Monday, November 9, 2020

"A list of things that quicken the heart"

memory film: a filmmaker's diary
a film poem about impermanence

Digitising the Super8, Christina Peacock NFSA 2017
Digitising the Super8, Christina Sparrow,  NFSA 2017

memory film: a filmmaker's diary is based on my Super8 archives filmed over three decades 1975-2003. The film is an expression of the passage of time, as well as a historic document reflecting personal and political issues of each era. Currently in post-production, the National Film and Sound Archive (NFSA Canberra), acquired and digitized the super8 collection during 2016-2017.  The film is unique as its legacy harks back to the silent movie era; the film has no speaking voices, no interviews and no narration. Its story is told visually and poetically, with images and music and sound.

The impulse for this film comes from the Japanese death poets. In Japan elders and (Buddhist monks) write poems to express their feelings about the transience of life and the inevitable passing of all things (jisei: “farewell poem to life”). Householders write poems as a gift to their children – a legacy of beauty and insight gathered over years. I like this idea– the contemplation of ageing and approaching death, yet brimming with the lightness and beauty of life. 

I borrow moonlight
for this journey of a
million miles
(Saikaku 1730)

Preparing the Super8 for NFSA
Preparing the Super8 for NFSA

A friend gave me Yoel Hoffman's book Japanese Death Poems years ago and I always carry it around - thinking, ruminating, writing - gradually realising that I could make a film in the spirit of this poetic tradition. Then I discovered that video artist Bill Viola has done just this! So then, everything is perhaps borrowed! The other filmmaker I return to in the vein of death poetry film-making (and the use of the home movie archive) is Derek Jarman and his innovative film Blue that he made when he was in hospital dying (1994). Yet, ultimately as Thacker in his essay Black Illumination: Zen and the poetry of death writes, quoting death poet Toko: 

Death poems
are mere delusion
death is death
(Toko 1795)

What I know about the content of the film – it is composed only of my Super8, filmed between 1976-2003. A layer of the film reflects films I have made and the politics of each era: Maidens (1978), For Love or Money (1983), To the Other Shore (1996) and Island Home Country (2008).  Why the title: “memory film”? Film, unlike creative forms like painting, sculpture or writing, is ephemeral. Like theatre and music it, too, is passing by. The movement of film through the gate of the camera, through the projector, (both film and digital), parallels the movement of life – its transience, its flow; watching film we experience time passing, and like the mercury of old we cannot really hold it still. Also some of the Super8 is degraded with time; the colour might have faded, mould has eaten away at the celluloid; the body of the film is ageing, as is mine. I will not hide it. These fragments of life on my 137 rolls and 9 composite reels of Super8 trigger my memory as it fades with age. 

The Super8 original is preserved and catalogued at NFSA

The production context for the film is the School of Communication, Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences (FASS) UTS, where I am an Honorary Research Associate. Marcus Ekermann, FASS MediaLab, is technical consultant.  I have edited a first assembly (3.5hrs) and am now working with editor Lindi Harrison. We are currently editing this down to a 75min 'rough cut'; and a trailer. Then in 2021 I plan to raise the post production budget for the final edit with the editor, composer and sound designer. The film will have a multi-platform release of film festivals, broadcast television, galleries and online. 

                                         Squatting at the Lyndhurst Estate, Glebe, Sydney 1976

All this happened. Yes, I was in the women’s liberation movement; I had a share in women’s land; I marched against the war in Vietnam; I filmed Super8 on the set of Journey Among Women, on Anzac Day, Australia Day and the Aboriginal Awakening ceremonies; I loved women and men; I have a husband, children and grand children and I had a therapist; I bow to my meditation teachers. And yes I made these films. Here is the evidence, it was real, I filmed it. memory = film. And so, I share this “farewell film poem to life” (jisei), tenderly with you.

Clear sky
The way I came by once
I now go back by
(Gitoku 1754)

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