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Sunday, 21 September 2014

London City Symphony Film to take Vertov and Rodchenko into Twenty First Century

What promises to be a striking new film entitled London Symphony in an 'old genre' (the city symphony film) is the object of another of the crowd funding reports that I'm blogging about this month. While it doesn't have a Russian theme, it certainly is trying to restore some of the stylistic tropes of the great masterpieces of early Soviet cinema  including the film that topped the Sight and Sound poll for Best Documentaries of all Time, namely Dziga Vertov's Man with a Movie Camera, and bring them back in the early twenty first century. Of course the city symphony film was never just a Soviet phenomenon and Charles Sheeler's & Paul Strand's 1921 film Manhatta is regarded as one of the earliest examples and Walter Ruttmann's Berlin: Symphony of a Metropolis film from 1927 are among the important stages which led to the Vertov masterpiece. However, the kind of mutual transnational influences at play in the forging of such a genre can not be ignored: Ruttmann's film is certainly unthinkable without the developments in Soviet montage and, of course, the influences were never entirely in one direction. This city symphony genre (the denomination inspired by Rutthmann's film title and his idea to "create a symphonic film out of the millions of energies that comprise the life of a big city") while highly regarded by film scholars and historians seemed to have been buried. However, an independent film-maker, Alex Barrett whose films have been shown and awarded at many international film festivals has decided to return to this genre inspired in turn by what seems to have been a revival in interest in aspects of 1920's Soviet culture as a whole. Vertov may be the most notable name but it seems quite clear that Rodchenko whose photographs and other art work have been shown at a number of UK exhibitions in recent years also inspires the look of some of the photographs and stills from an early short film which are set to inspire the film.

Rodchenko, of course, worked as artistic director on one of Boris Barnet's lesser known and lesser seen films Moscow in October and so as well as being probably the most well-known photographer of the Soviet Twenties was a force in Soviet cinema in more ways than one (he also, of course, designed some of the most well-known film posters of the period).

So while the film in question will have a UK theme it will undoubtedly have 'Soviet' roots (how else to describe Vertov, perhaps one of the many transnational artists who can not be reduced to the national denominations of these post-Soviet times). It can only be hoped that like other crowd funding campaigns that I have mentioned in previous posts here and here this particular campaign will gain the attention and support that it deserves. A campaign video is available here which describes many of the intentions.

As well as Alex Barrett whose previous film Life Just Is has been described by a Sight and Sound contributor, Brad Stevens, as "one of the most promising debuts in contemporary cinema" there is a strong team. The producer, Katherine Round, is a founder of a leading documentary organization Doc heads and has established Literally Films to produce documentaries which try to push boundaries. The screenwriter Rahim Moledina has made his own short films  and his script Iqbal's Shoes has been selected for BBC Writersroom scriptroom 2013 from 3000 scripts. James McWilliam is the composer and has had a long career in working in film and has worked with some of the leading film composers. The cinematpgrapher will be Peter Harmer.

Some idea of the film can be glimpsed from a short film that Barrett and Moledina made on Hungerford Bridge and gives a flavour of the inspiring aesthetics of the film:

Once again the crowdfunding link is here and it will be running until the middle of October. and the director can be contacted at

(Like the film The Forest In Me I hope to be reporting on the future development of these projects and, in this case, speaking with the director in more detail on the Russian or Soviet film influences on his film).

Update: Below is the UK trailer just released for its world premiere at the Edinburgh Festival and will be in competition for the Michael Powell Award for the Best British Film and will have two prss and industry screenings and two public screenings at the festival. More information about the film can be found here:

Friday, 12 September 2014

Isolation in the Siberian Taiga: The Forest In Me by Rebecca Marshall.

There are a whole crop of crowd funding projects which are linked in some way or other to Russia and Russian themes. I'll be exploring and writing on a number of them this month. Some are filmed by UK film-makers in Russia, others are influenced by aspects of Russian or Soviet film-making and others are Russian film projects. I am hoping to post a series of blogs this month on those films which promise to be some of the most interesting projects.

70-year old Agafya Likova who has spent her whole life in isolation in the taiga of the Kemerovo region
The link to the crowd-funding project for The Forest in Me can be found here:

I'm starting off with Rebecca Marshall's The Forest In Me poroject which promises to explore an extraordinary story of an isolated family (and then of a single survivor) who lived so deep in the Siberian taiga that for decades there was literally no contact with the outside world (and even when contact was made the heroine of the film remained in her isolated location rather than relocate).

Rebecca Marshall, the director of the Forest In Me.

Rebecca Marshall will attempt to follow the story of Agafya Lykofa who was born in 1943. Until 1978 they lived in complete isolation from the outside world and were even unaware of the Second World War. Agafya's parents had taken the extreme step of complete internal exile in 1936 after being persecuted for his religious beliefs as an Old Believer. Agafya and a brother were born later and were condemned to battle the harsh winters on their own in a deeply remote part of the Kemerovo region in Western Siberia. A particularly harsh winter had already taken the life of their mother through starvation when in 1978 on a helicopter sortie, a group of geologists spotted a piece of cultivated land which lead to their first visit from the outside world. Shortly after their visit Agafya's three brothers died and Agafya lived alone with her father who also died a decade later. Nonetheless, Agafya still chose isolation in spite of the minus 65 degrees Fahrenheit winters that are sometimes registered in this part of the Kemerovo region.

Marshall intends to explore the life of Agafya not merely through her circumstances but she also intends to explore Agafya's imagination, her dreams and visions through a collection of drawings that Agafya has made to record her own life. The film-maker compares her own personal need to keep records of all aspects of her life linking her to her own past with Agafya's own efforts in preserving her own memory through drawings that she makes. Interestingly the film aims to use Agafya's drawings as a starting point for sections of charcoal animation which will then appear in the film (the animated sequences will be designed by Ana Caro who is known for her work in The Magnificent Lion Boy . 

Art work by Ana Caro for the film, the animator of The Forest in Me. 

Marshall's film is based on a hope that small details of Agafya's life may lead to an understanding of one another and it also will try to answer the question of why individuals feel the need and desire to be understood as individuals. Also Agafya's rejection of integration with the outside world will be an opportunity to explore how her sense of time, faith and identity in her isolation contrast with the film-maker's own experiences in the world of mass communication.

Rebecca Marshall's unique experimental style has been taken note of at film festivals worldwide including such impressive international festivals as Locarno and Creteil. She allows her stories of female characters to visually unfold. This next film of hers aims to pursue an aesthetic close to that of Bela Tarr's film-making while searching to keep the balance between observation and dialogue that Werner Herzog creates in his films. The film-making team is also very impressive. The collaboration of Ana Caro in animated sequences has been mentioned. The soundtrack promises to be a very impressive one given the inclusion of a Russian choir and the pure and wild violin playing of the godfather of anti-folk and former member of Clash, Tymon Dogg. The production team also includes some well-known names in the documentary film world including Mark Johnston from Nomad Films, Nicole Stott from Passion Pictures and Vasilis Chrysanthopolous (a producer with Plays2Place, a new emerging company in the Greek film industry whose recent projects have included Miss Violence.)

Here is the crowd-funding link:

A fund raising video is available on Vimeo here.