Monday, March 31, 2008

Spanish Civil War

There was a piece of living history in San Fran on Sunday when a war memorial was dedicated to the Abraham Lincoln Brigade who fought in the Spanish Civil War.

It is the first memorial of its kind in America even though the war was between 1936 - 1939 and was before the Second World War.

A member of the Brigade association said there are now only 39 veterans alive, five or six of whom live in the Bay Area. It was fitting that the memorial was in San Fran given the leftist politics of the city, he added with a wry smile, referring to the republican versus nationalist cause of the war.

The monument is composed of panels that show scenes from the war and faces of soldiers. It is at the Justin Herman plaza opposite the Ferry Building at the Embarcadero.

Pictured are two of the guest veterans, both in their nineties, beneath the memorial. They beamed with pride as they sat in the sun during the afternoon after the ceremony with the public milling around taking photographs.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Greek Independence Day Parade

The Greek Independence Day Parade wound a colourful way through the streets of San Francisco on Saturday. It marked the 187th anniversary of the freedom of the Greeks from Turkish Ottoman rule and celebrated the rich Grecian culture.

The parade showcased dancers in traditional costume, the Olympic Games, the Greek Orthodox Church, Hellenic schools and youth groups from the Bay Area and Hellenic and Cretan associations.

In honour of the forthcoming Olympic Games in China, there was special inclusion of an enchanting children’s troupe of ribbon and fan dancer
s from the city and an Olympic float that had made its debut in the Chinese New Year parade.

Firefighters were there in one of their engines, Naval officers, a vintage fire engine was playfully driven around, and the Consul General of Greece and other civic dignitaries rode in vintage and open-top cars

‘It is very important to demonstrate our culture for the San Franciscan community who are very much polyethnic and to remind our children of the customs and culture,’ said one of the organizers.

The parade ended at the Civic Centre where Greek, Cretan and fan dances were performed in front of a stage that had been set up. However, crowd numbers were low with just a few hundred people and
Metropolitan Gerasimos, leader of the Greek Orthodox Metropolis of San Francisco, challenged the Greek community.

‘I know that we can do much better,’ he said, adding, ‘We as Orthodox Greeks and Hellenes will need to become much more aware of our faith and our culture.’

A benefactor of the parade whose family tree links him with the original 1821 uprising against the Turks, was presented with a copy of a letter written by his ancestor.

In the letter were the words ‘What good is life without freedom…God gave us minds, hands and wisdom…God is with us…we either liberate ourselves or we all die.’

Receiving the letter was George Marcus, one of the Regents of the University of California, who thanked people for his gift and said that those words could ring true for other courageous uprisings including the American Revolution.

A Greek American lady in the crowd said that what she liked of the day was ‘seeing different Greek customs, seeing them dance, seeing different organizations. It is good to support our culture,’ she said. She explained that Greeks arriving in the Bay Area had set up associations that reflected their original counties in Greece.

The parade was inaugurated in San Francisco in the 1950s and but for a pause in the 1970s is an annual event.

Click for pics. Click to enlarge.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Olympic Torch City Protest Request

City officials are expected to announce tomorrow if they will agree to a request that the Olympic Torch is publicly received at the April ceremony with 'alarm and protest.'

A city Supervisor put forward the resolution at a City Hall committee meeting last week. He has been supported by the dean of the city's main church, Grace Cathedral, who was reported in the San Fran Chronicle as giving it his 'unreserved and enthusiastic support.'

'This is a tremendous opportunity and we should not underestimate symbolic acts,' Dean Alan Jones said, adding that, 'with the recent events in Tibet and China, surely the time has come for the wider global community to stand in more visible solidarity with the people of Tibet and China ... who seek freedom by nonviolent means.'

Bay Area Tibetans gave evidence at the committee meeting of abuses by the Chinese government.

'This struggle is not against the Chinese people, it is against a Beijing regime that is very brutal,' Ngodup Tsering, president of the Tibetan Association of Northern California is quoted as saying.

Some people at the meeting spoke in defense of China.

Olympic Torch Protests

The hot news in San Fran this week is about the Olympic Torch and protests against the Chinese government for human rights abuses especially against the Tibetans.

With San Fran being an Olympic showcase for North America on April 9, protesters are amassing. Outside the Civic Hall today are Tibetans and others supporting the Free Tibet campaign. On NBC 11's evening news broadcast tonight one of the protest leaders said that their computers have been infected with viruses. They suspect the Chinese government but NBC 11 were not able to draw any comment from the FBI.

Protests are also going to be against China's support for the government of Sudan against the people of Dafur and, according to the San Fran Chronicle, perhaps even on behalf of the Burmese monks.

Darfur Coalition spokeswoman, Martina Knee, is quoted as saying they expect to have at least 1,000 protesters on the streets from all over the country. They have also bought signs on 80 Muni buses: 'Tell China to stop sponsoring genocide in Darfur.'

The Chronicle reports, too, that China has requested the eight-mile route be shortened to six miles. Controversy has raged over the route. Mayor Gavin Newsom has confirmed that the protests will be allowed but has only today released some details of the route.

The starting point is at McCovey Cove, an area of the Bay waterfront south of the city that is near the baseball park, home of the San Francisco Giants. The finishing point will be further north along the Bay at the Justin Herman Plaza opposite the Ferry Building at the Embarcadero.

Exactly which streets the route will take is still unknown. Mayor Newsom is reported in another Chronicle article as saying that details are being held back because of worries about possible attempts to stop or disrupt the procession.

'But no one will be denied the ability to protest all along the parade route if, indeed, they find that it is a great idea because they want to disrupt what should be a unifying event and try to make it more divisive,' he said.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Chinatown Will Not See Olympic Torch

The Olympic Torch is on it's way to San Fran giving the city the honour of being the only North American city to host the legendary flame. But it is unlikely to go through Chinatown Mayor Gavin Newsom was reported to have said in the San Fran Chronicle.

This, he said, is due to the narrow streets and congestion and nothing to do with the prevailing political unease against China. Or the arson attack on the Chinese Consulate last week or the request that during the ceremony a city official publicly records a protest at China's human rights record.

Certainly Chinatown's streets are smaller and the pavements are a crush of people and stalls. And when the flame came to San Fran in 2004 it did not go through Chinatown.

But how do the Chinese community feel about this as the Games are in their homeland?

I wandered through and spoke to traders and shoppers. Their responses surprised me especially as this is the oldest Chinatown outside of Asia. Call me naive but I am new to San Fran and have not browsed in Chinatowns around the world.

I had great difficulty in getting my question understood. My first encounter set the scene for what was to follow. Two older, smartly dressed ladies who had been chatting on the pavement struggled to interpret my words. Finally, between them they smiled encouragingly at me:

'I've no idea at all.... you go ask the police!'

After that other people gave me blank looks and stares, the occasional shake of the head mixed in with such phrases as 'No speak English,' 'I speak Chin-eesey,' 'I'm sorry, no English.'

In one shop a customer joined in with staff to try to help. As we stood there, fat white dumplings steaming behind the counter, the three women made an effort but gave up with apologetic glances. Even a girl handing out leaflets for a new Chinese health centre wasn't able to converse in English.

Some said blankly, 'I don't know about it.' One said, 'I don't care,' while another lady's offering was that the previous procession had been in another street. Did she mind? She didn't seem to know. All of which conversations were conducted with linguistic difficulties and gesticulations.

Finally, I met a friendly couple in a healthfood store who easily understood my question. What do the people of Chinatown think about not having the Olympic Torch in their streets?

'Some people would like it but some don't know about it,' said the woman. The man smiled broadly. 'I would like to stand outside the door and see it!' he said.

Did I ask anyone in Chinatown what they thought of Tibet? There was no point. They wouldn't have spoken in Chinese either!

The Olympic Torch processes through the streets on Wednesday, 9 April.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Fifth Anniversary of Iraq War - Rally and March

The finale to the day's protests marking the fifth anniversary in Iraq was a rally and march starting at the Civic Center plaza.

A few thousand people gathered from 5 pm. But this had a very different tone to the theatrical demonstrations earlier in the day.

Organised by ANSWER - Act Now to Stop War and End Racism - this was hardline politics: an annexation of political groups from around the Bay Area.

With over an hour of speeches, the rally was not only about the war: it was about Afghanistan, Iran, Palestine, Cuba, Venezuela, the Philippines, Tibet, Haiti, North Korea, Colombia, the rights of immigrant workers, jobs, housing and healthcare.

Though it was primarily about the 'US imperialist war and the occupation in Iraq'. Tone and rhetoric conveyed anger about America.

'We do not want to colonize the world,' said one speaker.

'This war has nothing to do with the reasons given. It has everything to do with oil and power and domination,' thundered another.

A young Arab American woman speaking passionately first about Palestine, said of Iraq: 'The only way we can stop this war is to remember that they are faces...human faces.'

There were boos, predictably, for Bush but also disdain for Democratic candidates Obama and Hillary. A female Senator, running in the presidential race though not expecting to win, said she had no hope that the next president would end the war because whoever it was would need to assuage 'the rich, bankers, militarists...'

She went on to speak about the economic cost of the war and the needs for housing and healthcare. She was applauded as she called for free healthcare and the abolition of medical insurance companies.

Trying to galvanize action as the rally moved towards an end, yet another speaker said, 'The US will not leave Iraq, will not bring the troops home until the people force them to.'

It was announced that police had arrested 125 protesters during the day, though the San Fran Chronicle and TV news programmes later put the number at 150. Stalls advertising different political groups lined the plaza and plenty of leaflets were handed out.

As 6.30 pm approached and with speeches still continuing, protesters began to line up for the march. Those at the front had plenty of time to practice chants...'we want money for jobs and education...Not for war and occupation.' And, 'one, two, three, four...we must end this racist war.'

Eventually, with police in front, a long line of several thousand people, chanting and banging drums and cymbals, and waving banners and placards in a culmination of the day's activities, wound out of the plaza and towards the Mission District.

The rally had attracted people of all ages but many were young. Throughout the day the protests were mostly by political activists. Missing was a broader cross-section of San Franciscans: 'ordinary' people who are concerned about the war, families, relatives of troops, church groups.

Perhaps the fact that it was a working day had some bearing, but the impression was that most San Franciscans who have qualms about the war do not wish to be involved in street protests or link themselves to political groups.

Click for pics. Click to enlarge.

Fifth Anniversary of Iraq War - mid-morning

By mid-morning on the fifth anniversary of the Iraq war protesters were bringing theatrical displays to the streets plus traffic chaos. Police were out in force and film crews, journalists and cameramen were in the thick of it.

Dressed in costumes and sloganned tee-shirts, protesters were both audience and actors in a 'death scene' in the main street, Market Street, representing the bodies of war victims. Trams, buses, cars were halted. Police rushed up and stationed themselves in a cordon, allowing the protests to continue.

Two women in front of me watched. 'This is what democracy is about,' said one, approving the fact that people can express their views. Her friend agreed but suggested they beat a hasty retreat just in case and they departed at speed.

Talking to a man beside me, he was unimpressed by the protests. The causes of the war were complex, he thought, probably due in part to intelligence lies told by Iran to get America do the dirty work for them.

Was he more worried by the war or the economy? I asked.

'The economy, ' he said without hesitation. 'Mind you,' he added, 'I'm not necessarily for the war.'

An activist called Paul from Direct Action to Stop the War stood nearby. His view was that America was out for world dominion, which is what he objected to, whether by force or political manipulation.

As we stood there the police 'called time' and then gradually arrested one by one those 'dying' protesters who didn't wish to retire to the sidewalk.

Back at the plaza further down Market Street a programme of events was starting. There were speeches, poetry readings and songs...'till the soldiers all come home...we shall not be moved...' and another on behalf of 'all mothers with broken hearts from 9/11 onwards'.

The names of people who had died on both sides of the conflict were read out and Bishop Marc Handley Andrus, Episcopal Bishop of California, spoke for peace. 'Now is the time for peace in Iraq, peace in our cities, peace in the world,' he said.

He was due to lead a peace vigil that evening with other church leaders at Grace Cathedral where boots and shoes signifying all Californians who had died in Iraq had been placed on the Great Steps and inside on the labyrinth. He ended with a prayer that the troops would not have died in vain (KTVU-TV news have on-line video of vigil)

Suddenly at midday there was a hustle behind us and a group of cyclists in costume and with slogans circled in the street. As the traffic ground to a halt for a second time, it was announced it was time for people 'to die.'

A coffin covered in flowers and the American flag was carried into the middle of the street, a spot also opposite a State Senator's office, and protesters duly arranged themselves around it. They were joined by other protesters dressed in the bright orange Guantanamo Bay garb who had earlier demonstrated in Union Square.

Once again the police were there almost instantly. As trams were trapped, passengers disembarked and were redirected. With a helicopter hovering overhead, the police waited patiently. They allowed plenty of time for the protest and for the many cameramen and bystanders to film and take photos.

Then they gave warnings through a loudspeaker that it was time to clear the street and that those who didn't would be arrested. There was another long gap before they slowly, and with just a few scuffles, methodically arrested those who wanted to be arrested.

Protesters banged drums, clanged cymbals, jangled bicycle bells and booed the police as each person was led away to the Sheriff's van. As the protesters were removed, others sat down to take their places.

Finally at 2.25 pm the rattle of an orange street car was heard and Market Street began to rumble back into life. The remaining protesters took a break and a police officer pulled bottles of water from a van and handed them out to her colleagues.

Walking away from the protest site, life was continuing as normal. As I waited at traffic lights near Union Square a Chinese lad turned to me and asked: 'Where is the Disney store?'

Click for pics. Click to enlarge.

Fifth Anniversary of Iraq War - early morning

Today is the Fifth Anniversary of the Iraq War and anti-war protesters made an early start.

By 7.00 am Direct Action to Stop the War were gathering in the financial district to blockade the offices of major corporations who they say are benefiting from the war.

Not long after, Women for Peace all in pink were trying to engage with commuters pouring from a subway. They were offering paper coffee mugs with a 'War Bucks' logo and a little pink slip of paper inside asking people to support their efforts.

Of the troops, Susan said, 'I feel like they are all my family. All the American soldiers are my sons and daughters and all the Iraqi children are my children. The Iraqi people are my brothers and sisters.

'If we all felt like that, there wouldn't be any war,' she added.

Susan indicated to the commuters who were ignoring her in droves. 'I see sad, tired faces and when people are asleep like this, that's when the government are able to do what they are doing,' she said.

One of her placards read: 'Wake Up America!'

Acknowledging the high profile of the coming presidential election, she said, 'Democracy is not to be had, it is to do. It's only us who can do it. We can't depend on one person to do it.'

I tried to speak to some of the commuters. What did they think of the protest? The war? But no-one wanted to stop and comment. I probably looked like part of the protest and they were wary. They also, as Susan said, looked stressed and preoccupied as they made their early-morning dash to work.

I went back to Susan and told her no-one would speak to me. She is there at the plaza on Market Street every week.

'Americans don't stop,' she said. 'Eighty per cent of people who stop are internationals.'

Alongside her group were Iraq Moratorium and as I left a woman handed me a sheet of paper with a black ribbon pinned to it with names of local congressmen and a telephone number to ring to request them to stop funding the war.

Click for pics. Click to enlarge.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Cosco Busan Pilot Charged

Breaking news in the San Fran Chronicle this lunchtime:

The pilot guiding the Cosco Busan container ship that rammed the Bay Bridge last November sending thousands of gallons of oil swilling around the Bay and coastline has been charged with violating federal laws.

Pilot John Joseph Cota was charged in federal court in San Fran with the negligent discharge of a pollutant and killing migratory birds including brown pelicans, marbled murrelets and western grebes.

Over 50,000 gallons of oil were spilled and over 2,000 birds died. Cota is accused of piloting errors and failing to use the ship's radar as they approached the bridge in heavy fog.

His attorney said the charges were premature as the National Transportation Safety Board has not yet published it's report on the accident.

'Capt. Cota, who was born and raised in San Francisco, cares deeply about the San Francisco Bay and its ecosystem and is deeply distressed about what happened on Nov. 7 .... We strongly believe that once all of the evidence is heard, a jury will find in Capt. Cota's favor,' the attorney is reported as saying.

Insurance agents for the ship's owners have agreed a $2 million initial payment towards the clean-up costs but a final settlement is yet to be determined.

This report is taken from the San Fran Chronicle and further details are in the report by Henry K Lee which can be accessed by clicking the link at the top. The story is also covered by Associated Press and published in the Chronicle.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

St Patrick's Day 2008

The centre of San Fran glowed green on Saturday for the 156th St Patrick's Day parade.

Thousands of people lined the streets for a colourful and musical celebration of the patron saint. It was a day to wear Irish nationality with pride with many in green hats, jackets or tee-shirts, rows of green beads strung around their necks. And the green, white and orange flag fluttered all around.

The parade is the oldest and largest one for St Patrick's Day west of the Mississipi and this year's theme was Saints and Scholars and the influence they have had through education.

Over 5,000 people took part from all around California with a festive display not only of Irish culture but of the contribution made by Irish Americans to public life.

Led by police on horses, there followed the city's Irish Pipers, the San Mateo Bearcat Marching Band, members of the police, firefighters, trade unions and Irish Wolfound Rescue Trust, and of course youngsters in decorative costumes showing off their traditional dancing and baton-twirling skills. There were also colourful floats and vintage cars.

The parade wound through some of San Fran's main streets to the Civic Center Plaza, the importance of the event underscored by the presence of Mayor Gavin Newsome. At first he rode in his limo but as his car stopped near the top corner of the plaza, he jumped out to meet the crowds. People were thrilled at the unexpected opportunity to meet him as he shook hands and happily posed for photos.

Afterwards he ran over to join the front line of the firefighters to walk with them the last few yards of the parade.

With the parade over, the afternoon turned into a Family Festival with side stalls in the plaza, face painting, a beer garden and live music from an array of Irish performers.

St Patrick's Day is a celebration of the anniversary of the saint's death believed to be on 17 March, 460 AD. But how did he become a patron saint? According to the History Channel, it is thought that the 16-year-old Patrick was captured by Irish raiders from his family's wealthy estate in England.

He was taken to Ireland where he spent six years as a prisoner working as a shepherd. During that time he developed a strong Christian faith, and though he escaped back to Britain, he trained and returned to Ireland as a missionary.

Tradition also credits him with creating the Celtic cross, a cross depicting a round sun at the top.

St Patrick's Day has been observed for thousands of years. But the first parade was held in New York in 1762 by Irish soldiers serving in the English army.

Saturday's parade was organised by the United Irish Societies and, according to the San Fran Chronicle, there was an estimated turn-out of 200,000.

As we left after the parade, we walked behind a group of green tee-shirted girls.

'That was awesome!' exclaimed one girl loudly. 'I met Mayor Newsome!'

Perhaps for some San Franciscans, St Patrick's Day could happily be renamed St Gavin's Day!

Click for pics. Click on individual pics to enlarge.

Sunday, March 9, 2008

Clocks Forward

The clocks went forward an hour this morning. It's called Daylight Saving Time. San Fran is now only seven hours behind the UK until clocks there change on 23 March.

It is the earliest time change here since 1974. And it doesn't suit everyone, especially farmers with their herds of cows! An interesting article in the San Fran Chronicle by Jonathan Curiel explains their problems and some of the history of the day. Newshour Extra give a more detailed history.

Benjamin Franklin in 1784 is thought to be the first person to have thought about rearranging the day to save candles. America did it in both World Wars to save fuel but only established it in 1966 as a permanent way of reducing bills and use of electricity, the states of Arizona and Hawaii opting out.

'Summer time' was brought forward by four or five weeks by President Bush in 2005, encouraged by commercial gains. Millions of more dollars are made by retailers and industries like golf where evening light keeps people out and about!

In San Fran today we have had streaming sunshine again as we are now at the start of three months of summer temps. We had low 60s in the city and higher in surrounding areas.

In contrast severe storms with 95 mph winds battered England and Wales especially in the south west in the worst storm so far of the winter. Conditions were similar to the storm in San Fran in January.

Only we called ours a hurricane!

But on the philosophy of time, I liked this humorous piece by Lynette Evans, Home and Garden Editor of the San Fran Chronicle, an excerpt of which:

'We lose an hour. That idea I comprehend. I lose hours more often than John loses his reading glasses. Like most workers, I start the day with a reasonable set of tasks to accomplish before cocktails, and before I know it, "the sun has set over the yardarm," as my father was fond of quoting, and people are pouring out of office buildings and into their favorite watering holes, while I'm at least an hour behind on my day, wondering what happened'.

Pic shows the clock tower at the Embarcadero

Thursday, March 6, 2008

An Audience with David Schwimmer aka Ross

David Schwimmer aka Ross of Friends dropped into San Fran last night to give an audience on his debut as film director.

Perched casually on a stool in the Apple store in black leather jacket, he showed clips of his new film, Run Fat Boy Run, and answered questions in that unmistakable voice and easy manner. It was surreal to be sitting just feet away from one of the most popular comedy characters of the last decade. But yet this was not Ross!

About 100 people had queued to meet him from students to an elderly Chinese lady who by the end slept, long grey pony-tail hanging over the back of the seat, mouth wide open. As we waited outside, a member of the Apple store came round with a box of free gifts, a choice of tiny pair of red running shorts emblazoned with the film title, or a headband. Conversation with a group of students inevitably turned to Friends. But we agreed, this was probably what David didn't want to be asked about. Once seated inside the store, as the event kicked off led by Liam, a London CBS presenter, we were asked to focus questions on the film.

Run Fat Boy Run is a romantic comedy starring Simon Pegg of Shaun of the Dead as Dennis, Thandie Newton as Libby and Hank Azaria as the American Whit.

Dennis is the wretch who jilted Libby, his pregnant girlfriend, at the altar five years ago but now realises his stupidity and is trying to win her and son Jake back from love-rival Whit. As part of his campaign to convince Libby he is serious, he declares that he will run a marathon with only three weeks left for training!

The clips of the film were excellent. The audience engaged with the characters and genuinely laughed. Watch out for the blister-on-the-foot scene - but I won't spoil it!

David Schwimmer first read the script in New York but it was bought by a British company and so was filmed with British actors by an all-British crew in London.

One of the first audience questions was therefore on the differences between American and British humour. David thought that our sense of humour was similar but added that the British are 'a little less comfortable with the expression of emotion'. When vulnerability approaches, we Brits undercut with a joke, he said.

So how did he get into directing and what experience has he had? In fact, he started directing in college and did a dozen Friends episodes. He said it was almost as if he had waited for years for an opportunity to direct a film. He couldn't do a film while in Friends as 'it takes a year to a year-and-a-half of one's life.'

How had being an actor influenced his role as a director? It gave him more understanding of the stresses on actors, he said. Actors often work an exhausting 15-hour day, and something directors are not always sensitive to is that leaving an actor in their trailer for even an extra ten minutes before calling them to set can, over a day, make an appreciable difference.

Were there improvisations? 'Some of the funnier moments were improvised', he said. Paying compliment to the calibre of the actors, he added, 'I would be mad not let them riff.'

Were there a lot of retakes? 'Gold happens early in the first couple of takes,' he said, explaining that actors lose their spontaneity with too many takes.

Were there 'happy accidents'? asked another audience member.

'Every day,' replied David recalling a cameo part by David Walliams. Walliams had done it to such effect with flawless timing that David, kneeling on the floor out of sight, had burst out laughing and spoilt the recording, so the scene had to be re-done!

How did he choose his crew? For 20 years, he said, he had been 'making mental notes' on talented crew, but for this film had to pick only British people.

What were the pressures and how did he cope? He said his early experience of founding a theatre group in Chicago had given him a surprisingly strong foundation. He had learnt how to be inventive on a tight budget and prioritise under pressure, skills that carried him through this film. Day-to-day decisions have to be made, he said. If one location or one way of doing a scene is too expensive, you have to look for the best affordable option.

How had he managed the large crowd scenes of a 'London marathon'? It was surprising to learn that only 200 extras were used. The crowds were created by replication of photos and by having the extras reinvent themselves in different clothing!

Another person was interested in the soundtrack. How did they choose it? With difficulty, said David, and after months of listening to different songs. And then there were budgetary restraints. A total of £20,000 had been set aside for music, but for an example of the type of juggling needed, one piece could cost £10,000 which would mean the remainder of songs would have to be low-priced.

Pride shone through, though, as he said that with all the pressures of the film, he had brought it in on time and within budget.

Another questioner pointed out the disparity between the figure of Simon Pegg and the title 'Run Fat Boy Run.' Rather than the implied burger-stuffing colossas, Dennis looks barely overweight even with a couple of false stomachs.

The explanation was interesting! Simon Pegg was fatter when cast, but shaped up for his previous film. So the team tried for another title, but nothing seemed to suit. In the end, said David, they kept the title on the basis that the term is also a derogatory epithet for someone who is lazy.

How did he choose that particular script by writer Michael Ian Black?

He said he read a lot of scripts over six months. Reading this one at first, he had been completely put off by the opening actions of the character...'No way' was he going to feature such a guy, but his perception of the character had changed by the end. Added to that, he found the script 'genuinely funny.' Knowing Simon Pegg, he asked him to take title role.

He altered the script slightly and for the better: Libby was upgraded from being a bakery worker to owning her own bakery. David wanted to empower her so that in the story she did not have to choose between Whit and Dennis but had the option to remain an independent single mum.

Likewise with Whit. He was not depicted as a loser but a smart guy thus upping the competition between him and Dennis. Only at the end were Whit's flaws revealed.

Asked what he had learnt during the film he said that one of the biggest lessons was in fact in post-production: in the decisions over cutting.

'You can't imagine a scene not being in. But when it is cut, you realise you don't need it,' he said.
He stressed that the cutting had been a collaboration with the producers but that he approved of every edit. Some big scenes have been removed from the film but have been added to the DVD along with commentaries.

And so what is he looking to for the future?

For directing, another comedy, he said, but he is also considering a dramatic thriller about a sex predator on the internet. You could feel a slight shudder run through the audience as this news took them by surprise.

But what is probably little known about David Schwimmer is that he is on the board of directors of the Rape Foundation for the Rape Treatment Center of Santa Monica. Any film that can put a warning message across to youngsters would be a good thing.

As for acting as well as directing, 'I hope to keep juggling both', he said.

Ross will remain in celluloid immortalilty. And no doubt shades of Ross will never be far beneath the surface. But the emergent David Schwimmer is a serious, broadly talented guy of whom we will see and hear much more in coming years.

Run Fat Boy Run is on general release here on March 28 with an advance showing offered in a private cinema on March 13. It was screened in the UK in September.