Helen Dewitt ‘Up in the Air and Down on the Earth: A Programme Inspired by the Films of Julia Dogra-Brazell’

Programme Notes, Uplink Tokyo
Curated by Helen De Witt, Head of Cinemas at the British Film Institute

At once personal and detached, intimate but distancing, Julia Dogra-Brazell’s work casts a spell all of its own. Often only a minute or a few minutes long, its brevity leaves us gasping and grasping for more- to see more beautiful and complex images and hear the intricately layered sound. But the moment is so fleeting, we are also grasping to hold onto its meaning, its significance for us. It’s as if we are chasing an elusive rare butterfly that briefly landed on our arm but has now flown away on the breeze before we can truly appreciate not only its fleeting beauty, but also its generosity in granting us such a precious moment.

In order to extend our brief stay in Julia’s magical yet material world, here are a number of British films from the last five decades that take delight in a similar perspicacity of ideas expressed in lightness and delicacy, and yet are no less profound for that.

Margaret Tait, UK, 1974, 4 mins
The film evokes the vastness of the air above us as well as the TV transmitter that brings the world in all its creativity and complicated confusion into our home. It, perhaps, also conjures up Shakespeare’s sprite of the same name from The Tempest. He (or she, Ariel was historically played by a women) is an elemental being of the higher order, identified with the upward-tending elements of Air and Fire, and with the higher nature of humanity. Aerial, the film, is too about freedom, but not in isolation, rather the freedom that provides the space to explore connectedness.

Tanya Syed, UK, 1990, 4 mins
From within a constricted environment, a women seeks to escape her psychic and physical constraints. To become free; to become herself. The filmmaker creates her emergence through rhythmic intercutting of film as she moves forward to enter what we think of as the real world. But what really is real?

Deviant Beauty
Tina Keane, UK, 1996, 10 mins
A mysterious and androgynous woman travels though a shadowy, carnivalesque world. Unrecognisable from the everyday, it dismantles old certainties and mocks authority, undermining traditional hierarchies of meaning. It is a place of non-fixed sexualities and erotic desires, but also one of death and decay. Tantalising in its temptation to the pleasures of other worlds, it warns that the surface allure of the image can only lead to oblivion.

Stages of Mourning
Sarah Pucill, UK, 2003, 19 mins
A personal playing out of the process of grieving. The filmmaker performs to camera a ritual to help her come to terms with the death of her partner, the filmmaker Sandra Lahire. She uses her own body and photographs of her partner to explore the tearing apart of a deep and close relationship in a process that helps to heal herself and to share with the audience. The film explores the relationship of the filmed movement of the body that appears resonant and real to the picture of one no longer here, but nonetheless captured for all time in the photographic image creating a blending or the two.

A Woman Returns from a Journey
Ruth Novaczek, UK, 2016, 10 mins
“It’s dangerous to get what you want, she said, it sets you up for tragedy.” The film follows a detective of the emotions who is trying to uncover the secret past of a lost and mysterious woman. Using clips from the great auteurs- Hitchcock, Godard, Antonioni, Pasolini, Ackerman, and images of eternal screen goddesses- Bergman, Crawford, Stanwyck, Viti, mixed with iconic American scenes, we follow the detective as she probes beneath the surface of our world that is so familiar on the surface but so unfathomable when you delve beneath.

Total running time 47 mins