s Mr Benn, not Mr Bean). I was able to don my filmmaker outfit and be a filmmaker for the week. Of course, my filmmaker outfit is almost identical to my every day outfit, it’s the purpose that matters. The end of the tour meant handing back my outfit until…well..until who knows when?

The Q&A went well but there was something subdued about it. Mainly from my point of view for the reasons above. At the end, we shared a coffee with Anika, said our thanks and farewells and headed back towards the train station. Our train was delayed for about an hour.

Back in Dublin, we grabbed a bus for a little of the way and walked for the rest. We called into the Irish Film Institute to buy tickets for A Serious Man and continued on the way to Jury’s Inn, Christchurch. This was the only night we paid for ourselves and we had a mini-history at this hotel. Of the previous visits to Dublin, Jury’s had provided a great base for exploring the city. It also has a good pub next door (the Lord Edward) and a cracking chippy.

Shortly after checking in, we were tucking in to fish and chips in our room. After eating out for most of the week, a bit of junk food on our own was just the job. As was the quick sleep that followed.

When we woke up, everything felt different. It already felt like a different trip. Like that Mr Benn outfit I mentioned earlier was already back on the hanger. It was good to watch a film (that wasn’t My DDR T-Shirt) but A Serious Man wasn’t great. It was full of Coen Brother signatures but ultimately unfulfilling.

What is it about art house or independent cinema audiences? Everyone’s so keen to demonstrate they understand, that they ‘get it’. They laugh out loud at anything. The mildy amusing becomes hilarious. A snigger becomes a belly laugh. I don’t know what it is but I’ve witnessed it in several art cinemas. It’s dark in the cinema – no-one can see anything but the film and no-one cares whether you get it or not. And if you really do ‘get it’, why do you need to tell me?

I went to see a filmed interview with Edward Said once at the Cornerhouse in Manchester. Every now and again, he said something a little tongue in cheek about Isreali policy. At best, it warranted a wry smile and a quick burst of air from the nostrils – but not with an art audience. They had to laugh long and they had to laugh knowingly. What’s all that about? Or ‘WTF?’, as modern web parlance has it.

Anyway, back to Friday night in Dublin. There was definitely something different about things. The tour was already a memory and a very proud one at that.

In many ways, the whole week was reminiscent of the filming trip to Berlin. It had that strange sense that this wasn’t a holiday but not quite work either. It also had that sense of something cool and extraordinary. Something of an adventure and something akin to touching something real.

Lot’s of the word ‘something’ in the paragraph above. It’s a little inarticulate but maybe that’s enough? I had a great week on tour in Ireland – it really was something.

Saturday, 21 November 2009

Irish Tour - day six

Without another city or town to travel to, it was nice to grab a little time for a lie in. Still we didn’t want to waste the day as we had most of it to ourselves. The screening at University College Dublin (UCD) wasn’t until the evening so Kirst had planned some sightseeing – the Bank of Ireland and Kilmainham Gaol.

First we wanted to check in to our accommodation and drop off our bags. Our room at the Montrose was massive. I’m not sure if a special room was booked but according to the room plan on the back of the door, our room was almost a suite.

Racing back out into Dublin wasn’t so appealing. I wouldn’t have minded grabbing some sleep because it has felt a bit like a packed itinerary. Plus the weather was blowing a gale outside. Still, we got out and headed into the centre.

As I’ve mentioned before, my webstats have been really high because of this trip. People are reading my tweets (twitter.com/hawkinsian) and following this blog. It’s not often I get an audience and I’d written the blogs for the past few days, but we hadn’t had WiFi. WiFi in our hotel was €20 for 24 hours – which seems scandalous. We found a coffee shop in the city centre with WiFi, bought an expensive yet snacky lunch and stuck around long enough to publish the blogs.

The Bank of Ireland didn’t keep us for very long. The building has a fascinating history but it is, after all, a working bank and most areas are not open to the public. Kilmainham Gaol, however, was excellent. We timed our arrival well and caught a tour almost immediately. This was a great relief as we’d visited a couple of years ago. On that occasion, we missed the tour and it happened to be the last one of the day.

The tour was great. This was down to the place, obviously, but helped massively by one of the most competent tour guides ever. She was brilliant and balanced everything expertly. The gale outside howled around the building and added something really quite foreboding about the place.

As an Englishman, I found myself uneasy about what the British did there. Having said that I’m uneasy about lots of things the British are doing now. I’m not aware of any personal connection with either the captors or the captives. I tried to make myself feel better by reminding myself of the links and brotherhood between the Free Irish and the Chartists and English trade union movement. But again, I’m not aware of any personal historical connection between any of these groups either.

Anyway, we eventually left Kilmainham and had limited time to get back to the hotel in rush hour. When we got back, we had enough time to appreciate the complimentary chocolates left on the bed and changed for the screening. The hotel is very well located for UCD – virtually just across the road.

As we’d arranged, Simone Schroth was waiting near the café. We could also see the posters placed around the place. Simone had obviously been busy. It was good to meet her and we grabbed a quick drink, a brief hello chat and then we went to the screening room. The German ambassador had accepted Simone’s invitation to attend the screening. Apparently, some security had to be arranged – or at least the university needed to be notified so that they could make sure things were secure.

The ambassador was a bit late but in the meantime the students opened their popcorn and I got chance to meet the German embassy’s cultural attaché. He’d even seen the film already and yet again, everyone seemed very positive.

The screening went well and I stood up to start the Q&A. I got some good questions and enjoyed discussing things. One of the university’s teaching staff (a professor, I think) expressed strong feelings about East Germany. He also had strong feelings about the current imbalance between east and west and the subsidy required. One of his colleagues expressed an opposing view, which was great for the discussion, but it looked like the Q&A could go too far down an intra-German discussion. The ambassador (I’m afraid I can’t remember his name. Must google it!) stepped in with a balanced response. He was also very complimentary about the value of the stories I collected.

I was definitely getting tired after nearly an hour of discussion. I found it hard to catch some of the more tricky questions and I think I missed the last one completely. Apologies to that person. I was pleased to get the chance to take my seat again but Simone asked me stay up for a surprise.

UCD has a German Society (or Deutsch Soc). At the end of the Q&A they came up to join me at the front and present me with “Honorary Life Membership for a significant contribution to German heritage”. I was genuinely touched by the gesture and still can’t quite believe that students would watch the film and want to make such a gesture.

We had a drink and some sandwiches in the bar afterwards and discussed things. I took out the framed Deutsch Soc certificate and took moment to read it more carefully. The ambassador also read it and said he totally agreed. This may sound kinda cheesy, but I’ve never been honoured before. I’m particularly pleased with it.

Eventually, we finished up at the university. We said our thanks and good byes to Simone and spent a little time to take some photos of the posters. We crossed back over the road to the hotel and had a drink in the bar before calling it a day – a great day, actually.

Irish Tour - day five

In the middle of our cereal breakfast, the B&B owner put a basket on the table. “Homemade scones for you,” he said, “and your cooked breakfast will just be a few more minutes.”

I think we both felt a bit reluctant to have scones. We’re not exactly eating healthily this week but it would’ve been rude to turn fresh scones down. Kirst was first to have a go.

“They’re still warm,” she said.
A bite later, “these are really good.”

And sure enough, they were. The best scones I’ve had outside Cornwall, or maybe ever. A lovely touch by Fernroyd House B&B. Two of the most competent B&B accommodation providers you could hope for.

We were caught out with the train tickets. Just like in England, buying on the day will get you screwed. Two tickets to Dublin cost €102 and would’ve been a lot cheaper if booked in advance. It seems strange to punish on-the-day purchasers but we had little choice – or maybe that’s exactly the point?

The CityLink coaches had spoiled us with its free WiFi and it felt a little frustrating that the train didn’t have similar facilities. Still, it gave us chance to do a bit of admin – and a game of travel Scrabble. Highlight for me being the word ‘sedative’ half way through the game.

The train seemed to take ages for a relatively short distance but we were hardly in a rush. Eventually we arrived at Heuston Station where Christian was waiting. It was good to meet Christian again. He was the first to invite me to Ireland and that snow-balled into the tour. It was also good to see him because I met him very briefly at a DAAD screening in the summer. This screening (at Cumberland Lodge in Windsor Great Park) went down really well. The audience loved the film and were keen to say some very kind things to us in the bar afterwards. People were so nice, in fact, that it was a fairly intense experience. It felt a little like being plugged into the mains for an hour.

At the end of the hour, Kirst and I agreed to take our untouched drinks back to our room. It was at this point that Christian introduced himself. Making My DDR T-Shirt was a lonely experience and it’s a treat when anyone expresses an interest. However, as we were a bit frazzled and literally walking out of the room, I always felt like I didn’t show my appreciation of Christian’s comments. I tried to explain this to him on the bus to DCU. As it turned out, and maybe not surprisingly, the issue was greater in my mind than his.

He showed us to our apartment and we dropped off our bags, then we had a quick tour of campus and then he introduced us to some German Department staff.

“Oh, you’re Ian Hawkins. Pleased to meet you.”
“Oh, hi! We’re really excited about the film.”

It was both flattering and strange that all these people knew something about me and my film.

The DCU screening was the first with significant technical problems. When the play button was pressed, the volume was very low. A frantic few minutes of amplifier fiddling ensued but there was no quick fix. I offered to do the presentation I made for Cork while Christian sorted the sound. This worked quite well. I skipped through the slides and was careful not to give anything away while an engineer fiddled with the sound equipment behind me. It was all a bit distracting but thankfully, the screening was informal enough for this not to matter. At the end of the screening, we learned that the amp was knackered but we had some speakers and a laptop and projected the film through that. In the end, it made very little difference.

It was a smallish room filled with maybe 40 people. There was something about the intimacy of the screening that really helped the mood. Some of the comments afterwards picked up on some of the poignant comments in the film and this was nice to hear. I went to a lot of trouble to make it something more than just interviews. I wanted it to have some kind of mood to it.

When the Q&A finished, and as we were leaving the room, there were lots of people who wanted to buy the film. One person bought four as Christmas presents. Another came to buy the DVD because she’d missed the screening. By the end, we’d sold out.

Instead of a B&B, DCU put us up in one of their visitor apartments. These were quite big with a lounge, kitchen and balcony. We were a little relieved that Christian hadn’t organised anything formal after the screening. It would’ve been nice to socialise with him but hospitality can be tiring sometimes. Especially if there’s a large formal feel to it.

We bought a few drinks, a frozen pizza and some breakfast for morning and settled in for the night. I couldn’t get the broadband access to work so I wasn’t able to update the blog. We watched rubbish telly and enjoyed the resounding cheer as it echoed through the campus – Ireland had obviously just scored against France.

An hour or so later, their dreams of qualifying for the World Cup were shattered by ‘The Hand of Frog.’

I’ll remember the night at DCU as a night off and for the sense of fatigue descending on me. I think this inactive fuzziness gave me chance to reflect on the tour so far. It was pretty rewarding to think that My DDR T-Shirt had really achieved something. It was being closely scrutinised by a different group every day, and not dissimilar to the trabants at the beginning and end of the film, it managed to survive and get me from A to B in one piece.

Thursday, 19 November 2009

Irish Tour - day four

Breakfast at the Ivies and a damp, wet and miserable day outside. The weather made it an easy decision to call a taxi but we had planned to walk to the coach station. We’re eating a lot on this trip but the cooked breakfast is hard to resist.

Anyway, we jumped on another CityLink coach and pulled out of Galway en route to Cork. Cork via Limerick, as it happened, so the route was a little familiar from our earlier travels.

Yet again, we made use of the free WiFi but I also took part of the 3 hours and 20 minutes as a chance to finish my PowerPoint presentation for Cork. I tried to keep it simple and use the presentation as a slideshow introduction to the people I interviewed for My DDR T-Shirt. As the Cork classes had watched the screening sometime last week, it was just a reminder.

The journeys have been really useful. We’ve been able to do a bit of housekeeping and Kirst has been able to keep track of maps and locations. I’ve…erm…written this blog and read my book.

The coach dropped us off just outside University College Cork (UCC) and within a few moments, Kerstin met us with a smile and a handshake. I wonder how wide my generalisations can be about the friendly people I’ve met on this trip. Can I generalise that all Germans are nice (accepting the fact that Kerstin is Austrian)? Can I say that all German department staff are nice? Or can I say that all DAAD lektoren are nice? I suppose generalisations aren’t that helpful (generally speaking, of course) but I’m yet to meet an exception.

Anyway, Kerstin, Kirstie and I had soup for lunch in UCC’s staff room (another lovely campus, by the way). Kerstin showed us a rather strange statue of Queen Victoria that used to stand on top of the college. It was taken down some time ago and there was a debate about what to do with her. Destroy her? Place her somewhere else? It seems an odd decision/deferment but they decided to bury her and forgot all about it. In the 1980s, the statue was re-discovered and placed in a case in the staff room.

An interesting story, for sure, and an interesting talking point for the staff room. For me, stone cold Vicky could’ve stayed under a couple of tons of soil for a little longer.

Compared to some of the big lecture theatres we’ve been in, the Cork seminar room was fairly small. Still it soon filled up and a few latecomers even had to stand. I’m not kidding myself that I was the reason for this – I was talking in the slot for their usual lesson. Anyway, I made a start on the slideshow and tried my best to keep things informal, brief and interesting. I tried to give an introduction to the filmmaking process and fill out some back ground on the people I interviewed.

I expected another quiet response (I certainly didn’t expect another Galwway) but in fact, the Cork group were great. Again, they seemed to have thought about the subject and asked good questions. One lad asked questions about specific words I’d used in my voice over (hollow and coerced). As they’d seen the film last week, he’d obviously paid close attention and made notes. Rispeck to that lad.

The Q&A lasted the full hour and I thought it went really well. It’s still a great pleasure to engage with people on this subject.

After an agreement with Kerstin to meet later for dinner, Kirst and I were straight down the road and into Cork for a wander round. Kirst did her best to gather the interesting facts from the Lonely Planet but I think they may have been wasted on me. The Q&As coupled with the travelling here and there are fantastic fun but they can be taxing. I found myself struggling for energy and called Kerstin to bring forward our meal.

At 6pm we met with Kerstin and Daniella for Mexican food just off St Patrick’s Street. It was a lovely meal and a pleasant contrast to the larger gatherings we’d enjoyed of late. It felt a little more intimate with just four of us there and nicely relaxed. I think I may’ve struggled to keep up with a larger group.

We were back at the B&B by around 8pm after a walk back and a stop at the offy for a bottle of rosé. I took a look at the webstats for www.myddrtshirt.co.uk and found some greatly increased traffic from Ireland. It’s funny – the site is showing little spikes in the traffic graphs after each screening. When you dig a little deeper you can see that each spike comes from each town we’re visiting. It’s good to know that people are Googling things before and after screenings. It’s also interesting to see that you don’t stay in people’s minds for long.

I don’t really have clear memories after that. More down to fatigue than wine but my day was definitely done. Even so, we still had enough energy for another episode of 24 – you don’t need much for that.

Irish Tour - day three

Well a lovely breakfast at the Castletroy Guest House followed by a nice walk round the corner to the University of Limerick’s impressive campus. Andreas met us at reception, led us to his office where we covered costs, tickets and receipts.

Andreas took us on a quick tour of the campus before heading off to the lecture theatre for the screening. On this occasion, we decided to sit out the screening and wait outside for the Q&A session.

I remember my days at university and what lectures were like. Most students are killing time and even the motivated ones would rather saw their own legs off than draw attention to themselves by asking questions. I got the impression that they enjoyed the film but were a little shy in coming forward. Andreas covered this by asking questions for them and I tried to give longer answers and include relevant anecdotes. It went well but it was a little subdued. You definitely got a sense that questions were in there somewhere, they just weren’t for coming out.

We were soon thanking Andreas for his warm welcome to Limerick before jumping in the taxi into town. We had a little time to kill so we wandered along the Shannon river for a bit and enjoyed looking at some of the neglected parts of town.

After soup and a sandwich in the Georgian Quarter (why does every city need ‘quarters’?) we were back on a coach and heading towards Galway. To our amazement, the coach had free WiFi on board. As frequent travellers on public transport, it made you wonder why Ireland was doing so much better than the UK on WiFi.

It was felt like a long drive, mostly in the dark (I think) but we watched an episode of 24 Season 1. We’re concluding that it’s rubbish, but highly watchable. A bit like like McDonald’s – it feels you’re consuming something but it holds little or no nourishment.

Galway’s rush hour took us a little by surprise but we checked into the Ivies Guest House at around 5.30. We were almost straight out and walking the mile or so to Galway University.

The DAAD teacher, Berit Carmesin recognised me as I walked into the arts building. It was great to meet her face to face as I have a lot to be grateful for. Without Berit there would be no Irish tour – it’s as simple as that.

She took us to one of the upper floors and showed us the Berlin Wall anniversary exhibition her department had put together. I particularly liked the polystyrene mock up of the Berlin Wall and an East German clothing catalogue. I got to meet other people in Berit’s department and a representative of the German Embassy. I took these opportunities, yet again, to express my thanks for everyone’s support.

I’m not really sure why but we decided to attend the screening rather than sit it out. I think we like to share the mood of the audience. The volume levels were really low and I don’t think the AV system was great but people seemed to enjoy the film.

At the end, I was invited up to the lectern. Before the questions, I took the chance to publicly thank Berit. This was received by applause that suggested I wasn’t the only one to appreciate Berit’s work. Then I asked if anyone had any questions about the film.

I’ve done quite a few Q&As now – and they’ve all taught me something. They’ve made me think about the film and why I made it. They’ve also taught me some simple techniques to help with the variety of questions the film provokes. But no other screening has been quite like the one at Galway.

The Q&A lasted about an hour and could probably have gone on longer. There were some thoughtful questions and some very strong opinions. Some direct challenges and some debates between audience members. It was a genuine heated debate and a pleasure to take part in. It was great to know the film had really provoked some questions and really got people thinking. I also enjoyed being able to share some of my conclusions about East and West.

Without doubt and by a considerable margin, Galway’s Q&A was the most animated I’ve been to and it was kind of electrifying to be part of. Hats off to Galway.

After the Q&A, a group of about 12 of us made it to the ‘Latin Quarter’ for a delicious meal and yet more lively conversation. We also found a moment to give Berit the little fossil stone bowl we’d bought near Doolin. She seemed to like it and I really hope she finds a place for it. It was a small token of our huge gratitude.

All in all, it was a great and memorable night. Galway has earned itself a really special place in my thoughts.

Monday, 16 November 2009

Irish Tour - day two

I’m writing this in a very nice B&B in Limerick. It’s right at the end of day two. After yesterday’s slow start in Galway, we finally caught the coach down to Doolin. Once we got onto some of the smaller roads I was reminded of how bad they can be in Ireland – I tried reading but it wasn’t easy to keep the book still.

The bumpiness of the journey was probably made worse by the driver’s eagerness to park up in time for the match (final score: Ireland 0, France 1). We arrived in Doolin about 30 minutes ahead of schedule. Not bad for what should’ve been a two hour journey.

Anyway, the Aille River Hostel was very warm and welcoming. As we have a week of B&Bs ahead of us, we thought a hostel would be a good idea. And it was. We went for a quick drink at McGann’s Pub and then went back to our room and opened a bottle of wine.

They did a nice eggs and soda bread breakfast for just €2 each. They also hired bikes – but these turned out to be a little worse for wear. We set off pedalling for the Cliffs of Moher and soon realised our gears were knackered. The minute you changed down to go uphill, the gears clanked and grinded and slipped around. I felt a bit worried whether we’d make it to where we wanted to go, and if we did, whether we’d make it back. As it turned out (and because I’d hate to create a false sense of drama and suspense) the biking trip turned out okay.

The Cliffs of Moher were great. Thanks to several childhood holidays in Cornwall, I’ve seen my fair share of coastal cliffs. Moher’s are indeed impressive but I found it hard to capture them at their best. At around midday, the light from the sun shines at a tricky angle and almost makes a silhouette of the cliffs. I noticed that all the most striking photographs in the new visitor centre were taken later in the day when the sun has moved round a bit.

We continued south on the rickety bikes, stopped at one of the few shops round there to buy Berit Carmesin a thank you present. Then we headed north again back to Doolin, the hostel and our luggage. At 4pm, we had to be out in time for the bus to Limerick.

It’s over two hours to Limerick by coach. It seemed a good idea to work on the PowerPoint presentation I’d agreed with Cork University. Because of timetable difficulties, the Q&A at Cork will not directly follow a screening. Apparently, the screening took place last week sometime. Remembering what my university lectures were like, I was conscious that students can have short memories and questions from the audience may need prompting. For this reason, I offered to do a PowerPoint as a reminder – but it’s been a busy old time and I’m running out of opportunities before Cork on Tuesday. Unfortunately, the coach was not one.

Trying to use a laptop mouse pad, on a coach, in Ireland was beyond me. You know those bucking bronco rodeo machines? The ones that spin and twist and flick the rider on to the padded mats? It was a bit like a mild version of that.

I eventually gave up and gave the laptop to Kirstie so she could write her diary. Somehow, she managed it keep on typing all the way to Limerick. I think the fact that she was typing (rather than mouse padding) is significant and I also think the roads must’ve improved at exactly the spot I gave her the laptop. There has to be some reason why Kirstie managed what I couldn’t – that doesn’t make me look bad in some way.

Anyway, we arrived in a rainy, busy Limerick station and found Andreas Damm waiting to pick us up. Before we knew it, we were out of the city and pulling into the driveway of our B&B. Andreas had given enough time for us to check in, get showered and watch a bit of telly before being picked up by one of his colleagues. Gisola (apologies for the spelling) and Glynn picked us up, right on time and we made our way to Andreas and a lovely zwebelkuchen (onion flan type thing).

We had a lovely evening and discussed a bit of everything but all in all it’d been a long day. It was nice to get back to the B&B and get to bed.

Saturday, 14 November 2009

Irish Tour - day one

Well, we had an early start today. Leaving home at around 7.45 to head for Manchester Airport and our flights to Galway. We had to drop our rented car off at the airport depot first (we've had a courtesy car for the last two weeks thanks to someone stealing my car four weeks ago) - this involved a little bit of faff but it was convenient enough.

Anyway, as anyone can see from the header, this is day one of the My DDR T-Shirt Irish Tour. Starting on Monday, my film about East Germany, Kirstie and me will tour Irish universities until Friday. It's something I'm particularly proud of as this is the first time in my life that anyone has been willing to pay real money for my creative pursuits. And let's be honest, I've had a go at several formats.

Seriously though, this is a significant development for me and I'm planning to enjoy it. Having said that, if you could see us now, barely keeping awake in a warm Irish pub, rugby union on the massive TV above my head, you wouldn't think we were particularly enthusiastic about anything. That's fatigue for you.

Anyway, we added a couple of days to the trip for leisure so we're currently waiting for our bus to Doolin. Doolin is right on the west coast and features some spectacular looking cliffs so we're heading there tonight. Then we're off to Limerick to meet Andreas Damm and attend the first screening on Monday morning. Then we have to dash back to Galway to meet Berit Carmesin for the NUI screening in the evening.

Berit deserves a special mention. She has acted as a tour manager for this trip and has co-ordinated the whole thing. Huge thanks to the DAAD and the German Embassy for financial support but special thanks to Berit for getting it all organised, on paper, sponsored and finalised. Thanks also to Christian Strowa for being the first to invite me to Ireland and for all the other DAAD lektoren for their enthusiasm.

Anyway, here are some pictures of the trip so far. I have no idea of WiFi availability for the rest of the trip but who knows? Maybe I'll be able to update this blog a couple of times?

Arriving in Galway

Looking out from the museum

The pub I'm sitting in now.

Wednesday, 29 April 2009

My DDR T-Shirt Needs You!

I got an email the other day from a dude in Spain. He'd found My DDR T-Shirt and wanted to help somehow. As a Spanish translation has already been done and he couldn't organise a screening, he wrote an article on his blog with links to the site (here's the article). His blog is normally about karate and I didn't get many hits from Spain as a result but even so, he did something to help and I'm very grateful. Thanks Miguel.

It's about a year since I finished My DDR T-Shirt and I'm still enjoying the ride. I'm getting great customer reviews, excellent feedback and I'm trying to organise screenings wherever I can. But I still need help - so here's what I was thinking...

I'd like to launch a people power campaign! Okay, this sounds over ambitious but let me explain with a few suggestions:

Can you organise a screening? This could be in a local independent cinema, a bar at the end of the street or even in your home. The audience might be paying customers or just a bunch of film-loving friends you've invited round. If you'd like to organise something, contact me and I'll send you a free screening DVD*. Depending where the screening is, I could introduce the film in person or via a webcam (or just leave you to your own devices). I can also supply poster artwork, web graphics or whatever you need. In return, I'd like to hear how it went and maybe post your photos on this blog, on Facebook or on the general site.

Do you have a blog or website? If so, can you post a blog about My DDR T-Shirt? Or maybe you could place a link or banner on your site? I can provide banners to any specification and send a free DVD* as a mark of my gratitude.

Social sites
If you're on Facebook, Twitter, Bebo, Digg (or any other social media site), can you post something to your friends and/or followers? If you can send a bit of traffic to www.myddrtshirt.co.uk, I'll thank you with a free DVD*.

Maybe you can collect a few addresses of friends, colleagues or co-workers and let them know about My DDR T-Shirt? Please note, everybody hates SPAM so please be careful - only send to people who might be interested in films, documentaries, history, filmmaking or any other relevant subject.

Do you have a notice board at work or college? If you have access to a printer, print the flyer below and place wherever you can. Maybe there's a bit of guerrilla marketing possible by leaving the flyers in imaginative places? Please note, litter is bad so please place carefully - and respect the rules and by-laws of wherever you are placing the flyers. If you can email a photo of a flyer in a cool place or places, I'll send you a free DVD*.

Film Festivals
I have a full time job and struggle to manage film promotion in my spare time. Finding time to search the internet for suitable film festivals is difficult. If your town or city has a festival that might take a documentary about East Germany, send me the link. If you know of any festival anywhere in the world, send me the link. If you can do a bit of Googling and email a list of suitable events, please do so. I'd send a free DVD* to thank you for your time.

Is there a public access TV channel in your country? Do they sometimes show films or documentaries that you wouldn't get on mainstream TV? If so, please forward any information you have and where possible, I'll send a free DVD*.

If you've seen My DDR T-Shirt, it would really help if you could post a review on the website. All comments are welcome - so long as they're not offensive and they help to reassure new visitors that the film is worth watching. Go to the review page to see what I mean.

* I don't know what kind of response I'll get to this call for help. I may struggle to post free DVDs to everyone, but I promise to do my best.

Tuesday, 31 March 2009

News, news and more news

The DAAD (translates as the German Academic Exchange Service) will screen My DDR T-Shirt in Belgrave Square, London. The screening takes place on 20th June and is part of a regular programme of events organised for DAAD's membership of German lecturers and teachers.

I have been invited to present the film and answer questions at the end - and I'm very much looking forward to it. This screening is significant for the simple reason that it was not generated by me. This has happened because someone attended the Durham screening and recommended my film to the DAAD. Huge thanks to Kai in Durham and Eva Peters at DAAD.

I'm proud to announce that Hawkinsian Productions recently signed its first contract. The contract committed My DDR T-Shirt to the British Federation of Film Societies' (BFFS) national distribution scheme.

There are hundreds of film societies throughout the UK. From remote villages to urban enthusiasts, film societies make independent and foreign films accessible to everyone - "Cinema for all" is their motto. Being part of the BFFS scheme is a huge compliment and I'm keeping my fingers crossed that it'll will lead to new screenings.

As an additional bit of news, My DDR T-Shirt may also be screened at the BFFS national conference in September. We're keeping our fingers crossed.

Finally, alongside the Spanish subtitled edit (being worked on currently), I've recently had some very generous offers for Finnish and Dutch translations. These offers came out of the blue as responses to my website pages 'Get involved'. Both people have offered to work on the project for free. The Finnish one is especially timely as a Finnish TV company recently responded to my offer to send them a preview DVD. Indeed, I've just had an email from a Hungarian channel asking for a preview DVD. I wonder whether anything will come of this? Yet another thing to keep my fingers crossed about.

Nearly a year since finishing the film, My DDR T-Shirt is still coming up with pleasant surprises. It's proving to be a great project and a massive success in its own little way.

Long may it continue!

Friday, 6 March 2009

Durham and other news

Thursday 26th February was a great night for My DDR T-Shirt. The third public screening took place at Durham University and went very well indeed. The night was organised by Durham’s Ethnographic Film Society and was well attended. There was also a really healthy Q&A session at the end – and this kinda continued in the pub afterwards.

Huge thanks go to Stefan Shanker and his friends at EthnoFilm. Thank you.

Other news to mention is that the Spanish translation of the full audio transcript is now complete. A dude called Juan-Carlos Carrillo went to considerable effort on the translation and this will be used to make a Spanish edit of the film. For Spanish speakers, this translation document is so far available by special email request only.

A very kind offer has recently come in to translate My DDR T-Shirt into Finnish – which was gratefully accepted. Who knows when this will be available (it’s a big job) but if you’re interested just send an email and I’ll send it out when I get it.

And finally, there is news of some investment here at Hawkinsian Productions. We are now the proud owners of a ‘proper’ video camera – a Sony DSR PD150. This broadcast quality camera is not the state of the art but it’s a considerable upgrade of current Hawkinsian facilities. We are very excited about new projects and can’t wait to make use of the new camera.

Sunday, 15 February 2009

Screening number three

Updates have been a little sporadic recently but that doesn't indicate that nothing is going on.

We're delighted to announce the third public screening of My DDR T-Shirt. Durham University's Ethnographic and Foreign Film Society, in association with the German Society will be hosting the screening on Thursday 26 February.

There's a nominal charge of 50p for admission and the evening starts at 7.15pm. The screening will be followed by a Q&A session with the director, Ian Hawkins.

It's always enormously rewarding to get interest from others in My DDR T-Shirt. Thank you to the people at EthnoFilm for
your enthusiasm and time.

It should be a great night (check out the poster) so maybe we'll see you there.

Thursday, 5 February 2009

Review of 2008

If you're one of the thousands of avid followers of My DDR T-Shirt, you'll know that about twelve months ago I made the following New Year's resolutions:

1. Finish the film (to a satisfactory standard)
2. Organise a screening
3. Have My DDR T-Shirt screened by someone else

Admittedly, these were deliberately achievable targets, but that's easy to say now, having achieved all three. Twelve months ago, the whole idea for My DDR T-Shirt was about two years past its original deadline. There were many, many periods between March 2005 and March 2008 when I thought I would never finish the film. It was certainly labour of love.

Finishing the film was great. There are things I'd like to do to improve the edit, smooth a few rough edges, cut down a bit of content etc, but I could probably spend the rest of my life tinkering. I think it is best to draw a line, learn what you can and use this for future projects. Even so, having the complete film on a DVD, having 'a product' that I could send to people and sell online, was a massive milestone.

The DVD has sold quite nicely with retail sales in Australia, Sweden, Germany, Luxembourg, Puerto Rico, the United States and the UK. It won't make me rich, but for me, this constitutes a worldwide audience. Not only that, I have had some great emails from people, healthy web traffic, growing numbers of fans on the Facebook page and some amazingly good reviews posted on www.myddrtshirt.co.uk/reviews.htm.

Resolution two was nailed by the free screening at Fuel Café Bar in Withington, Manchester. This fantastic evening was packed to the rafters . I don't think it's an exagerration to say it was one of the most rewarding nights of my life. Thanks to all who attended.

Resolution three was ticked later in the year thanks to Salford Film Festival. Having been rejected by a handful of festivals, Salford's enthusiasm was very welcome indeed. The fact that they deemed My DDR T-Shirt worthy of a place in their programme was cool. Thank you very much to the festival organisers.

So, in a nutshell, that's it. That's 2008. Promotional activity will continue in 2009, so thanks for your interest and keep watching this space.

Thursday, 6 November 2008


I'm delighted to report that I have recently published the My DDR T-Shirt Reviews page.

If you've seen the film and would like to write a review simply go to www.myddrtshirt.co.uk/reviews.htm - you don't have to join or register and you can write whatever you want - within reason, of course.

In gathering reviews, I'm hoping to gain an insight into what worked
with my film and what didn't. I also want to provide somewhere for prospective DVD buyers to read about my film from people other than me. After all, I'm not sure if I would buy a DVD from an amateur filmmaker.

Anyway, go on. Write a review and tell us what you think...

Sunday, 2 November 2008

Deine Geschicte...

It's taking a very long time but I'm still working on a My DDR T-Shirt trailer. I'm also going to post some short downloadable excerpts. In the meantime, I've been contacted by a Berlin-based project called Deine Geschichte (Your Memories, in English).

Their web-based project aims to gather information, personal accounts and memories of life in East Germany. They found out about My DDR T-Shirt and asked to post some clips on their site.

So, you can now view some very short clips from My DDR T-Shirt. Just visit the My DDR T-Shirt article page.

Please note, the whole site is in German, but the clips from the film are in English or subtitled in English.


Enough already!

I'm glad to report that my suspended eBay account has been reinstated - with an apology from eBay. However, eBay still refuse to answer some crucial questions and ignore my requests to re-set my 'failing' user status.

So, given that I fully expect further problems with eBay, I've decided to stop reporting these problems in my updates. They (eBay) seem to be staggeringly arrogant and infuriating but they make very boring updates.

From now on, if you'd like to buy my DVD (and I'd be very grateful if you did), simply visit the My DDR T-Shirt website and take a look at the shop page. If eBay sales are available you can find them there, if they're not just try one of the alternatives.


Monday, 27 October 2008

Ignorance and idiocy at eBay

Well, my problems with eBay continue. In fact, they've just reached a new low. I've just learned that my my eBay account has been suspended. Why? Because they think that the My DDR T-Shirt DVDs I am selling are unauthorised copies and a breach of copyright.

I have now had 10 auctions or eBay sales removed by eBay. I have written to them several times to explain the situation but it seems that they are far too big and powerful to listen. I keep writing to them but they send generic and pre-written replies that clearly don't understand the problem. For the record, the DVDs I am selling are not unauthorised and they do not breach any of eBay's policies.

This eBay account suspension is an unjustified punishment of a legitimate seller. It's also a serious blow to the campaign to promote My DDR T-Shirt. The untouchable idiots at eBay are having a real impact on what I do and it is apalling, truly apalling, that they can act so unfairly.

If you were thinking of buying my DVD, simpy email me at "sales [at] ianhawkins.co.uk".

Wednesday, 8 October 2008

Lots to report...

Man! There's quite a bit to report this time. Things have been a little less hectic at home recently and I've used this time to tick a few things off the DDR To Do list. But first of all, I have to report some disappointing wrangling with eBay. Over the last few weeks they have removed several auctions for the My DDR T-Shirt DVD. I think it's seven in total. They still seem to think I'm selling counterfeit copies of someone else's film. They even wrote to all my DVD bidders and told them that the product was an 'unauthorised copy' and a 'breach of copyright'. I don't have any legal expertise but this must verge on libel.

I keep writing to them to explain, I keep re-listing the DVD but my account is running dangerously close to being suspended. Ideally, I'd like to take my custom elsewhere (eBay's customer service structure is immensely frustrating) but there just isn't another online market place to compare. And that's the truth...

Despite this, eBay sales are ongoing and going quite well (relatively speaking). I'm also getting some nice feedback from satisfied customers. The current eBay auction is getting close to the end. Maybe it's because eBay scared all my customers away but bidding is still at 99p. No other auction has done this so it may be a great opportunity to pick up the cheapest My DDR T-Shirt DVD so far. Unless eBay has suspended my account, you can always see the current auction from my eBay Shop.

Anyway, there are a few interesting irons in the fire. I don't want to jump the gun so apologies for the flaky details. I'll just tell you the news and report at a later date if anything comes to fruition.

1. I was contacted by a person who works at a large museum dedicated to the Cold War - he said there is a gap in their material about life in East Germany and my film just might fit. They may play an edited version of the film or stock the DVD in the museum shop.

2. One person offered two very interesting leads. Firstly, they run an online bookshop and may be interested in selling the DVD. Secondly, they have contacts with an independent arts organsation for Russian people living in the Northeast. This might lead to a screening at some point, somewhere.

3. A good friend is making initial contacts to explore the Leipzig screening reported last time. I love the idea of a German/Leipzig screening so I'm keeping my fingers crossed for this one. In preparation, the transcription of the film has finally been completed and will (hopefully) be translated into German for use as subtitles.

4. I'm down to small, techy details now but we have now transferred all Hawkinsian websites to a new server to increase web space from 55mb to 2500mb.

Wow. The biggest My DDR update ever? Probably. Well done if you got this far!

Tuesday, 30 September 2008

Reasons to be cheerful

Well, well, well! I have some very good news...

My DDR T-Shirt has been accepted onto the programme of Salford Film Festival! The film will be screened at Salford Arts Theatre on Tuesday 18 November. This will only be the second public screening of My DDR T-Shirt and hopefully will lead to a bit of interest and other screenings elsewhere. So, huge thanks to the festival organisers for accepting the film.

After a quiet summer, this festival acceptance and very encouraging eBay sales make the oncoming winter feel quite positive. I can also report some very early discussions to arrange a screening in Leipzig - maybe some time in the first quarter of next year. These plans are still very much on the drawing board and far from confirmed. Of course, I'll keep this blog up to date with any developments.

See our eBay seller page to buy the DVD.

Tuesday, 16 September 2008

Rejection and acceptance...

Do you want the good news or the bad news?

Okay, bad news first:
Shortly after being rejected by Sheffield DocFest, I also received notification that My DDR T-Shirt had not been accepted by Leipzig Festival. This was always a long shot, but you always hope a little.

Now the good news:
I've just sold the first DVD of My DDR T-Shirt on eBay! I'd had difficulties with eBay de-listing the item because they thought I was trying to sell a bootlegged DVD. I could never get through to an eBay human so instead, I tinkered with the listing text and made it clear that the DVD was made, produced, written, directed, manufactured and sold by me.

I've just re-listed the DVD for a second auction so if you're interested, go to the eBay My DDR T-Shirt auction page now.

Thursday, 11 September 2008

Hope springs a leak

Well, I'm just back from a holiday in Italy and finding it difficult to get into the swing of the old routine again. I thought I'd offer a quick update of the only little bit of news I have. Unfortunately, My DDR T-Shirt has not been accepted by Sheffield Documentary Film Festival (DocFest).

Although you never expect a film to be accepted anywhere, this rejection came as a bit of a disappointment. The theme of DocFest 2008 was regime change - this made all staff at Hawkinsian Productions hopeful that My DDR T-Shirt's obvious fit would come up trumps. But it wasn't to be so.

There are still three other film festival irons in the fire and we hope something will come of these.

In the meantime, I've had some nice feedback from independent filmmaker/writer/author, Micheal W. Dean. He "loved the flick" and offered his support. Micheal's book, $30 Film School, really helped me make a start with film making, and is essentially the model I used to make My DDR T-Shirt. Now (after being rejected by DocFest), maybe it's a good time to re-read sections and get some ideas.

Wednesday, 20 August 2008

Long overdue, little progress

Here's an update on all things My DDR T-Shirt.

Film Festivals: As reported earlier, submitted to Leipzig, Sheffield and Salford - not heard anything back yet. Will shortly submit to Berwick-upon-Tweed and keep an eye on any other suitables. The whole film festival is an odd thing. You send things off and don't hear anything again. But then you only need to feature in one of them to make it worth your while.

Translation: Still working with Juan on a Spanish translation. He just needs the full transcription and I'm struggling for time to do this at the moment.

Other issues: I tried to sell full retail DVDs of My DDR T-Shirt on eBay as a trial. Strangely, eBay removed it from public sale on the grounds that it breached copyright and was an unauthorised copy. I wrote to tell them that I am the director, producer and copyright owner but this hasn't made any difference. As a result, I'm falling back on the idea to make DVDs available for sale on www.myddrtshirt.co.uk. I don't expect to make a profit on the exercise so will price DVDs at around the £5 mark (excl P&P).

Thursday, 10 July 2008

Restricted progress...

Well, a number of things have conspired to make things a little unsettled recently. Mainly, I've moved home and jobs. This has meant no broadband access at home so Hawkinsian Productions have been a little restricted since the highs of the Fuel Café screening on the 17th.

It's been very frustrating but I thought I'd update what I can...

  1. I submitted My DDR T-Shirt to Sheffield DocFest (film festival). Their theme this year is 'regime change' so fingers crossed.
  2. A few minutes ago, I submitted My DDR T-Shirt to the Leipzig International Film Festival. This is a very competitive festival and it is unlikely my home-made film will make it, but we're keeping our fingers crossed.
  3. I'm always on the look out for suitable venues for public screenings - feel free to suggest any ideas.
  4. Plans are being drawn up to include a 'Shop' section on www.myddrtshirt.co.uk. We hope to make My DDR T-Shirt available as a retail DVD soon.
  5. I had a very kind response from a South American dude (living in the Netherlands) offering to write Spanish subtitles. This is still a work in progress but whatever happens, I'm very grateful for his interest.

I think that's all.

Monday, 23 June 2008

A night to remember...

Tuesday 17th June, 2008 was a very, very special night. This was the night that My DDR T-Shirt received its first ever public screening - and what a resounding success!

In Fuel (a café bar in Withington) around 60 people gathered to watch the film. Admittedly, many of these were friends - I invited almost everyone I knew. However, lots of people I didn't know also turned up because they had heard about the screening somewhere and were interested in the subject. How cool is that?

Making My DDR T-Shirt was a pretty solitary affair. Obviously, filming the interviews wasn't but the long process of editing was. As the film played, I sat and watched the audience. They sat (or stood) and stared at the ironed duvet cover that doubled as a screen and seemed totally engaged with the subject. They watched like they would a proper film in a proper cinema. It is hard to describe how enormously rewarding this was.

At the rolling of the credits, they even applauded.

The posts of this blog serve as a record (of sorts) for all the ups and downs of the My DDR T-Shirt project. It may not be the most enthralling subject to read about but every setback and delay is listed here. It's a pleasure to report such a fantastic highlight.

Massive, heartfelt thanks to everyone who came along.

Poster from the big night.

Q&A session

Friday, 30 May 2008

Free Screening!

Yes, one of my New Year's resolutions looks set to happen.

My DDR T-Shirt will receive its first ever public screening on Tuesday 17th June, 2008. It'll take place in a bar called Fuel in Withington, Manchester.

A dedicated email notification has been sent to a select list (you can view it here if you like). A poster campaign is also underway and will be visible in suitable places throughout Manchester.

It's free so come along if you can.

That's it!

New website launched

A re-design of the My DDR T-Shirt website is now live.

Now that the film is finished, it is hoped that the new site will provide an improved platform for the busy months of activity ahead.

The new site will also eventually feature feedback forms and maybe a forum.

Friday, 16 May 2008

Nods so far...

So, discs are flying out left, right and centre! Well, almost. I've sent preview DVDs to all the interviewees and a couple of friends and family.

So far, feedback has been generally very positive. More importantly, I've had replies from two interviewees, Johnny Tarver and Ian Sanders. Both have stated that they have no objection to the way they have been represented and the way I have used their words and opinions in the film.

This has always been important to me. I don't mind if people dislike the film, or the way it expresses my feelings, but I'd hate to people to feel I'd distorted their words. I await feedback from the other interviewees.

For the record, I have not sent discs to the following interviewees:

  • Lutz Bergerman/Bergman
  • Sasha Ritter
  • A dude called Conrad
  • An un-named student

These were un-arranged, man-on-the-street, vox-pop interviews. We did quite of few of them but these four people made it into the final cut. I would like to offer these people chance to 'approve' their interviews but unlike the other interviewees, they only gave verbal permission to being filmed. This means they didn't fill in the full release form - therefore, no contact details.

Work is still being done to re-design the website and there's also a poster design in the pipeline to fulfil any future screenings.

Tuesday, 6 May 2008

The next stage

Over the last week or so I have dispatched around 20 rough cut preview
discs of My DDR T-Shirt. These were mainly sent to the people I actually
interviewed. For me, this is the first stage of the process. As these
people gave their time and discussed their experiences for my benefit, I
owe them (at the very least) the chance to see the film before others.

Here's an update on some other plans:

1. As promised many months ago, I intend to organise a very low-key My
DDR T-Shirt 'premiere' in Withington. I hope to have a date for this
soon. I am also looking at other venues for similar 'events' but will be
trying to avoid screenings in empty rooms. If you know of a suitable
venue, please let me know.

2. Now that the film is ready, we are looking at other ways to get My
DDR T-Shirt screened. A list of potentially suitable film festivals in
the UK and mainland Europe has been drawn up. I expect to spend lots of
time in Post Office queues over the next few months.

3. As we start to pro-actively promote the film, we'll need a new
website. We need something new and fresh with a consistent look and feel
for the project. We also need to look into streaming technology and
other methods to get the film 'out there'.

4. A variety of audio and visual tweaks have taken place since these
first rough cut preview discs were made. Around 30 seconds has been
trimmed away and some project file export problems have been solved.

If you'd like to see one of these preview DVD-Rs, email

Monday, 28 April 2008


Right now, I am sitting at my computer printing labels onto DVD-Rs. The labels say:

"My DDR T-Shirt - Rough cut preview copy"

I am in the process of sending these discs to the people who appear in the film - and anyone else who might be interested. Basically, what I'm trying to say is that the film is essentially finished. It'll need a tweak here and a little adjustment there but I suppose this will always be the case. What is really required now is to get people to watch it and revamp the website.

All this starts in earnest as of now. But for the time being, the biggest single creative project of my life is done. I have a stack of 15 or so discs and this means I have a product.

Email me if you'd like to have one of these limited edition rough cut previews.

Monday, 17 March 2008

Passing milestones

Woohoo! Last night, I sat down with my girlfriend and watched the first full edit of My DDR T-Shirt.

It's a rough cut with lots still to do. Even so, it's a hugely significant milestone with a great sense of relief, reward and achievement.
My DDR T-Shirt currently lasts 56 minutes and has stretched our resources, expertise and patience to the limit. To remind you, the last Hawkinsian Production was 13 minutes long and featured just one interviewee. It's a big deal for everyone down at Hawkinsian Productions and best of all, the film itself is looking pretty good.

You may get a sense of the celebratory mood here at the Institute but here are the next steps:

1. It is estimated that it'll take another month or two for the film to be properly finished. Soundtrack, credits, tweaks, re-edits will be required.

2. Hawkinsian staff have already started to contact interviewees for feedback. This is an important process, although we reserve editorial control we would never want to distort anyone's words. Asking for interviewee feedback is our way to check the balance of the project. Problems may occur if, in the three years it has taken to get to this stage, contact details of these interviewees have changed.

If you have been interviewed for My DDR T-Shirt and have changed your contact details, please let me know.

3. After that, who knows? Watch this space for updates and contact us if you have any questions.

Monday, 25 February 2008

Nearly there?

From a My DDR T-Shirt point of view, yesterday (Sunday 24th February) was a really good day. Virtually the whole day was given to the project (for the first time in ages) and lots of progress was made. It is estimated that the first rough cut of My DDR T-Shirt is only a handful of evenings away.

As I have hinted previously, the rough cut is a gateway to a new round of editing, re-editing, soundtracking and voice over recording. In other words, lots to do.

However, this update is really meant to mark the progress towards that first rough cut. Remember, this project was conceived three years ago and it has been blighted by delays and set backs. The first test was whether the whole DDR T-Shirt idea had legs, the second whether a filming trip to Berlin could be funded, the third whether I could find enough interesting people, the fourth whether I could conduct and film good interviews. All these tests have been passed but one of the toughest tests has been to manage these voices and complicated issues with the limited editing skills and resources available.

The biggest project so far for Hawkinsian Productions was a documentary called Our Man in Harrogate. It had a cast of one (me) and was 13 minutes long. The jump from short films to a full length documentary has been a daunting and fascinating foray into the unknown - and an enormous challenge.

That's where we are now. At around 50 minutes, the first cut is nearly done and it's fantastic to be able to say it.

Tuesday, 12 February 2008

The home straight

Things are going very well with My DDR T-Shirt. The edited timeline is now up to around 45 minutes. The narrative is loosely separated into chapters and only one chapter remains to be edited. After that, the basic structure is complete and a new round of audio tweaking and edit smoothing commences. There’ll also be some test screenings and viewings to get feedback from trusted sources.

So, we are now on the home straight, nearly three years after starting the project. If you’ve been keeping up to date with this project, thank you for your patience.

On another note, there are all kinds of issues that emerge when making a film about this subject. Thinking about these issues is what caught my imagination in the first place. One of the biggies on the list is the subject of freedom. What does it mean to be free? Who is free? What is freedom? As ever, I don’t claim to have any answers but in my usual ruminative way, I have decided that these questions and issues may form a neat cross-over between this and my other blog.

To see what I'm blathering on about take a look at The Hawkinsian Institute blog...

Wednesday, 2 January 2008

Vive la Resolution!

If my New Year's resolutions are anything to go by, 2008 will be a good year for My DDR T-Shirt. I have identified a handful of what I hope will be achievable targets for the project. In stating them here, I'm trying to put my money where my mouth is.

By this time next year, I hope to:

1. Finish the film (and be happy with it)
2. Organise a 'première' screening somewhere in Manchester
3. Have the film screened by someone other than myself

Simple, huh? Let's see.

I have been able to use some time over Christmas for editing. The project has now broken the 30 minute mark (33 mins). Quite an achievement in itself, but not the only benchmark. The main thing was to catch up with the narrative thread - I think I succeeded with this and hope to march on with things from now on.

This is a longshot, but if anybody reading this has any footage or photographs of East Berlin prior to 1989, Id be interested to hear from you. Even dull street scenes would help, with parked Trabbis etc. If you can help, please get in touch.

Saturday, 1 December 2007

Progress report

Okay, so it's the firsts day of December 2007. This means it's been a long time since my last blog. For all those who've followed this project since its inception in 2005, you'd be forgiven for thinking it has gone into one of its hibernation periods. This is not the case. I just haven't had time to do anything since coming back from holiday.

Talking of the holiday, our three week trip round central Europe was fantastic. It was a brilliant, though unseasonably cold, insight into that part of the world. I also managed to get a few extra cutaways for My DDR T-Shirt and had some fascinating conversations.

A few things have happened:
  1. The latest 25 minute rough cut has been passed around a few trusted friends for feedback.
  2. Conversations have taken place about how to get the film viewed when it's finished - suitable festivals, websites, funding possibilities etc etc.
  3. Potentially worrying problems with faulty DVD burns (causing severe screen freezes etc) have been identified and solved.
With Christmas around the corner, I hope to set aside sometime for editing. Let's hope 2008 is the year for My DDR T-Shirt.

Wednesday, 22 August 2007

My DDR pie in the sky

In just over a week's time, my partner and I fly out to Berlin. My third visit, her first. It is part of a bigger, three week tour of central Europe. We go to Germany, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Poland and Lithuania.

Other than a fantastically exciting prospect, the trip has worked as something of a My DDR T-Shirt deadline. In fact, one of the reasons for starting the tour in Berlin was to enable the Hawkinsian camcorder to capture finishing touches to My DDR T-Shirt. As readers of this blog will know, things have been up and down for the project over the summer, but it's good to report that things are nicely on track to take advantage of the coming visit to Berlin.

The My DDR T-Shirt working edit currently stands at around 25 minutes. There's a lot of polishing to do - in fact, it's still at the sanding down stage but a test DVD burn took place the other day and things are looking quite good. The original estimate of a 40-45 minute final running time is still about right.

And for the pie in the sky bit...
The other day, while reading some underground style club and band posters on a bar wall, it struck me as a good idea to organise a My DDR T-Shirt 'premiere'. Ideally, I'd like this to be in Withington, Manchester and there is a perfect room at a bar on Oxford Road. No contact has been made with the bar, and any public screening is many months away, but maybe this kind of thinking is a measure of the growing confidence here at Hawkinsian Productions.

Friday, 17 August 2007

All systems go - again

The impact of the corrupt project file reported in my last update has fully hit home - and what a body blow it was. However, it is great to report that most of that lost ground has been regained. Editing staff down at the Institute have been piecing the project back together and we are now back up to around 13 minutes running time.

We have taken the opportunity to assess and polish the edit wherever possible and it is generally accepted that the new 13 minutes is an improvement on the old 16 minutes. There have also been one or two mini-innovations (minnovations?) that bode very well for the end product.

Aside from these project details, there are a couple of small points...

The Hawkinsian software package has been upgraded in a measure to irradicate the buggy/crashy elements that caused the file corruption in the first place. It was actually sheer good fortune that a friend of the Institute happened to have the latest version of the Hawkinsian editing software program of choice. The newer version seems a little slow at some simple tasks but notably more stable. It also features some exciting new export/format options that will certainly be exploited when the film is ready to be distributed. People will be able to sit and watch My DDR T-Shirt from the comfort of wherever they are with a whole raft of downloadable options compatible with portable and hand held devices such as iPods, Nintendo DS, PocketPCs and a variety of others.

Friday, 10 August 2007

Good and bad news

There is good and bad news to report. After several weeks of fairly intensive editing activity, My DDR T-Shirt reached the heady heights of more than 16 minutes running time. In a project expected to be around 40 minutes, this is a considerable achievement and very pleased we are too. That's the good news.

The other day, after attempting to burn a test DVD, the Hawkinsian System crashed. No big deal - this happens from time to time and we are now accustomed to frequently saving our progress. The big deal is that when re-booting and re-opening the editing project, the file has somehow become corrupt and unopenable. Without wanting to be melodramatic, many hours of intensive activity have been lost.

This a considerable blow to the project and massively disappointing. However, in the grand scheme of things, it isn't the end of the world - or the project. The biggest loss is time and early estimates suggest that it will set the project back 2-4 weeks. That's the bad news.

Monday, 6 August 2007

Testing times

Work is progressing with some positive results. With the new start, the initial edit had been stripped back to just over five minutes. Total time now stands at nearly eleven minutes.

These eleven minutes are just the beginning but they have helped establish a provisional narrative structure - though still subject to change. It is much easier to estimate the overall running time of the project and this is looking like around 40 minutes.

A rough cut of the first 10 minutes was made available to a select few a couple of days ago. Feedback was very positive - including a great response from a German colleague of Ian's. Being able to show just an intro to the project was particularly rewarding.

On a slightly different note, the longest Hawkinsian film to date is 'Our Man in Harrogate' at around 13 minutes. Jumping to about 40 minutes is presenting its own challenges. Editing staff down at the Institute are grateful that the interviews have such engaging content, but innovation is much harder to maintain on a longer project. We aren't looking to cater for short, choppy attention spans with short, choppy editing. My DDR T-Shirt is designed to let people speak and communicate their views and experiences - but does a series of unbroken talking heads make these experiences a little too dull?

It's the current hot potato down at the Institute.