Theme of Pictures in Motion at 2012 Berwick-upon-Tweed Film and Media Arts Festival

Theme of Pictures in Motion at 2012 Berwick-upon-Tweed Film and Media Arts Festival

Matt McCormick’s The Great Northwest

Overview of the final day of the up-and-coming film and art festival

Berwick-upon-Tweed is a town of ramparts, canons, thick stone walls and lookout posts, remnants of its turbulent history located on the border between England and Scotland. But for a few days this September the small border town paid tribute to another, more artistic battle: that between analogue and digital film. Now in its 8th year the Berwick-upon-Tweed Film and Media Arts Festival took the theme of Pictures in Motion for its 2012 edition, examining the relationship between the still and moving image and in turn raising prescient questions about the nature of both in a digital world. I travelled to Berwick for the festival’s final day to take a look at the film screenings, installations and live events on offer.

An immediately distinctive quality of the festival is the way it draws on the town’s history and uses a fantastic mix of, often surprising, locations (meaning that those not familiar with Berwick get an alternative tour of the city just through visiting the various exhibitions and events). Another charm of the festival is its size: it’s relatively easy to nip around the installations and attend an event or two in less than a day, as opposed to feeling that you’ve only scraped the surface, as is so often the case with large art and film festivals.

I begin by taking a look at the many installations that have been set up across town. Jason Dee’s 24 Times is particularly impressive: 24 monitors form a circle with their screens facing in, on the screens are film clips featuring flash bulbs going off but each screen is delayed a fraction behind the one before it. The result is a pulse of light that zips around the circle, recalling the early cinema zoetropes. Simple, smart and elegantly executed, this piece really deserves to be seen by many more people in future.

Another highlight is German duo Katharina Duve & Timo Schierhorn’s ">Fratzengulasch, a short film projected in the underground Bankhill Ice House. It’s a fascinating and unsettling close up of an old group photo, with the occasional face animated into grimacing expressions. The installation is accompanied by a pounding track by techno group Die Vogel, the sound leaking out along the dark tunnel that leads to the ice house, drawing in curious passersby.

Another unusual venue is the old prison cells on the top floor of the Town Hall. Here I come across Amanda Belantara’s hypnotic Sonotoki, a document of the snowy streets of Aomori in Japan projected on one of the cell walls and Andrew Norman Wilson’s exposé of an underclass of workers at Google’s Silicon Valley factory.

Next it’s off to The Maltings where Edinburgh art collective Screen Bandita make an appearance, for a new commission made with Glasgow quartet The One Ensemble. Their event, entitled A Live Road Movie in Super 8 and Sound, is made up of projections of found footage and slides and takes the audience on a trip by sea, car and air. One particularly magical moment has the audience add to the soundtrack by jingling their keys in unison. Creating a loose narrative out of their material, Screen Bandita and The One Ensemble conjure up the adventure of setting out on the open road and the emotions relating to both leaving and returning home.

We stick with the idea of journeying for the final event of the day (and the festival): Portland filmmaker Matt McCormick’s hugely enjoyable film, The Great Northwest. In 2008 McCormick found a scrapbook in a thrift store, it included photos, notes, leaflets and napkins charting a road trip made by 4 ladies in the late fifties across the states of Washington, Idaho, Montana and Oregon. McCormick decided to retrace the women’s steps and The Great Northwest was the outcome: a travelogue of sorts that reflects on the changing landscape and culture of the States and also meditates on the notion of travel and memory. The film premiered at Rotterdam Film Festival earlier this year and this was the film’s UK premiere.

That a small festival like Berwick can host such unique (and top quality) events is just one example of it punching well above its weight. For a few years now niche music festivals have been popping up across the world, attracting fans willing to travel that extra mile for a more intimate event and Berwick looks set to be one of a new crop of film festivals doing the same. I, for one, will await an appetising program for 2013.

Berwick Film and Media Arts Festival ran from Wed 19 – Sun 23 Sep 2012.

Die Vögel: Fratzengulasch


Workers Leaving the Googleplex

The Great Northwest (excerpt)

Berwick Film & Media Arts Festival

Film festival straddling the England-Scotland border with an interesting mix of documentaries, archive footage, site-specific installations, live events and specially commissioned projects.

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