sheff doc/fest 2016: michael moore's 'where to invade next'

Note: This was written pre-Brexit. The message of this film is now even more relevant than before! 

With the 'Brexit' referendum looming, Trump towering over the U.S. presidential election, countries crashing apart akin to the disintegration of tectonic plates, and extremism on both sides of the spectrum standing strong, one thing's for certain: we're living in a time of fear. 

Within this icy political climate comes Michael Moore's post-hiatus documentary, the optimistic 'Where To Invade Next'. It's a slightly tongue-in-cheek look at the freedoms and liberties afforded to Europeans, that are alien to the Yanks. If you've ever wondered what a film about the U.S.A without any clips actually taking place in America would like, this is it.

In order to 'fix' his homeland, Moore decides he will 'invade' countries on the other side of the Atlantic, taking from them their liberal ideals to create a kind of utopia, far from the police brutality and repression that the films opens with clips of. Ferguson, Sandra Bland, mass incarceration, Walmart capitalism. We see all the pitfalls of 'the Land of the Free', as action movie music reverberates out. The emphasis here, and the thing Moore spends the entirety of the film documenting is the "we" culture of Europe, rather than the "me" culture of the United States.

On his Eurotrip, Moore visits lots of other, different places in search of rules to live by. In Italy, he chats to a hilariously facially expressive couple about workers rights, as they explain that they receive 8 weeks paid vacation. With their 2 hour lunch breaks and 5 months of maternity leave, Moore's surface-scraping representation of Italy holds up to its stereotypes -- we see a land of jolly passion, of food, and sex.

In France, he heads to rural Normandy and finds a school cafeteria complete with a fromage refrigerator. Once a month the chef sits down with a dietician and the mayor's office to go over the daily menu. Lunch is looked at like a class, instead of the Sloppy Joes and Coca Cola of American canteens. The sight of Moore sitting in a child's chair in his trademark oversized t-shirt and trucker hat is extremely comical. Primary school children receive sex education that explores mutual pleasure: "we give, we receive," explains a jovial French teacher. It's a world away from the abstinence curriculum of North America, where rape culture and malevolent masculinity has perforated college campuses to a terrifying degree.

Moore discovers that the secret to Finland's top performing schools is the absence of homework and standardised tests. All the schools are equal, as it's illegal to charge tuition. In Slovenia, college is inclusively free -- anyone from anywhere in the world can attend without landing themselves in a sinkhole of debt. In Germany, we meet a "thriving middle class," who if they're stressed can be prescribed by their doctors a 3 week stay at a spa. In Portugal, drugs have been decriminalised. In Norway, the highest possible sentencing is 21 years, and their prison system relies predominantly on rehabilition methods, and trust. There are no "21st century slaves," mainly African-Americans who have lost their rights through incarceration and who, while caged, are forced to work for pennies. Culture may have progressed since the plantations, but the iron shackles remain in another form.  

He visits other countries, including Tunisia and Iceland, where he looks into women's rights movements. In the latter's fiscal crisis, the only bank in the country that didn't go under was one run by women. Could females be the gatekeepers to the "we" community?

A running theme of the film is the power of human dignity. The Italians who are able to spend their time out-of-work nourishing their souls through travel. The Norwegian prisoners who, rewarded for good behaviour, are able to ride bikes through the Sound-of-Music-esque landscape. The Tunisian women afforded abortions without the trauma of shaming. 

Despite the dark political underbelly that hangs like the off screen elephant in the room, there are many comedic moments that tie in with the optimism that Moore evokes. This includes the ever-casually dressed Moore meeting the President of Slovenia, a Hollywood-esque, white-toothed man who happily smiles at the camera. Also, the Norwegian prison orientation video, which sees guards singing 'We are the World' and playing instruments, as they dance around. At times, the Europeans in the film seem far too much like caricatures for my liking -- smiling, jolly liberals. This does not seem malicious, however, and it does fit in with the fact that this film has been created for American audiences.

Is Europe really the rose-tinted paradise that Moore infers, though? The answer is a resounded no, especially in the wake of last week's cold-blooded killing of West Yorkshire M.P. Jo Cox in her own constituency. and the recent footage of British football fans hatefully antagonising refugee children, along with the growing migrant crisis. As I watch this documentary, we're on the brink of closing our borders. Isolationist Britannia is rising. England, interestingly, is one country whose shores Moore does not land on.

When asked in the Q&A with Owen Jones (which follows the film) about his failure to represent refugees and other issues we face, Moore explains that he's "here to pick the flowers and not the weeds." To include people through positivity, not to launch into a tirade about the fact we're all fucked. While the documentary could've done with being condensed slightly (it sometimes feels a little too freewheeling), it shines in its resounding faith in the fact that things can get better. Hope is what we need right now, not fear. 

"We" is more essential now than ever before. 

glastonbury festival in the time of brexit

Yesterday, we drove home from Glastonbury. Through the weekend, though the rain raged and the mud caged us in, the artistic, creative spirit at the core of the festival absorbed me.

I'd never been before, but it had always seemed to me like a rite of passage- something I knew I had to do before I die.

Little did we realise that we would forever remember this weekend for completely different reasons than our seminal visit to the British cultural heartland. Little did we know that during our stay on Worthy Farm the world would change. Our world would be dismantled. Waking up on Friday to the news that we as a nation had decided to leave the E.U. and that David Cameron, our liked and loathed Prime Minister, would be resigning felt like someone was playing a big joke on us. Ha ha we said, putting on our wellies for the day ahead. 

But, of course, they weren't.

 It was the best of times; it was the worst of times.

My heart hurt at the result. My head spun. I felt a sense of having lost something I'd never really made the most of, like an old friend you wished you'd visited more often. 

We could've submerged ourselves in grief that things hadn't gone the way we hoped. We could've turned to anger. 

Instead of dwelling on the politics of it all though, we switched off our iPhones and strolled into one of the beautiful Glastonbury tents. Wandered through the myriad of magical creations. Locked eyes with the insanely talented bands and danced to the melodies.

For this weekend, and this weekend only, we could pretend the outside didn't exist. We could live safe inside our green, muddy home and thrive on its electric, immersive current. A place where people could weep tears of joy because of the power of music. A place where people could sit gathered by stones and swap life stories, showing each other their big toothy grins. A place where you could watch as humans shed their 9-5 skins and worshipped at the altar of communion. Here, we were all in the same boat. 

After watching the headliners on Saturday and Sunday night with a collective 150,000 people we waded through the thick, deep, dark mud to get to our next destinations. We clung onto each other's arms, and we stopped to help strangers from falling down into the viscous floor, muddying ourselves in the process.

Viewing all of this - glittered faces breaking into smiles of love and jolliness in the dire weather - made me realise that no matter which side of the seismic crack that attempts to separate us we're on, there's always hope in kinship.

Throughout the festival, I noticed one particular flag. In a sea of E.U. stars and comedic quotes, it bore one simple word, emblazoned on a red background. 'LIFE'. Life. Four letters brimming with optimism. It seemed simple and profound all at once. I don't know what the future holds for us, but don't we all deserve to enjoy this life that is ours?

Glastonbury is the epitome of the joy community can bring. I'll always remember this weekend for making me feel on top of the world, there grooving with my family of 300,000. 

United in being and feeling alive 


glamping at camp katur

Camping is a word that draws to me memories of sleeping in tents under a much-too thin sleeping bag, my face smushed onto the firm rock beneath the grass. Clutching at zips in the dark to escape for a night-time wee. The thumping bass of nocturnal festival revelling. Having to dramatically emerge in the early hours of the morning for a gasp of fresh air, head panging with hangover. Discomfort, that’s what I think of. Yet despite the trials and tribulations, I still love it.  I love the Great Outdoors. Walks through woods that follow a night of sleeping under the stars. The romantic nature of it all. This is why, when I discovered Camp Katur – a Glamping experience inside the beautiful Camp Hill Estate in the Yorkshire Dales – I was jumping over myself to book a stay. Camping in comfort.

The wordKatur” means ‘Happy’ in Icelandic, and as we arrived on a beautiful Thursday afternoon with the sunshine blazing on us, it felt incredibly apt. We literally could not have picked a better time to come, I thought, dressed in a vest top and shorts. The fields dewy with summer.

It was May, and I was still recovering from a rather wild Bank Holiday weekend. Luckily I'd had the forethought to take the week off work. I needed some time, I'd realised, to relax and rest. This would be the perfect way to do that. 

Whenever I can, I always love returning to the Bedale/Masham area of North Yorkshire -- it's one of my favourite places in the world. Whenever I'm within its realms I rosily remember back to younger days, riding in cars with boys, and friends, arms out the window as the warm breeze soaked my fingers. Spending weekends chasing woods and waterfalls.

I'd spent the night before Glamping at my Mum's house nearby, awakening to the blinding sun on my face, and my cat nestled up beside me. I took my breakfast outside into the back garden, and there we sat together. I'd missed these home comforts. It's funny how calming both the presence of animals and sunshine can be isn't it? Until Nellie decided to knock my cereal bowl onto the ground, causing a startling BANG and slices of china to whirl across the grass. As I clambered around in attempts to clear up the carnage, she sat there delicately lapping up the milk. Little minx.

After the debacle of my morning meal
 N came to pick me up, and we headed to The White Bear in Masham for some lunch. Masham is a charming little town, with a market square, sweet shops, and many an authentic pub. Men in overalls sipping amber pints, chatting gruffly. If you know where to look, in a quick stroll you can find the winding river as it rolls across the rocks. But it was approaching 3pm, which meant it was time to go check in and check out Camp Katur. Back in the car we got, to drive through the vivid yellow sea of rapeseed, and the lucid green of our countryside pasts and present.

Because we’d come midweek, not on a weekend or in-season, the little cafe in the reception area was not up and running as usual. It took us a little while to track someone down to sign in, but once we did we were on our way down to our digs for the night. 

Through the grass we walked, eyeing up the impressive array of different styles of accommodation situated around the edges of this green paradise. We spied Safari Tents, Tipis, Bell Tents, Hobbit Pods and Unidomes. All completely unique. All full of character. All floating in the mystical natural landscape. Over on the other side of the field, we stepped into the woodland.

All I could hear was birdsong. Little creatures dancing overhead, filling the skies with their angelic melodies. 

At the edge of the woods, we saw a little house we soon realised was the kitchen – complete with a sink, table, and every kind of utensil you could ever need. Bunting-lined walls hugged us with their quaintness inside this culinary station in the middle of the wild. Next door, we found an outdoor barbecue area, which resembled the beer garden of a pub. I thought about how sociable this would be during the summer months, sharing slightly charred sausages and stories with other campers. Beaut.

Down the beaten path we reached our little home for the night, the Woodland Hide Unidome. I’d picked it because it was unlike anything I’d ever seen. An otherworldly 360-degree clear panoramic dome, allowing you to essentially sleep luxuriously in nature.

We sat there for a long while, mesmerised by the tranquility of our surroundings. Inside the dome, we found a beautifully made bed, complete with blankets, hot water bottles, along with candles and fairy lights. A very romantic setting for a couple of best friends, which provided quite a bit of hilarity for us. Dreamy is the only way you could describe it.This would genuinely be the most aesthetically delicious place to whisk away your loved one for a minibreak/staycation.

We spent the rest of the day exploring the area. We took our books and sat in the hammocks strung from a tree near the communal tipi, closed our eyes and listened to the birds chirp-chirp-chirping. It's not often in modern life that you're presented with an opportunity to completely switch off, to fall off the grid (even if just for an afternoon). I relished being able to escape from the screen I forever hold close. 

Sun-soaked and hungry, we headed up the cafe to buy alfresco cooking supplies for the evening. At 7pm, a couple of our school friends that live down the road joined us as guests for a barbecqued dinner. They brought cous cous and prosecco, while we provided burgers and strawberries. We laughed A LOT, reminiscing on old times over plastic cups of bubbly. 

Eventually, night fell. We bid farewell to our friends. We blew out the candles, leaving the lights outside on to guide our way. We stumbled to the bathroom cabin, complete with a gorgeous shower and sinks in the style of metal buckets, and then back again (stumble being the operative word). It was really nice and warm inside the Unidome, so we definitely didn't need to use the heater. As my eyes grew heavy, I looked around at the trees smothered in the black of night. It was surreal, bizarre, almost a little scary to be that exposed to the wilderness.  I quickly shook those thoughts from my head, realising what a Millennial frame of mind I was in. Scared by silence. Instead I thought about how lucky we were to have had such a beautiful, sunny stay in such a unique place.

In the brightness of morning (no curtains in this dome, obvi), we were woken up a banging on the side of our see-through cocoon. We soon realised that this was a squirrel patting the plastic with his fist, as if to say: "Wake up humans! Gimme a nut!" This struck me as completely indicative of the Camp Katur experience -- so completely zen, and so completely within nature. 

The Woodland Hide Unidome was like our own weekend Walden (on a weekday on this occasion).

A place to relax, a place to unwind, a place to just be in the most beautiful of countryside.

Camp Katur is based within the 250 acre Camp Hill Estate, the same place as Aerial Extreme, so there's loads of activities to do if you're wanting more of an active weekend.  There's also an Outdoor Eco Sauna and Spa, with a wood burning hot tub. Sadly, usage of this is only on weekends and pre-booking is recommended as it can take up to 7 hours to heat, so we didn't get to experience this. 

I would definitely return to Camp Katur. There are so many different types of accommodation, you could go ten times and have a new experience each visit. 

As we left the Glamping village behind, and drove through the slightly overcast Yorkshire scenery, a deer appeared up ahead. It paused and looked at us for just a moment,  like a grand mirage, then disappeared into the woodland on the other side of the road. This place is truly special, I thought, smiling.

Find prices for Camp Katur here

sheff doc/fest 2016 round-up


This weekend the Sheffield International Documentary Festival rolls into Steel City until the 15th June. Beginning in 1994, the five day event has become one of the world's leading documentary festivals and the UK's biggest digital media festival. Not only is the film extravaganza an exclusive doc showcase, but with the introduction of MeetMarket in 2006 it has become a year-round service provider to the industry with training, educational and cultural activities taking place across the U.K. It's also revolutionised the pitching process for fledgling filmmakers, providing them with one-on-one meetings with buyers.

With over 20 venues including The Winter Garden, one of the largest temperate glasshouses to be built in the UK during the last hundred years, Sheffield Cathedral, and the Crucible Theatre, I can't wait to get cosy with the city, as well as witness some spectacular films and events.

This year we'll follow stray cats in Istanbul in Kedi (pictured above). We'll follow the story of a country in India In A Day, India's largest crowdsourced documentary produced by Ridley Scott. We'll follow the legend that is David Attenborough (!!!) as he recounts his incredible stories of trotting the globe... More on this later.

With so much to choose from, here are my top 10 picks: