A Guardian must-read: Move over, Nelson! These are the statues modern Britain needs

By Stephanie Hemelryk Donald

From The Guardian - "From colonialists to Confederates, the debate over who should be honoured is raging around the world. We asked Guardian readers to nominate deserving figures yet to be carved in stone. Here, we make the case for people ranging from David Attenborough and JK Rowling to Peter Tatchell and Britain’s first Asian MP"


Stephanie Donald

Book Release: Childhood and Nation in Contemporary World Cinema - 35% off!

By Stephanie Hemelryk Donald

Childhood and Nation in Contemporary World Cinema, edited by Stephanie Hemelryk Donald, Emma Wilson and Sarah Wright, is released by Bloomsbury this month.

Click here to download your 35% off voucher.

About the book:

Childhood Nation CoverThe child has existed in cinema since the Lumière Brothers filmed their babies having messy meals in Lyons, but it is only quite recently that scholars have paid serious attention to her/his presence on screen. Scholarly discussion is now of the highest quality and of interest to anyone concerned not only with the extent to which adult cultural conversations invoke the figure of the child, but also to those interested in exploring how film cultures can shift questions of agency and experience in relation to subjectivity.

Childhood and Nation in World Cinema recognizes that the range of films and scholarship is now sufficiently extensive to invoke the world cinema mantra of pluri-vocal and pluri-central attention and interpretation. At the same time, the importance of the child in figuring ideas of nationhood is an undiminished tic in adult cultural and social consciousness. Either the child on film provokes claims on the nation or the nation claims the child. Given the waning star of national film studies, and the widely held and serious concerns over the status of the nation as a meaningful cultural unit, the point here is not to assume some extraordinary pre-social geopolitical empathy of child and political entity. Rather, the present collection observes how and why and whether the cinematic child is indeed aligned to concepts of modern nationhood, to concerns of the State, and to geo-political organizational themes and precepts.


Stephanie Donald

Practical Justice Sydney 2016

By Stephanie Hemelryk Donald

Youth, health and practical justice: An interdisciplinary conference

This was the first national interdisciplinary conference for those working to promote young people's wellbeing and health, in education, health service, community and youth work settings.


Held at UTS 4-5 December and convened in tandem with the Practical Justice initiative at UNSW (led by Peter Aggleton), the conference featured film-makers (Maya Newell of Gayby Baby gave a wonderful opening keynote ... see ) and other professionals and academics concerned with youth welfare.

The Dorothy Project was included in the digital story-telling discussion:


Technology and biography - digital storytelling, film, animation






Stephanie Donald

Forthcoming 'Childhood and Nation' book - pre-reviews out

By Stephanie Hemelryk Donald

Childhood and Nation in World Cinema: Borders and Encounters is an international volume (co-editedfwith Emma Wilson, Cambridge University and Sarah Wright, Royal Holloway University), funded by the Leverhulme Trust and my Australian Research Council Fellowship. but it is also a strongly UNSW Arts and Social Sciences achievement, featuring staff from Humanities and Languages (Jan Lanicek and I), School of Arts and Media (Greg Dolgopolov), the postdoctoral community (Klara Bruveris, ex School of Arts and Media and also ex research associate in Humanities and Languages) and also a colleague who has studied and taught at School of Arts and Design (Susan Danta). Susan is the animator behind the recent film Constance on the Edge.

Some of the pre-reviews:

“This terrific new collection provides the emerging, vibrant, interdisciplinary field of writing on the child in cinema with a welcome new direction. Reflecting upon the shifting global geopolitical boundaries of our everyday world, it provocatively challenges, uncouples and rethinks accepted correlations between cinematic depictions of childhood and nationhood. The scholarship is engaging, often eye opening, in its illumination of the complexities of depictions of children (adopted, deported, disappeared, “left behind”), in cinemas ranging from Bollywood to South Korean animation to Argentine stop-motion to Australian indigenous films. This book will speak to anyone who was ever moved by a film about childhood to reflect on their own history, their own place within the world.”

David Martin-Jones,  University of Glasgow.


“World Cinema is, before anything else, a school in other cultures. Children on screen, in turn, represent processes of learning from the world. In combining childhood, the nation and world cinema, this superb collection takes us on an enlightening journey around the world through the eyes of the child. It teaches us how nations are formed and destroyed, how they affect the world, and how the child is particularly affected as it grows up amidst conflicts, wars and disputes over borders. As the editors of this collection remind us, films become emotionally closer to us when there is a child protagonist, and one could add, a child’s lessons on the world are closer to the truth.”

Lúcia Nagib,  University of Reading.


“The figure of the child has been a potent symbol in many constructions a representations of national identity within various forms of visual media. Covering examples from many different historical and cultural contexts, this edited volume raises ethical challenges about such representations in an intellectually rigorous manner. This is a powerful and timely book with a truly global perspective.”

Tim Bergfelder, University of Southampton


“This important and compelling book addresses the place of children in an increasingly troubled world. A much neglected area of study in the history of the cinema, the cinematic child is explored here with great insight and depth of understanding. Childhood and Nation in Contemporary World Cinema offers an original and moving study of the power of cinema to explore ethical issues surrounding the future of the child in nations marked by war, homelessness and the search for identity. The authors explore the concept of the cinematic child from a range of national backgrounds and across a range of themes: sexuality, dispossession, war, migration, suicide, family, identity. A truly inspiring collection, this book is essential reading for anyone interested in cinematic depictions of childhood and the significance of the child in narratives about the future of all nations challenges about such representations in an intellectually rigorous manner. This is a powerful and timely book with a truly global perspective.”

Barbara Creed, University of Melbourne.

 childhood nation cover

Stephanie Donald

Iranian Rap

By Stephanie Hemelryk Donald

Iran, Liverpool, Grime, and a certain poetic elegance, Farhood has found his voice and it’s truly powerful. Much of what we read about the modern asylum seeker is negative, frightening, or simply sad. Farhood’s music challenges us to listen more carefully, with more focus, with more anger, and with more hope.


I listened to his first EP release,Tike Tike, on soundcloud, in Liverpool where the work was recorded in a friend’s studio. It was an experience sharpened by the knowledge that young people in Iran are also accessing it right now as a new, samizdat release on other platforms. Electronic listeners in the UK and indeed the rest of Europe will soon find it too and hear the deep throb of Iran changing from without and within.


Farhood has been granted the right to remain in the UK. That long wait for legitimacy ended in the middle of 2015, and eight months later, he has a confident message for his fellow Iranians at home and for fellow asylum seekers world wide. At home the exhortation is to see what is happening, to work with the artists who speak for you and to you. The State won’t allow you to make the music you want. Underground genres are refused certificates, energy is abandoned to the margins of dissent, every little problem in society is spinning out from the central black hole of religious control and ageing inertia. All that is true, but keep listening, keep finding ways to sing.


Here in Europe, there is a message to all asylum seekers – if you want to find your voice and be the best you can be – it’s possible. Don’t let the everyday blockages and struggles for legitimacy destroy who you are and what you can do. There will always be someone or something who wants to stop you, or stops you without even thinking of what they do, so you must always find a way through. Keep singing  your song and send the songs back home. Farhood looks to a future where the surging song of a demanding youth grows across borders and seeps like light into the black crevices of religious futility and political cynicism.


The content of the EP, six tracks building a personal story of exile, musical enlightenment, and political responsibility, is both a statement of deep grief for the destruction of the future but also a pulsating retrieval of what is owed to the next generation. The tracks aim to inform, support and inspire Iranian youth, turning their despair to strength, and encouraging them to identify and name the wrongs they see around them. Farhoodofficial names murder, state executions, the destruction of the environment, but does so against a soaring acoustic, and a curling, twisting and unpredictable series of rhythms and charges.


So, how did Liverpool help? Well, Farhood followed his instincts. He confesses that for years he could not find people to talk to in any meaningful way. He was no longer a teenager rapping with his friends in his bedroom in Iran. He was an asylum seeker waiting for an ID. That doesn’t afford a young man a great deal of power or confidence. But he takes his own advice. One night at a free party he meets a fellow musician, a local DJ called Jon Davies. They share music, they hear each other. It’s a connection. And now there is this EP. It’s startling confident. It compels us. If only Iran could be more than the sound of the recent past and revel in the embodiment of this voice, this strength, this hope, we’d all be moving in the other direction.

Stephanie Donald

Book Launch: The Cinema of Theo Angelopoulos & Awakening the Eye: Robert Frank's American Cinema

By Stephanie Hemelryk Donald

Dear Friends, Members and Affiliates of the Centre for Modernism Studies in Australia:

We are pleased to invite you to join us for the book launch of two new publications in Film Studies, at Gleebooks on Friday 18 March at 6pm.

Professor Julian Murphet will launch The Cinema of Theo Angelopoulos, edited by Angelos Koutsourakis and Mark Steven, and Awakening the Eye: Robert Frank's American Cinema by George Kouvaros.

To attend this event please RSVP here (date given on the Gleebooks site is incorrect - RSVP by March 12)

Awakening the Eye: Robert Frank's American CinemaThe Cinema of Theo Angelopoulos

Stephanie Donald

New Chapter - Routledge New Media In Asia

By Stephanie Hemelryk Donald
Chapter 3.
Migrant Youth and New Media in Asia
Lina Tao and Stephanie Hemelryk Donald
Stephanie Donald

Liverpool's Chinatown - the oldest in Europe

By Stephanie Hemelryk Donald

Liverpool’s Chinatown is the oldest in Europe. It is currently looking forwards to a re-evaluation of its future and its legacy.

As a new resident of Liverpool I would like to be involved in these discussions as this is a very special part of the history of the area.

Chinatown is a reminder that life moves on and people change. Food is still vital to any self-respecting Chinatown though. So are dragons.

Here's a link to Perry Ng's place The Golden Dragon - Perry is one of those I'm discussing Chinatown's history and legacy with.

The Golden Dragon
47 Bridgewater St, Liverpool

Stephanie Donald

Chinet guest blog - "Crossing Borders and Shifting Boundaries"

By Stephanie Hemelryk Donald

I recently wrote a short piece on my observations at a University of Liverpool photography exhibition 'Crossing Borders, Shifting Boundaries: Architecture', which opened after a lecture by me on Chinese cities. The winner and two runners up presented images from China that captured what I call the 'three Rs' of Chinese cities - read more on the Chinet blog here.

Visit the exhibition announcement here:



Stephanie Donald

Middle Class Youth in China (Beijing Radio)

By Stephanie Hemelryk Donald

Giving an interview on the trials and tribulations of the middle classes in China - I found myself quizzed on recent British history and stresses in the class system.

The question was a good one, the researcher at the station had been reading recent reports on downward mobility in UK. Suddenly, post GFC, the baby boomers realise that their grandchildren, indeed children, are not having the easy ride that they did.

Would this be happening in China too?

Well, in a way it's already happening. The very rich are somewhat protected from the more extreme follies of the world system of making and distributing wealth. Their children will be more likely to get to elite universities, to find work placements, and to earn salaries that will fund lifestyles they can live with. But the middling classes will struggle. Competition for global wealth is premised on rules and opportunities invented in line with the wills and interests of those who already manage it, or think they do. There is no certainty for salaried labour.

Kracauer wrote about white collar workers in the late Weimar period, their mixture of optimism and uncertainty led to great disappointments, that led in turn to political populism and chaos.

China faces huge waves of optimism and expectation. That may lead in turn to furious disappointment. The UK felt disappointed in the 1970s when I was growing up - oil crisis, bad jeans - but there was the rush of design excitement (pity about society) in the 1980s and people didn't notice the greyness quite so much. The ones who lost jobs and houses noticed of course, but they didn't win elections.

Not sure how it feels now. And the middle classes do sit astride the working but underpaid /  the unemployed and  disaffected millions in China, in the UK, across the world. So any problems in the middle are even greater at the bottom.

Here's the weblink to the full interview for Beijing Radio, aired on 31 October 2013.



Stephanie Donald

And a bit about the developers

By Stephanie Hemelryk Donald

Dear Mayor and Councillors,

Mr XXX has kindly allowed me to quote from the letter below.

I support his points, and I am also disappointed at what seems to have been a foreshortened process led by developers' interests and with little concern for residents of smaller, low rise dwellings.
The assumption that we have big yards, amazing eastern suburbs designer kitchens and, of course, 'garages', is a fantasy and Sydney councillors should pay us the courtesy of knowing that not everyone fits the mold.

I yesterday received the Mayor's letter about  a possible flyover for Moore Park, which is a serious issue. I understand that political agents can only fight and win a few battles at a time, but surely  this Euston Road development is not a major battle, and should not be relegated because there are other bigger things to dispute. It would have been so good to give some respect to longstanding residents who respect the community. Because, yes, we do respect each other (we live cheek by jowl and everyone has to give and take and we do), we respect heritage values, we put money into maintaining the look and feel of a village suburb even when it does not really add to our property values (i.e. we don't demolish and build high) but does support a working and generous community. We promote wellbeing and health by neighbourliness and by keeping streets clean - (of course it's often us that wheel back the trolleys, pick up the litter and dog mess etc). We also pay taxes and we vote.

We were resigned to minor changes, and yet we have been given none - except for 'semi-mature trees'.  On which, the developers' images still pretend that there are some kind of bushes or mature trees on our side of the back Lane? There are in fact two tall firs - one growing out of our shed (we have a hole in the roof near the water tank which takes up half the shed - the other half is for two bikes and a dolls house) and one in our yard, both of which we maintain with tank water. Will the developer be supplying these fictitious trees as well and all the Council make this possible by a further set back of one metre, then  we don't have to publish a picture essay online about how developers tell great big visual fibs and just get away with it?

Could you also explain how the Council will assist us in measuring damage to our properties through protracted, intense drilling less than 15 meters away from our foundations, and let us know how to claim recompense for necessary rebuilds?

Stephanie Hemelryk Donald FRSA, FASSA.

On 23/10/2013, at 2:27 PM, XXX wrote:

Dear Mayor and Councillors,

I was dismayed to learn that despite 63 resident submissions, which included detailed rationale and reasonable suggested amendments to this DA, none of our concerns appear to have been addressed.

In fact, as far as can be determined from the meeting minutes, you did not even discuss and have not provided any explanation why neither of the following amendments were adopted:

1. Set back top floor by 2m to match adjoining apartment building. This would massively reduce the major privacy issues and have minor impact on the development.

2. Require fixed horizontal slat louvers to prevent downward views. Again this would offer a huge improvement for residents, with NO adverse impact for the developer. I expect that the developer would have been willing to accept this condition just as they did the semi-mature trees.

Why were these issues not implemented (or apparently even discussed)? Can you please provide a rational and justification.



Stephanie Donald

Retrospective: 2011 Media Conference

By Stephanie Hemelryk Donald
Paolo Mancini, Jan Zielonka and Stephi at the opening keynote from our Media conference in 2011 at the EU Centre at RMIT.
The Fragmentation lecture (uploaded in October 2011).

This was a wonderful event with colleagues from all over the world, co-organised with Cathy and Philip. Speakers included great people from Oxford, Italy, Poland, France, Melbourne, Africa (although some Nigerians were denied visas by the welcoming arms of Australian Customs) , UK, etc
...  It's great to hear Paolo and Jan and Philip Dearman.
Time to reclaim the past methinks.
This is the web address - you'll need to cut and paste ....
Stephanie Donald

Coming back to Blog

By Stephanie Hemelryk Donald

I have been away from this blog for far too long. So today is just a quick catch up on the year of Future Fellowing and other activities, thoughts, and so on.

The highlights of last year (2012 ages ago now) were: working with some young people in Liverpool West on homework and so on, many of whom have made big journeys to get to Australia, and all of whom were really special. Anyone out there who could volunteer for Vinnies or other Welcome refugee groups, go for it, you'll be the one that benefits too. SPARK is the programme name.

Another highlight was meeting and working with Qiu Zitong. She was the postdoc on the Dorothy Project and did fabulous work - now she has been snapped up by Ningbo and is being fabulous there. But I'm not lonely - Lina Tao, Kelly Royds and Sarah Yan are all working as research students and my goodness they are a clever bunch. Click through to the Migration and Mobility project site on the front page and you will find out more ...

What else - discovering Texas (A and M, and Rice, Houston) through the kind offices of Tani Barlow and Cara Wallis. Brilliant exhibition of war photography at the Houston Art Gallery, and great fried jalapenos when not being quite so cultural.

Then there was the pride and joy bit - one daughter starting at Kings College London (this year) and another being bloody wonderful despite glandular fever in her final year at School.

So, that is a round up. More cerebral thoughts soon.

Rushing to the Modernism Centre for our workshop on Postsocialist modernisms, twill be good.






Stephanie Donald

Sydney Film Festival 2012

By Stephanie Hemelryk Donald

My Sydney Film Festival has started with Viktor Kossakovsky's

¡Vivan las Antipodas! a German/ Netherlands/French co-production starring 8 Antipodean situations in Botswana, Russia, Chile, Argentina, China, Hawaii, Spain, New Zealand. I should say locations, but that doesn't quite grasp the sort of cinema this film presents. The vision of location is as a place that is immense, unequivocally of itself, but nonetheless, and in some sense against all the odds, inhabited. So, location plus situation perhaps. Shanghai is really the only exception to the power relation between landscape and human = situation. he particularities of people, and the animals that they live with, invest each landscape with situation. Shanghai is the place where the massive intensity of the vision is evoked by the sheer mass of people, the grey pollution of the urban sky, and the noise. In my screening someone got up to complain of the noise levels in the Shanghai sequences, but these were surely intended. Elsewhere in the film, long shots and steady panoramas contend with medium close ups of domestic drama and interior human (and dog) life. There is a man who herds cats (he also herds sheep and they are significantly better behaved), but he doesnt work in a University. There are the brothers who run a toll point on a small ferry/bridge in Argentina. They notice everything and know everyone, they understand the different sounds of the toads and the movement of ants, and they love joking about women (they dont seem to have one living with them so perhaps that's as close as they get), they are friendly but wont go so far as to lend a saw to a customer. Their antipode is Shanghai, where the film-maker concentrates on the men running the ferry across from Pudong.    No close and familial animal connections here, except the proximity of men on mopeds and motorised trolleys bearing uncovered pig carcasses to market. The market sequence is the most evocative I have seen of China's remaioning street markets.

Each place is antipodal to another. Sometimes this produces examples of contrast, sometimes of similarity and occasionally of enormous time shifts in the life of the planet. Extraordinary footage of volcanic lavae flowing down the mountain on Big Island, and the presumed death of a pet dog, and then we turn upside down and  discover the tranquil volvcanic granit of Spain, populated by butterflies, fungi, and newts. The film announces that antipodes are rare as so much of the planet is covered in ocean. Some underwater shots (the lion drinking was brilliant) and the stupendously dogged vision of humans dealing with a beached whale in New Zealand, suggests another film might be needed on the antipodes of ocean life on a wet planet.

Stephanie Donald

Nice Brits wouldn’t lock up children who ask for help, would they?

By Stephanie Hemelryk Donald

Stephanie has engaged in the debate - in the UK and Australia - on the detention of refugee children with an article for OurKingdom entitled 'Nice Brits wouldn’t lock up children who ask for help, would they?' Click here to view the full article in OurKingdom.

Stephanie Donald

Amsterdam, Vilnius, Melbourne

By Stephanie Hemelryk Donald

Sounds like a list of liveable cities? Well that's certainly true, but I am going to explain why Amsterdam won the toss for me this year. One word answer ... Bicycles. Every morning one gets up, showers, breakfasts, jumps on a bike. Cars are courteous, bikelanes are wide, bicyclists are confident, no need to wear helmets because one is not dealing with psychopathic drivers (although the mopeds are an interesting development). There are huge contraptions one can add on to an ordinary bike for children, shopping, kitchen sinks ... Every day one feels healthy, energised, happy. I could go on. But you get my drift.

Stephanie Donald

Thoughts from UvA on Authority

By Stephanie Hemelryk Donald

I am a long way from Australia at present. I am based in Amsterdam, and have been travellin in Lithuania and a quick trip to Karlsruhe. But I was asked to write something about Australian democracy, which I found difficult to be frank. I am not a political scientist nor an Australian historian, but here are some thoughts dating back to August:


On 16 August 2011, there was a public meeting at St Peter’s Town Hall in Sydney’s inner west. The participants were protesting against the expansion of coal seam gas ‘exploration’ in residential areas.


Their fears resonated with concerns of farmers and communities across the Liverpool Plains. Energy grabs challenge the prime tenets of the good life: public health, long-term water and food security, national sovereignty, and an inviolable sense of home, whether that is in regional or urban New South Wales. Neither group has won their fight, and a support from the Leader of the Opposition is couched as a farmers’ fight, rather than as a coherent national debate over food security and the long term value of arable land, city communities, and the water table.


On 14 August  2011, the words ‘Dalian’ and ‘PX’ were disabled (or rather scanned for removal) on Sina Weibo, the extraordinary Chinese microblog network. PX is a petrochemical company.  Dalian, a major industrial city in China’s north east, was made famous as a port for the Daqing oilfields in the 1960s. Paintings of its petrochemical plants were turned into posters in the 1970s, and the region was a byword for Chinese production and self-sufficiency.


In August 2011, Dalian had become a city seething with anger over petrochemical pollution. The aspirational classes, whose political acquiescence underpins China’s development, were roused to demonstrate. Thousands went on Weibo and on other sites, and locals took to the streets. This was a collective act of defiance and bravery in a State where protest is frequent but never legitimate. Government irritation notwithstanding, the local mayor promised to get the plant shut down or moved.


Taken together, one can see that defiance, demonstration, and a sense of the greater good are not confined to one type of regime. Indeed it seems that protest in a democratic polity may be brushed aside without consequence, whereas the shock of middle-class protest elsewhere resonates. A mayor in Dalian might actually get a plant shut down, if his power base supports him to do so. Which politician in New South Wales will challenge American and Chinese commercial mining interests, despite signs of popular dissent on home turf?


Arriving in Australia in 1997, I encountered something that was depressingly familiar; a society defining itself through exclusions. Naively, as I now realize, I was shocked by the political disrespect for Indigenous Australia, for people of colour, and for women. What kind of democracy was this?


The British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher had declared in the mid-1980s that there was ‘no such thing’ as society. What she meant was that individuals and families are the building blocks of social and political association.  The upshot of her remarks was that there was disrespect: no time and apparently no need to listen to each other any more. The logic of market dominance had won the day, what could possibly be left to discuss?  Leaving Britain, even though we did so a month after Blair won the ‘97 election, seemed a wise move.


A new resident, and then citizen, in my new country, I glumly contemplated the Pauline Hanson phenomenon and waited for a chance to vote. As the years passed, the aggressive atmosphere culminated in the Tampa stand-off  - a large Western democracy forgetting the first laws of seafaring: change tack to save the drowning, and give succour to those who are pulled from the sea’s unforgiving embrace.


In 2001, I walked to a voting station in Carlton North and, as eager supporters handed me voting cards, I realized that I had to eschew the major parties. Both had pursued an agenda of fear. They were scared of the redneck fringe, scared of leading change, and above all- scared of losing. I was trained enough in the responsibilities of freedom not to turn back, nor spoil my vote, so I went Green.


At that point, it seemed that a leader was required, a person of moral fibre, imagination, and courage (and ideally someone with a smidgeon of televisual charm, and persuasive oratory). We needed someone who could demonstrate the transformative intelligence that might inspire the better selves of the nation’s soul. People assured me the latter existed, and indeed I had seen those glimmers of respect in many personal encounters. I still do. But it wasn’t, and isn’t, in mainstream politics.


Several false starts later, here we are. The politics of cowardice have created a vacuum, in which – at least at the level of political discourse - there is conflict without argument, and prejudice without the creation of informed communities of interest.


Has democracy fallen prey to new media platforms, to amoral lobbyists, to social networking? Certainly, politicians seemingly have not learned how to manage the 24- hour news cycles with dignity, nor how to transcend the scramble of single interest group campaigns.


But I don’t think that social networks or the media have destroyed democracy. I don’t think they necessarily support deliberation either. Some do, some don’t. If political communications are lost in the vortex of influence, if news is analysis-lite, and if most people have little idea of why they should pay more attention to what the world around them is doing – because it really really does affect them -  then the seriousness of the situation is underestimated. I think that fundamentally Australians still don’t respect each other enough across generations and places of origin, to listen to one another with much interest. And that goes for Left, Right and the shining path of centrism.


It’s also true that we can hardly tell the difference between an advertisement for maintaining the brand equity of the tobacco industries, and a campaign to vilify the so-called carbon tax. Tacky rhetoric rather than informed judgement abounds. Teenagers turn to George Watsky on YouTube for political intelligence (not a bad idea given the choices elsewhere). This is not so much a democracy deficit as an authority deficit.


Democratic systems need structural pliancy, checks and balances, multiple and mutually respectful nodes of expertise and judgement, and – most crucially - a certain regard for the public good. If deliberation takes place in blogs rather than in a daily broadsheet, that should, frankly, be neither here nor there.  But you have to be prepared to speak and listen, or no conversation will take place at all. At that point democracy is without substance.


In Dalian, the people trusted that other Chinese would care about their situation. They appealed to a sense of common interest, and in a country where concerns are mounting about ecological impact on newly won lifestyle, they found support. Is anyone out there making the connection between the good life in middle Australia, and coal seam gas in St Peters, Gunnedah, and the Kimberley?



Stephanie Donald

Boys Running

By Stephanie Hemelryk Donald

Boys Running


Stephi Donald


Earlier this year, I was delighted but surprised to be invited to address the national conference of the Planning Institute of Australia. As a film scholar with a strong interest in children and China (and sometimes both at once), what would they possibly want to hear from me? I presumed it must be the China question (more cities than any planner could possibly need in one planned lifetime), but no - they were being much more adventurous than that – they wanted to hear about film. So, I talked about how films explore cities, and in particular about how children in cities are often depicted as fast-moving, mobile small crowds. I thought aloud about those scenes where children pile on top of one another in a big scrap, arms and legs in all directions - a bit of biffing without consequences. Indeed, I remembered the films that we loved as children – when adults were nowhere to be seen and real adventures were possible – where children ran from one scrape to the next, and then reliably and resourcefully saved the day. And new films, where all that difficult growing-up stuff–happens in pretend places, unplanned and safe. Think of Max in Where the Wild Things Are, and all those riotous monsters. He looks into their terrible eyes, calms them for a moment, and then the rumpus starts. And later, when he’s a bit less riotous himself, he goes home to his Mum, and there’s a cup of milk waiting for him. Is that island of monsters a special imaginary city where things can get out of hand without ‘consequences’?


I explained to the planners that I was interested in the contradiction between the ‘right to the city’ as applied to adults, and the way in which children use the city – both in reality and on film. For adults, the right to the city’ is a term developed by Henri Lefebvre to discuss what happened to slum dwellers after Paris was cleared for its nineteenth century revamp. Where did the slum-dwellers go, and what did the new, modern, undeniably improved, city mean for them? Political geographers now use the term to judge how much and how far a city is ‘useable’ by certain populations. So, in China, does a migrant worker in Beijing have the same access to education, hospital care and clean living spaces as any other urban resident? If not, why not?  In Australia, how do our visa categories determine the level of services that different populations can easily access and use? Or – here’s one for the planners - do the transport systems between the city and outlying suburbs work for everyone?  Or do we really all need that little metal object commonly called car to realise an individual or collective right to the city? What if we don’t have/want/cant afford one, or just live too far away to make the journey worthwhile? What if we are children?


There are also films when children use the city to escape real problems at home, where the city is both an impromptu playground and a refuge, and finally a trap. In the 2008 Irish film Kisses, two young teenagers run away from abusive parents and a depressed suburb to the big city, Dublin. At first it’s a load of fun. It’s ‘mad’, to quote two infamous grrrl-teen rioters from last week. Not that these two fictional kids are making trouble. They shop with some money they nicked from an elder drug-dealing brother. They skate – literally and metaphorically – through a typical, brightly-lit shopping centre. (This is all Ireland pre-GFC). They play in streets, and stadia, and back-alleys, and they meet strange adults who are by turns magical and threatening. They exchange a kiss, and they fall in love. But finally, they give in to the inevitable – the city is not for them, they have no right to the city at night; indeed they have no rights there at all without the protection of someone else. They find a policeman, and get driven home. It’s not a happy ending, but it’s all they’ve got.


And now, I am watching another kind of film, a live feed from Manchester on the BBC world news website. It’s night there, morning here. Boys are running on the roadway by lamplight, darting down side streets, whilst a few policeman in formation move forward and backwards, not willing to commit to the rumpus and the ruckus, not able to catch all those eyes and stare them down. One boy saunters away with his arm round a girl. A riot policeman watches as they move fluidly into the sidestreet and out of range of the camera. Perhaps a car will come round and cut them off, or perhaps they’ll pick up a couple of consumer-riot prizes and go home. What should I tell the planners about this little non-fiction clip? It’s somewhere between the rubble romps of cinema (think Hue and Cry) after the blitzes of the European wars, and the internal combustion of Lord of the Flies. It makes mean 21st century sense of those rough boys in the fifties classic The Red Balloon, raging down cobbled streets and scrambling over walls to vacant ground in post-war Paris.


The clips I showed in the conference were a prompt to planners to remember children in the city, to think about what the ‘right to the city’ means for whom, where, and at what point in their lives. The question now seems both more important than ever, and futile. In films, children rush around as though adults cannot see them, and we don’t see the adults – apart from the few baddies and angels that the narrative uses to push things along. But in the Manchester film, the adults and the children are fighting over the same streets. Anger over the death of Mark Duggan, shot in Tottenham, is eclipsed by something stronger, wilder and more visceral. There is no justice possible when children will go to jail. There are no magic, life-altering kisses to hold onto as the children go home. 

Stephanie Donald

Liu Xiaodong

By Stephanie Hemelryk Donald

More on Liu Xiaodong:

Leaving Beichuan and Entering Lake Tai. On a second visit I found the Beichuan piece more moving. The girls sit in their teenage, haphazard fashions on the side of a destroyed town, the epicentre of the 2007 quake. But, although the quake and the destruction are of course fundamental to the narrative of the painting, the girls' expressions, demeanour, and grouping (what is the word for a group of teenagers?) are about class, opportunity and the suspicion forming behind their eyes that they may be at the wrong end of the social miracle. 

Stephanie Donald

Shanghai Biennale

By Stephanie Hemelryk Donald

Visited the Biennale exhibit in the MCA in People's Park. The MCA always looks as though it hasn't quite left either the 70s or the 40s, a bit dusty round the edges. This does not distract from the exhibits, but they do attract a sense of dustiness. Liu Xiaodong's two paintings of teenagers at lake tai were particularly moving and suited the hall. The teenagers were doing defiant and naive as they are wont to do.  The big draw was Zhang Huan's 'Semele'. A reconstruction of a house that he has already reconstructed in his enormous studio at Songjiang, and then staged an opera in it. This is re-re-constructed in the gallery and parts of the opera are screened. Themes  across the show: reconstruction and deconstruction of homes and cities. leaving Lake Tai, women's faces projected onto destroyed siheyuan, a-home-become-opera-set and then made into a facsimile of an opera set in the gallery. All these things - remind me of the dust.

Stephanie Donald

September in Barcelona

By Stephanie Hemelryk Donald

I missed the strike in Barcelona (29.09.10) by a day, but being there at all that week was somewhat interesting given the desperation in Spanish finances sits alongside the ongoing ambition for Spanish cities. I was a speaker at the City Branding workshop at the CCCB (Centre de Cultura Contemporània de Barcelona), with executives from Rubicon and Young, Visit London and several Spanish city governments. We discussed everything from the Mayor of London (Ken and Boris) to the Bilbao floods and class wars, from Sydney’s beauty (and problems with architectural innovation) to Shanghai’s art scene (and problems with distinguishing between commercial advantage and cosmopolitan sensibility). The most interesting debate was about Catalan and whether a city should speak its own language in order to be itself, or Spanish, in order to please incoming CEOs who want their children to speak Spanish on vacations. Quite a testy atmosphere in the room when that was raised in those terms by one of the speakers (Welsh as it happens) – although it was of course also a way of reminding us and Barcelona and everyone else, that the CEOs and their HQs are really what every city is tilting at with increasingly expensive brand campaigns that seem, on first sight, to be about tourism and civic pride. And of course we talked about events – Expo, the tenth anniversary of the Sydney Olympics, the upcoming London Olympics etc. The London Games will be lots of fun, but the elephant in the room is, why would one spend quite so much money on fun and infrastructure when London is already so well positioned as a global city? Beijing wanted to say We’re Here, Shanghai wanted t say, Yes We Really Are Here; what is London going to say – We’re Still Here? Perhaps. I am still looking forward to the Games though – maybe the London games are for nostalgic ex-pats.

Stephanie Donald