Friday 30 June 2017

Edie (a film review) and round up of the Edinburgh International Film Festival

Edie (Sheila Hancock) has had a hard life, caring for her difficult husband since his stroke 30 years ago. When he dies she thinks back to her happy childhood with her father, when they used to go for long walks in the countryside and they had hoped (but never managed) to walk up the remote Scottish mountain Suilven. She now decides that she is going to fulfil this lifelong ambition.....

Edie meets Johnny (Kevin Guthrie) who works in a mountaineering shop and he helps her prepare for her climb. The two start off not trusting each other, but develop a trusting and friendly relationship as time goes on.

The journey is at times a beautiful ramble though stunning scenery and at times a tough struggle against punishing terrain and dreadful weather.

The film is beautifully shot in one of the most beautiful areas of Scotland with plenty of amazing and vertiginous shots of and from Suilven itself. Edie is an inspiring character, full of determination to finally achieve her long term dreams and along the way inspiring Johnny to rethink his own desires in life. Sheila Hancock gives a brilliant and inspiring performance. It's great to see a film that hangs so much on the central character of a woman in her eighties.

The moral of the story is grab life when you can, take the opportunities you're given. Though I would add, whatever your age, it is foolish to go up into the mountains by yourself.

Edie had it's world premiere at the Edinburgh International Film Festival and is showing as part of the Best of the Fest at 2030 Saturday 1 July at Filmhouse (though this screening has now sold out!). Also inexplicably (given that it's the one film that I didn't like that I've seen at this year's festival) Dark Mile is also showing as part of Best of the Fest. The complete list of the Best of the Fest is available here.

The festival awards have also been announced. God's Own Country deservedly winning Best British Feature and Donkeyote deservedly winning Best Documentary. You can see the full list here.

God's Own Country will be in UK cinemas from 1 September. I have no information on when the other films I saw will be in cinemas, other than that Okja sadly won't be screening in cinemas and will go straight to Netflix.

So that's the end of the film festival for me this year. Here are links to all the films I've seen and reviewed:

God's Own Country.

Journey's through Time and Culture (review of Zer, Sami Blood and Donkeyote).

The Erlprince.

Two Films about our relationship with animals (review of Okja and The Challenge).

Leaning into the Wind.

Distant Echo.

My Entire High School Sinking into the Sea.

The Dark Mile.

 Red Dog, True Blue.

Snow Woman.

This Beautiful Fantastic.

I Dream in another Language.

 Disclaimer: I had a press pass for the Edinburgh International Film Festival and attended press screenings of these films.

Thursday 29 June 2017

Death at Seaworld by David Kirby - book review for Orca Month

 Death at SeaWorld: Shamu and the Dark Side of Killer Whales in Captivity

It's a few years ago now that I reviewed Blackfish, the documentary film that exposed the grim reality behind Seaworld and other marine entertainment parks (you can read my review here).

I bought Death at Seaworld soon after watching the film, but just didn't feel up to reading it until recently, given the intensely grim subject matter.

The book is much less sensationalist than the film and meticulously researched, giving the reader priveliged insights into the reality of performing water mammals. The book exposes the cramped conditions, the lack of proper health and safety regulations, the repeated attacks and near misses made by marine mammals (particularly orcas) on their trainers. It goes into great detail of the legal battles around Sea World, particularly the fatalities that have occured (orca Tilikum killed three trainers) and the attempts to release some of the orcas back into the wild.

Orcas live in complex social groups in the wild and roam over large distances across the ocean - they are entirely not suited to a life in captivity confined to a small pool with little interaction with others of their species. 

Death at Seaworld is incredibly detailed and not an easy read in some senses, but it is always engaging and engrossing, written almost in the style of a thriller and guaranteed to keep you turning the pages, even as your heart is sinking.

Read this and despair at the human inability to coexist meaningfully with other intelligent creatures. 

Death at Sea World by David Kirby published by St Martin's Griffin

A book review for 30 Days Wild and Orca Month.

Wednesday 28 June 2017

I Dream in another language (film review)

Deep in the lush Mexican rain forests, live the three remaining speakers of Zikril, a language that its speakers claim enables them to speak with the animals. A young linguist, Martin (Fernando Alvarez Rebeil), has come to the area to record the last of Zikril. Time is running out though as Jacinta, one of the last three speakers is terminally ill and the other two haven't spoken to each other for over 50 years, since they fell out over a woman.

Martin has to find a way to get Isauro (Jose Manuel Poncelis) and Evaristo (Eligio Melendez) to talk to each other. Enlisting the help of Evaristo's granddaughter Lluvia (Fatima Molina) Martin tries to bring the two elderly men together again, discovering in the process that their feud is much more complex than it first appears.

The film is beautifully made and moving, though it tends towards the melodramatic. Personal relationships are very much the focus of the film with the issue of language loss being in the background. This avoids the film feeling preachy, while the fact that the scenes in Zikril are not subtitled demonstrates very clearly how much the loss of a language can mean for people's understanding of the world. Once Zikril dies, its mythologies and ways of seeing the world will die too. For example, the Zikril speakers' belief that after death they enter The Enchantment that lies through a cave in the rainforest and their beleif that they can communicate with all other creatures in the forests. Their non-Zikril-speaking descendents will inevitably feel less connected to the natural world around them.

 Zikril is an invented language, that represents all the languages in the world that are close to extinction, and those that have already died. The story in this film is entirely fictional, but it's not far from reality for speakers of many languages.

I Dream in Another Language is showing as part of the Edinburgh International Film Festival at 1pm, Saturday 1 July at Odeon Lothian Road. You can book your tickets here.

Here are links to the other reviews I've written of films seen in the festival:

God's Own Country.

Journey's through Time and Culture (review of Zer, Sami Blood and Donkeyote).

The Erlprince.

Two Films about our relationship with animals (review of Okja and The Challenge).

Leaning into the Wind.

Distant Echo.

My Entire High School Sinking into the Sea.

The Dark Mile.

 Red Dog, True Blue.

Snow Woman.  

This Beautiful Fantastic.
Disclaimer: I have a press pass for the Edinburgh International Film Festival and attended press screenings of these films.

Tuesday 27 June 2017

This Beautiful Fantastic (film review)

Bella (Jessica Brown Findlay) a young woman with obsessive compulsive tendencies has just moved in next door to Alfie (Tom Wilkinson) a grumpy old widower. Alfie (who is very proud of his beautiful garden) blames Bella for the untended state of her garden, despite the fact that it looks to the viewer as though it's been neglected for a lot longer than Bella has lived there. Bella though hates plants and gardens due at least in part to traumatic early experiences. She would much rather lose herself in books and works at the local library, which she claims is only to fill time until her book is published, despite not yet having a real story for the book. However the landlord is putting pressure on her to tidy up the garden or she faces eviction. 

So Bella enlists the help of Alfie and his former cook, Vernon (Andrew Scott) to put the garden to rights. Meanwhile she becomes distracted by charming and chaotic young inventor Billy (Jeremy Irvine) who spends a lot of time at the library. This, among other things, puts pressure on her at work, with her po-faced boss becoming increasingly exasperated by her.

Will this unlikely combination of people be able to come together to create a beautiful garden in the ridiculously short imposed timetable? Will Bella find inspiration for her children's book? Will the neighbours learn to live happily alongside each other?

This is a modern day fairy tale for all aspiring children's writers, inventors and gardeners. It's a lovely exploration of how nature and gardening can help bring people together and heal problems. It's consistently entertaining, sometimes very funny, sometimes very silly but always watchable. I suspect that it gives an overly optimistic sense of what can be achieved in a garden in one month of part-time inexperienced effort, but this needs to be read as metaphor and overview rather than gardening documentary to avoid disillusionment among the aspiring gardeners in the audience. I love the way the characters all eventually collaborate on various aspects of their lives and create a real community of intersecting interests. It's ultimately a very inspiring film for those with creative ambitions.

This Beautiful Fantastic is showing as part of the Edinburgh International Film Festival at: 1820, Thursday 29 June at Filmhouse and 1300, Sunday 2 July at Cineworld. You can book tickets here.

Here are links to the other reviews I've written of films seen in the festival:

God's Own Country.

Journey's through Time and Culture (review of Zer, Sami Blood and Donkeyote).

The Erlprince.

Two Films about our relationship with animals (review of Okja and The Challenge).

Leaning into the Wind.

Distant Echo.

My Entire High School Sinking into the Sea.

The Dark Mile.

 Red Dog, True Blue.

Snow Woman
Disclaimer: I have a press pass for the Edinburgh International Film Festival and attended press screenings of these films.

Snow Woman (film review)

The film opens in black and white, a chilly, mountainous forest, with snow falling all around. Two woodsmen take shelter in a hut, where a mysterious Snow Woman (Kiki Sugino) enters their shelter and steals away the life of the older one, telling Minokichi, the younger man that if he ever tells anyone what she has done, then she will kill him. Later Minokichi meets Yuki (Sugino again, who also directed the film), a young woman who looks identical to the Snow Woman and marries her. They live together happily for years and have a daughter Ume. 

Life seems very happy and trouble free, but a number of unexplained deaths occur in the village and amongst the workers at the factory where Minikichi works. These all bear the marks of being carried out by the same killer and suspicion falls on Yuki.

The film is beautifully shot, full of mystery and the unknowable that is present in nature and even in the people we think we know best. There is a deliberate blending of time periods real and imagined which gives the film a sense of timelessness (or confusion depending on your way of seeing things).

Is Yuki really the snow woman or is this just part of her character that has remained hidden away or is he snow woman in fact a manifestation of Minokichi's fears? Will Ume inherit this part of her mother's character?

This is just the latest cinematic interpretation of the Snow Woman legend, you can read about previous versions here.

Snow Woman is showing as part of Edinburgh International Film Festival at: 6pm, Thursday 29 June at Cineworld and 6pm, Saturday 1 July at Odeon, Lothian Road. You can book your tickets here.

Here are links to the other films I've seen in the festival:

Red Dog, True Blue.

The Dark Mile.

A Distant Echo

God's Own Country.

Journey's through Time and Culture (review of Zer, Sami Blood and Donkeyote).

The Erlprince.

Two Films about our relationship with animals (review of Okja and The Challenge).

Leaning into the Wind.

Distant Echo.

My Entire High School Sinking into the Sea.

Disclaimer: I have a press pass for the Edinburgh International Film Festival and attended press screenings of these films.

Red Dog True Blue (film review)

Red Dog is an Australian hero, commemorated with his own statue outside the town of Dampier and made famous to non-Australians through Louis de Bernieres' novel Red Dog, based on the local stories told about the dog (which was made into a film of the same name in 2011).

Red Dog, True Blue is a fictionalised account of Red Dog's life before he became a hero, with the original film referenced at the beginning and throughout the narrative.

Eleven year old Mike (Levi Miller) is sent to live with his grandfather (Bryan Brown) on his remote rural farm station. Mike finds a dog (played by Pheonix, as Koko the star of Red Dog the film had died) after a storm. At first the dog is blue due to the colour of the mud he's covered in so Mike calls him Blue, though once the mud washes off the dog is found to be red, but, for now at least, the name Blue sticks. The two quickly become inseparable, to the detriment of Mike's education, and enjoy exploring the outback together, including finding a secret lake in a cave that is culturally significant to the local aboriginal people. Mike's young tutor, Betty, brought in to ensure the boy pays attention to his learning, introduces complications into the mostly male community on the station.

All the actors are impressive in their roles, but Blue is consistently at the centre of the film.  This is a first role for Pheonix and he totally steals the show, proving to be an expressive and endearing canine actor.

This is a beautiful film with stunning cinematography of the Australian outback acting as a backdrop to a family friendly story of growing up and learning to deal with loss and bringing in the issue of Aboriginal land rights. Moving and entertaining, with plenty of humour and the occasional dose of mild peril, this is well worth seeing - remember to take a hanky with you!

You can enjoy this film whether or not you've seen the original film or read de Bernieres' novel, but I would strongly recommend the novel! (I sadly haven't had the chance to see the original film of Red Dog).

Red Dog True Blue is showing at the Edinburgh International Film Festival at: 6pm Thursday 29 June at Odeon Lothian Road and at 11am on Saturday 1 July at Filmhouse. You can buy tickets here.

Here are links to the other films I've seen in the festival:

The Dark Mile.

A Distant Echo

God's Own Country.

Journey's through Time and Culture (review of Zer, Sami Blood and Donkeyote).

The Erlprince.

Two Films about our relationship with animals (review of Okja and The Challenge).

Leaning into the Wind.

Distant Echo.

My Entire High School Sinking into the Sea.

Disclaimer: I have a press pass for the Edinburgh International Film Festival and attended press screenings of these films.

Monday 26 June 2017

The Dark Mile (a film review)

Clare (Deirdre Mullins) and Louise (Rebecca Calder) are a couple recovering from traumatic personal experiences, who book a sailing trip on the Caledonian Canal in Scotland to recover from their trauma and to try to repair their fractured relationship.

The stunning Highland scenery promises an idyllic time for them but it soon proves to be otherwise. They find themselves followed by a mysterious black barge crewed by very stange, sinister seeming people. Whenever they disembark from the boat they are confronted by a Scotland populated by disfunctional, uncommunicative weirdos. Even Sheila Hancock's seemingly well meaning old woman is so odd as to surely not be trusted. Voodoo dolls and occult windchimes that turn up in odd places add to the sense of unease and foreboding, as do the darkening skies and ample rain.

Louise and Claire are thoroughly modern to the point that they are more interested in whether they have wifi than making sure they have an adequate first aid kit on board the boat. They soon regret this.

I'm easily scared by films, but this didn't really scare me, even though it's billed as a tense psychological horror-thriller. I found myself looking at the occult windchimes and thinking 'oh that would be an interesting craft project!' rather than finding them particularly sinister.

I'm pretty certain Visit Scotland won't be using this film in any of their publicity. Note to anyone reading this outside Scotland, his film does not accurately represent Scottish people (though it does accurately represent our scenery and weather).

The Dark Mile was sold out for it's world premiere at Edinburgh International Film Festival earlier today but there are still tickets for tomorrow's screening at 2045 Tuesday 27 June at Cineworld.
 here are links to the other films I've seen in the festival:

A Distant Echo

God's Own Country.

Journey's through Time and Culture (review of Zer, Sami Blood and Donkeyote).

The Erlprince.

Two Films about our relationship with animals (review of Okja and The Challenge).

Leaning into the Wind.

Distant Echo

My Entire High School Sinking into the Sea.

Disclaimer: I have a press pass for the Edinburgh International Film Festival and attended press screenings of these films.

My Entire High School Sinking into the Sea (film review)

This is a visually inventive animated film from acclaimed graphic novelist Dash Shaw, featuring a mix of hand drawn scenes, collages and amazing colours.

Best friends Dash (Schwartzman) and Assaf (Watts) are sophomores at Tides High, a school located on a coastal faultline. The boys are the sole two writers on the school newspaper, which nobody seems to read. The editor of the newspaper, Verity, offers Assaf the chance of his first solo writing assignment to cover the new building development at the school. This makes Dash jealous, not only because he feels he's the better writer and deserves the assignment but also as he can see Assaf and Verity becoming more than just friends.

Dash does his own research and finds out that the new development doesn't comply with earthquake safety legislation and that the whole school building is threatened with destruction the next time there's an earth tremor, which is of course exactly what happens.

Can Dash and Assaf regain each other's trust and save their friends from the doomed school? What is Principal Grim's secret and what are Lunch Lady Lorraine's secret skills?

This is a disaster film that explores how to survive adolescence, makes serious (and timely) points about the importance of health and safety legislation and is a visual feast. Well worth watching.

My Entire High School Sinking into the Sea is showing as part of Edinburgh International Film Festival at: 2035, Wednesday 28 June and 1815 Thursday 29 June both at Cineworld.You can buy tickets here.

 here are links to the other films I've seen in the festival:

God's Own Country.

Journeys through Time and Culture (review of Zer, Sami Blood and Donkeyote).

The Erlprince.

Two Films about our relationship with animals (review of Okja and The Challenge).

Leaning into the Wind.

A Distant Echo

Disclaimer: I have a press pass for the Edinburgh International Film Festival and attended press screenings of these films.

Sunday 25 June 2017

A Distant Echo (film review)

A Distant Echo, directed by George Clark, is a visually beautiful meditation on the desert landscape of Southern California. The stunning cinematography dwells on the play of light and shade on the everchanging rippling patterns in sand dunes, giving rise to some beautiful natural geometries. Mountains change colour, coming into sharp focus in the sunshine and disappearing entirely in the dramatic desert storms.

The film mostly stays in uninhabited areas of the desert, only a tortoise and the occasional black clad figure coming into view. Only occasionally do we see roads and other human imprints on the desert. This in contrast to the dialogue, in which explorers reveal the negotiations between an archaeologist from Cairo and members of a tribe who guard ancient desert tombs. Their words offer insights into the history of Western exploitation of the desert, the people who live there and their history.

The sound track by Tom Challenger adds a genuine desert atmosphere to the visuals though is sometimes a bit jarring. Also jarring are the overly self conscious 'chapter headings' that break up the film into ten sections. Ten feels too many sections for a relatively short film and the headings break the meditative flow of the film.

This multilayered film offers two simultaneous mediations on the desert, the visual landscape and the spoken history. It feels like a fitting, contrasting companion piece to The Challenge (also showing at the film festival and which I reviewed here).

(A Distant Echo was adapted from the 1969 Egyptian film A Night of Counting the Years / Al-Mummia directed by Shadi Abdel Salam.)

A Distant Echo is showing as part of the Edinburgh International Film Festival at: 1810 Tuesday 27 June and 1810 Thursday 29 June both at Odeon Lothian Road. You can book tickets here.

 here are links to the other films I've seen in the festival:

God's Own Country.

Journey's through Time and Culture (review of Zer, Sami Blood and Donkeyote).

The Erlprince.

Two Films about our relationship with animals (review of Okja and The Challenge).

Leaning into the Wind.

Disclaimer: I have a press pass for the Edinburgh International Film Festival and attended press screenings of these films.

Saturday 24 June 2017

Leaning into the Wind (film review)

I have long been a fan of Andy Goldsworthy's site specific environmental art made with natural materials and designed to change with the elements until the art blurs into nature. About sixteen years ago I saw Rivers and Tides a film  directed by Thomas Riedelsheimer which focussed on Goldsworthy's artworks and I was delighted to get the chance to see Leaning into the Wind, another collaboration between artist and film maker.

The film also took us across the globe, including San Francisco, Brazil, Spain and France, showcasing various site specific works Goldsworthy has made using rocks or plant based materials.

Some wonderful artworks feature in this film. I was particularly impressed by the work that Goldsworthy has been doing with a fallen elm tree that lies across a stream in Dumfries and Galloway in Scotland (where the artist is currently based). Every year he creates a new installation around the tree. I was very interested in what he said about the yellow of the autumnal elm leaves being slightly different every year and how if hard rains are followed by hard frost at just the wrong time then all the leaves go black and there is no more yellow that year. I also loved the way he 'painted' rocks in the river with the fallen leaves gathered from nearby elm trees. It was clear that not only do the elements play a part in weathering and completing his work, but in this case the wind made it very difficult to create the work in the first place, with leaves blowing all over the place as he tried to complete the piece.

My other favourite artwork is made up of the footprints sheep made on a sheet that had been laid under a large bowl of sheep feed. The sheep unwittingly becoming the artists.

I started to wonder though how environmentally friendly some of his installations are. One piece involved crawling through a hedgerow breaking branches and twigs, which certainly seemed more destructive than artistic.

I have to admit to leaving the film feeling less wholeheartedly enthusiastic about Goldsworthy's work. Having said that, at his best, he provokes our thinking about our relationship with nature in interesting ways, which in this day and age can only be a good thing.

Leaning into the Wind is showing as part of Edinburgh International Film Festival at: 2030 Monday 26 June and 1800 Tuesday 27 June, both at Edinburgh Filmhouse. You can book here.

We're now at the end of the first week of the Edinburgh International Film Festival and here are links to the films I've seen so far:

God's Own Country.

Journey's through Time and Culture (review of Zer, Sami Blood and Donkeyote).

The Erlprince.

Two Films about our relationship with animals (review of Okja and The Challenge).

 Disclaimer: I have a press pass for the Edinburgh International Film Festival and attended press screenings of these films.

Friday 23 June 2017

Two films about the human relationship with animals

Okja is the latest film from cult Korean director Bong Joon Ho (who also directed Snowpiercer which I saw at the 2013 Edinburgh International Film Festival and which I reviewed here).

Okja is one of several superpigs bred by the Mirando corporation, who, lead by Lucy Mirando (Tilda Swinton) want to present themselves as the environmentally friendly face of mass food production. The baby superpigs are sent out to farmers across the world who are asked to look after the creatures for ten years in the ways traditional to their area. One of these baby superpigs is Okja, who finds himself living in the stunning mountain scenery of South Korea with Mija (Ahn Seo-hyun) and her grandfather. Mija and Okja become inseparable, wandering the hillsides together and enjoying bathing in the mountain pools. Mija sees Okja as a cute, cuddly, clumsy companion, the Mirando Corporation see Okja as a producer of meat once she has grown up.

Dressing the occasion up as an audition for the 'best superpig in the world competition' representatives of the Mirando corporation visit Mija and Okja and kidnap Okja.

There then follows an adventurous chase across continents with Mija wanting only to rescue Okja from both the Mirando Corporation and the Animal Liberation Front, who she doesn't trust.

Okja is a wonderfully imagined creature, part giant pig, part hippopotamous, part everyone's favourite puppy and is the centre of this sometimes sweet and adorable, at times incredibly upsetting and other times hilariously funny film that has a serious message about animal rights and corporate miuse of power.

Okja inexplicably has failed to get release into cinemas (this follows on from Snowpiercer inexplicably failing to get released into UK cinemas) and is going straight to Netflix after the festival is over. Therefore this may be your one and only chance to see this brilliant film on the big screen. So book one of the dates below and remember to take a box of tissues.

Due to the distressing nature of some of the scenes later in the film, I'd advise not taking young children to this film (it doesn't have a certificate yet, but I'd put it at a 15, possibly a 12).

Okja is showing as part of the Edinburgh International Film Festival at 1715, Sunday 25 June at Filmhouse and at 1805, Wednesday 28 at Cineworld. You can book your tickets here (it's apparently selling out quickly so hurry!)

The Challenge is a documentary about the commodification of  birds used in falconry among super rich sheikhs in Qatar. This documentary, relying on atmospheric sequences rather than narrative or dialogue, is a fascinating peek into the world of the super-rich and their expensive hobbies. You can't help but feel sorry for the falcons, mostly (I think) saker falcons, and their prey, the captive pigeons. To me it seems as though the director has been influenced by Werner Herzog in his observations of the oddities of life in the desert. Striking set pieces include the Qatari chapter of the Hells Angels stopping in the middle of the desert to pray to Mecca, a super rich sheikh driving his sports car with a tame cheetah in the passenger seat, four wheel drive vehicles gathering in crowds to race through the desert, a giant TV showing football in the middle of the desert. Most bizzare of all perhaps is the scene showing the falcons been pampered on a luzury jet flight!

It's an engrossing film (though personally I found some of the car centred scenes a bit tedious) and certainly offers a glimpse into another world. Also striking is how it highlights the balance between the ancient tradition of falconry and modern life and technology.

The Challenge is showing as part of the Edinburgh International Film Festival at 2035 Sunday 25 June at Cineworld and at 2040 Saturday 1 July at Edinburgh Filmhouse. You can buy tickets here.

Thursday 22 June 2017

The Erlprince (film review)

Goethe's Poem The Erlking acts as inspiration for (and is spoken during) this coming of age drama. The protagonist is a 15 year old physics genius (Stanislaw Cywka) who has just moved to a new city with his over-protective single mother (Agnieszka Podsiadlik). His absent father, who works at a wolf sactuary, makes occasional appearances. The characters never address each other by name.

The young man is a troubled soul obsessed with the end of the world and the possible existence of other dimensions. The narrative follows his experiments into finding a way of linking between dimensions and describes our understanding the boundaries between dimensions as being like the boundary between water and air as seen from the point of view of fish.

The young man is reluctant to follow his mother's instructions to apply for a presitgious scientific award and becomes lost in a world where his own imaginings blur with reality to a disorientating degree. This disorientation is brilliantly enhanced through the score and often disjointed cinematography. Nature and landscape are  used brilliantly to create atmosphere - the mythical wolf pack, the misty lake, the narrow passages between rocky cliffs.

Can the young man negotiate the tricky path from adolescence to adulthood or will his world actually come to an end?

This magical, diturbing and brilliantly weird coming of age film is showing as part of the Focus on Poland strand of Edinburgh International Film Festival 2017.

The Erlprince is screening at 1540 Saturday 24 June and 2040 Monday 26 June, both at the Odeon, Lothian Road. You can book here.

Wednesday 21 June 2017

Summer trees and fungi

No films for me today so I was able to do my regular weekly patrol of the Water of Leith in Colinton and Craiglockart Dells. It's beautifully summery out there just now, this old silver birch tree looks wonderful in among all the buttercups in the 'Hidden Meadow'

and the hornbeams are displaying their wonderful chandeliers now

Meanwhile new fungi are emerging, it's easy to think of fungi as an autumnal phenomenon but there are fungi for most seasons, here's a giant puffball (the first I've noticed in this area)

Enjoying Summer for 30 Days Wild.


And for the Edinburgh based cinema goers out there, there's still time to book your tickets for the opening gala for Edinburgh International Film Festival. It's generally a great occasion and God's Own Country (which I review here) is certainly a great film. You can book here.

Tuesday 20 June 2017

Journeys through Time and Cultures (a film review)

Three film recommendations for Edinburgh International Film Festival today and all of them involve travel through time and cultures.

First is Zer, the story of Jan (Nik Xhelilaj) a young man studying music in New York who becomes close to his Turkish grandmother, Zarife (Güler Ökten), in her dying days and is fascinated by a Kurdish song she sings (the Zer of the title).

A wonderfully touching relationship develops between the young man and his grandmother and they become close, bonded at least in part by their shared love of music. Jan however is very innocent of the history of Kurdistan as his parents have hidden what they see as a shameful part of their family history. Jan becomes intrigued by the history that lies in his grandmother's memories and the story behind the song Zer. Following her funeral in Turkey he decides to find out the origins of this song, a quest that takes him further and further into remote regions of Kurdistan.

This is a fascinating journey geographically, historically and culturally, revealing buried memories and the existence of a whole multiplicity of songs called Zer, all of which relate to an original story about a pair of ill starred lovers. The film blurs the present and past, memories, dreams and reality in a way that is beautiful and yet not confusing. This is really enhanced by the stunning cinematography - New York has never looked more beautiful on the big screen and the mountains of Kurdistan are stunning.

This is a beautiful, haunting film that explores a painful part of history without ever feeling like a history lesson.

Also delving into painful history is Sami Blood, the story of Ella Marja (Lene Cecilia Sparrock) a young Sami woman, a pupil at a brutal boarding school in Sweden, where all attempts to speak Sami are punished and Ella herself the brightest student in the class is told she can't continue her studies as Sami are known to have small brains. Ella has ambitions and desperately wants to escape the school, her life of reindeer herding (which see feels is backward) and the simmering prejudice that is found all around. She meets a young Swedish soldier at a party and decides to visit him at his home in Uppsala, hoping that she can then continue her education and make a life for herself in that city. But even here, the cards are stacked against her for her Sami heritage. We also meet Ella Marja (or Christina as she later calls herself) as an old woman returning for her sister's funeral and this made me curious to know what happened for her between her young adulthood and her old age.

The landscape is stunning and the story, though quite documentary in style is very affecting in its portrayal of the brutal prejudice shown against the Sami people in Sweden.

Ella Marja as an old woman is looking back on her life, but in Donkeyote, the elderly protaganist (Manolo) is planning a final great adventure, despite his failing health. He has always enjoyed walking and riding in the Spanish countryside near where he lives but now has an eccentric and ambitious plans to travel from Spain to the USA to walk along the Trail of Tears (the enforced migration route for many thousands of native Americans in the 1830s) accompanied only by his donkey Gorrion and his dog Zafrana.

His daughter supports his ideas, but is concerned for his health and well being. Manolo becomes concerned about the amount of planning the whole project will take, how he will get Gorrion to the USA being one of the most frustrating aspects. He also has to help Gorrion to overcome his fear of water, a not inconsiderable task, given that Gorrion, normally a good natured animal becomes very stubborn when near water. So will the trio surmount their problems and explore the USA?

Edited to add: in retrospect I realise Donkeyote has lots to do with Don Quixote, but apart from the scene with the windmills I don't know Don Quixote well enough to analyse the connection! 

These films are showing  at the Edinburgh International Film Festival:

Zer is screening at 2050, Thursday 22 June and 2030 Saturday 24 June both at Filmhouse.
Sami Blood is screening at 1800 Thursday 22 June and 1520 Saturday 24 June both at Cineworld.
Donkeyote is screening at 1800, Thursday 22 June at Odeon and 2040 Saturday 24 June at Cineworld.

Disclaimer - I have a press pass for the festival and attended press screenings for these films.

Monday 19 June 2017

God's Own Country (film review)

So this is the time of year when 30 Days Wild coincides with the Edinburgh International Film Festival! As has been the case over the past few years, I have a press pass for the festival and will be reviewing films that deal with environmental issues (including rural life) or literature in some way.

God's Own Country is the film that will open the festival on Wednesday evening and has been described by some as the British Brokeback Mountain, but it is much more than that, certainly more interesting and in my humble opinion a better film.

Johnny (Josh O'Connor) lives on his family farm in the bleakly beautiful Yorkshire Pennines, with his father (who is disabled from a stroke) and grandmother. The farm is only just succeeding, conditions are unforgiving and family life is demanding. Johnny works hard, drinks hard and picks up men at cattle shows. He seems envious of his friends who've gone to college but claims to be doing the better thing by staying at home.

Things begin to change when young Romanian farm worker Gheorghe (Alec Secareanu) arrives to help out on the farm. Gheorghe is a natural, enthusiastic farmer with a wonderful skill with sheep, he adopts an orphaned sheep and looks after it in a most touching way. Gheorghe is also able to reach Johnny in ways which the English guy stays clear of. 

When Johnny isn't being his own worst enemy, the two develop a relationship, which has to rate as one of the most beautiful I've seen recently on film. Unfortunately Johnny all too often is being his own worst enemy and there are many times when I wanted to shake him and say 'don't be such an idiot!'. Is he ever going to grow up and see sense?

This is the debut feature of director Francis Lee and I hope we see lots more from him.  

Astonishingly at the time of writing, there are still tickets for this film (which already features on many lists of the best British films of the year)! 

You can buy a ticket here for God's Own Country, screening as the opening gala of Edinburgh International Film Festival 2017 at 2040 on Wednesday 21 June at Festival Theatre, or for its second screening at 1810 on Thrsday 22 June at Cineworld. 

If you can't make either of those screenings then the film will be released in the UK from 1 September.

See a film for 30 Days Wild.  

Sunday 18 June 2017

Scorpion Fly

When we were walking round Corstorphine HIll yesterday we were very happy to find this lovely scorpion fly. I hadn't taken a photo of it but Crafty Green Boyfriend had taken a few - this first photo shows how beautiful and  colourfulthe insect is!

 This second photo shows the tail, very reminiscent of a scorpion's sting.
The scorpion fly is harmless to humans and makes a living by scavanging and stealing prey from spiders' webs. There are three species of scorpion fly in the UK and they are apparently very difficult to tell apart!

For 30 Days Wild.

Saturday 17 June 2017

The Other Side of the Hill

We walked a differenet part of Corstorphine HIll today, starting at the most beautiful bus stop in Edinburgh where the verges are left unmown for the flowers including buttercups and common spotted orchids

We then walked through the meadow where the grass is only mown to provide paths between the flowers and the rest of the meadow is yellow with buttercups

and the lovely Yorkshire Fog grass

It was very warm out there so we were glad to find the shade of the woodland. Look at the lovely shadows in the elder leaves (which struck me as perfect for Shadow Shot Sunday!)

and these wonderful tree roots 

We walked for a long time through parts of the woodland I don't walk through very often but we eventually joined up with the path we usually walk on Fridays and met this lovely young kudu in the zoo, which, along with its whole family was visible from the path!

Out and About for 30 Days Wild.

Friday 16 June 2017

Climb a Hill for 30 Days Wild

As I often do on a Friday I joined Crafty Green Boyfriend this lunchtime for a walk round Corstorphine Hill. The highlight today was seeing the common spotted orchids which are thriving this year!

Always lovely to see these beautiful flowers!

We were very pleased to be able to put into practice all we had learned from the recent rust fungus workshop by noticing this impressive nettle rust fungus

It was lovely to see these clovers and self heal flowers growing in front of the hotel
and attracting several bees (mostly common carders like the one below)

So it's a good season for the flowers and the bees but where are the bunnies that usually graze this hillside in front of the hotel?

Climb a Hill for 30 Days Wild.

Thursday 15 June 2017

National Clean Air Day

Today is the UK’s first-ever National Clean Air Day!

Air pollution damages our health in similar ways as smoking, increasing the risk of serious diseases and making worse the effects of existing respiratory diseases. You can find out more about the health impacts of air pollution here.

Particularly if you live in a busy city it may feel as though you can never escape air pollution, particularly from all those vehicles on the road. One of the ways to avoid pollution is to avoid walking or cycling along the main roads and instead to use the side streets, cyclepaths or footpaths - which often offer better chances to find interesting plants and wildlife too! You can find out more about avoiding air pollution here.

You can also reduce your contribution to air pollution - most easily by giving up the car. If you live in an urban area with good bus services, footpaths and cyclepaths, then this is easy to do. In other places it may be much more difficult (for example in many areas of rural Scotland, the buses are very infrequent and many towns and cities in the world are designed with the car in mind but there are still things you can do to reduce air pollution even if you need to drive a lot, find out more here.

You can also help raise awareness of and reduce the effects of air pollution by getting together with other people to discuss the issues and do something about them! Find out more here.

The National Clean Air Day website doesn't really address the effects of air pollution on the wider environment, but there are many such effects, including damage to crops and forests and the build up of pollutants in individual animals and the food chain. You can read more about these effects in this paper from Massechussets Department of the Environment.

National Clean Air Day for 30 Days Wild.

Wednesday 14 June 2017

Epic battle! Devil's Coach Horse Larva vs Earthworm

I was fascinated to find this happening when I was walking along the John Muir Walkway near Musselburgh today

The black creature is I think a devil's coach horse larva (please correct me if I'm wrong) and it was battling with the earthworm for several minutes. The larva seemed to give up eventually and wandered off but may have come back again later.

It's amazing what you can see sometimes!

Observing Nature's interactions for 30 Days Wild.

Tuesday 13 June 2017

30 Days Wild - Take Part in a Wildlife Survey

Last month I attended training to take part in the  City of Edinburgh swift survey. Yesterday I finally received the information I need to carry out the survey, including the map of the streets I've been designated to survey. So yesterday evening, Crafty Green Boyfriend and I walked slowly round our designated survey area (luckily enough centred on our own flat!), looking our for swifts. Very sadly we hardly saw any and most of those we did see were flying too high up to count as being obviously near potential nest sites. It was a lovely evening with clear skies, mild temperatures and only a slight breeze so we had hoped to see more swifts though we know very well that they have declined in this area over the past few years (as they have sadly across most of the UK).

We need to make at least another survey walk of the area to make closer observations on potential nest sites. Hopefully we will see more swifts then! We also need to add in our very local swifts, which didn't show themselves for the survey but which are still definitely around!

You can read the report on the last swift survey carried out in Edinburgh here. I imagine a similar report will be produced for this year's survey.

If you're not in Edinburgh, but would like to help survey swifts in the UK then you can find out more on the RSPB website here.

I'm also still working on my contribution to the ongoing, comprehensive plant survey of the Water of Leith. So far I've added to the existing results - several grasses, a few fungi (including the rust fungi found on the recent rust fungi indentification workshop I attended!) and a couple of species of flowering plant.

It's important to survey plants and animals so that conservationists have a good idea of how species are doing and can design management plans where necessary to help struggling species. It's also a great way to increase your own knowledge about wildlife and it's good fun too!

Join a wildlife survey for 30 Days Wild.

Monday 12 June 2017

Enthuse children about wildlife for 30 Days Wild

I spent this morning at the local primary school teaching creative writing classes in the school garden! We had a great tine! I was very impressed by the children's enthusiasm for finding things in the garden! The workshops were part of the Sharing Secrets Festival so I focussed in finding secrets in the gardens! The children found ladybirds on the plants, bees buzzing round the garden and two, no three, no in fact four goldfish hiding in the weeds in the pond! The first class also spent time with the rabbits who at that point in the day were lively and friendly, though by the time the second class went out, all the rabbits were either asleep or hiding! The children drew and wrote about what they saw, creating some lovely pieces of art work in the process.

Everyone enjoyed the chance to be outside and I think all the pupils developed their observation skills (as well as their writing and drawing) in the process!

Enthuse children about wildlife for 30 Days Wild!

Sunday 11 June 2017

Saturday 10 June 2017

Rust Fungus Workshop

Crafty Green Boyfriend and I today went to an excellent workshop on rust fungi, lead by Cameron Diekonigin at Water of Leith Conservation Trust Visitor Centre.

Rust fungi sound daunting, and as they're very small you may expect they're very difficult to find and indentify. They are difficult to find but not so tricky to identify, as rust fungi are specific to certain species of plants, most rusts in fact can only be found on one particular species of plant. On the other hand some species of rusts may be found on a couple of differnt species of plants. Confusingly some species of rusts spend part of their lifecycle on one plant and then the rest of their lifecycle on another unrelated plant. It's all very fascinating!

The aecium part of the life cycle can be very beautiful if you look at it under a hand lense and relatively easy to see with the naked eye. This is the aecium of Puccinia urticata the nettle rust that we found in Craiglockart Dell during the afternoon field trip part of the course.

If you click on the photo you will see the orange circles in the reddish area of the leaf and also on the pale area above it. Those are the aecia! (Unfortunately of course you risk nettle stings if you get too close to this rust fungus!)

Attend a wildlife identification workshop for 30 Days Wild.

Thursday 8 June 2017

Vote with nature in mind!

It's the General Election today in the United Kingdom. Due to this snap election being called so soon after the local election, the Scottish Green Party doesn't have enough money to field candidates in many wards in Scotland. This is a shame, as many people who care about the environment and nature naturally vote for the Green Party (though admittedly they're not perfect and don't, in my humble opinion, put enough emphasis on biodiversity and wildlife protection).

Our ward is one that doesn't have a Green Party candidate! The Labour party however this year has a very comprehensive environmental policy, which although not perfect (they support the development of the High Speed Rail link that would destroy a number of important wildlife sites, including irreplaceable ancient woodlands) does contain far more detail than is usual for a mainstream party, including some great policies. You can read about it here, in the Ecologist.

So the first thing I'm going to do when I leave the house today is to vote! If you're in the UK please vote too!

You can read my previous posts about voting with the environment in mind here and here.

30 Days Wild - Vote with nature in mind! 

Wednesday 7 June 2017

30 Days Wild - a different perspective and a strange creature

It's always good to change your perspective on things! I particularly like looking at things at close to ground level, it often gives a good view of small invertebrates. There are no insects that I can see on these white clover flowers alongside the John Muir Walkway near Musselburgh but they look pretty from this low perspective

Also this lovely speckled wood butterfly was quite low down though later it was flying much higher

And does anyone know what this is? Is it some kind of rove beetle or a beetle larva? The photos aren't particularly good, if I'd managed to get my camera out quicker I might have been able to take a photo of it before it crawled into the grass! (Click on the photos for a larger view).

It was also lovely to see the sun again after a few days of constant rain!

Tuesday 6 June 2017

30 Days Wild - Volunteer for Nature

As well as 30 Days Wild for the whole of June, this week is Volunteers Week here in the UK. If you have the free time to take part, volunteering is a great way to help nature, enjoy the great outdoors and learn more at the same time!

As many readers of this blog will know, I volunteer each week with the Water of Leith Conservation Trust, helping to look after part of the river. In fact that was what I was doing this morning, in the pouring rain! Just to give an idea of how wet it was, here is the burn that runs into the river at about 8.30 this morning

and here it is at about 10am, with definitely more water running through it.

We've had an exceptionally dry Spring so we need the rain but it has been raining very heavily a lot over the past few days and is set to continue....

One of my main volunteer tasks is to pick litter, I've been provided with a litter picker and I use an old pair of gardening gloves!

I also record the wildlife I see and am contributing to a survey of all the plants and fungi along the river. I've met lots of interesting people (and dogs!) while doing this work and it's a great way to spend time in a lovely woodland and watch it change through the seasons.

I also volunteer with the Woodland Trust as a 'Super Campaigner' (the trust's term, not mine!) which means I use social media to help the trust spread the word about it's campaigns. You may have read some of my blog posts on their campaigns. I recently gave a talk about my volunteering role at the Edinburgh Woodland Trust Volunteer Gathering (which took place at the Water of Leith Visitor Centre) and then lead a guided walk along the river! I was then interviewed for a short video that the trust made for Volunteers Week, you can watch the video here.

If you're interested in volunteering with the Woodland Trust you can find out more here and if you're interested in volunteering with Water of Leith Conservation Trust you can find out more here.

Monday 5 June 2017

Happy World Environment Day

World Environment Day is today, fitting neatly into 30 Days Wild!

There are three main ways to take part in World Environment Day this year:

Add a photo of a favourite place in nature to the global photo album! (The above photo is from Edinburgh Botanic Gardens). You can do this here.

Take part in an event - you can find out what's happening near you here.

Explore Nature! Find out more here.

Whatever you do, World  Environment Day is a chance to enjoy and celebrate nature and to commit to protecting our natural world so we can continue to enjoy it into the future!

Sunday 4 June 2017

30 Days Wild - identify a new species

Not a new species to science of course (though that would be amazingly exciting!) but a species I've never noticed before! We saw this hoverfly on Friday in the Edinburgh Botanic Gardens.

Using the Nature Spot Guide to hoverflies, I identified it as a Narcisus Bulb Fly (Merodon equestris) and then posted it in the UK Hoverflies Facebook group to get a second opinion. Someone in the group confirmed my identification! 

It's really nice to just enjoy nature but it's important to conservation (and interesting too!) to identify the species that we see around us. I've certainly noticed that since I became interested in hoverflies a couple of years ago, the variety in this group of insects has proved to be astonishing!

If you're interested in identifying British wildlife, then there's a list of useful websites on this page of my blog.