Thursday 18 June 2020

Videos: A Glimpse from the Gutter, The Love of the Sun, The Ants

Almost a year has passed since my last update here on creative projects. Here are three poetry films I have completed since then...

A Glimpse from the Gutter

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Read the poem

In early January, Dave Bonta invited me to participate in his Poetry Without Borders program at the REELPoetry Festival in Houston, USA. The challenge was to make a remix of his 2016 video, A Glimpse from the Gutter (una mirada desde la alcantarilla ), from three poems by Argentinian poet, Alejandra Pizarnik (1936-1972). Having previously made a number of films with Dave’s poetry, and being involved in some of his wider projects, I was keen to get on board, and to make this my first film of 2020.

I speak only English. Nonetheless, this is the sixth film I’ve made involving different languages. Despite being in my late 50s, I retain a child-like wonderment that our single human species communicates in so many richly varied ways. In addition, my film-making over 35 years has been largely directed towards international audiences, via the film festival circuit, and now also the web, where poetry film has its greatest reach. As an Australian, I have a desire to transcend racism and xenophobia, and know that we are all related on the face of this Earth. I also simply love the expressive sounds of different languages as a kind of music.

Dave translated Pizarnik’s poems with advice and in discussion with Jean Morris, a poet and translator. Jean voiced the poems in Spanish, while Dave spoke them in English. For my film, I kept only the text and voices, which I re-arranged and mixed with new music and images. I have remained true to Dave’s impulse in his earlier piece to make a truly bilingual film, spoken in both Spanish and English, and therefore without the need for subtitles.

As in a number of my films, the raw images were sourced from a subscription website with a vast library of short, random clips from videographers in many different countries. The collection of shots I selected were transformed in editing via changes to speed, light, framing and colour, and the addition of long dissolves that blend and juxtapose the images via superimposition.

Some of the images touch on the literal meanings in the trio of Pizarnik's brief poems. These direct connections of image to text are sometimes seen at moments other than when they are spoken. The film also contains a number of shots that bear no direct relation to the words. My overall impulse was to create a series of moving images that might form a kind of visual poem in themselves, while remaining connected to the resonances I found in the text and in the qualities of the voices. The final visual element is a faintly-flickering overlay containing animated x-rays of human anatomy.

The music is an ambient piece by Lee Rosevere, who for several years has generously released much of his music on creative commons remix licenses, enabling film-makers and other artists to create new works incorporating his sounds. I chose this track for its slow pace, beatlessness and meditative quality, that left room for the voices to take by far the greatest prominence.

The Love of the Sun

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This is the final film version of The Love of the Sun, from five poems out of Matt Hetherington's poetry collection of the same name. The video had its first presentation as a live audiovisual performance at the Ó Bhéal Winter Warmer Poetry Festival in Cork, Ireland in late November 2019. Thanks to festival director, Paul Casey, and the Arts Council of Ireland, I was able to be there in person. I traveled from Australia with Adelaide actor, Claudia La Rose-Bell, also a guest of the festival. Claudia gave a live reading of three of Matt's poems in rhythm with the images on the screen, and with a pre-recorded music soundtrack by Steve Kelly (aka Douglas Deep, Manfred Hamil). This included Matt's voice speaking two of his poems. After the brilliant festival in Cork, Claudia and I then traveled to other places in Europe. We presented The Love of the Sun live again, at the video poetry festival in Athens. Directing live audiovisual performance was a first for me. Happily, it went smoothly and was well received.

The Ants

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The Ants was made for the poetry film competition of the Leipzig Poetry Society in Germany. The challenge was to make a film based on any poem by Joachim Ringelnatz (1883-1934), a cabaret poet and absurd humorist. Most of the Ringelnatz poems I have read are strange and funny, and very short. I chose Die Ameisen/The Ants for its whimsy, and partly because it includes a reference to Australia, where I live. It's a coincidence too that ants have been a funny and instructive presence in my life. The film is bilingual, in German first and then English. It was a fun film to make, with music created for it by my long-time collaborator, Adrian Carter, and collage art by Kollage Kid. Both of them are in the UK.

So much happened to take me out of my usual slow routines in 2019. It was one of the biggest years of my creative life. The height of it was travelling Europe for 28 days during November and December, presenting projects at three poetry and film festivals and events, in Ireland, Croatia and Greece. In between I met collaborators in other countries. Memories for a lifetime.

In the second half of 2019, I re-made a number of earlier films, often quite substantially, and raised their technical quality to my current standards and skills. There are now new versions of: Rodeo Days, The Meeting Ran Long, native land remix, Transmission, and I Drove to the River.

Festivals and events that have selected, awarded and/or exhibited my videos since last update include: New York City Poetry Festival, USA; Ó Bhéal Poetry Film Competition in Cork, Ireland, and later at Ó Bhéal's Winter Warmer Poetry Festival; the 17 Days Video Series, which exhibits online and at galleries in the USA; the In Absentia Embassy (Italy) and the Loss Pavilion (Australia), as part of the global digital arts biennale, The Wrong; North Bellarine Film Festival, Australia; Kino Klub Split, Croatia; Athens International Video Poetry Festival, Greece; ReelPoetry Festival, USA; and the launch of the new Poetry Portal in Melbourne, Australia. The Poetry + Video program of shorts I curated at the start of last year has now been part of ten festivals and events world-wide.

I am also pleased to have received two awards in 2019. In the poetry video competition of the Leipzig Poetry Society in Germany, The Ants was given first place. In the UK, Half Measures was awarded second in the Oxford-Brookes poetry film competition.

Finally, I have become involved in contributing and editing the Moving Poems website, working with its founder, publisher and editor, Dave Bonta, an honour to be contributing to this brilliant project that has been going for ten years.