Short shorts film festival 2019 in Dublin – What to remember

Short shorts film festival 2019 in Dublin – What to remember

Earlier this month, the European Union National Institutes for Culture (EUNIC) screened some of the best short films produced all over Europe, as part of the Short Shorts film festival. Screenings were hosted by language schools and embassies across Dublin. 

Close to a dozen films were shown, and the audience was asked to vote for their favourite. Films in  competition were: : Tutorial (Goethe-Institut Irland) Fig (Embassy of Greece), Una casa en el campo (Instituto Cervantes/AECID), Non mi posso lamentare (Istituto Italiano Di Cultura – Dublino), Creatures (Polish Embassy Dublin), Thermostat 6 (Alliance Française de Dublin), Nachsaison (Embassy of Austria), Dodgy Dave (British Council Ireland), Late Afternoon (Culture Ireland). What Remains (Irish Film Institute) and Mr Ripple (Cork Film Festival) were also screened but did not take part in the competition.

The movies were a delight to watch. The common theme across the festival was that of forgotten or rekindled human connections. Be it that of love through years, or that of a child looking after her mom, or a girl’s quest to get her voice heard.. The audience seemed to have taken a liking towards two films namely, Una casa en el campo, the entry from Spain, and Fig the official entry from Greece. My personal favourite was “Fig” because I am a closet romantic. An injured man struggles through every unimaginable obstacle to fulfilling his dying wife’s last wish to eat a fig. This story will resonate with the audience of all ages and for times to come (see the trailer here). However, the award for best short went to rightly deserving Una casa en el campo (see the trailer here). The short film cleverly portrays invisible human connections, especially those that are sometimes unwelcome. The film shows the encounter between two neighbours for the first time. Despite their houses being separated by a wall, one of them seem to know everything about the other’s life. By using humour, the film shows that walls may not necessarily keep your lives private after all. Definitely a thought to ponder upon!

 

Photo by France in Ireland on Twitter

 

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Venturing into non-English TV shows and movies

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Why Ireland should have its own Green New Housing Deal

Why Ireland should have its own Green New Housing Deal

Last week, Bernie Sanders and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez brought the ‘Green New Deal for Public Housing Act’ to US congress. This is the first overt action to bring the Green New Deal to life since the resolution was released this February. For those of you who haven’t heard of it, the Green New Deal is essentially a ten-year plan to greatly reduce US emissions through mass deployment of renewable energies, huge investment in green infrastructure (particularly public transport) and the creation of numerous ‘green jobs’. The deal places great emphasis on addressing the climate crisis and social justice crisis as dual-issues, and also endeavours to provide free Medicare and Education for All.

The Green New Deal for Public Housing Act specifically focuses on enhancing over one million units of public housing through zero-carbon upgrades. The bill allocates over $172 billion US dollars to fund this project and it would create roughly 240,000 jobs every year. According to research by The Nation, this would be the equivalent of taking 1.2 million cars off the road in terms of reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Not only would it reduce emissions, it would also create safer and healthier neighbourhoods and boost employment in poorer areas. The Act is extraordinary in its scope and ambition, and some critics have dismissed it as being ‘too unrealistic’. This commentary is to be expected in the face of any trillion-dollar plan, but truthfully, the whole world should be taking note. Most of all, Ireland. 

Ireland has been getting a lot of bad press for poor performance on climate change, and rightly so. We have missed our emissions targets three years running and currently have the third-highest emissions per capita in the EU. This trend shows no signs of reversing any time soon. Ireland is also suffering from a housing crisis, in case you haven’t heard (or have been living under a rock – I’d say you can get a good price for it on rent.ie). An extreme deficit in housing within the capital has driven prices to an all-time high, forcing people to rent indefinitely or move further and further out – often to locations where public transport is poor (read: non-existent) and where owning a car is a necessity. This results in an inexhaustible list of problems including financial insecurity, deteriorating physical and mental health and ultimately, homelessness. 

As of September 2019, there were 10,397 people without homes in Ireland. Over one-third of these are children. This is unacceptable and is ultimately the result of a broken housing system. We need more public housing. We need an Irish Green New Housing Act. This would be a project undertaken by the Irish Government whereby zero-carbon, energy efficient public housing would be deployed and upgraded over the next ten years, providing numerous jobs in the process. Green communities would be created with adequate links to an improved public transport network that runs completely off renewables. Imagine. 

Imagine an Ireland where issues of public interest are favoured over the interests of private entities. Where we provide for our people and our environment. These are issues that cannot be kept separate and it has long been known that under a climate crisis it will be the poorest and already vulnerable who will be the first hit, and the worst hit. Here is a plan to address two of our most pressing issues in tandem. As the Emerald Isle, let’s truly take up the mantle of being ‘green’ and become a leader on these issues.

 

Photo by Patrick on Twitter

 

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Single-Use Plastics levies: The Good, the Bad, and The Ugly

Single-Use Plastics levies: The Good, the Bad, and The Ugly

Last week the Minister for the Environment Richard Bruton announced that the Irish Government would be introducing a number of levies aimed at reducing single-use plastics. Two of the most notable levies being a ‘latte levy’ on disposable cups of between 10 and 25 cents, and a plastic bag levy increase of 3 cents on the current levy of 22 cents. This is good news – so why has there been a murmur of controversy around this announcement?

 

The Good:

Plastic waste is a huge environmental issue and the fact that the Government is noticing and making moves to remediate this is a good thing. Ireland is the top plastic waste producer in Europe, with each person producing on average 61kg of plastic waste per year. Recycling, once hailed as a cure that would allow us to continue buying as much plastic as we liked so long as it went in the green bin, has gravely disappointed in its reality. It is estimated that only 30% of plastic waste within the EU is recycled. Seeing as this is inherently a problem of overconsumption, levies such as the plastic bag tax are to be welcomed as they discourage production in the first place. 

 

The Bad: 

The Environment Minister has been criticized for delaying action on installing a plastic bottle deposit and return scheme in Ireland, a scheme which the Green Party have been pushing for. This would involve paying an upfront ‘deposit’ on single-use plastic bottles and once you dropit to a recycling centre, you get that deposit back. This system is currently in use in many countries across Europe and has been successful in reducing waste. This, in combination with the levies already put forward, would help to redeem Ireland’s environmental reputation.  

Another issue is that the latte levy has left small coffee shops feeling disadvantaged as large coffee chains like Costa and Starbucks will find it much easier to pay such a levy. The announcement also left certain environmentalist groups frustrated as it doesn’t target the bulk of the problem. The proposed levies don’t tackle the items that are responsible for the majority of plastic in the ocean; fishing nets. It is estimated that almost half of ocean plastic is from discarded fishing nets and if this is to be tackled it means tighter regulations on fishing activities and reduced consumption of seafood. 

 

The Ugly: 

Plastic is a ‘hot topic’ at the moment and the Irish government knows that. It is much easier to introduce a few levies on bags and cups than to acknowledge the large elephant in the room – Ireland’s inaction on climate change. Ireland is consistently ranked as a ‘climate laggard’ and has the third highest emissions per capita in the EU. A latte levy won’t even begin to fix this, and installing a Liquified Natural Gas terminal in the West of Ireland that uses fracked gas certainly won’t. Yes, even slight progress on environmental issues is positive and should be commended, but slight progress is nowhere near the rate of change that is needed on environmental issues right now.

 

Photo by Michael on flickr

 

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Mental health: A musician and a psychotherapist

Mental health: A musician and a psychotherapist

As part of a series of articles to raise awareness about Movember, contributor Conor Kelly talks about men’s experiences of dealing with mental and physical health issues. If you’ve missed it, you can read the first article here.

 

For this article, I spoke to Chuckles, an up-and-coming hip-hop artist from Dublin, who talked about how his music career has helped him to understand mental health. 

‘’I do believe being able to express myself through my music has helped me to cope with my mental health on multiple occasions. For a long-time I have suffered with my mental health with it leading me towards suicide and self-destruction. Hip-hop [allowed me] to say what is on my mind and take myself away from the situation. There are times where it’s hard to voice exactly how you are feeling but by sharing a song with someone, it can allow the listener to have a glimpse as to what’s in your head and heart,” confessed Chuckles

“I found some artists that can vocalise how you are trapped in your own little world, with no one to know,  such as Eminem, Token, Seven Spherez, Tech N9ne, Krizz Kaliko and Prozak. They each have a song that either saved me or enabled me to express myself. Krizz Kaliko’s song Scars ft Tech N9ne has a strong impact on myself. This is a hard question, but as men there is still a stigma about it. For myself it’s not easy to turn to family and friends and say ‘I’m not feeling okay today’. Hence why I took the name Chuckles ‘I’m crackin’ some smiles but ain’t a damn thing funny’. I know I have the support there and they all care about what happens, but I don’t want them to worry about me. My music is a way for me to escape, I slip deep into my writings until the cloud lifts” he added.

“I think the best way to reach out to men who are still stuck with reaching out for help is through music, giving them an outlet they initially didn’t have before, a voice they can relate to and eventually open up to someone before it takes over them. Social media is a great tool when used right, by setting up a group page that allows people to share music and that way they can explore the music that affects others to get them through the day. Another way is to remind those who post the comments during mental health week or during the month of November that it’s not just for likes, that being there for someone all year round, supporting them into getting help and remind them there’s nothing wrong with getting help’’. 

Chuckles music is something special. When you listen to his music you can tell he is a passionate, caring and hard-working person. In his song Listen to me, he speaks the truth, he speaks how the innocent and vulnerable people in society are being hurt, he speaks what some of us are afraid to say.

 

 

 

I also spoke to James Byrne who is a good friend but also someone who runs LGBTQ+ community meditation and mindfulness meetups in the heart of Dublin city in the Outhouse community resource center (Address – 105 Capel Street). It is a low-cost service to attend where you can develop and improve your overall mental and spiritual health. They run regularly throughout the year and are an informal relaxed meetup for those looking to get involved in learning to explore their inner self in a caring and safe place. This isn’t the only thing James does, he also runs multiple residential retreats and workshops to help you with all the worries of life. 

If you would like to get involved in the meditation and wellbeing programs James organizes, please contact him at 0831759337.

‘’It is crucial to my work as a psychotherapist that mental health is at the very core of my profession. As a therapist my job is to enable my clients to understand their feelings, this can be looking at what makes them feel happy, anxious, depressed and a whole range of other emotions. Through understanding their emotional selves a little better, it can equip [people] to cope in tough situations in life in a more adaptive way. Physical health and mental health are closely related and are something that I would regularly check in with clients especially around diet, exercise and sleep. I encourage clients if they can [spend time] in nature as much as possible.

Today there is a lot of shame surrounding mental health issues we might be experiencing so I think we need to combat the stigmatization. A lot of men I have worked with as a therapist and in my previous career found the biggest obstacle was reaching out and allowing someone into their world. We still have a societal idea that ‘boys don’t cry’. Thankfully this is changing but too slowly. Younger men are starting to become that little bit more open to talking about feelings and reaching out if they have problems, this is fantastic, but we need to support the men of all ages. Provisional figures show there were 352 suicides last year – 282 male and 70 female – or 7.2 per 100,000 of population, according to the 2018 annual report of the National Office for Suicide Prevention. This is our lowest suicide numbers in 20 years! Men continue to account for 80 per cent of all suicides – in line with global trends – and the 45 to 54-year-old age group are at the highest risk. While suicide prevention is important, and we need to continue to reach out to those who are at risk. We need to look towards the contributing factors, the stresses, the depression, the anxiety, addiction… These are less talked about in the media. The simple answer is to start talking, talk to your friends, talk to your family, talk to a counsellor.’’

James does so much for other people but doesn’t do it for fame or fortune. He does it because he cares for others. He once said to me “that no one has an easy life, we all have troubles and that if you reach out for help someone will answer”. 

 

 

James and Chuckles each speak about their own different stories but I noticed that they share the same experience of being silenced, pushed away. Both of them felt it wasn’t normal to speak up about their mental health because they’re both men. They felt it was wrong. That’s what men feel is appropriate growing up because that is what society and people told them.

 

 

Photos by Chuckle and James

 

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Is the Islamic State still a threat?

Is the Islamic State still a threat?

At the end of 2018, Donald Trump announced that the Islamic State had been defeated, and that the US was pulling its troops out of Syria. The defeat of ISIS was a hard won process of reclaiming territory over five years, until finally there was only one ISIS-held village left. After a siege lasting over a month, that village too was taken, destroying the last part of ISIS’s territory, or ‘caliphate’ as they called it, that had once been the size of Great Britain. 

On October 26th of this year the United States declared that the leader of the Islamic State, Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi, had been killed. On the face of it, the loss of territory and the death of a leader might sound like the threat from the Islamic State, which at its peak had 33,000 members from over 100 nationalities and launched attacks in almost 40 countries, is finally over. Sadly, things are not that simple, and the Islamic State is unlikely to disappear any time soon.

Although ISIS has lost the territory it once controlled, that does not mean it has ceased to exist. It has just gone back to operating like a more “typical” terrorist group, as controlling as much territory as ISIS once did is unusual for a terrorist group. It is estimated that ISIS still has between 14 and 18.000 fighters left in just Iraq and Syria, and between 20 and 30.000 globally. Given that its membership peaked at around 33,000, a huge number of fighters are still active. Many of these are being held in detention camps in Syria, but there is a risk that some of these will escape because of Turkey’s recent attack on the area. 

While the destruction of the caliphate did slow down the flow of foreigners coming to fight for ISIS, there is still a small but steady stream arriving, and ISIS’s finances are still looking very healthy. ISIS also seems to be innovating somewhat, with increased reports of the use of female fighters, less likely to be suspected by security forces. Also, even though they don’t technically hold any territory, they still have de facto control over parts of Syria and Iraq as they have successfully intimidated and attacked town leaders. 

Worryingly, ISIS has a history of bouncing back from near defeat – in 2010, when the US pulled its troops out of Iraq, it had only 700 fighters left, but then grew to be one of the most powerful terrorist organisations. Given that the group is vastly more powerful now than it was then, it seems unlikely it will simply wither away, but will try to retake territory. The US pulling out of Syria could potentially mimic the conditions that their pulling out of Iraq did in allowing ISIS to gain a lot of ground, so the declaration of their defeat by Trump is likely to be very dangerous for the region.

Even the death of the Islamic State’s leader, Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi, is unlikely to undermine ISIS too much. Al-Baghdadi was a very important figure in ISIS. When ISIS members, or those who weren’t actual members but were inspired by ISIS, committed attacks in foreign countries, they would typically record themselves making a pledge before committing the attack. This pledge was not to the Islamic State, but to Al-Baghdadi himself. However, there is some evidence that this pledge is now being made to the new leader, Abu Ibrahim al-Hashimi al-Qurashi, suggesting that, while followers of the Islamic State may be shaken by the death of Al-Baghdadi, they are willing to continue under a new leader. Even if some fighters decide to leave ISIS, they will probably splinter into new terrorist groups as they remain radicalized. All of this means that we are unlikely to hear the last from ISIS any time soon.

 

DoD photo by Army Staff Sgt. Timothy R. Koster on CentCom

 

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Samantha Power’s Book Review: The Ideal Woman for the Job

Samantha Power’s Book Review: The Ideal Woman for the Job

On one of the rainiest days of this rainy season, Samantha Power arrived at her home city of Dublin and was greeted in Trinity College Dublin’s Regent’s House to rapturous applause. Maybe it’s because of her Irish roots, or maybe it’s her warm and affable nature, but there is a real sense of pride for Power’s achievements in the room. The students who managed to secure tickets are upright, hoping to imbibe some of her career secrets. 

I have not long finished reading Power’s political memoir The Education of an Idealist, which tells the story of her incredible career to date. After emigrating to Pittsburgh from Dublin at the age of 9, Power attended Yale before becoming a war correspondent, based in Croatia and Bosnia during the Siege of Sarajevo. After her journalism and research won her a Pulitzer Prize, she taught at Harvard Law School and Harvard Kennedy School. In 2006, she joined Barack Obama, then a newly elected Congressman, as an advisor. Soon, Power left Harvard to work with Obama on his election campaign, and when he became President of the United States, worked as his Human Rights Advisor for his first term and as the United States Ambassador to the UN from 2013-2017. 

Although Power is perhaps best known for her government career in diplomacy, it is her staunch moral compass and dedication to humanitarian issues which have underpinned her career, and do so again in her memoir. She writes about how witnessing the Tiananmen Square protests as a nineteen year-old completely swerved her career path. Some of the most colourful sections of the book come from her time as a freelance journalist during the Balkan war, and the close-calls she faced in trying to help victims. She campaigned for victims in Darfur and spent time on the ground in West Africa at the height of the Ebola crisis in 2014.

Much of The Education of an Idealist centres on the tensions between acting on human suffering and the bureaucracy that dictates government action. This is especially climactic in the ten days in August 2013 after the news of a suspected chemical weapons attack in Damascus, Syria, broke, where the Obama administration had to decide whether to respond with military intervention. The nitty-gritty scenes in the White House Situation Room, and Power’s rallying cry to Obama to respond in honour of the suspected 1,429 dead from this one attack, reads like a thriller novel but with all the more poignancy, because it raises questions about what could have happened in Syria in the ensuing years if Obama had intervened (or at the very least, asks the reader to consider if he was right to not intervene). Power is asked during her interview in Trinity College Dublin whether she believes one can achieve more progress through activism or government, and while she pays homage to both forms of action, she is loyal to the achievements possible in a government structure.  

Overall, The Education of an Idealist is a political memoir with heart. Power does not attempt to use the platform as political ammo to prop up the decisions of Obama’s administration, nor does she use it in a game of one-upmanship against those she has disagreed with throughout her career. Instead, Power offers a warm, candid and gripping read. She tells her story her way, with a touch of self-deprecating humour which feels quite uniquely Irish. 

Standing in line for Power to sign my dog-eared copy of her book, I am struck by the nerves in my stomach. I tell her of my time in Sarajevo this summer, and how I especially enjoyed her descriptions of the camaraderie between correspondents there.  The ambience in the room is one of hope for a safer and better future, of political stability and action on climate change, and so it feels particularly fitting when I realise she has signed my copy ‘With hope, Samantha Power’.

 

Picture by Gerald R. Ford school on Flickr

 

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