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Wolfville, Nova Scotia


CLMOOC 2016: An Introduction to Me

Chris Campbell

Trying to figure out what to do with CLMOOC is a challenge each time (here is how I started in 2015 and how I began in 2014. The easiest thing for me to is to write. It's a muscle that I exercise every day and I enjoy the practice and creating things by arranging words. The key is to get things done and to move on to the next thing without spending too much time getting caught up in what you are going to do. The key is to learn and connect, so that is what I will do.

I'm Chris Campbell and I teach at the Nova Scotia Community College in the Screen Arts program. My usual job is to help people make films with my focus mainly on the producing and postproduction aspects of making films. It's been a challenging year for the film industry in Nova Scotia with the important tax credit program dramatically reduced by the provincial government and a number of people leaving the province for work elsewhere as things shrunk. I was glad to be granted a year-long learning leave which gave me the opportunity to reconnect with the film industry, colleagues, graduates as well as to work on a number of films.

For the first time in long time (decades, actually) I wasn't teaching in a classroom in the fall. It was a strange feeling and every day I had the sense that I'd slept in or missed something. Setting my own schedule and filling my day with research and connecting with filmmakers has been a remarkable experience. It was also an opportunity to reflect on teaching without the daily pressure of being in the classroom and to exercise some other muscles without the structure of the semester or the daily commute (which is 100 km each way).

I was able to more deeply engage with the Atlantic Film Festival in Halifax in September of 2015 with a guide to the festival and daily reviews (Day 1, Day 2, Day 3, Day 4, Day 5, Day 6, Day 7, and Day 8) of pretty much everything I watched and a summary of the best of the festival. There were a lot of films to see and in the cycle that I established of watching and reviewing it was a more intense experience that left a more public record of my experience and allowed me to connect more with other people at the festival too.

I presented at the BlogJam conference in Halifax where I reflected on 13 years of blogging. It was a great one-day conference filled with creative people sharing their love of blogging. It was inspiring and energizing.

With the Silver Wave Film Festival in Fredericton, New Brunswick I dove in completely as one of the programmers to help choose films for the festival. I was able to spend a few weeks working in the office preparing for the festival and during the festival to organize and help filmmakers get their work seen and to allow the public to share the love of film. Working with friends at the NB Filmmakers Co-op was a reconnection with where I started making films as well as teaching workshops which gave me valuable experience before I became a full-time teacher.

At the summit of Mount Carleton

I biked and walked a lot (with over 1400 kms of biking this season so far) as I was able to establish a nice routine with morning writing and work with getting outside part of every day. There was a lot less driving which I appreciate so much. There is a lot that you miss in a commute every day. With control of my own schedule I was also able to take a few trips and was able to take short excursions through New England (with stops in Vermont, Western Massachusetts, and Maine) and to hike up a couple of mountains in New Brunswick.

With the time saved from not commuting I was also able to cook a lot more and be healthier with the food that I cooked. My bread baking moved to the next level as I made some sourdough starter from scratch and started baking things with it. It's a lot more work to make bread in a more traditional way, but it tastes great and I enjoy the process. There is a sequence of steps that you follow all while paying attention to the details. An interaction between what you need to do every time and watching what happens as things progress. That's what teaching in and that's one of the best things to happen during my learning leave in having the opportunity to take a bit of time and be a bit more present to see what is around me and how things change and grow.

The Films of Arnaud Desplechin

Chris Campbell

Arnaud Desplechin creates complex, intellectual films that have a strong emotional core. They have melodramatic elements and are elaborately written, directed, and acted. They are films for cinephiles filled with other cinematic references, a collection of familiar creative partners, and increasingly honing the techniques and approaches as his career has progressed.

The first film that I saw was Kings and Queen which is probably his most intimidating film. I read a review on Salon that said it was "an emotional blockbuster" and in seeing the film it introduced me to his work (as well as Emmanuelle Devos and Mathieu Amalric). It is an amazing film and I loved it all for the messiness and complexity surrounding some remarkable performances. At the core of the film are the relationships, but the main character played by Devos is an unreliable narrator and as the film goes on what she says and what we see diverge more. Amalric's character lacks self-awareness and causes chaos to those around him. The sprawling and dysfunctional relationships are shown with their own peculiar secrets.

Desplechin uses a cinematic and beautiful technique with a letter written by one character read by the actor who looks directly at the camera. (He also does this in My Sex Life... Or How I Got Into an Argument, A Christmas Tale, and Jimmy P.) He is also deeply in love with cinema with references to other films throughout his own films (as well as scenes of characters watching films). Musically he uses the theme from Breakfast at Tiffany's in Kings and Queen while for a sequence in A Christmas Tale he uses the score from Vertigo to accompany a scene that is an homage to a similar scene in Hitchcock's film.

There are ghosts and dreams and visions throughout his films. In Kings and Queen a dead character appears in a dream and then reminsces about his life with the main character and then we go in to a flashback (or is it another dream?) which is a bit at odds with the other stories and glimpses of what happened. This pattern of memories, stories, and dreams weaves through other films by Desplechin as well. An earlier version shows up in My Sex Life... Or How I Got Into an Argument (which also serves as an homage to Bergman's Wild Strawberries) with Mathieu Amalric's character of Paul Dédalus in a therapy session remembering his childhood. Then we see the present day Dédalus watching the younger version of himself.

In A Christmas Tale there is a younger character named Paul Dédalus who has a vision of a black dog moving through the house. (This Dédalus is the son of the Vuillard sister Elizabeth and Claude Dédalus). Several other names reappear in multiple films with the surname Vuillard in both Kings and Queen (including the character Abel Vuillard of Roubaix). Abel is played by the same actor (Jean-Paul Roussillon) and is Amalric's father in Kings and Queen (where he runs a convenience store) as well as in A Christmas Tale (where he dyes fabric). A father with a fabric dying business shows up My Sex Life... Or How I Got Into an Argument as well. Names such as Ivan, Simon, and Sylvia also appear in several films with slightly different family connections.

With A Christmas Tale Desplechin created the story of a large dysfunctional family told in a novellistic way. While in earlier films like My Sex Life... Or How I Got Into an Argument the sprawl distracted from the story, with A Christmas Tale he gets the balance right and adds a warmth to the story brought by the perfectly-balanced cast. It's one of my favourite films and features playful techniques along with some darkness and serious drama while assembling his usual team with many actors he worked with before.

The obsession with continuity in superhero franchises is missing here, but names and situations, characters and actors, relations and relationships, techniques and themes come up to echo and refract throughout Desplechin's work. Born in Roubaix, France, he has set one film there, and there are scenes and references to it in several of his films as well as other autobiographical elements. He even made a documentary about the selling of the ancestral family home. He constructs a loose cinematic universe growing out his background and cinematic influences.

He's an intellectual director who combines ideas on several levels with it working brilliantly at times and other times seeming a bit strained. Emmanuelle Devos is in all of his dramas (with the notable exceptions of Playing 'In the Company of Men', Jimmy P., and My Golden Years). Mathieu Amalric first appeared as a minor character in The Sentinel (a strange semi-thriller that touches on some of the family drama that dominates Desplechin's later films), and then in My Sex Life... Or How I Got Into an Argument with a great chemistry with Devos. This led to them forming the heart of Kings and Queen with great chemistry as well.

Desplechin is part of the tradition of directors who value and work with the same actors often. The tension between Catherine Deneuve's psychiatric doctor in Kings and Queen and Amalric's character was probably a factor in her casting as Amalric's mother in A Christmas Tale where the two characters share a deep hatred of one another. The intense relationships between characters seems to be one of the things that is often explored by Desplechin and at the heart of what he thinks we take from films.

His more obscure film (and first in English) Esther Kahn (with a bold performance from Summer Phoenix and Ian Holm as an actor who teaches Phoenix) is an adaptation of an English story from the turn of the century. The film is a bit muddled, but the scenes between Holm and Phoenix are remarkable and serve as a condensed master class in the art of acting as Holm's character breaks down what it means to act for an actor and the audience. It also features a more explicit homage to Bergman's Wild Strawberries with a dream sequence that mirrors one from Bergman's original.

Therapists and psychoanalysis are also frequent and recurring themes with extracts from George Devereux's book Reality and Dream: Psychotherapy of a Plains Indian appearing in Kings and Queen (as well as Amalric's therapist's name being Devereux). We see Amalric in therapy in My Sex Life... Or How I Got Into an Argument, Kings and Queen, and A Christmas Tale. Later he plays psychoanalyst George Devereux in Jimmy P.: Psychotherapy of a Plains Indian in an adaptation of Devereux's book. Jimmy P. has memorable scenes where Jimmy (played by Benicio del Toro) describes dreams and Devereux is shown with Jimmy in his dream, watching while listening to the description.

Through the work of Desplechin I've been introduced to some of my favourite actors (Mathieu Amalric and Emmanuel Devos) as well as enjoying elements I love within French cinema. He creates new films that feel familiar and he tries a few different things each time. While it all may not work, it's always worth the effort with some memorable scenes and powerful stories that make me think about why I love watching films.

How I Watched Films in 2015

Chris Campbell

Films watched grouped in a word cloud generated from Jason Davies' site.

The days of physical media are going away. As I look through the data of how I watched films over the past few years it's clear that the future is digital and streaming. I buy hardly any DVDs now and my preferred way of owning films is now through iTunes. Most films that I watched last year were on Netflix with iTunes second. DVDs were the fifth most popular way I watched films last year, after streaming service MUBI and Turner Classic Movies on TV.

Atlantic Film Festival 23
Carbon Arc 1
Cineplex Rental 3
Crave TV 2
Download 5
Drive-in 1
DVD 52
iTunes 88
Netflix 112
No Budge 1
Reelhouse 1
Shout Factory TV 3
Silver Wave Film Festival 2
Turner Classic Movies 62
Theatre 35
Vimeo 24
YouTube 13

Last year I watched more films than I ever had in one year (512 films up from 438 the year before). The most popular screen for viewing things in the past year was my TV (with the Apple TV, a DVD player, and DVR hooked up to it), then my MacBook Pro followed by a big screen in a theatre or at a film festival. I used my iPad less for watching films (in 2014 I watched 96 films on it and in 2015 watched 51) and my MacBook Pro more (in 2014 I watched 18 films on it and in 2015 watched 148) probably due to the fact that my iPad (which I got in 2012) is older and a bit slower now (mainly for iTunes stuff since it's only a 16 GB iPad).

TV 178
MacBook Pro 148
Theatre or Festival 62
iPad 51

The data for this comes from Letterboxd and Your Flowing Data. With Letterboxd I log every film and try to write at least a short review for each film as well as tagging the films with where I got them from. With Your Flowing Data I also record the film along with a few more tags with the screens. I'm thinking that maybe I should simplify things a bit more and start adding more tags to my Letterboxd diary so I can crunch all the data there.

In terms of content my top five genres (according to Letterboxd) were Drama (266 films), Comedy (127 films), Thriller (84 films), Documentary (74 films), and Romance (58 films). This is mostly the same as last year with Documentary ahead of Thriller in 2014. In terms of the split between new films and rewatching films most of the films I watched were new with 64% of them films I hadn't seen before. My most watched director was Agnes Varda with 17 films, followed by Chantal Akerman with 10 films, and Claire Denis with 9.

The other effort I made in 2015 was to watch more films directed by women which resulted in me watching 143 different films by women (I watched some of them more than once). Late in the year I joined the 52 Films by Women project and starting picking a film a week to highlight (and I have a Letterboxd list of my 52 Films by Women). This is probably why the top three directors from last year are all women and I hope that I continue the trend into this year. As I write this I've watched 164 films with 59 of the films directed by women, so the pace is better than last year, but it would be good to keep going with the project. It's resulted in me watching better films which is a good thing as well as making me aware of directors who I hadn't watched before too.

In thinking about the data that I collect one of the other things that becomes interesting to me are the other patterns that can emerge if you dig a bit deeper in the data. Films directed by women is one part of that. Other things could be to look at the people who write the films, which films had the same cinematographer or editor. I'm hoping that Letterboxd publicly releases their API soon or makes other tools available to examine those data points with the films watched. I check my Year In Review page to see what patterns are there (and I added historical data from other sites and notebooks to have nine years of film logging on the site) and that is an influence on what I watch as well.

By thinking about the quantity and quality of what we watch, it can help to expand what we see and how we view things. There are so many films and so little time that it can help to have a method in diving in to the world of cinema to make the journey more enjoyable.

24 Years of Vegetarianism

Chris Campbell

I became a vegetarian 24 years ago. It's not a milestone that I usually celebrate, but that's a long time to stick with something and it is also a good opportunity to reflect on what it means to me and how what I eat has changed over the past few decades. The dining options for vegetarians and vegans are a lot more plentiful now with vegetarian food available at most grocery stores and restaurants. With the large number of cooking web sites (and apps) it's also possible to quickly find great recipes for cooking too.

My vegetarianism grew out of discussions (often over meals) with my good friend Errol Williams as we were working together on films and video projects. Errol was vegetarian and we often would go out and eat and that usually involved figuring out which restaurants had good vegetarian choices. As I thought about what I ate more and where my food came from I decided I didn't want to eat animals any more, so on March 11, 1992 I stopped eating meat. Becoming vegan was in my mind, but my love of cheese and eggs kept me away from that.

At first it was a challenge as the routines of eating, cooking, and what you order at restaurants becomes a habit you barely notice. One of my favourite fast food meals was a bacon cheeseburger at Wendy's, so that was off the list of possibilities right away. For many years I did substitution with veggie burgers (and I was so glad that Harvey's had a solid veggie burger option), veggie dogs, veggie bacon, and veggie ground round. So the diet was similar to before with a lot of tofu. Bread and cheese also were part of my regular diet as well.

One staple of my earlier vegetarian diet grew out of a fantastic cookbook, The Well-Filled Tortilla, with their recipe for black beans. It's something that I've been cooking using the same recipe for over 20 years (along with their method for fried potatoes). While that has been part of what I've cooked for a long time, the rest of what I ate wasn't always that healthy (pasta and cheese and bread and fake meat products were the staple of my diet). Then a few years ago I started biking which made me feel better and then I started cooking more.

This came together even more in the last few years when I started to take more of an interest in my health and the great local produce around me in the Annapolis Valley. Signing up for a CSA box filled with local organic food was amazing. So much good food all grown within minutes of where I lived made me see the area around me differently. Now I'm not part of a CSA, but buy mostly local stuff at the farmers market or local markets (and the grocery stores now feature much local produce as well). So many of the meals that I now make include mostly local ingredients (I can get local tofu, eggs, milk, wheat, and beer easily).

The addition of a rice cooker (thanks to Roger Ebert's blog post The Pot and How to Use It and book of the same name) made cooking rice easier and my morning routine changed to cook oatmeal in the rice cooker which I have every weekday along with some local yogurt. Now there is a lot less processed food in my diet and there is a lot more cooking happening. Getting the book Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day got me started on baking bread which lead to also using the dough for pizza and buns. My favourite source for vegetarian recipes now is the wonderful Minimalist Baker which is overflowing with vegan and delicious recipes that are easy to make.

Now I eagerly prepare meals and look for local ingredients whenever possible. With an improved diet and being more active (walking every day and biking in the warmer months) I've been able to lose a bit of weight and I feel a lot better. Taking the time to cook and eat is a lot of fun and I'm glad that it's easy to combine that with being a vegetarian as well.

What I'm Tracking in 2016

Chris Campbell

Time for an update on what parts of myself get quantified and recorded this year. Last year I went through what I was tracking, so this year it’s similar and a bit simpler. There are a lot of things recorded[1], and for some reason I find it comforting to have the data and the ability to go back and see what is happening and if there is progress.

The biggest change in the universe of quantifying my data was buying a Withings Smart Body Analyzer. It was something that I wanted to have for a while and when I saw I could get one on sale I took the plunge. It’s a beautifully designed device that is subtle and simplifies the morning routine. Last year I recorded weight using the scale function of my Wii Fit, which involved setting up the balance board, starting the Wii, and running Wii Fit which took a bit of time. Now I just hop on the scale and get weighed (as well as having my heart rate and fat mass recorded).

My Fitbit One is still the way to capture steps and sleep. It’s with me all the time and it’s a good way to track calories burned throughout the day. The Fitbit app on my phone collects the data, but I’m doing stuff with the data using other apps and sites. Each day when going for a walk I record the workout, but I may switch to doing that with another app. I do like getting the updates and prompts from Fitbit as well as the badges when reaching certain milestones.

When it is bike riding season I’ll continue to use my Polar H7 Bluetooth Smart Heart Rate Sensor to track my heart rate while biking[2]. I’ve used it a bit when exercising inside on the elliptical and will probably keep doing that to more accurately track the calories burned. But I haven’t settled on an app for collecting that data, but I may use my favourite biking app, Cyclemeter for all my workouts whether they are on a bike or not. On my bike I have a Wahoo Blue SC Speed and Cadence Sensor that collects riding data.

Aside for the automatic recording of data, there is a lot of stuff that gets entered manually and the Reporter app is the first thing I check in to in the morning and the last thing I do at night. It randomly prompts me to answer questions (there are now 11). The app also collects data about the ambient levels of sound, location, weather, steps, and photos taken.

On my MacBook Pro and iPhone the Audioscrobbler app keeps track of things I’ve listened to by sending the data to The music data is sometimes incomplete as I’ve been using Apple Music and unless I add something to my library, it isn’t scrobbled.

RescueTime keeps track of what I do on my MacBook Pro to monitor when I’m productive and not. It’s a good way to see how you’ve been spending time on different sites and within different apps.

The Exist app ties in with the excellent site from Hello Code that assembles a lot of the data collected to keep me on track for steps (with a wonderful way of setting goals based on average steps) and with mood (along with some notes I write for each day). The wonderful thing about Exist on my phone is that I check the steps goal throughout the day and while on my FitBit I keep my goal set at 10,000 steps, the changing step goal every day pushes me to walk and move more.

I check in to places I’ve been using Foursquare’s Swarm app. It’s a good way to remind me where I’ve been and like many of the things that I use, it’s become a habit that almost disappears.

Lifesum keeps me on track with diet and exercise so I will record the food that I eat and it automatically pulls in my weight from Withings and steps from Fitbit. In addition to the food and drink that gets recorded there, I also use Cortado to record the coffee that I drink and Untappd to record the beer that I drink.

To create a daily summary as a diary entry in Day One, I use the Sifttter script from Craig Eley to create the entry by combining information from a variety of sources. To make this possible there are a number of IFTTT recipes set up that grab information from sites to create entries in a Dropbox folder. Now I bring in stuff from Twitter, Foursquare, Withings, Fitbit, Untappd, Letterboxd,, Pinboard, and Goodreads so I can remember what I’ve tweeted, where I’ve been, what I weigh, what I drank, what I watched, what I’ve read, and what I’ve listened to.

While I’m on a Learning Leave[3] I have more time each morning, so I’ve been able to reestablish my routine of writing every morning and the best way to get that done is through the site 750 Words. The discipline of needing to meet the goal and to maintain streaks is great, so every day starts with writing my short film reviews as well as the first drafts of blog posts or any other writing that I need to do. They start in 750 Words and then move over to Byword for blog posts or to NVAlt for notes or Day One for diary entries.

For recording the films that I watch I’ve committed to Letterboxd now. It’s the definitive place where I track every film and it’s manual, so each film is found, recorded, and rated. Last year I made an effort to at least write a short review of every film watched to help me remember them. This grew out of rediscovering the reviews I wrote on the now defunct site All Consuming[4] and reposting them to Letterboxd. I added hundreds of older reviews to Letterboxd which also created data on the films that I watched back to 2007.

As a bit of a backup I am still using Your Flowing Data to keep track of films [5] and beer [6]. With Your Flowing Data I just send a tweet (sent from the excellent iOS app Drafts) to record the film or beer. In the past I was recording oatmeal and coffee, but I’ve stopped that since I pretty much have oatmeal every day and that data isn’t interesting.

One more human and positive analytical tools that I use is ThinkUp which analyzes Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram posts for insight. The great thing about ThinkUp is that it is built with positivity in mind and gently pushes you to interact with people in healthier ways. Instead of focussing on increasing the number of followers it shifts your attention to the quality of the interactions you have on social media which can form deeper connections with the people out there on the other side of your screen.

Keeping track of so many things helps me see trends and to remember things. The great thing is that it keeps me focussed on staying active and doing things every day. It’s good to have a routine and little reminders that keep you healthy. It’s also nice to look back and reflect on how things change over time.

  1. probably way too much  ↩

  2. Which I also use on my exercise bike  ↩

  3. What the Nova Scotia Community College calls a sabbatical.  ↩

  4. A great site that allowed you to record and review films, books, and music that you were consuming.  ↩

  5. what screens and which theatre I viewed them on  ↩

  6. which specific beers I consume  ↩