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Life in the ‘hairy underground’: the lost history of Soviet hippies

It was a subculture shaped by communism, inspired by the west and watched by the KGB. A new documentary charts the movements charismatic leaders, conflicts and future

In 1968, Aksel Lampmann was a teenager growing up in Soviet Estonia. That summer, he went to an international camp, where he met students from Czechoslovakia and began listening to the Beatles. He didnt understand the lyrics (No one spoke English back then), but loved the sound. We had no clue what they were singing about. What a strange vibration!

He learned guitar and grew his hair. By 1969, Lampmann had become a full-blown Soviet hippy. The iron curtain made a road trip to the US impossible, so he hitchhiked from his home in the Baltics to Crimea. Our lives were more colourful, more alive, he says. Other people didnt have the same encounters or emotions.

Lampmann is one of the stars of Soviet Hippies, a film by the Estonian writer and director Terje Toomistu about a lost period in Soviet history. The documentary explores a subculture that was inspired by the west yet distinctly homegrown existing in a society shaped by communism and watched over by the KGB.

In the west, nobody was arrested simply for having long hair or wearing strange clothes, Toomistu explains. The USSR, by contrast, wanted complete control of its citizens lives: how people worked, dressed, or even danced. Anyone who rejected the Homo sovieticus model could be in big trouble, including having their hair forcibly cut.

Watch a trailer for Soviet Hippies on YouTube

The Soviet hippy movement emerged in Moscow and Leningrad around 1966 and 1967, in the early years of Leonid Brezhnevs rule. The first red hippies were the sons or daughters of the privileged Soviet nomenklatura well-behaved kids from elite families. They had access to music from the capitalist world and to jeans. By the early 70s, the movement had grown sufficiently big and unruly to alarm the authorities though it probably only ever numbered a few thousand, Toomistu says. The secret police began tailing the long-haired to school. In June 1971, the hippies were given permission to demonstrate against the Vietnam war outside the US embassy in Moscow.

This was a trap. The KGB rounded up and arrested demonstrators, with the goal of wiping out hippy culture. Some demonstrators were sent to psychiatric facilities and injected with insulin; others dispatched to the army and camps near the Chinese border. The film re-creates this grim clampdown and uses surveillance photos found in KGB archives in Lithuania.

According to Lampmann, harassment by the police and KGB was common. One of my close friends ended up in prison, he says. Hippies were persecuted under criminal rather than political law. They could find themselves sharing a cell with gangsters and murderers. To avoid arrest, Lampmann always kept his documents in perfect order.

By the late 70s, the hippies had developed a counterculture, with Russian slang and a music scene. There was what Toomistu calls analogue Facebook notebooks listing names and numbers of contacts across the USSR, used by travellers seeking somewhere to crash for the night. This network is gloriously animated in the film, which features psychedelic drawings and cartoons.

Ideas from the world outside Vladimir Wiedemann practising yoga at home in Tallinn, Estonia, late 1970s. Photograph: Courtesy of Vladimir Wiedemann

The underground subculture connected people from different social backgrounds, the writer Vladimir Wiedemann says. It included hippies, dissidents, mystics, religious activists and human-rights campaigners. Some embraced spiritualism, others yoga and veganism. All rejected the Soviet regime and thus played a role in its eventual demise.

Wiedemann was exposed to rocknroll culture via Finnish TV and Radio Luxembourg, which he could pick up from his home in Estonia. The iron curtain wasnt that strong, he says. Now based in London, Wiedemann wrote a book on hippies, Forbidden Union, which is currently running as a play, How Estonian Hippies Brought Down the Soviet Union!, on the Moscow stage…

The film features interviews with Wiedemann and other survivors from the hairy underground, as Toomistu puts it. Most are men, still espousing hippy ideas and with beards and hair still flowing but grey. There are fewer Soviet female hippies, Toomistu says; many left the scene to have children. The movements charismatic leaders are largely dead, often from drink and drugs.

Down with the army, say no to war Soviet Hippies. Photograph: Private Collection

These were widely available under Marxism. Forbidden from travelling physically beyond the eastern bloc, Soviet hippies instead became psychonauts, Toomistu says. They consumed weed from central Asia and the Caucasus, opium and poppy tea. Some drank Sopals, a Soviet cleaning detergent containing ether.

Toomistu grew up in post-Soviet Estonia. She was interested in the hippy scene as a teenager, and was a fan of Jim Morrison. She spent half a year in Russia as a student, and wrote a thesis about memory culture. The idea for the film came together after her own road trip in South America, she says. She is currently completing an anthropology PhD. There is little archive material on communist-era hippies, whom the Soviet press ignored, Toomistu says, erasing them from history. She retrieved a box of video footage of festivals and gatherings from a hippy who had to leave Russia in a hurry. In 2017, several of her subjects went to a hippy reunion held every year at Moscows Tsaritsyno Park, to mark the 1971 demo busted by the KGB.

The reunion is poignant. Russias war in Ukraine and its 2014 annexation of Crimea divided opinion. Some hippies support Vladimir Putin and his idea of a great spiritual Russia. Others take a more traditional pacifist view that all war is bad. The film ends with Putins police breaking up the party. It is a metaphor for state-hippy relations, now and then.

  • Soviet Hippies is being screened by Dash Caf at Rich Mix, London, on 23 October.

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The AI-Fueled, Anxious Hopefulness of Disney’s Smart House

There is a prophecy in the 1999 film Smart House: Soon, the computer will know more about you than you know about yourself. The forecast is not so much foreboding as much as it is intriguing. Back then, the idea of all-seeing, all-knowing, artificially intelligent home technology still felt far enough away to seem like the antidote to human problems.

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  • I was seven at the time of Smart House's release, just a few years younger than the protagonist's kid sister and exactly the right age to be swept up by the faculties of a Disney Channel original film. (It was a landmark year for Disney Channel content; Zenon: Girl of the 21st Century also came out in 1999. You can probably blame/thank Y2K for that.) I remember Smart House, which came out 20 years ago today, not just because it was cool—a Star Trek for our generation—but because it offered a view of the future where technology was designed to protect us, to look after us when our parents were away, to make us dinner on demand. It also warned against what could happen if we put too much trust in technology, relied on it to replace the humans around us, or asked it to do the wrong thing.

    Watching the film 20 years later, Smart House reads not just as a time capsule for a different era ("You're not still logged on the internet, are you? How's anybody supposed to call us if you're always tying up the line?") but for a different attitude toward technology. The new-fangled gadgetry—smart lights! home DNA testing!—are regarded with delighted curiosity. Even after the house begins to go berserk, no one doubts that they can find a way to regain balance. To see it now, at a time when television shows constantly remind us of how marred and fraught our relationship to technology has become (Black Mirror, Westworld), Smart House offers a view that's not just optimistic but puts the human back in control.

    The film takes place in suburban Monroe County, in western New York. Our protagonist, 13-year-old Ben Cooper, is a computer whiz who hacks a contest to win a state-of-the-art "smart house." Life has been rough for Ben since his mom died, and he feels responsible for looking after his kid sister, Angie, and his single dad, Nick. The fully automated home, he hopes, will take some of the burden off his family and fill the void left behind by his mom.

    The Cooper family does win the house, thanks to Ben's handiwork, and they move in soon after. Ben's dad is skeptical at first, but changes his mind after seeing a photograph of Sara Barnes, the engineer who created the house, who is beautiful and blonde.

    The house—and this is the part I remember best from childhood—is amazing. Every room is equipped with handy features from the Personal Applied Technology, cutely nicknamed "Pat." In the kitchen, it makes smoothies and cupcakes on demand. It turns the walls of the living room into a movie-theater-sized screen, where Ben and Angie play videogames together. It throws the middle school party of the year, defends Ben against the school bully, and cleans itself up before Ben's dad gets home. It sets a custom alarm in each of the kids' bedrooms: for Angie, a symphony conducted by Mickey Mouse; for Ben, the final buzzer of a championship basketball game. It has breath-analyzing sensors to capture dietary information about each person in the house and takes a drop of blood from each family member to scan their entire medical histories.

    In fact, the house is so capable that Ben's dad, liberated from his single-parenting duties, thinks about dating again—starting with Sara Barnes. This was not Ben's plan. Desperate to keep his dad single, Ben breaks into Pat's control room and reprograms the system to act more "maternal," training it on a steady diet of 1950s-era television to become the ultimate mom machine.

    It's not totally clear how Pat's system works (does it run on the Coopers' dial-up connection?) nor how a 13-year-old seems so confident in retooling the machine-learning algorithms. But whatever Ben does, it works, and Pat begins to transform into the kind of maternal figure it thinks the Coopers need.

    The problems start small: The system goes nutso trying to make a smoothie and begins pelting fruit all over the house. Then it becomes overbearing, keeping Angie home from school on the day of the class field trip to the llama farm. Eventually, Pat becomes paranoid and overprotective, trying to keep the Coopers inside the house.

    In the film's climax, Sara comes over to shut down the system—only to have Pat reawaken on its own, re-create itself as a hologram, and then replicate into many holograms before turning into a literal tornado. (It's Disney Channel, just go with it.) "Doesn't this place have some kind of master plug we can pull?" one of Sara's colleagues asks as they try to fix what they've created. Sara offers a look of exasperation. "I never expected this place to mutiny."

    The system, in other words, overpowers the engineer. Then, implausibly, Pat realizes that it isn't human and turns itself off, reverting back to the helpful assistant it once was. The message at the end is clear: The problem wasn't that the house was smart. It was that it tried to isolate the Coopers, and replace the humans they loved.

    Others have looked back on Smart House and praised the way it "predicted" the future. Indeed, we now have smart lights, connected thermostats, and alarm clocks personalized to our sleep stages, just as Pat did. LeVar Burton, who directed the film, calls it "a clear and obvious precursor to all of the AI and connected devices and programs" in our homes today. "I am enormously proud of its apparent predictive accuracy," Burton says. "From Siri and Alexa to Nest and Ring, our homes are becoming more and more technologically sophisticated. And that after all, that was what Pat was all about."

    But in some ways, that reflection misses the point. Prescient as it was, Smart House's purpose wasn't to predict the future of technology. It was to capture the mixture of feelings—excitement, curiosity, and fear—about living with intelligent machines the first time.

    By 1999, popular culture's view of technology had already turned a shade skeptical (see: The Matrix) but there was still optimism about finding the soul in the machine. It would still be five years before the founding of Facebook, and seven years before the creation of Twitter; there were no smartphones, let alone the fear of children developing horns in the back of their heads from too much screen time. Smart House offers warnings about how we design our personal technology, but it does so without fear. And in the end, it offers some hope that there's a balance to be found in centering the stuff we build around the people who use it—rather than the other way around.

    Not every part of Smart House has aged well. Sara, who is surely the brightest mind in Monroe County, gets flattened into a love interest by the end of the film. (The sexism is present from the very first scene, when Sara opens the newspaper to find an article about her smart house creation. "I think it's because that reporter has a crush on you," her colleague replies.)

    Still, even 20 years after its debut, Smart House skillfully shows that technology does what we ask of it. Woe to those who ask for the wrong thing.

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    ‘I felt kind of promiscuous’: Gemma Arterton on Vita and Virginia

    With director Chanya Button, the star has made an ambitious drama about the passionate Bloomsbury love affair. They talk about female desire and the rise in lesbian romances on screen

    Gemma Arterton and Chanya Button are frolicking for the camera in a female-only London club. Behave as if you would normally, orders the photographer. We could cuddle up, quips Arterton, but that would give the wrong impression. She has just rushed up from Chichester, where she is staying with her boyfriend Rory Keenan, while he performs in a play. Its a reminder if any were needed that both women are busy, busy, busy. They have arrived late, creating a comic road-drama of their own as their respective assistants monitored their cars converging from different directions.

    Close friends since Button went to drama school with Artertons younger sister, Hannah, they are in London to promote their first professional collaboration, Vita and Virginia. Button is the director, while Arterton not only stars in, but is an executive producer on the film, which documents one of the most famous love affairs of the early 20th century, the one between Virginia Woolf and Vita Sackville-West that led to the creation of the gender- and genre-changing novel Orlando.

    Based on a 1990s stage play by the actor Dame Eileen Atkins, the film ambitiously marries straight-to-camera monologues from the lovers letters and diaries with special effects straight out of Guillermo del Toro. A pulsing electro-beat powers the louche Bloomsbury party scene, while Woolfs mental and emotional disintegration is signalled by a flock of attacking crows and ivy curling up a lamp-post or thrusting through the floorboards.

    Im really aware Vita and Virginia is an arthouse film and that enables you to make stronger choices, because youre not looking for a broad audience, says Button, whose most recent work, on the forthcoming second world war TV series World on Fire, has shown her what a luxury that is. Something Ive returned to very often was the mission statement that Virginia and Leonard Woolf wrote when they started their Hogarth Press: Our object has been to publish at low prices, short works of merit, in prose or poetry, which could not, because of their merits, appeal to a very large public. They broke all the rules and pissed everyone off: they published every great modernist writer we think of as mainstream today.

    If the tension between those lofty ideals and the need to make an impact gives the film itself a certain edgy quality, it is also what brings the lovers together in the first place. Artertons Sackville-West is a glittering, hedonistic aristocrat whose literary efforts do nothing to seduce Elizabeth Debickis lofty Virginia until Leonard reminds his wife that they could do with a money-spinner. Dont forget weve got Tom Eliot and Sigmund Freud to sell too.

    The point of the music, explains Button, was to find a modern response to how progressive the women were in their own time. We listened to everything they were listening to. She also provided a lengthy reading list that not only included books written by the women themselves but several of the many hundreds written about them. Youve always been such a nerd, Arterton tells her when she gives a particularly knowledgeable answer to a question about literary modernism.

    Making an arthouse film enables you to make stronger choices: Vita and Virginia. Photograph: Pictorial Press Ltd/Alamy Stock Photo

    While Button did an English degree at Oxford, and was inspired to go into film by Woolfs 1926 essay, The Cinema, Arterton didnt go to university, beginning her film career fresh out of drama school as the head girl of St Trinians and moving on to play the Bond girl Strawberry Fields in Quantum of Solace. Being from a working-class background, and tricking my way into the middle-class intelligentsia, I still feel like Im looked down on, she says, not entirely flippantly.

    She began her reading with Orlando and followed it up with Mrs Dalloway, which is the subject of a pointed exchange in the film between Vita and a travelling companion as they chug across North Africa on a train. Does anything ever actually happen to Mrs Dalloway? the companion asks. Not really, Vita replies, she just gives a party. Golly, says her friend, Im hooked. Does Arterton herself resonate at all with those sentiments? I didnt study Woolf, she says. I was introduced to her through this project, which is really sad. I wish Id read her in my formative years. But then, she adds brightly, trying the thought on like a debutante modelling a tiara: I feel like the target audience.

    The Bloomsbury heritage is one with many gatekeepers and among those to have taken umbrage to the film is Virginia Nicholson, the great-niece of Virginia Woolf, who recently aired her grievances in a newspaper tirade. They ranged from the respective heights of the two actors (Debicki towers over Arterton, whereas, in reality, Vita was the taller of the two), to their dining habits (they would never eat in the kitchen), to the representation of her relative as a mad prodigy, trembling with hypersensitivity when Virginia was actually pretty good fun.

    Gemma Arterton: I still feel looked down upon. Photograph: Piccadilly Pictures/Allstar

    One could add that, in covering only the few years of the affair, it edits out Vitas major achievement as the gardener who created a new way of making, and writing about, gardens out of her disappointment at being booted out of her ancestral home. But at the time, she was mainly a popular novelist. I think she was desperate for recognition among her peers as a writer, which I dont think she ever really achieved, says Arterton. I read [her 1924 novel] Seducers in Ecuador and its not Mrs Dalloway.

    Both director and actor are unrepentant, pointing out that they consulted the various family members at length. If were not allowed to take a view, with all the work weve done and all the detailed conversations weve had, what chance is there for a student in a classroom to have their own response? says Button. I could have made a documentary about her, but I chose to make a film. Art is an opinion and this is art.

    The film quotes Woolfs famous words on the writing of Orlando: I can revolutionise biography overnight the story of a hero who turns into a heroine who turns out to be fiction, which is of course what all biographies are. This portrait of a poet who changes sex at 30 and lives for centuries was her tribute to Sackville-West and marked the moment when their passionate love affair cooled into friendship.

    Tilda Swinton in Orlando. Photograph: Ronald Grant

    At the heart of the project is an attempt to find a 21st-century filmic equivalent to Woolfs early 20th-century stream of consciousness hence the crows and the ivy. Madness: what a convenient way to explain away her genius, says Vita of Virgina. The animations are an attempt to see female creativity and vulnerability through a new lens, explains Button. She was this blend of brilliance and suffering. She writes in her letters about this sense that she is breaking with reality. What weve tried to do is to look at her vulnerability in a new way, because, as a female director, Im extremely interested in the complexities of femininity. So yes, its an attempt to break the rules and create a new language, just like Virginia did when she wrote Orlando.

    Its not a coincidence that Tilda Swinton also quoted Woolfs line about the fiction of biography as a key to her own inspiration for Orlando in Sally Potters acclaimed 1992 film of the novel. A more recent interrogation of mythologising biography comes in Sally Wainwrights Gentleman Jack, an eight-part television series about the early 19th-century lesbian Anne Lister. It is the latest in a growing line of lesbian romances that are placing female desire in the mainstream. Is there a significance in the fact that these stories are being told now? I think we are both looking at compelling, driven relationships from a different era through a contemporary lens, and its very important that theres space for both to be told, and that they talk to each other, but theres not a quota for female or LGBTQ-driven stories, says Button.

    Suranne Jones as Anne Lister in Gentleman Jack. Photograph: Matt Squire/BBC/Lookout Point/HBO

    There is only one sex scene in the film, though it creates an illusion of physical intoxication through the cameras caress of skin. Button and Arterton both bridle at the word sapphic It has a negative spin. Its often used in a scornful way while also being aware that the historical limitations of language work both ways. To describe Vita and Virginia as lesbians would be to ignore the fact that they both had happy marriages. They were bending the institution to their own will, says Arterton, who remains perplexed by the emotional slipperiness of Vita. Even in her letters and her other writings shes very hard to pin down. I think what anchored me was something I connected with at the time of reading the screenplay: I felt kind of promiscuous, and that I couldnt give my heart away. For me, the key was her line: If you leave me adrift, I will hurt you.

    For Button, the underlying challenge was how to understand without over-articulating. A conversation I always start is if Virginia Woolf were to write Orlando today, what pronoun would she use? Would it be they? Id love to know what shed do with the grammar and how it would affect her writing. I think she would definitely have explored gender-fluid characters. But it would be wrong to impose a modern perspective on that, just as it would be wrong to use the word bipolar.

    Among the early outings for the film was a screening at Flare, the BFIs LGBTQ+ film festival. I was really worried about my mum seeing it and my aunt, who is gay, and all of her friends who are gay, says Arterton. But she neednt have worried. They all came to see it and my mum thought it was really beautiful because you saw these women expressing something, rather than seeing something that was gratuitous. Id be the first person to condemn anything gratuitous: boobs out and that sort of thing. But its important for young people to see something beautiful.

    Button says: People so far have said they sort of forget its between two women. Their relationship was with their own sexuality, as much as with each other. She adds: The response I love the most when people have watched the film is when they say: I didnt know anything about them and now I want to find out more.

    Vita and Virginia is released in the UK on 5 July.

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    Idris Elba meets Kwame Kwei-Armah: ‘I feel a massive connection with trees’

    The actor celebrates all big events in his life by wrapping his arms round a sturdy trunk. With the help of director Kwame Kwei-Armah, he has turned his obsession into a show

    Idris Elba has a thing about trees. Hes got a tattoo of one on his left arm, partially hidden today by a black T-shirt but thats not all. Whenever Elba needs to mark a major event in his life birthdays, new years, that kind of thing he heads outside and wraps his arms around a trunk. I just feel a massive connection to the roots that are underneath, which are very high and wide, and to the oxygen that comes from the top, he says. And then theres me in the middle Idris Elba, tree-hugger!

    He lets out a burst of laughter, as does the director Kwame Kwei-Armah. The pair are here today because theyve collaborated on a new project called, funnily enough, Tree an ambitious mix of music, dance and drama set to premiere at this years Manchester international festival. The pair have known each other for decades but this is the first time theyve worked together. The seeds are laid right, Elba says, and the metaphors continue, with much talk of cultivating and planting in their creative process.

    The productions deepest roots, says Elba, grew from his experience in South Africa playing Nelson Mandela in the film Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom. For inspiration on how to emulate the man, Elba had looked to his own father, who shared Mandelas infectious smile and similarly pointed with his middle finger yet shortly after seeing the movie, his dad died. Elba felt compelled to revisit the country and make an album in his fathers honour 2014s Mi Mandela that featured a song called Tree, which is sort of on the nose, a love letter to my dad.

    Channelling his own father Elba in the title role of Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom, which fed into his new project. Photograph: Allstar/Pathe/Sportsphoto Ltd

    Elba wanted to explore the idea of taking the albums songs to the stage, and so he reached out to Kwei-Armah, artistic director of the Young Vic theatre. Idris talked to me about putting his arms around this tree, that spiritual moment of connecting with nature. The thing that excited me about it was that, from the jump, Idris was like, Look we could do a musical or we could do a play, but whats the thing? How do we play with the form? The central pin became this story of a young man going back home to meet his Afrikaners grandmother. [But] I dont actually think we mention race in the piece at all. What we do is we put people in situations that say, Now read what you need to read and How do we negotiate the pain of that?

    The pair first met years ago, although the specifics are hazy. They became closer while navigating their careers as black British actors in the 1990s, staying in touch as they both achieved success in the US: Elba for his portrayal of Baltimore drug kingpin Stringer Bell in The Wire; Kwei-Armah becoming the artistic director of Centre Stage in 2011, also in Baltimore. Three days after arriving in the city, Kwei-Armah recalls finding out Elba had won a Golden Globe for his Wire role. I remember sitting in my cousins yard, and I texted him, just going, Bruv, man is just so proud of you and not expecting to get anything back. [But] straight back, bam, Idris is like Thank you brother.

    It was on returning to Baltimore, to direct Soul: The Stan Musical in 2018, that Kwei-Armah listened to Mi Mandela again. I got all goosebumpy, he says. My mother had died, and my mother was my everything, so [when] Idris began to speak about his father, and his connection with the universe through this thing He trails off. I went, Come we go. Lets do this.

    Now the two men are working with a cast that includes Alfred Enoch, the young black British actor who went to the US to star alongside Viola Davis in the hit series How to Get Away With Murder. Kwei-Armah smiles: Alfie came to an early workshop, he got off the plane from Brazil, hadnt even looked at the script. Thank God, because it was really bad then. I completely rewrote it.

    Physical theatre rehearsals for Tree. Photograph: Marc Brenner

    Was the script a collaborative process, too? We did it together, Kwei-Armah replies, as Elba points towards Kwei-Armah and stage whispers: He wrote it. Not for the first time, they both laugh. Kwei-Armah continues: Alfie came in, and literally within an hour, our magnificent choreographer, Gregory Maqoma, was holding him upside down.

    The physicality of the show, both on stage and in the way the audience is placed on stage alongside the performers, is inspired by Elbas dual career as an actor and a DJ. I play house music, its quite insular, but essentially its like [the crowd is] climbing into my head, and Im climbing into theirs. I explained that energy to Kwame. He says he was aiming for a different type of listening, where the audience realise: Oh shit, Im in the drama!

    Kwei-Armah nods: We said, Do you know what, lets make this a gig. I loved that challenge. We had to say, All right theres going to be no seats, very few seats, people are going to be in the space. And thats hard when it comes to scripting! Because after 10 minutes everyones going to be, like, I need to know why Im standing. The challenge is to create a piece of physical theatre that has dance and brilliant music [by Mikey J Asante], and actually include the audience in the storytelling. Will you be thrown about? Probably not thrown. Will you be moved about? Yes. Will you be asked to hold and carry? Yes. Will you be asked to vocally participate? Yes. If we get it right. Will you be asked to be in the play, not just observing? Yes.

    The immersive nature of Tree has leaked into the rehearsal process, with the creators operating a rehearsal room where people are regularly invited in including me. During the companys morning briefing, which involves everyone in the space holding hands in a large circle, Kwei-Armah asks how everyone is. One performer speaks candidly about an encounter that reminded her how grateful she feels to be in the space. Another, Patrice Naiambana, mutters an in-joke under his breath that makes Enoch crack up laughing. Elba tells a story about being confronted by South Africans for playing Mandela despite not being of South African heritage.

    Kwame Kwei-Armah in Elminas Kitchen in 2005. Photograph: Tristram Kenton/The Guardian

    Earlier, hed recounted how people had told him he shouldnt be playing Mandela. They said, Weve got actors in South Africa who are qualified. And our director was white, and our producer was Indian.

    Eventually they won people over. At the end of the process, people that were on that cusp about whether I should be there or not, were like, Thank you, I can see you just as being a vessel in playing that. As with Kaleo, the protagonist in Tree, there was a sense of coming home. You get what Im saying?

    Kwei-Armah does. Not only do I get what youre saying, I wish I had articulated that to the cast on day one. The beautiful thing about the DNA of this, the DNA of our lead character, is going, Whoa, where is my legitimacy here, Ive got to find my way home.

    The two hope to continue working together, although perhaps in a different capacity. It isnt something weve really openly discussed, but this isnt the last pairing, says Elba. I havent been on stage for a long time, and Im desperate to do that at some point. I want to come and see my guy again, because watching and being here, I feel like I have work [that is] yet to be put on to the stage.

    But right now theyre just excited to present Tree to the world. Its lovely to be able to see something youve planted the seed of, says Elba. And repot it into a different form.

    Kwei-Armah laughs once more: This is why were going to keep working together. Weve got to keep these garden metaphors going!

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    Keanus E3 Surprise, a Government Photo Hack, and More News

    Keanu Reeves left the internet breathless, hackers stole photos of travelers and license plates, and we have advice on how to ditch those annoying robocalls. Here's the news you need to know, in two minutes or less.

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    Today's Headlines

    Hackers got into a border agency database of traveler photos

    Hackers were able to breach a subcontractor of the US Customs and Border Protection, gaining access to photos of travelers and license plates. The CBP hasn't released information on exactly how bad the hack is—which is deeply troubling on its own—but aside from the obvious danger of having your photos in the hands of hackers, it will also add a new element to the debate on how much facial recognition software the government should be allowed to use.

    Keanu Reeves had quite a weekend

    At yesterday's E3 conference, Keanu Reeves surprised attendees with a special announcement: he himself will be in the forthcoming game Cyberpunk 2077, due out next April. Needless to say, as with anything Keanu Reeves is involved with, the internet went nuts.

    The first murder case to use family tree forensics goes to trial

    Last year, investigators were able to use information from genealogy sites like GEDmatch to catch the infamous Golden State Killer. Since then the same technique has been used in at least 50 other cases. But this week will mark the first time one of these cases has gone to trial. It will put the strategy on the court room stage, and a judge will decide if this kind of evidence is enough to put someone away for life.

    Cocktail Conversation

    There is one thing that Democrats and Republicans, or even Raptors and Warriors fans, alike can come together to hate, and that thing is robocalls. But there's good news: You can stop them. Download filtering apps, block individual numbers that call you, add yourself to the do not call registry, and more. Our security writer put together a guide to stopping those obnoxious all-day pocket vibrations.

    WIRED Recommends: Instant Pot Ace Blender

    Yes, the famous Instant Pot brand has come out with a blender of their own, and our reviewer says it's an excellent addition to your kitchen—with the right cookbook. Instant Pot's new blender isn't just for smoothies, it's for cooking too, which will make it more useful in your daily life but requires the right recipes to really get the most out of.

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    Best graduation gifts for her: 50 gift ideas for college grads

    Springtime means bright blooms, longer days, and a new class that’s getting ready to graduate. For you that means watching a woman you’re proud of accept her diploma, which also means you need to find the perfect gift for her.

    Depending on her interests, your grad might have useful items on her wishlist like kitchen appliances or a new laptop, or she might want something a little more fun like a vlogging camera or some cool gadgets. Regardless, you want to make her feel special for earning her degree and this gift guide is sure to include something she’ll love.

    There are plenty of ways to say “congratulations,” whether that’s through a heartfelt piece of jewelry or the latest tech products. You can go as sentimental or as utilitarian as you want — that’s the beauty of college graduation.

    Check out 50 of our suggestions to shower the college grad with love on her big day:

    Best Father’s Day gifts: 40 things your dad won’t buy for himself

    Image: mashable photo composite

    Dads often get shit for dad jokes and being bad at texting, but father figures have another thing in common besides thinking terrible puns are hilarious: They’re some of the most selfless people in the world.

    TBH, a lot of us wouldn’t know how to live on our own if it wasn’t for those father figures who taught us — this goes for uncles, step-dads, or anyone who stepped up to take on that role. And though he probably insists that you don’t have to get him anything, Father’s Day is an extra-special time to show your appreciation.

    Don’t phone it in and get him a mug that says “Dad.” It’s technically accurate, but it’s a terrible gift. (Looking for unique options for Father’s Day? Go here. Looking for something relatively cheap? Check our our guide to the best gifts under $50.)

    Whether it’s a gadget to make his life easier, a sentimental keepsake, or something that you know he wants but refuses to buy for himself, here are the best gift ideas for Father’s Day:

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    Facebook to ban white nationalism and separatism content on platform

    A Lin-Manuel Miranda follow is almost worth more than the presidency.
    Image: emma mcintyre/getty images

    Mayor Pete husband’s Chasten Buttigieg is a rare thing: a Twitter celebrity who deserves his fame. 

    So it was a beautiful thing to see Lin-Manuel Miranda, an equally deserving Twitter celebrity, follow Buttigieg on Twitter. But it wasn’t just that Miranda followed Chasten. It was how Chasten responded that brought joy to the rest of the internet.

    “Doing a quick bit of laundry. Hear loud scream. Run into kitchen terrified, expecting to see @Chas10Buttigieg in pool of blood,” Pete wrote on Twitter. “Am thereupon informed that @Lin_Manuel is following my husband, whose life is now complete.”

    You would think that Chasten Buttigieg’s husband becoming president would be his life goal. But I get it. Lin Manuel Miranda is a nearly perfect human. Hamilton deserves the obsessive following.

    A Miranda following is the approximate equivalent of ten thousand presidential endorsements, using social media math.

    Folks on Twitter understood the feeling.

    Congratulations to Chasten Buttigieg on nearly becoming president. 

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    These homes are proof that 3D printing could help resolve global homelessness

    A man and his tiny home.
    Image: picture alliance via Getty Image

    An Ode to… is a weekly column where we share the stuff we’re really into in hopes that you’ll be really into it, too.

    Tiny House Hunters fills me with a rage I cannot describe, and I absolutely crave it. 

    The HGTV show, streaming on Hulu, is about people who are sick and tired of being able to stretch in their own home and instead choose to live in glorified mobile homes. It follows either a single person trying to move into the mountains, a couple on the verge of breaking up, or a family who doesn’t seem to get that children get bigger on their quest to find the perfect tiny house. 

    Frequent quotes from the show include “Wow, this is tiny,” or “There’s not a lot of storage in here,” and my personal favorite, “A king size bed won’t fit in this loft!” 

    These are all things you’d expect from a tiny house, but the people who end up on Tiny House Hunters seem to have deluded themselves into believing that tiny houses have some sort of TARDIS-like magic that makes an impossibly cramped 200 square foot space feel bigger on the inside. 

    On a typical episode, an exasperated realtor will show contestants three different, but equally hellish, tiny homes. At the end of the episode, the contestant(s) will sit down and weigh the pros and cons of each house on camera, bitching about the lack of a full-size dishwasher and reluctantly accepting a composting toilet, before settling on the worst possible choice. The final scenes of each episode shows the contestants settled into their tiny homes and resigned to constantly stepping on their partners. 

    And nothing brings me simultaneous hate and joy like yelling at the TV in my human-sized living room. 

    Others on social media feel the same anger I do when I watch an episode of Tiny House Hunters. I love how furious other people get watching it — it validates my own unbridled rage. 

    I am not hating on anyone who lives in a tiny house. Personally, I think they’re great, and love the idea of living somewhere with little impact on the environment. Given the chance, I would absolutely live in a tiny house. But would I live in a tiny house with three dogs, two sticky toddlers, and another fully grown human being? Absolutely fucking not. Tiny House Hunters is so rage-inducing because the contestants on the show manage to pick the worst houses and be in the worst circumstances for tiny house living. 

    My most vitriolic reaction to the show was during an especially cursed episode, when a couple bought a literal burned down shack surrounded by garbage for a massive $155,000. In a Slate interview, Aubree and Jordan explained that land in Los Angeles isn’t cheap, and that the fact that the patch of trash dirt was already zoned for residential living saved them thousands of dollars on permits. 

    To be fair, their reasoning does make sense. But in an infuriating follow-up interview published this year, the couple explained that after clearing the debris from the house and building a tiny guesthouse, they ran out of money and moved into the 18 by 18 foot guest house. Now they’re moving out of the property and into a full-size two bedroom home. 

    When Slate asked if they ever watch Tiny House Hunters, Aubree responded with “No, it’s triggering.” 

    As Roxane Gay wrote in Curbed, “When one aspires to own a tiny home, they have a corresponding tiny American dream.” 

    While some contestants on the show will probably thrive in a mobile tiny house, like most of the single people with pets, many seem to be trying to fix a deeper issue — whether it’s a couple desperately trying to fix their relationship by literally getting closer or a growing family that’s low on funds. Buying a tiny house like slapping on a bandaid after being mauled by a bear. 

    Like reading the worst posts on r/relationships or hate watching The Bachelor, I have a sick fascination with unpacking the characters of Tiny House Hunters. What makes anyone feel more alive than yelling at preventable disasters? You’ll probably love it, too. 

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    This timelapse of the South Pole’s aurora australis is absolutely magical

    Northern lights, step aside. It’s the South Pole’s time to shine. 

    Very few of us will ever get to witness the spectacular light show that is the aurora australis. With incredibly strong winds and temperatures below -95°F, it’s nearly impossible to film there, too.

    Shot by Robert Schwartz, a technician at the Amundsen–Scott South Pole Station, special equipment was created to keep the cameras running all night. The footage captured is a soothing and magical sight to behold. 

    While you may not be able to localize these lights entirely in your kitchen, you can view this natural wonder online, anytime.

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    Spandex snobbery smackdown: why the liberal elite snubs wrestling

    The sport has drama, showmanship, and gender equality as the film Fighting With My Family proves. Yet, because its working class, its marginalised, writes director Stephen Merchant

    In 2014, after years of struggle, a working-class British woman, aged just 21, was awarded the highest honour her profession can bestow, live, in front of 20,000 people and a television audience of millions.

    The Guardian didnt report it. In the days following, there were no laudatory profiles, no in-depth interviews, no op-eds about her stratospheric success in a male-dominated world.

    Saraya-Jade Bevis, known professionally as Paige, is a World Wrestling Entertainment superstar. She began her career wrestling with her family in small venues across Norfolk, before climbing to the top of WWE, the billion-dollar US sports entertainment empire, to become the youngest ever Divas champion, the wrestling equivalent of heavyweight champion of the world.

    I like to think Im culturally aware, but I had never heard of Paige. And I dont blame the Guardian, or the other broadsheets; they have no duty to report on any entertainer (professional wrestling is as much performance as sport). Nevertheless, it is interesting to compare the attention Paige received with that conferred on other British performers.

    In the past 18 months, Claire Foy and Olivia Colman have deservedly won major awards for their brilliant portrayals of English queens. Both wins came with lengthy interviews and profile pieces in the quality newspapers, plus countless mentions on BBC TV and radio.

    I have worked with both these actors and they deserve every plaudit and column inch that comes their way. But acting, like pro wrestling, is another branch of show business. Foy and Colman have been rightly celebrated for cracking the US and conquering Hollywood, so why not Paige, who cracked America and conquered WWE (the Hollywood of wrestling) three years earlier?

    Over the years, Paige has featured in the Sun and other British tabloids, but the respectable middle-class media has largely ignored her. Why? Is it because Paige is a brash, blue-collar girl from East Anglia with heavy eye makeup and goth-rock stylings? Is it because wrestling is dismissed as frivolous, silly pantomiming for the great unwashed the same people who probably voted for Brexit? Is the reason you have never heard of her good old-fashioned snobbery?

    I only found out about Paige three years ago, when I was contacted out of the blue by Dwayne The Rock Johnson. A former WWE superstar, Johnson was working in London in 2012 and one night in his hotel room happened to catch a Channel 4 documentary about Paige and her family. (I love picturing this scene. In my mind The Rock is chilling in a Travelodge, hes just finished the free shortbread and an episode of Grand Designs, and on comes this film )The Bevis family are flawed, rowdy and rough around the edges, but love one another deeply, and wrestling almost as much. Mum, dad, son and daughter all wrestle, and in 2010 the siblings got the chance to audition for WWE. It was a once-in-a-lifetime shot at making the family dream come true, but only Paige was signed; her brother, Zak, was left behind. What happened next almost tore the family apart.

    Having come from a wrestling family, Johnson was riveted by Paiges story and later became tangentially involved in her career. Realising her story would make a great film, he reached out to me to write the script. (I suspect Johnson only has two Englishmen in his phone me and Jason Statham and he clearly realised that what I lacked in charisma and muscle definition, I made up for in typing speed.)

    Dwayne The Rock Johnson (left) and Vince Vaughn in Fighting With My Family. Photograph: Robert Viglasky/AP

    I sat down to watch the documentary, expecting to sneer at Paige and her family. Instead, I fell in love with them.

    I went to meet the Bevis clan in their small house on a council estate in Norwich. I discovered the documentary was just the first act of a bigger narrative, one thats not really about wrestling at all, in the same way that Billy Elliot isnt really about ballet. The Bevis saga is a coming-of-age tale in which the kids and the parents were forced to grow up a funny, emotional, tough, tender, inspiring and uplifting story that just happened to involve people in threadbare tights throwing each other about.

    Paige moved to Florida aged 18 to join WWEs intense training regime. She was a teenage mix of insecurity and arrogance, and often clashed with trainers and her fellow newbies, refining her raw talent in front of rowdy crowds, slowly proving herself to her paymasters and audiences while navigating the loneliness of life 4,000 miles from home.

    Stephen Merchant. Photograph: Taylor Jewell/Invision/AP

    I decided that if I was going to make a film telling Paiges story it must appeal both to wrestling fans and people like me who know nothing about her. You dont need to like boxing to enjoy Rocky, and you dont need to like Paiges sport to love her journey. As I researched the script, I started to understand wrestling. I finally began to get its appeal when one performer described it to me as a soap opera in spandex, in which the wrestlers tell stories with their bodies.

    I also discovered that the wrestling world has not always been a pioneer in gender equality. For instance, WWEs female performers were often relegated to filler matches, nicknamed bathroom breaks by fans waiting for the next clash of brawny men. Pleasingly, however, Paige and her fellow female wrestlers have, in recent years, spearheaded what has become known as the womens revolution, gaining more respect and airtime for the women of WWE, and garnering a passionate fanbase among audiences of all genders.

    While we were editing the film, the #MeToo and Times Up movements swiftly reached the public consciousness, and opened up a much-needed discussion about gender equality and inclusivity in all areas of life, including cinema.

    The fact that my movie had a female protagonist suddenly felt more significant, although I had been drawn to Paiges story not so much because she is a woman, but because she struck me as a classic movie underdog and her teenage dreams of making it in the entertainment world chimed with my own experience. Only when I started writing the script did her gender become a bigger factor, along with something else: her class.

    My grandad was a bricklayer and my dad is a retired plumber, so I felt an affinity with the Bevis family, who are wrestlers but also resolutely working class. I began thinking about how many films (at least those that hope to reach general audiences) have working-class British women as their leads.

    Jack Lowden as Paiges brother, Zak, and Florence Pugh as Paige in Fighting With My Family. Photograph: Robert Viglasky/AP

    There are many fine films that portray British working-class lives, including modern classics by directors such as Andrea Arnold, alongside socially conscious auteurs such as Mike Leigh and Ken Loach. These films are often brutally authentic and uncompromising, which means the multiplexes sometimes run shy of them so they become the preserve of the arthouse circuit, which cant always draw in the wider general audience, many of whom are the very people these films are about. This catch-22 can sometimes be particularly pronounced. I recall seeing the excellent Palme dOr winner I, Daniel Blake at a fancy north London arthouse cinema. During the harrowing scene in which Katie (Hayley Squires) is overcome with hunger at a food bank and forced to devour baked beans straight from the tin, I noticed the well-heeled man next to me was misty-eyed while eating roasted tomato hummus and flatbread with a side of Padrn peppers. I sensed the irony escaped him.

    With Fighting With My Family, I wanted to take Paiges story to both the arthouse crowd and a wider audience. I wanted to see if I could make a film about working-class people that was neither a gritty, kitchen-sink drama, nor a broad, knockabout comedy. In the years since Paiges title win, and since beginning on my film, there has been a rising and necessary awareness of the under-representation of women, not just in cinema, but in the arts in general. These exclusions have rightly been brought into the light, yet it is revealing that a homegrown female talent like Paige has been overlooked.

    While we were eating our hummus and flatbread, there she was, hiding in plain sight. Marginalised for being a working-class wrestler, ignored and unheralded. I hope our film will go some way in correcting this injustice, but I am also left wondering just how many other Paiges are out there.

    Fighting With My Family is on release now

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    What happens to your body when you eat spicy food?

    Let the bloggers blog.
    Image: Enrique Das / 7Cera / Getty Images

    Every so often, someone will act very angry online because a recipe they clicked on has “too much text.” They wanted to make mushroom ravioli, but instead had to scroll through a bunch of words about what mushroom ravioli means to a blogger’s family. Boring!

    It’s true that many (if not most) food bloggers write long narratives preceding their recipes. Sometimes, they explain how they developed the recipe. Other times, they share why they chose to post this particular food, or explain the modifications they’ve made to accommodate family members with dietary restrictions. They might share a story about the dish providing them comfort in a difficult time, or how cooking the dish with a loved one healed a broken relationship. Food is personal, after all; it comes with stories. 

    So why do so many people rush to mock them?

    Cadry Nelson, a food blogger who runs the vegan website Cadry’s Kitchen, includes narratives with her recipes regularly. (She’s also written an essay about recipe narratives.) This is partially because she wanted to document her transition to veganism, the context in which she developed much of her work. In doing so, she’d create a reference point for readers curious about going vegan themselves.

    “I was trying a lot of produce I’d never had before, as well as re-creating old familiar flavors but without meat, dairy, and eggs,” she explained in an interview. “I didn’t have many other friends who were vegan at that point.”

    Sharing this information doesn’t just benefit her readers, either. It also helps her secure a place in the saturated food blog realm. “Through these posts, I’ve gotten to know bloggers’ flavor preferences too,” Nelson said. By sharing stories on blogs, people get to know the types of foods [and] flavors that specific recipe creators enjoy. You figure out who is a good match for your own palate.”

    So why do people have such an issue with people writing about their own food? It seems to come down to convenience. Generally, perturbed readers complain that it takes too long for them to scroll down to the recipe itself.

    Historian Kevin Kruse, for example, tweeted his disdain for recipe narratives last weekend: “Hey, cooking websites?” he wrote. “I don’t really need a thousand words about how you discovered the recipe or the feelings it evoked for you … I’m trying to feed my family. No need to curate the experience for me.”

    “GIMME THE RECIPE HON MY SCROLL FINGER HURTS,” tweeted Chelsea Peretti last November.

    Admittedly, it is irritating when anything is difficult to find on the internet, especially when we’ve come to expect an easy-as-pie user experience from every app and every website. It can feel like a slog to scroll through paragraphs of text when all you want is a list of ingredients.

    But the thing to interrogate here isn’t necessarily whether blocks of text are annoying — it’s why people think these particular blocks of text don’t deserve to exist.

    Nelson thinks there’s an element of sexism to the critiques she sees about recipe writing. Home cooking is still a deeply gendered pursuit, and writers whose work centers on home cooking are still perceived as less professional, less valuable, and less worthy voices.  “The feeling seems to be that they don’t think these writers have something of value to offer,” Nelson said.

    There’s been high-profile backlash to the backlash against recipe narratives. After Kruse’s tweet, Smitten Kitchen creator Deb Perelman tweeted a thread on the matter, encouraging recipe writers to “write as long and as in-depth as your heart desires about recipes and anything else they drum up in your mind and ignore anyone who says you shouldn’t.”

    Like Nelson, she also called out detractors’ casual sexism. “Congratulations, you’ve found a new, not particularly original, way to say ‘shut up and cook,'” she tweeted. “I just don’t see don’t see the same pushback when male chefs write about their wild days or basically anything. Do you?”

    “I wish more people who cooked got to tell their stories,” she added.

    There’s also a more technical element at play where recipe narratives are concerned: search engine optimization (SEO). Recipe bloggers want to catch the attention of the illusive Google algorithm —  and, ideally, land their recipe on the coveted first page — so they must demonstrate “authority” in their field. This means more comprehensive content, which is really hard to pull off with a concise recipe alone. (Tons of people will be using the phrase “apple crumble,” for example, but only you can write your own story about it.)

    “When I’m writing, I try to tell a story that has a hook as well as please[s] the Google algorithm,” Nelson said. “I do keyword research … I see what kinds of questions people have around the topic, and look for ways to anticipate their problems, and answer their questions, so that they will have a successful cooking experience. Lately, I’ve been adding more step-by-step pictures of how to make dishes, as well as videos, because Google says that readers want that.”

    ‘I wish more people who cooked got to tell their stories.’

    Even though she’s noticed people criticizing lengthy posts, Nelson maintains that writing a lot — authoritatively, of course — is what’s going to get eyes on her recipes. “People say they want shorter posts, but Google values information,” she said. “It’s hard to give information without using some words along the way.”

    SEO and marketing experts agree that Nelson’s approach is a smart one, especially in such a saturated landscape. “Because a recipe usually consists of a listing of ingredients and steps, it’s often very difficult for a search engine to discern what this article is trying to convey,” Pete Herrnreiter, who is the VP of digital strategy at The Motion Agency, explained via email. “By developing a richer upfront with background on the dish … it [helps to] define the post.”

    Content strategist Abby Sanders, who works for Von Mack Agency, also emphasized the advantages of differentiating one’s recipe from the pack. “These days, search engines are pretty effective at determining whether a page can serve as an ‘expert source’ on a specific query,” she said. “So any additional content that includes certain keywords, as long as it’s coherent and well-written, will improve that page’s ranking.”

    As a caveat, Sanders mentioned, there are “plenty of other factors that play a role in rankings, such as domain authority, links to that page, and the list goes on. But from a sheer content standpoint, it does make good sense for a food blogger to write some extra, interesting copy around their subject.”

    So, fine. Finding a list of chili ingredients would be easier if we didn’t have to scroll. But recipe bloggers are writers, and they have stories to share that are poignant, funny, and valuable — even if you (and I) don’t love every single one you read. And if you really don’t like the narratives? There are plenty of places for you to find story-free recipes online, though you might have to pay for a subscription to see some of them. Also, cookbooks exist.

    “My food blog is my own. It’s my creative space. I spend a lot of time testing the recipes, taking photographs, making videos, and writing my stories,” Nelson said. “If people aren’t interested in any aspect, so be it.”

    “My blog is Cadry’s Kitchen. It’s literally the place where I cook,” she added. “I don’t know why I would write myself out of it.”

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