Bait (Mark Jenkin, 2019)

Image result for bait film 2019

Bait appears to have attracted nothing but reviews full of superlatives due to its timely themes of gentrification (about the economic threat to fishermen in a Cornish coastal village thanks to the influx of the urban middle-classes), and its form (shot on 16mm with a clockwork Bolex, hand processed, and with a soundtrack fully built during post-production).

It is certainly a striking piece of work. The cinematography, combined with the other worldly soundtrack – including the voices and sounds, as well as music – is folksy and feels timeless. It brings to mind, among other films, Kevin Brownlow’s Winstanley (1975). I also thought of Requiem for a Village (David Gladwell, 1975). Had it been released a few years ago, clips from Bait could well have formed a part of the kaleidoscopic Arcadia (2018), Paul Wright’s documentary that uses an extraordinary array of archive footage as an ode to Britain’s connection to its landscape and suppressed anarchistic history (in which clips from Winstanley and Requiem for a Village feature).

The black and white, 16mm footage occasionally has a flickering, strobe like effect. The cracks, crackles, grain, and the odd hair are all particularly visible when blown up onto a big screen. It is wonderful to see the form so overtly in an age where the means of production are typically hidden and anathema to modern cinema. It makes the film look as if it has aged, and makes for perennial images that contrast beautifully with the contemporary and relevant story. The film looks like an enduring artefact, mirroring the architecture of the village and its way of life. But, like the community it depicts, it has its own life which the modern cannot, or should not, interfere with.

The editing, which utilises flash forwards, and the soundtrack of rolling waves, droning sounds, and loud dubbing of spot effects and dialogue, combines with the cinematography to form a hypnotic and hallucinatory effect. Jenkin shoots the film with mainly close ups and mid shots – waves, knots, fish, and fisherman’s boots seem to dominate. This creates a rhythm to the movie, rather than just a straight retelling of a story.

The middle classes, announced via a close up sequence of them filling their fridge with champagne and brie, are portrayed as clueless, chinless, and believing in their own inherent goodness. They don’t think they are helping to destroy the village, but instead consider themselves as part of the community, whose contribution through their tourism and holiday homes is instead supporting its continued existence. The struggle of the fishermen, some of whom have had to turn to cab driving or running tourist trips, is never romanticised as part of the contrast to the middle classes we are shown. But there is a definite commentary threaded throughout that reminds us that gentrification and tourism can take as much away from a community as it brings.

Like 2017’s Apostasy (Daniel Kokotajlo), it is another British film that takes a very low key, small story, and makes it cinematic through the use of such a dynamic form.

As a person who is also a filmmaker, for me Bait is an excellent and humblingly confident film.

 

Burma VJ introduction

Below is the transcript for an introduction I gave at the University of Kent on 4th February 2014 for Burma VJ (Anders Ostergaard, 2008). The event was part of the campus takeover/politics week run by Kent Union.

The screening took place in the Lupino, the university’s dedicated screening room.

Film Sundance Burma VJ

Burma VJ has an unusual production history. Much of the footage is shot in Burma by activists on the ground during political demonstrations. But the film was compiled in the West, after the footage was smuggled out of the country. I am not going to talk much about how the film was made, because that will become evident as you are watching it. The film is, in many ways, about its own creation. Instead, I am going to briefly discuss some of the vital themes the film touches on.

Though the film deals with a very specific set of events from a particular place and time in history, it is an important indicator of some of the ways protest and activism has changed around the world. In particular, the film chronicles how effective the use of camcorder and video recording technology can be to political activists.

Camcorders are used in the film to expose authoritarian and institutional abuse, and to expose the often brutal reaction by authorities to direct political action. In protests worldwide we can see how the use of camera-phone footage dominates reporting on civil unrest, with much news footage comprising of pictures taken by the citizens involved.

Burma VJ is a prophetic film. The year after the film was made Neda Soltan was killed by police during an anti-government protest in Iran. Her death, captured on mobile phones by her friends, was broadcast worldwide, and was used to shine a light on events in Iran happening at the time.

In the UK, in a political climate far less intense than either Burma or Iran, we saw how footage captured by civilians can be used to hold authority to account. Ian Tomlinson died during the G20 protests in the same year as Neda Agha- Soltan – 2009. The first police reports of his death, ones which were repeated widely in the media, were that he had collapsed, and that protesters had bombarded the police as they attempted to resuscitate him. These stories were soon contradicted by eyewitnesses, and several days after Tomlinson’s death video footage emerged which confirmed that he had in fact died after contact with police, and that protestors had not thrown anything or attempted to prevent police from giving first aid. The incident culminated in a police officer being tried for manslaughter.

These incidents highlight a recent development in political activism. We have to acknowledge that the process of recording is a two way process. The police use video to record protesters – and protesters will increasingly use video to record the police. Both are vital to democratic processes. Rather than providing a full stop to this debate, Burma VJ helped to mark the beginning of a new era of political activism.