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This month I wrote my first piece for the Santiago Magazine, Revista Revolver, you can read it on the magazine here: http://www.santiagomagazine.cl/film/00955-gloria-and-getting-gloriously-old-interview-director-sebastian-lelio

I saw Gloria in the Teatro Condell, a former theatre and sometime pornographic cinema in Valparaiso, on the night that director Sebastián Lelio and actor Sergio Hernández came to introduce the film. The location and the atmosphere had turned the event into a spectacle even before the film had started; in garrulous anticipation the crowds had grown to exceed the seats available and hoards of us were crammed into the upper balcony of the theatre to watch from above in conspiratorial excitement.

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Lelio describes that night as being, “somehow like a party… I think it was special here because the audience knew that we [Hernández and Lelio] were there. There was this intimate feeling. It’s really moving to learn that people are spontaneously applauding to a screen at the end in many, many cinemas. That breaks my heart, it’s beautiful.”
Premiering at the 63rd Berlinale – Berlin’s International film festival – where Paulina Garcia (Gloria) received the Silver Bear for Best Actress, Gloria certainly has received waves of deserved international attention.

Lelio is glowing with the success of the film when I meet him in Santiago. His return to Chile (he now lives in Berlin) has been filled with opening nights and introductions, roars of applause and celebrations, “Somehow Gloria is like a first film, it’s a turning point for me. It’s the first film that I have made that is going to be shown around the world: in 46 countries. I’m beginning to write in English and I’m opening up new territories in every sense of the term: expressive and physical.”

Gloria is slow, and beautiful and glorious: filled with moments of brilliant humour which make the whole audience erupt into laughter all at once. The film tells the story of a 58-year old woman trying to find her life again in old age. She spends her time worrying for her children, hassled by her neighbours and going out alone at night looking for a man to dance with.

In the Teatro Condell the overwhelming impression is that in spite of the audience’s age, everyone feels an individual connection with Paulina Garcia’s character, whether this is an identification with the simple desire to live life in the fullest sense, or the recognition of a reflection of someone we know; this seems to be Gloria’s power.

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Lelio recognises that “this is one of the things which creates an emotional connection, that there is this vital thing in the film that you can relate to.” He goes on to suggest that, “maybe all of the noise that the film has produced is because it’s about an issue which was somehow forgotten. The archetype of the mother was abandoned, not only by films, but it also seems like society doesn’t want to see what women of that age are doing. People want to imagine that these women are in a still place, almost as if they are dead. But this film shows that they are super-alive, that they still want to live.”

Although Gloria has this unique universal power, Lelio also describes it as being a “typically Chilean film” and admits that he believes “that in order to be universal you have to be radically local.” When I try to identify Gloria’s Chilean essence I can’t help recalling that the loudest laughs in the theatre came in response to Gloria’s growing marijuana habit, but Lelio’s explanation is more innocent, “Gloria is a typical character from here. But more than that: the way in which the characters speak and the way in which they behave, the humour in the film; all of that expresses the way we are in Chile and the way our heads work.”

Although he has moved to Berlin, where “everything is possible” in a city which he describes as “super electric; electric and electronic”, Lelio will continue to return to Chile and make films here. “To be making films right now in Chile is really a privilege for me. There are so many good films, some of them are more underground, and some of them are more famous but I feel like there is a dialogue between them all and when this happens it is really beautiful.”

Chile is also present in the luxury of the film’s panoramas and its landscapes. Although the film is set in Santiago, Gloria and Rodolfo also make a trip to Viña del Mar, where Lelio grew up, “I have always wanted to film Viña. I think it’s beautiful to film. The architecture makes it seem like a city that somehow stood still in the 60s: once it was super-elegant and now it is a little bit shabbier.” From the hotel where Gloria and Rodolfo stay the camera takes in a luxurious stretch of the Valparaíso coastline, including the surreal dunes of Con Con.

Lelio describes the variety of locations as an attempt to make everything “super-flamboyant”: “in this case we made a conscious effort to make the film look bigger; so there is a spectacularity about seeing all those places and varieties of locations and characters and extras and dances and weddings and birthdays.”

For its flamboyance Gloria is totally the opposite of Lelio’s previous feature, El Año del Tigre, filmed in the newly made ruins after the earthquake of 2010. But Lelio is essentially a story-teller, following with a passion any new thread that inspires, his stories are his trademark: “It’s like an addiction, because I really feel happy when I have an idea that I know will be realised. I guess this is one of the things that makes me most happy in life. And I just decided a few days ago, what to do next. Now I feel more connected.”

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Rodaje 5A few weeks ago I made a trip to Santiago to meet with Chilean film director, Sebastian Lelio. The interview was partly a little personal research for the book I am writing about Chile, so I asked Lelio plenty about literary culture and poetic idols, as well as focusing on his latest film, Gloria, which recently took the Berlinale by storm.

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I also wrote up the interview for English language magaine, Revolver here in Chile. Here’s a snippet from the introduction:

“I saw Gloria in the Teatro Condell, a former theatre and sometime pornographic cinema in Valparaiso, on the night that director Sebastian Lelio and actor Sergio Hernández came to introduce the film. The location and the atmosphere had turned the night into a spectacle even before the film had started: in garrulous anticipation the crowds had grown to exceed the seats available and hoards of us were crammed into the upper balcony of the theatre to watch from above in conspiratorial excitement.

Lelio describes that night as being, “somehow like a party”: “I think it was special here because the audience knew that we [Hernandez and Lelio] were there. There was this intimate feeling. It’s really moving to learn that people are spontaneously applauding to a screen at the end in many, many cinemas. That breaks my heart, it’s beautiful.”

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Fortune, I think, meant that I emailed the editor of Garageland Magazine, Cathy Lomax, at the perfect moment: just in time to slip myself into the upcoming issue on Collaboration. And fortune, too, meant that it was American artist, Conrad Ventur, who I ended up interviewing. Our exchange of emails has felt like another kind of collaboration: a fractured sparking of stories and sudden thoughts cascading through my inbox.

I usually like to interview in person, particularly if I want to be more than just a prompt and platform for an artist’s views. But Conrad is all the way on some other time zone and all we had was the black & white of emails. And yet, I feel Conrad’s character: by email, somehow, I have found I know him.

Here is the wonderful story of how Conrad Ventur came by his name, as taster of what’s to come in the next issue of Garageland:

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“My real full name is CONRAD MARCELLUS VENTUR. I go by CONRAD VENTUR, though there have been some flourishes over the years when I thought the middle name added something, so periodically, I used the whole thing. But that’s a bit over the top.

My father Pierre, came up with the name. For half my childhood he was working on a PhD at Yale, in anthropology: Mayan linguistics, with a focus on dying Mayan dialects and culture. When I was born, he and my mother had a specific name in mind – actually they were expecting a female baby, but it turned out, well I’m a male. The name they would have given me didn’t match my face, so for a day or two I just had a number assigned to me while my father thought of a name that worked with me. He’s said that one morning, after letting it fold around in his thoughts, he was brushing his teeth and it clicked, Conrad Marcellus Ventur. I think he’d been up for 48 hours – going from some kind of very long party then to the hospital for a protracted labour, then hanging around the hospital after I was born. He went home to shower and change his clothes, then returned to the hospital to give the nurse the name. He was exhausted. So here we go. It’s an equation.

The first name is German, as my Grandfather was born in Frankfurt (he immigrated to the USA when he was thirteen years old). His family going back to the 1600s resided in Silesia, and prior to that in France, either in Alsace or Lorraine – the surname is Huguenot.

c_ventur_m_montez_30_0_002e31ce2e31ceVentur is an extremely small family. I think there are speckles left in Germany, and a smudge in Australia. Just me and my father in the USA. I was told that there are land-owning Ventur in Panama by a guy last week who delivered flowers here. While I was signing for them [a dozen red roses], he said that they are “well respected”. This colonial trace I knew nothing about. The Ventur after the First World War were stripped of what property they had in Germany – after the Treaty of Versailles. This broke my grandfather’s family (he would never tell me about that period of his childhood during and after the First World War). So his father, rendered penniless, became a drunk or something – some kind of outcast but the how and why I don’t know. It was a violent tear in that relationship and connected with the history of that time in Germany – my great-grandmother left with the three children to Wisconsin on her own. Pretty wild when you think that was the 1920s.

The middle name conjures vague associations to the Roman Marcellus going back to 200’s BC and the Byzantine Marcellus 500’s AD – though specifically I should ask what the twist was. Marcellus was a common Latin name during the Roman Empire.

I just sent my mother, Ann, a Skype message asking about that middle name. She’s in Alaska though, so I doubt she’ll answer soon – she’s four hours behind New York. But when she does I know it will be Victorian – an expansive, poetic response (she is a poet after all), with a bit of ‘my broken marriage’ – a blocky 80s intrusion, fracturing her response. She’s like that. Oh wait, just now she’s logged-on. Let’s see what she says…

She writes that my father chose the middle name Marcellus for “a kind of quasi linguistic euphoniousness (e.g. it sounded good with the first name).” She explained, “Pierre  (God Bless his heart) is / was a linguist — so, steeped in Romance language roots. The unconscious has odd ways of coming out. It was almost like some creative spark could only come out when all his control and defences were down…. But your name was your father’s fugue, inspiration, fevered sounds of vowels.”

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.

This is a copy of an article I originally wrote for the Hackney Citizen on the film-inspired exhibition, Still.

As the cold weather creeps upon us the Hackney Picturehouse and the Transition Gallery will be collaborating with the perfect antidote to the autumn gloom. Still, an exhibition inspired by ‘the moving magic of film’ and the ‘new reality’ which emerges when we halt this movement, will be taking place across the two venues from the 7 to the 30 September.

Mix art and film and you have the perfect visual comfort food. The relationship between these two mediums is entirely one of indulgence; a film director playing with the luxuries of light and the full spectrum of sensory effects comes closer to producing a work of art than a slick Hollywood blockbuster, and, as we find in Still, artists using film as inspiration find themselves falling prey to a consumptive obsessiveness, a hyperbolic fanaticism.

Nicola Woodham’s video ‘Neon Alone’ is perhaps the best example of the blurring of genre-boundaries between popular film and art. Woodham has taken a single frame from Richard Curtis’ Love Actually and transformed it into a purely aesthetic cypher with its languorous movement through cinematic light, silhouette, shadow and luminescent spotting.  This repeated frame is entirely estranged from its Rom-Com context; it’s lost that warm, all-pervasive Richard Curtis glow.

Although the exhibition does look critically at the relationship between art and film, it is also not afraid of pastiche or parody. Paul Kindersley’s larger than life disembodied heads are a queasily comic tribute to the sticky gore of horror.

In Cathy Lomax’s ‘Film Diary’, in which she paints a single freeze-framed scene from every film she watches, there is no sense of discrimination. Despite being intellectually and theoretically engaged with film in her studies, Lomax is just as likely to be caught borrowing from Twilight as she might from an obscure masterpiece such as Vincente Minnelli’s The Pirate.

The exhibition celebrates our cultural immersion in a cinematic reality; stories, dreams, the living out of fantasies which might begin to feel more real than everyday life. Jackie Chettur’s meticulously constructed sets in hotel rooms come to resemble ‘the backdrop to a film we think we may have seen.’

There is a strange sense of de ja vu which strikes the viewer. Scenes and faces borrowed from films seem familiar but often lie somewhere beyond the reach of recognition.

The exhibition is accompanied by a special issue of Transition’s Garageland magazine dedicated to film. Each of the artist’s included in Still have contributed to the issue; Paul Kindersley revels in horror’s lust for blood and ‘schlock tactics’, Alli Sharma wallows in her infatuation with the Kitchen Sink aesthetic of social realism, and Jackie Chettur reveals the secrets behind her hyper-realist film sets.

Garageland 14 is, at heart, a collection of adoring love letters to film. Images framed on glossy white paper are like screens in which we might catch movement or a narrative, its content page reads like rolling credits, interviews run like scripts, a thumbnail strip resembles a storyboard. This issue of the magazine is edited and produced with all the visible traces of film fanaticism.

Still is totally joyful and honest about its passion for film and it’s this which makes it the perfect visual comfort. It’s the exhibition equivalent of the cinema on a rainy afternoon or a large bucket of salted popcorn.

Tonight the new issue of Garageland launches with the exhibition, Still, at the Hackney Picturehous and the Transition Gallery. I wrote an article for this issue and here’s an unedited version of a rather long tribute to the simple charms of the cinema. Garageland’s Film Issue is incredible and a bit of a treasure trove for fans of cinema. It’s definitely worth buying a copy here; all of the artists included in the exhibition, Still, have also contributed. It’s my first time in print in an art magazine too, so I’m certainly looking forward to getting my hands on a copy.

  ‘Non ti fare fottere dalla nostalgia, dimenticaci tutti.’ Alfredo, Cinema Paradiso

When I think of the local cinema which I grew up with, The Vue, Harlow Town, Essex, I begin to worry that cinemas might be dying out. Here the itchy faux red velvet seats and sticky floors no longer seem worth the over-inflated prices. Unnecessary legions of staff have already been culled as ticket sales have merged with popcorn cashiers, and I have often arrived to bleak Saturday evening closures, the forecast of cinematic doom. In this empty cinema which no longer carries the luxury of its emptiness, sell-out showings are an increasingly impossible miracle.

If there is anything I would like my local cinema to aspire to, it is the warm, nostalgic glory of Toto’s Cinema Paradiso in the 1988 film directed by Giuseppe Tornatore. In a small village in Sicily it is the Cinema, the Cinema Paradiso, that is the soul and beating life force of the community. The cinema is a democracy in which all of society find a seat.

In the film there is an incidental love story which brings a man from down in the stalls into the upper circle, a triumph of cinema’s power to move. Young boys masturbate on the front rows, and the rich spit down from above in a perfectly comfortable mix of high and low culture. On one hot evening when the theatre reaches capacity and a swelling, angry crowd are locked outside, the projectionist, Alfredo, works a minor miracle. By screening the film on the side of an apartment everyone is able to watch from the piazza. The laughs and cheers of the masses echo across the public square.

Perhaps in the same way that audiences have become desensitised to violence on screen, we have gradually become more immune to the simple charms of the cinema. A film is a spectacle in itself and yet now if we are to be coaxed away from our freeview boxes and widescreen TVs we demand so much more.

We need more violence and more horror to make our blood pound. We need dirtier, wilder, harder sex to get us aroused. In Cinema Paradiso when a simple kiss slips past the censors a violent tremor of excitement spreads throughout the audience; the intimation is explicit enough for this crowd to feel a thrill. But it would never be enough for us.

Our disenchantment could be said to have inspired something of a revolution in cinematic experience. Any objections to such developments might just be another case of the hang-up of nostalgia. Our hardened senses force greater creativity and have made the conception of events such as Secret Cinema and the Jameson Cult Film Club possible.

In a surreal simulation of the film world colliding with the real, events like Secret Cinema and Jameson Cult Films, bring characters and sets to life in full-immersion screenings. These events are opportunities to see our favourite films in entirely new ways. Cinema is reinvigorated by the realisation of a fantasy; to momentarily live within the fictional worlds which have the greatest hold over our imaginations.

The summer’s disingenuous promise to hold off on the rain has led to a mix of outdoor cinema screenings across London on roof gardens and rooftop bars, in parks, in the neoclassical courtyard of Somerset House, and in venues which are exciting for the fantasy and atmosphere they promise to bring to a film: the Nomad Roaming Cinema will be screening The Shining in Brompton Cemetery, the thought makes me shiver with the pleasure of expectation.  It seems we just can’t enough of the subversive twist these new themed cinematic events add to our appreciation of film. I am still soul-searching for a Grease inspired Drive-Thru where I can be ‘Stranded at the Drive-In’ with a young John Travolta lookalike. Perhaps I have spotted a gap in the market there.

Yet my most vivid cinema memory is a showing of the worst film I have ever seen in a small town in Romania. Here, Orange Wednesdays had fulfilled their marketing prophecy and the entire population had turned up for the event. It didn’t seem to matter that the film was embarrassing or that there were no glasses to watch in 3D. There was an air of collusion about it; we all knew the film was terrible and were complicit in it.  Like the Cinema Paradiso, the Patria in Craiova was a hub of the community. Here was cinematic pleasure in its most basic and undiluted form.

Despite my temptation to get carried away with all these cinematic happenings, secret clubs which urge us to ‘Tell no one’ and rare events with exclusive price tags and sell-out tickets, I also believe that we shouldn’t allow ourselves to get distracted from the real cultural threat.

If you search ‘save our local cinema’ on Google, a wealth of revolutions from below will appear. Preserving these venues is about more than nostalgia and a fanaticism for architecture full of character and history. It’s also about holding on to the spirit of the community as areas change and are subject to development. There is nothing I’d like more than to find that the Vue in Harlow Town could conjure enough magic and atmosphere to warrant its ticket prices and fill its seats, a real event for once. That would be the true triumph of the underdog, that classic cinematic trope and a genuine feel-good ending.