This video essay from Fandor was made for the Thought in Action: The Art of the Essay Film season at the BFI in August 2013. It’s creator Kevin B Lee was commissioned by the BFI to explore the somewhat indefinable genre essay film. Lee says “I spent several weeks reflecting on what the essay film is. This led to a video essay and text published via the BFI’s magazine Sight & Sound that aimed to argue for what true value this as-yet loosely-defined mode of filmmaking could bring to a world that is already drowning in media. Using the video essay to take a polemical stance was a galvanizing experience for me, as it clarified a great deal of my own sense of purpose in being a film critic in a landscape where critical opinions are abundantly available. This video features the work of Santiago Alvarez, Jean-Luc Godard, Alain Resnais and many others”.
Alan Fountain encouraged innovation and experiment in the form and content of programmes at Channel 4
My colleague Alan Fountain, who has died unexpectedly aged 69, played a leading role in developing independent film in the UK, and the workshop movement that formed part of it. In 1981 he joined the infant Channel 4, and for 13 years, as commissioning editor for independent film and video, brought into being two strands of programming, The Eleventh Hour and People to People, which added an entirely new dimension to what viewers saw on television.
Channel 4 was tasked by parliament with encouraging innovation and experiment in the form and content of programmes. Alan did that, and more.
Born in Chelmsford, to Bim (nee Browne) and Harold Fountain, who were teachers, he wrote about horses for Sporting Life and took a degree in philosophy and film studies at Nottingham University.
In Birmingham, the Black Audio Film Collective showed, in Handsworth Songs, race and racism as black Brummies experienced it. In Newcastle, Amber, now a photographic collective, made Seacoal, about impoverished men and women scouring coal from the seashore. It won a Silver Bear at the Berlin film festival.
People to People offered access for community programme-making, often dealing with working lives, in factories, hospitals and on the land. In Yellow Bellies we met agricultural labourers working on Lincolnshire clay.
Season after season, The Eleventh Hour on Monday evenings at 11 o’clock presented an unpredictable melange: British independent film-makers Malcolm Le Grice or Margaret Tait, the new cinema of Latin America, film-making from Africa, Nicaragua, the emergent world, and long runs of Jean-Luc Godard. Ideas were traded and alliances formed, including one in Germany with Eckart Stein’s Das Kleine Fernsehspiel, licensed to experiment by ZDF.
Parochialism went out of the window; the world was our oyster.
When Alan left Channel 4 he went international: teaching, advising, consulting. He formed Mondial, with Sylvia Stevens, in 1994, developing a digital platform to connect independent film-making internationally – way ahead of its time.
In his last years, Alan surprised us again; he studied and practised psychotherapy, making further use of the empathy he had with people’s minds and hearts. He made a lasting mark on everything he touched.
He is survived by his wife, Tess (nee Woodcraft), whom he met in 1970, his children, Jack and Billie, and grandson, Rudi.
by Jeremy Isaacs. Via The Guardian
The BFI looks after one of the most important collections of film in the world – films from as early as 1895 to the latest British features just released in cinemas. But film is fragile. And restoring and preserving it is expensive.
As a charity we rely on the generosity and support of film-lovers such as you to continue this culturally important work.
Any donation, large or small, makes a huge difference, and if you give today every donation we receive up to £400,000 will be matched by a generous supporter – so your gift will be worth twice as much!
Help protect our nation’s film collection. Donate now: https://www.bfi.org.uk/filmisfragile/
Here, director Carl Addy explains how Mill+ approached the project as a whole and the inspiration behind the burning film motif.
Cinema Action members Ann Guedes and Steve Sprung discuss their work with BFI curators William Fowler and Ros Cranston. Guedes and Sprung talk about their productions, made with access to sites like Glasgow’s shipyards, and filmed during and in support of various protests across the country in the late 60s.
Ann Guedes – “I hope, especially with these films, that they are not a lament, they are actually still a call to action”.
Promotional Material from Cinema Action’s Rocinante – found in the archive.
Last week in the BFI’s Essential Experiments slot, William Fowler presented the work of the filmmaking collective, Cinema Action. Two films were screen from the collective’s vast filmography – Squatters (1970), an attack on the Greater London Council regarding their lack of investment in housing . The film provided important – if controversial – information about the use of bailiffs in illegal eviction. And So That You Can Live (1981) which is widely recognised as one of Cinema Action’s finest works. The film follows the story of inspiring union convenor Shirley and the impact global economic changes have on her and her family’s life in rural South Wales. The landscape of the area, with all its complex history, is cross-cut with images of London, and original music from Robert Wyatt and Scritti Politti further reinforces the deeply searching, reflective tone. It was also broadcast on Channel 4’s opening night in November 1982.
Here is a history of Cinema Action via the BFI’s Screenonline
Cinema Action was among several left-wing film collectives formed in the late sixties. The group started in 1968 by exhibiting in factories a film about the French student riots of that year. These screenings attracted people interested in making film a part of political activism. With a handful of core members – Ann Guedes, Gustav (Schlacke) Lamche and Eduardo Guedes – the group pursued its collective methods of production and exhibition for nearly twenty-five years.
Cinema Action‘s work stands out from its contemporaries’ in its makers’ desire to co-operate closely with their working-class subjects. The early films campaigned in support of various protests close to Cinema Action‘s London base. Not a Penny on the Rent (1969), attacking proposed council rent increases, is an example of the group’s early style.
By the beginning of the seventies, Cinema Action began to receive grants from trades unions and the British Film Institute. This allowed it to produce, in particular, two longer films analysing key political and union actions of the time. People of Ireland! (1971) portrayed the establishment of Free Derry in Northern Ireland as a step towards a workers’ republic. UCS1 (1971) records the work-in at the Upper Clyde Shipyard; it is a unique document, as all other press and television were excluded.
Both these films typify Cinema Action‘s approach of letting those directly involved express themselves without commentary. They were designed to provide an analysis of struggles, which could encourage future action by other unions or political groups.
The establishment of Channel Four provided an important source of funding and a new outlet for Cinema Action. Films such as So That You Can Live (1981) and Rocking the Boat (1983) were consciously made for a wider national audience. In 1986, Cinema Action made its first fiction feature, Rocinante, starring John Hurt.
Marc Karlin joined Cinema Action in 1969. He had just returned to London after being caught up in the events of May ’68 in Paris while filming a US deserter. It was there where Karlin met Chris Marker, who was editing Cine-Tracts (1968) with Jean-Luc Godard at the time. Marker had just formed his film group SLON and had since released Far from Vietnam (1967), a collective cinematic protest with offerings from Jean-Luc Godard, Alain Resnais and Agnes Varda, inspired by the film-making practices of the Soviet film-maker, Alexander Medvedkin. The idea of taking this model of collective filmmaking back to the UK appealed greatly to Karlin, and was shared by many of his contemporaries. He details this enthusiasm in an interview with Sheila Rowbotham from 1998…
…when Marker started SLON, ideas about agitprop films were going around. Cinema Action had already started in England by 1969 when I joined. There was a relationship to the Russians: Vertov, the man with a movie camera, Medvedkin and his Russian agitprop train; the idea of celebrating life and revolution in film, and communicating that. Medvedkin had done that by train. SLON and Cinema Action both did it by car. Getting a projector, putting films in the boot, and off you went and showed films – which is what we did…
…when I joined there was no question of making documentaries for television. We showed our films at left meetings, where we would set up a screen, do leaflets and so on. It is often hilarious. I remember showing a film on housing in a big hall in the Bull Ring area of Birmingham. It started with machine gun noises, and Horace Cutler, the hated Tory head of the Greater London Council, being mowed down. The whole place just stopped and looked, but, of course, as soon as you got talking heads, people arguing or living their ordinary lives, doing their washing or whatever, we lost the audience. I learnt something through seeing that.
Evidently, Karlin was frustrated about the political and aesthetic approach of Cinema Action. In fact, salvaged in the archive is two thirds of a letter written by Karlin to Humphry Trevelyan that goes into some detail over the reasons for why Karlin intended to leave Cinema Action. For now, here is Karlin giving a somewhat exaggerated reason for leaving in the interview with Rowbotham…
…Schlacke (Cinema Action co-founder) had a thing about the materialist dialectic of film. Somehow or other – and I can’t tell you how are why – this meant in every eight frames that you had to have a cut. Schlaker justified this was some theoretical construct, but it made his films totally invisible. After a time I just got fed up. James Scott, Humphry Trevelyan and I started The Berwick Street Film Collective and later went on to join Lusia Films.
The Berwick Street Film Collective’s Nightcleaners (1975)
Looking at Class. Film, Television and the Working Class in Britain, S, Rowbotham & H, Beynon, (Rivers Oram Press:2001)
Academic-filmmaker Laura Mulvey discusses her groundbreaking essay ‘Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema’, published 40 years ago in 1975. Filmmakers Joanna Hogg and Isaac Julien join academics John David Rhodes, Tamar Garb, Mandy Merck and Emma Wilson to celebrate this “feminist manifesto”, a product of the politics of its time but one which remains an inspiration today.
The discussion was part of the BFI’s Cinema Reborn. Radical Film from the 70s season in April 2015.
On reaction from the conference please read Sophie Monks Kaufman’s The Timeless Pleasure of Laura Mulvey in Little White Lies, where she asks – can Laura Mulvey’s seminal feminist essay tell us anything new about gender politics in cinema?
BFI Fellow Ken Loach joins actor Cillian Murphy In Conversation, having worked together on The Wind That Shakes The Barley, bringing them both a BIFA award for Best Actor and Best Director as well as the Palme d’Or for the film. Ken Loach was awarded the BFI Fellowship in 1996 and became a BAFTA Fellow in 2006, as well as receiving countless international awards for best director and best film for his prolific film and television output. Known for his social realist approach and engagement with socialist themes, including homelessness in Cathy Come Home, the Iraq occupation in Route Irish and resistance in the Spanish Civil War in Land and Freedom, Loach founded independent production company Sixteen Films which continues with strong critical success.
The conversation focuses on Loach’s dedicatation to documenting social and political injustice, the importance of artistic collaboration, the often-overlooked humour in Loach’s films, and the impact working with Loach had on his own approach to acting.
Also highlighted is the controversy surrounding Loach’s trade union documentary A Question of Leadership, intended for national ITV broadcast. It was criticised by the Independent Broadcasting Authority for its explicitly anti-government stance. It was eventually screened a year later, exclusively in the Midlands (tx. 13/8/1981).
Believing that the then-new Channel 4 would be more amenable to politicised documentaries, Loach proposed the four-part Questions of Leadership (1983), a wider-ranging study of the trade union movement – but on viewing the completed programmes’ strong criticism of leading trade unionists, an anxious Channel 4 shortened the series to two parts and proposed screening a ‘balancing’ documentary by a different filmmaker, before scrapping the broadcast altogether.
via BFI Screenonline
Two unusual documentaries; one inspired by the paintings of Cy Twombly, and one an interesting portrayal of Rupert Murdoch.
Directed by Marc Karlin
The tactile, abstract canvases of celebrated painter Cy Twombly form the focal point of this unusual artist documentary. The fictional, mysterious M does the looking; reacting initially with rage and frustration, before asking why. Karlin reflects on our changing relationship to art while also considering its significance in our lives, revealing himself in the process. This is an inspiring example of how to challenge the formal, conventional limits of film and TV.
Directed by Marc Karlin
This decidedly bold drama-documentary sees Rupert Murdoch re-imagined as the Dark Prince from Milton’s Paradise Lost. Commuter Michael Deakin drifts off to sleep and dreams of destroying the Prince who has made England ‘a hard, sniggering, resentful, hard shoulder of a place.’ But the voice of reason has other plans, and Deakin himself is implicated in the Prince’s rise to power.
Joint ticket available for Essential Experiments £16, concs £12.50 (Members pay £1.70 less)
Directed by Marc Karlin
Self-reflection, collaboration and debate were vital to Karlin, who was a member of the Berwick Street Collective and a key figure in the political avant-garde from the 1970s onwards. To launch new book Marc Karlin: Look Again, we present his insightful, far-reaching TV piece about the state of the Left after Thatcher. Join us as we also discuss with his friends and collaborators the work and legacy of this much-missed radical.
Joint ticket available for Essential Experiments £16, concs £12.50 (Members pay £1.70 less)
The legendary German director picks his three favourite English footballers.
1. Bobby Charlton – “The man is a genius, who brought football back to it’s very basic simplicity”.
2. Nobby Stiles – “What a character he was”.
3. Glenn Hoddle – “If you want to see an earthquake in the stadium, just go and see him play”.
The full Werner Herzog South Bank Show documentary (directed by Jack Bond) is included on the BFI’s deluxe THE WERNER HERZOG COLLECTION box set – released July 2014.