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The Sydenham Arts Festival. By Dunia El-Zobaidi


Our intern, Dunia, has been investigating the local cultural scene in south-east London:

The Sydenham Arts Festival was first held in July 2009, showcasing artists ‘known to the staff of Kirkdale Bookshop – arguably the cultural hub of Sydenham’. Due to its success in attracting over eight thousand visitors, it has become an annual celebration of diverse artists from Sydenham, Forest Hill and beyond. While its programme continues to provide talented writers and performers with a vital opportunity for valuable exposure, the festival also has the function of developing a precious sense of community in southeast London. The 2012 festival (1-15 July) consisted of forty-eight events.

‘A Fiesta of Poetry’ was a strong message to anyone refusing to accept that poetry is alive and well as an art form in this country. Poets such as ACER-winning Ronnie McGrath and members of a local group, ‘Cryptwriters’, Stephen Rayton and Gale Burns, performed their work to a modest audience. There was much life in their writing of personal experiences and relationships – enough to answer anyone saying that Facebook and Twitter have killed creative writing among the youth.

Ronnie McGrath
Gale Burns

The Sydenham Film Club presented Roman Polanski’s hilarious black comedy, Carnage (2011), an adaptation of the French play, God of Carnage by Yasmina Reza. The atmosphere in the small screening room was cosy and warm, contrasting with the cold July rain outside. There was indeed a strong sense of community as strangers chatted in a way you would be lucky to find at your local Odeon. The film was a success in Hollywood, with both Jodie Foster and Kate Winslet nominated for Best Actress Golden Globe Awards. Released in the same year as ‘romcom’ standards, No Strings Attached and Friends with Benefits, Carnage managed to fill the room with genuine laughter as its two couples argued over a playground fight between their sons. The Sydenham Film Club did well to choose this fast-paced and compact narrative that evolves into a heated drama, eliciting themes as fundamental as class, marriage, violence, misogyny and money. The intelligence and originality of the dialogue in this simple tale provide all the thought-provoking entertainment cinema-goers seek. It is time to do away with gimmicks, graphics and ‘sexy’ stars.


‘Sydenham Unsigned’ gave local bands of all musical genres an opportunity to shine. The event was organised as a competition with a winning trophy and a day’s free recording time, the runners up receiving three hours of free rehearsal time, courtesy of Antenna Studios. The atmosphere was fully-charged as artists of varied ages performed for the audience and judges, displaying inspiring amounts of passion and commitment, not to mention talent. Beautiful voices sang alongside instruments, and rapping mixed well with amplified electric guitar. The winning band seemed to have come from the seventies. Finally their charisma and on-stage antics roused the audience to crowd the dance floor. Putting The X Factor to shame, the vibrant presenter provided entertainment, and the music business judges enough authority to hope that these talents will benefit from their opportunity. Perhaps they are now ‘Sydenham Signed’?

Jean Genies

The Sydenham Arts Festival offers a comprehensive and well-organised programme of events, giving its thousands of visitors the impression of having discovered the very best this burgeoning area of London has to offer. And there is always more to come in 2013.

The Sydenham Arts Festival ran from the 1st – 15th July


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