"Everything you need to know about genetics you can learn from your cat"
(Associate professor Leslie Lyons PhD of the UC Davis Genetics Laboratory at the University of California)

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Cat Fancy Club. A Somewhere project by Nina Pope & Karen Guthrie. Photography: Marc Henrie. Image compositor: Theo Cook

Over the last two years Karen Guthrie & Nina Pope of the London art collective Somewhere have been working on a research and documentary project focusing on pedigree cat breeding. They followed pedigree cat owners at cat shows, worked with breeders, and interviewed Dr Leslie Lyons, an internationally-respected authority on feline genetics who ratified the world's first cloned kitten ("Cc") and the first GFP ("glow-in-the-dark") transgenic kitten.

Demonstrating a fascinating mix of scientific knowledge and creative experimentation, breeders have an acute alertness to the aesthetic requirements of their chosen breed, underpinned by the genetic knowledge to safely breed towards the refinement of particular characteristics. Some breeders already utilise genetic testing and collaborate with scientists, bridging the traditional gap between amateur and professional science and providing a flow of information between these two worlds.

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'Cat Fancy Club' production still by Nina Pope. All rights reserved

Artists/directors Pope & Guthrie have a track record of working with hobby or 'pro-am' groups and are particularly interested in ways that knowledge can be generated by actual 'making and doing' combined with close observation. Pedigree cat breeders show a fascinating mix of scientific knowledge and creativity, their acute sense of the correct look for the cats, underpinned by the genetic knowledge required to breed for 'refining a look'.

The working title of the documentary is Cat Fancy Club. I don't often write about videos, especially those i've never seen. However, the extracts from the documentary i saw at the Euston Road window of the Wellcome Collection a few weeks ago made me want to ask a few questions to the directors of the documentary.


Cat Fancy Club Pilot by Nina_Pope

Karen Guthrie & Nina Pope also asked LaPerm breeder Anthony Nichols and Professor Leslie A. Lyons to comment on the interview and the two experts were kind enough to add their own view:

In your documentary, you interview both scientists and amateur breeders. How much genetics manipulation can one really do outside of a university lab?

NP: Well I'm not sure we would describe it as genetic manipulation (!) but one of the aims of the film is to show that you can at least understand a lot about genetics just by observing your cats. The level of genetic knowledge in breeders obviously varies but we are very interested in working with people who find it particularly interesting and have developed a deep understanding of how basic genetics work which they then utilise to plan their breeding programmes. This can affect simple things like trying to breed for particular coat colours, but can also help them to keep the breeds really healthy.

LL: The average person, especially early farmers, have been genetic manipulators for thousands of years. Regular people are responsible for 99% of our animal breeds and varieties of flowers and crops. Most genetic manipulation in the lab is still done the same way, just by breeding animals and selecting for the natural variation. But, now we can move genes from one organism to another - called transgenics. This is a very particular speciality and cannot be done outside of the lab. But the interaction of most breeders and scientists do not pertain to transgenics anyhow - just natural breeding and selection.

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British blue. 'Cat Fancy Club' production still by Nina Pope. All rights reserved

I couldn't help but be a bit judgmental when is saw the trailer of the upcoming film and read about genetic research on cats, i had the feeling that there is a huge chasm between my love of cats and the one felt by people participating to cat shows with their hairless cats and LaPerm. I don't quite understand that search for a particular aesthetics. But are amateur breeders only driven by aesthetics? What motivates their quest for the perfect breed? The desire to produce a unique luxury item?

NP: You won't find more cat lovers together anywhere outside of a cat show that's for sure! I guess whether you're into 'moggies' or LaPerms is more about personal taste that anything else. Both of us own rescue cats but that doesn't mean we're not tempted by the amazing range of pedigree cats out there.

KG: For some breeders the thrill of the genetic chase for a particularly rare colour (for example) is very motivating - the tougher and more recessive a gene, the more some breeders work towards bringing it forward - somewhat like bringing a rare orchid to flower from seed! Establishing a new breed of cat and the networks with other breeders and owners is obviously something that particular people also enjoy.

AN: Nine out of ten cats bred by pedigree breeders are for pet homes where they will never be involved in breeding or showing so for the average breeder good health and good temperament are far more important. No one expects to breed the aesthetic ideal but it's a guideline to aim towards. It is ultimately more satisfying for a breeder to be involved with a new DNA screening programme and to eliminate a genetic disease. But showing is designed to promote good health and confirmation, as well as good grooming and care. Cat show judges check for signs of health and penalise 'defects' that impact on a cat's health/welfare.

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'Cat Fancy Club' production still by Nina Pope. All rights reserved

Did you have any preconception about the world of professional and amateur cat breeding before starting to work on this movie? Did getting in close contact and discussing with them changed you assumptions in any way? For example, do you now desire to own a cat similar to the grey ones featured on that pink image you made?

KG: Some preconceptions - such as that many cat enthusiasts are women of a certain age - are true! One hears of 'kitten farms' where unscrupulous breeders are churning out pedigree kittens just for money, but of course if they are out there mixing with people at Cat Shows and in the Cat Fancy you don't meet them. We were struck often with the very high level of genetic understanding amongst domestic breeders with little or no science education - some breeders are more instinctive, describing their breeding animals' charisma and 'star quality' as what directs them, whilst others really are breeding with genetics so much at the forefront that a litter will rarely contain any 'surprises' - instead the breeder will know exactly what colour kittens to expect and may even have a fellow breeder in another country waiting to acquire and breed forward with a certain kitten.

Like any kind of learned connoisseurship, learning more about how an unusual colour, coat texture or eye colour actually happens, definitely enhances your appreciation of it in a cat. BTW one never owns a cat, it's the other way around! We do have our personal aesthetic tastes - Nina already has a longhaired grey cat, and Karen had until a recent death, two ginger tomcats.

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Sphynx. Production still 'Cat Fancy Club' by Nina Pope. All rights reserved

Apart from aesthetics, what else motivates genetic research on cats?

KG: The domestic breeders we've met that are at the forefront of certain breeds (e.g Birman, LaPerm) are as interested in breeding for robust health as aesthetic 'brilliance'. There are instances recently of certain breeders instigating successful breed databases that aim to prevent inbreeding or accidental close crosses by 'mapping' all births of a certain cat breed that occur. This is very ambitious, and it shows how technology is helping make this possible - as an aside, many of the breeders we met involved in creating databases and networking internationally via the web, are quite elderly but really tech-savvy.

A considerable amount of feline genetic research (in the US at least) is supported because of close analogies with human genetics and health: how viruses spread, and kidney problems for example. The cause/s of blindness is one of many research interests of the world's leading feline geneticist Dr Leslie Lyons (UC Davis) who we filmed, and there is strong evidence that tracking genetic blindness and trailing treatments in cats will progress understanding of and ultimately prevention of blindness in humans.

Dr Lyons invites DNA samples from all over the world for her work because she needs to access the widest possible gene pool. She concentrates her work on pedigree breeds because there is then certain known parameters that her material relates to, but in the UK at Bristol University, research is more focused on 'moggies' at large, in one exercise they are collating life-spanning information on a sample of ordinary cats to try and establish what the biggest risk factors are for the cat - I guess it could be anything from proximity to heavy traffic, coat colour, diet...

NP: One of the things that has been most interesting to hear about is that Leslie often finds new leads or clues to genetics through the observations of breeders. Obviously pet owners spend a LOT of time closely watching their cats and this can be invaluable as a way to uncover unusual features and traits. Often breeders will know from observing for generations what to expect from certain pairings, when the actual genetic 'facts' behind these intuitions may actually come out at a later date.

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Jen with one of her Korats. Production still 'Cat Fancy Club' by Nina Pope. All rights reserved

How about the impact of pedigree cat breeding on the personality or physical well-being of the cat? i recently saw a report on tv about how intense forms of dog breeding are creating dogs suffering from brain damages or illness.

KG: In the UK there was quite a furore after a TV doc screened highlighting the link between poor canine health and excessive inbreeding and a certain worry in the cat community that the media would attempt the same with cats, but there really isn't an equivalent argument with felines. Cat breeds never served human purposes (hunting, primarily) as dogs did, so there is much less diversity in size and build across breeds. In the past, there was certainly often a lack of knowledge or disregard of health risks associated with certain breeds - e.g the Persian's congested nose / eyes - but there's a general consensus now that some of those problematic breeds (e.g. Persians) are really falling out of favour now amongst breeders and cat-lovers alike.

NP: One interesting breed is the Korat (a small blue cat), in the UK all Korats have been screened for Gangliosidosis - a genetic disease, which has been diagnosed in Korats - meaning that here through using a genetic screening programme and collaboration with the GCCF (Governing Council of the Cat Fancy) breeders have been able to entirely eliminate the problem and carry on enjoying what is in fact a very old breed of cat originating in Thailand. Breeders had already gained an understanding of how recessive genes work by observing that occasionally they would get unexpected lilac kittens in a litter from two blue parents, observing this helped them to understand that the Gangliosidosis problem could also be 'carried' but not observed in the parent and so testing provided a way around this, meaning no cats were being used that would inadvertently pass on the problem.

AN: Cat breeds have never had the range of problems that dog breeds have had and cat breeders are lucky in some ways that the tradition of cat breeding is not as old as dog breeding because they have been able to learn from the mistakes of the dog breeders and avoid repeating them, and scientific advances mean that cat breeders have all sorts of new tools to avoid the same problems. The GCCF is very keen to make sure that cat breeding never goes down the same road as certain dog breeds. The GCCF is very strict about avoiding any breed related health problems and refuses to recognise several breeds from other countries where there are potential issues and works closely with animal welfare organisations, like the RSPCA and the FAB through the Cat Group consortium. The GCCF genetics committee has produced a general breeding policy for all cats and is currently overhauling all the individual breeding policies for the different breeds to ensure that any genetic health issues are addressed.

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Production still 'Cat Fancy Club' by Nina Pope. All rights reserved

Is there already a release date for the documentary?

KG: Unfortunately no as it's still in production!

NP: To date we have been filming at shows and building up contacts with breeders and scientists alike. The image we made for the Wellcome Trust exhibition shows just how visually different pedigree cats can be. All the cats in the picture have one strong genetic link in common - the gene for a Blue (or in moggie-terms grey!) coat, the image shows in how many wildly different ways this can be expressed.
Like much of our other work the film will be about how knowledge can be approached or acquired in many different ways, one of which can be described as an amateur or hands-on practice. We see this as a really valuable way of learning about the world and are interesting in when it can either compliment or even change more accepted academic or scientific approaches. For our last film we lived with a community of historic re-enactors (Living with the Tudors) and on the face of it this may seem to have very little to connect it to the world of cat breeding! However, we were interested then in how being a re-enactor and physically trying to experience the past might change your relationship to history and bring it alive. In the same way breeding from your cat and observing this process can bring the,at times alienating, world of genetic science right into your home.

Thanks Nina, Karen, Leslie and Anthony!

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'Cat Fancy Club' production still by Nina Pope. All rights reserved

Nina Pope will present Cat Fancy Club as part of Alter Nature: The Unnatural Animal at Z33 in Hasselt on 17.02.2011 at 19h00.

Biographies:

Pope & Guthrie have collaborated as artists and film-makers for over a decade and founded their company Somewhere in 2001. Their early career innovated the use of new media in contemporary art practice. 'A Hypertext Journal' (1996) prefigured the blog and 'TV swansong' (2002) utilised early webcasting technology. Their work has consistently innovated in both form and subject, focusing on the motivations and social contexts of ordinary people, and the communication of these stories.

Their first feature film Bata-ville (2005) was premiered at the Edinburgh Film Festival, their second feature Living with the Tudors (2008 BritDoc funded) premiered at SXSW.

Professor Leslie A. Lyons, PhD is a Professor at University of California-Davis, School of Veterinary Medicine, located in the Center for Companion Animal Health (CCAH). Research focuses on the genetics of the domestic cat and the development of genetic tools and resources that assist gene mapping in the cat and other companion animals. Feline research is focused on the discovery of mutations that cause inherited diseases and phenotypic traits and in the population dynamics of breed development and domestic cat evolution.

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Anthony & the LaPerms. 'Cat Fancy Club' production still by Nina Pope. All rights reserved

Anthony Nichols is the chair of the UK LaPerm Cat Club and a long-standing LaPerm breeder who helped to establish the breed in the UK. He has a particular interest in feline genetics and is a member of the Governing Council of the Cat Fancy's Genetics Committee.

Sponsored by:





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Frédéric Nakache, Interlude romantique, 2007

By now you have probably realized that i keep going back and forth between the various art and design events i attended over the past few weeks. Today i return to the GAMERZ festival in Aix-en-Provence because 1. i want to remind you that this truly unique event is going to close on Sunday 2. i just interviewed the lovely and very frenchy Isabelle Arvers who not only curated a machinima show for the GAMERZ exhibition but is also one of the most respected experts in art and video games, 8it music and free + opensource culture in France.

The program of machinimas is currently exhibited at Arcade Paca, an agency for performing art in Aix-en-Provence. Isabelle's selection is remarkably diversified. Some of the machinimas comment on current social issues, others have a critical view on the very game platforms they are using. Other again play with the codes that produce the synthetic universes. Some are sarcastic, other are poetical.


Benjamin Nuel, Pattern Island

Since i had the chance to catch up with Isabelle i had her talk about her curatorial work for GAMERZ but also about the machinima scene in her country.

Can you tell us something about the machinima scene in France? Who are its actors but also how well is the genre received both by the broad public and by cultural institutions in the country?

I began to show machinimas in 2005. It was at the Pompidou Center, in a show untitled Machinima vs Demos and we invited Burnie Burns to talk about the serial Red vs Blue, which helped the machinima movement to become famous. The same year, Xavier Lardy created the website Machinima.fr

It was just three years after the first machinima film festival edition in New York. At that time there was very few French machinimas. Alex Chan directed his political machinima The French Democracy in 2005 just after the French riots. But to give you an idea of how this movement was mostly anglo saxon, he subtitled it in english and then posted it on the Movies website. One year later, Bill & John, an other French machinima, directed by KBS Productions won many prices in machinima festivals.

During those years the French machinima scene was quite reduced, or was more intended to emerge in the amateur short film scene (and was mostly narrative). But since 2008, a new scene has been growing. Now we can talk about a French scene. Along the amateur scene, some artists began to work with machinima : like Benjamin Nuel, Nicolas Boone or Les Riches Douaniers.

Also something quite boring is now happening : some young directors make machinima to become famous and to be able to say that they are movie makers... Really strange for me who thinks that what is interesting in machinima is the reverse engineering part in it.

Anyway, from 2005 to 2008, some festivals like the Flash Festival or the Animation film festival in Annecy, asked me to curate special machinima programs. Also, there is a machinima section inside the Short film festival in Clermont Ferrand. Nemo festival is also showing machinima, first by inviting the machinima section of the Bitfilm Festival in Hambourg, then also by asking me to curate programs or with the invitation of Chris Burke, the talented and great director of This Spartan LIfe, the talk show shot in Halo 2 & 3.

So we can say that there is some interest for the machinimas by the institutions. Since 2009, Margherita Balzerani is also organizing the Atopic film festival, first intended to be a festival related to virtual universes it then became a machinima festival last year with the help of Xavier Lardy. As for the festival last year, I am part of the jury of this festival and the selection this year is quite interesting because there are less films directed in Second Life, regarding last year, which is a good point for me!!

About the audience, we began with 13 people in the room and now we can fill big venues, that's great...

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View of the exhibition space at Arcade Paca. Image credit: Luce Moreau, courtesy Sylvain, Gamerz festival

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View of the exhibition space at Arcade Paca. Image credit: Luce Moreau, courtesy Sylvain, Gamerz festival

What guided your curatorial choices for the selection of machinimas you are presenting at Gamerz? Did you pick up the best machinimas you had seen over the past few months/years? Or were you guided by a particular theme? Or else by a desire to show the versatility of the genre in 9 films?

Normally, when i curate a machinima program, i try to show the diversity of the genre, while presenting, narrative, humorist short films, artistic or experimental movies, documentaries, adds, video clips, etc Often I am in the discovery perspective and want to show what is possible to do in movie making with games. But this year, I wanted to be a bit more radical and wanted to show more engaged videos. Some of them like Participation or Google Stooge are critical about Second Life, social networks or digital marketing. I was also very interested by the work of David Griffith (which is really beautiful) as it is the result of a live coding performance. Also I was attracted by the work of Julian Oliver while it is the result of a glitch. Then, there are few French machinimas movies by Benjamin Nuel, Les Riches Douaniers or Frédéric Nakache which are meditative, or like live portraits... I also love the work of William Flink: very short and abstract films, i really like his universe.


SlimGirlFat, MooN - spyVspy Aeon, 2010

Some of the works you have selected seem to have a fairly critical view on the virtual worlds they engage with. Can you comment on this 'orientation'?

As i wanted something new, i decided to contact the Piksel mailing list as I was part of Piksel, the free and open source software festival in Bergen, Norway some years ago. That is how i found Participation by Linda , and the videos by Julian Oliver and David Griffith. This is how i chooses to make part of my selection. I think that the artist network is always the best to find deep good artworks...

I also just wrote an article about machinimas for a book edited by Norie Neumark (Cheats or glitch ? Voice as a game modification in Machinima) in which i compare machinima to situationists movies, while defining voice in machinimas as a game modification. Mass consumption objects are often really good to give critical point of views to a broader audience!!!

Google Stooge from Phil Rice on Vimeo.

The GAMERZ festival seems to be pretty unique to me. Not only if one looks at France but also at the rest of Europe. How have you seen it evolve over its very short existence?

Thanks for them! Really! and i absolutely share your point of view. There is an international game art scene (Cory Arcangel, Eddo Stern, Alex Galloway, Mathias Fuchs, Margarete Jahrman, etc.) that you often find in game art exhibits. They are the "names" in that scene. What is interesting in Gamerz is that it not only focuses on game and art but also on fun, ludic and interactive artworks. The artists are often emerging artists, not so famous, but with a very deep critical view of the artworld and information society. I think that this festival is great because it is the result of a huge work to find artists thanks to an artistic network. Always the best artists are found and invited by other artists. Dardex M2F is an artists collective, it is like that that we first met. Anne Roquigny a friend of mine who works for the laboratory Locus Sonus at the Art school of Aix-en-Provence advised me to meet them some years ago, because they were just out of that school at that time. We immediately decided to work together and i joined them for the third or fourth edition...

First the festival began in an art gallery and grew each year. When we first met, the budget was really tiny, now it is getting better and looks like a "respectable" festival, a parcours of artworks with a very diverse selection. This year I particularly enjoyed the work of Labomedia and also of Selma... i found it very sensitive.

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Selma Lepart, Mercure Noir, 2010. Image credit: Luce Moreau, courtesy Sylvain, Gamerz festival

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Selma Lepart, Mercure Noir, 2010. Image credit: Luce Moreau, courtesy Sylvain, Gamerz festival

What is nice also is the work done with La Maison Numérique in Aix-en-Provence. Dardex decided to create a production place to invite artists in residence, they work at la Maison Numérique and sleep at the Vazarely Foundation. It is really important as we are so poor in France for digital art production. Since the CICV disappeared we don't have real production place for digital art which is very sad for a country like France.

Any upcoming project of yours (exhibition, performance, articles, workshopes, etc) you'd like to share with us?

Thanks for asking it!! So, this year I am preparing two exhibitions. One in Marseille at the Library Alcazar in March 2011 : a retro gaming exhibition untitled Game Heroes. There will be also an other exhibit related to game art, reverse engineering and machinimas : le Salon Numérique at La Maison Populaire in April 2011.

Tonight, I am showing a new WJ-S performance (project by Anne Roquigny) about retro gaming with a Game Boy music set by Confipop (tonight at Seconde Nature for the Festival Gamerz), then, we will give WJ-S workshops with Anne in France in 2011 (Valenciennes.)

I am also really happy to make machinima workshops with youngsters from the suburb area. I began them in October and each time I work with a collaborator : Benjamin Nuel for a machinima workshop in Lyon coordinated by a contemporary music scene, L'épicerie moderne. I also work with Alutt, the administrator of the French community website of the Movies. We are both working on machinima workshops in Strasbourg, on the invitation of Ososphère, a digital music and art festival. In january, I will give a new machinima workshop at the Pompidou Center, in the new teenager gallery which is at the level -1 of the Center. This time I will give it with my partner: Emmanuel Mayoud.

I am really happy about those workshops, it has been so many years that i wanted to create that. I contacted so many institutions to do it and finally this year there is an interest and I really believe that it is important to do it. Because we have to show that it is possible to divert mass consumption objects to express ourselves, with games but also with the net (using wj-s to show that the net is a space of creation to quote Anne Roquigny!!)

I try to democratize this phenomenon and I hope that for many youngsters it will become a new means of expression.

Finally, I am also quite happy with a new activity I am leading this year : I train people to use Pleade, a free software developed by the company of my brother Jean Luc Arvers in Bordeaux: AJLSM. Pleade is a free software dedicated to publish archives and make them searchable. I am discovering the archive world and how the memory of a country is preserved and what is preserved and how... For me it is absolutely fascinating, i love this new job and all the people it makes me meet... Last time i was at the National Superior School to work on the archives of Michel Foucault: Les Mots et les Choses. Another time we were working on the publication of the Charcot archives about magnetism and hypnotism.... at Jussieu University.

I tend to relate that work to the net.art and digital art preservation and how bridges can be built. I am also very happy to train people in the use of free software, it comes really well with my ethics!

To end with, i need to finish an interview of Bob Stein from the Institute of the Future of the Book, for Amusement Magazine.... but i am quite late...

Merci Isabelle!

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Buffet at one of the openings of the GAMERZ festival. Image credit: Luce Moreau, courtesy Sylvain, Gamerz festival

Check out Isabelle's selection of Machinima at Arcade Paca in Aix-en-Provence. It is part of the GAMERZ festival which remains open in various art galleries in Aix-en-Provence until 19th December, 2010.
More stories about the GAMERZ festival: Project NADAL and Images from the GAMERZ festival.

Looks like gamescenes beat me to it! Read Game Art: Isabelle Arvers on the French Game Art scene.

You might remember that a few weeks ago, i was in Ghent, Belgium, for Almost Cinema. The festival was not only featuring artworks, concerts and performances which subverted, reinvented or repositioned the ordinary cinema experience, it also dedicated a whole day to a symposium where artists and theorists interrogated the ambiguous relationships between documentary film and reality.

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Omer Fast, still from Spielberg's List, 2003, double-channel video

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Katerina Gregos's presentation

To what extent can a reel of film capture reality--if this is possible at all--and when can we say that it calls a new reality into being? Do not most films oscillate between 'document' and 'argument'; that is, between representing, rewriting and creating reality? Moreover, what strategies do artists use to document our daily lives? Is the detour through alienation and animation perhaps the proper way to make an outright and truthful work? Do new developments in technological media provide new opportunities for documentary artists? Finally, how do these artistic experiments and their problems represent the culture we live in?

The Documentary Real was probably the most satisfying conference i attended this year. I had planned to write down my notes from some of my favourite talks when Robrecht Vanderbeeken from KASK (the Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Ghent) informed me that the videos of the symposium were online. I'll particularly recommend the talk of Curator Katerina Gregos who gave a fascinating overview of what she calls 'the Elastic Documentary", artist Jasper Rigole showed us the charming videos he makes using movies he found on flea markets, researcher and curator Edwin Carels shared some fascinating insights about animation and Duncan Speakman explained how mobile media can help shape new documentary practices.

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Duncan Speakman, SubtleMob 'As if it where the last time' in Ghent on October 21, 2010. Image credit: Reinout Hiel

The Documentary Real was an initiative of Robrecht Vanderbeeken, KASK (Faculty of Fine Arts, University College Ghent) in collaboration with Vooruit and Filmfestival Ghent with the support of VAF Flanders Image.
Image on the homepage: Duncan Speakman, SubtleMob 'As if it where the last time' in Ghent on October 21, 2010. Credit: Reinout Hiel.

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To many of their fellow Israelis, they are traitors. They are attacked, arrested and demonised. Yet Israelis like Yehuda Shaul, leader of Breaking the Silence and Jonathan Pollack from Anarchists Against the Wall continue to struggle for a more peaceful Middle East. They believe that they can save their state by putting an end to the military occupation. But the Israeli peace movement has lost momentum in recent years. There is widespread apathy in Israel against ending the Occupation, especially after the withdrawal from Gaza. 'Israel vs Israel' takes a fresh look at one of the leading tensions in Israeli society.

Trailer of the documentary:

Israel vs Israel follows 4 Israeli peace activists: a grand mother, a veteran soldier, a rabbi and a young anarchist. The one hour long documentary was directed by Terje Carlsson. I had liked his previous documentary, Welcome to Hebron, so much that Carlsson was kind enough to send me a copy of the dvd.

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Queue

Palestinians living in in the West Bank and wishing to go to work, attend classes at school, deliver milk or simply get to the hospital on time have to go through checkpoints, roadblocks and other obstacles. There are hundreds of them in the West Bank. Even going from one Palestinian area to another involves barriers and documents. Queuing for two hours is nothing exceptional. My heart bled when the documentary showed old ladies standing under the sun holding a permit that would allow them to visit a relative or pray. Could i imagine my grand-mother going through that?

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Ronny Perlman

Ronny Perlman, the Jerusalem coordinator of Checkpoint Watch, goes regularly to a checkpoint and documents violations of human rights of the Palestinians. She tries and intervenes in favour of a father trying to get his young child to the doctor, she discusses with the soldiers, chitchats with the women waiting for their turn to cross the checkpoint. She is one of the many Israeli women based in Israel who take a peaceful stand against the occupation of the territories and the repression of the Palestinian nation.

A moving scene in the documentary shows Perlman talking to her son who is serving as a soldier. They have a conversation about the occupation and the army. The theme is taboo in many families. She hopes her grandson will never have to carry a gun, her son differs and says that, once he is 18, his will probably have to kill 'Arabs' to defend his country.

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Arik Ascherman discussing with a soldier

Rabbi Arik Ascherman, the executive director of Rabbis for Human Rights, tries to protect the non-combatant Palestinian population against harassment from settlers and soldiers.

The consensus view of the international community is that the building of Israeli settlements in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, is illegal under international law, although Israel disagrees. B'Tselem reckons that more than fifty percent of the land of the West Bank has been expropriated from Palestinian owners "mainly to establish settlements and create reserves of land for the future expansion of the settlements". Palestinian farmers are prevented from tending to their crops, their olive trees are cut, their houses demolished.

Rabi Arik Ascherman stands between the soldiers and the farmers, sometimes he even stands between the bulldozer and a Palestinian house that has to be destroyed.

Ascherman insists that RHR works for the human rights of Jews, Palestinians and foreign workers alike. It has indeed condemned both Israelis and Palestinians, while recognizing that it is Israel who holds most of the power.

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Yehuda Shaul

The third activist portrayed by the documentary is Yehuda Shaul, founder of Breaking the Silence, an organization of veteran Israeli soldiers that collects testimonies of soldiers who served in the Occupied Territories during the Second Intifadah. Soldiers who serve in the Territories are witness to, and participate in military actions which change them immensely. Cases of abuse towards Palestinians, looting, and destruction of property have been the norm for years, but are still excused as military necessities, or explained as extreme and unique cases.


Yehuda Shaul talks about Breaking the Silence to togetherTV

Shaul served in Hebron and as he half-joked "In Israel, people shouldn't be allowed to vote before they visit Hebron." Israel vs Israel includes images from Terje Carlsson's previous documentary Welcome to Hebron (i can only recommend you to watch it on youtube: part 1, 2 and 3.) Although it is the second time i saw those images, they shocked me deeply: children of settlers throwing stones and spitting at Palestinian school girls, kids shouting "Slaughter the Arabs!" and other scenes i wish i had never seen:

Shaul appears as incredibly honest and brave. Not only has he to live with what he has done to Palestinian civilians while he was part of the army, but now he also has to face abuse from settlers who call him a traitor and a terrorist. Like all the activists portrayed in the documentary, Shaul cares deeply for Israel. He explains that one has to chose between the land of Israel or the State of Israel with the democracy and equality that it entails.

Videos reports and testimonies uploaded by Breaking the Silence.

The fourth peace activist is Jonathan Pollack, one of the founders of the Israeli group Anarchists Against the Wall.

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Jonathan Pollack

Pollack and AAW have embarked on a grassroot, nonviolent crusade against the seizure of Palestinian land for Israel's construction of its -illegal- wall and settlements in the territories. He has been injured, arrested and imprisoned several times for his solidarity actions with Palestinian villagers.

Israel vs Israel is as painful and uncomfortable as it is necessary and gripping. It made me sad and angry. As a European who cares for human rights, i'm often exposed to the works of US or European ONG and activists. I've heard the voice of Palestinians, of foreign observers, of concerned reporters. For the first time, i get to see a video that portrays Israelis (some of them Zionists) who care for their country as much as they care for the respect of basic human rights.

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Palestinian Loss of Land map

I hope Israel vs Israel comes to your town soon. Doc Lounge Göteborg will kick off their autumn programme with "Israel vs Israel" on September 21, 2010. Screenings are scheduled in Stockholm, Göteborg, Karlstad and Malmö in late September. Screenings outside Sweden are planned for later this year. Join the facebook group for updates.

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Filmmaker Terje Carlsson is a freelance journalist based for many years in Jerusalem, working mostly for Swedish National Radio and Television. During the last decade, he has produced shorter documentaries and features from ex-Yugoslavia, South Africa and different parts of the Middle East. His first feature documentary, Welcome to Hebron, was released in 2008. The film won several awards at festivals all over the world. TV broadcasters from more than 10 countries around the world bought the rights for broadcast.

Vice magazine has an interview with Terje Carlsson.
Previously: Tip of the day - Welcome to Hebron.

Another Israeli organization worth mentioning: B'TSELEM - The Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories. Please add a comment if you know of others.

See also Friday Film Pick: Unrecognized, Architects out of Ariel, Facing jail, the unarmed activist who dared to take on Israel, Walking Through Walls, an essay by Eyal Weizman.

I never paid much attention to the machinima genre so far. The FILE Machinima section of the FILE festival in Sao Paulo proved me how wrong i was. Many of the movies selected by Curator Fernanda Albuquerque de Almeida are indeed little gems. I'll just mention Wizard Of OS: The fish incident by Tom Jantol, a short based on Nikola Tesla's notes on his experiment with a mysterious antivirus device he named "The Wizard of OS" and Clockwork, by Ian Friar aka Iceaxe. Set in the totalitarian Republic of Britain, Clockwork tells the story of a police officer on a mission to track down an "undesirable".

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Image courtesy FILE festival

The movie that received most attention from both the public and the members of the File Prix Lux however is War of Internet Addiction, a machinima advocacy production that voices the concerns of the mainland Chinese World of Warcraft community. Although the machinima was created with WoW players in mind, the video strikes a chord with the broader public by pointing the finger to the lack of Internet freedom in the country and conveying a general feeling of helplessness.

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The main frustration of mainland Chinese WoW players is that the access to the game has been limited and interrupted for months because of a conflict between two government regulatory bodies. The video also denounces battles and issues that took place in China over the previous 15 months or so: electroshock therapy for purported internet addiction (the Health Ministry has mercifully asked for the treatment to stop); the government's attempts to enforce installations on all new pc sold in mainland China of the Green Dam Youth Escort filter; the competition between the county's primary game servers over licensing renewal rights, etc.

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Players are also tired of being stigmatized by mainstream media as 'addicts' because of their love of game or simply because they tend to spend hours in front of their computer. The character of the villain of the film, Yang Yongxin, is actually based on a psychiatrist who used shock-therapy to treat so-called "Internet Addiction."

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Within days of its release the 64-minute video was banned from a few video sites in China, but that didn't prevent the movie from becoming even more popular on-line than Avatar nor from winning the Best Video award in the Tudou Video Film awards for online films and animations in an awards ceremony that some see as China's version of Sundance. The machinima also received an honorable mention at FILE Prix Lux. Not bad for a zero budget film made in 3 months with the help of 100 volunteers who cooperated through the Internet.


Watch the full version on Warcraft movies

Warning! Many of the jokes, memes and references in War of Internet Addicition are hard to grasp if you're not familiar with Chinese net culture. Fortunately, a public document listing the background information has been posted posted online.

Interview with Corndog, director, script writer and coordinator of the movie, on WSJ.

See also: Homo Ludens Ludens - Gold Farmers.

Previous entries about FILE festival: Heart Chamber Orchestra, Scrapbook from the ongoing FILE festival and Feeding the Tardigotchi. The FILE exhibition is open until August 29, 2010. Address: Fiesp - Ruth Cardoso Cultural Center - Av. Paulista, 1313, São Paulo - Metro Trianon-Masp.

Hiromi Ozaki is some kind of hybrid between Laurie Anderson and Maywa Denki.

She's not only a graduate of Design Interactions (RCA, London), she's also Sputniko!, a Japanese pop star whose music, videos, performances and electronic devices explore themes of technology, gender and pop culture.

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Pénis Cybernétique, close-up. Image Sputniko!

Hiromi is the author of devices such as the Pénis Cybernétique (i'm sure your french is fluent enough to make sense of the words) and Crowbot Jenny, a dark-haired girl who goes around urban park carrying on her shoulder a crow-shaped robot that can communicate with crows and turn them into a bird army. Her first dvd album Parakonpe 3000 is a collection of videos which comment on our relationship with technology. There's the "Child Producing Machine" but also the Google Song, "Sputniko! TV: A Children's Program for Newly Born A.I.s" and the Wakki Song (an interactive armpit performance).

More than just a gadget, a video, a song, Sputniko! creates a whole character with its own manga-inspired aesthetics, attributes, super-powers and dynamics. Each of her projects has been produced in collaboration with scientists experts in Zoology, Medicine and Reproductive Science.

She was presenting two new works at the Summer exhibition of the Royal College of Art.

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Photography: Rai Royal

First, a much blogged-about device which, i hope, will soon be added to the collection of the Museum of Menstruation.

The question at the heart of the Menstruation Machine, Takashi's Take is 'It's 2010, so why are humans still menstruating?'

Abdominal pain, headaches, depression, emotional sensitivity, feeling bloated, changes in sex drive and nausea, premenstrual water retention, etc. Not to mention mood swings. Why do women still have to go through that?

Women are in good company though. just like them, chimpanzees and fruit bats need to bleed monthly for their reproductive cycle.

What does Menstruation mean, biologically, culturally and historically, to humans? Who might choose to have it, and how might they have it?

Fitted with a blood dispensing mechanism and lower-abdomen-stimulating electrodes (the same used by your uncle to muscle his abs while watching tv on the sofa, only that Hiromi maxed out the power of the contractions), the Menstruation Machine simulates the pain and bleeding of an average 5 day menstruation.

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Detail of the Menstruation Machine

The machine could be worn by men who desire to feel closer to women and experience what they have to go through, but also by women when menstruation becomes obsolete in the future and the process becomes a mere ritual of gender and identity.

The artist made a music video to illustrate how and by whom the machine could be used.

The video 'Menstruation Machine - Takashi's Take' stars Takashi, a boy who builds the machine in an attempt to understand better what the girls he hang around with experience every month.

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Photography: Rai Royal

Her second project had the same level of fantasy, the same vision of a technocratic future. Sushiborg Yukari is a cyborg designed to serve Sushi on her rotating belt. Her function is to entertain over-worked Japanese businessmen in their after-hours. She is tomorrow's equivalent of Nyotai Mori, the tradition of serving Sushi on naked women.

Given scientists' fondness for young, slick, pretty girl-robots, one would not be surprised to see a sushi cyborg hit the gadget blogs in the future. Sushiborg Yukari, however, is a dissatisfied cyborg.

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Hiromi Ozaki demonstrates the dangerous sushi belt

When Yukari's artificial intelligence develops enough to understand she's little more that a sex object, she starts to slowly and secretly hack herself into a lethal weapon by attaching knives to her own body. And one day, she manages to escape the sushi restaurant....


Sputniko!, Sushiborg Yukari

More works from the RCA show, over here, ladies and gents!

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