The Quietus - A new rock music and pop culture website

Film Features

Fractured Landscapes: At Berwick Film & Media Festival
Colm McAuliffe , December 2nd, 2018 10:42

At Berwick Film & Media Festival, Colm McAuliffe finds much to chew over in films by Morgan Quaintance, Luke Fowler, Soda Jerk, and Jessica Sarah Rinland

Terror Nullius

Ah, Crocodile Dundee. What a film! The best bit is, of course, when our culturally uncouth and casually misogynistic hero Mick Dundee is murdered by Sue, his paramour, and then devoured by a crocodile. You don’t remember? That’s because – unfortunately – it didn’t quite happen like that. But Australian art collective Soda Jerk have just made it happen.

Soda Jerk’s Terror Nullius film creates a “a form of rogue historiography”, brewing up a shit-stir cavalcade of renegade speculative fiction which bisects the dark heart of Australian cinema. It makes for a wildly original, provocative and savagely compelling documentary, ripping apart the dominant story of Australia as a land of white, toxic masculinities.

The film was introduced at the wonderful Berwick Film and Media Festival by one of the festival curators, Herb Shellenberger. He informs us that the film had its funding pulled at the last minute due to its “un-Australian” nature. While the film works entirely well on its own terms, the prescription of this context gave the screening added spice and heft: we felt were being let in on a politically-charged secret.

You see, Berwick Film and Media Festival is not just a free-wheeling celebration of films and exhibitions and talks held over the course of a few days; it’s a festival with remarkable curatorial integrity which courses through everything you see at the festival. Whether it was the above Soda Jerk de/reconstruction of Australian national tropes or an hour-long guided walk along the River Tweed, everything feels vital, essential, crucial and programmed not just for a purpose but with a purpose.

Another Decade

The most striking case in point was Morgan Quaintance’s Another Decade, a collision of 1990s archival home video and recent footage, exhuming historical cultural debates and asking: has anything changed in the last twenty years?

The film allows Quaintance to pull together different media, most notably staggering footage from Russell Newell’s incredible international video community exchange project Video Penpal and judicious usage of the mighty Cornershop (pre-‘Bimful of Asha’ sheen). The screening is embellished with a talk from the hyper-articulate Quaintance who peppers his exhortations with mini-aphorisms (“The walls of the Tate have heard it all before”; “Take yourself to the centre of otherness”) which infuse the event with an intoxicating performative energy.

“At the beginning of the '90s,” reflects Quaintance in conversation after the event, “I was spending a lot of time in West London – Bayswater and Westbourne Park – and hanging around with a lot of punks and crusties who were also really into graffiti, and bands like Crass and the Subhumans. Some local rude boys were part of the mix too. That time was the tail end of the Anti-Nazi League and there were still loads of free festivals where you could see bands like Senser, Fun-Da-Mental, Back to the Planet, and the Levellers. In addition to that you also had the tail end of rave and then hardcore and jungle were happening too.

“These things represented a kind of festival continuum where you'd see bands in the day and then listen to dance music at night. But somewhere in the middle of the decade things started to go south. I can't place it definitively, but a kind of commercialism took over. All those more alternative bands seemed to fall away, as did that scene and a lot of the anti-establishment sentiment, anarchist politics and DIY attitudes that were part of it. 

“I didn't know or have the terms to describe it at the time, but the neoliberal transformation of culture was really in full swing and everything not crafted by market oriented hands was starved of air. In the music scene this was personified by the rank, monocultural and frankly racist mockney stylings of Britpop. I just couldn't believe all those posh dick-heads singing in fake cockney accents, fetishising the fashion of football casuals and films like Quadrophenia and Scum. And the music was just so badly produced, unimaginative, and basic. I mean, all of it from Menswear to Shed 7, Pulp to Blur, Echobelly to Elastica. But the myth continues.

“Even though the enduring musical legacy of that decade, the stuff that influenced the world and altered the course of music, was hardcore, jungle, drum and bass, trip-hop, IDM (you know Aphex and all the Warp lot), and then garage and dubstep right at the tail end, the mainstream keeps trying to resurrect Britpop and all that 60s nostalgia, jack-the-lad, mod crap that goes with it. 

“I remember the same year that New Labour came to power [1997], I was waiting tables at the Nordoff Robbins record industry trust ‘Man of the Year’ awards. Guess who won it. Jonathan King. By then the darkness of neoliberalism had already set, I just didn't know it yet.”

While Quaintance admits the screening of his film at a festival is not necessarily going to galvanise people into action (“nothing” he says “beats actual activism”), the festival was teeming with similarly robust calls to arms. Adam Khalil and Bayley Sweitzer’s Empty Metal, a brave and unusual choice for an opening night film, is a deeply modern (although not modernist) film which centres around the members of Alien, a disaffected queer electronic/punk noise outfit who are telepathically contacted by a Native American activist to execute three men who were acquitted of killing people of colour.

The film is undeniably borne from the modish rooftops of Brooklyn, laced with both an interest in but also a removal from political urgency and spliced with sporadic animated interventions and some quite incredible usage of Éliane Radigue’s shivering, electronic compositions.

In tandem with the film, Khalil and Sweitzer offer few definitive answers during the course of the film’s Q&A, heightening the sense of uncanny, the enigmatic, the intangible. But Empty Metal is by no means a difficult film; it may certainly glance in the direction of the experimental but the film succeeds through conventional means: ultra-cool, streetwise cinematography and satisfyingly intense performances from the largely non-professional cast.

It’s also a testament to the festival’s programming heft that screenings can swing from the global sweep of near-post apocalyptic America to the local minutiae of the Elmbridge Natural History Society near Walton-On-Thames in Surrey. This is the deftly precise cynosure of Jessica Sarah Rinland’s Black Pond, which places the conversations and details of this society against the backdrop of closely observed footage of their own intricate observations of moths and bats. This is further overlaid by a sporadic narration which serves as a detached reporting of the society’s activities. This is a very smart move – the pronouncements of this remote nature commentator are cooly passed on, teasing us to take them seriously and allowing Rinland to float even further ideas.

Black Pond is a remarkably English film yet perhaps so English, it could only be made by someone without a full set of English heritage – Rinland’s family are Argentinian – as it unfolds in such a curiously delusive fashion, and is all the better for it.

Enceindre

Chris Watson and Luke Fowler’s Enceindre is a study in both film and sound of two fortified towns: Berwick itself and Pamplona in the north of Spain. The film introduced a counterpoint in presentation: we first experienced a ‘dark cinema’ version involving no visuals and an alternative version of the soundtrack live mixed before the actual film itself.

This dual presentation was remarkable, indicating the possibilities of not just dark cinema but post-cinema and post-landscape and showcasing the psychic impact of making film and sound related to place. I’m reminded of a statement made by Morgan Quaintance in passing, “There are many histories, many timelines of existentially significant events and these are rarely shared on anything like a universal scale”.

Quaintance’s words neatly link not just Berwick with Pamplona in the context of Enceindre but Berwick Film and Media Festival in the wider context of the already over-crowded film festival circuit. The festival extends beyond the standard film festival format through its relentless interrogation of itself. I felt every film and event at Berwick had a specific reason to be there. It also provides a pointed reminder of the need for film and art and sound that attempts to interrogate the topographies of our fractured age from a multiplicity of perspectives.

If you love our features, news and reviews, please support what we do with a one-off or regular donation. Year-on-year, our corporate advertising is down by around 90% - a figure that threatens to sink The Quietus. Hit this link to find out more and keep on Black Sky Thinking.