Reflections on The Underground Film Studio UK Tour 2017

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THE UNDERGROUND FILM STUDIO UK TOUR 2017

 

Earlier this month we went on the first ever Underground Film Studio UK tour, we had six events between 28th February and 11th March screening our films and giving talks about our work to various audiences around the country. Our tour took us to Cambridge, Galashiels, Edinburgh, Stoke-On-Trent, Farnham and Bristol. Along the way we also stopped off at a few other spots to visit friends and shoot sequences for a new film inspired by the British landscape.

 

WHY WE DID THIS TOUR

The film and art world in the UK is an impenetrable system that operates on various subtle forms of control and censorship, for us oddballs, eccentrics and non-conformists there is little space to screen our work. This system operates on an almost unconscious level for those in the fold, they truly believe that it is open and welcoming to all kinds of art and cinema but they do not see that they are deeply influencing what gets shown and what gets made and that unless your work fits their criteria then it is seen as bad and inferior. The world of experimental and artists’ film in the UK has a lot of rules and if your work doesn’t fit to these rules it is very, very hard to find places to screen and even harder to get funding. The small circle of artist/experimental festivals and screening events often show the same work by the same group of artists and it is invariably quite bland, superficially political, short and digestible and to our understanding, not fully exploring the language of moving images. If like us you make personal, visionary films that are deeply political in their very being, form and existence but never make digestible statements then you have to fight, fight to get the films made, fight to get them seen and fight to survive as an artist.

 

This tour is our first experiment into exploring alternative ways of getting our work shown. Rather than continue to try to get accepted into a closed circle of film events that really doesn’t seem to be interested in the kind of work we are making, we decided to take matters into our own hands and team up with some like-minded individuals to organise some screenings for ourselves.

 

Still from our upcoming landscape film.

 

THE ALCHEMICAL LANDSCAPE

Our tour started with a talk for the Alchemical Landscape research group at the University of Cambridge, which is run by Evie Salmon and James Riley. This research group’s focus is into the manner in which contemporary art and culture takes a visionary – if not mystical – view of the environment. This ongoing research project uses seminars, symposia, public events, publications and artworks to explore the creative, aesthetic and political implications of work which they see as expressive of an Occulture. This term Occulture is new to us, here’s a definition from Simon Dwyer which he wrote in the journal Rapid Eye:

 

“Occulture is not a secret culture as the word might suggest, but culture that is in some way hidden and ignored, or willfully marginalised to the extremities of our society. A culture of individuality and sub-cults, a culture of questions that have not been properly identified – let alone answered – and therefore, do not get fair representation in the mainstream media. It is a culture that has been misinterpreted. […] It is a sub-culture that is forming a question that ‘reality’ alone cannot answer.”

 

You can find out more about the Alchemical Landscape research group here.

 

Our talk was called ‘Mutant Cinema, Alchemy and Dreams: The Visionary Films of Daniel Fawcett & Clara Pais’, we gave an overview of our collaboration and the key projects we have made, and then discussed some of the key themes and ideas that we are exploring in our work. This was the first time we had ever given a talk like this so it was quite daunting at first, normally when we speak with an audience it is following a screening of our films so this was definitely outside of our comfort zone, but we found the experience incredibly interesting and rewarding. The talk was followed by a discussion with the group who presented some insightful and thought-provoking questions regarding subjects such as the importance of art as an arena for the imagination, audience’s expectations of the cinematic experience, and where do we draw the line between therapy and art. We were excited by the audience’s response and engagement and also very much enjoyed spending some time talking with Evie and James, and hearing about their projects, books, lectures and expanded cinema performances. An essay version of our talk will be published later in the year.

 


The Alchemical Landscape presentation

 

MOON MOTHS

Next up was a trip to Galashiels in Scotland for a screening of Savage Witches (2012), the first film we made together. This was an eclectic event that took place in the fantastic MacArts Church. It was organised by Scottish artists Sarahjane Swan and Roger Simian of Avant Kinema, who presented our film alongside a selection of their own work plus short films by Walter Ungerer, Dagie Brundert and Duncan Reekie, and a live show by Paul Vickers aka Mr Twonkey.

 

We feel we have met kindred spirits in Sarahjane and Roger, the week before our visit to Scotland they had been in Porto with us when we screened their beautiful short film Orphine (2014) and we also played a role in one of their new Super 8 films. We believe that the personal and creative survival of the artist depends on these kinds of collaborations and friendships, it is by joining forces with like-minded people and showing each other’s work that we can build a community and network in which we will all benefit and hopefully inspire others to do the same. It can be a great source of inspiration and encouragement and helps keep you going in those moments of self-doubt. Our visit to Galashiels was wonderful and the event was fantastic, all of the films were really good and it was also an interesting experience for us to have a chance to revisit Savage Witches five years after it was completed. As time goes on, and as we make more work, we are finding that in this film there are the seeds for every film we have made together since then.

 

Savage Witches screening at the Moon Moths event / Galashiels

 

EDINBURGH

In Edinburgh, we were at the Forest Cafe screening one of our latest feature films, In Search Of The Exile (2016), accompanied by Merzfrau: Bloomed (2016), a short film by Sarahjane & Roger, who also joined us for the screening.

 

In Search of The Exile is a visionary film that offers the viewer the chance to go on a journey beyond the veils of reality, its colourful abstracted visuals follow an exiled wanderer as he makes his way through a wasteland and is assailed by spectres and enigmatic figures. The film has a wordless disintegrated narrative, with a soundtrack that both envelops the space and gives meticulous stimuli to the viewers to activate their senses and create an immersive experience.

 

Unfortunately the conditions at the Forest Cafe were not ideal to accommodate this kind of experience, the cafe atmosphere didn’t encourage the audience to sink into the film. It confirmed for us that we are making films that are experiences intended only for the cinema space, it is in the black void of the cinema that these experiences work best. Still we are very thankful to Ela Nagaj for the opportunity to screen in Edinburgh. After the screening someone commented, without knowing we had made the film, that he thought “this film had been made by Martians”, and on discovering that we were the filmmakers, he gave us his congratulations for having created a cosmic vision while being only earthbound creatures.

 

 

STAFFORDSHIRE UNIVERSITY

The following day we left Scotland to continue our journey southwards, through the train window we watched as we flew by the beautiful landscape of hills, clusters of fir trees and fields full of sheep. The next stop was Stoke-on-Trent, where we presented In Search Of The Exile to the first year students of the Experimental Film Production course at Staffordshire University. We were invited for this by Daniel Hopkins, the course leader. Alongside working at the university Daniel is also a filmmaker and sound artist, he has been making films for over twenty years which explore the landscape and humanity’s place within it. Before the screening we were delighted to hear about the kind of experience this course offers and Daniel’s vision for it. This is a practical degree where students are invited to approach cinema and filmmaking as grounds for experimentation, they are encouraged to experiment with all kinds of technology and Daniel was keen to encourage his students to watch films from various corners of cinema and take inspiration from it all.

 

Our film was screened in the university’s film theatre, a cosy 70’s style cinema with wood panelled walls and comfy red seats. The students themselves were a very attentive and engaged audience, and they were hungry to know more about our work, creative process and collaboration, our interest in dreams, fairy tales and mythological imagery, and our path as artist filmmakers, navigating funding, distribution and screenings. We also heard from a few of them about their own projects and how they were finding the course. All in all we felt energised by our visit and very hopeful, film school can be a frustrating experience for filmmakers who want to experiment and search for their own way of making cinema, and we are personally suspicious of it, but a course such as this one gives us hope that it is still possible for universities to be a place for questioning and nurturing a love of discovery.

 

The Film Theatre at Staffordshire University

 

LONDON

We were halfway through our tour now and had a one day stop in London. We stayed over with our friend Kai Fi’ain, who played the Alchemist in The Kingdom Of Shadows (2016) and also the leading role in Black Sun (2017), a film we shot last summer which is currently in post-production. Kai is also making his own film, which is based on fairy tales and is being shot this coming Easter.

 

During the day, we took the chance to meet up with another friend, Toby Tatum, a filmmaker based in Hastings whose short films we screened last December in Porto, and whom we interviewed in issue 3 of Film Panic magazine. We share with Toby an interest in the visionary vein of British art and a fascination with landscape painting, so we spent the day catching up at the Tate Britain and revisiting works by Turner, the pre-Raphaelites, William Blake, and also saw some paintings by some of our personal favourite British artists Paul Nash, John Piper, Stanley Spencer and Graham Sutherland. By the time we got to ‘The Ressurection, Cookham’ by Stanley Spencer we were overwhelmed by so many amazing images and had to call it a day.

 

In our usual daily lives, where superficial images are constantly present, we forget how intense meaningful images can be when they are created with such strong purpose and craft. Some of the most famous artworks have been so assimilated into the current landscape of images that we easily forget the power that these images and art in general really have in themselves and in their presence. When we face them directly, there is no doubt that something is passed between the images and ourselves, we are either taken into a mystery or put at a distance from it, some energy is either transmitted or robbed, and we are asked to give attention to things which daily life in our society tries its hardest to make us forget. We live in a world which continually dumbs down our senses and limits our experiences, by circumscribing and determining the range of experiences available. For us art is still a place where we must be able to cast ourselves into the unknown and face questions that are not properly defined or answered, and yet are very real and vital. This demands a trust in our own individual experience and embodied imagination, it values it, whatever that experience is, however difficult it is to express. We do not need to rush to define our experiences, we need to allow ourselves time to go deeper into them and learn to unfold and accept them.

 

Still from our upcoming landscape film.

 

BLACK BOX

On Friday we escaped the London chaos by leaving very early in the morning and took a train into Surrey to visit the University for the Creative Arts in Farnham where we screened The Kingdom Of Shadows (2016). This was the first screening of the Black Box curatorial project, run by Catinca Malaimare, Yusoo Park and Amber Clausner, students at the Fine Art course with a keen interest in moving image. We were received with a lot of enthusiasm and curiosity regarding our work, over lunch we spoke at great length with Catinca and Yusoo about the making of The Kingdom Of Shadows and the ideas being explored in our work. It was great to hear also about their own work and to find out how we share some common interests in subjects such as identity and its shadows, narrativity in the moving image and performance. We were impressed with the depth of their dedication and passion, and we very much look forward to seeing more from them in the future. The screening itself was very enjoyable for us, the audience was a small but very engaged group of art students, and the projection and sound were fantastic!

 

We were also joined by Bradley Tuck, an old friend who we hadn’t seen for a few years, with whom we used to run One+One Filmmakers Journal. Bradley is now running Exploding Appendix, an online platform that follows in his continuing work of dissecting the cultural and philosophical landscape.

 

Clara Pais, Yusoo Park, Catinca Malaimare and Daniel Fawcett in Farnham.

 

CHILDREN OF THE STONES

The next stop on our trip was a visit to the village of Avebury in Wiltshire. We had been wanting to visit this stone circle and village for a few years, and took the opportunity of the tour to make it a part of the journey. During our travels we had been filming the landscape and had by now gathered quite a bit of footage and stills taken from the windows of trains and on some short detours into the wilder areas.

 

With this film we were exploring how the landscape, a subject that has been traditionally used in painting, can be a subject for a film. We are interested in what moving images can reveal that painting can’t, but also how the language of painting and the rich history of landscape painting might offer ways of investigating this fascinating subject. The film is also about trying to find ways to bring the landscape’s hidden mysteries into the images and reveal something of how we project our inner life onto the world around us. We were immediately attracted more to landscapes that were as free from human presence as we could find, and started weaving our own narrative journey evoking the strange attraction the landscape seems to exert on visionaries and mystics.

 

The visit to Avebury was the culmination of this journey, as far as this film was concerned. We spent only half a day there, but we really enjoyed looking at every stone, photographing it and walking around the circle. We had enough time to walk to Silbury Hill which lays outside of the circle, a very large mound covered with long grass that looked like giant hair as we approached it. We would have liked to stay longer for closer inspection and also to film some more in the surrounding countryside, but that might be for another time.

 

 

SEVENTYSEVEN FILM CLUB

The final screening of our tour was hosted by the Seventyseven Film Club in Bristol, this was the third time they have screened one of our films but the first time that we had the opportunity to attend. Seventyseven’s film programme is one of the most consistently diverse, unusual and exciting we have ever encountered, from the classics to the art-house, experimental, underground and B-movies to the unclassifiable. Kris, Mark and Owen are seriously dedicated to their movie viewing and enjoy putting on unknown cinematic gems simply for the pleasure of sharing them with an audience. We interviewed them a while back about their interests, you can read the full interview here.

 

Having seen quite a bit of our work, they had some very interesting responses to The Kingdom Of Shadows and also perceptively commented that there seemed to be a new movement of sorts stirring in the world of experimental cinema, not necessarily from people bound together by theme, style or politics, but nonetheless there were filmmakers who seemed to be walking parallel paths and bringing about new visions of cinema. They were excited about our recent partnership with the Experimental Film Society, and the new book they will be publishing later this year, for which we will also be contributing. They struck us as a kind of three musketeers of film programming, like rogues ruled by a mischievous spirit, very passionate about the films, insightful, hating formality, and loving to encourage each other’s subversive inclinations. Sadly our visit was very brief and the next morning we were back on the train, on our way home.

 

 

THE WAY HOME – THE JOURNEY CONTINUES

There are more and more filmmakers everywhere who can envision a new panorama of cinema beyond the old categories, divisions and established ways of working, each in their own individual pursuit is a part of this mutating phase of cinema and is helping bring forth something new. There is no way that a new direction of screening and a new kind of cinema can emerge within the confines of the established system of cinemas, festivals and funding organisations – there are simply too many rules that restrict the artists, too many preconceived ideas about what makes a good film and what does not – so for those of us unable to work in that system we have no choice but to forge our own path, to create alternatives and to support others who are marginalised by the mainstream – we can’t do it all and we can’t help everyone but we can make a difference. What this tour has shown us is that by taking a chance, by reaching out and by joining forces with like-minded individuals we can make things happen. This tour has been one of the most challenging but enjoyable experiences we have ever had, it was a small first experiment to simply see if it was possible for two filmmakers without any funding or institutional support to show their films around the country – we proved it is. Next year we plan to do it again.

 

Thank you to every single person that has helped make this tour possible by booking the films and inviting us, by helping spread the word and by attending the screenings.

 

Love,

Daniel & Clara

x

 

~ Films by The Underground Film Studio are now available on DVD and VOD ~