AV Festival 2016 preview

Highlights of the biennial event.

by Rebecca Naughten

Eastern Valley is one of the many British documentaries in the line-up
Eastern Valley is one of the many British documentaries in the line-up
"Meanwhile, what about Socialism? It hardly needs pointing out that at this moment we are in a very serious mess, so serious that even the dullest-witted people find it difficult to remain unaware of it. We are living in a world in which nobody is free, in which hardly anybody is secure, in which it is impossible to be honest and remain alive." - George Orwell, The Road to Wigan Pier (1937)

Taking George Orwell's The Road to Wigan Pier - uncannily relevant to the state of the world in 2016 - as the inspiration for its thematic structure and overall title, the 7th biennial AV Festival will take place in Newcastle upon Tyne and its environs between February 27 and March 27. In 1936, Orwell was commissioned to write a "condition of England" style book and spent two months living in the industrial heartlands of Yorkshire and Lancashire - the first half of the resulting book is a graphic depiction of 1930s working class poverty and precarious employment in the North, while the second half is Orwell's provocative critique of English socialism (and the class system).

The AV Festival 2016 bills itself as "Part 1", intending to mirror Orwell's structure so that the second half of the polemical book will form the basis of AV's "Part 2" in 2018, with the hope that artistic ideas and endeavours will develop between the two editions of the festival.

The AV Festival 2016 has therefore collected works by artists and filmmakers who "situate themselves in relation to historic political struggle, revolution and social movements, creating new forms of resistance to neoliberal capitalism". Alongside 12 solo installations, four performances and nine artist talks, the festival's central programme consists of 48 film screenings, including three specially curated weekends focussed on different trajectories of radical cinema. The first of these weekends - Between Times: Marc Karlin (March 4-6) - centres on a filmmaker who was a central figure within the UK's independent film community for more than three decades and determinedly used his films to question and critique the British Left. Eleven of Karlin's works will be shown across the weekend, including his quartet of films about Nicaragua in the late 1970s to mid-1980s and his subsequent revisit to the region after the defeat of the Sandinista government in 1990.

The Serpent is showing as part of a section dedicated to Marc Karlin
The Serpent is showing as part of a section dedicated to Marc Karlin
Elsewhere in the line-up, Tracing the Anabasis of the Japanese Red Army: Conversations between three artists (March 11-13) draws connections between three filmmakers/visual artists - Masao Adachi, Eric Baudelaire and Naeem Mohaiemen - via the 1970s ultra-left and the Japanese Red Army. The third of the curated weekends - Levels of Democracy: Ukraine Film Weekend (March 18-20) - centres on radical documentary within Ukrainian cinema. In addition to films from the 1920s and 30s by Dziga Vertov, Mikhail Kaufman (whose 1931 silent film An Unprecedented Campaign will be accompanied by the world premiere of a newly commissioned live soundtrack by Test Dept) and Alexander Dovzhenko, and an assortment of documentary shorts from the perestroika period, particular attention will be given to Sergei Loznitsa. Among the three of Loznitsa's films to be screened is The Event, which is constructed out of archival footage of Leningrad during the failed 1991 coup that signalled the fall of the Soviet Union.

However, the clearest manifestation of the 2016 edition's literary inspiration can be found in the strand that is woven throughout the whole of the festival - Resistance: British Documentary Film. Essentially an historical journey through British political documentary, this section includes films by Humphrey Jennings, Paul Rotha and the social commentary films of the 1930s and 40s, examples of the Free Cinema movement from the 1950s, experimental films by artists such as Luke Fowler, and oppositional films by the collectives Cinema Action and the Berwick Street Collective who set out to give a voice to working people and to highlight campaigns for workers' rights. The 18 films collectively capture aspects of working class lives and the changing (but simultaneously immutable) structures of British society in much the same spirit as Orwell's northern excursion, but they also demonstrate the cinematic variety with which British filmmakers have attempted to make visible the political - whether in the form of an indictment of society, an attempt at understanding, or a gesture of solidarity.

Ticket details (there are tickets deals for the various weekends) and the full programme can be found on the festival's website - www.avfestival.co.uk

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