Independent spirit: 21st Sheffield Doc/Fest

Continuing its reputation as the biggest international documentary film festival in UK, the 21st Sheffield Doc/Fest welcomed documentarians and activists from the public domain with a fierce independent spirit this year.

Georgia Korossi

The past is always with us. But who wants to live in an antique shop?
- Ian McShane in How We Used To Live

Happiness, dir. Thomas Balmes

Happiness, dir. Thomas Balmes

A programme of at least 327 films and events, running in parallel with meetings on creative processes of brilliant ideas, drew much inspiration from filmmaker Peter Wintonick’s wish to exposing the truth and changing the world. Wintonick’s legacy was celebrated during the six-day long festival with the first ever Peter Wintonick Award that went to director Diana Whitten for her optimistic debut film Vessel, which is based on the story of activist-artist Dr Rebecca Gomperts. Since 2001 Gomperts and her crew provide support to women wishing to terminate their pregnancies for it’s “the basic human right to decide what is happening with their bodies.”

Vessel, dir. Diana Whitten

Vessel, dir. Diana Whitten

The festival this year opened triumphantly with three films. Florian Habicht’s Pulp: A Film About Life, Death and Supermarkets which sees Pulp’s front man Jarvis Cocker and his band back in their hometown, Sheffield; the outstanding documentary Miners Shot Down by Rehad Desai that reflects on the 2012 police crime which took place in South Africa and the astonishing film by Thomas Balmès, Happiness, which travelled festival delegates as far as Bhutan.

Seeing a packed Sheffield City Hall with locals and Pulp fans at the premier of Habicht’s film, it was striking. It was even more so to see these people featured in the film and talking about the unique talent of the city’s band. For most festival delegates, Sheffield is a relatively unknown city outside its centre. But Habicht brought the city’s common people and normal day-to-day things to the enormous City Hall screen, one of the new venues for this year’s Doc/Fest, and actually made everyone appreciate their warmth and admiration for their city’s band.

Pulp: A Film About, Life, Death & Supermarkets, dir. Florian Habicht

Pulp: A Film About, Life, Death & Supermarkets, dir. Florian Habicht

With great back stage images, enduring footage from Pulp’s 1995 Brixton Academy gig, diary footage with the band preparing for their last gig that took place in Sheffield in 2012 and interviews with the band’s members alongside with the people from Sheffield, Habicht’s portrait is a motivation as much as a desire to see the band coming back on stage after the encore. But it was Rehad Desai’s film Miners Shot Down that prepared the ground for skepticism and the value of accepting responsibility for humanity.

It was just two years ago when the police shot down 34 unarmed miners of the British company Lonmin and injured many more in Marikana, outside the land mines in South Africa, at the end of their struggle for better living. To date no police officers have been arrested or charged and nobody has taken responsibility. Neither the National Police Comissioner who ordered the killing nor Lonmin mining company.

Miners Shot Down, dir. Rehad Desai

Miners Shot Down, dir. Rehad Desai

Yet 270 miners out of 3,000 who were striking peacefully for better living and working conditions, without occupying any road or mining location, were arrested: initially charged with ‘public violence’ then for ‘murder’. Through footage filmed by the police and the mining company itself, released upon an investigation request, we see South Africa and its twisted mentality where the life of a black person is so cheap and apartheid heroes become one with the greedy side of the establishment. For the good of humanity everyone must see this film and these events should never be forgotten. Instead they should be investigated further in order to understand what went wrong with the conscience of the people involved in such an atrocity.

In one of the recordings for Amir Amirani’s film We Are Many, shortly before his passing former Labour Minister and President of Stop the War Coalition, Tony Benn, said:

There are two forces at work always. A state of injustice, which makes you angry and the belief you can make a better world, which makes you optimistic. When anger and optimism come together, they are a very powerful force.

Amirani’s heartfelt document of the coalition movement is an affirmation of filmmaker Ken Loach’s vision (who also appears in the film) towards a serious organization for the escalation of a better society.

We Are Many, dir. Amir Amirani

We Are Many, dir. Amir Amirani

There’s nothing like people coming together out of solidarity around a common cause and one simple message, No War, as it happened all around the globe on 15 February 2013 and a month before the war against Iraq begun. Ten years after “Mission Accomplished”, Iraq descents into chaos and despite public calls and the enormity of divide that existed against the war, the truth about Iraq is not known to our collective consciousness. With an array of interviews from the organisers of the coalition movement, the public and politicians, Amirani’s film is a sensational and necessary watch. We have to keep returning, demonstrating again and again because the cause of war was unjust and people know that with their voices they can win the future of humanity.

The Internet's Own Boy: The Story of Aaron Swartz, dir. Brian Knappenberger

The Internet’s Own Boy: The Story of Aaron Swartz, dir. Brian Knappenberger

As much as hope is crucial in politics, digital giant Aaron Swartz’s hope for a better world caught him within a U.S. prosecution system that builds cases of its own. Swartz’s suicide last year at the age of twenty-eight was an international devastation. With an astounding cinematography of family footage and testifiers from his immediate family and friends such as Tim Berners-Lee, Brian Knappenberger’s film The Internet’s Own Boy: The Story of Aaron Swartz testifies the Obama administration and brings to light how it used Swartz to scare people.

From an early age Swartz was a pioneer of science whose intelligence flourished alongside his passion for bringing public access to the public domain. Access and knowledge is a human right so it’s our duty to always question scientific attitude, support hackers for rights instead of money-centered internet entrepreneurs and demand progress. Knappenberger’s film was quite rightly awarded the Sheffield Youth Jury Award and it’s Aaron Swartz who wins the battle of free information, not the inconceivable prosecution system he sadly got caught up with.

How We Used To Live, dir. Paul Kelly

How We Used To Live, dir. Paul Kelly

Paul Kelly’s collage of archive colour films, the majority of them funded by the British government between 1950-1980 and now held at the BFI National Archive, undresses the city of London to reach the heart of the city’s evolution in his latest film How We Used to Live. Narrated by actor Ian McShane and with glimpses of artist Barbara Hepworth at work and people going about their daily lives in the city, Kelly’s film is a celebration of London from post-war, to a Richard Hoggart influenced green city to an endless city of towers and concrete roads with cars driving to unknown destinations.

With the outstanding music from electro pop trio Saint Etienne, How We Used to Live, is as explosive as our daily imagination can be.  But there’s a question to be asked about architecture in this city today. Anxiety and tension are towering, new urban architecture with stainless steel, anti-social spikes is as hostile and tasteless as it has never been before. Tomorrow is not just another day to shape as we imagine in our individual lives. Hopefully it’s another day to make this city functional for all, including vulnerable people and skateboarders in the heart of London.

Pakistan's Hidden Shame, dir. Mo Naqvi

Pakistan’s Hidden Shame, dir. Mo Naqvi

Quite rightly children had once again an important presence in this year’s Doc/Fest programme. Mo Naqvi’s film Pakinstan’s Hidden Shame, which uncovers the story of vulnerable young boys in cities across Pakistan who are being raped for earning their living, is hard to swallow. Naqvi’s direct approach witnesses paedophiles who seem fearless of the law simply because there’s none for children in Pakistan.

I won’t argue how this portrait might be an attraction to a middle class society or why Naqvi chose to focus only Pakistan’s boys and not the girls, as the post-screening questions from the audience suggested. This is not the point here. But what’s at stake is how we stop this, how much aware we are, how we can help these children who become victims of sex and drugs abuse and why 95% of truck drivers can happily admit having sex with these boys.  This is uncivilized, a devastating truth that can’t be ignored.

Happiness, dir. Thomas Balmes

Happiness, dir. Thomas Balmes

Thomas Balmès’s Happiness turned our attention to another corner of the world for a portrait of a different experience of youth. Eight-year-old Peyangki lives happily in his village Laya, the last village in Bhutan to enter the process of globalization following the King’s authorization for television use and internet access. Peyangki’s mum cannot afford to send him to school and she decides to take him to the nearby monastery to become a monk. Free-spirited Peyangki would not just let his imagination of the world be limited within a tiny circuit of monks, a single fellow student and the Lama, and he decides to spend much of his time outdoors and takes a three-day journey with his uncle to the capital.

The result of a rich cinematographic skill combined with Peyangki’s thirst for life in Happiness is an exploration of love for the natural world on the big screen. Following its premier at the Sundance Film Festival earlier this year, Happiness won the Cinematography Award: World Cinema Documentary. This is not a surprise and the experience of seeing Balmes’s film on the big screen is undeniably a very special thing.

Peter de Rome: Grandfather of Gay Porn, dir. Ethan Reid

Peter de Rome: Grandfather of Gay Porn, dir. Ethan Reid

The two documentaries that characterised this year’s Doc/Fest programme for their merit in debriefing the art of film, photography and writing were Ethan Reid‘s story of Peter de Rome: Grandfather of Gay Porn, who sadly passed away a few days ago on 21 June, and Regarding Susan Sontag, a film by Nancy Kates. The celebrated work of Peter de Rome (1924-2014) is splendidly illustrated through Reid’s film. Thanks to the BFI National Archive’s recent acquisition of his films, de Rome’s work is now introduced to an entirely new audience.

As a filmmaker who was always grounded, cultured and who liked sex, de Rome took great risks to brake the sealing of gay-rights secrecy. His films were the first example of art-erotic-gay filmmaking and without great resources and a studio he managed to create a monumental body of work. From its concept to its ending titles created par excellence, director Ethan Reid’s skill is bringing together an intimate and mind blowing portrait of the artist in his Peter de Rome: Grandfather of Gay Porn.

Noteworthy this year’s Doc/Fest retrospective on the work of the greatest living filmmaker, Agnès Varda, is also evidence that the spirit of social engagement, Wintonick came to expose in more recent years, was palpable during the festival. Varda emerged in the same historical moment as critic, essayist, novelist and filmmaker Susan Sontag and as the New Wave. However they were both engaged with a social commitment through their work long before the days of the New Wave movement.

Regarding Susan Sontag, dir. Nancy Kates

Regarding Susan Sontag, dir. Nancy Kates

It was also appealing to have an entry at the Doc/Fest’s programme that gives the actual definition of the writer and nobody could have been more suitable than Sontag. One of the most intelligent women in America, Sontag’s critique of purism pays homage to writers who she describes as “passionate about everything”. The documentary Regarding Susan Sontag by Nancy Kates unravels the life and style of Sontag as an iconic figure who confronted traditional academia. She embraced progressive politics, feminism, homosexuality and Godard and she described cinema as “poetic, mysterious and erotic all at the same time”.

In 2003 during her speech at Vassar College, Sontag said:

Don’t allow yourself to be patronised, condescended to. Which if you’re a woman it happens and it will continue to happen all the time, all your lives. Don’t take shit, tell the bastards off.

Kates’s documentary is an influential and expressive work most purified of independent and experimental thinking. Combined with Sontag’s voice, archive materials and readings from Sontag’s essays by actress Patricia Clarkson, the result is a beautifully illustrated film that makes us identify the importance of thinking and reflecting on present truths.

Sontag’s thought on photography is vividly referenced throughout Kates’s documentary and we learn that Sontag got in a relationship with one of the most acclaimed American photographers, Annie Leibovitz: a pleasant discovery as both women shared mutual creative visions. On photography Sontag once said: “I think the overall affect of photographs, of painful, terrible photographs is that one is very shocked. I think that when we see a lot of painful photographs, we think less.” Perhaps a good topic for discussion next year, Sheffield Doc/Fest? Till then, I hope all the above films will be available to the public this year as widely and globally as possible for their true nature belongs out there, in the wild.

Till next year Sheffield Doc/Fest.

Georgia Korossi is editor of 11polaroids, writer and producer of film based in London and Athens.

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Jimmy’s Hall: interview with director Ken Loach

Highly respected for his outstanding work by the British and international arts community, director Ken Loach returns this year with his latest film Jimmy’s Hall.

Georgia Korossi

Jimmys Hall dance Ken Loach film

Ken Loach and his regular collaborator, writer Paul Laverty (The Angel’s Share, The Wind That Shakes the Barley) return to Ireland to feature the story of a dynamic and charismatic character, Jimmy Gralton (Barry Ward), and the political situation during the extreme catholic days of 1930s, which left little space for freedom of expression. Ten years after the Irish Civil War, state and church had combined to make a very authoritarian society. Jimmy Gralton and his friends hoped for a middle space where people could come and dance, enjoy themselves, study and discuss freedom.

Thus they created and organised a hall which for them meant a physical manifestation of their shared creative ideas, Jimmy’s Hall. Soon the hall became an iconic and symbolic thing for the community. The interference of the local priest, performed by Jim Norton, forced Jimmy and his friends into a cruel struggle to save their space and sees Jimmy Gralton deported from his homeland.

Director Ken Loach

Director Ken Loach

A similar situation is not far from today’s reality. The rich are still in control, the violence against the poor continues to be systematic and the struggle of space is still very important. Yet it’s hard to imagine how Ken Loach can be described as someone who has no respect for his country as he’s often been portrayed. This is quite a blind statement of journalism that seems to ignore reality and history. What about Martin Luther King who taught us how unsophisticated nationalism and racism are and that there’s no reason for them to exist in a society aiming at progress? Jimmy’s Hall is a film about class issue and freedom of expression, not a matter of nationality, communism and “never helping mum with housework shock” as Ryan Gilbey mentions in his review for the New Statesman.

Ken Loach’s latest picture was a delight to see on the big screen when it premiered at a full house at London’s BFI Southbank shortly after the 2014 European Parliament election that coincided with the local elections in England and saw the devastating turnout of 34.17% of the country’s total population. Its Tarkovsky-like photographic excellence by the skillful hands of Robbie Ryan (Philomena, Ginger & Rosa, Wuthering Heights) has hues interchanging from the warm and bright colours of swing dancers on the Irish field passageways to cold blue and green tones cutting at the priest’s speech in the church while reading the names of people who went to the hall for a dance, as if it’s a crime.

The outstanding performances especially by Simone Kirby, Aisling Franciosi and newcomer Aileen Henry are arresting at the heart of serious feminist theory and feminist existentialism. But I had to meet with director Ken Loach to hear his thoughts around humanity and how it has established itself quite apart from the natural world as well as how his picture relates to the persisting phenomenon of xenophobia.

Jimmy’s Hall is influenced by a play written by Irish writer and actor Donal O’Kelly, the book My Cousin Jimmy written by Margaret Gralton, newspaper reports and known public events and adapted for the screen by Paul Laverty. But there is nothing to be found in the National Archive Office in Dublin: all paper reports of Gralton’s deportation are missing so it’s all written in the memory of people and some of it Loach and his production crew had to imagine.

Why did you decide to return to Ireland for your new film?

The relationship between Ireland and Britain is obviously critical. It illuminates Britain’s imperialist past, it reveals the consciousness that the British ruling class had perpetuated above what they did in Ireland, which was their colony for 800 years. The Irish were struggling for independence for 200 years and more then when they finally voted democratically to be independent, the British closed the parliament, sent in the troops, closed down the newspapers, brutalised them as they had done for centuries.

Yet the myth that is perpetuated in the discourse about Ireland is that the Irish can’t stop fighting each other and the British intervened out of the kindness of their hearts and it’s completely false: the violence was done to the Irish by the British. Also the way the British tried to stay in control of Ireland even when they were forced to relinquish part of their territory.  It was again absolutely illustrative of how they tried to keep control of their empire even when they had to give independence to the country. And Ireland is a very rich culture, it’s rich in comedies and stories and characters so it’s a very rich country to work in. But principally it’s to set the record straight about what the British did in Ireland.

Jimmys Hall

How does the story of Jimmy Gralton relate to the current political landscape?

Jimmy Gralton and his friends tried to set up a free space for learning, for dance, for entertainment, for music, for sports, lessons in boxing, woodwork classes, something where they were in control of what they did, where the community was in control. It was done democratically and it was autonomous. That desire for people to be in control of their own future is very powerful and it’s still an issue now. We don’t have the orthodox of the church now, we have the orthodox of the IMF or the World Bank or the European Union bureaucrats saying this is the only way we can live and we have to be subservient to it, we have to put up with mass unemployment and the dominance of big corporations. There’s an orthodoxy there that you can’t challenge and in the same way we had the church which had the orthodoxy saying this is how you must live your life. How dissidents and people with an alternative perspective find space is still an issue.

What kind of views are you hoping your audience to have after seeing your film?

I hope they enjoy meeting Jimmy and the others, that they’d share and understand their dilemmas, because the same dilemmas occur time and time again when people try to do anything radical. How far do you pursue your principles even if it’s going to risk what you’ve already achieved and that’s the dilemma that Jimmy Gralton and co. face when they consider whether to actively get involved in reinstating a tenant who is being evicted. If they do that they make themselves vulnerable and if they don’t do it then they betray their principles. So it’s a dilemma and I think that’s a dilemma that people in radical organisations have all the time.

jimmy-s-hall-2014-005-hall-members-meet

I hope they’d understand that and I hope that they’d see Jimmy Gralton in all the local campaigns that everybody can take a part in order to save a hospital, protect the NHS, to support the disabled or support the homeless, trade unionists trying to claim better wages or conditions. There are campaigns for better transport and old people, hundreds of campaigns over and over again, most of them are run by people like Jimmy Gralton who nourish the community.

In hearing about Jimmy’s story I hope that they’ll find a kinship with people who are doing equivalent work right now. Also relate to the times: we had a financial collapse in 1929 and we have one now, we’ve had a recession and mass unemployment then we’ve got one now. The popular left hasn’t got itself organized the way it should and then we’ve had a decade of unemployment. The far right was on the march then and we’ve seen were that led in the 1930s and the far right is on the march now. So there’s lots of parallels and we need to look back and think what did they do wrong, how can we get it better. The good news now is that there are popular left movements. Syriza in Greece has done well and the parties in Spain have done well but we have been there before so I hope audiences could reflect on that.

However people in Greece and perhaps other countries in the world still don’t trust the popular left.  In what ways could someone approach far right voters and actually make them understand what they’re doing is wrong reflecting on recent history lessons?

That’s the good thing about Jimmy Gralton: they achieve something. I think people voting for the far right, they’re voting with despair and when they’re voting for the left, they’re voting with hope because they think they can achieve something. We need to stress the positive things that people can do it and achieve together. It is to get rid of that fear, the fear of the immigrant, the fear of the foreigner, the fear of financial meltdown, the fear that everything is going to be chaotic if the European Union pulls out its subsidy. We have all the labour power, we have all the resources, we can achieve everything. And there’s this kind of myth that you need these people to exploit you in order to achieve anything. And of course it’s nonsense. It’s a fear that perpetuates and that’s how they stay in control, through fear and the way to come back to the far right is with hope and to show what is possible.

I wonder if you had any thoughts on Patricio Guzman’s terrific Battle of Chile and the sad ending of his trilogy that sees a failure for the left.

Director Ken Loach and crew on location for Jimmy's Hall (2014)

Director Ken Loach and crew on location for Jimmy’s Hall (2014)

I think he’s a terrific filmmaker, Patricio Guzman. I have a huge respect for him. He’s a very thoughtful and serious man and a good filmmaker.It’s a huge issue to untangle and I don’t know enough about Chile to be pontificating about it. I think it’s an international failure: when a country like Chile takes a stand and Allende takes a stand the left internationally should have offered more support, because we know it will be attacked and it will be attacked again. It’s happened in Nicaragua and it’s happened all over. If a country does begin to establish the basis for a socialist society, the Americans and Europeans will attack it and they will only survive by international support. It’s a challenge for the international left to support it. That’s when you see the socialist democrats are really right wing because given the choice between a socialist state and a capitalist state they will always back the capitalists, like our Labour party or the French Socialist party, as they did in Spain. They were more prepared for Franco to win than to support the Spanish Republic. And these are the Social Democrats, these are the ones who call themselves left. So it’s got to be the serious left that will defend a country like Chile that begins to establish the basis for a socialist society.

There are talks in Greece that suggest Syriza’s Alexis Tsipras and his representatives should practice their English to avoid embarrassment outside of Greece. Do you think this is a concern at all?

Absolutely not! Why should he speak the language of imperialism. He’s Greek so he should speak Greek and there are good translators. I don’t think everybody should speak English, that’s bowing down before the imperialists. Language is about power. The powerful always take their language with them and make everyone else speak it. So I think it’s a sign of independence to speak your own language. He should stick to Greek.

jimmy-s-hall-2014-004-marie

In Jimmy’s Hall, Marie is probably the most powerful character from whom we could perhaps earn inspiration for strength in achieving our human rights.  

Yes. I think you’re right. Marie leads the resistance of the kids. She suffers a beating and she still resists. She’s a great character, a great girl and beautifully played by Aisling [Franciosi] who’s a lovely actress. We were very determined it should be a girl who does it so it isn’t too stereotypical. There was foul piece in The Spectator this week by a woman columnist [Julie Bindel] who accused us of kind of extreme male dominated characters. And there was a piece in the same magazine the previous week by their male political correspondent, a vicious personal attack, and one again this week. This is allegedly like a serious magazine and it’s absolutely foul, it uses foul language.

I’m glad you picked up on Marie because we thought there were strong women in the film. There’s Marie, there’s Alice who runs the local circulating library, there’s Oonagh who makes strong points and she suggests going to the priest. We thought there were strong women but she [Bindel] chooses to attack it viciously. It’s really extraordinary, and I think there is a concerted political attack to takes us down as a group, as people making films. It’s too coincidental. You can have one ugly attack but then to have two in the same paper in consecutive weeks is very bizarre and it’s like they are out to destroy us. It’s very strange.

jimmy-s-hall-2014-007-dance

Did you have a similar response to your previous films?

Yes with the Irish films. With The Wind That Shakes the Barley I was compared to Leni Riefenstahl and a right-wing correspondent in the Telegraph said he hadn’t seen the film and he didn’t want to see the film because he didn’t need to read Mein Kampf to know what a louse Hitler is. It goes beyond criticism it goes beyond anything, it’s a kind of rage or hysteria from the right. I think they know exactly what they are doing they are trying to destroy it. We did another film in Ireland called Hidden Agenda, over 20 years ago, and when it went to Cannes a right-wing MP said that it was the IRA entry at Cannes. You know they try to destroy it, to destroy you.

What did you think about the Dardenne brothers’ entry to this year’s Cannes film festival, Two Days, One Night?

They are very good filmmakers and very good friends. It’s very interesting and it’s a very valid film and makes some good points. Marion Cotillard is very good in the film and gives a lovely performance. I think there is an interesting discussion to have politically because I don’t know how it leaves working people, when they have the question of organization in it, because they are potentially stronger than they appear in the film. If they were to get together they could stop production, they have the power to be strong. It’s a question of whether you have to indicate that in a film or whether you should, or whether you just let it be of face value where everybody is entirely individual and separate. But they are good friends and I always enjoy their work.

In Jimmy’s Hall, is the erotic element between Oonagh and Jimmy true? Is there evidence about it?

Not as far as we know. Oonagh is an imaginary character. But at the end of his life Jimmy got married in New York to an Irish woman who was from just a few miles away from where he lived in Ireland. So that’s really unusual.

Jimmy's Hall, film

With regards to archive and its memory, how important is it for the society?

It’s central. It’s like the famous quote by Milan Kundera, “the struggle of memory against forgetting”: the struggle of the people against those in power. It’s about who writes the history and those in power write the history. So when you challenge their version of history, like we did in Ireland, they become apoplectic, they have a rage and a dedication to undermine anything that challenges their version of what happened. So keeping the record is absolutely central.

Jimmy’s Hall was shot on film, physically worked on a Steenbeck flatbed film editing suite and is now out in UK cinemas.

Georgia Korossi is editor of 11polaroids, writer and producer of film based in London and Athens.

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Archipelago connected: 16th Thessaloniki Documentary Festival

Coinciding with the events in Thessaloniki as the European Youth Capital, the screens in the northern Greek city wrote ethics, truth and literacy on the wall.

Georgia Korossi

In the Land of the Deaf (Le pays des sourds, 1992)

In the Land of the Deaf (Le pays des sourds, 1992)

Peter Wintonick once wrote: “We should attempt to pour our work and activism into the forge of human service. Let us become our own masters, re-appropriate our media away from conglomerates, consumption and mass-mind colonizers. Let us ‘robin hoodwink’ them, transforming our documentary artwork into real media for the masses.”

This year’s Thessaloniki Documentary Festival honored the ambassador of the international documentary community Peter Wintonick (who passed on last November) and his fellow film director Nicolas Philibert (To Be and to Have, Nénette). In the words of Wintonick, “Documentary is an ethical enterprise.” In our digital media culture this means that the documentary artwork educates, has a worldview and communicates.

Philibert’s In the Land of the Deaf (1992) is the perfect example of power discrimination between the hearing and the deaf, which is still considered a taboo in the 21st century. Never before a work has emphasized so strongly the importance of imaginative social work. In his early years, Florent who is deaf by birth, lets us inside his world while learning the sign language with his mother and schoolteachers. When he reaches for Philibert’s boom mic behind the camera, we’re taken by his hands’ and facial expressions: all that really matters to him and thousands of people who live in silence. Philibert’s film impacts our understanding of communication and his method makes us understand about the world we live in.

The Lost Signal of Democracy (To chameno sima tis dimokratias, 2013)

The Lost Signal of Democracy (To chameno sima tis dimokratias, 2013)

Philibert tells me, “All my choices are linked with the idea of cinema. When I decided to make this film it was also because sign language is very close to cinema language. A famous linguist explained that sign language has much more in common with cinema editing than any other language. Sign language is like a frame because it’s a visual language. You have close ups, wide views and movements of zoom inside the sign language and this is also what drove me to make this film. Not only the subject.” When I asked him about what advice he would give to new filmmakers he tells me, “I’m not the one who wants to give any lessons to other filmmakers because they are able to give their best. Any filmmaker has to invent his/her own tools, grammar, method and approach.”

On June 11, 2013 Greece’s broadcasting corporation (ERT) was shut within five hours. A similar incident never happened before not even during the years of the Greek dictatorship and the fascist military junta. Thus it came as a shock to the global community.  Yorgos Avgeropoulos’s The Lost Signal of Democracy gives a comprehensive analysis of what exactly happened nine months ago. Apparently an unpublished legislative act allowed ministers the statutory authorization to publish a ministerial decree to close down ERT. The fact that legislative acts are a way to circumvent the Parliament but only in emergency circumstances, as set fourth in the constitution, didn’t matter to the nation’s current Prime Minister Antonis Samaras at all.

This was a decision of political control, ignoring profound democratic questions. On June 17, 2013 Greece’s supreme court ruled the Prime Minister’s act as non-legitimate but the Greek government never obeyed its decision. Job losses added to the 1.5 million of people out of work in Greece with current unemployment surpassing 30% while the closure of ERT also meant the loss of €300 million revenue.

Evaporating Borders (Eksatmizomena sinora, 2014)

Evaporating Borders (Eksatmizomena sinora, 2014)

Meanwhile fascism is escalating in the Greek Cypriot community on the sunny island of Cyprus as we get to see in Iva Radivojevic’s shocking essay film Evaporating Boarders. Cyprus is a multicultural island with a 25% of immigrant population, the majority of which are Palestinians from Iraq who escaped from suffering in search for a place to work with ease.

The director and narrator of Evaporating Boarders is herself Easter European who fled the Balkan Wars of the 1990s and resided in Cyprus. Her picture allows us the chance to see a picture of the island as the worst of places for migrants to live. A place where laws are not respected and where, according to Cypriots, a migrant is not an individual but rather an amorphous body we need to be protected from. One can only hope Radivojevic’s film is seen by as many people as possible in all corners of Greece and around the world.

Linar (2013)

Linar (2013)

The festival’s opening film for its 16th edition, Linar by Nastia Tarasova, tells the brave story of Marsel who was refused heart transplant in his native Russia due to prohibition. Thus Marsel was forced to live with a ventricle device, the size of a medium height fridge, connected to his body for more than a year, before finally being operated in Italy where he lived inside a hospital with his uncle for three months. Tarasova captures the sorrows and strengths of this child unfortunate enough to be born in a country that hasn’t got the law to carry heart transplants from child to child. But the absence of Marsel’s mother from his long journey remains a mystery.

To see more women filmmakers in the Greek documentary production than ever before is a sign good enough to be excited about.  Their work proved dynamic both in worldview issues and auteur style. Christina Pitouli’s Bref is a distinct film about female genital mutilation as experienced by African immigrants whose feelings expressed on camera. Despite their traumatic experiences, Pitouli’s film reveals a diverse opinion on FGM torture, in which cultural heritage fails to recognise health warnings.

Social Conservatory - Notes (2014)

Social Conservatory – Notes (2014)

There’s plenty on family bonds and memory captured on Alexandra Anthony’s diarist Lost in the Bewilderness, a personal story searching for her cousin. Anthony’s family footage is a precious and delicate encounter of adolescence caught between the magic moments of child’s play and the suffocating world of adults with a strong need for possession. Difficulties in a society are believed to play a significant role within the family and communities, often bringing them together. Similarly, music has historically brought people together but that shouldn’t exist only during a crisis, as teachers demonstrate in Thekla Malamou’s and Alexandra Saliba’s short film Social Conservatory – Notes: a music school in Athens run entirely by volunteers for three years.

Song from the Forest (2013)

Song from the Forest (2013)

In the 1980s, Jim Jarmusch’s friend and American author Louis Sarno went to the Central African Republic and lived among the community of Yandoumbe. He went there to record the Bayakan music and the sounds of the Bayaka Pygmy’s surrounding environment deep inside the rain forest, which he digitised. He married a Bayakan and they now have a son whom one night while he held him in his arms after falling very ill, he promised to show him New York where Louis comes from. Samedi is now 13 years old and ready to take the long trip to the most populous city of the world with his father in Michael Obert’s Song from the Forest.

Obert’s film is an intriguing portrait of two worlds of wilderness: the tropical rain forest and the wild concrete city. One is pure, the other offended by, as Jarmusch says, “territories of greedy power and racism Americans don’t admit”. Both worlds have different perceptions on consumerism and survival. But Obert’s camera and Matthias Ziegler’s still photography have rescued the Bayaka Pygmy from the devil of nationalism by highlighting how Louis as an outsider was accepted among the pygmy’s small community.

Cantos (2013)

Cantos (2013)

Money is worth almost nothing in Cuba whilst Charlie Petersmann’s picture, Cantos, tells us that not only there aren’t drugs available to cure the cancer disease in the Caribbean country, its citizens are unable to connect to the Internet and the outside world. Utopias are far removed and Petersmann’s chronicle of four individuals in his debut feature documentary, are struggling to find their destiny in memory of a revolutionary dream.  Perhaps it is our own selves we should be prepare to seek, understand and re-shape, for the ones who have families take a certain responsibility to raise their children responsibly for future generations to come.

Cristina, Jorge, Hayde, Ariadna, Giobanni, Karen and Adrian are escorted to a consultation room of a children’s hospital in Mexico City by their own parents in Nuria Ibañez’s The Naked Room (El cuarto desnudo). The whole world of these children, all abused by a member of their family in one way or another, is closely interrogated in one single room. But on what account their parents have any rights in giving them pills and isolating them in a clinic (instead of educating them) when their errors lead these kids to take their own lives? All of Ibañez’ portraits are close-ups of heroes triumphing their courage to live from a very young age.

The Trials of Muhammad Ali (2013)

The Trials of Muhammad Ali (2013)

In the championship fever of Bill Siegel’s solo debut feature The Trials of Muhammad Ali, the lifelong journey of emerging boxing superhero confronts us all. Ali was drafted to fight in the Vietnam War shortly after his decision to convert to Islam. His opposition to the call by famously saying, “No Viet Cong ever called me ‘niger'” came as a shock to some but influenced many more Americans in the 1960s. Siegel’s film is an inspiring work of Ali’s path by emphasising his fight for his identity, issues of power, race and faith, which will intrigue even an atheist. Archive interviews of Malcolm X and Martin Luther King Jr. alongside interviews with Ali’s brother, Rahman and Nation of Islam leader, Louis Farrakhan illustrate the champion’s human side and powerful worldviews. In 2005 Ali received the Presidential Medal of Freedom, ironically by George W. Bush.

Everything Is Possible (Wszystko Jest Możliwe, 2013)

Everything Is Possible (Wszystko Jest Możliwe, 2013)

On defining his documentary work Werner Herzog once said: Perhaps I seek certain utopian things, space of human honor and respect, landscapes not yet offended.” Cristina Picchi’s short documentary Winter embraces just that. Her portrait of a journey through North Russia and Siberia illustrates the harshest of climates that once experienced you become indifferent to everything. People are elements of millennial and unpredictable scripts in Lidia Duda’s Everything Is Possible. In the film, 80-year-old Teresa becomes sick and tired of her marriage and finds her true lover after hitchhiking to faraway places from her native Poland.

A better world doesn’t take a big deal, just will. But be very afraid of ideologies. Instead we should embrace and value schools before a childhood is lost. Rithy Panh’s unique The Missing Picture shows us that in fact nothing is real, just cinema, the revolution of cinema. Peter Wintonick may have gone but his light shown bright in Thessaloniki Documentary Festival this year. Herzog once told Wintonick, “The world is just not for filmmaking. You have to know that every time you make a film you must be prepared to wrestle it away from the Devil himself. But carry on, dammit! Ignite the fire.”

Winter (Zima, 2013)

Winter (Zima, 2013)

I ask Philibert if he has faith in this world and he tells me, “Not that much. I think that human beings are barbarians. If you look around you, you see corruption, wars, and jealousy. If you look to the recent past you can see how humans are able to act worst than animals. In my films I try to show the small things here and there that are like a life vest, which helps people to keep in life.” Philibert’s film Animals (Un Animal, des animaux, 1996) also screened in the festival’s tribute to his work.

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25 international women in film

To mark International Women’s Day 2014, we celebrate women in film from around the world. Here are 25 women to honour and admire this year.

Georgia Korossi

Alice Guy-Blaché (1873-1968) who at the age of 23 was first female director. Her films were loved by directors like Alfred Hitchcock.

Alice Guy-Blaché (1873-1968) who at the age of 23 was first female fiction filmmaker. Her films were loved by directors like Alfred Hitchcock.

Anna May Wong's Shosho in Ewald Andre Dupont's Piccadilly (1929)

Anna May Wong’s Shosho in Ewald Andre Dupont’s Piccadilly (1929)

Maya Deren in her debut feature Meshes of the Afternoon (1943) co-directed with her second husband Alexander Hammid

Maya Deren in her debut feature Meshes of the Afternoon (1943), co-directed with her second husband Alexander Hammid

Anna Magnani's Pina in Roberto Rossellini's Rome, Open City (1945)

Anna Magnani’s Pina in Roberto Rossellini’s Rome, Open City (1945)

Setsuko Hara's Noriko Hirayama in Yasujiro Ozu's Tokyo Story (Tôkyô monogatari, 1953)

Setsuko Hara’s Noriko Hirayama in Yasujiro Ozu’s Tokyo Story (Tôkyô monogatari, 1953)

Melina Merkouri's Ilya on the set of Jules Dassin's Never on Sunday (Pote tin Kyriaki, 1959)

Melina Merkouri’s Ilya on the set of Jules Dassin’s Never on Sunday (Pote tin Kyriaki, 1959)

Sharmila Tagore's Aparna in Satyajit Ray's The World of Apu (Apur Sansar, 1959)
Sharmila Tagore’s Aparna in Satyajit Ray’s The World of Apu (Apur Sansar, 1959)

Anna Karina's Nana Kleinfrankenheim in Jean-Luc Godard's Vivre Sa Vie (1962)
Anna Karina’s Nana Kleinfrankenheim in Jean-Luc Godard’s Vivre Sa Vie (1962)

Monica Vitti's Giuliana in Michelangelo Antonioni's Red Desert (Il deserto rosso, 1964)

Monica Vitti’s Giuliana in Michelangelo Antonioni’s Red Desert (Il deserto rosso, 1964)

Madhur Jaffrey's Manjula in James Ivory's Shakespeare Wallah (1965)

Madhur Jaffrey’s Manjula in James Ivory’s Shakespeare Wallah (1965)

Catherine Deneuve's Carol in Roman Polanski's Repulsion (1965)

Catherine Deneuve’s Carol in Roman Polanski’s Repulsion (1965)

Mareme Niang's Anta in Djibril Diop Mambety's Touki Bouki (1973)

Mareme Niang’s Anta in Djibril Diop Mambety’s Touki Bouki (1973)

Gena Rowlands' Mabel Longhetti in John Cassavetes's A Woman under the Influence (1974)

Gena Rowlands’ Mabel Longhetti in John Cassavetes’s A Woman under the Influence (1974)

Nadia Mourouzi in Theo Angelopoulos's The Beekeeper (O Melissokomos, 1986)

Nadia Mourouzi in Theo Angelopoulos’s The Beekeeper (O Melissokomos, 1986)

Nurgül Yesilçay's Ayten Öztürk in Fatih Akin's The Edge of Heaven (Auf der anderen Seite, 2007)

Nurgül Yesilçay’s Ayten Öztürk in Fatih Akin’s The Edge of Heaven (Auf der anderen Seite, 2007)

Actor/filmmaker Mati Diop's Josephine in Claire Denis's 35 Shots of Rum (2008)

Actor/filmmaker Mati Diop’s Josephine in Claire Denis’s 35 Shots of Rum (2008)

Tilda Swinton's Emma Recchi in Luca Guadagnino's I Am Love (Io sono l'amore, 2009)

Tilda Swinton’s Emma Recchi in Luca Guadagnino’s I Am Love (Io sono l’amore, 2009)

Aggeliki Papoulia in Giorgos Lanthimos's Dogtooth (Kynodontas, 2009)

Aggeliki Papoulia in Giorgos Lanthimos’s Dogtooth (Kynodontas, 2009)

Evangelia Randou's Bella in Athina Rachel Tsangari's Attenberg (2010)

Evangelia Randou’s Bella in Athina Rachel Tsangari’s Attenberg (2010)

Jeong-hie Yun's Mija in Chang-dong Lee's Poetry (Shi, 2010)

Jeong-hie Yun’s Mija in Chang-dong Lee’s Poetry (Shi, 2010)

Filmmaker Haifaa Al-Mansour on the set of her film Wadjda (2012)

Filmmaker Haifaa Al-Mansour on the set of her film Wadjda (2012)

Emmanuelle Riva's Anne in Michael Haneke's Amour (2012)

Emmanuelle Riva’s Anne in Michael Haneke’s Amour (2012)

Filmmaker/screenwriter Sally Potter (The Gold Diggers, Orlando, Ginger & Rosa)

Filmmaker/screenwriter Sally Potter (The Gold Diggers, Orlando, Ginger & Rosa)

Documentary filmmaker Kim Longinotto (Divorce Iranian Style, Gaea Girls, Salma)

Documentary filmmaker Kim Longinotto (Divorce Iranian Style, Gaea Girls, Salma)

Filmmaker/screenwriter Joanna Hogg (Unrelated, Archipelago, Exhibition)

Filmmaker/screenwriter Joanna Hogg (Unrelated, Archipelago, Exhibition)

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Derek Jarman: 21 photographs

11polaroids desk

Derek Jarman

It’s 20 years since Derek Jarman‘s (1942-1994) death, but his films continue to inspire audiences with his romantic and subversive imagery. Jarman contracted HIV in 1986 and he publicly discussed what it is to live, work and influence change with this controversial virus. This year London celebrates his legacy and eclectic work reviving key gay and homo-erotic figures from the past such as Saint Sebastian, and the painter Caravaggio.

Jarman’s work is featured in a huge season at the BFI Southbank coinciding with Derek Jarman: Pandemonium, a King’s Cultural Institute exhibition in the Inigo Rooms, Somerset House, and other events happening as part of Jarman 2014.

Here we present 21 photographs put together to revisit Jarman’s intriguing work.

Derek Jarman photographed by Ray Dean

Derek Jarman photographed by Ray Dean

Art of Mirrors (1973)

burning-the-pyramids-art-of-mirrors-1970-73-001

Sebastiane (1976)

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Leonardo Treviglio’s Sebastian

Jubilee (1977)

jubilee-1978-002

jubilee-1978-001-post-modern

Jubilee (1978)

Toyah Willcox’s Mad in Jubilee (1977)

The Tempest (1979)

Elisabeth Welch and Derek Jarman on the set of The Tempest (1979)

Elisabeth Welch and Derek Jarman on set of The Tempest (1979)

The Angelic Conversation (1985)

Caravaggio (1986)

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Derek Jarman on set of Caravaggio (1986)

caravaggio-1986-002-tild-swinton

Tilda Swinton’s Lena

Caravaggio (1986)

Dexter Fletcher’s young Caravaggio

The Last of England (1987)

Tilda Swinton in The Last of England (1987)

Tilda Swinton in The Last of England (1987)

the-last-of-england-1987-002-tilda-swintonWittgenstein (1993)

Derek Jarman photographed by Howard Sooley

Derek Jarman photographed by Howard Sooley during the filming of Wittgenstein (1993)

wittgenstein-1993-001

wittgenstein-1993-002-tilda-swinton

wittgenstein-1993-003

Clancy Chassay’s young Ludwig Wittgenstein

Blue (1993)

blue-1993-derek-jarman

derek-jarman-004-camera

Derek Jarman and his camera

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Animal features: new nature documentary

As Leviathan hits London cinemas this month, Luke Moody compiles a list of animal features and talks about the endoscopic camera eye in the new nature documentary.

Luke Moody

Leviathan (2012)

Leviathan (2012)

I’ve never worked a wave beaten shift on a night time fishing trawler in the North Atlantic. I will never become a motor-powered boat nor squirm like a slowly dying sea fish. Yet, after watching the documentary Leviathan projected onto a screen in London, I feel that I have lived through all of these. However I did not feel that I experienced this as a human, sea gull, starfish or fish, but as a techno-organic hybrid ‘camera-human’ or a ‘camera-fish’: An artificial sensory body, similar to the real eyes and ears on board this vessel, but always feeling a bit ‘tinny’, lens-filtered and plastic.

Whether or not these impressions were intended by the filmmakers, this film, ostensibly a rugged record of one night’s expedition into the wild sea, did seem to be an attempt to give a new documentary experience of the human animal world.

The tradition of nature documentary or wildlife filmmaking evokes images of the human centred exploration by Cousteau and Attenborough, with discovery of animal world perception being the subject rather than the method of the film. However, this zoological desire to be audio visually closer to the lives of animals has benefitted advancement of technological invention; building camera rigged sets, hives, nest boxes and submerging cameras to new depths of the ocean. The scientific need to observe untamed subjects in their natural habitat necessitates evolved approaches filmmaking methodology, see the beautiful early 20th century BFI DVD collection Secrets of Nature.Yet the creative results of these endeavours have often been restrained, conservative and always from a human storytelling perspective.

Leviathan (2012)

Leviathan (2012)

The present excitement about increasingly smaller, more mobile and more powerful cameras continues this desire to be given new images, new perspectives on the world. Leviathan seems to embrace combined axis of techno-perceptive advancement. The film adopts the gopro, a small rugged HD sports camera, to cinematically decentre and dehumanise the film audience, offering a journey that is neither simply zoological nor something zoomorphic attempting to embody the animal’s point of view. The resulting journey is engrossing but rollercoaster disorientating with moments of deep thrilling engagement and others of slow anticipatory distance.

What perspective do these miniature cameras provide when removed from the hand, removed from the dexterity of a DOP and thrust freefall into the bestial world? Do we now have an option to see the bird’s eye view or a drones eye view?

Le Quattro Volte (2010)

Le Quattro Volte (2010)

Leviathan continues a recent resurgence of new theatrical nature documentaries, but very few place the viewer in such sensorial proximity with their subject. Bestiare (2012), Nenette (2010), Le Quattro Volte (2010), Bovines (2011), Facing Animals (2012) take a step back and stand in an objective category of nature films, simply observing animals from close proximity and making little human interpretation of their life as story. Other
contemporary examples show entwined worlds of humans and animals in the frame of creative anthropological and traditional narrative cinema: Sweetgrass (2009), Winged Migration (2001), Aatsinki (2013), Grizzly Man (2005), The Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill (2003), The Day of the Sparrow (2010), Birders: The Central Park Effect (2012), The Moo Man (2013) and Blackfish (2013).

What shifts in perceptive politics are induced by more animal centric cinema? One obvious danger is that the non-human image becomes a misanthropic image, criticising the way mankind ruthlessly constructs, consumes and ultimately abuses that which is non-human. This polemical ‘human vs animal’ cinema has some history in politically motivated environmental and food chain documentaries like The Cove (2009) or The End of the Line (2009). Plus a more creative lineage such as Baraka (1992) or more recently Animal Love (1996) and Our Daily Bread (2005). These two films achieve a sense of distant, alien gaze towards the human, a gaze that is perhaps not human or animal but its awkwardly misanthropic images place sympathy with the latter.

Grizzly Man (2005)

Grizzly Man (2005)

This growing number of new nature documentaries show a willingness to go beyond the tradition of objectifying distance and romanticising narrative construction common of earlier wildlife filmmaking. Yet they still observe animal behaviour, movement and interaction from the exterior perch of a manned camera. Leviathan further disrupts tradition by pushing the viewer into a discomforting, zoomorphic closeness to the animal as a subject, so close that it’s no longer the subject that we tell a story about: The sensorial experience of the subject is the story drive and the camera becomes the sensorial subject. Such documentary proximity prompts the question: If we as viewers become the animal, can we reflect upon the animal world as a human or as an animal? Are we still able to create a narrative in human terms? Is narrative structure necessary in primarily sensorial cinema?

Cousteau's camera

Cousteau’s camera

Humourously one blog comment remarked in response to Leviathan:  ‘David Attenborough saw this in a theatre, and halfway through started shouting out verbs.’ Of course human descriptive language is not of the animal perceptive vocabulary. Perhaps Leviathan attempts a cinema language of the senses where objects, humans and animals, solids, liquids and gases are fused; nullifying external human subjective or objective stance. Almost an anti-intellectual cinema hailing from the intellectual grounds of Harvard Sensory Lab.

It would be easy to label cinema that preferences the stimulation of the senses over narrative as simple childish, primitive and playful modes of looking the world. Yet this form of cinema feels more arresting for the mind and body than hand-holding, dictated narratives that require little reconfiguration of a spectator’s point of view. It’s the beautiful difference between getting lost in the wonder of a place and using a GPS journey planner to get from point to point.

Bovines (2011)

Bovines (2011)

For urban cinema goers, the environment given in Leviathan is extraordinary in its harshness of conditions therefore it takes time and observation to adjust and feel present in such a place. Even if sensorial cinema’s central offering is a very literal displacement of human point of view, the duration of altered exposure has a transformative and transplanting quality for the blackbox cinema audience.

How do we film in a way that makes us feel animal? Fictional cinema such as The Birds (1963), The Story of the Weeping Camel (2003) and recently For Those in Peril (2013) readily use the whole body of the animal as totemic devices for psychological and emotional change in a narrative. Robert Bresson moved closer to specific animal body qualities. Au Hasard Balthasar (1966) shows a highly economic use of symbolic framing of the donkey; capturing a sad eye, a scraping foot of impatience, a shaking tale of anger.

However these images are always positing the viewer outside of the animal. Perhaps as technological development permits us to see the animal’s world much closer, from zoomorphic perspectives, the ethical position of new nature documentary will be one of deep empathy rather than distant sympathy, not a question of ‘how do we look at’, but ‘how do we see as’. How do we feel and see as the animal? The answer is not simply attaching a camera to an animal’s head. After watching Leviathan it appears that a disembodied camera offers the presence and point of view of a camera body not the prosthetic host.

Au Hasard Balthasar (1966)

Au Hasard Balthasar (1966)

Why preference the position of the eye being the position of the body as a whole: the body-vision. What happens if we view the world from a camera attached to the bear’s claw, the whale’s fin or bird’s wing? Each body parts give distinct qualities of movement, texture and pace very different from the eye. Why not embody these movements? Would the human viewer become nauseous? Would this form of sensorial cinema be unwatchable? On a very simple level: how do the new images we are afforded by these technologies make us feel when watched at length? I would argue that in the case of Leviathan they make us feel less human, less animal and more like an indestructibly prodding, endoscopic camera eye.

Leviathan (2012)

Leviathan (2012)

The duration of sensorial exposure seems to be a repeated criticism of Leviathan, and perhaps the intensity of scenes awash with waves and drifting starfish make other more straight forward observational moments in the shower or the gutting room feel dull and numb in comparison. In an animal world, absent of dialogue and human emotion, where we place the camera becomes a primary concern for the viewer. Thus the awe inspiring bird’s-eye-view shot becomes a unique selling point for the film. But now that we can poke a camera into almost any bestial space, what will differentiate strength of filmmaking in new nature documentaries of the future?

Nenette (2010) in production

Nenette (2010) in production

Leviathan purposefully makes the viewer aware of the machine, they embody the machine, seeing through the shaken camera body and hearing the tinny sound of a submerged low-grade microphone.  This is sensing the subject through technological perception: The wired eyes and ears pinball documenting its subject as it prods, pushes, blurs, drifts, clashes, shreiks, whines, grinds and blows in an attempt to transmit the material qualities of the camera’s immediate environment, it becomes a mechanical chameleon. Despite numerous waves of mainstream reflexive directing it is rare to see a film acknowledge its own technology of production.  Here the materiality of the subject meets the materiality of the filmmaking technology. It is no less immersive for acknowledging the mediatory machine filter that gives us these images.

The film hasn’t simply provided a step forward in cinematic nature documentary filmmaking but has made an argument for exploration of a sensorial cinema that opens the door to forthcoming affordable digital production equipment such as drone cameras and advanced miniature sports cameras. Increasingly, in an attempt to sense the world of nature, technology and things, the camera will move out of the hand and into the bodyspace of its subject.

Luke W Moody is a cineaste and maker based in London. He currently works for BRITDOC Foundation and runs, literally runs, an artist filmmaker bursary itsgotlegs. You can contact him here.

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57th BFI London Film Festival: Luton

Screening at the 57th BFI London Film Festival’s First Feature Competition, Luton is an insightful film and an alarming tour de force about personal responsibilities. Director Michalis Konstantatos talks about his debut feature.

Georgia Korossi

luton-2013-nicholas-vlachakis-cigarette-toilet

The world of Luton, the debut feature of Michalis Konstantatos, is common people in their everyday lives. The three lead characters seem to have nothing in common: Jimmy (Nicholas Vlachakis) is a wealthy high-school student dominated by his controlling mother, Mary (Eleftheria Komi) is a trainee lawyer in her 30s and Makis (Christos Sapountzis) is a 50 year-old family man and the owner of a mini market. What at first looks like episodes of their ordinary lives, it turns into a gothic tale of a city drifting into bleak, doubtful and gloomy prospect.

Atmospherically Luton follows in the footsteps of other realist dramas, such as Corneliu Porumboiu’s Police, Adjective and Michael Haneke’s Funny Games. There is a shot of clear reference to Gus Van Sant’s Elephant when Jimmy walks down the school’s corridor but these references are only “a synthesis of films that I like and grew up with: it is the cinema I understand and admire but each one of these works is different”, Konstantatos explains.

In 2010, I screened Michalis Konstantatos’ intense short film, Two Times Now (2007), in London as part of the film programme Happy End at Yinka Shonibare’s Guest Projects space. The reactions to the story were mixed but there was the feeling that the precise detail and tension in Two Times Now was vital signage this newcomer writer-director has something to say.

It’s no surprise that three years later his debut feature film created a lot of curiosity since its premier at the San Sebastián Film Festival last month. Shortly before its premier at the 57th BFI London Film Festival, I rush to read Luton through the crisis in Greece and the rest of the world but “the idea of Luton started before the crisis” he tells me and he adds “it’s about what leads to a crisis.”

luton-2013-eleftheria-komi-medium-shot

Luton took shape four years ago as work in progress at the Sarajevo Film Festival’s CineLink Co-Production Market. The project was acknowledged by representatives of the Cannes Film Festival and in spring 2011 it got invited as part of the fifteen international projects selected that year for The Atelier. But how Luton kicked off? “The spark of this film” Konstantatos continues, “started from random incidents of violence I was reading about happening around the world and concluded that those who were causing this violence were everyday people and not some thugs or criminals.” Luton is not an easy watch. It’s an insightful film that grows layer by layer. “I started to search for this world, how could we arrive at such violence, coming from what facts, who is doing it and what pushes them to do it. In my previous films violence is employed as a phenomenon [Two Times Now] but just four years ago we gave this idea a shape, a scenario” he reveals.

The script was co-written with Stelios Likouresis and the whole rhythm of the film is built on discovering what’s hidden behind each character. For the first hour we’re taken through the details of three people’s daily routine, near isolated and almost manic depressing. Konstantatos focuses on the details of everyday life, which we pass unnoticed. His long takes with his all time collaborator, DoP Yannis Fotou, give the viewer the space to focus on the invisible signs of madness on the body language of those surrounding us, who otherwise seem normal.

luton-2013-christos-sapountzis-mini-market

The pale contrasts and flat photography in the film reflect the characters’ equally flat psychology and what Luton says at first hand is that people need to help themselves before anything else. According to Konstantatos, “Luton is very close to realism: simply I want to place the characters in their own environment, relate them as objectively as possible.” He later explains, “I want to demonstrate how the environment influences people, how it forms their psychology, if they react towards it and if not, where exactly reaction and resistance exist?”

In almost every scene in the film there’s a repetitive moment of frustration, people’s desires, which some try to get in vain or simply don’t bother to try: like Makis failing to pick up the phone and place an order complaint at his work. “It’s easy to express your feelings but at the same time very difficult and this is an element that guided me to make this film. I believe most problems are created out of incapability to recognise and express ourselves to the outside world” he adds.

The title of the film, we learn from Konstantatos, is a metaphor. For Jimmy, the fact that his mother sends him to Luton University is not a new phenomenon. His mother asks him to have Sunday lunch every week with his granny but neither his granny nor him want to be there. Like with many teenagers from a wealthy background, Jimmy’s future is prescribed by his consumerist bent parents. Essentially Jimmy’s escape to an unknown city like Luton (for most people it is only known as an Easyjet destination) is insignificant.

Luton director Michalis Konstantatos

Luton director Michalis Konstantatos

For Konstantatos, the film works like when you look yourself in the mirror: “By recalling the scenes [from the film] you recall elements of yourself and it’s quite challenging because it’s not the way we’re taught to think in our life. It’s not the rhythm we’re used to. Usually nobody tells you, wait, think and make your choices. Usually you’re asked to harry up and make profits otherwise you loose your job. Therefore I believe many responses to the film will be influenced by this element because we’re not used to take the time to reflect”, he observes.

Despite the current craggy financial landscape in its native country, Luton has secured distribution in Greece by Feelgood: a partner who supported the film from its script stage together with co-producer Christos Konstantakopoulos of Faliro House Production. Last June Greek broadcaster ERT went off air and the closure’s influence on cultural production has been, as predicted, catastrophic. For Luton too the closure of ERT left agreements in the air, even though their support towards the project has been compelling.

“The instability, so much madness and standstill of the market that exists in Greece today naturally create an enormous damage in the psychology of people. Luckily there are people who believe in projects and they are willing to contribute without obvious income. But this has an expiry date when you need to earn your living. If there weren’t young people and producers such as Yorgos Tsourgiannis [from Horsefly production label] who has the momentum and enthusiasm to come in and put his head down to make films and Chris Konstantakopoulos who takes the risk to support non-mainstream cinema, there would be no movies in Greece. Also without the support of the film’s co-producers, the involvement of the Greek Film Centre, Hellenic Broadcasting Corporation, Arctos Broadcast Facilities, Two Thirty Five post production company, Endorphine Production, Costas Varybopiotis and Yiannis Fotou, Luton would not be able to be completed.”

luton-2013-nicholas-vlachakis-sunday-lunch

But what can we expect for the future of Greek cinema? “I see that movies do get made” he replies. “Though the thing is that they should be made rightly with people getting paid. When it happens with coordination and clean agreements then it is very nice to be happening. I see there is a number of people who are very talented, directors, producers, directors of photography and I think if we don’t go out of our minds riding the so called Greek Wave, things can progress with the local film production industry. In recent years every movie made by a Greek filmmaker has to ride this Greek Wave label and I believe there is a risk to become like the idea of ​​the stock market in Greece in the 90s, when everybody joined in and finally the bubble bursted. So it needs some attention and everyone should look to work more precisely and responsibly in order to make movies.”

While waiting to get the green light for his new film, Konstantatos has been working on TV series, music videos and theatre productions and he is the co-founder and director of the Blind Spot theatre group based in Athens. His new film has a working title Carbon and is currently developed through the nine-month long residency at the Torino FilmLab Script & Pitch programme.

See the trailer and head to Day 10 of the festival’s liveblog to check Konstantatos’ eight-song playlist that sparked his imagination while writing the script for Luton. 

Georgia Korossi is editor of 11polaroids, writer and producer of film based in London and Athens.

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