E-Team movie review

After the screening of E-Team at the Sydney Film Festival, one of the directors Ross Kauffman, and the leading lady Anna took to the stage.  Immediately the audience rose to their feet signifying the powerful nature of this documentary.

The opening scene plants the audience right inside a Syrian home with Anna and Ole, a married couple from The E-team asking questions of some anxious villagers about a recent military airstrike, the sounds of aeroplanes still overhead.

The film follows Anna and Ole into various situations such as Russian press-conferences and the devastated grounds of recently bombed Syria,  but it also has a presence in their homes watching them pack their bags while Anna’s 12 year old son asks for “shrapnel” as a present from Syria.  Katy Chevigny and Ross Kauffman have incredibly gained access into some of the most important and intimate moments for the members of the E-team, mirroring the surreal nature of the tragic events being documented.

Other members of the E-team include Peter Bouckaert, who spent an extensive amount of time in Libya talking to Gadaffi’s casualties and identifying some of the worlds most dangerous and sort after weapons.  Fred Abrahams feels like the paternal leader of the group whose work in Libya led to the discovery of mass military killings.  Footage of him testifying against the former Serbian president Slobodan Milosevic, regarding war crimes and genocide also shows the impact their work has on an international level.

When the camera crew cross the Syrian border with Anna and Ole guerrilla style, it is evident early on that this kind of work, the kind that sorts out international human rights, is also the kind of work most individuals could never do.

The directors expertly fuse together the E-team’s work with their personal lives, and it never comes off as preachy or charitable, just real.  Real people risking their lives to “fuck with bad people” Bourchaert tells the audience almost cheerfully.  The kinds of people who do such unique work are inevitably characters themselves, and drive the documentary along with surprising ease given the circumstances. At the end of the film we learn that one of the cameramen who shot the documentary disappeared on another project in Syria, a sad reminder of the sacrifices this work entails.

E-team not only sheds light on the important work of this Human Rights Watch team, on the practical nature of this kind of work, but also sheds light into those dark places of the world that desperately need it.

This post was originally published in June at Aphra mag.


Nymphomaniac movie review

Bare with me while I backlog all the stuff I have been writing and been to lazy to compile.  Here is a movie review I wrote for Aphra mag back in April.  

Directed by Lars von Trier

Starring Charlotte Gainsbourg, Stacy Martin, Shia LaBeouf, Christian Slater, Uma Thurman

‘I love my dirty filthy lust, I am a nymphomaniac and I love who I am’ says Joe (Charlotte Gainsbourg) to the women silently gazing at her during a sex addiction workshop.   The final instalment of Lars von Trier’s Depression series, after Antichrist and Melanacholia is expected to be dark.  Expected to be sordid (the title says it all).  What is not expected perhaps, is the unnerving links between society’s role in shaping our characters agonising reality.

Lars Von Trier is not one for holding back.  Where other directors stop filming and allow for imagination to take over he keeps going, uncomfortably so.  Like a lot of his previous work this film is hard to watch at times.  My entire body felt exhausted after watching this film, like running an emotional marathon.

The film begins with a bruised and battered Joe lying in the street who is found by Seligman (Stellan Skarsgard) who takes her back to his home.  Here Joe recounts her life’s pursuit of sexual pleasure while Seligman attentively listens, offering interjections in the form of fibonacci numbers and religious references just to name a couple.

It is not the explicit sex scenes that are shocking, more the undercurrent of what becomes of Joe’s life, and those around her.  Her defiant nature is played out in her sexual conquests, the countless men she has sex with for the sake of pleasure itself, and all the relationships that dissolve around her as a result.

Not many directors can pull off such a movie.  Lars Von Trier clearly has a fascination with those that don’t fit into the status quo of society, a person’s inability or unwillingness to fake a ‘normal life’ is one of the dominant themes in his Depression series.  Framing a nymphomaniac as the heroine allows a dissection of not only her problems but that of a world which cannot embrace her nature.  The tragic life of Joe is such because she pursues a path that most cannot relate to, and therefore are unable to accept her as she is.  In the end Joe acknowledges her sexual lust as an ingrained part of her self.  This is merely one of many bold statements von Trier makes in Nymphomaniac.

Perhaps the power of the movie comes from seeing Joe’s graphic past, the exhilarating and often agonising consequences of it in direct juxtaposition of lines like “Perhaps the only difference between me and other people is that I’ve always demanded more from the sunset. ..That’s perhaps my only sin.”  The sex scenes are constant but rarely sensuous and it is interesting that the actors were digitally fused with body doubles for the explicit scenes.   It could be seen that the shock value was more important than conveying a sense of truth.

Besides Von Trier’s overtly grim outlook on the world, the idea that a female pursuit of sexuality is perverse and the multitude of other sadistic lines this film takes, it is undoubtedly a powerful movie that stays with you well after the four hours is over.



Not foods, created by failed scientists, eaten by failed healthy people.

Slabs of yellow, slightly salty, thick and creamy. Holding the hand of your vegemite toast, infusing its juicy goodness into the ultimate peanut butter anything. When it’s squeamish cousin, it that shall not be named, was spawned in a factory, it wanted in. Dyed to appear yellow when really it was grey, it continued to pretend to be everything it was not. Health and vitality it said. Will lower your cholesterol while keeping off the pounds, it said. Increasing the risk of clogged arteries and cancer from its consumption is something that it does, but does not say.                                                                                                  
These days when I eat my scrambled eggs, I smother a thick slab of butter on a piece of rye bread. In the past it was rare that I ate eggs, but when I did I would crack the yolks out of them altogether and skip the toast and butter. Mostly I ate low-fat yoghurt with a sprinkle of muesli. “Breakfast of champions” I reminded myself as my body fought to fuel itself with artificial wellbeing.


Butter is frozen gold, like a warm light in a mouldy cave. It makes pastry golden and icing come together. It’s the reason mushrooms taste of sweet and earthy delight, why onions dance the tango and not the face plant. Butter can be heated much higher than most oils without becoming carcinogenic i.e.: potentially killing you. It costs little and spreads along way.


Bread and butter, once a staple of household cupboards is now full of so many evils, carb-devils and fat-trolls that people steer clear altogether. Instead we act like guinea pigs living on synthetic foods that have been designed in a laboratory, the long-term affects we don’t know yet, but they are playing out in our bodies today.  


Fast forward 100 years, will the traditional staples of bread and butter be replaced by azodicarbonamide, caramel colouring, butylated, hydroxyanisole (BHA), red 40?  These weird illegible names for chemical compounds are what make up much of our food today. Instead of sustaining our original food sources while the population grows, we look for new and artificial ways to feed the world.


As more people come to understand the goodness of butter and its grey slimy cousin, it is not so uncommon now for butter enthusiasts to emerge. Thank fuck we have our staple firmly back in our cupboards. One small step for real food, an even smaller step in common sense, but we’re getting there.


“I can’t believe it’s not butter?”  

“I can’t believe it’s not sausages?”

“I can’t believe it’s not a tomatoe?”


I can’t believe people eat not-food.

I still can’t.  


The Examined Life by Stephen Grosz

Why humans do what they do, their strange behaviour and neurosis under examination. In its most simple, studied form. When a person decides their brain is not quite how they want it, one of the many things humans do is see a psychoanalyst. A relationship is born on the premise of doctor and patient, healing through words.

Stephen Grosz has had spent over 50,000 hours with patients which is a dedication of many years examining human lives. Each chapter in the book explores notions like why we might mourn the future and our inability to accept change, and Grosz explores these ideas through rewriting his patients stories. On the surface Grosz presents a human story, underneath are his theories as to why it is occurring.

This book is a superb look at the act of psychoanalysis, how it affects some people and the role of the psychoanalyst. As a reader it forces you to question your own behaviour and to reflect on how strangely programmed the human brain. So strange that some people simply stood around or picked up phone calls while the world trade centre towers were falling to the ground. This kind of odd behaviour Grosz links to a common theory in psychoanalysis. For example humans have a penchant for disliking change, so deeply intrinsic that most of us aren’t even aware that it often guides our behaviour in mysterious ways. We like what we know. 15 years an office without any dramas or qualms, we might choose that reality over the one with smoke and fire alarms.

Grosz is a gifted explainer. Reading his words is like eating warm chocolate fudge on a frosty night. The meaning of his stories slides down with moist ease, his voice is sure but not preachy. For the first time reading about the human psyche I felt close to it.

Why do humans have the capacity to love, spit, have affairs, deliberately forget, lie, hug, be generally wretched and sweet all in the same breath. How does our unconscious mind affect our conscious being. How do we know when our brain is working, and when it is not? This book is a fascinating look at the mythical workings of the mind.


The Ameri can drone strike

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Planes fly my house all the time.  I live in the suburb of Marrickville in Sydney, a suburb close to the airport. Apparently boeing 747’s have the most unique sound from any other aeroplane, where they fly their sound completely takes over the sky.  Sometimes I’m outside talking to my roommates when an aeroplane flies by, consuming the silence with its bulbous head.  We know now to stop mid conversation, sitting there like stunned mullets, otherwise it ends up something like,

“Yeah fish tacos are the best”.



It’s been a few months now and I barely notice them.

Our terrace house has a skylight in the kitchen, where the aeroplanes are sometimes visible.  One could fall from the sky at any minute, or accidentally drop a fuel tank and fly into our house.  A plane could turn into a robot and shoot us down from above.  I can see the Hollywood headlines.

A freak accident in the suburbs of Sydney.

Attack of the drones in a peaceful neighbourhood.

White families getting wasted.

It’s hard to imagine the sky we live under, controlled by a plane controlled by a robot.  Drones don’t operate in our skies, they don’t patrol the skies of our western buddy America, either.  Yet Obaama signed off on drones patrolling the skies of Yemen and Pakistan, “yes we can”.

When Obama came into office he wanted to make a grand and sweeping statement, he was not like Bush.  Shut down Guantanamo Bay and show the world we are humane, not all American citizens are ok with war torture.  Instead Obama’s solution to capture, was to kill.  Obama wanted to turn the spotlight back on Al Queeda.  Pull the troops out of Iraq and preserve American life.  Employ the technology of drones where people are not on the ground.  It is quick, precise and above all lethal.  One strike.  Then another, just in-case the job wasn’t complete.

“The double tap”, most notoriously used to describe terrorists who plant not one but two bombs.  By letting off a second bomb around an hour later they are targeting the rescuers that came to the aid of the injured.  The US government have long described this act as brutal savagery, just not when an American drone does it.

In August 2013 The Bureau of investigative journalism found new evidence of American drones using this tactic of the “double tap”, whereby a drone shoots down a specific target and location, and if someone runs to those who were shot, like doctors, or anyone with a heart seeing a fellow human dyeing, the drone comes back to shoot that very spot again.

An Australian citizen was killed in one of these drone strikes in November 2013.  He told his family he was travelling to Yemen to teach and then his name cropped up in terrorist circles.  The reports are not clear, some say he was targeted for his terrorist activities, others say he was collateral damage. I wasn’t aware Australian citizens are now subject to the death penalty.  “Yes we can.”

America states that the number of civilians killed by drone strikes are “no” or “single digit”.  Single digit?  What The Bureau of Independent Journalism discovered was more likely to be between 416 and 951 civilians, which includes between 168 to 200 children.   Both the UN and Human Rights Watch have said America’s lack of transparency is grossly undemocratic.  As per usual International law is being lacquered over with American gloss.

It’s like a quote out of a Tom Stoppard play.  “People do awful things to each other, but its worse in places where everybody is kept in the dark”.

A week ago a memo was released after the America Civil Liberties Union and The New York Times filed a Freedom of Information Act Lawsuit regarding the killing of terrorist suspect and American citizen, Anwar al-Awlaki in Yemen 2011.   Part of the 41 page Justice Department memo stated that “at least where high-level government officials have determined that a capture operation overseas is infeasible, and that the targeted person is part of a dangerous enemy force and is engaged in activities that pose a continued and imminent threat to U.S. persons or interests.”

Drones constantly cruise the skies of Pakistan.  The psychological trauma is becoming evident in the people of Pakistan, too afraid to leave their houses, the people of Pakistan are becoming angry and revengeful.

A fat kid sits on his throne and throws stones down at the people below.  He knows some of them are plotting to take him down, It’s just hard to aim or know exactly which one it is.  “Yes we can,” he hisses as he continues to pelt stones.  His minders watch on, by letting him he believes he can.  Outside in the garden, my cat is sniffing the ground.  Grabbing a leaf in his mouth, his ears suddenly turn to the sides as if taking in extra sensory sound.  A plane flies overhead and he runs back inside with the leaf firmly in his mouth.