On his death in 1999, Marc Karlin was described as Britain’s most significant, unknown filmmaker. For three decades, he was a leading figure within Britain’s independent film community, actively contributing to opening up television through Channel 4. He was a founding member of the Berwick Street Film Collective; a director of Lusia Films, a key influence in the Independent Filmmakers Association, and a creative force behind the group that published the independent film magazine, Vertigo (1993-2010)
His groundbreaking films for television in the 1980s and 1990s combine documentary and fiction film conventions to explore the themes of memory, history and political agency. Karlin was a committed political filmmaker, and his dense, yet subtle films are rich meditations on the nature of filmmaking, the impact of ideologies on political choice and formations, and the necessity for rigorous, open interpretation to safeguard the future of the creative, human spirit.
He filmed his way through three decades of huge change, wrestling with the challenges of Thatcher’s free market economics; the demise of manufacturing; the imagining of socialist ways forward after the fall of the Berlin Wall; the role of art in society and the shape-shifting impact of digital technologies: all key concerns relevant to our world today. 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 encompassing the popular guerrilla war of the late 1970’s, the development of the Sandinista government, the effects of the US-backed contra war, and the defeat of the FSLN in 1989. Rather than foregrounding the Sandinista leadership, the films speak from the grassroots, both urban and rural. This rare perspective portrays a revolution for what it is – an exhausting, uneven process.