Swandown, Fish Island

This is a copy of an article about the Hackney Film Festival orginally published on the Hackney Citizen website.

When Iain Sinclair summed up Swandown before its screening on the last night of the Hackney Film Festival he described it as: “part documentation, hard graft, madness and visionary experience […] a pilgrimage.”

There is something about pilgrimage which suggests a martyr-like endurance and sacrifice. At this Hackney Wick Canal Screening, whether it was the unbearably long queues for refreshments in the Carlton, or the bitter-sweet sounds drifting across the canal of Coldplay’s never-ending set at the Paralympic closing ceremony, or the swell of the biting cold winds; there was plenty to be endured and enough to make pilgrims of us all.

The rewards for standing out in the cold were luminescent visions like Larraine’s Worpole’s Hackney Armada and Rebecca E Marshall’s portrait of Hastings’ waterbabies, Glitter and Storm.

Glitter and Storm is filmed just below the shifting surface of the waves. Watching outdoors on a cold night it was possible to feel that you too were “swimming in magic” with the relentless plash of the waters at your skin.

The six films which preceded the screening of Swandown were lyrics and odes to swimming and sailing, the water, the Thames, the Lea, the sea.  They all shared that liquid element, with Andrew Kötting’s idiosyncratic filming uniting all with a sense of joy at British eccentricity.

Swandown is just as insanely romantic as you might imagine. Two grown boys pedalling from the sea at Hastings all the way back to their native Hackney in a swan; it sounds like a future myth already.

Andrew Kötting wears the same suit for the month of the journey and Iain Sinclair pedals dressed as a cross between a Sunday fisherman and an intrepid explorer. It is both absurd and surreal, an English Odyssey for east London cynics and the psychogeography circle.

Swandown was entirely enriched by its chosen setting at the film festival. The artificial lights of the Olympic stadium, the occasional catch of roars from the crowd, the drone of the helicopter monitoring the area, the stale wet smell of the canal waters; these things were all a part of the prophecy of the quiet home county riverbanks and those crisp panoramas which made up the film.

As the swan pedalo nudged empty, abandoned, at the buoys barricading the Olympic development in Swandown, a rain of climatic fireworks lit up the sky behind the audience of the festival.  In this, (a providential coincidence or genius programming?) was a perfectly-pitched Olympic commentary.

Nobody could resist the high-glitter and spectacle of the fireworks. Everybody turned away from Swandown to coo at that temporary spectacle which has captivated the masses, along with many of its disbelievers, this summer.  We were so close to that stadium, but we couldn’t have been further away on Hackney Wick’s Fish Island.

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