Essay Film Festival 2018: Montgomery Clift documentary (work-in-progress session)- Report and Interview with the Film-Makers

by Danielle Capretti

There was palpable excitement amongst the audience for a work-in-progress screening of a Montgomery Clift documentary at the BIMI on 27th March 2018.  Would they just be viewing selected clips, introduced by the filmmakers?  Or perhaps even more?  When the audience learnt they would be the first people beyond the film’s collaborators to preview this work, their anticipation increased a few notches.

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Mark Rappaport for Garageland


In 2016, pioneering video essayist Mark Rappaport presented some of his latest work, never before seen in the UK, at the Essay Film Festival. The filmmaker has carved out his place in the heart of cinephiles everywhere with his frequently wry explorations of film and society.

Old Hollywood – Gregory Peck, Ingrid Bergman, Deborah Kerr, among many others – often finds itself the subject of his gaze, and by the 90s he had established himself as a distinct voice with his films Rock Hudson’s Home Movies (1992) and From the Journals of Jean Seberg (1995). By now, Rappaport has long mastered the art of forging new narratives out of found footage, with a dry, critical Brooklyn-accented narration that both guides and grounds his audience in a celebration of cinephilia.

Recently, the filmmaker sat down with Garageland where he spoke to James Payne about his career, popular culture, and his approach to storytelling. Read the full interview here: garageland

Session #9: The Illinois Parables with filmmaker Deborah Stratman in conversation

Photo © 2016 Deborah Stratman

Tuesday 28 March 2017

Institute of Contemporary Arts, The Mall, London, SW1Y 5AH

6:30-8:30 | Cinema 1 | [Book here]

Filmmaker Deborah Stratman will be in conversation with critic and film essayist Kevin B. Lee.

Described by the artist as “a suite of Midwestern parables that question the historical role that belief has played in ideology and national identity”, The Illinois Parables proposes a critical and timely reflection on history and the landscape. Arranged into 11 chapters, spanning migratory settlements in 600CE to European colonisation and the political struggles of the 1960s, this exemplary essay film excavates fragmentary histories and collective memories of exodus, forced displacement and natural disaster. Stratman unearths the metaphysical themes of the American sense of self, to reveal the tangled, but rearticulated histories of the dispossessed buried deeper in the layers of the Midwestern soil. “A dense weave of found and original sights and sounds, […] at once an experimental documentary, a work of historical excavation and an insistently moral ideological critique” (Manohla Dargis).


The Illinois Parables, Deborah Stratman, USA 2016, 16mm, 60 mins

Session #5: Illustrated talk by Zoe Beloff, including screenings of three films, and conversation with Esther Leslie & Laura Mulvey

Photo © 2015 Zoe Beloff

Monday 27 March 2017

Birkbeck Cinema, 43 Gordon Square, London, WC1H 0PD

1:30–4:30 |  [Free event: Book here]

In these three recent films, A Model Family in a Model Home, Two Marxists in Hollywood, and A Glass House, Zoe Beloff returns to and resurrects the greatest exponents of dialogue between radical politics and radical aesthetics: Bertolt Brecht and Sergei Eisenstein.

The pair come together in Two Marxists in Hollywood, which tells the very different stories of their paradoxical, and ultimately unsuccessful, aspirations to collaborate with the Hollywood film industry. But, as Beloff, points out: if their utopian projects ended in failure, “what if they did not [fail], what if their ideas were merely lying in wait for us?” As she interweaves the two men’s histories, anecdotes of their Hollywood experiences, with their theoretical principles, Beloff also interweaves visually and cinematically different levels of time. The film is shot in its Hollywood ‘now’ of 2015, emphasised by the presence of DJ Rapture in the soundtrack, but the ‘interviews’ with the two characters are played out against Beloff’s exquisitely painted backdrops of Hollywood ‘then’, also juxtaposing theatricality with the actuality of the locations. These distanciation-effects are accentuated by the casting of Brecht and Eisenstein as twelve-year-old boys.

In Two Marxists in Hollywood, both Eisenstein and Brecht mention projects that were inspired by their time in the USA: Brecht describes ‘A Model Family in a Model Home’; Eisenstein describes ‘A Glass House’. Beloff’s film reconstructions of these ‘failed’ projects will also be screened as part of this special event. Both projects revolved around very different mediations of the politics of architecture, but, through Beloff’s films, they have found a dialectical relation to each other.

Two Marxists in Hollywood, Zoe Beloff, USA 2015, HD video, 26 mins, with Bryan Yoshi Brown, Ben Taylor
A Model Family in a Model Home, Zoe Beloff, USA 2015, HD video, 22 mins
A Glass House, Zoe Beloff, USA 2015, HD video, 21 mins, with Kate Valk, Jim Fletcher

Two Marxists in Hollywood, Zoe Beloff, USA 2015, HD video, 26 mins, with Bryan Yoshi Brown, Ben Taylor

In 1930 Russian avant-garde filmmaker Sergei Eisenstein spent six months in Los Angeles under contract with Paramount. A decade later German playwright and theatre director Bertolt Brecht, a refugee from Nazi Germany, lived there from 1941 to 1947. Both set out to make films in Hollywood on their own terms. Working in the world’s most famous factory of dreams, they believed that artists must call into question the way we understand our world. They wanted to make art that was both radical and popular.

A Model Family in a Model Home, Zoe Beloff, USA 2015, HD video, 22 mins

Fleeing from the Nazis, Bertolt Brecht arrived in Los Angeles in 1941. This film is inspired by notes for movie that he based on an article in Life magazine called A Model Family in a Model Home. It explores Brecht’s ideas about working people and the home as a stage upon which larger political and social forces are played out.

A Glass House, Zoe Beloff, USA 2015, HD video, 21 mins, with Kate Valk, Jim Fletcher

A film based on Sergei Eisenstein’s notes and drawings for a science fiction movie that he pitched to Paramount Studios in 1930. Its theme is the architecture of surveillance.


Zoe Beloff works with a wide range of media including film, projection performance, installation and drawing. She considers herself a medium, an interface between the living and the dead, the real and the imaginary. Each project aims to connect the present to past so that it might illuminate the future in new ways. Her most recent completed project is A World Redrawn: Eisenstein and Brecht in Hollywood. Through films, drawings, architectural models and archival documents, Beloff explores their unrealised film scenarios ‘Glass House’ and ‘A Model Family in a Model Home’ and reimagines their ideas for today.

Session #4: Three Landscape Films by Babette Mangolte + Filmmaker in conversation

Photo © 1982 Babette Mangolte

Sunday 26 March 2017

Institute of Contemporary Arts, The Mall, London, SW1Y 5AH

2:30-6:00 | Cinema 1 | [Book here]

Filmmaker Babette Mangolte will be in conversation with Laura Mulvey and Lucy Reynolds

This second programme devoted to the work of Babette Mangolte focuses on her trilogy of films about landscape: There? Where?, The Sky on Location and Visible Cities. These essay films are both studies of specific locations and a sustained reflection about the art of landscape cinematography.

The filmmaker describes the first film, There? Where?, as “a naive look at Southern California by an outsider, and/or an essay on displacement through the disjunction of Californian images and off screen voices. Where is the location of these voices, here or there? Are the images near or far in relation to the voices? Are the images commenting on the images or vice versa?”

Documenting seasonal changes across the American West, from Wyoming to Oregon, the second film, The Sky on Location, is an affecting meditation on untamed nature and the atmospheric effects of climate on the landscape. Weather and ambiance, the wilderness and the Sublime, Mangolte articulates the shifting ways of looking at Nature, from the nineteenth to twentieth centuries, and her keen cinematographer’s eye captures an awe and reverence for the American wilderness. The Sky on Location confronts us with a vision of the natural world, translated into a palette of ambient colour and visceral mood.

Finally, in Visible Cities, two women looking for a home in Southern California realise, in Mangolte’s words, that “the single-family home [is] the locus of the exclusion of the other. It is also unaffordable. They both feel as if they are invisible citizens. They witness how the architectural landscape imposed on the California desert appears as a reversal of nature, where exclusive living, gated communities and segregation go hand in hand. They dream of escape.”

There? Where?, Babette Mangolte, USA 1979, 16mm, 8 mins
The Sky on Location, Babette Mangolte, USA 1982, 16mm, 78 mins
Visible Cities, Babette Mangolte, USA 1991, 16mm, 31 mins


With the support of Open City Documentary Festival.