John Berger and film: A day of screenings

John Berger

Monday 11th September
Sidney Cooper Gallery

A day of screenings celebrating storyteller, essayist, and critic John Berger’s relationship with film, curated by Whitstable Biennale’s Film Curator, Gareth Evans.


13:00: TAŞKAFA, Stories of the Street (2013)

14:10: Parting Shots From Animals (1980, BBC1)

15:15: Play Me Something (1989)

16:35: About Time: ‘Once Upon a Time’ with John Berger (1985, Channel 4)

17:35: Boat People (2016)

This is a rare opportunity to see a selection of extraordinary and varied films, including two remarkable TV documentaries Berger made with Ways of Seeing collaborator Mike Dibb, Timothy Neat’s playful adaptation of Berger’s story, Play Me Something, starring Tilda Swinton and Berger himself, Taskafa, Andrea Luka Zimmerman’s wonderful visual essay about Istanbul’s street dogs, featuring a voiceover by Berger, and Boat People, Sarah Woods’s rich meditation on migration and exile (commissioned by Whitstable Biennale 2016).

This event is part of John Berger Now, a series of screenings, talks, exhibitions and a conference, organised by Richard Turney, Canterbury Christ Church University, taking place over 11-13 September 2017. Whitstable Biennale is a partner.

For information on the whole programme see johnbergernow.wordpress.com and follow @JohnBergerNow

Programme notes:

TAŞKAFA, Stories of the Street (2013)
Andrea Luka Zimmerman
65 mins

Yalan Dunya Film presents an essay film by Andrea Luka Zimmerman featuring text and readings by John Berger.

Taskafa is an artist’s essay film about memory and the most necessary forms of belonging, both to a place and to history, through a search for the role played in the city by Istanbul’s street dogs and their relationship to its human populations.

Despite several major attempts by Istanbul’s rulers, politicians and planners over the last 400 years to erase them, the city’s street dogs have persisted thanks to an enduring alliance with widespread civilian communities, which recognize and defend their right to co-exist.

 Taskafa is structured around readings by Berger, from his novel King, a story of hope, dreams, love and resistance, told from the perspective of a dog belonging to a community facing disappearance, even erasure. In Taskafa, this voice is gifted to a wider community and range of perspectives: to dogs, a city and, finally, to history.

Parting Shots From Animals (1980, BBC 1)
Michael Dibb and Christopher Rawlence, based on essays by John Berger.
60 mins.

We animals are disappearing. We have made a film, not so much about us the animals but about you, the people …

Ways of Seeing collaborators John Berger and Mike Dibb come together once again, this time with an inciting message from animals. Utilising ideas from Berger’s extraordinary essay Why Look at Animals?, the animal-masked presenters explore the meanings of zoos, abattoirs, taxidermists, toys and animal images as a way of understanding the increasingly marginal and debased position of non-human life within our culture.

Parting Shots from Animals is a documentary that would never get made today. It is too satirical, too somber in mood, too ironical in tone, too ambiguous in meaning for contemporary television” (Andy Merrifield, 2012).

Play Me Something (1989)
Timothy Neat
72 mins

Tilda Swinton stars in a playful and ingenious cine-essay from Berger and author/filmmaker Timothy Neat. This collaboration brings one of Berger’s short stories to the screen, Berger also appearing as the mysterious story teller.

A handful of men and women await the plane for Glasgow on the Hebridean island of Barra: visitors, a girl (Swinton) setting off for a job on the mainland, locals who have charge of the airport, and in their midst, Berger. Jaunty, vibrant and expansive, he makes a mesmerising storyteller; and his tale, on the face of it a simple yarn of a peasant (Bruno) on a weekend trip to Venice, becomes a complex exploration of people and places, factories and farms, sex, politics, music, and ways of being. The film quite naturally takes on myriad textures: colour and black-and-white, 35mm and blown-up 16mm footage, and for the story-within-the-story, still photographs by the exemplary Jean Mohr.

About Time: ‘Once Upon a Time’ with John Berger (1985, Channel 4/3rd Eye)
Michael Dibb and Christopher Rawlence
52 mins

Co-devised and directed by Mike Dibb and Chris Rawlence, About Time is a polished six-part chime on the concept of time through the ages. In the episode ‘Once Upon a Time’, filmed in the Haute Savoie, from his kitchen table John Berger explores the representation of time in stories, paintings and photographs.

The structure of the About Time films emerges, Dibb says, ‘from a continuous modification and layering process that goes on as you get different inputs and the films develop in ways that weren’t foreseen. They’re the most collective films I’ve ever worked on. You can’t locate the authorship of these films – at any one time it could also be Dora Russell, or a nurse, or a steelworker’.” (John Dugdale June 1985).

Boat People (2016)
Sarah Wood
23 mins

Boat People was commissioned by Whitstable Biennale.

‘Homelessness is coming to be the destiny of the world’ suggested Martin Heidegger in 1946, in a discussion with Jean-Paul Sartre and in the immediate aftermath of the mass movement of people created by the Second World War. In 1946 this displacement was a shocking legacy. Sixty years on, with the escalating movement of people escaping conflict and environmental catastrophe across the world, has Heidegger’s prediction come true? Has homelessness become the norm rather than the exception? And is contemporary thought anywhere near catching up with this reality?

Boat People is an essay film that explores this question. Taking as its starting point the historic version of Britain as an island and seafaring nation the film counterpoints the surety of this assertion of identity with the contingency of movement. This movement isn’t only human. Boat People is also a questioning of the role the moving image itself plays in the representation of human movement and the migration of ideas. Just as the invention of the telescopic lens brought near and far together for the very first time, Boat People is about the way in the twenty-first century the near and far are mediated and transformed by the new ‘perception accelerator’, the digital image.

For information on the whole programme see johnbergernow.wordpress.com and follow @JohnBergerNow

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