Sound and vision

We talk to the people behind the David Bowie film festival set to open in London.

by Jennie Kermode

He's probably the most iconic recording artist of the last century, but David Bowie has also enjoyed an eclectic and impressive film career. Now a new festival celebrating this side of his work is scheduled to open in London.

It was conceived at the Toronto film festival in 2011. "I was at the HotDocs strand," says Tiger Lily Films' Natasha Dack, one of the directors. "Oli Harbottle was there. He's from Dogwoof. We were talking about ideas for festivals and I had Bowie in my head. We both knew he'd made a huge amount of films. It seemed bonkers but also a really good idea."

"We were both very excited about exploring the possibilities," Oli says. "I did some research and found that nothing similar had been done before, in the UK at least. We had a very rich selection of films to pick from."

It's hard to see how they managed to narrow it down, but the final selection is impressive: Absolute Beginners, Christiane F, The Hunger, Labyrinth, The Man Who Fell To Earth and Merry Christmas Mr Lawrence. There's also a Q&A with much admired director Nic Roeg and a special 40th anniversary screening of the concert film Ziggy Stardust And The Spiders From Mars.

A festival focused on another recording artist would probably have consisted mostly of documentaries, Oli says, "but Bowie had a serious acting career." One of his favourites is Labyrinth. "It kind of stuck with me because it was my first experience of going to the cinema. It was kind of terrifying. I also think Christiane F is a great film, a really good counter-culture film, and also having the ability to show Ziggy Stardust on a big screen is a wonderful opportunity."

"I haven't seen Merry Christmas Mr Lawrence since I was a teenager so I'm really looking forward to seeing that again," says Natasha, who says it wasn't difficult to get hold of the films. She's also looking forward to seeing a BBC documentary that features Alan Yentob in conversation with Jeremy Deller about Cracked Actor.

Then there's the venue. "It's really good to have the festival located in London, as Bowie's from London," says Oli. "The ICA is known for being forward-thinking across art, music and film. Bowie fits very well there."

He sees the festival as a treat for Bowie die-hards who span generations, and also as a chance for a new generation to discover Bowie's film work, much of which now has cult status. Some of it may even have improved with age. "I remember when Absolute Beginners was released in the Eighties it was a really huge deal. It had a mixed reception from critics then but it has acquired a reputation since.

What about Bowie himself. Does he know about the festival?

They haven't been in touch with him, says Natasha, "but I'm sure he must be aware of it."

Bowiefest will run from August 31 to September 2, at the ICA in London. You can find out more at or buy tickets at the ICA.

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