FILMBOX Community Cinema presents the gripping Humphrey Bogart murder mystery In a Lonely Place

FILMBOX Community Cinema: Langley Park Centre for the Performing Arts (LPCPA) created for Langley Park School for Boys, in Beckenham, Kent, BR3 3BP (UK).

Tickets and details here.

In a Lonely Place

Director: Nicholas Ray

PG | 1h 34min | Drama, Film-Noir, Mystery | 19 June 1950 (UK)

Rating: ★★★★★


The Smoke Screen is always on the lookout for a chance to catch a classic from the Hollywood golden era, and this month FILMBOX Community Cinema kindly obliged with a screening of Nicholas Ray's (well-known for helming Rebel Without a Cause) gripping and unsettling murder mystery, starring a never-better Humphrey Bogart and Gloria Grahame. Bogart is well-known for his sparky pairings with Lauren Bacall, but putting him up against a co-star of the calibre of Grahame is hardly a second-tier move. Check out FILMBOX at their site here; they have two screenings a night now, with one of their auditoriums being a huge purpose built performance hall room which can seat well over 400. Prices are very affordable and their are detailed introductions before each film, and a bar on site. It is volunteer-run and the programming is diverse, tending towards classics and indie films that have had some box office success or critical acclaim (i.e you tend not to get Marvel superhero movies.) You can join up as a member, but non-members are welcome, tickets from £5-£8 depending on status.

Widely regarded as a classic thriller from director Nicholas Ray, In a Lonely Place stars screen icons Humphrey Bogart and Gloria Grahame at their absolute best, in roles that require pushing at the edges of expectations of the kinds of roles worthy of a golden era star. Bogart is really working against his tough-but-good-hearted image here as a cynical, booze -addled Hollywood screenwriter called Dixon Steele, who seems to have left his talent and sobriety (as well as the ability to control his violent asshole temperament) back in the just-finished overseas global conflict. When Steele, after a day boozing and complaining with a bunch of other Hollywood leftovers in a local bar (one of the many ways this film is dripping with cynicism about the flicks; Ray has his own reasons for feeling this way), decides to invite a young admiring female fan back to his apartment on the dubious claim that she can help explain the plot of this novel he is struggling with, he sets himself up as the prime murder suspect when the girl winds up dead in a ditch the next morning.

We don't see her safely leave his apartment and make it to the nearby taxi stand as she said she would do, but Grahame's character's testimony -she is Steele's alluring and mysterious neighbour Laurel who lives in the opposite apartment- gets Steele clear of the cops for the time being. But the compelling questions remain: did Steele do it, and is Laurel safe once she starts becoming romantically entangled with Steele? And it is, of course, way more of a compelling question when it is an icon like Bogey who is the suspect. Bogart only gets more and more darkly fascinating as this film goes on, seemingly unable to stop flaunting the idea that he might have done it in to cops and friends, as if he has finally cottoned on to a plot worth milking after years of pissing his talent away. The key scene where, with a twisted glare on his face, he orders his close friend and his wife to re-enact the murder the way he visualises it took place, is worth the price of admission alone. Grahame has great chemistry with Bogart too, though I preferred her in the film's first act; where her in teasing flirtation with Steele - whilst she knows he is a suspect- raises all kinds of questions about whether she is a moth-to-flame danger seeker.

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Owen Van Spall

Greetings. I am a Film History MA graduate from Birkbeck University of London and a trained NCTJ qualified journalist. Apart from a long history of film and news writing for this site and various other publications, I am also a trained photographer with my own camera kit. I write mostly every day. Along the way I have picked up work experience at Sight & Sound, The Guardian, The Independent, The FT, The New Statesman, and more. I have written hard news stories, features, arranged and conducted interviews with celebrities, film directors and other major cultural figures, arranged photo shoots, and covered film festivals, conferences and events in the UK and abroad. If you wish to commission me or enquire about full-time opportunities please find my CV and contact details below. A physical portfolio of print only cuttings can also be provided.

Event Review: Science Fiction Theatre presents: 1973s Westworld

With HBOs highly-acclaimed new scifi show Westworld currently enjoying lashings of critical praise, whilst also consuming the tireless brains of hardcore fans determined to unearth the show's underlying mythology, the gurus behind the film club Science Fiction Theatre felt the time was right to revisit the original 1973 film that HBO mined for its new series. One of the most committed and welcoming film clubs the Smoke Screen has had the honour of patronising, Science Fiction Theatre is a monthly science fiction film club run by The Space Merchants, an online bookshop specialising in vintage science fiction. Their film events explore and celebrate classic science fiction film and television, and screenings are enhanced by custom-designed posters (which can be bought online and at events) as well as takeaway items like stylised tickets (such as the Westworld-themed ticket the Smoke Screen picked up at their Westworld screening last Monday), programme notes, and there is the odd raffle too.

In the movie version of Westworld, which was written and directed by none other than Jurassic Park's author Michael Crichton (note the "theme park gone bad" motif) businessman Blane (James Brolin) and lawyer Martin (Richard Benjamin) take a dream holiday to the newly opened technological paradise Westworld, a futuristic theme park offering its visitors all the thrills, but none of the dangers, of the old Wild West, which is recreated by supposedly harmless robots. However, when one of the computerized gunslingers (Yul Brynner) malfunctions, the two city slickers find themselves in a battle for their lives.

Fans keen to compare the movie to the television series will of course be unable to avoid the difference a few extra million dollars and an advanced CGI toolkit can make. HBO's series simply has more technical oomph, and a multi-season order with HBO's traditional hour-long episodes give the show's creators Jonathan Nolan and Lisa Joy far more scope than Crichton's film ever had to create a richly-detailed world of hosts and robots in a huge recreation of the old American west, whilst exploring the related themes and concerns more deeply. Yet, interestingly, HBO's first season has so far limited itself to exploring only one park - the titular Westworld - whereas Crichton's film features not only an old West setting, but the sybarite Roman World and Medieval Worlds too. Future HBO seasons might address this. And 1973s Westworld wasn't exactly primitive when it was released, it does in fact feature some of the earliest use of computer-aided visual effects to create several pixellated robot POV shots.

Whilst Crichton's film is a good deal of pulpy fun, ending in a quite memorable last act chase scene and squeezing in some commentary on the effect of unlimited power/ zero responsibility on humans on the side, HBO's series took a leaf out of the Battlestar Galactica remake's playbook and introduced the conceit of the robots having been designed to such an advanced level that they are developing their own self-awareness. Blade Runner levels of paranoia about who is human and 'replicant' are also in play, as HBO's robots are all but indistinguishable from humans, and some have been programmed to think they are human. With this twist, HBO's Westworld opens up whole new avenues to explore the moral/ethical minefield that the park has created. That being said, HBO's show, for all its fine dressings, lacks a character with the poise and edge of the movie's Yul Brynner, whose performance as the malfunctioning gunslinger allows just enough man into the machine to make you think this might be personal. In many ways he is the "first Terminator."

The poster for the Westworld event was designed by Daniel Huntley, and you can see it on facebook and twitter humans 

Check the Science Fiction Theatre website for more information on upcoming screenings, to buy prints, or to find out about their podcast and recommendations.

Comment

Owen Van Spall

Greetings. I am a Film History MA graduate from Birkbeck University of London and a trained NCTJ qualified journalist. Apart from a long history of film and news writing for this site and various other publications, I am also a trained photographer with my own camera kit. I write mostly every day. Along the way I have picked up work experience at Sight & Sound, The Guardian, The Independent, The FT, The New Statesman, and more. I have written hard news stories, features, arranged and conducted interviews with celebrities, film directors and other major cultural figures, arranged photo shoots, and covered film festivals, conferences and events in the UK and abroad. If you wish to commission me or enquire about full-time opportunities please find my CV and contact details below. A physical portfolio of print only cuttings can also be provided.

In praise of: The Final Girls film screening group

The Smoke Screen is always on the hunt for new and interesting film programmers and clubs around town, and has just crossed paths with such an outfit. Last week saw THE FINAL GIRLS take over the top floor screen at The Prince Charles Cinema to showcase a screening of photographer Cindy Sherman's only directorial effort - Office Killer.

The Final Girls is a London-based screening series with a mission  "explore the intersection between horror film and feminism."  Office Killer certainly fulfils that mandate, but the film offers so much more than just a study in things like the re-appropriation of genre tropes or subversion of the male gaze. This film is a truly out-there experience, a great example of one of those movies that literally disappeared between the cracks upon release, given its unclassifiable nature and refusal to offer up an easy way in for the viewer. Legendary photographer Cindy Sherman brings her unique eye to this quasi comedy-horror, creating a shamelessly weird world of bland 90s office cubicles and backstabbing bitchy work colleagues.  The film stars Carol Kane (currently tearing up the screen in Netflix's The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt) as mousy and withdrawn office-worker Dorine Douglas, who, after accidentally electrocuting a colleague, loses her already slim grip on reality and starts killing off her fellow workers. As if that wasn't enough, she re-arranges the various mangled corpses into gross parodies of domestic bliss in the drab house she shares with her uncaring mother.

Beyond being defiantly weird when it coms to tone, the film is also striking in its production design - the office setting is totally unrealistic, hyper-grotesque in its blandness. In some cases the fakeness of the sets is deliberately foregrounded. The film plays around with the familiar tropes of the slasher genre, flipping things around by making Dorine the stalker/slasher yet also the 'final girl' at the same time, with her seemingly unstoppable butchery through the office ranks offering up a provocative subtext about female power and patriarchal structures. Interestingly, Office Killer also has an astounding array of supporting characters played by Molly Ringwald, Jeanne Tripplehorn and Michael Imperioli. 

The Final Girls will continue exploring feminist themes in horror cinema and highlighting the representation and work of women in horror, both in front of and behind the camera. You can see their next screening - Single White Female - at The Prince Charles Cinema on 4 August. Details on the link.

Comment

Owen Van Spall

Greetings. I am a Film History MA graduate from Birkbeck University of London and a trained NCTJ qualified journalist. Apart from a long history of film and news writing for this site and various other publications, I am also a trained photographer with my own camera kit. I write mostly every day. Along the way I have picked up work experience at Sight & Sound, The Guardian, The Independent, The FT, The New Statesman, and more. I have written hard news stories, features, arranged and conducted interviews with celebrities, film directors and other major cultural figures, arranged photo shoots, and covered film festivals, conferences and events in the UK and abroad. If you wish to commission me or enquire about full-time opportunities please find my CV and contact details below. A physical portfolio of print only cuttings can also be provided.

The Overlook Screening Room screens Claudia Weill's lost gem; GIRLFRIENDS

The OVERLOOK SCREENING ROOM is a monthly film event, dedicated to discovering and showcasing cinema's best kept secrets. The clue is in the film club's title: the idea is to give overlooked films their due. Given the longstanding discrepancy in terms of numbers and work offered when it comes to male versus female roles behind the camera (not to mention portrayals of women in front of it) you could argue all female directors in mainstream western cinema are in a sense 'overlooked'. Reports on gender/sex equality today continue to present a dim picture. But that just makes American director Claudia Weill's 1978 female-led drama, Girlfriends,  which the Overlook screened this week, all the more impressive. Nearly 40 years on and this film still presents a more realistic, funny and complex portrayal of slightly messed-up female relations than much of what you'll see today at the multiplex. Its like watching an early version of Frances Ha.

The feature debut of Claudia Weill (which she wrote along with Vicky Polon), Girlfriends is a comedy-drama that charts the friendship between aspiring New York photographer Susan (Melanie Mayron) and her roommate and best friend Anne (Anita Skinner), with a story largely told through vignettes that cover several years, with often big jumps in between each section. It's more Susan than Anne's story, and we watch her deal with the struggles to find work in a city not short of photographers, her weird attraction to her 60-something married Rabbi (veteran actors Eli Wallach), her burgeoning relationship with her asshole boyfriend Eric (a very young Christopher Guest pre-Spinal Tap), and, above all, her major problem coping with the loss of her closest friend in a marriage to a guy she dismisses (with a little bit of hypocrisy) as a dilettante.

The characters are all treated sympathetically and given enough dimensions to stand out; whether male or female no one is stereotyped or one-note, even the ridiculously self-obsessed Eric or the other minor characters who pass through Susan's life. The film passes the Bechdel test comfortably too, with actresses Melanie Mayron and Anita Skinner totally convincing as long-time friends struggling to come to terms with changing circumstances, who have nevertheless developed their own rhythms of living together and riffing off each other, though that makes their inevitable growing up and apart harder. Susan's irrational upset at the loss of her friend, her stubborn refusal to give up her crappy overpriced rental apartment, her veering about from wanting one-night stands at parties to just wanting to push the world out and live alone, all of this human ping-pong is totally relatable and, crucially, never sneered at by the film's tone or script. Apart from all these rich character dynamics and a few moments of gentle humour to break things up, you can also enjoy this film as a snapshot of a grubbier 1970s New York before Disneyfication set in.

This independent film has been championed by notable film figures including Stanley Kubrick, but has yet to receive a DVD or Blu-ray release in the UK. Track down a screening of it if you can. As for Weill, sadly she never seemed able to capitalise on its success, working mostly in TV after. But is it tempting to see today's successes like HBO's Girls as the spiritual offspring of her great film.

Comment

Owen Van Spall

Greetings. I am a Film History MA graduate from Birkbeck University of London and a trained NCTJ qualified journalist. Apart from a long history of film and news writing for this site and various other publications, I am also a trained photographer with my own camera kit. I write mostly every day. Along the way I have picked up work experience at Sight & Sound, The Guardian, The Independent, The FT, The New Statesman, and more. I have written hard news stories, features, arranged and conducted interviews with celebrities, film directors and other major cultural figures, arranged photo shoots, and covered film festivals, conferences and events in the UK and abroad. If you wish to commission me or enquire about full-time opportunities please find my CV and contact details below. A physical portfolio of print only cuttings can also be provided.

In praise of the Badlands Collective's Scalarama Cannon Cinema season - Barfly and 52-Pickup

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Scalarama, the UK-wide celebration of repertory cinema, is in full swing this month. Doing their part to bring rarely-seen, challenging, and sometimes just downright weird cinema to the masses are the Badlands Collective.  Their manifesto is simple: "We’re a group of film curators in London dedicated to putting on great events." Their contribution to Scalarama lives up to that promise, as for the month of September, the Collective will be running several double bill specials honouring that paragon of cinematic 'quality' - The Cannon Group.

Yes that's right, the very same studio set up by Menhem Golan and Yoarm Globus in Israel in 1979 that tried to barge its way into Hollywood by way of Chuck Norris's fists and Michael Dudikoff's ninja skills. The breeding ground for such politically correct, thought-provoking classics as Invasion USA and Missing in Action. Cannon's films are beloved now for how they provide regular infusions of nostalgia and guilty pleasure vibes to those of a certain generation. But the Badlands crew are taking a different approach here with their programming. Instead of digging up the sleaze, the schlock and the hustlers, their focus is on celebrating the adventurousness, invention and independence. Yes, it turns out Cannon coughed up a few gems amidst all the garbage.

At a time when safe superhero movies dominate the box office, the Badlands guys clearly feel it is illuminating to look back at how Cannon, so often a shorthand for crassness, actually produced some films that, even if perhaps not worthy of the term 'classic' , as least showcase something of a reckless spirit of experimentation and risk taking in the exploitation and genre field. Thus, in glorious 35mm, the Collective have lined up Barfly, 52-Pickup, Runaway Train, Shy People, Superman IV and Street Smart. None of these quite fit into the image that usually springs up when you see that unmistakable C logo, but they showcase the weirdly poloarzied nature of the Cannon head honchos - chasing the mega bucks while courting the occasional person of real talent from time to time. Follow the links to see more about the films.

This writer could not resist the call to see a different side of Cannon, and caught the Barfly/52-Pick-up double at the Prince Charles Cinema. It is worth pointing out that each screening is not only introduced by the programmers so as to give you some background, but you get a neat takeaway brochure giving you concise history of Cannon and details of each film in the season.

Barfly:

Director: Barbet Schroeder, 1987

Both Barfly and 52 Pick-Up were partnerships with major hard-boiled fiction authors. In Barfly, Mickey Rourke and Faye Dunaway  star in what is an autobiographical Charles Bukowski tale. Being about Bukowski, that means lots of boozing and brawling in the gutter. Rourke plays Henry Chinaski (Mickey Rourke), a destitute but seemingly quite happy alcoholic who lives in a rundown apartment and works menial jobs when he can find them.

Despite looking like utter crap and having a bizarre way of speaking that rivals even Tom Hardy at his best, Rourke's character is strangely serene about his life. He is a drunk, and likes it just fine. He has no ambitions for money or status, even handing dollar bills back when he feels he doesn't deserve or need them. When he meets fellow drinker and danger-seeker Wanda (Dunaway), the two outsiders hit it off, and much drinking, fighting and aimless talking ensues. The film ambles along on its own offbeat direction in a way that is quite admirable, and it sports a nice grittily luminous pallour for its saloon settings thanks to the Kino Flo lighting from DP Robby Muller. A film that doesn't ask its losers to apologise or fit in.

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52 Pick-Up

Director: John Frankenheimer, 1986

52 Pick-Up is a seedy potboiler thriller from the mind of writer Elmore Leonard (Jackie Brown), paired up with director John Frankenheimer (The Manchurian Candidate). Add to this Roy Scheider and Ann-Margret and, lo, you have a quality Cannon thriller. Scheider plays a wealthy businessman drawn into the seedy world of bribery and vice when he is blackmailed by a group of colourful thugs, who have caught him in flagrante with a young model half his age. Things get dark and nasty pretty quickly. Noir and action sleaze collide to great effect, so well in fact that Leonard was known to praise it as the favourite of his adapted works for film.

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For details of the other Cannon screenings that the Badlands Collective are running, see their website for details.


Comment

Owen Van Spall

Greetings. I am a Film History MA graduate from Birkbeck University of London and a trained NCTJ qualified journalist. Apart from a long history of film and news writing for this site and various other publications, I am also a trained photographer with my own camera kit. I write mostly every day. Along the way I have picked up work experience at Sight & Sound, The Guardian, The Independent, The FT, The New Statesman, and more. I have written hard news stories, features, arranged and conducted interviews with celebrities, film directors and other major cultural figures, arranged photo shoots, and covered film festivals, conferences and events in the UK and abroad. If you wish to commission me or enquire about full-time opportunities please find my CV and contact details below. A physical portfolio of print only cuttings can also be provided.

Shorts on Tap: showcasing women filmmakers at the new Deptford Cinema

2015 marked the year Lewisham finally stopped being the only London borough without a cinema, as the community-funded and built Deptford Cinema finally opened its doors, having taken over an old shop on Deptford Broadway. The cinema has got right down to business with a raft of special screenings and seasons planned, including the fantastic "Cinemania New Worlds" season, but the Smoke Screen's first visit to the new venue coincided with an intriguing and diverse programme of short films by female filmmakers playing as part of the Shorts on Tap season.

The cinema itself is small, and the staff and volunteers are still putting the various bits together (there will be wallpaper and carpeting, maybe one day) but the projector and sound system were more than fine for the packed crowd that jammed into the basement screening room - the screening was oversubscribed, which is probably a good thing if you are new cinema looking to attract attention. Its a charming, and hopefully permanent addition, to a part of London that has been gathering increasing attention in recent years for its cultural richness.

Shorts on Tap aims to showcase short films, from both up-and-coming and well­ established film­ makers, at venues all over London. The screening at Deptford Cinema was part of Shorts on Tap's ongoing "Women in Revolt" roving short films event season, funded by Film London's Boost Award and arranged in collaboration with Club Des Femmes: a positive female space for the re-examination of ideas through art. Women in Revolt is three screening events across London aiming to specifically focus on female film-making, showcasing works that depict, describe and challenge the very essence of being a woman, and investigate sex, sexuality and the body. 

The shorts playing at Deptford Cinema were linked under the banner of "Crossing Boundaries", and there was not a weak entry amongst the films, all of which explored female encounters with personal challenges, and physical and conceptual barriers. The Archangel shooting locations for  Maria Loyter's sexual awakening tale Ice Floe made for a hauntingly beautiful and striking backdrop, whilst the illuminating Taklif from Maryam Tafakory abstractly, yet powerfully, related the innocent perspective of a young Iranian girl as she is prepared for a womanhood ceremony at what many would consider a startlingly early age. If there was a highlight though, it had to be Stephanie Zari's blackly funny, disturbing, yet also very touching Marigolds, that morphed from a twee domestic comedy about a mother fussing over her  son and his new girlfriend into something that hinted at a much deeper and more troubling relationship between mother and child.

The next Women in Revolt screening is at Hotel Elephant on April 20 at 8pm.


Comment

Owen Van Spall

Greetings. I am a Film History MA graduate from Birkbeck University of London and a trained NCTJ qualified journalist. Apart from a long history of film and news writing for this site and various other publications, I am also a trained photographer with my own camera kit. I write mostly every day. Along the way I have picked up work experience at Sight & Sound, The Guardian, The Independent, The FT, The New Statesman, and more. I have written hard news stories, features, arranged and conducted interviews with celebrities, film directors and other major cultural figures, arranged photo shoots, and covered film festivals, conferences and events in the UK and abroad. If you wish to commission me or enquire about full-time opportunities please find my CV and contact details below. A physical portfolio of print only cuttings can also be provided.

Interview: Lucy Smee and her Bechdel Test Film Club

  Mildred Pierce,  one of the films screening at the Bechdel Test Film Club

Mildred Pierce, one of the films screening at the Bechdel Test Film Club


The Bechdel Test, to the uninitiated, might sound like something you have to pass before getting behind the wheel of a car for the first time. It is in fact a simple test, named after the American cartoonist Alison Bechdel, that any film viewer can use to check if a film, or any work of fiction, features gender bias. It was introduced in Bechdel's comic strip "Dykes to Watch Out For": in a 1985 strip titled "The Rule”, a female character says that she only watches a movie if it satisfies the following requirements:

    1    A film has to have at least two women in it,

    2    Who talk to each other,

    3    About something besides a man.

You may well wonder if such a test would have any use in this progressive 21st century. Take a minute and think back over the last five or so films you watched, then apply the test to them. You might well find yourself coming up with a 100% failure rate. Consider the sad truth that report after report shows that gender bias in the film industries of the US and the UK continues, with women (and other groups) under or mis-represented at all levels in front of and behind the camera. It is with this depressingly persistent situation in mind that film archivist Lucy Smee set up her London-based film club, who’s name honours the original Bechdel Test. It provides, in Smee’s words: “a space where lots of different female experiences are represented.”

“It's been going for a bit over a year now and I'm having a great time running it”, says Smee. “I started it because I felt fed up about the media we consume every day and how women are represented in it. It's also great to meet people from my local area! I like that the film club has become a room full of (mostly) women who talk to each other about things that aren't men.”

When it comes to the film choices, Smee says: “I like the process of researching good films to show that aren't necessarily on Netflix or that aren't shown that often in cinemas, that pass the test. One of the most popular films has been Desert Hearts, which is famous for being the first positive portrayal of a lesbian relationship in film; lesbians in films often die or commit suicide or are punished in some way. “

The club is small, operating usually in New Cross upstairs in a pub, where Smee says: “20-30 people is a good turn out.”  But for the Desert Hearts screening Smee says she got a full house: “It was a full house as someone posted the night on a South London Lesbians forum. I do think this is an example of why the club is popular: it’s a relief to see women being normal and living full lives and having agency, and it's a relief to see something akin to your own experience onscreen. It's not something that queer women get to see much, or women of colour, or trans women for example.”

Smee continues: “Crooklyn (directed by Spike Lee) was another popular screening, and again, the people of colour in the audience spoke afterwards how pleased they were to see something familiar to them onscreen. I do strongly believe it's damaging to your sense of self not to see yourself represented in the media you consume, and it's sad that often people don't realise what they're missing. It just makes me mad that marginalised groups of people have to live this way; not seeing or rarely seeing any aspects of themselves in the media. So I just thought it would be nice if occasionally there was a place where you could!”

The Bechdel Test Film Club will be screening Mildred Pierce on 26 January at 19:30 at The Amersham Arms in London

See more at http://www.bechdeltestfilmclub.com/


Comment

Owen Van Spall

Greetings. I am a Film History MA graduate from Birkbeck University of London and a trained NCTJ qualified journalist. Apart from a long history of film and news writing for this site and various other publications, I am also a trained photographer with my own camera kit. I write mostly every day. Along the way I have picked up work experience at Sight & Sound, The Guardian, The Independent, The FT, The New Statesman, and more. I have written hard news stories, features, arranged and conducted interviews with celebrities, film directors and other major cultural figures, arranged photo shoots, and covered film festivals, conferences and events in the UK and abroad. If you wish to commission me or enquire about full-time opportunities please find my CV and contact details below. A physical portfolio of print only cuttings can also be provided.