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Free Thinking Festival 2008

October 29, 2008

“You’re a 90 year old man stuck in a 40 year old’s body,” said a new found friend with a wry smile on her face. I corrected her only on the “40 year old” bit. As it happens I am 36 and I also go to the gym three times a week. I may not have the body of twenty-something gym bunny, but I figure I’m doing OK for my age.

Having said that, she’s not entirely incorrect. I was explaining to her how I was looking forward to my weekend jaunt in Liverpool. I’ve got my train booked – a nice four and a half hour journey to the European City of Culture to attend Radio 3’s Free Thinking Festival. I’ll be taking my flask for the journey (yes, really), some sandwiches, and a small weekend suitcase. I love the travel. I love the ocassional weekend away in a hotel. I’m really looking forward to it.

I’ve been to the Free Thinking Festival before and loved it. Initially the prospect of listening to lectures, seminars and debates about a broad range of topics delivered by thinkers, scientists and authors didn’t seem appealing. And yet, only a few hours in Liverpool and I found myself lapping it up.

Attending is one of the many benefits of working at the BBC. You can be working in one division doing your day to day work and then find yourself doing something completely different for an entirely different part of the Corporation. I like that. I value that. It’s something I’m very grateful for.

This year’s event is a little different for me. There’s a personal challenge afoot. Armed with my camera, my laptop and a (hopefully) free internet connection, I’m producing a series of short video reports about various events. There’s a drama being produced over weekend for broadcast on Sunday night, a key note speech from Will Self, a debate about whether computers make us stupid and a discussion about whether our idea of privacy is now redundant in light of social networking tools.

The challenge for me is two-fold. First is the editorial and technical challenge presented by attending a series of events and providing responses to camera immediately afterwards. This is “free thinking” after all. It’s about engaging in the debate, identifying your personal response to a series of ideas proposed by various speakers. That response then needs editing, encoding, checking over and then uploading to the web (all the videos will be at and on this blog).

The second challenge is primarily an editorial one. In comparison to the Proms – where I’ll happily admit I relish the opportunity to be a little tongue-in-cheek – the Free Thinking festival is an entirely different animal. Tongue-in-cheek just doesn’t work at this kind of event. It’s small – intimate in some respects – and it’s a genuine educational experience too. The opportunity to go is a bit like being told I could go back to University and do my degree all over again and not have to pay. The idea of that is a luxury. The opportunity to reflect that using a slightly different language is appealing and also quite a challenge.

Can I pull it off? I’ve absolutely no idea. But I will have a good stab at it. Keep up with what’s going on via Twitter if you fancy or perhaps even check the blog if you’re so inclined. Failing that you could always listen on the radio.

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