Sunday 23 June 2019

Videos: Half Measures, I Don't Own Anxiety, Poetry + Video, Rodeo Days

Several months have gone by since my last update here. 2019 has so far been the biggest year of my long creative life. Writing about what I have been doing has taken a low priority, but I'm glad to have now found some space and time to be back in the blogosphere with notes about the four videos released so far this year.

Half Measures

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Read the poem

Patrick James Errington's beautifully written, moving poem, Half Measures, was the script for this film. The project began life as a response to a call for entries to the Oxford Brookes Poetry Film Competition in the UK. The competition offered film-makers five poems to consider for adaptation. I chose Half Measures for its spare and direct writing style, along with a subject that had personal resonance from my experiences in childhood. The film took about a month from start to finish, working approximately full-time. My first consideration was a voice to speak the words. Happily, my good friend and collaborator, Matt Hetherington, agreed to do this. Matt lives about a half-hour's drive from my place, in the same general region of Australia. As well as having a great voice for poetry, he is a marvellous poet himself. We recorded a few takes on my home computer set-up, with him reading the poem in his deep, rich voice, and the film was off and running. The next step was to find a piece of music to accompany the voice, and the overall tone of the film. I began by listening to the recent album, The World of 'If', by my long-time music collaborator in Wales, Paul Foster, aka The Night Programme. On hearing the last track on the album, Barrel Organ, not listed as an official part of the release, but included as a hidden bonus to those who downloaded it, I felt I'd found my piece. To my amazement, when Paul's music file was laid out in my editing software along with Matt's recordings, there was a near-perfect fit of timings and beats, as well as harmonies between the notes of Matt's voice and the key of the music. The soundtrack was decided. For the moving images in the film, I went to the subscription-site, Videoblocks, that has a vast library of high quality, royalty-free footage for inclusion in film projects, each clip around 15 seconds long. Some film-makers have a distaste for 'stock footage'. I have no problem with it at all. For me, it is just one option among many that I employ to make poetry films, embracing the spirit of copyleft and creative commons, sometimes sourcing work in the public domain, as well as continuing many collaborations, mostly over the internet, with poets, musicians, makers of moving and still images, and voice artists from around the world. In fact, I find it a more difficult and interesting challenge to invent ways to bring together disparate elements from various sources in a way that feels coherent and organic, than working to plan with each element executed as envisioned in advance. Thankfully, Videoblocks is now giving the usernames and locations of contributing videographers. Shots in this film are from: Vadim Key (Belarus), bafan4u (Slovenia), Sergey Gribanov (Russia), barselona dreams (Russia), dapoopta (USA), Justin Tierney (USA), Kamila P (Poland), Oles Ishchuk (Ukraine), Pohodzhayproduction (Ukraine), Stock Media (Germany), and WeAre (Ukraine). Several long, happily-obsessive editing sessions later, the film was complete. The results of the competition were announced a week after the cutoff date for entries, a miraculously short waiting time compared to all other film events I've ever encountered. At this point I was over the moon to learn that my film had been awarded second place, with fellow film-makers, Gabrielle Turner (UK), taking first place, and Jane Glennie (UK) taking third place. Congratulations to them both.

I Don't Own Anxiety

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Read the poem

In 2017, I followed a series of videos appearing during the month of April, also known as National Poetry Month in the USA, a celebration that is global in various forms as well. These interesting pieces were being published daily by the Visible Poetry Project, based in New York. In mid-2018, I happened to see a call for film-maker submissions for the 2019 VPP series. I sent my application that same night. A few months later, I was delighted to have been selected as one of 30 film-makers from around the world to participate in this year's series. The process firstly involved reading a series of poems from 60 writers, and returning a shortlist of three poets I might like to work with. VPP soon announced that I was to collaborate with my top choice, the well-known US poet, Kelli Russell Agodon. Kelli and I then started communicating directly, and she sent me a larger collection of poems, three of which I felt drawn to adapt to the screen. I vacillated between two of them for a little while, until Kelli suggested I 'go with my gut'. At this point I knew the poem of choice would be I Don't Own Anxiety, But I Borrow it Regularly (eventually shortened to I Don't Own Anxiety for the film adaptation). I straight-away knew who I would most like to ask to voice the poem, and so I contacted poet and film-maker, Cindy St. Onge, with whom I've been fortunate to have prior collaborations. Cindy's readings of the poem were recorded by Eric Sorenson, both of them in Portland, Oregon. Eric had quickly responded to my call-out on social media for a technician in that city to assist with recording Cindy's voice. As always, Cindy's readings of the poem were sensitive, articulate and well-modulated - a joy to receive and work with them. VPP allocated a producer to our project, Alina Sodano, who monitored progress through a series of rolling deadlines leading towards the film's release date in April 2019. Alina was instrumental in securing the music I most wished for our film, a piece entitled Blames and Revelations, by Matt Howes & Dan Slatter, licensed for our project via Premium Beat. Footage for the film was sourced from royalty-free subscription site, Videoblocks, including work from their contributors, Vadim Key (Belarus), WeAre (Ukraine), ProStock (Slovenia), Oles Ishchuk (Ukraine), glowonconcept (Thailand), and Sergey Gribanov (Russia). Editing is my primary area of interest and pleasure in film-making, which accounts in large measure for my easy embrace of 'found media', such as may be sourced on licences like royalty-free, creative commons, copyleft, and public domain. Sourcing media in this way gives me legal permission to adapt, remix and re-create it in my non-commercial videos, each fragment given new life in the new contexts I create. As with Half Measures, written up earlier in this blog piece, the editing challenge for I Don't Own Anxiety was bringing together the diverse written, vocal, musical and visual elements, to create a film that, in its final form, felt organic and whole. Our film was released on 28 April and will continue to be distributed now with the other films in the 2019 series by the Visible Poetry Project.

Poetry + Video Premiere

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This is a mini-documentary shot by Nigel Wells, and edited by me, to record the world premiere event of the Poetry + Video project, at The Garden Gallery, Murwillumbah, Australia on 4 May. In addition to screening the video program itself, the event included two marvellous live poets, Matt Hetherington and Bronwen Manger, and an interesting end-of-night Q & A. The boutique venue booked-out a few days before the event, and we couldn't have hoped for a better audience: open, engaged and curious about this hybrid form of video and poetry that most who were there would never before have seen. Poetry + Video has been my major project this year. It is a touring program I have curated of 25 video poems from around the world, surveying diverse contemporary expressions of the form. A wide range of approaches includes: screen adaptations of page poetry, prose poetry, poetry from found text and media, animations, poetic cinema, text-on-screen, and spoken word. Next stop in the tour is Kathmandu in July, with more screenings to follow into 2020. The program is easily accessible to almost any location in the world via USB stick. No screening fees are involved for independent operators with little or no budget, and completely negotiable to those with funds. The primary purpose of the project is to expand awareness of video poetry, screening diverse and high quality work in as many places as possible. Any proceeds from screenings will be shared among the contributing artists, in a spirit of co-operation and collectivism. Read and download the brochure for venues here, or simply send us an email, and feel free to pass it on.

Rodeo Days

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Rodeo Days is about my Australian ancestry and identity, employing archival footage of 20th century rural life, given vibrant expression in a hybrid of experimental film, spoken word and music video. It is one of many internet collaborations over more than a decade with electronic music producer, Paul Foster, aka Dementio13 (among other monikers), in Wales. My father and his brothers and sisters lived through desperate poverty during a childhood in the Depression era of the 1930s. Their father abandoned the family, leaving their mother to take care of all six children alone and without work. As the four boys approached early adulthood, they took to the rodeo circuit, travelling wide distances between events, a life on the road. Talented horsemen, they became well-known as rodeo champions. Rodeo was powerfully enticing to poor country men, for its promise of status they were sorely lacking, and because of the money on offer. Prizes at rodeo events were sometimes 20 times the average wage for a rural worker. In the 1930s, crowds at these events could number up to 65,000 people. Newspaper reports record the many broken bones sustained by those rough riders, and worse. An oft-repeated family story recalls my uncle riding buckjumpers with a broken arm in plaster. The heroism of these men who were otherwise in the lowest strata of workers in society, was sometimes accompanied by alcoholism and family violence. Rodeo Days brings together my experiences of family life in my childhood, my father's memories of his rodeo days, and impressions about the history of anglo-Australian society and my place in it. The original video was made in 2011. In 2019, I have completely re-made it, with the benefit of another eight, highly productive years of video editing experience, and more advanced technology. It is a piece I feel particularly close to, for its personal content, as well as my own voice and words forming part of the soundtrack. The release of this video is in the lead-up to the final album release from Paul Foster and I as the music duo, Cwtch, a ten year collaboration via the internet between Wales (Paul) and Australia (me). Entitled Ten from Ten, the album will become free to listen and download from our Bandcamp and Soundcloud sites on 24 July, the day we both celebrate our birthday.

So far this year, there have been six screenings of my videos at international festivals and events. Multimedia Poetry Festival, London School of Economics, UK, screened Anatomy. Experimental Program, North Bellarine Film Festival, Australia, had a reprise session at Deakin University, screening The Sea. Newlyn Film Festival, UK, screened Misery. Cadence Video Poetry Festival, USA, screened Dictionary Illustrations, Misery, and Poem for Rent. Uprooted Poetry Films Program, Bristol Poetry Festival, UK, screened The Last Days. Poetry + Video touring program, Australia, screened Misery. Online publications so far this year have included: a piece I wrote in Moving Poems Magazine, USA, about judging the first Atticus Review Videopoem Contest; a piece by Guido Naschert about my video, Dictionary Illustrations, in Poetryfilmkanal magazine, Germany; publication of the video, 7 March, in ooteoote, Netherlands; publication of the video, The Last Days, in Rochford Street Review, Australia; and my review of Dave Bonta's Winter Trees videohaiku series, in Poetry Film Live, UK.

Until next time,