Category: Festivals and Conferences

Memories of Tony Garnett and Barry Hines

Memoir

This was the main theme of an event organised by the Campaign for Press and Broadcasting Freedom (North) at the Unity+Works in Wakefield. The Unity+Works is a converted Co-op building close to the railway station. It is large and well set-up with varied facilities. The CPBF event was in the main hall, which is large and roomy. The event was well attended, say close to a 100.

The afternoon opened with Tony Garnett talking about his new ‘autobiography’: The Day the Music Died: a Memoir (subtitled ‘A Life Lived Behind the Lens’, Constable, London 2016). This is the first time I have heard Garnett live and he is an able speaker with a passionate concern for working class expression. He was the most interesting contributor to the new film Versus:. . . (2016) on the life and work of his regular collaborator Ken Loach. He talked about the book and certain sections from it. It opens with his early life in Birmingham, I recognised many of the settings he mentioned. To learn about ‘the day the music died’ you need to look at the book, but it clearly was a significant event in Garnett’s life. As you might expect he talked about some of the deservedly famous television and film productions on which he has worked. These included Up the Junction (BBC 1965, in ‘The Penny Drops’), Cathy Come Home (BBC 1966, in the Chapter with same title), Kes (1969, in ‘A Kestrel for a Knave’) and The Spongers (BBC 1978, in the Chapter of same title). He included some droll stories about the people he worked with on these. He also talked about the BBC and in particular the MI5 vetting system that operated there.

He then took some questions. The most intriguing concerned his relations with the Socialist Labour League, later to morph into the Workers Revolutionary Party, see ‘Protest and Confusion’. It seems that Tony hosted a series of discussion evenings at his place for people on the left in London. Gerry Healey, the leader of the SLL came along. His organisation was famous for some of the members, including Vanessa and Corin Redgrave. Trevor Griffith describes something of this ilk in his play The Party (1973). I saw it at the Oxford Playhouse, a witty presentation. All of the audience laughed at certain lines, but some other lines only received laughter from one part of the audience: my friend and I identified, for different responses, groups from the Communist Party of Great Britain and the Socialist Workers Party.  Garnett’s was a fascinating and rewarding talk. In the break the CPBF stall sold and unfortunately ran out of copies of the Memoir. Mine has only just arrived in the post.

Barry Hines

The second part was a tribute to the writer and activist Barry Hines, who died earlier this year. We heard from his widow Eleanor, from fellow writer Ian Clayton, from Granville Williams of the CPBF and again from Tony Garnett. He summed up Barry’s stance to his work:

“Socialism without art is dead: it is also dangerous.”

Whilst the speaker paid their tributes a montage of stills from Barry’s television and film work played on the screen behind: including Kes, The Price of Coal, and Threads (1984).

The CPBF has  produced a pamphlet Celebrating his Life and Work (CPBF (North) with pieces from his fellow artists and activists.

The afternoon was rounded off with a screening of Meet the People (BBC 1977), the first part of The Price of Coal. The Hall had  a large screen and good sound. The play was full of recognisable tropes from the work of Barry Hines, Tony Garnett and Ken Loach. There was the authentic voice and sense of culture of the northern working class. There was the pointed but well dramatised class conflict, embodied by believable characters. And there was also a wry sense of humour and irony, more so that in many the productions authored by this talented trio.

Now it would be really worthwhile to read the book and the pamphlet. Hopefully the works of Garnett and Hines will continue to circulate in the years to come. This was a welcome tribute to two seminal voices in recent British culture.

Forthcoming: August 14th at Wortley Hall, Sheffield at 3 p.m. talk and exhibition on ‘International Solidarity & the 1984-85 Miners’ Strike’.

27th September at the National Coal Mining Museum, Overton [between Wakefield and Huddersfield) at 7.00 p.m. ‘Lit From the Pit’.

Reflections on HOME’s Brazilian Weekender 21-24 July

An image from Berna Reale's video art Cantanado na Chuva

An image from Berna Reale’s video art work Cantanado na Chuva

HOME is an arts venue that now combines cinema with theatre, art and a range of performance events including music. HOME ‘seasons’ can be weekenders, single days or months or longer periods and often they attempt to bring together all the art form possibilities. The Brazilian Weekender discussed here over the last week actually comprised five film screenings – I was unable to attend the opening screening of Boi Neon (Neon Bull, 2015) showing second house on the Thursday evening. I’m sorry I missed it as it sounds as if it would make an interesting contrast and complement to the mainly female-focused films over the weekend. The film programme also included a ‘Portuguese Language Taster Event’ – matching the Spanish language conversation sessions offered during the ¡Viva! Film Festivals at HOME.

The Weekender was also linked to a major new Art Exhibition, ‘Behind the Sun’ which opened on the Saturday. This was launched with a celebration on the Friday evening with music from Manchester band Riot Jazz and DJs plus an outdoor barbecue (presumably on the artificial turf outside). On the Saturday 20th August there will be a free 1 hour theatre performance by Tiago Cadet taking the audience on “an exploration of representations of the human body throughout history, looking at the construction and invention of Brazil and what it is to be Brazilian”.

The film programme times meant that I did have an opportunity to look at the new exhibition. There were previously galleries in the former Cornerhouse building but for cinemagoers it was easy to forget that they were there on the upper floors. At HOME, the new galleries are easily accessible (more so than the cinemas and theatres) being situated just off the main foyer of the building. There are five light and airy gallery spaces, two of which were darkened for video installations for ‘Behind the Sun’. The exhibition comprises the work of five artists selected from an original 600 and a shortlist of 30 representing the different regions of Brazil. This Manchester exhibition is a partnership with Manchester School of Art, in conjunction with Instituto Plano Cultural, Brazil. It represents work for the Marcantônio Vilaça Award. The exhibition is curated by Marcus de Lontra Costa.

BOOKLET v2.indd

What can I say about the exhibition? I couldn’t join the informal tour led by someone from HOME’s Visual Arts team as it ran earlier in the day when a film was showing. There is another tour on Saturday 3rd September. I think I would have benefited from an introduction. HOME provides a short print guide but I didn’t find that enough to help me to get to grips with the exhibition. I like some aspects of contemporary art but much of it leaves me cold. I inevitably retreat to the video installations, but even then I don’t feel comfortable. The most accessible material here is perhaps the video work of Berna Reale who comes from Belém, the city that acts as the ‘gateway’ to the Amazon. Reale tends towards socio-political statements articulated through specific characters (herself or ‘willing participants’) presented as alien or ‘out of context’ in her otherwise documentary photographs and video pieces. Images from her piece Cantando na Chuva (Singing in the Rain) 2014 (see image above) are used to illustrate the whole exhibition. Reale’s aim is to use these dramatic juxtapositions to underline the disparities in Brazilian economic and social life. Or at least that’s how I saw them. I didn’t get the statements in the exhibition guide which refer to a “defeated humanity” and a “pathetic look at the wreckage of a civilisation”. All the same I did find these short films to be provocative and stimulating.

I realise that I’m not equipped to discuss the exhibitions at HOME. Perhaps making an attempt is a good way of addressing any complacency I have about my familiar cinema experiences. I confess that I would rather have seen Berna Reale’s work on a big screen in a cinema – and projected at a higher resolution. It isn’t the same experience sitting on a bench in a darkened gallery with an open door through which others may come and go as the short films run on a continuous loop. The exhibition demands time and I’ll have to return and try to make more sense of what I see. The HOME website does offer more insights here, including access to the printed guide above.

Brazilian culture

The Weekender was staged at this time for two reasons I think. The timing is obviously important to tie in with the Rio Olympics, but it is also useful in exploring the potential for a more regular Brazilian strand within future ¡Viva! Festivals. ¡Viva! is a festival of Spanish and Latin American Film. Brazilian cinema is both distinctive, partly because of language, and also part of wider Latin American trends. I’d certainly like to see Brazilian films in their broader context. Logically, it would also be useful to include Portuguese films in¡Viva!. Lusophone cinema also offers the possibility of new films coming from Mozambique and perhaps Angola.

What did I learn about Brazilian cinema and culture? The four films I saw were selected, as far as I can see, using three loose criteria. They were all in a sense ‘small’ stories as distinct from the ‘exotic’, violent and sensational stories of successful Brazilian films that have reached the West via commercial distribution. Three out of the four were directed by women and all four featured women’s lives prominently. Finally, all four promoted interest in the lives of people who have in some ways been helped by the reforms put in place by the Workers Party and who might now suffer with the swing to the right in Brazil. I enjoyed all four films and these seemed like good criteria for selection. I certainly learned things about Brazilian music history from Yorimatã but the other three films tended to mainly re-inforce things I’ve learned from other Brazilian films or from Hispanic Latin American films seen in festivals (not least ¡Viva!). In terms of population Brazil is closest to Mexico but has smaller cinema audiences despite a larger population. It makes more films than Mexico – but not as many as Argentina and they don’t get as much exposure internationally – possibly because of the language issue. A Variety report from Cannes 2016 suggests that this is changing, partly through major government incentives leading to over 100 productions per year – but will this survive the current political crisis? In terms of cultural diversity Brazil might be more like its Northern neighbours Venezuela and Colombia. The big plus in Brazil is the strength of local TV production and the global profile of companies like Grupo Globo and other producers of telenovelas. I think there was significant TV investment in the four films of the weekender. Another Variety report suggests that Brazil’s admissions reached 170 million in 2015 compared to Mexican totals of 286 million. But while Mexico managed only a 6.5% domestic share, Brazil managed 11.8% (second to Argentina). Nearly all the top domestic titles tend to be comedies, so if Brazilian films do feature in ¡Viva! we should see some popular comedies I think.

I hope we do see Brazilian films in ¡Viva! after this enjoyable taster of a Weekender.

Il Cinema Ritrovato 2016

Il_Cinema_Ritrovato_2016_manifesto

This was the 30th year of this archive Festival and it has changed a lot since I first attended in 1994 Then about 200 people filled the old Lumière cinema for a varied programme of both silent and sound archive films. The silent films were shown just that way, though in the evenings when we moved to the Teatro Communale any silent films did have a musical accompaniment. This year about 2,500 registered guests plus a cross-section of the film appreciation population of Bologna filled numerous venues for a programme in which one person could only see about a fifth of the titles. There were three auditorium at the Cineteca, the Sala Mastroianni and Sala Scorsese and the smaller Sala Cervi. There was the Arlecchino, large, comfortable and with a fine widescreen. Then the Cinema Jolly, smaller but still with ample space. In addtion there are evenings screenings in the Piazza Maggiore: here thousands of people crowded in to see the most well-known films, including those of Marlon Brando, Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton. And there was the Piazzetta Pier Paulo Pasolini at the Cineteca. There was one parallel with 1994, my first year at Il Cinema Ritrovato coincided with a FIAF Conference and that was back this year. In addition there was a now a regular course in Film Restoration that runs parallel to the Festival.

A queue across the Piazzetta

A queue across the Piazzetta

Working through the programme of films and making choices was extremely difficult: many essential films often clashed, though some did get repeat screenings. Then one had to balance the wear and tear of Festival, this year people were queuing for a screening up to half-an-hour before the start, and even that did not mean getting a seat. My simple strategy was to prioritise 35mm screenings, all of the really interesting films originated on this format, and one is unsure how much longer one will get opportunities to see films in this format. In most cases I also went for films I had not seen or seen only rarely. So I missed out the screenings devoted to Buster Keaton, Charlie Chaplin and Marlon Bando, much as I love all three.

An Alternate History of Argentine Film offered films made between 1935 and 1968. The surprise was a film whose title interested me, Sangre Negra (1950). This turned out to be a film adaptation of Richard Wright’s seminal novel, Native Son (1940). The book is set in Chicago and is a powerful picture of the black experience of US racism. Richard Wright both scripted the film and appeared as the protagonist Bigger Thomas. The film was directed by a French exile to Argentina Pierre Chenal. This was powerful rendering of the novel. Argentina made a pretty good fist of standing in for Chicago, though it could not provide the snow that features in the book. And the film did not essay the subjective commentary that provides the book’s narrative.

Late Spring – Looking at the Cinema of the Thaw offered films from the 1950s in the USSR as the changes following the death of Stalin unfolded. The programme was curated and introduced by Peter Bagrov and Olaf Möller: a double act that could have walked out of a Samuel Beckett play. I managed to see the whole programme, which included black and white and colour film. A friend remarked that the films were overloaded with dialogue: this seemed to follow from the attempt to include political lines important at the period. It was clear that the filmmakers of the 1950s did not achieve the quality of their silent predecessors in imbuing films with politics. For me the best film was Dom, V Kotorom Ja Živu, made in 1957 at the M. Gor’kij film studio. This was a drama set in a multi-story set of apartments in Moscow. The film  opens as the families moved into their new [and for them superior] accommodation. We followed the fortunes and interactions of several families up to and through the Great Patriotic War and the return of peace in the mid-1940s. The film had something of a neo-realist feel, often observational, whilst still having its fair share of high drama. The film was directed by Lev Kulidžanov and Jakov Segal, neither of whose work I had seen before.

We had a series of colour film from Japan in the 1950s, Richness and Harmony. As with previous programmes of Japanese film we enjoyed several introductions by Alexander Jacoby and Johan Nordström who curated the programme. There were well known titles such as Narayama Bushiko / The Ballad of Narayama (1958): this film was on DCP. Like several other titles it was filmed on Eastmancolor stock and some deterioration was noticeable. My favourite was Kiiroi Karasu / The Yellow Crow (1957). The film was directed by Gosho Heinosuke, who was responsible for the colour theme suggested in the title. The film concerned the family travails when the father returns from a wartime absence followed by period in a Soviet POW camp. The young son finds his retuned father difficult to relate to. There was a fine performance by Tanaka Kinuyo as  a neighbour who acts as an intermediary in the family relationships.

Separate to this was a whole programme around colour film, A 1950s Survey, though it included titles from the 1960s. The only title that I caught was Marnie (1964). This was projected in a good print, but it remains a deeply problematic film. The Catalogue had one of those Hitchcok devotee attempts to rescue the film. Writing on the ending Jean Douchet commented,

“At that point, the film’s ‘happy ending’ is terrifying.”

This is true, but leaves so many other aspects unanswered. Another title on show was Reflections in a Golden Eye (1967) which impressed a friend.

One programme that I found particularly interesting was Universal Pictures: the Laemmle Junior Years. This included film made between 1929 and 1935, so there were not only early sound titles but films labelled ‘pre-code’, that is film produced before the Production Code was effectively enforced from 1934. There was a fine early William Wyler film with Walter Huston, A House Divided (1931) and two ‘women’s’ films’ directed by John Stahl, Back Street (1932) and Only Yesterday (1933). But the standout was a film and director that were completely new to me, Laughter in Hell (1933) by Edward L Cahn. This was essentially a chain-gang movie, and the most brutal in its depiction that I have seen. The film adapted a work by the ‘hobo novelist’ Jim Tully: Beggars of Life is another of his novels. Pat O-Brien was the protagonist, far less bland than usual. But the violence was mainly perpetrated against the negro prisoners and the film was far more radical about prison violence and racism than was usual in Hollywood of the period.

We also enjoyed one of the real treats of the Festival, three evening screenings in the Piazzetta Pier Paulo Pasolini from a Carbon Arc Projector. There was Stella Dallas (1925) directed by Henry King and equal in many ways to the 1937 remake. This enjoyed a score by Stephen Horne which he had composed for an earlier screening at the Hippfest Silent Film Festival. Then we had Jean Epstein’s Coeur Fidèle (1923): a tinted print of one of my favourite of his films. This had an accompaniment by Gabriel Thibaudeau. And on the Saturday we had a selection of early short films selected by Mariann Lewinsky [one of the treasures of the Festival]. These films had an accompaniment by Daniele Furlati. And there was extra treat, the original 1895 Lumière programme of films projected from a 1899 projector. The ambiance of these screenings in the courtyard of the Cineteca was great: the particular luminosity of carbon arc, the music that accompanied the films, and the audience sitting in night-times shadows as the images flickered across the screen.

Stella Dallas screened from a carbon arc projector

Stella Dallas screened from a carbon arc projector

I also watched a number of films on DCP. This format does mean that films are more likely to circulate and maybe turn up in the UK. I really enjoyed The Chase (1966), directed by Arthur Penn with a superb screenplay from Lillian Hellman. This has been restored in 4K from the original camera negative. It looked great and had a stellar cast, including Marlon Brando, and the film was part of the retrospective tribute to that star. Some friends saw a digital version of McCabe & Mrs Miller (1971), which I think is Robert Altman’s finest film. This had been restored in 4K from the original camera negative by Warner Bros. And a friend was impressed with a digital transfer of Shin Heike Monogatari (1955, Tales of the Taira Clan) with director Mizoguchi Kenji working in both colour.

Shin Heike Mongatari

Shin Heike Mongatari

I also saw a digital version of a little known film which deserves wider circulation. This was Déjà s’envole la fleur maigre (1960, one English title is From the Branches Drops the Withered Blossom). This was a documentary filmed by Paul Meyer which recorded the situation of Italian migrants who had moved to Belgium to work in the mines. The film was set in Borinage, setting for the earlier and famous film by Joris Ivens. Whilst at times observational it had complex, unconventional and often poetic treatment of the situation of these families. It was beautifully done but its critical stance meant the film/filmmaker was “ostracized and [Paul Meyer] basically forced out of film production.” It does not seem to have ever had a UK release, but now with a fine restoration from the original camera negatives [both 16mm and 35mm] it will hopefully screen here.

Other treats included several films restored by The Film Foundation’s World Cinema Project. These included a key film from the revolutionary period of Cuban cinema Memorias del Subdesarrollo / Memories of Underdevelopment (1968): an early film by Hou Hsiao-hsien, Feng gui lai de ren / The Boys from Fengkuei (1983): Edward Yang’s very fine Taipei Story (1985): and two documentaries by Chris Menges with Adrian Cowell, Raid into Tibet (1966) and Buddhism in Tibet (1966). There was another classic film restoration, Youssef Chahine’s Adieu Bonaparte (1985) a key film from this Egyptian director.

The 72nd International Federation of Film Archives Congress ran all through the Festival. Apart from the papers and discussions there was a presentation to Luc and Jean-Pierre Dardenne, the Belgium filmmakers, with a screening of their 1996 film La Promesse. And there was the FIAF Film Restoration Summer School all week as well. I chatted to one of the participants: they worked hard all day with both practical and theoretical sessions and then they had a series of Festival screenings to take it. But she was still enjoying it. And there were the annual Festival Awards for  DVDs and Blu-Rays. This year the winners included discs of the work of Fredrick Wiseman, Carl Theodor Dreyer, Jacques Rivette and the BFI’s recent issue of Shooting Stars (1928).

So a very full week: and a hot week this year. But rewarding as well.

Scalarama 2016

scalarama-heading

This ‘DIY Celebration of Cinema’ is now approaching its sixth year: the third as a national festival. There is an international dimension as well. The whole of September can be devoted to screenings and events across the country.

The Scalarama WebPages have lots of information about ‘what’. ‘when’, where’, and ‘how’. This year’s initiatives include ‘Directed by Women’. Among the proposals some independents are looking for people interested in screening a film by Chantal Ackerman. We are long overdue such a screening in Leeds.

There is the VHSTIVAL, set for an anniversary date of September 9th, 40 years ago. Personally I would be more inclined to celebrate Betamax.

There is Art House Theater Day, a US import, on September 24th. And there is Home Cinema Day on September 25th.

There is room for lots of other inputs: local initiatives are a feature of Scalarama. Leeds is one place where this is being organised. There is a [twitter?] contact point under ‘Where?’ ‘Leeds’. See also Left Bank Leeds. See also Bristol, Liverpool, Manchester and Scalarama Scotland and Spain.

The WebPage offers a set of tools to get involved. Come September there is a free newspaper which lists all the events, which also appear on the Website. Note the deadline for the newspaper is July 13th. And there are a couple of planning meetings to be held in Leeds before then: new and interested cinephiles welcome. Last year’s events were varied and spread across the city: this year’s promises more of this and new ideas.