Bonjour Dewi

Faut il aller en France pour apprendre le français?

(Do you have to go to France to learn French?)
Dewi is not easily motivated. He’s not even bothered to change his hoodie, but he’d go to the ends of the earth for his dog, Ryan. So, when Ryan gets kidnapped and taken to France, it’s time for Dewi to confront his deepest fear: the French language.

North American Pitch:
Dewi is not having a nice day. After learning that he failed French, Dewi’s dog “Ryan” gets kidnapped and taken to France. Now, the Welsh speaking teen finds himself lost in francophonie.

Along the way, Dewi learns French from a strange cast of characters, including a pirate, mime and frog, as he orders food, changes clothes, and tracks his dog.

Continue reading Bonjour Dewi

Logic runs deeper than arithmetic

My old classmates would be tickled pink to hear that I failed a math test.  Okay, so maybe I didn’t fail, I scored below average and failed to get a job because of it.  Big difference.

Back in the day, some would want to copy my homework, but the more competitive students were annoyed when I got the highest mark.  As a teenager, I put myself into game mode; so for me, math was like playing cards.

I won’t make excuses.  This time I wasn’t on form. Continue reading Logic runs deeper than arithmetic

Relocated to Belgium

Ptara is now in the Kingdom of Belgium

For 23 years, Ptara and Udigrudi were based in Aberystwyth Wales. Okay, so we only started using the name Ptara about half way through.

Now, we’ve moved to Belgium. Ptara has, anyway. Due to the complexity of business law in Belgium, Ptara is not currently trading here. However, we are open to working for other organisations. Stay tuned for updates.

5 films about the Holocaust


With Holocaust Memorial day coming up, schools might want to show a historical film.  Sometimes, parents complain that history films rated 15 are shown to kids too young to see them in the cinema, but there are great films on the Holocaust that are suitable for all ages.

Now, I’ve seen more than five films on this topic, a lot have been made. I have chosen the five that I think are most informative, from a teaching point of view and from a learner’s. These teach language, they teach history, most importantly, they help us understand why.

1. The music box. (1989)

So, this one is rated 15, partially because of the language.  However, it’s not for the same reasons that most Eszterhas scripts may not be suitable for children.  It has some harsh language, and some graphic retellings, but I think if it were made later, it would have had a 12 rating.

The screenwriter has his name behind some of the biggest stinkers of my teenage years.  But, according to his memoir, he didn’t like Jade or Showgirls. And The Music Box was different.

Music Box is among the films he’s most proud of. It’s based on his experiences among Hungarian refugees, some of which were anti-semitic, others who just seemed to be anti-communist.  He wrote it to condemn the criminals, to tell the world about a story that he grew up not even knowing himself as a Hungarian American.

The story behind the film, and what happened afterwards in Eszterhas’ life make the film even more interesting to watch.  In the film, the protagonist has to defend a father that she finds out is guilty.  Later, the screenwriter found out his own father was wanted for war crimes.

Jessica Lange points out that Costa Gavras doesn’t just do a master and coverage, but actually uses the camera to tell the story.  Costa Gavras’ masterful directing is apparent in the first half of the story, but as the plot moves along we can see that the production has been rushed somewhat. Eszterhas apparently wrote a script that was too long (he cheated the margins) and so they had to do a lot of last minute rewrites in order to stay on budget and schedule.

Despite this flaw, the film is still excellent, and very informative about how trials were conducted afterwards. We see a few points of view here, how people could cover things up, and Hungary’s part in the massacre.

4. The round up, or Le Raffle (2010)

Why did the Jews just seem to go without resisting? What about the population who sat there and did nothing?

This tells the story of France’s Jews, how they were rounded up, and the people who showed kindness to them on the way. Not everyone knew they were going to death camps, if they did, guns would not have contained them. People tried to help, but it didn’t work against an organised machine.

We hear anecdotes said by many different characters, hearing points of view and learning snippets of history.  Even though it’s hard to pick out a main character, it is easy to follow.  It’s also useful for learning French, if only you could turn off the subtitles.

3. Life is Beautiful, La vita è bella (1997)

This film is in italian. It’s a comedy, and as such, it doesn’t pretend to be an accurate depiction of history. However, this satire allows us to see the philosophy behind fascism, as it pokes fun at it.

I showed this to my own children, and it was a good starting point for teaching history.  Highly recommended.

2. Diary of Anne Frank (1959)

This is the first holocaust film I saw as a child. It shows the story from the point of view of a girl hiding away, who has the innocence of not knowing what will happen next.

I don’t remember it well, but I remember the power of the feeling, the way you could understand exactly what the characters were going through.  There have been other adaptations of the same events, but I think the one made 1959 is by far the most powerful.

1. Night and Fog (1956)

This is a short documentary, no actors, no physical presenter. We see the place it happened, and maybe a few old photographs. It’s as if we’re on location, being given a guided tour of where it happened. Our guide, we don’t even see our guide, narrates not only the events, but details the economics and actions behind it, like the fact that construction companies put in tenders to build the place.  This no doubt influenced other films on the Holocaust, which use such details to illuminate the story.

Percentage budgeting is idiotic

Some of you may have heard of George Lucas. He’s the guy who wrote and directed the first Indiana Jones and Star Wars movies. He’s one of the few writers, directors, or filmmakers full stop who makes it to the Forbes list.

Well, his breakthrough film was a little “coming of age” film called American Graffiti.  In that, the actors joke that there was no budget for chairs.  Joke?  Maybe there really was no budget for chairs.  According to the editor, most of the sound budget, pretty much the entire sound budget, went to songs.  According to some internet sources, the cost of licensing the songs cost 90k, out of a 777k budget.  That’s more than 10 percent of the total budget.

For his next film, Star Wars, the music cost a little more, but it was a much smaller percentage of the overall budget.  According to Den of Geek, the score for the first Star Wars film cost about 100k, or less than one percent of the total budget. Continue reading Percentage budgeting is idiotic

Armistice Day films

The 11th of November is known as Remembrance Sunday here in Britain, and Memorial Day in America.  What the day was originally celebrating was the armistice, the end of the first World War (then only known as the great war.)  With the end of hostilities, and the war officially over, there was an illusion of a time of peace.

Unfortunately, that war had a sequel.  Not only did it have a sequel, but three months after the armistice, Berlin was aflame.  The cold war had already begun, even before the armistice, as Lenin and his enemies plunged Russia into a bloody civil war (ironically started because Lenin didn’t want to waste lives on the war in Europe.)

In any case, to understand the past, there are a few films worth watching. Continue reading Armistice Day films

Eight ways to co-write a screenplay

You want a writing partner you say?  Well, how are you gonna write together?

In my experience, most people who ask for a writing partner never deliver.  They may have won some obscure contest in the past, and now they think that just because they have a nice idea, the world owes them a screenplay.  Na uh.

But, I hope you’re the exception.  Maybe the problem isn’t that you think the world owes you a screenplay, maybe you just failed to set the ground rules.

I’m not looking for a writing partner right now.  Instead, I’ll look at methods I’ve tried and that others have described.  Yes, I did that a year ago, with three ways to work with a writing partner. But, that was a year ago.

So, what changed?  I’ve got better words to describe the writing methods, and I’ve decided to add my own experience. Continue reading Eight ways to co-write a screenplay

How do you measure the quality of a “classic” film?

Last year, I was doing a comparison of the films on the WJEC French curriculum. There were four films on the A-level curriculum, La Raffle (the Round Up), (A very Long Engagement), La Classe, and Le Havre.  Which of those four would I recommend?

Well, for learning French, La Raffle had a huge weakness.  In the edition distributed in the UK, it was impossible to turn off the subtitles.  So, considering level of language, ability to toggle subtitles, and other factors, I thought that Le Havre was probably most suitable for the purpose of learning French at A-level. Continue reading How do you measure the quality of a “classic” film?