DOCUMENTARY: Victor Kossakovsky (10 mins)

“I saw it”.           – Victor Kossakovsky

In this 10 minute video, Victor, a Russian born film-maker, describes how he realised he was a film-maker.

In this lovely short video from Scottish Documentary Institute masterclass, right from the start, he is disarmingly simple about his inspiration, saying he doesn’t have imagination or sense of humour to make fiction films, so he makes documentaries.

The Moment of Inspiration

His working process is simple: he listens and he looks, then something piques his attention and if he can ‘see’ the whole movie, then he begins making it.

One film idea came from being on a journey of several months, across land and sea, to record at the North Pole, as part of a film crew – and listening to the story of the ship’s cook….. (listen to video to hear it).  And here is the official trailer for the resulting film.

Victor Kossakovsky
official trailer for film

Realising you’re a documentary film-maker

How do realise you are a film maker?  Also in this short video, he explains how he went to visit a famous philosopher who was in his nineties, predicting his own death.  Victor did not have video, he only had managed to buy one minute of film stock – and was waiting to find what he should record for that one minute.  He saw it – he filmed it – and no one else in the room noticed it.  Others around wondered what he was filming – and then he realised that he had the eye for the visual: he was a documentarian.

Video vs Film

Victor comments on the process of being videoed as he talks, and how that is different from film – television can do talking heads, film has to be visual.  He quickly demonstrates how little most people use their eyes.

Other Questions

Along the way, Victor asks important questions about life and death, and breath.

Full Interview (30 mins)

There is a podcast available on the Scottish Documentary Institute podcast site: 30 minutes of the interview: here.

The video segment is divided into 5 sections, again on the Scottish Documentary Institute website here, recorded as part of the Edinburgh Film Festival, 2013.  (Part one of the video will show, but in the top corner of the video picture is this symbol:

Screen shot 2020-03-27 at 12.07.02

and if you click on it, it will open a box displaying all 5 short videos, so you can watch them all.

Creative Takeaway (practical exercise/homework)

As usual on this blog, there are suggestions for creatives on how to make your own work, jumping off from the subject of the blog.

Be on the lookout through today for what you would record if you had just one minute of film stock.

What image or action catches your eye today?  And what if you set yourself a project to record just that one minute, daily, for a set time, even simply on your mobile phone?

Jerry Saltz “How to be an artist”

So it’s an interesting time to do a booktour – in a pandemic – Jerry Saltz is co-chief Art Critic for New York Times with his wife, Robert Smith – and is currently on the road, with pre-publicity for his book “How to be an artist”.

As usual (see his instagram feed @jerrysaltz) he is to-the-point, no beating around the bush.  I’ve pre-ordered a copy of his book, so will post a personal review in due course.  (Who critiques the critics?)

Here he is, in a video interview in Toronto, by a brand-new but promising Youtube channel, Artifier. 

And he’s answering young artists’ questions on what type of art they should make for the market, crisply:Screen shot 2020-03-13 at 15.24.17

“Make anything you want: public, private, conceptual: every work of art’s conceptual, every visual work of art is conceptual, and every conceptual work is visual”

His communication

It’s instantly clear that he cares deeply about art, and wants to engage people in conversation with it.  He’s down to earth, and quick to point out that he didn’t write until he was 41 (becoming the Village Voice art critic), didn’t get a degree and is a ‘failed’ artist himself.  (He doesn’t mention that he’s won a Pulitzer prize, two honorary doctorates and published 2 volumes of his criticism at the Village Voice).

His style is very personable and direct – in this interview, he answers questions directly to the interviewer, but then gradually will turn aside to look directly into the camera, and engage the viewers, face-to-face so to speak.  It feels a wonderfully inclusive conversation.

He couldn’t be boring if he tried – and he’s not trying to be.

BE artists of modern life…. turn the page

The book “How to be an Artist” officially goes on sale 17th March 2020 (at the time of writing, just 4 days away).  It is hardback and, as he points out, very reasonably priced. (It’s about the cost of a coffee and slice of cake.  But that’s not to say that you should forego the company of these while reading the book).


Jerry has a relaxed interview on the Dave Chang Podcast which you can listen to here.

Dave begins by talking to his listeners for around 15 minutes before Jerry is added to the conversation.  Questions range across quite a prairie of questions, including:

  • Has the whole idea of being creative been marketed as fulfilment?
  • Van Gogh’s life as an artist (Dave Chang is reading a biography of the artist)
  • Do you have to suffer to make great art?  Jerry: “no; everybody suffers.” There’s suffering in work but also joy and love.



FILM: Emily Dickinson “A Quiet Passion”

I’ve just emerged, blinking, into daylight from spending/wasting 2 hours with Emily Dickinson in “A Quiet Passion” (director: Terence Davies).

If you’re intending to watch it:

  • sit in a fully darkened room so you can see what’s onscreen in the gloom
  • don’t try it as a date night
  • don’t watch it (unless you love Ingmar Bergman-esque films)

I don’t know who this film was made for – possibly students of philosophy and those keen to have an excuse for a good cry. It offers little for fans of Emily or literary historians although it does offer some spicey amuses bouches for feminists.

The online film critics admired it (Mark Kermode, Roger Ebert) , but there are uncomplimentary online comments onscreen from ordinary filmgoers and an Emily Dickinson scholar (which merits a raised eyebrow and a warning klaxon).

I came to the film interested in Emily as a writer – but this film said little, glossing over long years of non-writing and insisting that the regular schedule worked for her (whereas she wrote in a Letter to Thomas Wentworth Higginson, 1862 “when I try to organize – my little Force explodes – and leaves me bare and charred”.)  There was little evidence that she enjoyed books either – I would have loved a scene where she was in her room at 3 am, reading a Victorian novel with relish, her feet up on the bed, turning the pages and entering into a world more exciting than her own home life.  We were told of writers she liked, rather than shown.

To be fair to the director, the shadowy film lighting was historically accurate, and also Emily becomes reclusive towards the end of her life, so naturally most of the second half of the film was indoors. But she was a keen, expert baker and this is not shown, just alluded to. In fact, most of the film you are TOLD through words, rather than shown through pictures. In many ways, it would have made a good radio play.

The dialogue has a great deal of witty exchanges about philosophy, life, morals – but in

Screen shot 2020-02-29 at 16.18.50
“Yo Emily! Stop harshing my mellow!”

Victorian convoluted language – it felt like a plate of spaghetti where you had to dig very hard to find the meatballs. It’s so obscure than somebody, somewhere, will subtitle it in street-speak and it will be hilarious:



The film nobly but misguidedly tries to squash 40 years of her life into 2 hours. So we have glossy set pieces, but not enough scenes in depth. To be fair, there is a good key scene where her sister-in-law bustles over, from next door, concerned because she sees the light on – to find a radiant Emily saying that this is her usual time to write. They have a short but intense conversation about the difference in one’s life as a writer compared to the other’s more traditional wife/mother role.

The acting by the actresses was good throughout – especially Emily Dickinson played by Cynthia Nixon channelling Nicole Kidman, who had to mutate through the years from a moderately handsome and poised young woman into a haggard, overly shiny eyed, brittle and embittered woman in her fifties. Jennifer Ehle is fantastic as the ever present sister – I had to squint at her “Where had I seen her before?” before recognising her as the lead character in the classic BBC adaptation of “Pride and Prejudice”: Elizabeth Bennett to Colin Firth’s immortal Mr Darcy.

*COSTUME ALERT* everything is period costume except male actor’s hair


  • kudos for attempting to show the life of a non-pretty woman
  • no intrusive music throughout
  • good costume/hairstyles except. as usual, for the one guy with modern haircut (worst example of this for me, ever was Hugh Grant in the otherwise excellent “Sense and Sensibility” by Emma Thompson)
  • excellent acting by main female leads


  • dreariness
  • not showing Emily’s private literary world
  • speech far too fast to catch meaning of witty word plays, could have been interspersed with pauses to slow down
  • trying to show too many years in one life, skimming
  • concealing the historical fact that she was so secret a poet
  • not showing any normal, enjoyable activity of the reclusive genius
  • no indication of her letter correspondence with the outside world
  • strongly featuring a female version of Oscar Wilde – but then not showing any influence on Emily and whisking character offstage – why was she given so much screentime?




Not worth watching unless you enjoy angst and physical suffering or are indifferent to literary history/poetry

WRITING: Book Launch Successful

As a writer, I am delighted to find the “Book Launch” podcast by Tim Grahl, who helps authors build their platform and market their books.  Here’s why:

Tim Grahl
Tim Grahl, “Book Launch” Podcast
  1. Tim has had 5 authors in the NY Times bestselling booklist in the same week
  2. there are episodes on so many useful topics
  3. Tim comes across as a decent bloke not a cold-eyed fast-talkin’ man in a suit screaming “sell sell sell!”
  4. each episode is beautifully concise and short (some under 20 mins)

Find the podcast direct from his website here or via your usual podcast supplier.



Here’s a quick glance at just some of the (nearly 50) podcast topics:

  • Where do we start?
  • Identifying your ideal reader
  • The Single most important thing to do
  • Essential elements of an author website
  • Should an author have a blog?
  • Dealing with multiple genres and pen names



The author firmly believes that a person buying and reading their book is a good investment of the reader’s time and money

(This may sound obvious – but according to Tim, authors too often find it much easier to believe that someone else’s book is worthy of time and attention.  When asked about their own book, they sheepishly shuffle their feet and say “Eh wellllll……..”.  Understandably, all this promotes in the listener is uncertainty that the book is worth getting.)




FOOD: Poor Man’s Feast

Clara, who came through the financial Great Depression in America, shows us how to cook with very simple ingredients, as were used then.

Along the way, she talks of how people coped then, with imagination and simple enjoyments.

This is a wonderful antidote to today’s frantic, consumer society and throwaway culture.

Everything in Clara’s kitchen is well-used and prized, obviously very important to her through her life.

Just being with her calm presence and descriptions with good humour of difficult times is refreshing.

The poor man’s feast is lentils with rice, thin slivers of meat (a luxury) and a salad (simply tossed leaves in olive oil and lemon).

**She cooks with blithe disregard for cross-contamination – nowadays, food health and safety would not recommend using a plate and lemons for raw meat and then reusing the plate and lemons on cooked meat and lettuce.  But it’s not difficult to make small adjustments to avoid the raw meat surfaces and juices from contacting the other ingredients.

This is oral history in action, bridging into our contemporary society with digital pixels.


More at:

The website here.

Youtube channel: Great Depression Cooking

WRITING: Getting a Literary Agent….

Written a book and want to query with an agent?  The email accompanying your book proposal should be short and simple – advice from Bookends Literary Agents in this 8 minute video.


All through February, Bookends Literary Agency will be giving advice on how to approach an agent with your manuscript – dos and don’ts.  (If you look at their Youtube Channel, there’s already a lot of sage advice there on the subject of submissions and the work which agents do, already.)

Great Metaphor

Jessica Faust (on the left in the picture above) gives a great way to understand what the agent wants to know right upfront – just like someone going into a bookstore, first they go to the genre of choice, then look for the titles to inspire and check out if it’s a hefty book or a quick read (your wordcount indicates this).

Frankenstein Handwriting

Are you handwriting a novel – take courage from seeing this handwritten manuscript draft by Mary Shelley of her masterpiece: “Frankenstein”.  There appear to be cross outs and changes of thought on every page.

(book opening begins at  5 mins 30 seconds into the video)

This video is uploaded by the wonderfully named “Long walk, short drink” channel, belonging to David Ullman #DaveDigs – in this episode, he unboxes an anniversary (200 years) printed book (limited edition of 1,000) of the handwritten notes of the writer of Frankenstein.  The action starts at 5 mins 30 seconds in – items before that may be of interest to fans of Frankenstein myth.

The publishing house concerned, SP Books (Editions des Saints Peres), have also done a similar printing of authors’ handwritten manuscripts of popular literature:

  • J M Barrie “Peter Pan”
  • Albert Einstein “The General theory of Relativity”
  • Lewis Carroll “Alive’s Adventures Underground”
  • F Scott Fitzgerald “The Great Gatsby”
  • Virginia Woolf “Mrs Dalloway (The Hours”
  • Paul Auster “The New York Trilogy”
  • Charlotte Bronte “Jane Eyre”
  • Oscar Wilde “The Picture of Dorian Gray”
  • Jean Cocteau “La Belle et la Bete” – the original handwritten screenplay with drawings – sold out (unsurprisingly)

Screen shot 2020-02-01 at 11.29.33

With freehand drawings and clear indications of how the story was formed into a script, this is both beautiful and useful – useful as an insight into the mind of a film-maker making a masterpiece.




Gift for would be writer:

What a fantastic present for a writer who is beginning and troubled by the amount of drafting required, and complete changes of direction and crossings out, along the way!  The manuscripts show that this is exactly how many books, now regarded as literature classics were written – with difficulty.

Of course, just because you cross out paragraphs on every page and rewrite is no guarantee that what you write will become a classic novel – but it’s a mark of a writer at work.

Church living space

Combining old Italian church, minimalism with industrial staircase – Massimo Vitali takes us around his home.  (Massimo is an Italian photographer but has previously worked as a photo journalist and movie camera operator.)


Massimo doesn’t directly say that he gives large dinner parties, but he opens the fridge with a nonchalent “The Fridge is always full” – and this is his china cabinet.  It hardly looks like a man who dines alone (unless he’s an obssessive china collector…)Screen shot 2020-02-01 at 09.48.25Screen shot 2020-02-01 at 09.49.35Screen shot 2020-02-01 at 09.50.31Screen shot 2020-02-01 at 09.51.08

There’s something refreshing about seeing an older man puttering with comfort about a place he has made his own – yet leaving untouched the old features of its past: a Mussolini quote, graffiti by builders handwriting that a wall was built in 19th century.



Creative Takeaway

Using camera phone, take photos and video of each room in your house.

Then sit and view them, as if they were a stranger’s.  As if they were a set for a film, the main character has yet to walk in – and see what you can deduce from it.  What story will your living space say about you – your passions, recurring themes, interest in orderliness, sense of colour.

Is it possible to pick one thing which strikes a jarring note with how you want to feel and use the space?  Perhaps it can be changed.  Is it worth changing?

On Blog Milestones

via On Milestones  Congratulations to Marriss, who has completed a quilting blog post a week for 2 years now!

Quilting itself is a curating of bringing together different materials, a bit like a blog – only more dimensional, time-consuming and skilfull – so congrats on doing both!

I doff my unquilted, poorly knitted hat to you.  And now, reader, you know where to visit to get all the textile goodness you crave….


A Dragonfly at the dawn ! — Waruni Anuruddhika

Waruni Anuruddhika, an independent Sri Lankan film maker , art photographer and researcher,   has very kindly given permission to share her poem and picture.

A dragonfly at the dawn ! At the edge of water , I forgot myself … © Waruni Anuruddhika 2017

via A Dragonfly at the dawn ! — Waruni Anuruddhika

You can see more of Waruni’s work over at her blog