UR{BNE} Uninspired

The UR{BNE} Festival proved a considerable disappointment with little activity in the festival zone and few people in attendance during the day yesterday. It was particularly disheartening to see so few people on hand to catch a great set by Sahara Beck, who played for the best part of two hours in the Commissariat Store Courtyard. Her set included some great originals with some eclectic covers thrown in, including Don McLean’s Vincent and Vance Joy’s Riptide.

There just simply weren’t enough activities and events on during the day and a distinct lack of marketing/promotion must have played a role in the small crowds. The festival, which takes place in a under-utilised and unappreciated part of the city, is a great concept and the amount of space available in the festival zone lends itself to all manner of activities and events, so hopefully we will see the festivities beefed up in the years ahead. Admittedly, I didn’t stick around for Saturday night’s activities, so maybe that is when things got interesting.

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For more photos from the festival, click here.

New Web Address for Mr C

Mr C says has a brand new web address – MrCsays.com

The updates to the site will also ensure that Mr C says is an ad-free zone and will remain that way. So, no more pesky ads at the bottom of posts or anywhere else on the site for that matter. Of course, I am always open to sponsors and financial support, but anything that appears on the site from now on will be approved by Mr C.

Over the next few days I will be experimenting with some new looks for the site and your feedback is always welcome. If you spot a particular design style that tickles your fancy, please let me know.

Education Update #1

Teachers, are you looking for ideas and information to help you in the classroom? Each week Mr C says will compile the latest articles and ideas from across the internet and compile them in one easy location. We should never stop learning but there is so much information available now that trawling though endless websites and online publications can be time consuming and frustrating. Hopefully, this will make life a little bit easier.

I hope the ideas outlined in these articles prove useful in developing and implementing new ideas in your classrooms or simply provide inspiration to improve your teaching.

If you know of any great websites, please let me know. If you would like regular email updates about when new content has been added to Mr C says, just email mistercsays1@gmail.com

Notetaking In The Digital Classroom: A Blended Learning Approach

Note-taking is part-and-parcel to the academic learning experience. Often during lecture, but also experiments, interviews, and field research, understanding what’s important and recording it for future reference is central to the learning process–curation before we called it that. So it may come as a surprise that according to a 2010 study, only 66.5% of students take notes….read more

Tear Down That Wall: Joining the Global Classroom Community to Instil Global Citizenship

Instilling “global citizenship” in students is essential to prepare them for our rapidly changing world. Being a global citizen goes well beyond simply traveling or living in another country. It refers to a more holistic view of the world, understanding the commonalities we share and recognizing our responsibility to help our fellow man and safeguard our planet’s future….read more

This Is The World Teachers Must Adapt To

Teachers are the arbitrators of knowledge and culture. Knowledge and culture are each dynamic, endlessly crashing and churning. This makes teaching significantly important and difficult work, and can leave teaching—as a craft—wide-eyed and nonplussed in response. Worse, those outside the bubble of education can understandably struggle to understand the problem. What are the teaching in those schools anyway? How is it any different from when I was in school?…read more

The Case for Pi: Why We Shouldn’t Always Teach Math in Absolutes

A few years ago, Indira Gil, friend and math educator in Miami, Forida, asked me the following: “Why do we call pi irrational when it’s clearly the ratio of a circle’s circumference to its diameter?” Of course, I agreed. Such a pithy thought has swum around my ear for as long as it has because we’ve come to no resolution on it. For decades, we were always told to truncate pi to 3.14 or 22/7. The geeks might get a few digits deeper (3.1415926535. . .), but generally, this was a given fact and, like many things math, we didn’t have to wonder because all the wondering had been done for us….read more

20 Must-have iPad Apps for Student Researchers and Academics

As a post-graduate student researcher I find myself spending more time using iPad for doing many of my academic related work. When I first bought iPad my goal was just have a mobile reader for my PDFs and never thought that this little machine would be of so much help to me in my studies. That being said, I want to share with you some of the important apps that every student researcher should be able to use. I featured under each category a few options for you to choose from….read more

8 Ways For Teachers To Save Time In The Classroom

Teachers think about a lot during the course of a school day — from planning lessons tied to the core curriculum to making sure Jimmy gets home on the right bus. One thing teachers often do not think about is saving themselves time, but they should….read more

10 free tools for creating infographics

For all the importance we place on text, it’s an indisputable fact that images are processed in the brain faster than words. Hence the rise and rise of the infographic which, at its best, transforms complex information into graphics that are both easy to grasp and visually appealing. No wonder magazine readers and web visitors love them….read more

10 Benefits Of Blended Learning For Teachers

Blended learning–the mixing of eLearning and face-to-face learning–is a natural response to the growing accessibility of eLearning, and the continued need for a human component, and the existing infrastructure of countless brick-mortal educational institutions. In fact, blended learning is as much as compromise as it is an experiment to see how well this whole learn-by-computer thing works….read more

Wadjda

More often than not, it is the simplest of stories that are the most interesting. Such is the case with Wadjda, the first film ever shot in Saudi Arabia that presents an engaging and thoroughly delightful tale of a young girl who wants to buy a bicycle. However, what seems a simple enough premise is complicated somewhat by the cultural mores of the society in which the story takes place. With an enchanting performance from Waad Mohammed as the titular 12-year-old, Wadjda is a reminder that cinema can educate and entertain simultaneously. Whilst the film offers considerable insight into the day-to-day reality for women in Saudi Arabia, director Haifaa Al Mansour is neither preachy nor overtly political in her rendering of Wadjda’s world.

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Wadjda is a mischievous, entrepreneurial spirit who conducts myriad schemes and scams in an effort to save the requisite funds to purchase a green bicycle on display at a local toy store. Clad in jeans, Converse sneakers and forever compiling mix tapes of her favourite bands, Wadjda pushes the boundaries at every opportunity, including a friendship with neighbourhood boy Abdullah (Abdullrahman Al Gohani). It is this friendly rivalry with Abdullah, rather than any blatant desire to challenge convention, that fuels Wadjda’s desire to own a bicycle. In fact, it is Abdullah who teaches Wadjda to ride, unbeknownst to her mother (Reem Abdullah) or largely absent father (Sultan Al Assaf). With her mother – who is no longer able to have children after Wadjda’s problematic birth – preoccupied with her husband’s decision to take a second wife, Wadjda is able to implement all manner of money-making schemes with impunity. However, it is when her school announces a Koran recital competition with a handy cash prize that Wadjda sees her opportunity to secure the funds needed to purchase the bike, even if her knowledge of the holy text is rudimentary at best.

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The depictions of Saudi life are fascinating, with women denied basic freedoms that we take for granted. Not permitted to drive, Wadjda’s mother relies on a driver to transport her and other local women to work, while the girls at Wadjda’s school are forced to retreat inside so that they cannot be seen by some men working on an adjacent building. Of course, women and girls are not supposed to be out in public without their faces, and the rest of their bodies for that matter, completely covered, which is something that Wadjda struggles to embrace. Her mother sympathises with Wadjda’s desire for freedom and any tension between them comes from her concern for Wadjda’s future within this patriarchal society. However, there is no doubt that yet she is also proud of her daughter’s spirited refusal to conform.

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Yes, Wadjda lacks polish at times, which is to be expected given the restrictions Al Mansour faced during production. Forbidden form interacting with men in public, the director was reportedly forced to communicate with the set via radio from the back of a van. The film doesn’t try to deliver political commentary or pass judgement; it simply attempts to tell a sympathetic story about an individual who refuses to blindly accept the traditions and expectations of the society in which she lives. Perhaps the most powerful scene is that in which one of Wadja’s young classmates announces that she has been married, a declaration that raises barely a ripple with the teacher or the other girls, other than a clamouring to see the wedding photos. Yes, this world may seem repressive, but Wadjda refuses to allow the patriarchy to contain her, at least at this stage of her life.

Al Mansour’s refusal to explicitly critique the social conventions of Saudi life reflects a mature approach to the material and doesn’t reduce the emotional impact of the story. To get a glimpse of daily life in Saudi Arabia is a rare treat and harks to the power of cinema as a window to the world. Anchored by a terrific performance by young Waad Mohammed, Wadjda is a fabulously fun film in a lot of ways. This is an auspicious beginning for film production in Saudi Arabia and the career of Al Mansour, the first Saudi woman to ever direct a feature film, so who knows what the future holds.

Venus in Fur

It is hard to dispute Roman Polanski’s status as one of the great directors of the last 40+ years. Having been responsible for the likes of Rosemary’s Baby, Chinatown and the Academy Award-winning The Pianist amongst more than 20 feature film releases, it is unfortunate that the trials and tribulations of his personal life – from the murder of his pregnant wife Sharon Tate at the hands of the Manson Family to his fleeing America accused of statutory rape – have tended to overshadow his achievements as a filmmaker, which is perhaps understandable to a certain extent. Working exclusively in Europe since the late 1970’s, Polanski has continued to produce high quality films, seemingly free to set his own agenda with regard to the types of stories he wants to tell and how he wants to tell them.

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Following in the vein of his previous film Carnage, Polanski has pared things back even further with Venus in Fur, a two-hander in which an actress attempts to convince a theatre director that she is perfect for the lead in his upcoming production. With only two characters and just one location, Venus in Fur is a slow burn of a film that eventually leaves you trying to remember the exact moment when the tables are turned in this psychological face-off. Adapted from a stage play by David Ives, Venus in Fur is set in a Paris theatre where frustrated director Thomas (Matthew Amalric) has spent the day auditioning actresses for a stage version of Venus in Furs, an 1870 novella by Austrian author Leopold von Sacher-Masoch that explores sexual submission and sadomasochism. Thomas is very dismissive of Vanda (Emmanuelle Seigner) when she arrives late for her audition looking like a bag lady; chewing gum, soaked from the rain and wearing tacky fetish clobber. Not surprisingly given his frustration with the actresses he has already auditioned during the day – articulated in a phone rant to his fiancé prior to Vanda’s arrival – Thomas declares that Vanda is unsuitable for the part.

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Very much like Carnage, this film emphasises dialogue over action and relies on the verbal interplay between the characters to hold your attention. Initially you are waiting for a change in scenery, but when you realise that it is never coming, you can settle in for the ride as Vanda, who initially presents as crude, ditzy and dumb, sets about convincing Thomas that she is the right person for the role. Whilst he tries to brush her off quickly, Thomas is enamored by the fact that her name is the same as the role for which she’s auditioning, not to mention the fact that she has somehow secured a complete copy of the script, which she has memorised in its entirety. When Thomas finally accedes to her demands for an opportunity to audition, the fun begins as the two lock horns over the material. Slowly but surely their relationship changes as Vanda challenges Thomas’ vision for the play and the nature of the material itself. There are extended monologues and myriad scenes of Vanda and Thomas acting out various passages from the play. After a while the fictional characters conflate with their real selves and Thomas undergoes of revelation of sorts; falling under Vanda’s spell and embarking on a journey of self-discovery.

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There is much more to Vanda than meets the eye as she morphs from harried hopeful to somebody very much in control. I mean, she just happens to have brought some suitable props, including an authentic 19th-century jacket that fits Thomas perfectly. Both performers are solid, but it is Seigner – Polanski’s wife of 25 years – who shines brightest, bringing a real verve to Vanda that is at odds with Thomas’ staid, dismissive demeanour. Vanda is desperate to put the arrogant, misogynistic Thomas in his place, the whole plan having seemingly been hatched long before she arrived at the theatre. This is a thought provoking meditation on performance, interpretation and sexual politics. Polanski handles it with a light touch and the film never becomes bogged down by earnestness, using lighting, camera movement, costuming and set design to keep the story moving within the confines of the theatre space.

The Monuments Men

It is easy to dismiss The Monuments Men as nothing more than a vanity project for George Clooney. After all, in addition to taking on the lead role of Frank Stokes, Clooney also directed, produced and co-wrote the adapted screenplay (with Grant Heslov) based on real life characters and events. However, whilst the film very much puts Clooney front and centre of the narrative, the story does have some interesting things to say about art and its relationship to culture, history and identity, even if Clooney is overbearing at times in trying to ram the message home.

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Set towards the end of World War 2 with the Nazis in retreat, Stokes is the leader of a motley crew of artists and art experts charged with locating and retrieving artworks stolen by the Nazi regime during their reign of terror across Europe. With nary a skerrick of military experience between them, these mostly middle-aged men set forth into the warzone in search of pilfered paintings, sculptures and other priceless artefacts. Clooney gathers an impressive cast of sidekicks in Matt Damon (James Granger), Bill Murray (Richard Campbell), John Goodman (Walter Garfield), Jean Dujardin (Jean Claude Clermont), Bob Balaban (Preston Savitz) and Hugh Bonneville (Donald Jeffries) as the eponymous Monuments Men, a collection of artists, academics, museum directors, curators, historians and the like drawn from all corners of the art world. With such a cast, there are plenty of lighter moments in the film and it is the inconsistent tone that is perhaps the biggest problem with the film. There are some moments that are almost Hogans Heroes-ish in their staging, while watching Bill Murray in basic training harks back to Stripes.

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The Monuments Men is very much WW2-light in that it offers little real insight into the horrors that the people of Europe endured during this time. There is great emphasis on the theft of the art and the significance of these pieces as cultural beacons for the subjugated populations, however we never really see or hear from those people as it is left to Stokes, via earnest speeches to his men, to explain the how these pieces are intrinsically linked to history, culture and identity. Although not all of the group make it out alive, this is, by and large, a bloodless rendering of this most brutal period in history. There are a few small run-ins with the enemy here and there, but most of the resistance these men face is from the allied military machine that doesn’t appreciate the importance of their task and, more often than not, refuses to render assistance. Heck, even FDR asks Stokes if the largely successful outcome of their mission was worth the loss of life.

As you would expect from such a cast, everybody is solid in their roles, including Dimitri Leonidas as Sam Epstein, a Jew who fled Germany with his family and serves as a driver and interpreter for the group. However, whilst Clooney has cast his performers as an accurate reflection of the characters they represent – Dujardin and Bonneville as the French and British members of the squad for example – I found it disappointing to see Cate Blanchett in the role of French art expert Claire Simone. This is no slight on Blanchett, who is obviously a terrific actress and delivers a perfectly adequate performance, but there are innumerable French actresses who could have brought greater authenticity to the role.

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Although Clooney has taken considerable liberties with the events and the characters, there is no doubt that this is an important story worth telling. It is probably fair to say that without Clooney’s significant star power and the clout that it affords him in Hollywood, this movie may have never been made, which perhaps reflects the types of films being privileged by the big studios. Without the real Monuments Men being prepared to risk their lives in the name of art, many of the great masterpieces, such as the Ghent Altarpiece and Madonna of Bruges, may have been lost forever. Yes, The Monuments Men explores the importance of art as historical record and what the impact of this history being erased might be; it’s just a shame that Clooney feels the need to continually tell us this over and over again.