Film Review: “God’s Own Country” #SydFilmFest 2017

God’s Own Country is a wonderful film from the UK. It is reviewed and promoted as a British version of Brokeback Mountain, but it is actually much better than that film. I loved everything about this film right from the start: the setting in Yorkshire; the stoic nature of the locals; the cast and their acting; the cinematography; the story-telling; the tenderness of the developing romantic relationship between the two guys; the presentation and direction of the film itself; the weaving in of archival imagery; and the realness of such a situation.

I can see the resemblance to Brokeback Mountain, but I found this film to be far more believable and I empathised a great deal more with the leading characters. I thought they were much less wooden in this film. The performances by Josh O’Connor and Alec Secareanu are amazingly good and starkly different. I hope we see a lot more from both of them. One of the best gay-themed movies I’ve ever seen. Beautiful. 4.5/5

Film Review: “Una” #SydFilmFest 2017

Una is a powerful drama from the UK. It seemed interesting to me and was adapted from a very successful play. The storyline is about child sexual abuse and revenge so it isn’t a pleasant experience that everyone will enjoy. It is, however, handled very delicately and we don’t really have to delve into a great deal of the ugliness. There are a number of tense scenes in the move and they do not always end predictably. Maybe that ambiguousness in its story-telling technique is what makes us think more deeply about blame, revenge, guilt and redemption. Is redemption from some offence like this even possible?

I found the acting from the two leads Rooney Mara and Ben Mendelsohn to be very believable and they are well supported. Rooney’s character seems a bit confused and is sometimes less convincing in her purpose, but perhaps that too is how it might really be in this kind of situation.

I’m not going to put a spoiler on it, but I did talk to some friends who saw it on the same night and we came away with very different takes on the message left to us at the end of the movie. Is that based on our own life experience or the deliberate intent of the director Benedict Andrews? Good film making. 3.5/5

Film Reviews #SydFilmFest 2017

So the first few films that I saw didn’t amount to the best of starts for a film festival. These thoughts are just based on my preferences and opinions, so take them in that context. Here we go …

Ana, Mon Amour – This is a European drama with bonus sex scenes. I hated this film and would’ve walked out if I wasn’t sat right in the middle of a packed theatre. It was a sad tale about unhappy people, in an unhappy country, who are determined to lead unhappy lives. From memory there was even some hand-held moving camera work that was thrown in to make it look more “arty”, but that didn’t work for me. This is definitely a film to be avoided. How it was selected completely bemuses me and how it attracted such a large audience is also a mystery. Awful. Score: 0/5

The Ornithologist – I must admit that I was attracted to this one because “homoerotica from Europe”! Big mistake. This is a confused film and an even more confused story. It just didn’t work and I don’t say that because I am not clever enough to have followed the plot, if there really was one. I don’t think it knew what it wanted to be: a modern take on St Anthony; a transformation; a tragedy; a pilgrimage; or a surreal comedy. It failed to deliver in all of these aims. It had some potential but that all fell apart far too soon. Very disappointing. 1/5

Ellipsis – I saw this as it was billed as a love letter to Sydney and I thought it might reveal something of my home town that I had missed. It didn’t. David Wenham directed it and spoke for far too long in introducing it. I think that a good film should stand alone without an explanation about its process. The story is based on a night that the two lead actors, Benedict Samuel and Emily Barclay, spend together after an accidental meeting in the city. I didn’t find the chemistry between the two at all convincing and Emily’s character just became more and more annoying as it dragged on. Some of the scenes were a bit too cliched for me and others were just awkward.  There is a side story about a dedicated phone repairman who is struggling with his citizenship test and I found that far more compelling than the main storyline. A little ordinary. 3/5

What is Inevitable about UTS Library (Pt 3 of 3)

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In The Inevitable, Kevin Kelly discusses every surface becoming a screen in the Screening chapter, but this technological force isn’t just about converting surfaces into screens. He also discusses the possibility for libraries to become platforms for cultural life within their communities and he writes of the importance of encouraging contemplation and how online activities can provoke action. I think we’ve done some of this with our Artist-in-Residence and Curations programs. They’ve both led to ongoing actions and we think they inspire contemplation and further thought with at least some of our users. These programs have certainly had Interactive elements, with the current Artist Timo Rissanen actually creating his work in the central library stairwell over several weeks. Our Artists have asked questions of us and what we do that we’d not have asked of ourselves. This has enabled some reflection on our part and led to improved services, including with our search and discovery platform and our way finding signage.

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http://www.lib.uts.edu.au/about-us/artist-residence-program/shelf-life-exhibition 

At UTS Library the influence of Chris Gaul (our first Artist) cannot be overstated. He has had a significant impact on how we view our collections and this has led to ongoing improvements to discovery as well as search interfaces. His pioneering Spectogram has been recognised and reflected upon by several of our subsequent artists. He played a significant part in establishing a design-led visual identity for UTS Library.

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http://www.lib.uts.edu.au/news/288004/uts-library-s-artists-residence-investigate-library-retrieval-system

Elisa Lee and Adam Hinshaw were asked to artistically interpret the use of our new Library Retrieval System in 2014. This ambitious project resulted in a truly amazing live data visualisation of the requests and returns to this huge robotically served underground storage system. Their work was inspirational and playful. It also added an important dimension to our identity as experts in data at a time when UTS was focussing itself on the importance of data and data analysis.

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http://cargocollective.com/thebookis

Zoë Sadokierski followed Elisa and Adam in 2015. She has been a long time collaborator with the Library through her design work on various experimental formats for ePRESS, in her artistic installations within the Library and by sharing her research on the intersection of print and screen technology (as opposed to the myth that circulates about these two being competitors). Her Residency explored the very nature of the book through research and by producing artist’s books. She also conducted a very interactive and collaborative production of a book live at the 2015 Sydney Writer’s Festival. Like previous artists her work has had a very significant impact on our visual and physical identity as a library.

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Starting in late 2016, we added digital literacy kits to our collection. Including low cost technology like Sphero, Makey-Makey and basic VR, these kits have been incorporated into both our own staff development and our educational programs for academics and students. They represent a playful way to introduce technology literacies, expanding on our traditional role in developing information literacy skills.

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What is Inevitable about UTS Library (Pt 2 of 3)

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Open Access is something we strongly believe in at UTS Library. We have taken action in many dimensions: to improve our institutional repository; as an advocate for OA at UTS (& the sponsor of our institution’s OA policy); through our active OA publishing arm – UTS ePRESS; by participating in various OA related events and initiatives; and though our advice and assistance on all things OA to students, researchers and academics at UTS. UTS ePRESS has experimented with new forms of scholarly publishing that harness the potential of the web and digital communications and therefore question the very nature of traditional publishing. We’ve encouraged and modelled more open licensing to permit reuse and we continue to support the early days of the OA movement. Some examples of all of this are found in the following images.

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https://opus.lib.uts.edu.au/

Our institutional repository was substantially remodelled and fully integrated with the University’s research management system recently. We established new workflows to decrease or eliminate manual processes and the ingest outputs, made UTS research outputs far easier to find on the open web and have substantially increased our reach accordingly.

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http://epress.lib.uts.edu.au/books/anatomy-quizbook

The Anatomy Quizbook was our first OER. This was also our first experiment with interactive text and importantly we were learning while making this happen. We have more OERs planned and will build on this initial adventure.

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http://epress.lib.uts.edu.au/books/lace-narratives

Lace Narratives was an ambitious and complex publication: it incorporated multi-media and was a major experiment in offering several different formats for a creative and scholarly work. An artistic process was openly shared through this publication and in a very limited edition high-quality hard cover version we were able to offer fabric swatches of the author’s textile art. This was one of our first experiments with different business models and distribution methods.

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http://epress.lib.uts.edu.au/journals/index.php/pmrp

Project Management Research and Practice is a journal that is both unique in its field and which has evolved over time. The editorial board believes in OA research output and like our other journals have now achieved rigorous COPE and DOAJ standards. Their latest innovation is to publish as articles are submitted and reviewed. This “unbundling” of publishing containers reduces delays in research articles getting published and is much like the unbundling of albums on iTunes or the streaming of movies and series on demand like Netflix.

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https://www.lib.uts.edu.au/open-access/learn

Our OA advocacy continues as suggested in the image above. We help others to understand OA, collaborate across boarders with like-minded people and organisations, and we raise awareness of the benefits and processes surrounding the OA movement.

End of Part 2. And Part 3 is right here. Don’t stop now.

What is Inevitable about UTS Library (Pt 1 of 3)

This is the guts of a presentation I gave at EduTECHAU on 9 June 2017. It’ll be a bunch of images, text to explain those images and a few links.

Thanks to my colleague Dr Belinda Tiffen for her assistance with this presentation: she is much smarter than me.

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Last year I read Kevin Kelly’s book The Inevitable and I was struck by the way he described the 12 technological forces that he thinks will shape our future. The forces are named in the image above, but they’re not all that easy to understand. I’ve thought more about them and believe that at UTS Library we are actually making progress in all these areas, not always exactly as he describes, so I’ll outline what some of our initiatives are in the following images and text. For the sake of brevity, the only force I won’t be illustrating is Tracking, but rest assured that we are already doing some of that too and in fact you can see it in some of the examples I am using.

I am concentrating on three major areas: discovery and search; open access; and cultural and artistic stimulation.

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For Discovery & Search I see our efforts are consistent with the four forces and examples illustrated above: Becoming; Accessing; Cognifying; and Filtering. We are in the process of completely redesigning our discovery interface on the basis of some in-depth UX research that we conducted ourselves. We have long taken an iterative approach to website and digital services development, and our latest work builds on that. In our UX work we have recognised that there is a spectrum of user needs and behaviours from search to discovery, so we are adding new features to aid and enhance discovery, but they are designed in a way that will not distract or delay those searching for known items and wanting to get out of there fast. Our collection development has seen major improvements with regard to collaborative borrowing arrangements and these options needed to be carefully included and distinguished in the search/discovery catalogue in order to increase the options available to our users, while not confusing them with respect to immediate availability. Finally as others like Amazon, Uber and Netflix have done we are introducing features that allow for a more personalised and tailored search and discovery experience, should the users opt in.

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In response to our research insights and user feedback, the following slides outline the initial user interface concepts for UTS Library’s new search and discovery system. These solutions have been designed from the responses and feedback gathered from our previous wireframe prototypes.

The following design concepts will be developed into a working prototype where the new search engine can undergo further user testing in conjunction with the user interface.

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Overall search page results in our catalogue. From left to right you see columns arranged to show search filter options; search results list and a new contextual discovery panel.

The addition of a contextual discovery side panel to provide the user with results that are personalized to the individual. This feature will assist the user in the discovery of information that the system believes will be helpful to them.  Information will be displayed based on their search request and will provide related content matched to a logged in users profile.

Article results intergration: A common request amongst users of our current system is for the ability to combine Article results in a search with Books and Journals.

Using the default ‘All’ search, the new system will combine the top 3 Article results alongside Books and Journals.

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This slide shows a few new features related to the item display within search results:

  • Ribbon colour display: (LHS of record) Integrating the colour ribbon into the catalogue items establishes the direct link between the two. For users, this creates a better understanding of the search functionality the ribbon has. It also more directly displays the relationship between the search results and the items physical location within the library
  • Shelf view: Shelf view button is located under the book cover display; this better suggests shelf views functionality to the user.
  • Save item: Save item button enables a logged in user to quickly save an item of interest to a list.
  • Item status: Improving the clarity of an items status means a user can quickly see an item’s availability and its location.
  • Locate item: Simple and clear call to action buttons has been added to each item. This button describes the necessary action to preform in order to get the item.
  • Call to action buttons (options are shown in the lower image above) The description on the call to action button indicates to the user where that item is located. For example, an item on the shelf will indicate where to “Locate item” or if an item is in the LRS it will indicate to “Request from LRS”. If an item is unavailable the call to action button describes to the user what further options are available to receive that item. When multiple resources are available for one item the button will display a drop down menu. This drop down will display the available recourse types to choose from.

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Discovery of related items: The contextual discovery panel (“You may also like …” on RHS of full item page) will have the flexibility to provide related content to a particular item. On the Item page, the discovery panel can suggest related books by the same author or display items other people have viewed or borrowed.

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It is of course fully responsive design, meaning the experience is fully optimised for mobile devices.

End of Part 1. Part 2 is here. Go there now. Do it. You know you want to.

Sydney Film Festival 2017 – My List

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I’m going to the Sydney Film Festival again, despite the fact that Event Cinemas in George Street offer the most disgusting seats you can find. So here is my list of selections for 2017. There are many more I’d like to have seen, but one has to be realistic and make some choices.

The films below are offered in date order and usually I give you, dear reader, a brief reason for the film’s selection.

Ana, Mon Amour – European drama with bonus sex scenes

The Ornithologist – homoerotica from Europe!

Ellipsis – it’s about my home town, Sydney & stars Benedict Samuel (Australian)

Una – a drama from the UK, seems interesting

God’s Own Country – more homoerotica, this time from the UK (& I was taken in by these words “frank nudity, explicit sex scenes …”)

I Am Not Your Negro – yes, it is a documentary. I’ve read some of James Baldwin’s work.

Game of Death – no film festival can be complete without a decent splatterfest (from Canada & France)

Wind River – I love a good intelligent crime drama that is filled with action and violence (from the US)

Call Me By Your Name – a gay romance from Italy & France (What else does one need?)

Pulse – an intriguing mix of sci-fi, teen angst, queer drama and some body swap action thrown in for good measure (from Australia)

In The Fade – a thriller from German & France. Also, Diane Kruger was brilliant in the US TV series The Bridge.

Dendy Awards for Australian Short Films – 10 short films

Maliglutit – an Arctic thriller from Canada (a remake of John Ford’s classic western The Searchers)

Once again, I will write up some dreadful film reviews in due course (if so inspired).