Tag Archives: Culture

Human Rights Arts & Film Festival – Melbourne


Privilege is not in and of itself bad; what matters is what we do with privilege … Privilege does not have to be negative, but we have to share our resources and take direction about how to use our privilege in ways that empower those who lack it

bell hooks, Homegrown: Engaged Cultural Criticism

I recently attend the excellent Australian Human Rights Arts & Film Festial (HRAFF) in Melbourne where a collection of short films were presented at the Australian Centre for the Moving Image (ACMI).  The HRAFF has been running for nine few years, and seeks to “hold a mirror to the uneasy truths of our times and reflect our stories” through creative means – and that it does.

acmiThe International Shorts screening that I attended comprised a collection of five award winning films from around the globe that presented a broad range of international and social issues in bold, despairing, humorous and challenging ways.  All of the five films (perhaps with exclusion of Ave Maria) where tied together by common themes of: power, privilege and capacity.

The film-suite seemed to emphasise how privileged we are in Australia, while also inspiring and subtly challenging the audience to consider how we can more fully use our vast capacity to facilitate change and empowerment of vulnerable people both locally and internationally.


I have briefly reviewed each of the respective short films:

Shipwreck (2014: Netherlands and Italy – 15min) shipwreck

Using clever camerawork to provide a feeling of disorientation as well as buoyancy at sea, this Shipwreck is light on dialogue and heavy on impact.  26 year old Morgan Knibbe‘s moving film is shot through the perspective of one of the 155 survivors of the well publicised ship-wreck that was carrying 500 Eritrean refugees that sank off the cost of the Italian island Lampedusa, 3 October 2013.  The viewer is presented a world of disperse, chaos and loss as the remaining survivors and the local police are forced to deal with the aftermath of the tragic voyage.


Listen (2014: Denmark, Finland and Colombia – 13min)

listenListen is a painfully realistic lesson in understanding the difficulties of migrants who cannot communicate in the primary language of their new resident nation.  Somewhat reminiscent of Alejandro González Iñárritu and Guillermo Arriaga‘s tragic film Bable, Listen tells the story of a Musilm woman seeking Police protection from her abusive husband against the wishes of her intentionally  misleading Muslim translator and her teenage son.  Change for this woman is shown as nearly impossible against such cultural inertia and language barriers.


A few seconds (2014: France – 16min)

A_Few_SecondsNora el Hourch‘s film tells the story of a small rough-edged band of young women in France that are coming of age amidst passively and actively abusive men.  With plenty of humour, and plenty of shock A few seconds shows the importance of community and friendship when coping with life away from the support of family.


Everything will be OK (2015: Germany and Austria – 30min)

everything will be okPatrick Vollrath’s ‘short’ film tells the story of a desperate father seeking to kidnap his child out of his loneliness, despair and anger at his current custody arrangement.  Tastefully shot, Everything will be OK, allows the audience to simultaneously sympathise with the father while understanding the suffering of a poor child caught in the middle of parents’ fighting and broken relationships.  In the final moving scenes the daughter seems to behave more like an adult than her Dad while literally being pried from his arms.


Ave Maria (2015: Palestine, France and Germany – 15min)ave maria

A start contrast to the other four shorts – it is clear that the program directors had learned from last year, the importance of allowing the audience to leave the cinema smiling as well as being shockingly moved.  Ave Maria is a quirky tale of a handful of Nuns and Jews that are forced to help each other in the West Bank under the most unlikely of circumstances.  Making light of some Jewish and Catholic cultural traditions and stereotypes, Ave Maria seems to ironically elucidate the similarities between different religious and cultural groups by forcing the audience to somewhat laugh at the small and large things that makes some communities appear different.


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Seinfeld – 25 Year Tribute


Sometimes the road less traveled, is less traveled for a reason.

Jerry Seinfeld

TV giant Seinfeld turns twenty-five this year—which is exactly the sort of round number that justifies Farrago publishing a nostalgic puff piece in recognition of the show.

While growing up, I watched the ends of an uncountable number of Seinfeld episodes while waiting for The Simpsons to begin at 7:30pm on Channel 10. As dictated by the norms of our generation, however, you can’t really say you’ve seen a TV show until you’ve mastered it in complete box-set form, ensuring you haven’t missed one episode, punch line or running gag.Jerry-Seinfeld-and-Larry-David

I’ve been working my way through the collection for the past eighteen months, and still find myself just over half-way through the series. Rounding out at 180 episodes, the magnum opus of comedians Larry David and Jerry Seinfeld is equal parts brilliant and equal parts banality.

The more I watch the show, the more impressed I am with how easily the talented screenwriters turn everyday life experiences into memorable twenty-something-minute mini-masterpieces, of worldly observations and kooky character studies. The representations are so strong that George, Elaine, Kramer and Jerry almost don’t need a plot line for the jokes to come hard and fast—hence Seinfeld being dubbed the “show about nothing”.

These thirty-something New Yorkers are somewhat drifting though their existential life with no overarching purpose while pulling gags over first world problems.  From a post-‘something’ generation, the characters are depicted with some life-goals—such as George’s search for relational satisfaction or Elaine’s career progression—but ultimately the events of their lives seem pretty trivial.  And the more their aspirations for satisfaction fail, the more we find the characters human and endearing.

George CostanzaPerhaps this is why we find George so amusing, with his insecurities about his weight, hair, height and phallic endowment. Who can forget when George goes for a swim in the cold pool while on a couplesey summer holiday to the Hamptons, and is walked in on afterwards while changing his clothes by Jerry’s then-girlfriend? When she sees Mr Costanzo in his birthday suit, he feels short changed about his mini main-sail, bemoaning later, “What does a woman know about shrinkage?”

The Seinfeld four are shown to be happy with being somewhat unhappy about life. Much like the 2006 film Little Miss Sunshine we are told that real happiness in life comes from enjoying the little moments of joy for what they are.

Consider The Parking Garage episode, where the awesome foursome meander through a ubiquitous car park, unable to locate each other, nor their car. Almost like an allegory for the entire show, or wandering around in the dessert for forty years, they cleverly weave a cutesy little story and punchy one liners into the dialogue.

Seinfeld is often a tragedy of miscommunication or lack of modern technology. Much like Shakespeare’s Romeo and Julietwhere all would have been well for the star-crossed lovers if only Friar Laurence and his donkey had delivered that all-important letter in time—the conflict in about half of the episodes could have been avoided if the characters just owned a cell-phone.

The Kramer - PaintingFor a show that had only one recurring catch phrase—“Hello Newman”—it had an uncanny knack for producing some of the most quoted television lines of all time, each being more absurd than the other: from “no soup for you”; “these pretzels are making me thirsty”; to Elaine yelling “Stella!”

But as the exercise of working through the box set seems to last forever, I am disappointed at how the characters often work so very hard to try to make ‘nothing’ into ‘something’ entertaining. Not only are much of the mobile-phone-less common experiences outdated, but also the pop-culture references and not-so-understated product placements. Although we love the characters for their antics and pet-hates, they are essentially quite selfish and hollow—only caring for their tiny circle of friends at best of times. And after 100 or so episodes I find Jerry Seinfeld’s stand-up interludes causing me to yell at the screen, “What’s the deal with all the “What’s the deal with?” observations?”.

Watching Seinfeld in 2014 makes me both laugh and cringe at how blatantly un-PC this sitcom could be, with its mildly homophobic, xenophobic and sexist undertones present throughout all nine seasons of this primarily male-dominated show.

StellaOf course looking back the funniest thing about the show now is the characters’ fashion sense: from Elaine’s early 90s shoulder pads, velvet dresses and perms, to George’s wide checks, to Kramer’s freewheeling shirts. Though nothing quite beats Jerry’s denim jeans and runners combination, or junners for short, a fashion faux pas that even the most mod hipsters of Brunswick are too afraid to claim back ironically.

The biggest joke is on us, however, as Jerry Seinfeld and Larry David end up getting away with making an insightful and reliable show about nothing, with vacuous but loveable characters having a laugh at both themselves and life.


This article was published in The University of Melbourne magazine – Farrago – Edition Six 2014

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I’m obviously a typeomaniac, which is an incurable if not mortal disease. I can’t explain it. I just love, I just like looking at type. I just get a total kick out of it: they are my friends. Other people look at bottles of wine or whatever, or, you know, girls’ bottoms. I get kicks out of looking at type. It’s a little worrying, I admit, but it’s a very nerdish thing to do.

Erik SpiekermannHelvetica

Who would have thought that a documentary about a font would be so engaging?   But in an age where the message is less important than the image, it makes sense we should care about how we write our sweet nothings.


This film length doco by Garry Hustwit opens our eyes to the subtle world of graphic design through the case study of Helvetica.  Educating the audience on what differentiates one type-face from another, it slowly unveils a new way of looking at the world around us.  We discover that Helvetica is ubiquitous – appearing on magazines; signs; web-pages; billboards; logos; to fast food wrapping.

Helvetica, we learn, was loved and loved to death by designers in the years after its popular release   It is even described as a ‘perfect font’, where any changes to it are only detrimental.  Apparently Apple bought the rights to use Helvetica on their early printers and computers while Microsoft chose not to pay the rights, and instead had another font – Arial – designed as a copy; where minor angles and spacings were altered to avoid copyright – but resulted in a ‘lesser font’.  And hence, Arial, has become a bit of a ‘dirty’ font in the design community.

Perhaps this is all not too dis-similar from the old joke, “Times New Roman, Arial and Palentino walk into a bar and ask for a drink.  The bar keeper says – ‘Sorry, we don’t serve your type here.’ “

Being used as a default font on many Apples products, Helvetica’s use became prolific.  So much so, that during the grunge movement of the 90s, many designers rejected the Swiss Modernist font for more messy abstract typography and wording arrangements – now made possible through the advent of the computer.  A few years ago you were ‘hot stuff’ if you could casually drop the words “I prefer a sans serif font” in conversation.   But now, the discussion has moved far beyond that to raging online forums between fans of different fonts professing more neutrality, or conversely, emotion.

For weeks after seeing the film, I became mildly obsessed in trying to discern between different fonts on signs, posters and nasty blogs, where you have to pay extra for the freedom to use certain typefaces – a la, this one!  It is fascinating to learn how many organsiations use Helvetica.  The company I work for has an official ‘Style Guide’ that all documents have to adhere to.  This requires the use of only pre-specified fonts, colours, and demands two spaces between sentences – to assist the ease of reading.


Because we spend too much time in front of screens we have become somewhat obsessive about the minor details.  I believe that because modern life is so hectic and because we ‘undergo information’ overload daily, that we have really do appreciate clear, simple design.  Just consider the popularity of the white spaced Google home page compared to the Yahoo hyperlink/underlined/italicized everything overload.  Moreover, consider the shear appeal of sleek Apple products.  However we have been spoon-fed to believe that clean design and simple fonts are the best – partly because of Apple brilliantly marketing its products. 

Sepia tones and Instagram effects are a natural response to the overly slick design elements that we see in our everyday life.  People try to reject the ‘point and shoot’ camera where both the foreground and the background are in focus; people are choosing to wash their high resolution image with a particular effect – emulating the imperfections of previous technology such as over exposure –  to make their images feel more authentic.  And less commercial / squeaky clean.  (I wonder whether the orange date-stamp will ever come back in?)

It is as if we are caught between two extremes: on one hand the simplicity and clarity of sleek, clear design – including Helveitca and sans serif fonts; and, on the other hand, the warmth of and genuine nature of imperfection, textured styles, and type characters with character.

As Garry Hustwit’s first installment of his Design Trilogy Helvetica stands as his finest piece.  Objectified – his second film looks at industrial design; and Urbanized, his third, focuses on Architecture.  Both are engaging but lack the intrigue of his opener –  a must watch for anybody who uses a computer or reads – basically, just see it.

Typography is the new calligraphy.  So sorry Mum, but a ClipArt picture of a stick man and a light bulb teamed up with a rainbow coloured heading from WordArt no longer cut it.


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