Preview: Berwick Film & Media Arts Festival 2018

We look ahead to this year's Berwick Film & Media Arts Festival, which features the first major UK retrospective of filmmakers Shireen Seno and John Torres as well as new work from Sophia Al-Maria, Kevin Jerome Everson and Luke Fowler

Preview by Ben Nicholson | 03 Sep 2018
  • Jîn (Dir. Reha Erdem)

Berwick-upon-Tweed’s border town status makes it a location for a festival that probes at the margins between different media: films, exhibitions, installations, live performances, and talks will all jostle for attention in spaces both purpose-built and vibrantly reconstituted. Alongside staple strands of bold new and essential older cinema and artists’ moving image, there will be focussed strands on the work of John Torres and Shireen Seno and their Philippine studio/platform Los Otros, the apocalyptic visions of Sophia Al-Maria and a nature-themed series, Screening the Forest.

That particular strand, curated by Dr Graiwoot Chulphongsathorn begins with Forest Experimenta, a selection of short films from East and Southeast Asia that attempt to reconfigure the forest as a protagonist rather than a backdrop. The strand also features three longer films exploring the same ideas. Reha Erdem’s Jîn transforms the recently popular documentary topic of Kurdish guerrillas into an existentialist thriller with touches of magical realism exploring the environmental effects of sustained conflict. Lee Yong Chao’s Blood Amber also considers the effects of independence fighters – in this case, how the Kachin Independence Army affects a community of forest villagers in Burma.

In addition, the Berwick programme features Naomi Kawase’s quiet 2005 documentary Genpin, which follows the patients and midwives of a natural childbirth clinic in an Okazaki city forest. Also from 2005 is Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s mid-length film Worldly Desires, which shares similarities with Ben Rivers’ The Sky Trembles…, placing the crew in front of the camera as he observes the shooting of a film by Pimpaka Towira in the heart of the jungle.

John Torres’ Years When I Was a Child Outside (one of three features making up the Los Otros retrospective) follows the director as he wrestles with his family history and being the son of a best-selling Philippine self-help guru. Complicated family dynamics also make up part of Torres’ Lukas the Strange, which blurs fiction and reality in a dreamlike mythological narrative where you can trade memories for bodily scars and people are transformed into statues. Myths of a different kind form the basis of Big Boy, Shireen Seno’s 2012 debut. Shot on Super 8 it tells the story of Julio and his parents – their business ventures, their ambitions for their son, and the promise of (Western) progress.

Kevin Jerome Everson’s installation Carrs Down South presents an alternative interpretation of familial ambition, showing three generations of the Carr family ruminating on life in Salisbury, North Carolina. The festival’s official opening night film seeks to interrogate contemporary America in a very different way. Adam Khalil and Bayley Sweitzer’s thriller Empty Metal follows several characters from across the social spectrum of an apathetic landscape as they balance on a knife-edge between left and right-wing politics, lashing out in the hope for change.

One of the other standout highlights of the programme is the premiere of a new commission that sees the first collaboration between artist-filmmaker Luke Fowler (whose Electro-Pythagoras was a criminally overlooked highlight of 2017) with sound recordist Chris Watson. The result is Enceindre, a visual and aural study of two 16th century fortified towns – Berwick and Pamplona in Spain. It will screen alongside a ‘dark cinema’ version of the film featuring an alternative soundtrack created by Watson specifically for Berwick’s Maltings cinema. Other must-see events include Soda_Jerk’s TERROR NULLIUS; Sophia Al-Maria’s depiction of the possession of a Wayuu woman in Colombia, The Magical State; a river walk with artist Jessica Rinland; and an evening with Sky Hopinka. Hopinka will be in conversation with Nicole Yip, Director of LUX Scotland, as he presents his short films which probe against cultural and personal boundaries in his indigenous community contemplating landscape, language, and identity.


Berwick Film & Media Arts Festival runs 20-23 Sep. For the full programme and ticket info, head to www.bfmaf.org