Our Specially Curated Season for Art of The Underground’s Canary Wharf Screen is now in Phase III: Future. Each week, we interview one of our filmmakers about their film and their involvement in the programme.
This week, we speak to Lucy Harris, director of Crossing Points (2012). Filmed in the 1936 Berlin Olympics stadium and the Kuppelsaal, Crossing Points exploits the interplay between memory, history and architecture. Through the interweaving of footage of two fencers performing a series of choreographed gestures, a dialogue between distinct architectural spaces disrupted by the legacy of the past is created.
Harris’ background as an artist and international fencer led to an investigation of the relationships between these two activities. The integration of a physical, site-based enquiry with performance studio work is a new direction in her practice: a fusing of interior and exterior worlds, exploring the use of the performative gesture as a means to trigger undisclosed historical narratives.
Harris’ film works have been exhibited in galleries and cinemas in the UK and internationally. Crossing Points received Special Mention at the London Short Film Festival, Best Experimental Film category, and has been screened at the ICA, London, Lo and Behold Gallery, London, CAPA Centre, Budapest, and selected for Rotterdam AFF, Lisbon AFF, Lucca FF and $100, Canada.
Our programme manager Elhum Shakerifar interviewed Lucy about the film and her work as a director.
> There are a lot of influences woven into this film – from your own training as an international fencer to the status of the 1936 Berlin Olympic stadium – can you tell me about these and the film’s scripting?
I fenced competitively for 20 years and the four-year Olympic Cycle was a rhythm for that period of my life. But I had a strange relationship, as a failed participant (I was the reserve for the British Fencing team in the Barcelona Olympics) and as an artist, questioning many aspects of the event.
For me the Olympics is a paradoxical event – representing the failure of this utopian ideal. Berlin is the most decisive example of this paradoxical relationship and yet it is the basis for many aspects of the modern Olympics (the torch journey from Greece, the first ‘media’ Olympics). This prompted me to consider the architecture of Olympic Stadiums and how they act as a witness to this spectacle and become ‘dysfunctional’ monuments once the event has passed.
I was struck by the disorientating physical effect the stadium architecture had on the body. By becoming part of the mass, the individual sense of being can be lost. I wanted to be able create a work that the audience experienced physically, through seduction and disruption.
As I tend to pre-visualise different elements in a work, the script process is a way of testing out if different facets will work together and combine to create a cohesive visual narrative. Working with a series of drawings and collages allows me to have a sense of the overview of the film, ‘testing’ the relationships between the visual elements. This helped explore how to weave together the films thematic strands of time, history and memory.
> Can you tell me a little about some of the stylistic choices – the performative elements, the film’s soundscape?
It always felt important that the architectural scenes should be disrupted in some way by the appearance of the female fencers, introducing the ideas of repressed aggression and controlled combat (alluding to a wider historical presence.) The idea of combining the lines of the stadium track and the fencing sequence came to me very early on. The fixed lines of track disrupted by the fluid moving blades create a dialogue within the frame.
Location sound was originally recorded in the stadium and Kuppelsaal, but I realised early on that the audio needed to be divorced from the ‘real space.’ I approached a composer, Andrew Lovett whom I have known over a long period and was attracted to the visual nature of his previous work. He found creative ways for us to discuss the film and we began to interpret the music in terms of shape, colour, and objects.
As the film refers to a series of dialogues – the two fencers, the two architectural spaces, it was important that there should be also be a real exchange between picture and sound, to keep shifting the perspective. So the music was integrated into the edit process, not considered secondary to the picture.
The fencing sequences were developed through working with my experienced fencing coach and recognising that we shared a physical language resulting in discussion and dialogue, and a trust in the collaboration process. This was aided by working with the cinematographer Noski Deville, who shot the fencing sequences and contributed a huge amount.
> A lot of interesting collaborations informed the film – how did you go about pulling together a team and beginning new working relationships?
Crossing Points was a marked shift in my practice. I moved from working in a private and individual way with some collaborative elements, to a project that required collaboration and dialogue throughout.
As an artist / filmmaker often working with limited budget, one learns to fulfill a number of roles as a necessity. However, the danger with this is that one can almost hold a film too tightly. With Crossing Points, I was particularly aware that if I wanted it to succeed on a personal and political level, it was important to open the work out and include different perspectives.
A benefit of juggling multiple roles, perhaps, is that it creates opportunities to meet and work with different people. I first met Andrew Lovett when working on a residency, and the discussions over the years have influenced my perspective on sound. Working together seemed a natural progression, and I trusted Andrew would bring a musical vocabulary and narrative to the film
Maybe one of the (rare) benefits of the status/position as an artist filmmaker, is that there is a generosity in working on each others films. Through these relationships you learn which people you share a creative dialogue with and almost instinctively a creative network is developed.
In a practical way I continued to make notes and drawings through the production and edit stages, and these were very helpful in discussion. For me it is easier to respond to an idea by looking at drawings and collages rather than just verbal descriptions or scripts, as pictures can act as triggers and make a space for creative input.
So with Crossing Points there were many levels of collaboration, and it pushed me to articulate ideas at a much earlier stage.
> I’m interested in the contexts in which you’ve screened this film, the resonance and meaning it’s taken since you’ve screened it – particularly considering the recent Olympic games in the UK and the omnipresence of this kind of sporting focus around us.
The film was completed at the end of 2012, so it was first/initially shown in the ‘aftermath’ the London Olympics, to encourage considering that event in a wider historical context. (In fact my studio is in Mile End, so I had a glimpse of athletes training in the local stadium and the excitement this generated.). Despite knowing the political backdrop, the public were seduced by the event. This to me was a clear echo of the paradoxical dynamic of the Olympics that has always fascinated me.
During the Olympic spectacle the focus of attention is very narrow with the performance and drama of winners and losers. It is as if everything outside of that framework fades and becomes invisible. The simplicity of this drama is incredibly attractive, and can act as a distraction.
The film has since been screened in different settings: cinemas, galleries and site-specific architectural environments. It has been interesting to see how it physically responds to different environments and interacts with the architectural setting.
Although located in a specific place and moment in history, there is also something generic about all stadiums, auditoriums and perhaps even audiences. The film focuses on the elements that all stadiums, auditoriums and audiences share (lines of the track, seating, volume of space), and the emphasis is on the repeated/continuing cycle of the Olympics and similarities in the ‘spectacle’ presented. The relevance of ‘crossing a line’ also refers to other sporting spectacles.
> What made you want to become a filmmaker?
I felt I was able to recognise the language of film from the works of Chantal Ackerman, Margaret Tait, Jane Parker and so found the ability to create narratives from pictures. I come from a Fine Art background, studied painting, worked with installation and gradually have found my way to developing single screen works.
I’m fascinated by the power of ‘illusion’ and the minds ability to construct narratives and the magic of creating moving images.
> Birds Eye View is a platform that spotlights women directors – what advice would you give to women starting out in film?
Persistence and resilience primarily, but I believe the most important element is to trust and develop your own language. It can be difficult to work in an instinctive way or find ways of articulating what you may just ‘have a sense of’. But I think risk can be good thing at times and worth holding your nerve for.
Film making is a process, and allowing that process to unfold and develop requires trust and judgment in who you share your creative language with. It is important to developing a supportive network, opening up collaborations and healthy challenges. One always learns there are different approaches, and that taking risks can be a way to enjoy the process of development.
And whatever happens you have find ways to keep making!