This is a compilation of short films shot in the British countryside (and in the north of Eire) between 1904 and 1981. It is part of the Britain on Film series which has already offered Railways and has a forthcoming compilation Black Britain. This is an archive project to ‘digitise’ thousands of films, originating on celluloid, and making them available for public viewing. These ‘tours’ are distributed by the Independent Cinema Office, who have an excellent track record of providing features and archive material to independent cinemas. I saw this compilation at the Hyde Park Picture House as part of the ‘Leeds Young Film Festival’.
Before the film we had an interesting introduction by Kate McGann, a curator with the National Film Archive in the documentary section. We had some notes with details of the films included in the compilation but she added some particular comments on especially interesting aspects. Her main thrust was to provide a context for these films. She commented that much of the period represented on the films had seen real ‘change and upheaval’ in the countryside. An aspect that is the focus of Laurie Lee’s memorable ‘Cider with Rosie’: Lee provided the commentary for one of the films.
She also talked about the changes in technology and style across the films. Cecil Hepworth, who made the earliest film in the programme, would have been working with bulky cameras, and the supporting equipment like tripods etc. It seems likely that he staged much of the action, seemingly merely observed. And since synchronised sound only arrived in the 1930s several film rely on title cards [intertitles] to provide information for the audience.
A little later Basil Wright, filming in the Cheviot Hills, was able to work alone with his camera and accessories, but the now available sound would have been added later in the studio. Both these films were in black and white. But another example from the Pathé Company used colour stencilling, one of several techniques like hand painting and tinting/toning for adding colour.
By the 1950s colour film stock had become available and the Technicolor brand offered a rich palette of colours on screen. We had two films that used this technology. (Note, you can see one of the Technicolor Cameras at the Insight Collection at the National Media Museum. Signposts re Science and Media Museum).
The camerawork in many of the films relies mainly on the static shot. As technology developed camera movements like pans and tracks became available. All the film used some sort of editing (cutting between shots), though the later films are more sophisticated .
The programme also illustrated a number of genres in what we now term documentary. The earliest would have been known as ‘actualities’. Early on there were also Newsreels, and there was an extract form one of these. And there were examples of ‘travelogues’, ‘marketing films’ and ‘public relations’, both commercial and state funded. Some of the later films came from television networks and a couple of films really fall into the amateur or ‘home movie’ category.
The compilation ran for 75 minutes. It was partly chronological but partly thematic.
“Machynlleth (In the Heart of Cambria) | Dir: unknown | UK | 1929 | 2 minutes
This glorious Pathécolor film of the ancient capital of Wales pops with the beauty of rural life. “
This short film was essentially a travelogue. It offered a series of shots, beautifully coloured with hand stencils. These included shots of a valley, river, trees in blossom and sheep grazing.
There was an accompaniment on the sound track by piano and flute.
“O’er Hill and Dale | Dir: Basil Charles Wright | UK | 1932 | 18 mins
The first sound documentary produced in the UK, this is an affectionate and at points humorous account of a Scottish shepherd’s daily life in the Cheviot Hills.”
Basil Wright has been described as a ‘humanitarian poet’. He was a member of the rightly famed British Documentary Movement. The film mainly uses single static shots with a couple of pans over the landscape. But Wright (filming himself) makes extensive use of angles, especially low-angle shots that emphasise the scale of the mountainous vistas. He also (later in the studio) edited the film into a mini-narrative. So after seeing the Shepherd, Martin, with his flocks drama ensues when a storm sweeps across the hills. This leads into a ‘happy’ ending with a lamb saved from expiring.
The commentary, by Andrew Buchannan, and the orchestral accompaniment were added later. And the film was seen in British cinemas courtesy of Gaumont British.
“Great Hucklow Jubilee | Dir: L. du Garde Peach | UK | 1935 | 9 mins
These gorgeous scenes of Great Hucklow capture the Derbyshire village’s preparations for the celebration of King George V’s Silver Jubilee, presenting a charming portrait of life and laughter in the Pennine village.”
This is an example of amateur filmmaking in the period. L. du Garde Peach actually worked in the Film industry as a scriptwriter. One of his most famous contributions was co-authoring the 1935 Yorkshire -based Turn of the Tide. Here though he is showing off his locality and the Village Players whom he organised.
The film uses intertitles and was accompanied by a piano and percussion on the soundtrack.
“‘Dry Village’ | Dir: Unknown | UK | 1964 | 5 mins
A cautionary tale of the ‘dry village’ of Bessbrook, Co. Armagh, whose founder believed that the absence of a pub would remove the need for both the police and pawn brokers.”
This appears to be an ironic offering from television reporter James Boyce, presumably working with a network team. The film offers a series of interviews and comments. Boyce’s offerings for viewers appear to have capitalised on the eccentric, this is a good example. There is no hint of the ‘troubles, only a few years away.
” The Village Pet | Dir: Unknown | UK | 1931 | 1 min
After Billy the seal was caught in the Wash and rehoused in the village pond, this heart-warming newsreel item shows him tentatively accepting a fish supper from his adoptive family – the good folks of Warham in Norfolk.”
This is an extract from a ‘Topical Budget’ newsreel; a newsreel series that ran from 1911 until 1931. The film opens with a highly embroidered intertitle. Then we meet Billy and the village inhabitants, especially the children, enamoured with this occupant of the pond.
The film has an accompaniment by piano and accordion.
” West of England | Dir: Humphrey Swingler | UK | 1951 | 10 min
Glorious Technicolor casts a dreamlike spell over Gloucestershire’s Stroud valleys in this gorgeous short film. Author Laurie Lee contributes to the script for a narration which accompanies painterly images of evergreen scenery, people and industry. “
This was a fine example of the lustrous palette found in Technicolor. The commentary is read by Stephen Murray. The film is full of glorious shots of the Stroud Valley, old buildings and a graveyard, valley slopes, smooth rivers and nestling tress and flora. Later we enter an old linen factory where the rich colours of the cloth exploit the colour process. The film is edited into a gentle narrative. The opening shows a horse and rider wending their way down hill. There follow later some good example of forward and reverse tracking shots. The commentary proposes a ‘secret’ which is followed till we hear and see an explanation of the Stroud cloth industry. At the end the horse and rider wend their way back uphill; then a cut shows us a modern tractor, presumably as comment that Stroud is modernising.
The commentary and orchestral accompaniment were added at Merton Park Studio,. And the film received a cinema release from United Artists.
” Cold War Villages | Dir: Unknown| UK | 1981 | 3 min
In 1981, with no end to the Cold War in sight, plans are afoot in the Midlands to prepare for nuclear attack. These include a bunker for 400 people in a Rutland village with a population of 300, while in Derbyshire a local landlord takes responsibility for the somewhat simplistic advance warning system.”
This looks like one of those programme fillers in regional television broadcasts. The reporter, Terry Lloyd, introduces two mini-stories related to ‘the nuclear threat’ with interviews with local people. Rather like the ‘dry village’ this looks like an ironic comment on eccentricity, possibly even invented. By 1981 (despite the 1984 TV film Threads) the nuclear question was less of an issue than that of US missiles based in Britain.
The first case is a plan to turn a disused Rutland railway tunnel into a commercial bunker; £2,000 for a single person. Predictably it was never built.
The second tale is a Derbyshire pub with an ‘early warning system’. Among the limitations of this device are the absence of a warning device. There is (almost certainly staged) film of the publican warning the village on his bicycle. It seems the village was spared a nuclear attack.
“Any Man’s Kingdom | Dir: Tony Thompson | UK | 1956 | 5 mins (extract)
A standout from the British Transport Films collection of travelogues – this one highlighting the attractions of Northumberland, the northernmost part of England. In this extract people travel from far and wide to enjoy the delights of Bellingham Fair, which includes traditional Cumberland wrestling.”
This film has a commentary and an orchestral accompaniment with actual sound including traditional pipes. It offers shots of the people attending this traditional fair and of some of the attractions. There is a fine sequence of a country dance edited through a series of close-ups of the band and the dancers. Towards the end of this extract twilight falls and a young couple are seen in silhouette followed by a pan over a river. The film, in Technicolor, was finalised at The Anvil Studio.
“Blacksmith | Dir: Peter Baylis | UK | 1941 | 5 mins
‘Things aren’t what they used to be’: Mr Bosley, village blacksmith at Corfe, near Taunton, is the subject of this nostalgic study of ancient craftsmanship. As his commentary talks us through the process of shoeing a horse, the patiently composed images gracefully evoke an ageless sunlit Somerset day.”
The film was part of a series on ‘craftsmen’ by the Shell Film Unit. This commercial film’s documentary unit was launched in 1934 and carried on to the present, now ‘The Shell Film and Video Unit’. Its output of mainly short films was an important contribution to British documentary. This film follows a farm horse into the forge as we watch the traditional techniques of shooing in a series of close-ups and mid-shots. .
“Eardisland Village | Dir: Unknown | UK | 1978 | 5 mins
The residents of Eardisland, a picture postcard Herefordshire village, are unhappy about their impending conservation status which would curtail new development. How can a village continue to thrive with an ever ageing population and no new blood?”
This films is from ATV’s ‘Today series’ with reporter Peter Green and shot in colour.
The camera takes us round the village and a series of interviews with inhabitants. There are few young people and ‘conservation’ threaten to embed this further. The catalyst for this concern is the proposed closure of the village school. Added to this is the comment that they have even
‘taken the vicar away’.
Despite the film the school did close in 1979.
“Day in the Hayfields | Dir: Cecil M. Hepworth | UK | 1904 | 3 mins
Enchantingly beautiful, Cecil Hepworth’s modest interest film captures the essence of an English midsummer and the harvest in a time before tractors with men cutting hay using a horse-powered reaper. Less productive but very charming are the local babies and toddlers playing in the cut grass.”
Cecil Hepworth is one of the most important pioneers from the early days of British cinema. One of his most famous titles was a the key contribution to canine cinema, Recued by Rover (1905). Here he is filming on location alongside the Thames near to his studio at Walton-on-Thames. The film offers a series of static shots, almost like tableaus. we see the harvesting, transport by horse and cart, and the local children playing.
There is an accompaniment on piano and accordion, as lyrical as the film itself.
“Skating on Lough Neagh | Dir: Unknown | UK | 1963 | 2 mins
As the Big Freeze plays havoc with the working life of Northern Ireland, there is plenty of time for play. The frozen Lough is a call to the adventurous and the ridiculous as dogs, dancers and even drivers take to the ice.”
This appears to be either amateur footage or something filmed for a local television network. It appears that it is actually the ‘Black Lough’ at Dungannon. And like some earlier films it is partly a record of oddities and eccentricities, including a group performing the twist and a mini car travelling over the frozen lake.
The end credits of the compilation include Stephen Horne who performed the musical accompaniment for the films without soundtracks. Stephen is a multi-instrumentalist as demonstrated in the accompaniments.
The films came courtesy of BFI National Archive, the Media Archive for Central England and the Northern Island Screen Digital Archive.
They were all transferred on to a 2K DCP. All were in either 1.33:1 or 1.37:1 ratios. The image quality was generally good. Note, as usual the DCP was in 1.85:1 and the titles for the individual films was spread across the complete frame; this was a shame as it prevented the cinema bringing in the masking to the Academy ratio. The sound was variable, presumably partly due to older prints and also to transferring optical or magnetic tracks on to digital.
Definitely a programme worth seeing. And there is more information about the films, the series and ‘Britain on Film’ at the BFI.
Writer-director Doris Dörrie is well-known for a series of comedy-dramas among a total of thirty films. She also writes novels and directs operas. I very much enjoyed her 2008 film Kirschblüten (Cherry Blossom) and I was therefore looking forward to her new film, her fourth made in Japan. She says she has visited Japan 25 times but that she still doesn’t understand everything Japanese. That may be so but the Japan she depicts in her films looks recognisable as the Japan of films and novels that I am aware of. It may still puzzle audiences in Germany and North America on the basis of IMdB comments and that’s a shame, but it works for me.
Kirschblüten took an older German to Japan where he develops a friendship with a young Japanese woman to their mutual benefit. Something similar happens in Greetings from Fukushima, but this time it’s a young woman from Germany and an older Japanese woman who build a relationship. Marie (Rosalie Thomass) is heartbroken when she is jilted on her wedding day and she makes the decision to join an aid organisation offering entertainment to the almost forgotten victims of the Fukushima disaster of 2011. A small area of the Japanese coast suffered three disasters all at once – an earthquake, a tsunami and a radiation leak from a nuclear plant. The younger people from the area have already moved to the city. Only a few older people are left in temporary accommodation. Marie joins a pair of entertainers, supposedly as a clown. She isn’t a very good clown and her own misery doesn’t help. She wants to go home. One day an older woman among the survivors persuades (forcibly) Marie to drive her to her old home in the ‘zone’. Marie is a reluctant assistant but eventually begins to help Satomi to patch up and clean the house and then to stay with her. Slowly it emerges that Satomi (Kaori Momoi) was a geisha whose American customers had taught her enough English to enable her to converse with Marie. Slowly, she begins to teach the gawky (and very tall) young German to be more ‘elegant’ (she refers to Marie as an ‘elephant’ because of her clumsiness – and the fact she eats so much). Eventually we learn that at the time of the disaster, Satomi had a pupil Yuki who was swept away by the tsunami and that this memory haunts Satomi.
The film is also known as Fukushima Mon Amour – seemingly a reference to Alain Resnais’ 1959 film Hiroshima mon amour. The earlier film sees a French woman on a ‘peace and reconciliation’ mission to Hiroshima to remember the devastation caused by the atomic bomb explosion and the intense relationship she has with a Japanese man. The similarities in the narratives of the two films was also there in Kirschblüten which to some extent ‘riffed’ on Ozu Yasujiro’s 1953 film Tokyo Story. Dörrie makes these references sensitively and carefully. Greetings from Fukushima is shot in black & white CinemaScope recalling that favourite Japanese format of the early 1960s (I haven’t yet found Dörrie’s explanation as to why she chose it). She begins the film with almost surreal shots of Marie’s trauma after rejection on her wedding day. Later, she includes sequences with the ghosts that haunt both women. Yet her presentation of Fukushima is essentially ‘realist’ and at times like a documentary. She used the real location of the Exclusion Zone, explaining in an interview that she was shooting alongside the workers who were lifting the radiated soil (which is stored in bags along the roadside). I recognised the landscape from Sion Sono’s Himizu (2011) which also used locations associated with the impact of the tsunami. The documentary feel and the narrative of a European observer of Japanese customs also suggests the remarkable ‘essay film’ Sans Soleil (1983) by Chris Marker. I was reminded of this by the cat figure (a man with a large cat’s head) who Marie meets at a Tokyo station. Marker’s film includes a sequence exploring the various local rituals and ceremonies associated with animal statues around Tokyo. Dörrie’s film is rich in provocations such as these. Though her film might be seen as conventional and therefore predictable – young woman learns from older woman and becomes a better person – I enjoyed it very much because it most of all justifies the director’s interest in observing and recording her impressions of Japan, its cultures and the lives of ordinary Japanese people. It is a gentle and slightly absurdist comedy as well as a sensitive commentary on a combination of disasters and their impact on a local community. By default, it may also be a critique of how both Japanese and international authorities have responded to the plight of the victims.
Grüße aus Fukushima was released in Germany in March 2016 and has appeared at various international film festivals since then. I’m really pleased that the Leeds International Film Festival has managed to show it. It screens again at the Hyde Park Picture House today and again on Wednesday 9th November at 15.30. I can’t find anything about a UK distribution deal for the film but I hope that someone does take a chance. This is an enjoyable and thought-provoking film with excellent cinematography (by Hanno Lentz) and music (score by Ulrike Haage).
Here’s the German trailer:
The Leeds International Film Festival offers its 30th programme this year. So it is interesting to go back to the beginnings which were in 1987. This was the year of:
1st Leeds ‘Electric’ Film Festival 5 – 19 March 1987
Organised under the auspices of Leeds Leisure Services it was sponsored by the Yorkshire Electricity Board. However the organisations was done by two keen film enthusiasts at the BBC, Janice Campbell, Bob Geoghegan, and Michael Johnson who was Head of Music with the Council. The Film Festival emerged out of the activities of the Friends of the Hyde Park Picture House, then an independent cinema which was facing hard times. So the Festival aimed both to showcase cinema as an entertainment and art form and to protect this iconic movie theatre. The 1987 Festival set a standard in quality, variety and interest that subsequent Festivals have had to work hard to match.
The programme included mainstream features of the period, key British films, art and foreign language titles, and archival films. The opening Gala was Ken Russell’s Gothic (1987): not his best film by any means but anything by the enfant terrible of British cinema was an event. For Jazz enthusiasts there was Round Midnight (France 1986): this is a fascinating film by Bernard Tavernier and featured the great US sax player Dexter Gordon. Another art film featured was Paris, Texas (West Germany 1984): certainly one of the best film directed by Wim Wenders and with fine performances by Harry Dean Stanton and Natassia Kinski. There was a mini-retrospective of films by Andrei Tarkovsky, Solaris (USSR 1972), the very fine science fiction movie; Stalker (USSR 1979), impressive but hard work to watch; and Nostalgia (Italy/USSR 1983) and The Sacrifice (Sweden/France 1986), films that I have to admit defeat me. Ken Loach was represented by Fatherland (UK, France, West Germany 1986), which, unfortunately, is one of the least successful of his films. Titles still familiar today included Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (USA 1984); The Color of Money (USA 1986); A Chorus Line (USA 1985), in 70mm; Back to the Future (USA 1985); The Railway Children (UK ); Sid ‘n Nancy (UK 1986), now re-released on digital; the mammoth War and Peace (Voyna i mir USSR 1969): and Salvador (USA 1986).
Less familiar films and ones little seen nowadays included the first Welsh-language film Coming Up Roses (UK 1986); a film from Eire, Eat the Peach (Ireland 1986); Bertram Blier’s Tenue de soirée (France 1986) starring Gérard Depardieu; Desert Bloom (USA 1985), an intriguing drama set in Las Vegas when nuclear testing was taking place in the state; Carlos Saura’s A Love Bewitched (Spain 1985), a variation on the story of Carmen; True Stories (USA 1986), the feature debut of musician David Byrne; Almost You (USA 1986) a New York based romantic comedy; Rocinante (UK 1986), a picaresque tale with John Hurt and Ian Drury which I have not seen again but remember being very good; the feature launch of Spike Lee with She’s Gotta Have it (USA 1986); Heavenly Pursuits (UK 1986), with Tom Conte and Helen Mirren as teachers in a Roman Catholic school in Glasgow where possibly a miracle has occurred; Duet for One (USA 1986) with Andrei Konchalovsky directing a star studded cast in a film adaptation of a successful play; an Israeli film and Silver Bear Winner at the Berlin Film Festival Smile of the Lamb (1986); Smooth Talk (USA 1985) a Brooklyn-based teen friendship film; and Children of a Lesser God (USA 1986) with William Hurt and an Academy Award winning performance by Marlee Matlin. A special double bill offered Claude Lelouch’s popular A Man and a Woman (France 1966) together with his follow-up A Man and A Woman Twenty Years Later (France 1986).
The cinemas that hosted these films were part of as now-vanished film-going world. The Hyde Park Picture House was the key cinema, and that is happily still with us: though no longer the central venue in the Festival. There was the Odeon on the Headrow: by now multi-screen but still with one large auditorium and the largest screen in the city. There was the Canon or ABC cinema, also a multi-screen. It still had one large auditorium though the sound proofing in the smaller auditorium was not as good as the Odeon. Both The Cottage Road Cinema and The Lounge were also open then: though not involved in the Festival. The Lounge is sadly another defunct cinema but The Cottage Road still screens films. There was also the old Leeds Playhouse in Calverley Street, just below the University Campus. It was home to an active Film Society which lost its home when the building suffered a fire.
Besides the cinema screenings there were a number of events and special screenings. Some of these ran under the auspices of Yorkshire Arts, including a new film by the Leeds-based filmmaker Richard Woolley, Brothers and Sisters (UK 1980) with the director present to talk about this film and his other films. This took place at the Leeds Art Gallery, the venue for almost daily events. Among the best was ‘an afternoon’ with Richard Rodney Bennett on ‘Composing for Film’. Bennett was an accomplished composer, nominated for an Academy Award for his splendid score to the earlier [and superior] adaption of Far From the Madding Crowd (1986). Award winning cinematographer Sid Perou, noted for his work in extreme situations, was at there: as was Roy Alon, a leading film stuntman. And Russell Harty interviewed John Kobal of the famous Kobal Photographic Portrait Collection. The last was accompanied by an exhibition of star portraits from the Collection at the Art Gallery.
Later in the Festival the BBC regional arts magazine hosted a Northern Lights Award for the ‘best Super-8 film’. The contenders were part of the West Riding Group of Cine Clubs, based round Bradford, Leeds Huddersfield, Harrogate and Wakefield. And then there was a programme of Independent Shorts from Yorkshire. This was followed by a discussion around short film production including the local production groups at Hall Place Studios and Video Vera. ‘Screening Women’ at the Art Gallery offered two fairly avant-garde documentaries: one on an African dancer the other a treatment of anthropological films by Trinh T Minh-ha. I did find the latter rather ‘academic’. Leeds Animation Workshop offered a retrospective with six of their excellent short films. The Workshop has continued to feature in subsequent festivals as they continue their innovative and progressive filmmaking.
The First Yorkshire Movie Makers featured the pioneer films of Louis Le Prince, the Holmfirth based Bamford Company and the Sheffield Film Company. All were pioneers in film production, not just in the UK but in the fast developing world of early cinema.
The Art Gallery has not been used in recent Festivals. The acoustics were not brilliant but it served well for certain sorts of presentations and the tie-in with Art Exhibitions was good.
Peter Ustinov gave a Guardian Film Lecture at the Hyde Park: one of the few occasions that this series has strayed outside the National Film Theatre. Whilst the Civic Hall had the Cannon Film Exhibition, with various memorabilia of the Industry and Q&A’s on the Industry’s future. More memorabilia was available at a Film Fair held at the Queen’s Hotel. The Rank Film Laboratories hosted two Open Days where film lovers and school students could see the process for 16mm film, then mainly servicing television and independent filmmakers.
Special film event included a Day of Films at Swarthmore organised and presented by Les Rayner. Les was a film collector and ran film classes at the centre. he had a particular interest in films on 16mm and on the early film format, 9.5 mm. The day included avant-garde films, a Rayner speciality. And it ended up with Vsevolod Pudovkin’s Deserter (USSR 1933).
The famed Leeds City Varieties Theatre was the venue for a re-creation of ‘The Silent Cinema’. There was Charlie Chaplin the iconic figure of early film. And the French classic Casanova (1927), produced by Russian émigrés in Paris and starring one of the great European film actors Ivan Mozzuhkin. Local musician Jon Barker provided accompaniment at the piano. Silent films are one type of cinema that re more accessible now than they were in the 1980s.
Film Education provided three screening for school students at the Hyde Park Picture House. There was a |Shakespearean them with The Dresser (UK) and Romeo and Juliet (UK/Italy 1968) Then the drama constructed around John Reed, Reds (USA 1981). Trevor Griffith [who also scripted Fatherland) came along after the screening to talk about his work on the film’s screenplay and answer questions. He clearly had a feeling of déjà vu after his meticulous writing was reworked by the star and director Warren Beatty.
There were two television events including ‘Witness to the Times’, about the output of BBC Leeds provision. And also films from ITV’s First Tuesday current affairs series: One film was on the then moribund ‘peace progress ‘ in the northern counties of Eire [currently occupied] and a second on homeless people in New York City.
A rather distinctive evening was available taking a barge trip along the Leeds – Liverpool canal to the Armley Mill Industrial Museum. There one could see the exhibition on the Leeds-based film pioneer Louis Le Prince and enjoy a Lantern-slide presentation. And the Museum also hosted several film screenings in its bijou cinema. The trip passed the Leeds bridge where Louis Le Prince shot his pioneer film in 1888. This is one option that has resurfaced in 2016.
The Festival ended with The Hollywood Ball, at the now-vanished ‘Mister Craig’s’ night-club. Hollwyood was a continuing theme through the Festival The Festival Catalogue included the films with nominations for Academy Awards, the annual bonanza held shortly after the Festival ended. Children of a Lesser God missed out on Best Picture but Marlee Matlin won as already noted. Paul Newman won Best Actor for Color of Money and Herbie Hancock’s score for Round Midnight won the Best Original. That remains, with the original Festival Catalogue, an item to treasure.
Note, there is an overview of the Leeds International Film Festival over the years at https://friendsofhpph.org/2016/10/28/a-history-of-leeds-international-film-festival/
I saw this film at the Hyde Park Picture House: there was also a Q&A with the subject of the film, Moazzam Begg, and the director, Ashish Ghadiali, following the screening. The film centres on a long interview with Moazzam Begg as he recounts his experiences: radicalised by events in Bosnia and Chechnya in the 1990s: harassed by the British Security Services and a move to Afghanistan; with the US invasion he moved with his family to Pakistan; and then the kidnapping and imprisonment at the US air base at Bagram and whisked away (illegally) to the Guantánamo base in occupied Cuba. There he was interrogated and tortured in the company of hundreds of other illegally detained men under the euphemism of ”enemy combatants’. Finally released Moazzam Begg has become an active Moslem and an activist in anti-imperial struggles. So predictably the UK government attempted to charge him again in 2014: and as with much on the so-called ‘war on terror’ pursued this incompetently.
The interview is absorbing and Begg is fluent and clearly has considered his experiences carefully and intelligently. The interview is well filmed by Director of Cinematography Keidrych Wasley: for much of the time we watch Begg and his reflection in a darkened mirror, occasionally changing to a large close-up for emphasis. The interview is supplemented by found footage, some of related people and places, some other interviews and much television and film footage of the events in which Begg has been involved. Some of the media footage is well judged, illuminating the topic or being illuminated by Begg’s voice over. Some of it feels like the visual padding that is so common on television news. There were a couple of over familiar sequences of Bush and Blair where I almost groaned out loud.
All of this is edited together in a predominately linear narrative which develops its themes and commentary into a coherent overview. The Film Editors Nsé Asuquo and Simon Barker have done this in excellent fashion. The sound is effective and there is frequent commentative music by Nitin Sawhney, well composed but at times a little intrusive.
The Q&A that followed was interesting, especially the added comments by Moazzam Begg. And Ashish Ghadiali added some background to the film. But we then had several questions taken together before any response, which did not make for clarity. I had a couple of queries which I did not get an opportunity to put to the filmmaker. One was concerning the opening titles which included one that noted that Moazzam Begg and been imprisoned in ‘Pakistan, Afghanistan, Cuba and Britain’. This is not really correct and is misleading: The Guantánamo Detention Centre is in a part of Cuba occupied by the USA. A point that one would hope an independent film offered clarity on. Of more concern to me was the use in the film of two unidentified interviewers, one heard briefly with Moazzam Begg’s father, but the other (or perhaps the same person) on several occasions with Begg himself. We do not actually see him but it did not seem to be the director in this role. But it was clear that the style of questioning determined to a great degree how Begg presented his experiences and therefore on the form of the film itself. What we saw and heard was rather similar to the approach one finds on the BBC (who were part of the production), requiring Begg and his supporters to justify their position. It should be obvious especially with the critical volume from bourgeois critics, that the justification lies entirely with the US and UK Governments and security services.
This produced a strong reservation for me about how effective this approach is. I certainly think the film and Moazzam Begg deserve full attention. But it needs to be supplemented by a more radical approach. I thought that The Road to Guantánamo (2006) had that. It seems that the screenings of Confession with an accompanying Q&A have finished but the film is still screening nationwide.
This is an independent documentary that explores, to a degree indirectly, the events and responses that followed from the death of Mark Duggan. He was shot by a Metropolitan police squad in Tottenham in 2011, and the circumstances surrounding his death offer conflicting stories. What is undeniable is that a wave of unrest and rioting occurred after the shooting , first in London and then in other towns round the country. This re-ignited a debate that has raged on and off for years about social violence and state violence.
The film does not offer the apparently dispassionate account common in documentaries but explores the events and situations through personal stories. The key characters are two friends of Mark Duggan, Kurtis and Marcus. We learn both their stories, and piece by piece, some of the story of Mark Duggan. Kurtis is married with a child and he has struggled to find work to support them. He ‘got on his bike’ and worked in Norwich for a while but the disruption damaged his home life. Now he works back in the area. Marcus was sentenced to prison following the riots. Since the death of his friend he has embraced Islam and since leaving prison he has a mentor for young black boys.
The story of the events and subsequent investigations of Mark Duggan’s death unfold alongside these two other stories. So it was only late in the film, when the delayed inquest in to Duggan’s death took place, that I found out to what the title refers: a phrase used by the Metropolitan Police to describe stopping criminals with extreme violence. The Inquest resulted in a contradictory finding: the contradiction between law and justice. We see that the family, including Mark’s two surviving friends, continue to struggle for justice.
The film was directed by George Amponsah who also shot some of the film. There is no script credit, so I assume the film was structured around the varied film footage, both archive and found footage and film shot round Tottenham, and edited together. This increases the very personal and subjective feel of the film. The differing footage is well edited into a 85 minute film in colour and standard widescreen. There was one odd ratio among the footage, which I did not recognise, which produced a slight black bar on the top of the screen at some points.
The overall effect of the film is powerful. The film’s point-of-view eschews comment using the voices of family, friends and local residents, but this creates a gradually growing volume of discrepancies and disquiet. Some of the participants do voice strong feelings. These include commenting on earlier events, the death of Cynthia Jarrett, the Broadwater Farm rebellion/riot and the death of PC Blakelock in 1985. Here the film draws connections between long running social problems, deprivation and racism in this area of London.
The film opens with a quotation from Martin Luther King,
“A riot is the language of the unheard.”
a point eloquently re-enforced by the film. The well judged testimonies and accounts by Kurtis and Marcus speak volumes about the lives and situations of young black men in London. The film then ends with a quotation from Leo Tolstoy,
“Everyone thinks of changing the world, but no one thinks of changing himself.”
This struck me as a far less appropriate comment. In fact, we see Kurtis and Marcus changing in the course of the film, and it is clear that other people we see do as well. But whilst they change they also remember the past. One recurring scene is the annual anniversary gathering at the grave of Mark Duggan. Tolstoy’s quotation would have been more relevant if he had referred to institutions.
The film is circulated by Metrodome Distribution and both the Picturehouse and Curzon chains are offering screenings. I saw the film at the Hyde Park Picture House regular Tuesday slot. At the moment the only other screening in West Yorkshire appears to be that at the Hebden Bridge Picture House on Monday evening August 15th.
I saw the film last Saturday at the Hyde Park Picture House and, disappointingly, I was one of only twelve in the audience. I think the film has suffered as its release comes at the fag end of the BAFTA/Oscar season. And its marketing by Curzon Film World has been low key. Moreover the film has not been assisted by critics. The Sight & Sound review was generally positive but included the odd comment:
“but if he [the director Michael Franco] wanted his films to be viewed by the general public, would he not invest his distressing themes with humour, . . .” [Why the ‘general public’?].
Michael Franco’s previous film After Lucia (Después de Lucía, Mexico-France 2012) won Un Certain Regard at the Cannes Film Festival. Even so it failed to get a UK release, though it was screened at the Leeds and London International Film Festivals. Chronic won the Best Screenplay at last year’s Cannes Festival. It also contains a superb performance by Tim Roth, with greater depth and complexity than that which won Leonardo DiCaprio awards at the BAFTAs and from the Hollywood Academy.
Roth plays David, a care worker. It is important to note that he works in the US medical industry. In the course of the film we see David caring for three patients, one suffering from AIDS, one who has suffered a stroke and one who has cancer. David is meticulous, involved with his patients but also seems somewhat obsessive. It is his character rather than the situation of the patients that is the film’s focus. There are however explicit scenes of the sort of situations such sufferers face. So the film is occasionally ‘distressing’ but not grim and it has a real sense of humanity.
The film is fairly opaque, so whilst the original ‘chronic’ refers to time the periodity of this film is unclear. Likewise the place or places are not detailed. The S&S review has more detail on character and plot, but I suspect this is from the Press Pack rather than the film. The editing is elliptical, so we move from scene to scene, and later on one patient succeeds another, but how long this all takes is ambiguous, as is the motivation of David himself.
The film is dominated by the mid-height mid-shot, mostly in long takes: variants on the plan Américain. Long shots often include framing to achieve a parallel effect. And the central focus is David or David and a patient. Other scenes and the settings seem mainly about character. There are occasional tracking shots, including the long reverse track that ends the film. At this point Franco, who also scripted the film, includes a change of emphasis that parallels his earlier film.
I found this a rewarding viewing. And the quality of the production means that it is worth going to the cinema rather than settling for an inferior video version. The Hyde Park has it on Wednesday but the audience will include parents and young children. Picturehouse at the National Media Museum now have it programmed for April 19th. It may already have been and gone at the Curzon venues in Richmond or Ripon.
This is a seminal film from the 1960s, partly because it was a trail blazer in addressing issues around sexual orientation. When the film appeared homosexuality was illegal and gay people were constantly victimised, especially by the police. What makes this more impressive is that two major British stars lead the film, Dirk Bogarde as Melville Farr and Sylvia Syms as his wife Laura. This is very much Bogarde’s film, but Syms is excellent and there is one powerful scene between the couple when they have to confront the question of same sex attraction. There is also a very goods supporting cast with actors like Peter McEnery, Dennis Price and Derren Nesbitt.
The film was produced by Allied Filmmakers, whose other productions of the period included Whistle Down the Wind (1961). The key figures in this film would appear to be the team of Michael Relph [Producer] and Basil Dearden [Director]. They made a series of important social problem films in the 1950s and early 1960s. Two of their really interesting films are Pool of London (1951) which addresses inter-racial romance and Violent Playground (1958) dealing with police and crime in Manchester. One aspect of their work is the use of location filming and a consequent sense of realism. Their films tend to appear somewhat conventional today as they have to operate within the conventions of popular film of the time. So there is always a sense that something is held back: neither Pool of London or Victim go the whole way in showing explicit physical contact either between a black man and a white woman or between two men.
However, when one take into account the censorship of the time by the British Board of Film Censors this is understandable. Victim received an X certificate when it was released and had to be cut by about ten minutes. Intriguingly over the years the certification has gone down: 15, 12 and then PG. So credit should also go to the writers, Janet Green and John McCormick. As so frequently was the case the film subject has been wrapped up in a genre plot, in this case a thriller concerning blackmail. The film actually has a strong noir feel, much of this due to the cinematography of Otto Heller, who had a tendency to expressionist camera work. [He also worked on the then infamous, now famous Peeping Tom (1960)].
The version screening on Sunday at The Hyde Park Picture House appears to be a full length version, 101 minutes. Equally good news, it is screening in a pristine 35mm print. This is definitely a key popular artwork from the 1960s, that decade that dramatised nearly all of the major contradictions in British society. It is also a very entertaining film, and much better seen on the big screen.
This is already a contender for ‘canine film of the year’. In fact the dog in the film is a wax model later transformed into a bronze sculpture. But the recumbent body reminded me of mine own Oscar [not the uncle], especially when at one point the wax sculpture was placed on its back, just as he reclines on our sofa. The film was screened in the Hyde Park Picture House ‘Tuesday Wonder’ slot [supported by the Henry Moore Institute], so unfortunately there was only one screening.
The film follows the process of making a bronze sculpture at the Fonderia Artistica Battaglia in Milan. The foundry uses the age old techniques of ‘lost wax’ casting: a process little changed from the bronze age though now they use modern technology including plastic piping. The film opens with the almost complete wax model, which then has a ceramic shell constructed in a series of stages before the molten metal is poured into the cast to form the bronze copy. The final stages are a series of scaling and polishing and then – this glowing metal sculpture.
The film opens with a series of brief onscreen titles which provide basic information. The rest of the film relies on limited dialogue but no commentary. The process is filmed in a series of discrete shots, showing the craftsmen and the object as the process develops. The angles of the shots are carefully chosen to display the craft, how the workers stand, use the wax or the clays, how they move and handle the sculpture. There are constant ellipsis as the process carries on, only one of which is signalled. I think the process takes quite a number of days but the duration is not clear in the film. The film also uses footage shot at the foundry in 1967 [on 16mm] and in 1974 together with stills of the foundry and its workers from earlier periods.
After the screening a friend commented that the film was a little like “watching paint dry”. The S&S review uses the phrase ‘slow cinema’ and also ‘fly-on-the-wall’. Neither was really my sense of the film. In some ways it parallels the earlier Italian documentary Le quattro volte (2010, also referred to in S&S). But there is a vastly different tone to this film. It is careful and loving documentation of a particular artistic process. The process is fascinating, and the stages in the development of this work of art do suggest the wonder that accompanies the process whilst displaying the work-a-day labour which achieves it. At the end the new bronze dog is placed among a litter of similar sculptures, but all with their distinctive characteristics.
The title of the film comes from a quotation by the Italian sculptor Giacomo Manzoni, comparing sculptures to a series of ‘hand gestures’. The film only lasts 75 minutes. it combines colour and black and white film. It was directed by Francesco Clerici and written by Francesco Clerici with Martina De Santis
I had two reservations during the screenings, both examples of the problems with digital cinema. The earlier film footage has been reframed to fit the widescreen image: though the stills were in their correct ratio as was the film [with the only accompanying music] in the end credits. And the subtitles in English were right on the bottom line of the frame: this seems in part because the DCP is in 1.78:1, presumably for television usage. One of the staff advised me that the distributors frequently fail to provide exact detail of these aspects: which dismays me but does not surprise me.