AV FESTIVAL 2016: MEANWHILE, WHAT ABOUT SOCIALISM?
Sat 27 February – Sun 27 March 2016
This weekend includes screenings of eleven films by Marc Karlin including talks and discussions in collaboration with the Marc Karlin Archive.
In the 1980s–90s Karlin’s work was persistent in its questioning of the future of the British Left. It takes us on journeys through socialism, political change and cinema itself, critiquing both Thatcherism and Blair’s New Labour. Undeterred by these fundamental societal shifts and the crippling confusion affecting the Left, Karlin invested himself in the continued exploration of socialist themes.
On his death in 1999, Karlin was described as Britain’s most significant, unknown filmmaker. Present in Paris around the events of May 1968 and inspired by the work of Chris Marker, Karlin submerged himself into London’s newly formed independent film collectives. Although informed by an international perspective, most of Karlin’s work focuses on the UK. An exception was the remarkable series of five films on the Nicaraguan revolution, presented in full here on Sun 6 March.
A Film Pass is available with special discounted tickets for all the weekend screenings. AV Festival
Nicaragua Part 1: Voyages is available to download and stream.
Broadcast 14 October 1985 Channel 4 (ELEVENTH HOUR) (42 mins)
In 1978–79 American photographer Susan Meiselas documented the two insurrections that led to the overthrow of fifty years of dictatorship by the Somoza family in Nicaragua. Through an epistolary exchange over five unedited tracking shots across Meiselas’ photographs, the film articulates her relationship to the history she witnessed.
Sally Potter writes a beautiful, heartfelt foreword in Marc Karlin – Look Again, describing Marc Karlin as a cinematic pioneer, thinker and activist. She also goes on to recall her first meeting with Karlin, after a screening of Nightcleaners, and how he kindly shared the Berwick Film Street Collective’s facilities while she was making her film, Thriller in 1979.
Here is an interview between Sally Potter and Wendy Toye, broadcast on Channel 4 on 9th May 1984. It was commissioned for the film programme, Visions (1983-1986). John Ellis, who co-produced the programme via his company Large Door, has very recently uploaded a collection of complete episodes from the series. ‘So there is now a Large Door channel for our moribund independent production company, with a selection from the hundred or so programmes we produced’.
Two women directors of different generations – both trained as dancers – meet for the first time. Sally Potter’s first feature ‘Gold Diggers’ had just been released. Wendy Toye’s career began in theatre and she directed her first short ‘The Stranger left No Card’ in 1952. She worked for Korda and Rank, making both comedies and uncanny tales. Directed by Gina Newson for Channel 4’s Visions series, 1984.
Large Door was set up in 1982 to produce Visions, a magazine series for the new Channel 4. Initially there were three producers, Simon Hartog and Keith Griffiths and John Ellis. Visions continued until 1986, producing 36 programmes in a variety of formats. Hartog and Ellis continued producing through the company, broadening out from cinema programmes to cover many aspects of popular culture from food to television.
Visions was a constantly innovative series, and John Ellis’ article in Screen Nov-Dec 1983 about the first series gives a flavour of its range:
Especially during the earlier months of production, we vacillated between two distinct conceptions of the programme: one, the more conventional, to use TV to look at cinema; the other, more avant-gardist, to treat the programmes as the irruption of cinema into TV. […]
We found that virtually all of our programme items could be categorised into four headings:
1) The Report, a journalistic piece reflecting a particular recent event: a film festival like Nantes or Cannes, the trade convention of the Cannon Classics group.
2) The Survey of a particular context of film-making, like the reports from Shanghai and Hong Kong, and the critical profile of Bombay popular cinema.
3) The Auteur Profile, like the interviews with Michael Snow and Paul Schrader, Chris Petit’s hommage to Wim Wenders, or Ian Christie’s interviews with various people about their impressions of Godard’s work.
4) The Review, usually of a single film, sometimes by a literary intellectual, ranging from Farrukh Dhondy on Gandhi to Angela Carter on The Draughtsman’s Contract. About half the reviews were by established film writers, like Colin McArthur on Local Hero or Jane Clarke on A Question of Silence.
The third series of Visions, a monthly magazine from October 1984 added further elements. Clips was a review of the month’s releases made by a filmmaker or journalist (eg. Peter Wollen, Neil Jordan, Sally Potter) consisting entirely of a montage of extracts with voice-over. We introduced the idea of the filmmaker’s essay, borrowed from the French series Cinema, Cinemas, commissioning Chantal Akerman and Marc Karlin to do what they wanted within a limited budget and length. The plan to commission Jean-Luc Godard fell in the face of his insistence on 100% cash in advance with no agreed delivery date. And then there was no further commission.
Further Reading and Viewing
Charlotte Crofts (2003) Anagrams of Desire: Angela Carter’s Writings for Radio, Film and Television(London: Chatto & Windus), pp. 168–193
John Ellis Channel 4: Working Notes, Screen, November-December 1983 pp.37-51
John Ellis Censorship at the Edges of TV – Visions, Screen, March-April 1986 pp.70-74
John Ellis Broadcasting and the State: Britain and the Experience of Channel 4, Screen, May-August 1986 pp.6-23
John Ellis Visions: a Channel 4 Experiment 1982-5 in Experimental British Television, ed Laura Mulvey, Jamie Sexton, University of Manchester Press 2007 pp.136-145
John Ellis What Did Channel 4 Do For Us? Reassessing the Early Years in Screen vol.49 n.3 2008 pp.331-342
The Marc Karlin Archive is please to announce Marc Karlin – Look Again, edited by Holly Aylett, published by Liverpool University Press, is on sale now!
So please come and celebrate with us at our book launch at BFI Southbank on Thursday 30th April, courtesy of Liverpool University Press and the British Film Institute.
The launch will follow on from an Essential Experiments screening of Between Times (50′), curated by William Fowler, in NFT3, April 30th at 6.15pm, with a panel discussion led by Gareth Evans with Holly
Aylett, Sophie Mayer, Steve Sprung, and John Wyver.
There will then be a foyer break with wine on the house and books available.
At 8.40pm there will be a further double bill with The Outrage (50′) and The Serpent (40′). See the link below to book! If you are interested in attending both screenings, then please call the BFI box office to purchase a joint ticket – 020 7928 3232 – 11.30am to 20.30pm daily.
Hope to see you there!
In the lead-up to the release of Marc Karlin-Look Again here are a collection of portraits focusing on the people Karlin documented in his films. Up first is Marsha Marshall, secretary of the Women Against Pit Closures (Barnsley Group) during the 1984-85 Miners’ Strike.
Marsha Marshall circa 1986 ©The Marc Karlin Archive
Marsha Marshall, who died in April 2009, lived with her miner husband, Stuart ‘Spud’ Marshall, in Wombwell, near Barnsley at the time of the 1984/84 Miners Strike. Spud was one of the first to be arrested during the dispute on a picket line in Nottinghamshire. This event politicised Marsha, and soon with others she founded the Women’s Against Pit Closures. Having never been abroad before, her duties as secretary of the WAPC, took her to France, Italy, Bulgaria, and the USSR – and in Rome she spoke at a rally to over 4,000 Italian trade unionists.
Marsha is featured in Michael Kerstgens’ photographic collection, Coal Not Dole, The Miner’s Strike 1984/85 published by Peperoni Books. In 1984, Michael Kerstgens was a young German photography student who decided to travel to Britain and document the dispute. People were wary of him, as an outsider, and so he was limited to photographing events on the periphery.
However, things changed when he met the activist Stuart “Spud” Marshall. Spud trusted him immediately and opened the door for Kerstgens to photograph not only the heat of the action but also more intimate moments beyond the picketing, violent clashes with the police, and public discussions on the political stage. Kerstgens photographed soup kitchens, meetings behind closed doors, and the wives of striking miners, including Marsha.
Marsha Marshall supports picketing miners with a donation of cigarettes. © Michael Kerstgens
Marsha Marshall on the telephone to Vanessa Redgrave, Wombwell, 1985, © Michael Kerstgens
Around 1986, Karlin interviewed Marsha Marshall for his film ‘Utopias’ – a film about socialism in Britain, broadcast on Channel 4 in 1989. Marsha would be one of the socialist voices in his film. Karlin, here, recalls his creative intentions,
I was filming Utopias in 1986, around the time Margaret Thatcher said she aimed to destroy socialism once and for all. I was determined to say otherwise, obviously. I wanted to do portraits of different socialism, take ideas about it and so on, but to put them all on one boat. Utopias was like a banquet table. I liked the idea of having somewhere all these people could be together, where David Widgery, Sheila Rowbotham and Jack Jones, Sivanandan, Bob Rowthorn, and the miner’s wife, Marsha Marshall, were all going to be there. All these visions of socialism were great. I am totally naïve, but I shall remain to the end, so I just wanted them all at the table. Can you imagine? No: But the film did.
Marc Karlin and Marsha Marshall, circa 1986, ©The Marc Karlin Archive
This is an edited extract of Marsha’s chapter from ‘Utopias’. In this section she recalls the miners’ strike and speaks about her fears for the future of her community.
‘Spud’ Marshall at home in Kendray Barnsley, September 2012 © Michael Kerstgens
Further Reading –
Coal Not Dole, The Miners’ Strike 1984/1985, by Michael Kerstgens, is published by Peperoni Books
Looking at Class. Film, Television and the Working Class in Britain, S, Rowbotham & H, Beynon, (Rivers Oram Press: 2001)
To mark Fernando Birri’s 90th birthday, Michael Chanan, documentarist, writer and contributor to the forthcoming book Marc Karlin-Look Again, recalls his first meeting with Birri. He also includes a film made with Marc Karlin Archive co-founder, Holly Aylett, on the Havana Film Festival broadcast on Channel 4 in the early 1980s.
There was something magical about the first time I met Fernando Birri, who celebrated his 90th birthday a few days ago. I had just arrived in Cuba for the first Havana Film Festival in 1979. Checking in to the Hotel Nacional in the late afternoon, I looked for a bar to quench my thirst, where I found this strange but very friendly figure—all the more mysterious in the dim light—with his long straggly beard and wearing the hat which I later discovered he never took off. I found out who he was—happily still is—over the following days. Three years later, he became a key figure in the documentary I made for Channel Four about the New Cinema movement in Latin America, of which Fernando is one of the founding figures. This portrait is drawn from those films (with a snippet—the short sequence with Fidel—taken from the film I made a couple of years later on the Havana Film Festival with Holly Aylett, also for Channel Four.) Enhorabuena, Fernando!