With just one week to go until the Aesthetica Short Film Festival 2015 opens, we interview filmmaker Andrea Luka Zimmerman. Andrea has been shortlisted for the Jarman Award 2015, and will be speaking at ASFF this November alongside Maggie Ellis, Head of Artists’ Moving Image at FLAMIN, who will lead a panel discussion on artists’ film.
A: What was the inspiration behind your recent film, Estate, a Reverie?
ALZ: I had lived on the estate for most of my adult life, and campaigned for many years, alongside other residents, to get the buildings repaired. Decades of neglect and structural underfunding meant the buildings were in terrible condition. We were not successful in saving the buildings, and so, once I knew that the estate would soon be demolished, I started filming
It feels important to say that Estate has not been made about this community, but has been made from it. Through a variety of filmic registers and strategies, the film seeks to capture the genuinely utopian quality of the last few years of the buildings’ existence, a period when, because demolition was inevitable, a sense of the possible, of the emergence of new, but of course time-specific, social and organisational relationships developed, alongside a fresh understanding of how the residents might occupy the spaces of the estate. Estate focuses on the ‘structure’ of its eponymous architecture not only because it is where we live, but also how we live. The film explores the multiple implications of what most explicitly defines us to other people, while simultaneously challenging that often all too monocultural definition and revealing the complex diversity of the population it houses.
For example, for the first time in 18 years I noticed a hairdressers on the estate called ‘Helens’. Her youngest client was in her 70s, and she served a community that had grown up in what had now become a different time. I am interested in these shifts of time, of perception, of belonging, the subtle and barely tangible movement between being part and being apart, and the tension between official narratives and private memory. The estate had been a model estate in the 1930s, visited by the King, and only several decades later it had become a ‘sink estate’, and yet, people were born there, fell in love, died, like everywhere else.
I grew up on a large council estate, to a single mother with alcoholism, very little money, and yet am astonished by narratives that are so often projected onto such places and its inhabitants by mainstream media and the public, especially by people who may never have set foot in an estate. They will never know that these are places where people live who may have a very different life experience and expression. This was my home, and I was accepted by the people living around me for being who I was. The openness to each other is something we all have within us, the gentleness, yet these people are seen as ‘poor’, as ‘benefit scroungers’, as ‘in need of help’. I refuse all of these terms, and any suggestion that we are defined by the amount of money we have, and by participating in a purchase driven society. I wanted, with Estate, to show the resilience, perhaps more of an obstinacy, of the spirited way of life that I experienced. I wanted to contradict and provide a counter-memory to the powerful forces that create certain clichés which serve certain policies (such as welfare cuts). John Berger wrote that ‘there is no word in any traditional European language which does not either denigrate or patronise the urban poor in its naming. That is Power’.
A: Estate, a Reverie focuses on a seven year long documentation of this estate. Was it a challenge to distil seven years of material into a single film?
ALZ: I needed to make a big decision as I had filmed not only on the estate, but also meetings with the council, the regeneration board, consultations, etc. I could have made an expository film spanning the recent past, the three decades that led to where we were now. But I knew, it was a feeling, that this needed to be a film that could show the beauty of difference and coexistence, regardless of what one had dealt with or the structures around us. Over these years of filming the collaboration with my fellow residents became something surpassing anything I had expected or what a more traditional documentary or an expository film could contain, so it was suddenly very clear what kind of film it needed to become. Even then it was an enormous challenge, and when they say one has to ‘kill darlings’ in the edit, I cried more than once when I knew I needed to take scenes out (at some point I imagined the film to be 7 hours long). It was an important process, but also the film needed to work on its own terms, so that people could become part of the experience by viewing it, and the final shape I think allows that, for the audience.
A: How did you manage to capture such a strong juxtaposition of both crisis and community in the film?
ALZ: Through all my projects I seek to find expressions of how we tell our stories authentically. What are our methods of resistance, as storytellers of our time? I needed to set up different processes of tackling history, the past and memory, both official and personal. Naturally these different strands together allow for this juxtaposition and of course, it is based on what is already there, which was an amazing place with a rich and contested history and present reverberations, so my starting point was a gift.
A: As both a cultural activist and a well-recognised artist, do you always strive for your projects to convey a deeper political message?
ALZ: I was at a symposium with the filmmaker John Akomfrah, we presented our works, and he said: “When you experience a disjuncture between what is supposed to be real and what’s actually happening to you, just because of how you look, or because of who you are in the world, you can never make work that is not complex.” Therefore, I would not know how to make work that doesn’t interrogate an idea as far I am capable, in order to understand, but also to search, seek and communicate a deeper political context (the structural violence) by which our lives unfold.
A: What are your plans for the future, following your Jarman Award nomination?
ALZ: I am completing a film I have made over the past 12 years, one of the most difficult projects I have attempted in all sorts of ways, with a man who has become famous for being a formidable killer. Many books have been written about him and his ‘heroic’ missions, but he is now deeply damaged. How do we live with ourselves after we have done things we understand now to be wrong, and how does one make a film that allows enough space for this question? I aim for early 2016.
Then next year I am fortunate to be able to work with Artangel on my and Adrian Jackson’s (Cardboard Citizens, working with homeless and former homeless people in theatre) open commission. To have such support for one’s work after all these years of self-making… I have to remind myself that it’s really true. Adrian and I are both very much engaged in contemporary injustices and concerns of inequality (on all sorts of fronts) and we will make a film as well as a few interventions in public spaces.
Further information on the panel discussion:
Maggie Ellis, Head of Artists’ Moving Image at FLAMIN
Friday 6 November, 14:15 – 16:15
Together with filmmakers this panel looks at the evolving world of Artists’ Film and the Jarman Award, which celebrates the spirit of experimentation, imagination and innovation in the work of UK artist film makers. With previous winners including Ed Atkins, Clio Bernard and Turner Prize winning Laure Prouvost, this is an excellent chance to hear what makes an outstanding artist film.
For tickets and more, visit www.asff.co.uk/tickets.
A touring programme of the shortlisted Jarman Award films runs from 29 September to 22 November 2015 and will take place in 12 venues across the UK, spanning England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. The Award will be announced at the Whitechapel Gallery on Monday 30 November in a special ceremony. For more information, visit filmlondon.org.uk.
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