All entries for November 2007

November 30, 2007

Facebook and Social Networking

Facebook and Social Networking


At the beginning of this week when doing an introduction to the New Media Technologies Unit for OCR I asked a class of about 24 AS media students how many of them used social networking sites, almost all used one. It seems clear that this is very much a generational phenomena and one can expect these current users to be users in 10 or 15 years time. For them it is a normal means of communication whilst for older people including many parents, teachers and lecturers it isn't a normal means of communication. 

That social networking isn't seen as a normal means of communication and one that is growing in importance is problematic for many educational institutions. Many of their networks have a total block on the system. It is even difficult for students to research specific sites because as soon as they put a search term such as Facebook into the search engine then there is an automatic block set up.  Lecturers must now create resources to be viewed remotely from the institution.  For those of us working in the media and communications arenas this is making things particularly awkward and this is a case of a combination of technologies combined with cultural desires which are outstripping the abilities of older institutions to adapt quickly enough. Those teaching on A level media courses will have by now have noticed that the new specifications on several of the exam boards are increasingly geared towards the world of 'New' Media - although nowadays it isn't so new. This is shown by the fact that large and even giant media institutions are taking stakes in these emergent areas. Below I start to look at some of the issues which are arising as these "new" areas of media are becoming subsumed into conventional media channels albeit creating new and emerging models of audience and profit creating from those of 'old media'. Rest assured the main issue of profitability is not under any threat!

From an educational perspective it is now extremely important that colleges and schools work towards opening up their networks to social networking sites. With parents often being entirely ignorant of the dangers as well as the enormous potential of these sites lecturers and teachers need to start coming to terms with the implications of them. It is far better to learn about these things in a moderated and supported environment than to allow students to participate in ignorance. That is a recipe for danger and disaster for the more naive. This issue is covered briefly below. 

Media Institutions: Who owns it & what do they get out of it?

When dealing with media institutions whether in the world of 'old' or 'new' media one of the first things to get students to ask is "Who owns it?", "What do they get out of it". 

Rupert Murdoch  was as usual ahead of the game and incidently must be considered as a media entrepreneur still at the top of his game as he invested heavily - to much derision from competitors and media critics - in the social networking site MySpace. I don't think many will be laughing now, being a bright shade of green instead!

Google followed this lead about a year later with the acquisition of YouTube. This acquisition although worth $1.65 Billion was mainly done through a stock deal and not by cash! The owners of YouTube being rewarded with Google shares which have seen a  steady increment in value. google are still working on a way to 'monetise' of create YouTube as a profitable enterprise, however I'm sure they will crack it in time and in the meantime they have brought into a huge and growing audience.

The new Kid on the block is Facebook. Started by a Harvard graduate its initial audience was largely University students and younger lecturers however it is in the process of expanding exponentially. You will find architectural celebrity Zaha Hadid on Facebook for example. The success of Facebook has created interest from megacorporation Microsoft  who have bought into the company. This is another step in Microsoft's shift into a horizontally integrated company in a multimedia environment gradually turning from a software company into a mutli-media comany.  Apple are doing  a similar thing and this process will be covered elsewhere in due course. A BBC report from October 2007 notes Microsoft's move into the market:

Microsoft has paid $240m (£117m) for a 1.6% stake in Facebook that values the hugely popular social networking site at $15bn (£7.3bn).

BBC Video of Facebook founder.

Audiences & Social Networking

Facebook Screen

Facebook allows you to create a profile of "Friends". As the number of friends is available is virtually infinite this might mean that more precise definitions of 'Friends' is required. Friends and acquaintances network anybody?

Some key facts about Facebook from 2006 below. Writing now at the end of 2007 rest assured it has a considerably larger membership as well as having Microsoft as an important investor. 

  • Founded as an online social directory by Mark Zuckerberg in 2004

  • 7.5m people registered

  • Seventh most popular website in US

  • "Facebooking": checking someone's Facebook profile before meeting them

  • "Facebook official": really going out together

The website works around individual institutions. So if you don't have an e-mail account from the University of Oxford, you don't get into the Facebook for students at Oxford.(This BBC story posted in June 2006 gives us a sense of the recent history of the social networking site). 

Recent figures on Facebook usage  from The Times Online

Facebook is now the clear No 2 worldwide, with around 50 million active users, just below half of MySpace’s level. A year ago Facebook, which began life as a networking site for American students founded by Mark Zuckerberg, a college drop-out, had 12 million active users. The growth allowed it to raise $240 million (£117 million) from Microsoft, based on a company valuation of $15 billion.(My emphasis figures from the Times 13th December 2007)

As the Times article points out the audiences for Facebook have in the past been primarily amongst students however as the stories below (Aug & Sept 2007) indicate, Facebook appears to be moving into a new phase of expansion.

Kent Council Workers are banned from Facebook:

Workers at Kent County Council (KCC) have been banned from using the social networking website Facebook.

Certainly social networking sites have become popular at work. Use of the internet for non-working activities is on the increase. As a result institutional networks are become more controlling in terms of who is allowed access. Whilst we can criticise the NHS workers for wasting taxpayer money and not doing thier best for patients  this story  from  the BBC on Kent NHS highlights the popularity of these sites amongst adults as well as students and provides a clue about how the phenomenon of social networking is spreading. It isn't clear how far this is intergenerational from this story. 

Facebook and New Social Movement Theory

Social networks can be used as powerful cultural and socio-political tools. This story from the BBC points out how students organising via Facebook managed to change the policy of HSBC one of the World's largest banks and a player on a global scale:

Students putting pressure on bank

Instead of using leaflets and loud-hailers, this student protest is gathering support through Facebook, with the Stop The Great HSBC Graduate Rip-Off group so far acquiring almost 3,500 members - an increase of about 1,000 since the weekend. (Taken from story linked above August 2007).

Social networking and the ability to mobilise sentiment possibly at a global level in a viral form leaves the possibility of new highly fluid political movements which are extraordinarily dynamic. With climate change increasingly dominating the global political agenda it will be intersting to see whether and  how social networking sites are able to mobilise and utilise people's sentiments in entirely new ways with limited objectives being applied at any given moment. This means that new chapters will need to be written in the social theory of New Social Movement theory and Resource Mobilisation theory. 

The IDRC (International Development Research  Centre) has a useful but heavyweight summation of these theories here. The Wikipedia explanation is briefer but still helpful.

This Guardian Blog suggests that there is a dark side to the political activity on Facebook with the British National Party becoming involved in a big way. It certainly attracted some BNP supporters in the comments box too!

Here's an extract from the Open Democracy site. It seems to think that there needs to be a 'civic hacking' application. Perhaps the social networking sites are this application... 

So, a sensible strategy would start on this principle. But the people it should be connecting are not citizens and parliamentarians, or voters and civil servants. It should be connecting ordinary people with other ordinary people. And there should be applications that help these people to help each other. A programme supporting civic hacking can do this.

This should become the ethic of e-democracy: mutual-aid and self-help among citizens, helping to overcome civic problems. It would encourage a market in application development. It would encourage self-reliance, or community-reliance, rather than reliance on the state.

Facebook and Cultural Studies Research

The phenomenon of Facebook and social networking in general is becoming so widespread in advanced industrial countries that it is beginning to become an importan area of cultural and social research. The comments below from this Nottingham 3rd Year student doing Geography (presumably Human Geography are indicative in this regard:

Facebook has become a phenomenon at Nottingham University, so much so that I've decided to do my geography dissertation on it. Am in the process of just starting, and was worried that Facebook would just be a fad and my dissertation would be left high and dry, but it looks set to stay. Let's just hope I get to talk to the right people concerning it.
Sally, Nottingham
( Comment left on this BBC story)

How Dangerous are Social Networking Sites?

One of the key issues surrounding social networking sites is the rank naivety by allowing oneself to be recorded in a 'candid' situation. This BBC story makes it clear that there are dangers that potential employers can search for applicants on the web. This can lead to severe set backs for some people and raises the issue of changing models of social surveillance:

Here is a link to the Information Comissioner's Office (ICO) dealing with protection for young people. The ICO  is an important regulatory institution which has recently developed to deal with data protection and the rapidly increasing social and cultural moves into Networked Society. In the Webliography there is also a link to the ICO's data safety 'toolkit' which is a PDF that social networkers should consult carefully.
This BBC story below about Oxford University using Facebook as a surveillance tool to identify unruly behaviour amongst its students also shows that these new media tools are 'double-edged'. If you are being posted up or doing it yourself beware!!!

Above the dangers of silly or even criminal behaviour being recorded and becoming used as evidence against you are highlighted. There are of course other dangers within  the social networking environment.  Moral panics aside the possibility of these sites being used to organise bullying / harrassment are possible and have been used to these ends as the screen below displays.

Facebook bullying

Facebook used to bully Librarian  

I have dicovered a useful blog which discusses the issue. In the comments box the subject of the bullying who was actually a postgraduate student provides more information about the experience. What is particularly worrying is that Facebook did NOT actually respond immediately and remove these students:

Facebook DID NOT close the group. They told the University of Kent that they did not accept complaints from institutions, only from individual members.

Of great concern as well is the continuation of the report which cites University of Warwick Students doing the same sort of thing. something that all civically conscious users of any social networking site should be doing is haranguing the site to ban those who act irresponsibly. Facebook has other criticisms to face which will be dealt with in a later posting. But it is very difficult to unsubsribe from and potential users of the site should be aware of this.

So as we can see real society is of course represented with its good and bad faces. It is up to users to self police where possible but this should be backed up by repsonsible policies from the site owners and ultimately there should be a good independent regulatory body. 

As with any other form of social networking individuals of all ages are exposed to a variety of social risks which need to be managed. Just as people need to learn to get 'streetwise' so they need to learn to get 'cyberwise'. There are always opportunities for the opportunistic and unscrupulous within any social and cultural environment. Taking sensible precautions should obviate these. 


This posting has begun to cover some of the issues associated with social networking sites with a particular focus upon Facebook. Topics have coverd social cultural and political research and usage of these sites, the 'dark side' of the sites and some initial comments on the audiences for these sites and the links to larger media instituions which are developing as the importance of these sites increases at an almost exponential rate. Some introducroy comments are also included about the need for educational institutions below university level to take a more proactive stance towards this new forms for to block them arguably leaves students at greater risk than by teaching about these environments. Furthermore responsible institutional useage in monitoring student activity on them can reduce the potential for the dark side to emerge.  


Protests force Facebook to change

Information Commissioner's Office

Information commissioner's Office (ICO) Data Safety Toolkit (PDF)

Thinkuknow Teachers and Trainers Area

BBC story on student protests against HSBC

See Can We Escape from Facebook on this blog for analysis and links to the people behind Facebook.

November 21, 2007

Broadband Usage November 2007

UK Broadband Usage Grows Inexorably....Digital Divide... Gridlock....Higher Prices are some of the Possible Outcomes: Can technology ever make us happy?

Broadband 1

The BBC technology pages report that:  

Information gathered by National Statistics (ONS) for September show that 88.4% of Britons are choosing to use broadband rather than dial-up.

This is approaching an exponential rise as in Aprill 2003 only 17% of a smaller number of users had a broadband connection.  However some members of the industry are worried that this massive rate of growth is set to flatten out dramatically. some even plead a social justice argument to ensure that the development of broadband accessibility will not flag too badly: 

"With almost 40% of British households on the wrong side of the digital divide, the social and economic progress of the UK will be stalled unless the great majority of these homes can be brought on to the internet," 

As much as anything this shows how British society has become more and more polarised along class lines despite the New Labour government now in office for over 10 year committing itself to ensuring that there would be full digital citizenship.

Perhaps there is a case for a flat-rate national license fee to be levied just as there is is with the TV license. The fact that the BBC has historically beeen able to deliver a universal service to UK citizens utilising advanced technology shows that it can be done. Of course Gordon Brown's friends in the City might be a little sceptical of this possibility, however where there's a will there's a way. Surely the point of good government is to provide universally accessible infrastructure such as roads so that the rest of the economy can thrive.

Broadband for all at an affordable price. Look what a committment to broadband has done for South Korea - they're all online gaming geeks. OK so maybe Broadband prices should go up after all  :-).  

In the US they have a more creative use for broadband than the Koreans:

Nearly 75% of US internet users watched an average of 158 minutes of online video and viewed more than 8.3bn video streams during May, according to research by measurement firm comScore.


What complexity broadband is leading too...look out for "Bytelock" a word for the future grunged up version of cybersapce. 

Netgridlock Panic

This worries many that a NetGridlock will ensue so the answer is similar to that of the argumnent about building motorways: create more capacity. Oh well at least the carbon footprint is a bit lower than car gridlock! 

The explosion in popularity of online video could lead to increases in the cost of broadband for UK consumers.

Internet services providers, such as Tiscali, say that the raft of recently launched on-demand services will "undoubtedly" congest the network.

Freeview High Definition on the Way?

Finally Freeview Looks as Though it will Deliver High Defintion TV

A brief article making sure you are aware of likely changes in the British Broadcasting environment.  

On the 20th November 2007 the Freeview consortium which includes both the BBC and Sky along with Channel 4 and Five announced that there had now been technological advances which meant that High Definition (HDTV) could be delivered through the current Freeview system without the need for more bandwidth. Previously they had been campaigning for more bandwidth which OFCOM had been unenthusiastic about.  As they had denied that it was possible that it would be impossible to do this and that they made the announcement the day before OFCOM was due to announce its future planns for Digital Terrestrial TV some people are likely to be upset reported Ben Fenton in the Financial Times:

The reversal is likely to infuriate Ofcom, which is due to publish its own proposals today for the future of digital terrestrial television - a market that includes Freeview (Fenton FT 21st Nov 2007).

November 19, 2007

Video–Games: Genres and Markets

Video-Gaming Genres


For all the hi-tech mumbo jumbo and huge investments going on in the video gaming world we are still stuck with the same old populist genres which aim to make a bit of money out of people by 'shocking them'. The story below is a typical case of wrapping the same old junk in new clothes. I'm not a fan of horror I'm afraid, who needs it in a World full of wars, genocide, malnutrition and disease as well as the usual poverty. It's exploitative rubbish but astonishingly it gains a big enough audience to keep going.  Why can't the puerile watchers of this stuff do something useful with their time? (Especially postmodernists!)

Manhunt 2

More puerile populism? An image from Manhunt 2.

Manhunt 2 was developed for the Wii and PS2 boxes. The game wasn't awarded a certificate by the BBFC (British Board of Film Censors) whose director David Cooke said:

There is sustained and cumulative casual sadism in the way in which these killings are committed, and encouraged, in the game.

A spokesperson for Rockstar the production company of Manhunt 2 as well as other controversial videogames commented: 

The adult consumers who would play this game fully understand that it is fictional interactive entertainment and nothing more.(My emphasis).

Of course for the word  "adult" read "total moron". Why is it that the most puerile or unpleasant forms of "entertainment" are described as "ADULT"? They also seem to be defined by a threatened masculinity.

The video game Manhunt 2 was rejected for its "unrelenting focus on stalking and brutal slaying", the British Board of Film Classification said.

Below we see the result of some "ADULT" activities 

The original Manhunt game caused huge controversy and was blamed for the murder of Stefan Pakeerah.

The boy was stabbed and beaten to death in Leicester in February 2004.

His parents believe the killer, Warren LeBlanc, 17, was inspired by the game.


Censors ban 'brutal' video game

Banned video game is 'fine art'

November 17, 2007

YouTube fails to create cash

YouTube Fails to Create Cash:

While doing the annual round of recruiting next year's students to the wonders of A level Media Studies  a bright eyed school student asked the obvious question when I was talking about the rapidly changing world of the internet and the $1.65 Billion acquisition of YouTube by Google - one of the World's greatest money spinners:

"But how do they make money?"

I replied that whilst Google was doing extremely well out of advertising thank you,  as far as I knew they had not found a money making model for YouTube yet. This is rather confirmed by the folowing blog posted on the FT website the following day (talk about serendipity):

“The lack of monetisation on YouTube today is astounding,” said Dennis Miller of venture capital firm Spark Capital.

“You’ve got the single best monetising machine that can’t figure out how to monetise all those eyeballs. There’s some paltry number out there for the millions of streams they serve.”

There is a but though with this fact to remember for the Audiences part of the Exam:

But while there may be dissent among the videorati of Silicon Valley, YouTube’s status in the public’s eyes is still considerable. According to Nielsen Online, YouTube was the seventh most popular brand online in the US in October with a unique audience of 57m users. (My emphasis and it is Oct 2007)

Well YouTube are promising to work how to make money out this phenomenal number of users who apparently spend 15-20 minutes on the site.

Well, perhaps it would be nicer if Google kept this as a sort of Public Service Broadcasting (Webcasting) space in cyberspace especially as Google is getting so powerful now that people will start to dislike it rather as they do Microsoft! 

November 11, 2007

17,000 Bad Teachers: Really I don't think so!

17,000 "Bad Teachers": I Don't Think So!

Why Sir Cyril Taylor is Wrong 


There is a continuous drift towards instrumentalism in education. The discourse of "skills" and task oriented achievement has almost totally displaced the thinking and values of those who support liberal notions of education.  Every time I hear the word 'skills' I cringe, not that we shouldn't have them of course. Skills that education should be fostering are those of analysis, and critique, summary and synthesis. These are skills that are required to make good active citizens. Of course a good knowledge base needs to be aquired as well. 

At its very heart the educational experience should be one of enjoyment. People of all ages are usually very inquisitive and an enormous amount at an early age can be learned through constructive play. I always remeber somebody I was responsible for teaching numeracy to on a work educational project. He was far more numerate than I when it came to computing what he needed to go out coming dowm from 301 in a game of darts. A narrow miss of the double 18 meant an instantaneous computation and the next nine darts would regularly fly to their targets. Any misses and recomputing instantaneously was done again. This lad was a complete drop out from the system yet was living proof of the inability of instrumental systems to harvest and channel skills leave alone knowledge and abilities.    Constructive play is seemingly left to our cousins in continental Europe. Rather than having a pram-based SATS certification the children 'play' up until around 7 years old. These same European countries seem to manage to turn out intellectuals, politicicians and administrators with a global status so SATS isn't a passport to power and status then.  

So what is going on then in the English education system which piles on the OFSTED inspections, has testing, benchmarks, targets 'performance management' comng out of everybody's ears, learning styles, differentiation and the rest and still manages to get literacy and numeracy that on the most pessimist counts suggests no progress since the 1950s. 

The Growth of Managerialist Discourse & De-professionalisation 

On Saturday a senior Government Education Adviser  came out with a statement castigating teachers.

Sir Cyril Taylor said there were about 17,000 "poor" teachers in England.

If it were true it would be an extraordinary number of teachers. The information purports to have come from the latest OFSTED inspections. However these inspections are increasingly concerned with paperwork the ticking of boxes and the meeting of spurious targets. Benchmarks are being set which are often contradictory. An educationalist can prioritise one thing over another but it is rarely possible to achieve well in all of them. Success in getting students through exams... just (!!) is often at the expense of not paying attention to other students who could be performing better. The system is increasingly trying to place responsibility onto better students to effectively be teaching other less committed or weaker students.  In the meantime the teacher takes time out to deal with the special needs students who would othewise be behind. The system thus encourages a culture of mediocrity whilst flying the flag for meriticracy. 

In education as elsewhere in the public sector / quasi public sector there is a growing tnedency for managerialist discourse to take over at the expense of professionalism. It is certainly the case that at the heart of professionalism there should be an urge to always be improving, but there are many ways to improve and many ways to measure and many ways to research.

All too often measurements are quantitatively based rather than qualitatively based. where there is token attention paid to quality it is inadequately carried out. The single lesson of a teacher is assessed by an inspector and judgement passed. These 'measurements' are taken out of context in terms of the individual teacher the dynamic of a particular class and any particular problem pupils. Furthermore the socio-economic and cultural circumstances of the educational institution are not being considered.

Socially Constructed Problems 

At the core of the educational crisis today  there are many problems. Not least is the LeagueTables System which had been a major driver of structural disadvantage in society as a whole. This has contributed to the growth of ghettoisation, and the concommittant reduction in quality of services including education in more poverty stricken areas. Blairite policies have been central to this. The fact that there are still 200,000 16 year old school leavers every year who come out with nothing and who don't want to go on in education shows not the failure of teachers but the failure of a highly managerialised over controlled system which is largely based upon an overall policy framework which exacerbates not revieves social exclusion. 

Financial capital and cultural capital tend to go together which is witnessed by Taylor's speech to Independent Schools in 2004:

Most independent schools provide a high standard of education as shown by their performance in public examinations. For example, last year although private schools only enrolled 7% of all school children, their students obtained a 37% share of the 18 year olds who obtained 3 As at A-level (My emphasis)

These figures make it abundantly clear what the class nature of educational achievement is and whilst the shift in the Charity Laws will have some effect in changing the entrance profile for the top private schools it won't be especially significant.  To some extent it will reinvent the wheel by allowing pupils from backgrounds which have high levels of cultural capital but lower levels of financial capital better access to the the system.  However it is unlikely to change the social structure significantly.

Social Structure and Education

Rather than blaming a portion of the workforce for failings which are structural at the societal level not individual Taylor would be better off trying to think through genuine policy solutions based upon sociological thinking rather than trying to recreate the myth of the Stakhanovite 'Hero-Teacher' who will prevail against all the odds to create intellectual and presumably wealth equality in society. Idealistic nonsense!

He needs to read a bit of Pierre Bourdieu the anthropologist and sociologist who came up with the term cultural capital.  Cultural capital often goes in hand with, but has a certain autonomy from financial capital. The fact of the matter is that in Britain today where social disadvantage has been reinforced under the New Labour government partially becuase of tis educational and training policies Britain's increasing numbers of poor lack the cultural capital to value education and to understand the advantages ican bring. Resdistribution of cultural capital is as hard as the redistribution of financial capital nonetheless it must be done. 

In some places it is being done, look at the magnificent example of the Venezuelan Youth Orchestra system for example:

El Sistema has brought the sounds of Beethoven to the masses, by giving children instruments, scholarships and free transportation, in barrios such as the Caracas neighbourhood of Sarria.

Despite being surrounded by circumstances in which the students and children are similar to those of City of God somethingsolid is being done to counteract the forces of chaos and the deep social polarisations and here it is the power of culture which is achieving this:

What marks out cultural capital is not so much that it can be
accumulated, but that it is fluid; it can be converted to other forms of capital such as occupational advantage or economic capital. It has the potential to flow out of localities andto cross the borders of trade, region and nation in the form, say, of universal academic qualifications. As Mike Savage points out the expertise of say, carpentry, is ‘embedded in specific technologies and practical techniques that are unique to [that] physical production
process…’.6 The formation and institutionalization of cultural capital is therefore not only a matter of its individual accumulation and its monopoly by groups; there is also the matter of its origins and of its socio-genesis as an asset that remains durable from context to context. The accumulation of cultural capital presupposes the fluidity of relatively modern forms of objectification: of writing, printing and the reproduction of images.
(Gordon Fyfe Keele University)

There is of course a class issue at stake, those out of the Venzuelan Barrios have recognised and taken on board the wider values of culture previously the provenance of upper and middle classes seeing in it something of universals and an ability to transcend class barriers. The question for the British education system is how to create on a mass scale something which goes beyond the realm of music and is accepted by people at all levels of society as having a universal good and contains within it the possibilities for persoanl improvement. On reading the responses of such eminent musicians as Placido Domingo and Sir Simon Rattle to this phenomenon this example acts a sharp reminder about the current sterility due to the dominance of managerialist discourse which is deprofessionalising our system. People who teach are in teaching because they want to make a difference. Let them get on with it and encourage them not bully them.  Pompous and idealist statements from an overpaid and understresssed bureaucrat are not what anybody needs right now. 

November 2007

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