Each film that Marc Karlin directed during the period in which I worked with him was on a grand scale, predominantly documentary in nature, and with strong poetic elements. Each was largely or completely financed by television.
For me, the reasons why they were totally engrossing to work on are the same reasons why they are fascinating to look at now.
The films were always about major subjects, always undertaken on account of something that Marc was deeply affected by, something that he became preoccupied with almost to the point of obsession, something he felt passionately about – never for any other reason.
He was constantly reflecting on what was going on around him and in the world at large. The TV series Holocaust, and the nature of its reception all over the world, appalled him and provoked him into thinking about the themes and ideas that were to become the subject of For Memory. While visiting Hermione Harris in Nicaragua, he was astounded by what he saw taking place there and this led him to make a series of four films of great clarity and complexity, four distinct parts of an epic whole. Then, back in Britain, came Utopias, Marc’s response to the endlessly repeated assertion that socialism was dead.
Marc was like an explorer. Each time he began work on one of these films he was like someone embarking on a journey, taking a group of people with him. Each collaborator was essential to the different stages of the journey. The films explored ideas, themes, histories, and physical realities. They drew portraits and told stories. They also explored the forms of documentary film, continuing and developing the work of the preceding films.
Marc knew how to draw vital contributions from all his collaborators at every step of the way. He directed them, and at the same time demanded their input. He knew how to channel other people’s creative energies into the enterprise.
When we were editing together, he wanted me to contribute, rather than carry out his plan. He wanted me to bring my mind to bear on the material, on what the film proposed to accomplish, to do some of the exploring in that phase of the making of the film. He directed the editing in such a way as to draw me into doing this. The editing had to be both descriptive and reflective, it had to convey ideas and themes as much as it had to portray concrete realities. It had to allow the viewer to make multiple connections between these things. And it had to bring out the lyrical and sensual aspects of the images and sounds. The juxtaposing and interweaving required to achieve this is one of the things I enjoy most about editing, and as Marc and I had the same sense of what needed to be done, we worked together very harmoniously.
Looking at these films now, years later, it seems to me that one of the things that makes them so singular is this constant and multiple interconnecting and interrelating of ideas and individual concrete realities. Here are films with grand themes, in which the individual lives and characteristics of the people who appear in them have as much weight as the ideas they are related to, so that each contains vivid portraits of individual people. Marc was as passionate about individuals as he was about ideas, and this was evident at every stage of the making of these films. I was conscious of it during the editing and I can see it in the films now.
Brand Thumim worked as editor for Marc Karlin between 1980 and 1988 on the films For Memory, Nicaragua parts 2, 3 and 4, and Utopias.