• Leeds International Film Festival 2023

    And the film festival is done! Unlike some previous years where I’ve tried to review every single film in detail, this year I’ve decided to keep it light. So here are my Tweet-like short reviews of everything I watched. Let’s go!

  • Leeds International Film Festival 2023 Preview: Official Selection

    It’s back. It’s nearly November, and that means it’s time to grab a copy of the film festival programme, a pencil and comfy chair. It’s time to start picking out the films to get excited about. It’s time to start working out quite how long it takes to get from the city centre up to the Hyde Park Picture House. It’s time to buy some tickets!

    The programme launch, with its compilation trailer reel shown on a big screen in Vue has whetted the appetite, so now I’m diving into the list of films and trying to work out what I can see. The plan here is to do a post on each of the major strands, taking a look at what I’m excited about. In this post, I’ll start with the official selection. Let’s go!

    Opening and Closing

    The big name pictures that bookend the festival are reliably interesting. I’m definitely excited to see Poor Things, the latest from Yorgos Lanthimos. I’ve loved a lot of his films. Dogtooth and Alps are probably due a rewatch - I remember enjoying them, but not a lot about them. The trio that followed (The Lobster, The Killing of a Sacred Deer and The Favourite) are all certified bangers. Each very different and bonkers in their own ways but utterly compelling. The trailer for Poor Things looks pretty promising. A good pick for an opener.

    All of which leaves closing film, Slow, with rather a hard act to follow. It sounds interesting enough but I’m not wildly excited about it. But I’ve misjudged a lot of small romances in the past. Sometimes the films that look a little bit dull on paper turn out to be memorable worlds that drag you in. We’ll see…

    Poor Things

    The rest of the selection…

    I’m not going to look at every film, so much as pick out a handful that are calling to me loudly. And there’s a trio of films that are shouting the loudest. Anatomy of a Fall, Palme d’Or winner, looks like my kind of thriller. Meanwhile, Monster is the latest film from Hirokazu Kore-eda - I loved both Shoplifters and Broker (both at previous LIFF screenings!) so am very excited for this one. Rounding out my top three is Sultana’s Dream: I din’t know anything about the director or the source material (though a 1905 sci-fi feminist text certainly has me interested!) but the trailer was jaw-droppingly beautiful.

    After that, we move into a mix of the enjoyable, the interesting and the downright weird. Both The Queen of My Dreams and The Holdovers look pretty approachable. I don’t think I’m expecting anything particularly new or exciting from either but they look like they could be sa lot of fun.

    After that we’ve got All of Us Strangers (Andrew Scott in a relationship with Paul Mescal from Aftersun!), The Breaking Ice (I’m a sucker for a story about small lives in China) and Kiddo (a chaotic law-breaking mother-daughter road-trip). And my picks are rounded out by a couple of seriously weird looking choices: Chronicles of a Wandering Saint (staged miracles in an attempt to be more saintly than the other members of your church) and Sweet Dreams (a Dutch colonial tale set in Indonesia. The trailer looked weird).

    In short…

    It’s an exciting looking selection. The main strand can occasionally be a little bit earnest and heavy. This year though, there’s a good mix and plenty that’s calling me loudly.

  • How this all works

    I’ve not done a how-it-all-works post on here before. Truth be told, quite often I’d probably have struggled to tell you how it worked. Some nice ideas, often half-implemented, a distraction or two, and somehow there it was. Until it wasn’t… I’d regularly forget to sort out SSL certs, because I’d never got round to automating it. And writing a new post was surprisingly hard. Where did I have to put the files? What makes it build? And suddenly I’ve lost the will to work on it and gone off to do something else.

    But no more! No. For I have re-organised, redesigned and reimplemented this site from top to bottom. So here’s a whistlestop tour through the web-stack.

    September 2023 update: Yikes! This post is already outdated. I’ve started moving to automatically triggered AWS builds which seems like an exciting step!

    Site code

    The content of the site is essentially a bunch of text files. They’re plain text, with formatting done in Markdown. This makes them very simple to write. To make them look a little better than plain text though, and sort out all the pesky HTML we lean on Jekyll. There are heaps of static site generators out there. I first discovered Jekyll years ago so have largely stuck with it because its what I know.

    When moving the site around I did toy with jumping to Hugo - it looks like a more modern sibling to Jekyll with a lot less code in ruby - but in the end I couldn’t really justify the work to learn a new framework. Most of the tangible benefits seemed to be in the build times. I do believe it is faster. But my site builds in Jekyll in 0.53 seconds. Build time is just not a problem I need to fix right now.

    Having run Jekyll, all of my text files are transformed into lovely HTML. I check my new post looks like it should and then its time to push the files up to the webserver. And here’s where the next big changes come in…

    Containerise everything!


    My webserver is a cheapish VPS. It’s not particularly well resourced but its sufficient for this site. Previously all the config for serving up my site was sat around on the VPS in a bunch of different files. This caused a few problems:

    • Testing anything was basically impossible, there was no dev server at all.
    • Migrating between VPS setups was an absolute pain. You could all but guarantee nothing would work.

    So once we had the problems, how to solve them? Containers. I’ve now migrated the entire setup (this and a couple of other sites) into a handful of Docker containers, all held together by Docker Compose. It’s neat. It’s so neat I wish I’d done it years ago.

    SSL Termination

    One of the first good steps I took was to split out SSL termination. This means I’ve got one container, the one that’s exposed to the outside world and its whole job is to serve up SSL certificates for all three sites, and then just pass on requests to the relevant site’s container. Currently, this is running NGINX but I’ve got half an eye on replacing it with HAProxy.

    The real joy of splitting out the SSL functionality is that I can run the actual sites themselves entirely without certificates. This makes testing changes much easier. I don’t need separate dev or localhost configs to run dev versions of these sites now - I simply start the container up anywhere and it just works exactly the same as the real site.

    The rest

    The other containers are largely very simple. The one that serves up this site is another very simple NGINX image with the HTML files from earlier injected as a volume. Sorted.

    Version controlled config

    And it’s all under git. Finally, I can test changes on a dev setup, commit them to the repo and then just run a pill, build and relaunch command to deploy my site changes. And be confident that they work.

    A cloudy future?


    Earlier on I mentioned the difficulty of migrating this setup. I’m now relatively confident that this is a solved problem - the whole site is now just a bunch of config and static files, all version controlled and easy to check out. This should make moving to any other VPS an absolute breeze. The exciting alternative though is to explore some of the ‘serverless’ options out there - AWS, Azure, Google Cloud, etc. I’m not very experience with any of them but given that the basic modus operandi is spinning up Docker containers with the server-layer abstracted away, I’d say the site was primed ready to make the switch. Exciting times.

    And lastly, here’s a bonus picture of “the internet illustrated in the style of The Matrix”, for no better reason than I really like it. You’re welcome.

    the internet in the style of the matrix

    All images generated with Midjourney

  • Why the internet is broken

    The internet is garbage

    The internet is garbage. Nearly all of it is awful. There are still pockets of good all over the place but the overwhelming trend towards big tech platforms, trapping you in walled gardens and exerting monopolistic power is incredibly depressing. What started out as a utopian dream now seems much more like a dystopian vision. Black Mirror episodes that once seemed outlandish are now basically history lessons.

    It’s money. The relentless desire to monetise everything has pushed us down this road. For a good portion of Web 1.0 the internet was weirdly blasé about money. Services were generally free. People made stuff for the sake of it, out of interest or curiosity.

    SEO has broken everything

    Nowadays it’s all plastered with ads. They’re everywhere. And the places that aren’t actively ramming autoplaying video ads down your throat are busy collecting data about what you’re interested in so they can sell it to someone else to force feed you ads.

    The inherent competition in selling ads (there’s only so much time anyone spends looking at the internet) means the push to be top of the search page heap and trample all your competitors is all consuming. SEO is a nightmare. Search engines are broken. Google is objectively much less useful for finding information on than it was a decade ago. Is this what progress looks like?

    a lot of cables

    Communities are harder to find

    One of the real paradoxes of how the internet has changed over the last 15 years is how much harder social media has made it to find real communities. The relentless drive to make every platform bigger and to suck in more and more users has torn apart the many weird little communities that spent years just doing their own thing. I spent years on forums: music, film, food, books - niche little worlds where people chattered away. Reddit, twitter and Facebook are a poor alternative. All 3 are clearly ailing and beginning to fall apart but it’s not at all clear what replaces them.

    AI is the next wave of awful

    As if all this wasn’t enough, here comes GPT. Why wade through tonnes of lazily churned out SEO optimised copy when you could instead drown in gigatonnes of AI generated SEO optimised copy? This is the future and it doesn’t look like the search engines are ready for it. If you thought that finding information was hard now, just wait till 90% of it is AI hallucinations lies.

    a dusty computer

    Human voices

    Unsurprisingly, I don’t have the answers to any of these problems. I’ve no idea how this is going to pan out. However it goes, though, I feel like the need for human voices, for recommendations, for curation, for selection, is only going to become more important. The AI generated playlists on Spotify are boring. The Netflix recommendation algorithm is terrible. And who’s going to trust an AI to review a restaurant?

    As we drown in a sea of algorithmically generated junk, it feels inevitable that we’re going to long for human voices. But will it be too late?

    All images generated with Midjourney (because of course they are!)

  • The Hyde Park Picture House is back!

    Back in 2019…

    It’s been too long. Back in 2019, as Friends of the Picture House I remember going to an open event, full of models of the cinema and architects renders of what it might look like one day. As exciting as it was, at that point losing our favourite cinema for a whole year seemed incredibly sad. How would we have felt if we’d known it would be 3?

    The best laid plans go awry and 2020 obviously tore apart everyone’s plans everywhere. I don’t think we went to the cinema all year, so the loss of the Picture House was just a small part of the overall sadness (the short notice lockdown of Leeds specifically that killed off the 2020 film festival sticks out as a crushing disappointment). But in 2021 cinemas were back, the film festival was back, and The Hyde park remained closed. And for 2022 as well.

    Seats with our names on

    Even the most optimistic of film fans might have started to doubt it’d ever open at this point. Any fears were staved off by the fact you could physically see the work happening. On nice days we’d add a detour to outside wanders just to go see the massive hole in the ground next to the picture house. Concrete was torn up, foundations went in, all sorts of activity was going on.

    Eventually things were starting to look up. The cinema introduced a number of crowd funding programs - from sponsoring lights to tiles to seats. We leapt at the chance for a seat. Or two. And now we have our names on little brass plaques on the backs of the best seats in the house (in my opinion, at least).

    Good memories

    It wasn’t a hard choice to sponsor the cinema. It’s been such a source of joy over the 15 or so years I’ve been in Leeds. I still can’t quite work out what the first film I saw there was, but it might have been a student trip to see Aliens, accompanied by a free slice of pizza.

    Subsequent happy times have been many and varied. I worked the film festival Night of the Dead a couple of times, emerging bleary eyed into Sunday sunshine after wall to wall splatter horror, and have fond memories of seeing all sorts of stuff there, from indie funded Iron Sky to a whole bunch of Greek weird wave and the adorable animation of A Town Called Panic.

    HPPH into the future

    I’m so pleased it’s back open again and really looking forward to seeing what they make of the space now. With a second screen, a bar area, accessible entrances, it feels like it has a lot of exciting times ahead.

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