In just five years the London Screenwriters’ Festival has become the biggest of its kind in the world. Tickets are already selling fast for 2016 so I spoke to program director Chris Jones after completing another successful festival in the fall and asked him how it all began.
“For the three days, over 1,000 screenwriters, filmmakers, producers, practitioners, actors and executives congregate to share ideas, build powerful relationships, hear pitches and get a creative shot in the arm.
Most delegates report massive breakthroughs in their understanding of the business and craft, as well as huge acceleration toward their career goals. However, perhaps the most vital part of the festival is the inspiration and sense of belonging you will experience when you attend. Year on year, delegates report that the community at the festival is one of the main reasons they return.” LondonSWF
Ginger Liu: The London Screenwriters’ Festival is the largest of its kind in the world and now in its 7th year. How did it all begin and who was involved with its conception?
Chris Jones: In 2009 I gave the keynote at a screenwriters festival that subsequently closed. I thought the event was so good, I just had to pick up the ball and so LondonSWF was born. As a filmmaker first and a reluctant writer a very distant second, running a large scale event like LondonSWF really played to my strengths, as well as the infrastructure of my team. It also gave me perspective on what kind of sessions and initiatives we run, particularly things like the Actors Table Read where we get actors to perform scripts or Create50 where we all come together to write and produce a feature film.
GL: Why do you think the LondonSWF is bigger than Los Angeles or New York?
CJ: We are determined to help pave the way for one of our delegates to win an Oscar. We don’t just pay lip service to these kind of ambitions, we actively find ways to help our delegates create amazing opportunities. We also celebrate writers and writing. We promise ‘a great experience’ and strive to deliver a life changing experience. When you commit to changing peoples lives, it kind of raises the game of everyone involved.
GL: How has the festival evolved over the years?
CJ: The festival has grown every year and we strive to add new initiatives each year. Last year was the British Screenwriters’ Awards. This year we have something huge up our sleeves but we can’t announce until we are certain we can deliver it logistically. By now our delegates know and trust us. If we say we will deliver something awesome, we will deliver that promise.
GL: What successes have writers achieved which can be attributed to attending your festival?
CJ: I see other events claiming they discovered or launched the careers of successful people. It’s nonsense to suggest any single event was the moment it all happened. LondonSWF is one step on a long but exciting journey as a creative person. We have helped every delegate who attended any LondonSWF. It’s a privilege to be able to help people committed to creativity and I would never attempt to steal their passion, talent and glory.
GL: What makes the LondonSWF unique to other screenwriting festivals?
CJ: Passion from us to the delegates and speakers. And passion from the delegates. It’s infectious. People come for the speakers and the sessions. People come back for the community, to be part of a tribe of like minded folk who really get who they are down to the soul.
GL: What has surprised you most about the LondonSWF?
CJ: The community. It really does feel like an annual gathering of the tribe. It’s wonderful to be totally immersed with creative people who are all committed to being fully creatively self expressed. The atmosphere is extraordinary. You should come and be part of it, it will blow your mind.
GL: Who should attend the LondonSWF and why?
CJ: If you want to tell stories in any format, LondonSWF will feed you mind. But more importantly, it will reconnect you with your deepest core passion and reasons you began on the journey of creativity. You will leave tired but inspired.
London Screenwriters’ Festival 2016
2 – 5 September, 2016
Regent’s School of Drama, Film & Media
Regent’s University, London, UK
+44 (0) 208 144 0875
Interviewed and edited by Ginger Liu
Those familiar with artist Doug Rickard’s A New American Picture and his recreated images from Google Street View representing America’s underbelly and its disenfranchised American Dream through deserted landscapes, ominous backroads and bleak cityscapes. Rickard is also behind photography sites American Suburb X and These Americans. His new work “N.A.” is on show at Little Big Man Gallery in downtown Los Angeles and YouTube is his focus.
Ginger Liu: What is the message of N.A?
Doug Rickard: I think that message is a tricky way to look at it so I will answer that in a few different ways. From a certain viewpoint, I saw this work as a sort of chorus of American music, cultural, socio-economic, racial, political, etc. and I saw YouTube as a means of culling visual material (snippets of amateur video from smartphones, uploaded by Americans) from which to speak. When I say speak, I mean as an artist, not as an academic or a historian, or a sociologist, or an anthropologist, although all of those components are potentially there in varying degrees. As an artist, the speaking is looser, intentionally, and it deals in subtext, emotion and a form of poetry. The terrain itself of N.A. is definitely the American experience for those living within the lower economic strata and the voice from which I speak, and they, in the context of N.A., is one of anger and aggression.
GL: Are the keywords used in your YouTube video searches some of the most common you found or the most intriguing, or both?
DR: I started with city names – Detroit, Philly, Buffalo, Compton, Watts, Dallas, New York City, Chicago, etc. and then started to try and find terms that would unearth large amounts of results from amateur phones (not music videos). I soon figured out that terms like “crackhead”, “hood fight”, “sideshow”, “passed out girl”, “drunk girls”, “police brutality”, would yield large volumes – and that seemed to tell a tale in itself as much of it was predatory in a way and used to try and get “Likes”, “Comments”, “Subscribers” or it was a reflection of injustice and/or anger. So, I started to build up archives, sifting through the video by pausing each frame and looking for “my” pictures. I also started to envision a type of video piece for installation. Also, I started to develop an aesthetic – a visual cohesion, this is important to me – the use of color, shadow, light, subtext, graphics – composition. I used night and darkness to pull things together and often, the scenes uploaded were at night. And the dark was a metaphor in a way or perhaps a representation of the mood.
GL: You focus on the “darker side” of American life. Is this a conscious choice before you begin your searches or are you persuaded by what you find?
DR: Yes, it’s conscious – I am interested in what you might consider the flip side of the “American Dream” if such a thing exists. I grew up in a home where America was lionized and tied together with religion – my father is a preacher and founder of one of America’s first “megachurches” – and part of the Moral Majority. I started to see lots of cracks in that view of our nation and when I started to study our history in college, it became clear that we have a dark past (and present) and that much of our racial and economic divide is due to this history and how we have shaped as a nation, culturally as well as economically and racially. I think that I want to provoke in a way and that my obsessions are of a dark nature as relates to America. I follow my obsessions and I “speak” from these impulses.
GL: Do you think what you find in the content in your video searches is unique to one kind of life and experience in a particular city like, or suburb of Los Angeles or or does it represent life in many American towns or cities?
DR: I think that it is specific in some ways and more general or widespread in others. This work also deals with the explosion of cameras into the hands of everyone and the internet as a form of expression and a stage – even a compulsion that is shaping our evolving behavior. Those things are widespread and they are impacting everyone. Also, the notion of surveillance is here in the work and this is universal, we are all surveilling each other, daily, hourly. We are a “Surveillance Society” and that is not going to let up – rather, it will increase. We want to post and we want affirmation. We want to look and we want to be looked at. As relates to the themes of violence, law breaking, police brutality, devastated architecture, cars broken down – anger, this is probably more a reflection of the segment in focus here – areas where there are pressures that other segments of society are not facing daily. Such as the very real fear of police, or incarceration, or gun violence, or gang violence. There are layers to this work and they cut across topics that are varying in their degrees of impact.
GL: Explain your work process in producing N.A.
DR: I work with multiple large screens – one of them I am using to navigate and the other is framed in with a camera on a tripod. Both monitors are a reflection of the same scene, they are mirrored. I use a mouse to move and a cable release to make the pictures. I also downloaded the videos off of YouTube and into large archives that I can go back to and explore. I used editing software that movie makers use to do films – and stitched together segments of video to form a cohesive vision, scored to an audio track that was made by a friend, Greg Magnusson. It’s the National Anthem, an Army version, slowed down to almost noise… like the sound of wind. I used a similar approach in “A New American Picture” my Google Street View project.
GL: The culture you represent in N.A. is the phenomenon of the video selfie where the person producing the video clip is either videoing his/herself or their friends as a form of self promotion of actions or as witness to actions. Explain why this interests you in your work.
DR: Yes, this was important as I could see a frontier of content emerging – an ocean of camera lenses that were in “everyone’s” hands and accessible by me due to the internet. This places me in the hand of my subject and their subjects, also my subjects. The layering of this was mind blowing to me – this access into intimate places – almost the inverse of Google Street View, which was detached and robotic, from a distance. This was right in the hand, in the car, and then me, in a dark room remotely. The dynamic fit the times, it is the zeitgeist. Also as mentioned earlier, this need to promote the self and to look at others, it is compulsive. I probably check social media and other online terrain right now 400-500 times a day due to things that I am working on. It is totally addictive and we are all “in it”. Actually I think it is shaping our collective brains and our ability to focus and concentrate, we need bits and bites (or bytes) and we want stimulation. We want more and more. This work is dealing with that dynamic – filming crackheads to get comments – filming passed out girls to get likes – it is a new paradigm and it can bring out the worst impulses at times. We all want our version of “fame”.
GL: Why does Los Angeles continue to be such a seductive city for artists?
DR: It is a city like no other – it is seductive, it is palpable in its magnetism and it’s beckoning call, it is staggering in the ferocity of its surface beauty pursuit and also monumental in its sprawl and ugliness. It’s the ultimate city of dreams and also the most epic in the potential to fail to achieve these dreams. And it is a backdrop that is endless – everything under the sun that can happen, will happen in LA. Every vice, every fetish, every desire… and also every race, every class, every type of character – it is all playing out every day. It is a movie filled with endless plots and twists and Hollywood itself can’t match it.
Interviewed and edited by Ginger Liu
“N.A.” by Doug Rickard
September 19 – October 31, 2015
12 pm – 6 pm
Little Big Man Gallery
1427 E. 4th Street, Unit 2
Los Angeles, CA 90033
Zanele Muholi – Vukani/Rise Exhibition at Open Eye Gallery in Liverpool
Liverpool’s Open Eye Gallery showcases the first major exhibition in the UK for South African photographer and visual activist, Zanele Muholi. Muholi has exhibited her work of black lesbian and LGBTI South Africans for more than a decade and has achieved international recognition by producing a visual history which keeps visible the faces, bodies and lives of a community living with homophobic violence and discrimination. Through another lens the photographer might focus a little too much on the sensational subjects of rape and murder that affects a community but in Muholi’s hands, there is a determination to show the whole picture. In doing so her audience is witness to a very personal connection between photographer and participant with gorgeous images of dignity, defiance and celebration of black lesbians and LGBTI.
I interviewed Zanele at Open Eye Gallery before the opening of Vukani/Rise where I was also introduced to two of her participants, Lerato Dumse and Somizy Sincwala.
Ginger Liu: What is the meaning behind Vukani/Rise?
Zanele Muholi: Vukani is a Zulu word meaning rise. It calls upon every second LGBTI person to rise above whatever circumstance that person might be going through, especially at the height of different phobias because fear is two way. Either the person who is a homophobe is in fear of the unknown or it is us having to live in fear of not knowing what might happen where or when. It is a call for action and to say never allow any circumstances to pull you down. Just rise beyond, no matter what.
GL: You have a special relationship with your subjects, many of whom you return to photograph year after year. How has this grown and developed over the years?
ZM: I don’t work with subjects, I work with participants. I’m very specific with that. People who are in my photographs participate in an ongoing project. I want to connect and also that connection has to be consented to do it with respect. And to make sure that we fully understand that whatever you are doing at a particular time, you are standing there and you are writing a history or you are a history maker. The fact that you say you are, not everyone is as brave as you, which is why I say it is participation. That act, your action, your involvement, your intervention may lead to another person being liberated or being educated around the same issues that affect us.
GL: Twenty years ago did you ever expect that you would be a visual voice for the lesbian and LGBTI community?
ZM: I’ve been around for some time and you saw the low quality documentary that shows events that took place more than ten years ago. So twenty years ago I was still there and even though I said things differently, I was clear with my plan. Obviously my work was not as known as much as now. I was studying pubic relations and I wanted to do something else. I wanted to focus on film and documentaries. But now I’ve found a personal and positive approach to this visual activism and I’ve managed to break through. People are listening. Others are thinking art activism or visual activism is key. I knew I wanted to be somewhere. I knew I wanted to travel. How it was going to happen, I didn’t know at that time.
GL: Explain how the Faces and Phases project began and what you wish to convey with these set of images?
ZM: Faces and Phases began in 2006. Prior to them I started shooting portraits of different individuals who were close to me. In 2006 I lost a friend who was a HIV activist and poet and also a lesbian mother. And as I was still trying to process that, my nephew committed suicide on the very same night. My other friend who was also a HIV activist, poet, writer, a spoke person for hate crimes and a “corrective” rape survivor also succumbed to HIV complications. Those were three major losses that happened in a short space of time. It was then that I thought that we need to have positive images that could speak to the current and in which we remember the people that we love and treasure and contribute so much to our lives. I just need to have these positive images of these beautiful beings occupying the same space as me and be remembered.
GL: How do your participants react when they see themselves over a period of time?
ZM: There are different reactions because you can see when a person was young. And the reaction is never the same because you see how beautiful some of them look right now and you see so much change because we grow up as individuals.
GL: And of course, only they know what they were thinking at the time.
ZM: We request people to write their stories and also to ask basic questions of how they are doing now and why they agreed to participate.
GL: You seem to favor black and white photography in your practice.
ZM: I was taught photography in black and white so I know how to shoot, develop and fix. My early work is in black and white which is partly currently on show at Liverpool Tate. I needed to have that timeless feel of our lives being there before I was born. If you had out black LGBTI individuals in the 1950’s and 60’s, that photography is likely to be captured in black and white because of what was accessible back then. That sepia tonality would have been part of the document and the grain and the stain would have been part of the document. I like black and white. It’s a more classic and timeless feel that represents something that was, that existed before. Whereas color is present and it could be anything and any time.
GL: Being visible is a common theme in your work. Why is it so important for the LGBTI community to be seen and heard in South Africa?
ZM: In South Africa and Beyond. We don’t see many black faces at galleries abroad and in museums. People either have objects in different spaces that speaks to a different past. We don’t see much. That’s the whole point of making the invisible visible because we are part and parcel of whatever is happening in different spaces. So we as LGBTI people owe it ourselves to make sure that we are seen because to be seen means that we are recognized and recognition means that we are being respected and being respected means that our voices are heard. It’s not about flaunting the queerness or to exoticize the black gay man and black body. It is beyond just that. It’s time that we see ourselves positively and also in a manner that makes us feel whole and safe and sensible. Those voices connect and keep you going because you know that you are not alone. Before being lovers we come from families. We are born by men and women and I think that these are the documents that are lacking in the mainstream archive right now. Let us bring these voices and visuals to the fore. Bring them forward into the gallery spaces. We can’t limit it to our spaces and say this is only a LGBTI group. I don’t want to be projected in a limited space. I want to mainstream our issues so people understand and have some education around LGBTI people from home and beyond. I want to be remembered as a human being before my sexuality is fed into me. I want my work and the work featuring those that I respect, to be recognized beyond just naming.
So it’s very political. I wish that LGBTI people and the mainstream society get the opportunity to see and ask questions and also to wonder where are your own people and why this work is here because each and every individual comes from somewhere. And each and every individual has their own life story to tell beyond just the body that is projected in your face. I want to make sure that we have a visual history that speaks to us and to the current generation and will inform future generations because the past is not easy to touch.
GL: The After Tears project is a moving collection of portraits depicting the “Mo(u)rning” of gay activist Muntu Masombuka. Explain the image process and the impact these images have had.
ZM: These are very enacted scenes where we had a night vigil remembering those that came before us who are no longer here. And it features individuals who are in Brave Beauties 2013-2014. So I needed to remember. You know, remembering again? Also having a memory, memorizing, etc. And it’s simplified because you can tell in their faces that something has happened but you don’t know until you are told they are enacted scenes. And I could relate to one major case in which I could see how death connects LGBTI individuals when somebody has passed and then we don’t even need to wait for invitations to come to your funeral, it becomes automatic for us to be there and make sure that we mourn with the family. And we are basically saying, we remember you, we remember you.
GL: Zava is a very personal group of images of you and your girlfriend. Is this something you intend to develop in the future?
ZM: Like all my projects, Zava is continuous but it is really deeply personal. I’m in a long distance relationship so I don’t get to see my girlfriend every day because we are both busy and live in far away places. She lives in Paris. So the 2-3 minutes that we get to be together, that’s when I really feel the beats that once again I’m with her. We’ve been working on this project tirelessly for the past three years and she is really someone that I love and I’m not posing with a model. This is me and her and that’s how I like to remember.
Interviewed and edited by Ginger Liu
Zanele Muholi http://inkanyiso.org
Ginger Liu is a photographer, writer/editor and filmmaker based in Los Angeles and London. www.photo.gingerliu.com @gingerliu
Zanele Muholi: Vukani/Rise
18 September – 29 November 2015
Open Eye Gallery
10.30 am – 5.30 pm, Tuesday to Sunday
19 Mann Island
+44 (0) 151 236 6768