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From Complex to Simple: Lessons from 13 Years of Blogging

Chris Campbell

It started with text, it's always text. Words are important, words are the building blocks of my blog and the closer I am to them, the better.

Memory is fallible and by writing it helps to paint a more comprehensive picture of what is going on at a certain time. In preparing for my session at BlogJam 2015 I realized this as I used my own blog posts to piece together my history of blogging over two decades with this blog running for a lucky 13 years. Anything that you do for a long time starts to become routine and with my blog it's gone from a more hand-crafted, close-to-the-metal how-do-you-set-up-mySQL blog to the site now that lets the fine folks at Squarespace handle everything in the background. I have my own set of quirky routines for writing, but my writing toolkit is more complicated than it needs to be. Now I just have to drop the text into the system and I'll have a blog post.

Context is all. – Margaret Atwood, > The Handmaid's Tale

Being geeky and putting the elements together to share writing was the way you had to be back in the 90s when I started using the web and blogging. The first blog that I had (now lost) was on an Antarctic research web site around 1994. They had extra space on their server and if you emailed them they'd let you set up a web page. You would edit the HTML save it. The first blog post I wrote was a rant about the film "Disclosure". This blog started in 2002 after I registered the domain, paid for some server space, and started thinking about how to have my own site. in 2002 in 2002

In the beginning I did a lot of coding. The first version of my blog used a system from Rael Dornfest called Blosxom (pronounced "blog-some") that used a Perl script to transform text files and folders into a web site. Within the text files you'd use HTML for links or any other formatting, so it was a bit geeky. But it worked great and was fast and easy to use.

What you say should be separate from how you present it. That's why I use text editors for writing and worry about how it will look later. With a text file you don't have to worry about it being out of date. It's easy to take it and transform it and rework it and edit it. Text is powerful.


Tell me the story of us.



Frances Ha, written by Greta Gerwig and Noah Baumbach

A lot of times I rehearse what I want to write. I roll it around and hone it in my mind. I keep repeating and rearranging things. It's like doing multiple takes. It's like performance. After you do it a lot you stop thinking about it. This is what I've rolled around in my heard and rehearsed as the lessons learned after 13 years of blogging here.

Write every day

"The only space I need to write is enough room for my laptop, and the perfect time to write is always now, especially if it’s only five minutes. Inspiration is not somewhere else. It’s right here." – Emily Drevets – Sit Down, Shut Up, Write, Don't Stop

Write whether you want to or not. Get your fingers moving and assemble those words. They don't have to be good, you just need to write. Practice, practice, practice. Filling the page or the screen is the important thing. Writing is work and it's probably not fun, but the only way to get better at anything is to do it a lot. Waiting for inspiration is just fancy procrastination.

I am a happy user of 750 Words which gives me a morning prompt to write every day with a challenge to write every day. Sometimes it's just journaling, but it can be a review of a film to post on Letterboxd, the beginning of a blog post, or the outline of a presentation. After getting things written at 750 Words I'll copy and paste it to Byword for editing (using Marked 2 to check the spelling, grammar, reading level, and links) and then add it to my blog.

Take notes

"The first thing you do when you take a piece of paper is always put the date on it, the month, the day, and where it is. Because every idea that you put on paper is useful to you. By putting the date on it as a habit, when you look for what you wrote down in your notes, you will be desperate to know that it happened in April in 1972 and it was in Paris and already it begins to be useful. One of the most important tools that a filmmaker has are his/her notes." – Francis Ford Coppola

It's hard to remember everything. Keeping track of what you've seen and heard is important. A notebook can record things in an old-timey way. For work I have a Moleskine notebook and for non-work stuff I've got another one. I've been using keyboards and screens to record things so much over the past few decades that my handwriting isn't as good as it used to be (I won an award for best writing in grade 3, but now I probably wouldn't be in the top 10).

The things I love to capture are great sentences, so when I am watching a film (which happens a lot during a film festival) I will write down a great line to remember later (which is a challenge in the dark). On my iPhone I use an app called Drafts which lets me quickly capture anything. Then usually send it to an app called 1Writer that synchronizes all my notes so I can look at them anywhere. On my MacBook Pro I use an app called nvALT that allows me to quickly write and find notes. That's where I usually create little snippets of text that I am thinking of. Ideally I'd transcribe my notebooks into digital text, but that doesn't always happen.

I use Pinboard for bookmarking things that I'm reading and it's tied in with Instapaper, so everything I save to read later is also saved as a bookmark. Pinboard also archives my tweets and every link posted in a tweet and saves a copy of every bookmarked web page, so if a site disappears there is a version saved that I can look at. This leaves a trail of what I've read, so I can go back and find out something that was interesting to me.

Another thing that can help a lot is to use quantified self devices and apps. I am currently tracking my music and films and food so I can look that up. I also use an app called Reporter that randomly asks me for updates during the day and I record where I am, what I'm doing, what I've eaten, and who I'm with. The other place where I keep track of things is with the Day One diary app. I add pictures and run a script that creates an entry that assembles information I've recorded about a day into an entry.

Take pictures

Pictures are great to help you remember things, and they're also great to go with blog posts. Nobody else has the pictures you take, so it's great to be able to have a library of them to choose from. With a phone you also record the date and time and location so that can help you remember other details. I've been using Flickr for years with my photos and now everything goes there automatically, so it's a great backup (and iCloud Photos has been working great for me too). As I write this I have over 17,000 photos which is a great library of images to choose from when I create a blog post.

Have a place of your own


"—a woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction" Virginia Woolf, October 1928

Get your own domain. It's cheap and unique and you can take it wherever you go and change systems without things disappearing from the web. Most blogging systems allow you to use your own domain and being able to move as your needs change is important. Companies change and services end, sometimes without warning. in 2011 in 2011

You need to hold on to your stuff. Having a backup of what you've written is important as services go away. Hopefully things won't change quickly or fail dramatically, but if you don't have a copy of your stuff, you are taking a big chance. I wrote a lot on the 43 Things web site and one day the site shut down. Luckily I was able to export everything out of the site (hundreds of entries) but a sister site, All Consuming, had gone down earlier and I couldn't recover a lot of that. I cross-posted a lot of my film reviews to Blogger, so with that and's Wayback Machine I was able to recover what I've written. But with other sites like Vox) I lost many posts that I made.

For five years I used Blosxom on a server that I configured myself. For the next five years I used a self-hosted WordPress installation that I also configured and tweaked. Importing everything worked with some images not working and I manually went through and added categories and tags to the posts (it took several months of casual updating). Then I decided to stop configuring the server and plugins and moved over to Squarespace. The import was easy and now I focus more on the writing and rarely on the configuration.

Tools ≠ Talent – The Audio Anarchist Manifesto

With Wordpress and Medium and Squarespace you can export your blog. That is a good thing to do as it gives you a backup in case something goes away. This is important if you have things written on a server that you don't own (or even if you do since hard drives all fail eventually). As I write this I have about 750 blog posts here and knowing that I have them backed up and can move somewhere else is a good feeling (but I'm content with Squarespace).

Share your excitement and wonder


The most important lesson is to share what you love. If you are enthusiastic about something and share that excitement it translates to your blog posts. Finding out about new adventures or food or places or films or tools is why I love reading blogs. If it is interesting to you, it is probably interesting to someone else. Hopefully that's what you get from this and what you give to others when you write and share.

Best of the 35th Atlantic Film Festival

Chris Campbell

In anticipation of a film festival you create impressions of films based on the past work of the directors and actors and don't know what to expect. When the films are first announced there are things that you have heard of and things you haven't and as you dig in to the details things emerge and the excitement builds. It's a challenge for a festival to secure a range of films that appeal to all audiences and this year at the 35th Atlantic Film Festival they did a great job. Now with a few days to reflect on a busy week here are the films that are sticking with me.

There were some great looking films. The development of digital imaging technology and the experience and development of techniques to use it is bearing some gorgeous fruit. When you combine better cameras and sensors with colour correction you have a wider palette of possibilities for the look and approach that you take with a film and that was clearly on display this year. Viewing a film on a large screen with an audience is a privilege and joy and that's always a highlight of any festival.


The film that I anticipated the most was Jacques Audiard's Dheepan which won the Palme d'Or at Cannes. As with his other films it's about outsiders and crime and trying to fit in and have some sort of family relationship. With Dheepan and a new cast (including novelist Jesuthasan Antonythasan, Kalieaswari Srinivasan, and Claudine Vinasithamby) and a new cinematographer (Éponine Momenceau) he does something that is recognizably Audiard, but feels a bit different. Moving outside of his regular collection of actors and collaborators makes for a film that is more vital and unpredictable.

Cemetery of Splendour

My favourite informal slot at the festival is the weekday afternoon slot with more esoteric foreign films. Last year it was the mesmerizing 3 hour plus Winter Sleep and this year it was Cemetery of Splendour. Apichatpong Weerasethakul crafts meditative and beautiful films combining Thai legends, geography, and people with his own cinematic techniques to create truly unique films. His Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives is one of my favourite films and in his latest film he makes something similar, but with a distinctive internal logic. The best approach to take with his films is to be present and let the film wash over you. With minimal exposition and repetition the story and themes emerge over time as the film confidently moves forward. It encourages you to look and listen to follow details and see things. It's a transcendent cinematic experience.

The Lobster

I wasn't so sure if Yorgos Lanthimos' The Lobster would be part of the lineup for 2015 at the festival and was happy to see that it was. Lanthimos is an acquired taste with a deliberately alienating approach and use of violence to show the strange nature of relationships. In Dogtooth and Alps with a small cast and crew he crafted challenging and memorable films that I appreciated more after thinking about them and discussing them. With a bigger budget and bigger stars, The Lobster retains the power and challenge of his earlier films along with a higher profile. Tweaking and adjusting his approach (and improving it in many ways) makes for a film that is simultaneously more accessible and still deeply strange in terms of the mainstream.


Anti-comedy is a challenging thing as there is a meta level to what is going on. The jokes are not funny and that is why they are funny. It's elaborate and easy to misinterpret and shares a common thread with surrealism and the work of Luis Buñuel. I'm a big fan of that type of comedy from the surrealists to Andy Kaufman to Kids in the Hall to Alan Partridge to Garth Merenghi's Dark Place to name a few examples. Entertainment is almost the 2001: A Space Odyssey of anti-comedy with Gregg Turkington as Neil Hamburger, a bad stand-up comic on a tour across the American desert. It's definitely not for everyone as it blends pain and bad jokes with some stunningly beautiful photography to create a cool and depressing portrait of a man who is not happy in his life.

Early Winter

Speaking of unhappy people, one of the films that I didn't know much about at all was a pleasant surprise with Early Winter. With sparse frames, practical lighting, and unbroken takes, it's a story told through the things not said and things not seen. Michael Rowe's film is anchored by an understated performance from Paul Doucet with yet another complex acting turn from Suzanne Clément. It's a story about a marriage that isn't working. It's a voyeuristic film with key information missing and sparse exposition from dialogue. We start to piece things together in increments as time goes by and the spaces in the story start to fill in. It's bold and confident storytelling built around characters.

One Floor Below

Understated style and elliptical storytelling are the key features of the Romanian New Wave films and One Floor Below is a film about a murder that occurs off screen with two of the main characters knowing this from early in the film. We see the man who knows what happened and withholds what he heard from the police and how it eats at him. It's a slow-burn of a film that paints a portrait through the frame of everyday life and complex and idiosyncratic Romanian bureaucratic systems. Building in power as the film progresses, it's a delicate and powerful.

Closet Monster

A sometimes startling and beautiful feature debut from Stephen Dunn, Closet Monster has elements of magic realism in the story of a closeted young Newfoundland man who is coming to terms with who he is and what he wants. The witness to a horrific hate crime while young, this trauma makes him hide his sexuality as he grows up. It's a complicated portrait of a young man growing up shot in a beautiful way with a powerful central character created by Connor Jessup and a delightful voice performance from Isabella Rossellini as his pet hamster, Buffy. The winner of Best Canadian Feature at TIFF and Best Atlantic Director and Best Atlantic Screenwriting at the Atlantic Film Festival, Closet Monster should do well in the coming months.

Ninth Floor

Making some strong artistic choices to illustrate the story, in Mina Shum's debut feature documentary Ninth Floor, she adds visual and audio layers to a important moment in the development of Canadian society with the Sir George Williams Incident. Even if the film was average it would be worth seeing, but it's extraordinary with the approach that she takes. Shum makes the film even more moving as she connects the people and evokes the time vividly through filming locations in Montreal highlighting the distinctive architecture of the 60s as well as locations in the West Indies. Staging the interviews in abandoned rooms with occasional shots of surveillance cameras and tape machines adds a visual flair to the story. Skillfully weaving in music and a dramatic structure creates a memorable and emotional film that is immediate and inspiring.


With Frank Lenny Abrahamson made a film about creativity and depression that blended stories and history together and in adapting Room to the screen he takes a different approach in making a film that is much more subjective. With the heart of the film in the perceptions of the child Jack, born in a garden shed where he and his mother are imprisoned for half a decade, it's challenging, but works remarkably well. The film is immersive and manipulates time and space impressionistically in a way that made the nearly two hours fly by. Ultimately inspiring after a harrowing beginning, it's a film that manages to bridge the gap between the art house and mainstream cinema in a way that is refreshing.

Green Room

With Blue Ruin, Jeremy Saulnier made a revenge drama that had a central character unsuited to the task and in Green Room, he takes a similar approach in a thriller about a punk band fighting neo-Nazis after witnessing a murder. With opening scenes that vividly and confidently establish the band and their milieu, it quickly takes a turn and increases the tension as the band is trapped and they fight for their lives. Subverting the conventions and expectations of the thriller adds a level of uncertainty and menace as things change quickly and unpredictably. Masterful genre filmmaking that pushes and changes the contours of the thriller in exciting ways.


Two strong-willed brothers who live side-by-side in Iceland without speaking to each other for 40 years face the prospect of losing their sheep herds in Rams. With a wry sense of humour and gorgeous cinematography we see the competitive brothers in their solitary environments surrounded by the spectacular Icelandic landscape. A strong character drama that carefully introduces the people before changing things, it becomes more and more engaging as it goes on and things become more complex.


A virtuoso film with no edits, Victoria shows what is possible with a strong ensemble and crew working with a great script. Shot around Berlin before dawn and into the early morning, it's a two hour plus roller coaster of a film that follows a woman (in a marathon performance from Laia Costa) as she meets a man (played by Frederick Lau) and becomes involved in a robbery. Brilliantly paced with a perfect balance between character-driven scenes and action, it's an immerse experience with the technique and cinematography perfectly suited to the story and never becoming a distraction. A singular cinematic achievement.

Day 8 - Atlantic Film Festival 2015

Chris Campbell

Alia Shawkat and Anton Yelchin in Green Room

In the midst of a cold and with the final day of the 35th Atlantic Film Festival before me, I was able to take my time, fortify myself with oatmeal and coffee and drive in to the city a little bit later for more films. With a great documentary in the morning and a thriller to finishing things off with shorts in the middle, it was a fun end to a festival that had many highlights.

Ninth Floor

When I first heard that Mina Shum was making a documentary about the Sir George Williams Event for the NFB and produced by Selwyn Jacob, I was intrigued. Shum makes great character-based dramas and moving into documentary was sure to be something interesting and Ninth Floor was. Carefully setting up the context with archival footage and staging the interviews in a visually interesting way with stylized angles and screens, the film never loses sight that every story is about people. With beautiful shots of Montreal and the subjects of the film exploring the architecture of 1960s Montreal, it's a visually lush film about racism, prejudice, and the struggle for rights. It's powerful, important, and moving and one of my favourite documentaries of the year.

With my focus on feature dramas this year it became obvious on the final day of the festival that if I was going to see more shorts I needed to dive in, so I went for it with two of the Canada and the World programs in the final evening which was a good choice.

Shorts Canada and the World 3

A more experimental and intense program at times with an understated introduction by Greg Jackson and filmmaker Darcy Van Poelgeest introducing his short The Orchard. From a noisy and ambitious Russian film called The Noise, the enigmatic The Test, the tense crime short The Orchard, the funny Open 24 Hours, the post-apocalyptic Eva, the surreal Unknown Unknown, it was a program a bit more on the edge which was just right for me.

Shorts Canada and the World 4

A program that featured stunning animation and understated drama, the fourth shorts program was introduced by Jessica Murwin who brought up filmmaker Matthew Rankin whose Mynarski Death Plummet was a highlight of the collection of shorts. The stop-motion animation Indigo was a beautiful hand-crafted animation inspired by First Nations stories with a spider constructed out of gears and metal and beautiful, flowing cloth around the heroine. 1000 Plateaus (2004 - 2014) was a stunning, colourful hand-scratched abstract animation created by Steven Woloshen in the front seat of his car over a decade. Partiu followed partying teens in Brazil on a late night filled with tragedy. Crazy House featured another strong performance from Connor Jessup in a stylized look at love and loss. The Québécois dramas Plage de Sable and Chelem featured young women and men dealing with each other in beautifully shot, impressionistic films. Mynarski Death Plummet was a full-screen historical celluloid animation with stylized colourful patterns in an intense recreation of the last minutes of the life of a World War II hero.

Green Room

The final film of the festival and my final film seen was Jeremy Saulnier's Green Room which rescheduled from earlier in the week. The only other film by Saulnier that I'd seen was Blue Ruin which is a mournful and intense revenge drama that constantly subverted expectations. With Green Room he boldly establishes the world of the characters with gorgeous overhead landscape shots and intimate close-up. Shot by Sean Porter (who also was cinematographer of Kumiko, The Treasure Hunter) and edited with a bold and precise style by Julia Bloch (who cut Blue Ruin as well), it shows the characters before becoming more and more intense. With horrific violence and constantly shifting situations that subvert the expectations of a thriller, it's gripping entertainment done with precision and dark sense of humour.

Feeling good about the films, but in the midst of a cold and sleep deprivation, I skipped the final party to head home. What a great day and a great festival it was, thanks again to the wonderful folks at the Atlantic Film Festival who once again brought the world of cinema to Halifax for us to enjoy.

Day 7 - Atlantic Film Festival 2015

Chris Campbell

Jesuthasan Antonythasan in Dheepan

Jesuthasan Antonythasan in Dheepan

The penultimate day of the 35th Atlantic Film Festival was also the longest day of the film festival for me with an early start and being able to make it to 4 screenings. From a political comedy from Quebec to a Japanese master to a French auteur and a German experimenter, it was another fascinating cinematic day. A festival is complex and large and we're so lucky to have the Atlantic Film Festival which is thanks to a dedicated staff and volunteers who manage the moving parts in rapidly changing situations so we can be transfixed by cinema for 8 days.

My Internship in Canada (Guibord s'en va-t-en guerre)

From the first frame I was enjoying this with a old map of Canada on a wall and a faux-serious disclaimer. The camera glides in, revealing the location of the story in northern Québec helpfully indicated by a finger that moves into the frame and then slowly moves out. This establishes the tone and with skillful visual storytelling Philippe Falardeau introduces the main character, the independent MP for Prescott-Makadew à Rapides-aux-Outardes, a former hockey star and local hero. Our entry to the story is through Souverain, an idealistic Haitian intern who becomes Guibord's assistant. The MP is faced with a deadlocked parliament and a bill before the House of Commons about Canada going to war with Guibord holding the deciding vote. It's a razor-sharp satire with a thread of idealism running through it. Unexpectedly the film has some gorgeous cinematography of northern Quebec as the MP travels around the riding to consult with constituents. Great fun and timely as well.

Our Little Sister

In his introduction, festival programming director Jason Beaudry aptly set up Our Little Sister as a bit like Ozu adapting Little Women, and it was a great comparison. Using Ozu's carefully composed frames with faces in the centre and a slightly lowered camera position, the story of 3 sisters who live together and discover a fourth sister is the type of family melodrama that Koreeda embraces and excels at. Beginning with a funeral for their absent father, the empty space in the frames is filled with the absent characters. Koreeda fascinatingly adds a dynamism to the frames by always having the camera gently moving, not altering the frame, but moving slightly, almost imperceptibly. It's a film filled with memories and food with patterns and repetition as we see the relationships and how the characters relate to each other.


One of France's most confident filmmakers who tells stories of people on the margins of society, with Dheepan, Jacques Audiard reworks elements of his other films into something a bit different and new. As with his other films there is an element of crime in France and people who don't fit into that world. But with Dheepan it's about a family that is a lie with three refugees from Sri Lanka who pretend to be a family in order to escape from their homes where they have lost their families. With nuanced and complex performances from Jesuthasan Antonythasan (in his second film) and Kalieaswari Srinivasan (in her first) as the couple, the use of actors that aren't recognizable adds another level to the film.

Thematically similar (and with a great homage through one shot) to Mathieu Kassovitz's brilliant La Haine (who acted in Audiard's A Self-Made Hero) also set in the housing projects outside of Paris, it's vital and beautiful. Along with the largely unknown cast, Audiard also boldly chose Éponine Momenceau as his cinematographer after seeing a short film she shot. An impressive feature debut for Momenceau, she creates some gorgeous lighting and memorable images for Audiard. Told efficiently and in an impressionistic style, it's visual and beautiful, moving in unexpected ways that are surprising, but inevitable. Audiard is a master stylist and the Palme d'Or that it won this year was well-deserved.

Every Thing Will Be Fine

An interesting exercise in 3D from Wim Wenders that uses locations in Quebec effectively, but hampered by a simplistic script and leaden performances, Every Thing Will Be Fine is an oddity. Without the 3D I'm not sure if it would work on any level, and I don't know what was going on, but there is a deliberate, slow pace to the film that had to have been intentional. But it didn't work for me and while immersed in the physical space of the film, there is never any depth added by the characters or the dialogue.

While I'm tired and had a bit of disappointment with one film, overall it's been a great festival with another day that will be sure to have some more great films as this celebration of stories on screen moves towards the conclusion.

Day 6 - Atlantic Film Festival 2015

Chris Campbell

Paul Doucet in Early Winter

Paul Doucet in Early Winter

In the midst of a cold, the soothing balm of great cinema makes everything much better and on day 6 of the festival I was still coasting from the visions of the previous day. Taking it a bit easier I only went to two films, but having a bit more time to sleep and reflect was a good thing to build up energy for the final push with a couple of packed days still to go in the Atlantic Film Festival.

She's Beautiful When She's Angry

A solid documentary with a conventional approach and a vital and important topic, which is the history of the women's movement in America from the late 60s to early 70s. Interviewing key members of the movement and making connections between the other social justice movements at the time, it's a powerful reminder that rights are fought for and that things today may not be as different as it seems. Progress is incremental and hard-fought, and remembering our history is critical so we do not repeat the mistakes of the past.

Early Winter

A small, but engaged audience saw what I believe was the Canadian premiere of Australian director Michael Rowe's Early Winter. The Canadian / Australian coproduction stars Suzanne Clément (who is consistently bold and remarkable as an actor) and Paul Doucet as a couple in a marriage that isn't working. (Clément and Doucet take different comedic roles in the Québec comedy My Internship in Canada also playing in the festival this year). In Early Winter Rowe locks down the camera with long takes that confine the actors to the frame as they are trapped by their lives. Beginning with a relatively explicit sex scene that encapsulates many of the problems in their relationship, it deliberately reveals the details of their lives, relationships, and history through subtle gestures and sparse dialogue. Using natural light and precise framing, there are some fantastic shots where we can see both characters, but they can't see each other and we see the reactions between them with a different perspective. Great drama with a different approach that is powerful and effective in a quiet way.

While watching Early Winter I thought about some of the amazing cinematography that has been on display at the festival this year. Many films are shot in low light and in changing lighting conditions with technology making some incredible images possible. From the lower-budget Fire Song to Early Winter to Into the Forest to Rams to Cemetery of Splendour to Victoria, they're using small amounts of light to push the limits of filmmaking. This is a great time for cinema when artists use technology and tools to expand the world of storytelling.