The social and personal experiences of place

One of the things I’ve loved deeply about filming is working with others, hearing what they have to say, and putting that across in my work. In fact, the only film I’ve ever made entirely solo was my Exe M5 bridge film, Abridged. As someone who’s spent far too much of their life isolated, this social aspect is actually one of the greatest attractions of filmmaking. I get great pleasure from asking people stuff about things they care about, and then taking the raw material of their words and giving them a polish. 

But there’s a difficulty, because when it comes to shooting films about place, the human voice comes to dominate, something Chion speaks about: as soon as there’s a human voice, it draws our attention and what we look at becomes its setting, whether the person speaking is in front of the camera or not. I’ve come to love the work of Patrick Keiller – which I struggled with at first largely because I wasn’t sure whether I was supposed to be looking or listening, the two activities seemingly strangely disjointed. Keiller’s work is very literary, like listening to an essay, and there’s a heavy and very male-dominated tradition of literary voiceover in a lot of British essay films of place – Chris Petit, for example. There’s also a prevalence of speaking with experts on the subject, but I also like there to be everyday people (the experts generally won’t speak to me anyway). This is why I love the work of Agnes Varda, who speaks to everybody. 

One of the reasons I’ve become fascinated by registered commons as a subject is it being so multi-faceted – autobiographical, historical, political, ecological, social, all of that – and this seems to reflect Doreen Massey’s idea of the ‘throwntogetherness of place’. The idea that a huge number of trajectories coincide in a place, and that place is essentially a collection of these. Hence it becomes essential, in exploring place, to represent those trajectories. Again, Varda does this brilliantly, and it’s there in the work of Guzman and Herzog’s Cave of Forgotten Dreams. I’ve also found it in the sensory ethnographic film El Mar La Mar, which overlays interview audio without explanation, becoming just one more element in creating the impression of place. Interviews (with experts mainly) are interwoven with radio chatter and essayistic voiceover in Petit & Sinclair’s London Orbital. Through bringing together so many elements, something is said indirectly. 

I’m drawing together a list of people I’d love to speak to: someone from the property investment company which own Tunbridge Wells Common, a member of Spiral Tribe to talk about Castlemorton, a Bronte enthusiast, a footballer from Hackney Marshes, one of the Greenham Common peace women, a nature writer, a conservationist, a New Forest commoner. I’d like to talk about commons and race with someone at Clifton Downs, and about Hardy at Winfrith Heath. Nuclear power at Wick Moor. Climate change and MR James on the Norfolk coast. And it strikes me that these conversations should be left as conversations, and the visual, sensory explorations of commons as personal immersions. This would be the gathering phase. And then, to complete, a sculpting phase. Initially, the interpersonal, and the immersion in landscape would be quite separate, although informing one another. And there’s no reason why different elements have different lives – an installation, a vlog. And then, finally, bringing together as a film. That’s how I’d like to work.  

Published by andythatcher

Photographer - filmmaker - writer - researcher Environment - wellbeing - politics

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