Friday, 29 January 2016

And That's My Story: Ben Hopkins, Filmmaker

I have been intrigued to find out more about the creators behind projects that I have been fortunate enough to see and/ or hear for a long time now so I've decided to do something about it. And That's My Story is a series on this blog that shares with you a bit about the creators and talent I've met along the way and their journey towards fulfilling their dreams; it will run for as long as I can find people who are willing to share their story. Today, I would like to introduce you to Ben Hopkins.

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I met Ben briefly after the screening of his film Hasret (Yearning) last week Monday and asked if he would mind taking part in this series. He kindly agreed to answer some questions about what filmmaking means to him, his preferred camera kit and his latest film. Enjoy!

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Still from Hasret (Yearning) // Source: Photo Courtesy of HOME
HELLO BEN! WAS BEING A FILMMAKER ALWAYS IN THE CARDS FOR YOU? AND WHICH CAME FIRST, YOUR NEED TO TELL A STORY WITH WORDS OR VISUALLY?
No, but I wanted to be a writer since I was 8 or 9.  I was about 16 when my school made a deal with the local repertory cinema (they still existed then, back in the 80s), that we could get tickets for 50p for screenings before 5pm weekdays. I took up the offer and went to see some films – films I had no idea existed (until then I had just seen the usual Hollywood films – Star Wars, Indiana Jones etc). In the first week I saw movies by directors like Fellini, Herzog, Godard. Very soon I was hooked, and my ambitions changed from writing towards film-making.

WHAT ARE TYPCAL DAYS FOR YOU AS A SCREENWRITER AND DIRECTOR DURING PRE-PRODUCTION, PRODUCTION AND POST-PRODUCTION STAGES OF A PROJECT?
Since my son was born, I work in an office – I used to work at home. Now I cycle 15 minutes to my office to start work around 9am. At 1pm I cycle home and have lunch with my wife, and then a nap (all writers deserve a nap). Then I cycle back for 3pm, work until 6 or 6.30pm and then cycle back home to play with my son and put him to  bed. As you can see the life of a professional writer is much like many other office job… you just need to put in the hours. But there’s one advantage: I am my own boss.

Wednesday, 27 January 2016

Spotlight: Voices Beyond || Music

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Spotlight is a series that shines a mini light on whatever I feel like discussing and sharing with you and today that is Voices BeyondBack in November, I attended a friend's baby shower and by the end of the night I got to know one of the organisers, Tosin a little better. It was there that I found out that she was part of a gospel group called Voices Beyond. Fast forward a couple weeks I got sent a link to their EP and that is what I would to talk about today. I am not going to lie, if you took hold of my iPod right now, Gospel music maybe... maybe(!) makes up 5% of the songs on there. I love my AdeleDestiny's Child and Beyoncé and even my Katy B, Ellie Goulding and Gavin DeGraw. As for Gospel music, I only have a handful of songs that whisk me away to a quiet, peaceful and serene place quicker than the time it takes for me to put the kettle on or roll out my yoga mat. I'm not quite sure why that is but I am eager to broaden my collection of gospel music after sampling what Voices Beyond has to offer. 

Monday, 25 January 2016

Movie Mondays: Hasret (Yearning)

I think we all know by now, judging by the genre of films that are discussed in this series, that documentaries (in the traditional sense) are not something I watch or discuss regularly. I am not sure why that is exactly - probably stems from hours spent during my childhood watching the History and/or Discovery Channel with my parents when I much rather wanted to be pretending I was a Spice Girl, playing with my dolls/outside or watching Nickelodeon and the Disney Channel - but I do know that in the last couple of years there has been a shift in the kind of stories I immerse myself in be they told cinematically or with words bound in a book. Last week I found myself at a screening of Ben Hopkin's new film, Hasret (Yearning) which I was sure was a documentary going in but when I left? Let's just say that if documentaries were made with that kind of style and flare I'd gladly watch more of them without any prior recommendations.

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Hasret (Yearning) is a personal visual essay about the rich stories running through Istanbul by Ben Hopkins (PAZAR – BİR TİCARET MASALI (The Market– A Tale of Trade); 37 Uses for A Dead Sheep; The Nine Lives of Tomas Katz), a director and screenwriter who was born in Hong Kong, grew up in North London and lived in Istanbul, Turkey from 2008 - 2012. This film has a very expressionist feel to it which I really like; it comes across like a vlog about a film crew who are commissioned by a small TV channel to explore the city of Istanbul and make a documentary about what they uncover. As Ben and his crew get to know the city better, they discover some of Istanbul's secrets and magic and slowly try to figure out the story they are trying to tell. There were several moments where the film has a rather  personal, comical and educational feel to it as we are introduced to the art scene, the Alevi religion, the city's architecture and then other moments where the scenes take quite the supernatural thriller-esque turn and we begin to question the presence of cats in the city and wonder if ghosts do indeed exist.

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Still from Hasret (Yearning) // Source: Photo Courtesy of HOME
Hasret (Yearning), which is based on both fact and fiction, highlights some of the political and economical issues Istanbul were facing at the time of filming which gave rise to a new meaning of the word "ghosts" - unregistered migrant workers who officially do not exist. I had the opportunity to interview Ben (ATMS post to follow later on in the week) and I learnt that between 2009 (when the idea for Hasret was born) and 2014 (when production began), there were two main world events that took place and altered the tone of the film, giving it a more political feel; these were the accelerated gentrification of the city, that peaked in the Gezi Park Protests of 2013, and the Syrian Civil War.

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