One World Festival: Screening of 19 Schaffarick Street

This blog was contributed by Bojana Nikolic, MA Arts Policy and Management student at Birkbeck and a 2019/20 Chevening Scholar.

International students at the Birkbeck cinema

On December 11, 2019 as part of Birkbeck One World Festival I organized a screening of 19 Schaffarik Street. This event was initiated and supported by La Young Jackson, International Liaison Officer.

19 Schaffarik Street is a short movie, made almost entirely by students. It premiered in February 2019 at the Belgrade Film Festival and has since travelled to many festivals. The screening at Gordon Square Cinema can be considered its British premier.

The film was followed by a Q&ADuring the Q & A afterwards, the audience was able to share their thoughts and talk to the director Lana Pavkov, writer Dejan Prćić, and myself, as the production manager of the film. Some interesting questions were related to the storyline, such as Why are the kids left outside in the cold? How personal is the story? Some were more practically oriented, How did you get the sponsors on board? How did you manage to get those actors? And even a crew to crew question was asked, How did you manage to make me give up on the idea of having a dog in the movie? And our favorite question that says about the quality, but also the recognition of the effort put into this movie was, Is this really a student film?

The event was imagined as a peer to peer talk; the idea was to watch a movie in a relaxed atmosphere and have a good talk after it, and the expectations were met. The audience was engaged and we as the crew were open to answer all the questions, and the conversations even continued outside the cinema.

The director and writer flew in from Serbia to England just for this event and their overall impression was that it was worth the trip!

I am very thankful to La Young and Birkbeck for making this happen and I am looking forward to new projects!

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Boom, Bust, Boom!

This post was contributed by Rose Devaney, Business Engagement and Impact Manager at Birkbeck’s School of Business, Economics and Informatics

Boom-Bust-Boom-webThe Birkbeck Cinema recently screened Boom, Bust, Boom, the latest documentary on the 2008 financial crisis. The film focuses on the behavioural elements of consumers in creating a “bubble” which ultimately bursts, and uses a historical canter through various financial meltdowns to demonstrate that we seem hard-wired to make the same mistakes over and over again.

Bubbles burst

Our ability to suspend rationality and believe that investments will keep increasing in value can be traced back as far as the Tulip Mania of 1637, followed by the South Sea Bubble of 1720, the British Railway Mania of the 1940s and the Wall Street Stock Market Crash of 1929. Even intellectual royalty including Isaac Newton was caught out when the South Sea Bubble burst, losing over two million pounds by today’s standards.

What’s interesting is that crises tend to occur with enough distance between them to be managed by an entirely new generation. They have heard the stories about the previous “bust” – but haven’t lived it – and arrogantly think they know better.

The post-film audience debate raised questions about the film’s omission of consideration of such things as the role of the banks, de-regulation, traders and globalisation – which all contributed to the crisis. But response to the film was overwhelmingly positive and it was agreed that the “euphoria” that a boom creates is a potent ingredient that was illustrated brilliantly throughout the documentary.

Jones and Minsky

My two heroes from the afternoon were Terry Jones and Hyman Minsky. Jones, a founding member of the Monty Python team, was the film’s co-writer and co-director and morphed into a clear and credible narrator. No doubt, he was largely responsible for the puppetry and visuals which provided light relief from the interviews with various economists and illustrated complicated concepts and power imbalances.

Minsky, an American economist, who was at the height of his career during America’s most stable and prosperous times during the 1950s and 1960s, predicted the slow movement of financial systems from stability to fragility when nobody wanted to listen. The irony of his book becoming somewhat of a best-seller during the recent recession was not lost on his son, one of the film’s contributors.

Even monkeys prefer something for nothing

The political soundbites were fairly minimal but used to good effect. Bill Clinton creating the National Home Ownership strategy that was a contributing factor in the American Sub-prime crisis; Gordon Brown declaring no return to “boom and bust” and George Bush describing the US economy as “healthy and vigorous, the envy of the world” – just before the arrival of the 2008 global financial crisis.

And what about those monkeys? Residents of Monkey Island and subjects of experiments demonstrate that, even when the outcomes of two situations are identical, even monkeys choose the route where it appears they are getting something for nothing, as opposed to the one where they perceive something is being taken away. It’s suggested that somehow our psychology distorts our rational judgement and decision-making and we naturally gravitate towards gain and away from the extra emotional energy which loss creates.

A pertinent question from the audience was about whether lessons have been learned and it was suggested that unless you personally experience the pain of the situation, you bounce back quickly and put it all down to experience.

This week, I read about Clinton commanding £330,000 for a 30 minute talk on world hunger and Dick Fuld now running a small New York hedge fund and presenting about life at Lehman Brothers. I doubt the real victims of the American sub-prime crisis, many now unemployed, with a poor credit rating and without the safety net of welfare and health benefits have found it as easy to re-invent themselves.

With special thanks to Sue Konzelmann, Reader at Birkbeck and Director of the London Centre for Corporate Governance and Ethics, who organised the screening and gave an introductory address.

Dr Konzelmann has authored two books (titles below) and will write ‘Labour, Finance and Inequality: The Changing Nature of Economic Policy in Britain’. (with S. Deakin, M. Fovargue-Davies and F. Wilkinson) Oxford: Routledge (forthcoming).

‘The Economics of Austerity’. Cheltenham: Edward Elgar, 2014.

‘Banking Systems in the Crisis: The Faces of Liberal Capitalism’. (with Marc Fovargue-Davies) Oxford: Routledge, 2013. 

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Attention Machines: The science of cinematic perception

This post was contributed by Sofia Ciccarone (master student of Cognitive Neuroscience and Neuropsychology, Birkbeck University of London)

It was exciting to be a part of this event, which took place in Birkbeck cinema in Gordon Square during Science Week.

Birkbeck CinemaThe people who participated not only had the opportunity to experience the amazing and capturing cinematography of The Fountain by Darren Aronofsky; they could also be both the participants and the researchers of a live experimental study.

The experiment was interested in how viewers’ attention changes throughout a movie. To this aim, audience’s attention was measured by locating their eye position on the screen. This was done by making the image disappear sometimes during the film and briefly substituting it with a flashing grid, which filled the whole cinema screen and contained a series of letters and number combinations.

The audience was asked to pay attention to this grid and to report (using their smartphones) the letter and numbers pairs (e.g. S76) they could identify among the other pairs contained in the grid. This procedure, which is known as crowdsourcing gaze data collection, is a method proposed in 2012 by Rudoy and others for collecting gaze direction from any number of participants simultaneously.

The eye movements of one volunteer from the audience were instead recorded using a portable eye tracker. The eye tracker was calibrated right before the start of the film and the participant sat in the front row of the cinema and enjoyed the film while her eye movements were being recorded.

After a shot practice trial, the audience’s eye movements were collected for the first part of the film. During the second half, while participants were allowed to watch the film without distractions, Dr Tim Smith and his team used the available time (48 minutes!) to analyse the answers submitted through the smartphones and the data recorded by the eye tracker.

After the film finished, Dr Tim Smith presented the results of the experiment. It was really surprising to find out that the two eye movement collection methods showed similar results: people mainly focused their attention on the centre of the screen. This is where the more frequently detected letter-number pairs were located. The gaze of the volunteer who wore the portable eye tracker also seemed to be mainly focussing on that area of the screen.

Why does this happen?

The composition of the shots, the camera movements, the staging and the editing of the scenes are some of the ways in which filmmakers direct viewers’ attention. As opposed to films shot in the past, modern TV and Hollywood cinema use a compositional style which involves rapid editing, bipolar extremes of lens length, wide-ranging camera movements and close shots.

For example, the scene in “The shop around the corner” (Esnst Lubitsch, 1940) where the two protagonists meet in the café, lasts 9 minutes and contains 20 shots lasting 27 seconds each. The same scene from a recent remake of this film, “You’ve got mail” (Nora Ephron, 1998), lasts 9 minutes and contains 134 shots of 4 seconds each.

This style causes the audience to have a unified experience of the film being watched, as it induces spectators to focus their attention on the centre of the screen, a type of behaviour defined as central tendency by Le Meur and others in 2007.

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