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Summer 04


Tate Britain - 27 March 2004

Conspiracy Theories

Conspiracy was in the air at ‘Getting It Made’, a sold-out one day conference organised jointly by the Centre’s British Artists’ Film and Video Study Collection at Central Saint Martins and Tate Britain. The critic Michael Archer opened the proceedings with a meditative account of the ‘short history of video art’ – poised, he suggested, between the physical and the philosophical. But where to see it? How to re-see works that were installations, and are no longer on show? While Matthew Barney’s lavish Cremaster film cycle ‘seemed to be everywhere’ – and a poll of the audience confirmed that most had seen at least part – Archer lamented the demise of such resources as the ICA’s Videotheque and its forerunner at the Arnolfini as early sites of pilgrimage for video art.

More conspiracy, or at least competing ideologies, in a session with artists Emily Richardson, Lucy Gunning and Duncan Reekie – although Reekie would no doubt resist the label (one of his ‘rant-performances’ is entitled Fuck Off Avant Gardist). While Richardson and Gunning discussed their own experiences of surviving in the space between film-making and art-making, Reekie expounded sharp distinctions between the avant-garde, the independent sector and the underground. The former categories depend on subsidy, on investment and on gate-keepers of many kinds; while the underground – typified by ‘Exploding Cinema’, of which Reekie is a mainstay – prefers to work collectively, spontaneously without dependence on anything other than self-funding.

With Reekie’s vigorous and entertaining account of the survival of underground tactics, the conference became more animated. Some muttered about anarchism; others about striking attitudes; but the gauntlet was clearly visible – why not do it yourself if you can’t get funding from someone else? The period when television actually commissioned and transmitted film and video artists’ work – mainly on Channel Four in the 80s and early 90s (see David Curtis’s account on pp.4-5) was recalled by Rod Stoneman, a former executive who presided over much of the channel’s most provocative output. Was it really possible that tens, even hundreds, of thousands of viewers had watched such work on broadcast television in living memory? If it was, how had television changed so utterly? A commercial conspiracy to subvert Channel Four’s mission to innovate?

Mike Figgis put the conspiracy theory bluntly and with engaging candour. The director of over a dozen features made mainly within the commercial film industry, he explained that ‘there is an economic conspiracy to keep the truth from the public’. The ‘truth’ being that it is now entirely possible to make high quality films with consumer-level digital equipment which can be bought for a few thousand pounds on Tottenham Court Road. Yet film companies and cinema chains insist on maintaining ‘standards’ which effectively ensure that all involved keep their jobs.

Figgis told of his own determination, after the experience of making Timecode (2000) with four digital cameras, to make another film using only consumer-grade equipment, which became Hotel. To the delight of the Tate audience he explained in detail the pitfalls of ‘timecode’ as the film industry’s panacea for synchronisation – it transpires there are many different timecodes – and his solution of using individual minidisc recorders for actors to record their own dialogue. With his background in experimental theatre, served with the People Show, and a continuing parallel career in improvisatory music, Figgis is clearly an unusual figure within the film industry. But his willingness to mock and demystify, even within the halls of Hollywood, brought further cheer to the conference.

A final session involved, among others, the digital artist Susan Collins and video-maker Mark Aerial Waller. Waller showed work shot to professional standards, then carefully degraded to evoke amateur and bootleg quality; while Collins explained her creation of long-range digitally based installations which played with aspects of surveillance technology. Back to conspiracy – the way forward for artists determined to get it made?



Getting It Made, based on the report from Michael Maziere’s Centre fellowship on the funding and distribution of artists’ film and video, was co-organised by Heidi Reitmaier at Tate Britain.

Michael O'Pray, Emily Richardson, Lucy Gunning and Duncan Reekie (L to R) at Getting It Made

Mike Figgis at Getting It Made (above),
still from Timecode, Mike Figgis, 2000 (below).



7th British Silent Cinema Festival
Broadway Media Centre Nottingham - 15-18 April 2004

Early war hysteria: Will Barker's The German Spy Peril discussed by Jude Cowan at Nottingham

The inspiration for a postgraduate training scheme piloted at this year’s Nottingham British Silent Cinema Festival was a feature of the Giornate del Cinema Muto, or Pordenone Silent Film Festival as it is informally known, the leading international event of its kind. For some years, since the Italian festival was forced to relocate to the nearby town of Sacile in the Veneto, its director David Robinson has run the Collegium Saciliensis, in which a group of young scholars and researchers are welcomed as guests of the festival, and treated to a daily lunchtime seminar from some of the visiting early cinema specialists. So popular have these sessions become, that the margins of the semionar room are packed with festival visitors hoping to join in.

Nottingham’s annual silent festival is the only one devoted to exploring Britain’s still-unknown silent legacy, and is a collaboration between Laraine Porter, director of Broadway Media Centre, and Bryony Dixon of BFI Collections (and a former centre exchange fellow). Increasinlgy it has become an important date in the international silent cinema calendar, now attracting visitors from far afield. This year, with due acknowledgement to Pordenone/Sacile, the first Nottingham ‘collegium’ took place. Four research students received bursaries through the Centre’s postgraduate training fund to attend this year’s event, built around the theme of the Great War on screen, and held discussions with specialists over lunch each day. Among the tutors were Frank Gray, Luke McKernan, David Robinson – professing his delight at the new initiative – and Ian Christie. From modest beginnings, a continuing programme in envisaged.

Postgraduate students (L to R) Jane Bryan (UEA), Jude Cowan (Birkbeck) and Clare Watson (UEA), with Ian Christie, at the 2004 British Silent Cinema Weekend



University of Ulster, Coleraine (Portrush site) - 29 April 2004

The University of Ulster’s main project within the Centre concerns regionalism, in both film and television (a report from its work on Ulster television appears on p.4), and this provided the theme for a research day on 29 April aimed primarily at postgraduates. Held at the university’s Portrush campus, on the spectacular Atlantic coast of Northern Ireland, the day was divided into three parts.
Morning and early afternoon sessions were addressed by a combination of senior and junior researchers, providing case-study examples of work in progress, and drawing out methodological and scoping implications of these cases. In addition to John Hill, Martin McLoone and Centre research fellow Andrew Hill from University of Ulster, discussing their work on Irish material, Valentina Vitali spoke about regionalism in Indian cinema and Ian Christie about ‘micro-history’, taking the reception of Robert Paul’s Anglo-Boer War films in North London as his example.

Then followed two parallel sessions in which invited postgraduates from Trinity College Dublin, Limerick, Bristol, Nottingham, Nottingham Trent, Leicester and Antwerp, gave short presentations on their doctoral projects, ranging from studies of Nottingham’s film societies and ‘fantasy Ireland’ to issues of national/linguistic identity in Belgian television, and in Balkan and contemporary Russian cinema. Discussion was lively, with the audiences more than ready to contribute comments on scope and method, and to offer suggestions for new frontiers to be explored.

The third part of an already busy day consisted of a keynote lecture by the Australian-born scholar and writer Meaghan Morris, currently teaching at Lingnan University, Hong Kong, ‘On the future of Parochialism: Globalisation, Culture and Cinema Studies in Tuen Mun’. This offered a typically wide-ranging and engaging survey of the shifting parameters of ‘local’ and ‘global’ from the Pacific vantage point that Morris occupies.
Undaunted, the postgraduates continued their exploration of cultural difference over a well-earned drink later in the evening (below).

On the following day, the all-Ireland Postgraduate Film research Seminar took place, providing two days of intensive interchange on research addressing the intersection of the national and the regional – another example of the Centre aiming to provide high-quality research training.

Postgraduates at Portrush after the University of Ulster's research day.


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Last modified 24 November, 2004 ; web@bftv.ac.uk