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.
Watch the Marc Karlin Collection here
Marc Karlin – Look Again. Edited by Holly Aylett. Available here
In 2012 the filmmaker Chris Marker died having just created a photo essay framing faces encountered in the claustrophobic spaces of public transport. After a lifetime of storytelling often best evoked as a blend of documentary and personal reflection, the quality of self-effacement that permeates Marker’s practice sometimes characterized as capturing ‘life in the process of becoming history’, raises questions of authorship in current culture. In particular, to make ‘documentary’ must we seek to become less present; more invisible?
With speakers Garth Twa (Ravensbourne), Poppy Stockell, Ulrike Kubatta (Filmmaker) and Daisy Asquith (Filmmaker).
Sponsored by Ravensbourne.
Filmed by Sheffield Hallam University students and edited by Matt Sturdy.
Holly Aylett gave a talk
DMZ International Documentary Film Festival (DMZ DOCS) is an annual festival for documentary films presented jointly by Gyeonggi province, Goyang city and Paju city. Held in a buffer zone, the Korean Demilitarized Zone, DMZ Docs 2014 aims to present documentaries with the themes of peace, reconciliation and coexistence and to promote the documentary genre as a means of communication. Despite its short history, DMZ DOCS is growing as one of the most important documentary showcases in Asia.
The festival held last month presented more than 110 documentaries from around the world, including a retrospective on Marc Karlin’s work in Passage – a section committing to experimental form in documentary. Marc Karlin Archive’s Holly Aylett was present in Paju city to introduce the work of Marc Karlin.
DMZ’s artistic director, Jeon Sungkwon with Claire Kim, principal programme co-ordinator, in the DMZ office in Paju city.
Marc Karlin Archive with Open City Docs, supported by University College London’s Institute of the Americas, presents:
RETURN TO NICARAGUA
The process of revolution through Marc Karlin’s remarkable documentary series
Free screenings, panels and dialogues
Fri 21 – Sun 23 November 2014
UCL, Darwin Building, Gower Street, London, WC1E 6BT
Nearest tube: Euston Square/Russell Square
35 years on from the Sandinista revolution, a very rare opportunity to view one of the most committed documentary projects of the late twentieth century in its entirety – Marc Karlin’s Nicaragua series (1985/1991).
International guests, including world-renowned photographer Susan Meiselas, and Nicaraguan journalist Carlos Fernando Chamorro, offer first hand testimony together with Karlin’s film-making team:cinematographer Jonathan Bloom, former Channel 4 Commissioning Editor, Alan Fountain, researcher Hermione Harris and editor Monica
19.00 Welcome – Hermione Harris
Nicaragua Part 1: Voyages (1985)
20.15- 21.00 Q&A with Susan Meiselas
09.30 Tea and Coffee
10.00 Introduction by Andy Robson
10.15 Nicaragua Part 2: The Making of a Nation (1985) (80mins)
11.45 Q&A with Jonathan Bloom.
13.30 Nicaragua Part 3: In Their Time (1985) (70mins)
14.40 Nicaragua Part 4: Changes (1985) (89mins)
17.00-18.30 Platform 1: Revolution and Memory. Chaired by Holly Aylett,
with Jonathan Bloom, Carlos Fernando Chamorro, Alan Fountain, Hermione
Harris, Monica Henriquez and Susan Meiselas.
10.00 Scenes For A Revolution (1991) (110mins)
12.00–13.30 Platform 2: Open discussion. Chaired by Holly Aylett
with guest speakers.
Marc Karlin (1943-1999)
On his death in 1999, Marc Karlin was described as Britain’s most significant, unknown film-maker. For three decades, he had been a key figure within Britain’s independent film community; he was a founding member of the influential seventies collective, the Berwick Street Film Collective; a leading player in the Independent Filmmakers Association, which played a critical role in opening up television through Channel 4, and a founding member of the group that published the independent film journal, Vertigo, (1993 – 2010).
Marc Karlin: Look Again, focusing on Karlin’s twelve essay documentaries between 1980 –1999, will be published by Liverpool University Press in Spring 2015. This is one of the outputs of The Marc Karlin Archive, set up by Holly Aylett, fellow documentarist and founder member of Vertigo; anthropologist, Hermione Harris, partner of Marc Karlin, and film archivist, Andy Robson. Since 2011, the Archive has organised and preserved Marc Karlin’s film and paper archive, and introduced new audiences to his work through events and screenings.
Please contact Andy Robson, Film Archivist at the Marc Karlin Archive
for more details.