Tuesday 31 December 2013

A Year in Film 2013

The close of 2013 approaches and, in keeping with previous years, it is time to review the films I've seen over the last twelve months.

As you can see, I let things get a little out of hand... I blame the unexpected free time provided by redundancy and part-time work, along with the gift by former colleagues of BFI membership that meant access to the London Film Festival.

This is an anniversary – the tenth year I've been posting an annual list after successfully completing the challenge to watch and review one film a week back in 2003 (see onefilmaweek.blogspot.com). Last year's total of 74 films, up from 47 in 2011, looked like a tough target to beat – but this year I went to the cinema a staggering 98 times.

Incidentally, over the last decade I've paid to see 473 films. Blimey.

According to the wonderful Letterboxd, this year's film-going represents 182.6 hours of screen time, an average of 1.9 films a week (and believe me, around 14 this year were rather less than the full integer). This doesn't include the adverts and, for the record, if I never have to see that teeth-gratingly awful Volkswagon 'Silence of the Lambs' ad ever again, it will still be soon. Seventy four of the films I saw were at my local Stratford Picturehouse, which does insist on showing this ad all the time – please, you guys are brilliant, but just stop now.

In keeping with previous years, I only count actual trips to a cinema - not films on DVD or BluRay - and as usual I've arbitrarily rated the films I've seen. You can find ratings for the last decade here. Here's the 2013 list:

5 stars: Unmissable!
4 stars: Definitely worth seeing
3 stars: Decent film
2 stars: Disappointing
1 star: Pants
No stars: Why was this released?

The Impossible (***)
Gangster Squad (**)
Django Unchained (****)
False Trail (***)
Lincoln (*****)
Zero Dark Thirty (****)
Beautiful Creatures (**)
Warm Bodies (****)
No (***)
Fire In The Blood (***)
Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters 3D (*)
Stoker (****)
Mea Maxima Culpa: Silence in the House or God (****)
Under the Cranes (**)
Robot & Frank (***)
Welcome to the Punch (***)
Trance (***)
Good Vibrations (*****)
Cloud Atlas (****)
Oblivion (***)
The Place Beyond The Pines (***)
Promised Land (***)
Olympus Has Fallen (**)
Iron Man 3 (****)
Byzantium (****)
Best Friends Forever (**)
Star Trek Into Darkness (****)
The Great Gatsby 3D (***)
Mud (****)
The Stone Roses: Made of Stone (****)
The Purge (***)
Village at the End of the World (****)
Behind the Candelabra (****)
The Iceman (***)
Man of Steel (*)
World War Z (***)
Much Ado About Nothing (***)
Now You See Me (***)
The Act of Killing (****)
In The Fog (***)
The Bling Ring (***)
Pacific Rim (***)
The World's End (***)
We Steal Secrets: The Story of Wikileaks (***)
Leave to Remain (***)
Wadjda (****)
The Wolverine (***)
Stories We Tell (*****)
Only God Forgives (**)
Frances Ha (****)
Before Midnight (***)
Alan Partridge: Alpha Papa ((****)
The Night of the Hunter [1955] (*****)
Elysium (***)
The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones (**)
Lovelace (***)
The Kings of Summer (*****)
The Way Way Back (*****)
Riddick (**)
About Time (**)
Rush (****)
Hawking (****)
InRealLife (***)
What Maisie Knew (*****)
Prisoners (****)
Nothing But a Man [1964] (****)
In a World... (****)
Blue Jasmine (***)
How I Live Now (***)
Philomena (****)
Stand Clear of the Closing Doors
[part of the London Film Festival] (**)
The Fifth Estate (***)
Kon-Tiki [part of the London Film Festival] (****)
Let The Fire Burn [part of the London Film Festival] (****)
11.6 [part of the London Film Festival] (***)
Trap Street [part of the London Film Festival] (****)
Drones [part of the London Film Festival] (***)
Drinking Buddies [part of the London Film Festival] (**)
Captain Philips (****)
Enders Game (***)
Nosferatu {1922] (***)
Thor: The Dark World (***)
Short Term 12 (*****)
Gravity (****)
Filth (***)
The Counsellor (**)
The Butler (**)
Utopia (***)
The Hunger Games: Catching Fire (****)
Parkland (***)
Computer Chess (*)
Nebraska (****)
Saving Mr Banks (****)
Inside Llewyn Davis (****)
Kill Your Darlings (***)
The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug (***)
Blue is the Warmest Colour (***)
Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom (***)

Wednesday 18 December 2013

NMP Olympics Policing Report Highlights Reality of Stop & Search

This morning, Newham Monitoring Project published a report setting out  how it deployed close to a hundred 'community legal observers' (CLOs) during last summer's Olympics and how the experiences of these volunteers can help other organisations, both in the UK and abroad, to consider using a similar community legal observation model in the future. You can download a copy here.

I contributed to writing the report and recommend reading the daily 'timeline' appendix summarising some of the feedback from CLOs who were out on the streets. Amongst the stories is one incident, similar to so many others we heard repeatedly during the Olympics, that involved a young Asian man who chose to assert his rights when he was stopped and searched in Stratford. It illustrates how, even when someone is confident and knowledgeable about their rights, this is not enough to prevent a frustrating and intimidating encounter with the police:
While waiting for my partner at Stratford station, I was approached by three officers yelling 'take your hands out of your pockets'. As they gathered around me, I asked what they wanted and was told they had planned to just ask me some questions but because I was being ‘aggressive’ and ‘anti-police’ they were now going to carry out a stop and search.

One officer began the search without any explanation, so I asked why they were failing to follow ‘GOWISELY’ (an acronym used in police training as a reminder of information officers must provide when they perform a stop and search1). The officer was very unhappy I asked this and after consulting his colleagues, he said I was suspected of placing drugs in my socks. Officers were very rude as they then began the search and asked many questions, which I chose not to answer. They also threatened me with arrest when I refused to provide my name and address.

My partner arrived as the search was almost completed. As I explained what had happened, one of the officers called out to her: 'does he lie like this to you all the time?' They then said I was free to leave but I reminded them that they had forgotten to offer me a record of the search and I wanted one. The officers kept insisting to my partner 'he is free to go, he is a free man' but she politely said, 'I think he wants his receipt, even if we’re late'. One of the officers then filled in a search record and handed it to me, which said I had been seen pulling up my socks and had appeared agitated around a sniffer dog – which hadn't even arrived until after the search had begun. I immediately challenged the search record and said it was false. One officer again told my partner that I was a liar and walked away to write up his notes. Luckily I had paper and a pen with me and was able to note the officers' badge numbers. I am now pursuing a formal complaint.
What makes this young man different from many of his peers is that he happens to be a caseworker for Newham Monitoring Project and somebody who provides advice and training on police stop and search powers. He also has a law degree, but all the officers saw was a someone young and black, which was enough to make him a suspect.

As NMP's report notes, "It is hardly surprising that, in similar circumstances, someone who is far less confident about their rights would find those rights are ignored". And in this is the basis for everything we have argued about why the police are still not trusted by young people.

Friday 13 December 2013

Students Respond To Police Violence With Call For #CopsOffCampus

These videos provide a good summary of Wednesday's student 'Cops Off Campus' protest in London against police violence, organised largely through social media.

Not everyone was convinced it was quite the 'victory for the student movement' that some have claimed

'The curiously all too quick 'victory' of #copsoffcampus' at The Multicultural Politic
'Student Demo a victory? Don’t make me laugh' at The Accidental Anarchist

See also:

Vice - London students reclaimed their campus yesterday
Channel 4 News - No arrests at #CopsOffCampus student protest
indyrikki - For once, a huge police mobilisation didn’t beat students up!
Manchester Evening News - Students occupy Manchester University office in policing protest

Monday 9 December 2013

Metropolitan Police Fails to Respond to Seventy Percent of Personal Data Requests

More on the magical mystery tour I've embarked upon to prise personal information from the hands of the Metropolitan Police.

 Back in June, I wrote a piece explaining how campaigners, if they believed they may have been targeted for undercover surveillance, could submit a Subject Access Request under data protection legislation to find out what personal details are held about them by the police. My own initial submission to the Metropolitan Police, whose Special Demonstration Squad targeted the Lawrence family, their supporters and police custody death campaigners during the 1990s and who are now responsible for the National Domestic Extremism Unit, apparently went missing but a second request was formally acknowledged on 25 July.

Five months ago, when I said that despite an entitlement under the Data Protection Act to receive an answer within 40 days, no-one ever receives a response in that time, I had little idea just how prophetic that would prove to be. After chasing the Met's Public Access Office, I finally received a letter from them three months later, on 25 October, which apologised for the delay in responding but gave absolutely no indication when, if ever, it planned to respond to my request. I therefore complained to the Information Commissioner's Office (ICO), who told me in early November that they had written to the Met asking them to provide me with a full response by 9 December.

The ICO's deadline is today. It has been 138 days since the Metropolitan Police received my request for personal data, it has still failed to respond despite repeated prompting and now it has ignored the independent regulator set up to promote openness by public bodies.

Curious to discover whether police resistance to providing the data it holds about me is less wilful non-compliance and more staggering incompetence, I also submitted a Freedom of Information request asking for the number of Subject Access Requests received by the Metropolitan Police during the six months from 1 April 2013 to 30 September 2013 and how many were completed within the 40 calendar day limit. Remarkably, the Met replied last week refusing, initially, to answer these simple questions on the grounds of cost, because I had asked for the number of successfully completed requests. It claims it has no internal systems in place to monitor this and insisted it would need to check each of the 480 submitted in the six month time period that were simply completed. Eventually, however, the Met did manage to admit that it received 1600 requests between April and September this year.

So now I know my request is one of the staggering 70% (1120 out of 1600¹) that the Metropolitan Police has failed to respond to within the required 40 days during the six months from April.

This degree of repeated failure to provide adequate public transparency by any public body is shocking but to put it into some context, it's worth remembering that  for the first three months of the period from April, the ICO said it was monitoring the Met over concerns about its timeliness.

I have now asked the ICO to again intervene on my behalf but, when it is evident that the Metropolitan Police is neither transparent or accountable on the personal data it holds, the time has surely come for the Information Commissioner to begin regulatory enforcement action.

The Network for Police Monitoring (Netpol) has produced a detailed guide to writing and submitting Subject Access Requests to check what information is held by the National Domestic Extremism Unit. It is available to download or online here.

¹ This includes any Subject Access requests received by the Met right up to 30 September: my FoI request was made exactly 40 days after that date.

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