Who is to say what we should and shouldn’t read? Should we ban books? Which books would you like to eradicate? Inspired by Ray Bradbury’s novel and the François Truffaut film adaptation of Fahrenheit 451, CinePunked explores issues of censorship on screen and in literature in our latest podcast.
Sleeve notes are below.
Please also read our reflection blog here.
With Robert JE Simpson, Dr Rachael Kelly, Neil Sedgewick and Steven Rainey.
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Episode URL: https://player.whooshkaa.com/episode?id=671825
Burn All Books was our contribution to the 2019 Belfast Book Festival. A bold, provocative, interactive attempt to interrogate ideas of censorship and value. We would host one of our trademark conversations, and then perform a ceremonial book burning. Yes, you heard that right, a book burning.
I’ve written about the event at some length previously, and you can read those thoughts here. Regular followers will be used to our willingness to push the boat out, to risk poking the bear a little, in order to explore a concept. This was to be just that, a proof of concept enterprise that we could develop further and take to other venues. As usual, we faced a number of questions and concern from external parties. Comparisons to 1930s Germany weren’t far from most peoples’ lips.
The podcast version incorporates the bulk of the live conversation. In a piece about censorship, I have resisted the temptation to cut some of the audience interaction. One latecomer objected to the idea of us burning books, but had missed our discussion of why we were doing it.
We talk at length about censorship, with reference to Bradbury’s classic novel. And we also talk about the books we have chosen to burn during the ceremony. The actual burning of the books is not included in the pod (it doesn’t make for good audio), but can be read about on this page and watched below. The session was recorded in front of a small live audience in the rooftop bar of the Bullitt Hotel, Belfast. The heavens had opened, and by the time we got to the burning, everybody was cold and wet, but in good spirits. We remain open to the possibility of exploring this concept again.
Incidentally, I’ve learned this week that the Queen’s University Belfast student newspaper The Gown saw fit to write about the event after the fact, and suggest that we missed the point of Bradbury’s novel, and insulted the authors of the books burned. In the best tabloid traditions its clear that their Arts and Entertainment co-editor at the time, Maria McQuillan, wasn’t in attendance and rather missed the point herself. Read the blog post, listen to the pod, then judge.
Originally this was to have been quite a media heavy event. We’d explored various options for filming and to document the conversation and the burning. This was made more complicated by the various appeasements we had to put in place. But there were additional cameras recording the event. Next time we run this, I’m hoping we can link up online to other participants and to livestream too.
I’d planned to release this around the time that the Book Festival would normally be held, and as it turns out, its going up nearly a year to the day from our recording. The timing couldn’t be better, as this week, following the anti-racism demonstrations that have swept the western world, questions of censorship are being raised as online platforms like Netflix and HBO Max start removing films and television programmes because of their potentially offensive content.
The release of this episode marks the CinePunked podcast debuts of both Steven Rainey and Neil Sedgewick. Regulars may have seen them participate in one of our live events – Neil has been an occasional presence since 2018, while Burn All Books marked the first time Steven joined us. We’ve recorded a number of pieces with both, but owing to the timey wimey way our live material is added to this archive, you’ve had to wait to listen to them at home. Steven is an accomplished broadcaster, and has just the right sense of adventure for some of our more outlandish projects. Neil is a promising writer, who used to critique under the brand of Films & Faith, and a long-time supporter who seems to enjoy being taken out of his comfort zone on occasion! I’m hugely grateful to both for their contributions and am delighted to have them on board as part of the CinePunked family.
This event challenged all of our perceptions. I hope the podcast captures some of that and challenges some of yours.
Recorded live at Bullitt, Belfast 12 June 2019 .
Engineered and edited by Robert JE Simpson and first published on 11 June 2020.