Joanna Gravett

Review – Unearthing The Pen

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Review by Joanna Gravett:

“I think the pen has power and life within it.” These are the beautiful words of Locheng, a Ugandan boy desperate to go to school, but who faces a heart wrenching struggle between an age old tradition and his dreams.

Years ago, village elders in Locheng’s village buried a pen, putting a curse on the written word. This deep hatred of reading and writing stems from a dark past, and as we follow Locheng’s story this remarkable twelve minute film is a stark reminder of the consequence of British Colonial Rule.

51 years after Ugandan independence, the red, white, and blue flag may be long gone, but the remnants of the unsettling past under Britain’s hard thumb still trickle down into Locheng’s world, as the historical scars prevent him from seeking an education.

The documentary is exquisite in capturing Locheng’s life, as we follow his quest to enrol at school. From the sound of the young goatherd’s livestock in the fields, to the hustle and bustle of the town centre, to Locheng’s big eyes as he looks longingly into a classroom, into a world he cannot understand because the teachers speak a language he does not know, the carefully compiled shots open a window into every detail.

We see that there is a big fence between the young goatherd and the classroom, and it doesn’t just represent his conflicting ideology with the elders; even if Locheng does manage to convince the villagers that the pen is a welcome friend after all, the question still remains as to whether he will be able to afford an education. As a teacher lists the costs of school fees, exams, a uniform, as well as colouring pencils, you can see the hope fade in Locheng’s eyes.

For those of us who took picking up a pen and paper and walking into school for granted this documentary will certainly make you think twice about the value of education. As Locheng pushes his fingers around in the sand, pretending to write, we realise that even a pen and paper is such a precious and undervalued commodity, much forgotten in modern Britain. But as Locheng points out: “What I see around me, the buildings, the vehicles the people drive, is all because of the pen.” And he is right.

This brilliant documentary gives a privileged view into one boy’s life, into a life that is sadly forgotten by the news, blighted by wars of the past, and those of recent times. We see a life under the shadow of Empire; a farmer’s life; a school life; a town life, and we witness a long tradition of a village.

It is clear that in some parts of the world education is undervalued, while in others there is no end of children who would love to go to school but can’t. It’s obvious that we’ve got a long way to go before every child receives an education, and there are many factors stopping children from receiving one: here it is not just an issue of money. For Locheng, the pen is certainly mightier than the sword, but will it be mightier than tradition?



Review – Adrenaline Junkie

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Review by Joanna Gravett:

The blaring sound of a motorbike engine is the first thing we hear as the opening shots of Adrenaline Junkie hit the big screen. You can feel the excitement and power of the two wheeled metal monsters, as the narrator introduces us to his story.  Engine fired, we, with the narrator, are ready to get out onto the road to ride hard and fast.  It’s like a drug, he says – and we’re already hooked. We expect speed, action, adventure!  But with all the hype, we forget one thing: being an adrenaline junkie can have grave consequences.

One minute we are looking at the bright, expensive bikes, raring to go.  And the next? A hospital ward.  Drips. Needles. Tubes. These are the close ups that fill our eyes as we survey the uninviting, blue surroundings. It’s very clever editing.  No more bright lights and fiery engines. In contrast to roaring down a sunny motorway at lightning speed, the narrator lies on his bed, unable to move, in a serious amount of pain.

But there’s another twist.  Just as we have given up hope for the narrator the music picks up, the light gets brighter again, and his voice lifts.  This isn’t so much a severe warning, as a story of hope. A story that will, no matter how bad things get, encourage you to carry on. Because however badly we may be hurt, physically or mentally, we all have the power to go forward and achieve.

The narrator is out of his hospital bed, pushing himself to the limit, doing things he’s never dreamed of doing.  This powerful story is a delight to watch, taking you through the highs and lows of life with the power of lighting, close ups, and sounds to trigger your emotions.

Listen to a news story and all you hear about is someone who has had a bad accident. Watch a drama and you’ll see the doctors racing around them in the hospital, patching them up, while their relatives look on in despair. What you are never allowed to discover is what happens afterwards. Are they fine one month later?  How do they cope? Adrenaline Junkie will answer these questions, while providing a heart-warming insight into how those who have suffered from accidents come together via some amazing support groups. And who said the NHS was a failure?


Review – A Film By Abigail

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Review by Joanna Gravett:

“This superhero does not have a plane, no jet-pack – he has a mechanical horse!”

Yes, it can only be the marvellous and magical words of a child.

Whether you grew up with younger siblings or have young children yourself, we’ve all had the privilege of sharing the fabulous and funny minds of the younger generation. But do we ever listen to them? Do we stop to look at what is going on in their world? One minute you’re photographing them shoving fourth birthday cake into their mouths, and the next, you’re waving goodbye as they drive off in a tightly packed car to university.

A Film by Abigail is a fabulous portrait of a young girl, caught on camera by her brother, Paul.  Shot in the filmmaker’s home, it provides an intimate impression of her life, her dreams and aspirations, which will be forever preserved in a documentary-style time capsule.

“I think I want to make a sort of film, you know, a film star sort of film,” announces Abigail with conviction and gusto.  The little mite takes us through the very logical steps to producing a film, which, to hell with logic, is about the weird and wonderful world of Captain Cowboy and the Snake Girls!  (One is the good twin and one is evil!)

After planning what it is going to have in it “a bit of romance, a bit of, like, joy and happiness, and a bit of, like, funniness, like that,” Abigail sets about drawing out her characters in detail, and planning the ever thickening plot line of the story.

The camera beautifully allows us to experience Abigail’s all-star imagination as we are presented with shots of Abigail at her eye level, and then gaze up at her, the mighty director, from a low angle, reminding us that a child’s mind is a powerful, creative force.

We even follow Abigail under the dining room table to finish her drawings.  This heart-warming image of Abigail’s life, her habits, and her ambitious nature, also makes a striking point in its five minute running time.  I’d bet good money that Abigail could single-handedly write a script for her own Captain Cowboy cartoon show, which I could fully imagine running on any good children’s television channel. We spend all this money on these children’s writing courses to find the next author or director or laser-zapping-evil-doctor creating cartoonist, when really we need look no further than the little body that’s sitting at our very own dining room table.

I think the future looks bright for Abigail, and as she plays with her pink ‘Vtech’ camera, I wish her every success for the future!  No doubt she really will be making audiences say “that was awesome!” one day. Although with her cool Captain Cowboy plot, she already has!