Free Cinema School
The Centre for Possible Studies
14 Porchester Place
From July 20th to September 20th no.w.here and Khalid Abdalla take up residence at the Serpentine Gallery's Centre for Possible Studies. Taking the form of a Free Cinema School, the centre for possible studies will be transformed into a space for 'thinking, workshops, an archive of process and a site of film production local to Edgware Road'. The Free Cinema School picks up the spirit of the original Free Cinema movement that called for "a belief in freedom, in the importance of people and in the significance of the everyday". This movement desired films to be "free in the sense that their statements are entirely personal. Though their moods and subjects differ, the concern of each of them is with some aspect of life as it is lived in this country today ... these films are offered as a challenge to orthodoxy."
In this contemporary manifestation of the Free Cinema concept this pilot project space will move between rigour and experimentation with sights set on producing a work with local residents [and by local residents] to be presented at the Serpentine Pavilion on September 11th. This will involve a series of film experiments, structured film workshops and responsiveness to local sites and developments. But as this project is inclusive and collaborative, you are welcome to contact us to see how you might engage in its development. A full schedule will be published here in the next few weeks as it develops.
NEWS UPDATE FREE CINEMA SCHOOL 1 /8 /09
On entering the cinema school, one now encounters the film timeline on the wall which operates like a collective artists sketch book. In this way you are invited to create and submit your own material for this film whilst engaging with other peoples thoughts and work. This might be scenes shot on film or digital, photographs, text or sound.
Every thursday evening from 6pm to 8pm there will be informal presentations held at the Film School where people can show and talk through what they are doing. The centre is also open as a drop in on Wednesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays from 1 to 6pm.
We do insist that the work made has a relationship to the local area, though this can range from an imaginative / abstract space to the geo-politics of the area
For regular updates you can now join
The Centre for Possible Studies: Free Cinema School
WHY FREE CINEMA TODAY?
The drive to produce a Free Cinema School of the present in part emerges from a historical place. Among the many histories of the Edgware Road is the prominence it gained in the field of social and community education through the work of George Goetschius and Joan Tash. Their study Working with Unattached Youth, first published in 1967, was derived from field notes of a team of five community educators working in Marylebone and along the Edgware Road for three years. Originating from a coffee stall, their study became one of the founding texts on working with young people in Britain. A reflective work, their project centred on their own processes of forming relationships with people in the Edgware Road neighbourhood, particularly those they described as ‘the unattached’, people actively disengaged from government services.
George Goetschius, the leader of the study, was an advocate of autonomous local community work. Trained in New York by the radical Sicilian social activist Danilo Dolci – organiser of ‘the strike in reverse’ (the development of unauthorised public works projects for the poor) – Goetschius was also a central part of a social circle in the mid-1950s that founded the Free Cinema movement.
While unarticulated in his studies of young people and community-organising in Britain, the link between community work and a cinema that aimed to ‘capture the experiences of ordinary Britons away from studio aesthetics’ shares with Goetschius’s work a deep commitment to practices of self-organisation and the democratic making of culture.
While we live in very different times than those of the Free Cinema movement, the artists or ‘fellows’ selected to lead this first manifestation of the Free Cinema School at the Centre for Possible Studies share some if its original preoccupations.
Artists from no.w.here have since the early 1990s worked collectively to share access to the means of cinema production, by allowing members to use and make cinema, producing work that poignantly challenges current conventions of commercial cinema. As well as being artists and film-makers, no.w.here has also been deeply committed to educational practices, extending skills and equipment to young people and other groups in London and internationally. Like the work of those in the study of ‘the unattached’, its work also supports and questions modes of relationship-building. These relationships range from those cultivated between artists in London through a regular programme of screenings and discussions between people from other parts of the world, through an ongoing series of residencies, or through the relationships formed with neighbours of no.w.here’s studio in Bethnal Green, which is also used to hold an English-Urdu language exchange. During its residency at the Free Cinema School, no.w.here will lead workshops with local groups but also foray into the realm of the unattached, meeting and inviting people on the street to work on a series of scenes for a collaborative film production.
Working in another context, actors Khalid Abdalla and Cressida Trew share many commitments with the impetus of Free Cinema. As members of Zero Production, an independent film production house in Cairo, they have been working alongside film-makers from Egypt, Lebanon, and Iraq, trying to develop a different model for cinema production in the region, through their work-in-progress film In the Last Days of the City. Working on the borders where documentary and fiction meet, in and around the highly regulated spaces of urban Cairo and on location in Baghdad, Beirut and Berlin, Zero Production is part of a generation of film-makers working on semi-improvised and politically engaged cinema. Khalid and Cressida will be contributing their experience from filming everyday life and shooting on the streets of Cairo to the Cinema School’s ongoing film project.
Artists from the Mumbai collective CAMP come at the notion of a Free Cinema through another trajectory. Part of a global movement for free access to knowledge, CAMP produces infrastructures and platforms for sharing information in the fields of media production and social/architectural design. From making CCTV surveillance available to the public to inviting local people to make and broadcast their own media and design strategies, its work marries popular methods of research with openly produced, stored and activated archives. Its project pad.ma, a free platform for the collection of moving image materials in India, for example, invites people to upload and annotate images, ranging from those of classic cinema to those used strategically by activists across a range of issues. Animated by a series of archive-making events, image histories in this archive are understood as living and contested, existing beyond the hierarchies of knowledge-production (such as the institution of the university) and current regimes of intellectual-property ownership. At the Free Cinema School, CAMP will continue its ongoing Block Study of the Edgware Road, inviting a local editorial team to come together to produce a series of episodes to be broadcast online and in other forms, including a night at the Serpentine Pavilion 2009.
No artist involved in the Free Cinema School approaches the idea of what is ‘free’ naively. Rather, each questions what freedom might mean in the highly regulated and very complex moment in which we live, a time in which the very idea of freedom is mobilised regularly – as much in the debate surrounding the deregulation of an economy in crisis as within ongoing projects of emancipation from cultural and economic oppression.
What is it to revisit the practices of Free Cinema from the complexity of individual desires, public mandates and private interests that currently shape the making of culture today? Or at a moment in which individuals produce and circulate their own media constantly? And where does freedom lie in relation to ongoing initiatives to regulate movement between countries and monitor behaviours within neighbourhoods?
As the first proposition of the Centre for Possible Studies, the Free Cinema School takes its cue from the original movement, proceeding with the idea of understanding cinema as a way of both reflecting contemporary life and inserting the poetic into its daily negotiations.
no.w.here in Bethnal Green will be closed in August for maintenance and holiday
Free Cinema Edgware Road
By James Norton
The combination of several great ideas more often than not produces an unholy mess, but in the case of the Free Cinema School at the Serpentine Gallery’s Centre for Possible Studies located in a shop in Porchester Place off Edgware Road in London this summer has resulted in one of the most thrilling films to be created in Britain this year.
A summary verbal transcription can hardly approximate to the kaleidoscopic joys of the film itself which combines questing forensic documentary, urban dreams, agitprop, archival excavation, optical experiments, memories and up to the minute news. The Kino-Eye of a vintage Bolex fragments and superimposes the vibrant Middle Eastern community of Edgware Road, Marble Arch and Hyde Park as voices from Speakers’ Corner hector the soundtrack. Iraqis celebrate a football victory and their stretch of London is replayed back to us on Iraqi TV. A nun from Tyburn Convent, contemplated and contemplating, describes it as “the holiest place in England” as we are offered antique woodcuts of historical martyrs, the urgent nuances of martyrdom in present day spirituality and conflict never stated but bleeding suggestively out of the montage. Spaces of celebration and desire. A vamp from the golden age of Egyptian musical cinema and melodrama yearns and dances across the screen as we are asked how many female prophets there are in the religion of Islam. No, the question demands an answer. The same actress committed suicide in Edgware Road. A boy wraps himself in newspaper and staggers amongst bemused passers-by who clearly, even here, haven’t seen it all before. A critique of ephemeral media, a protest on behalf of those tossed into society’s dustbin? Just something he’d always wanted to do. A study of possibilities. A journey back from the diaspora to the homeland in Pakistan, now riven by tension. A recent emigrant from the country, former president Musharraf, no less, now lives in a modest flat on Edgware Road, and what are these machine gun toting cops just round the corner? Why, former PM and would-be president Tony Blair lives here too, in “the Connaught Square Maximum Security Prison”. “All dictators turn out to be property speculators”. A blast of Soviet-style graphics, surveillance footage and found sounds, then an item of grainy verité (insert symbol) reportage by the writer Anna Minton on the privatisation and control of public space in the new Paddington Basin development. A young woman dodges traffic to a lovely guitar ballad and reminiscences and photos of the Edgware Road and its communities of decades past return us to a lost world.
The Serpentine Gallery has long maintained an involvement with its nearest community on Edgware Road, previously resulting in the Dis-assembly project in 2006 in which artists including Christian Boltanski and film-maker Runa Islam worked with pupils at the North Westminster Community School which led to an exhibition, a book and the film Conditional Probability. This year, Sally Tallant, the gallery’s Head of programmes, invited the artists behind no.w.here to become artists in residence and Karen Mirza, Brad Butler and James Holcombe who run the no.w.here artists’ project space, set up a Free Cinema School at the Centre for Possible Studies. no.w.here, as well as facilitating and empowering an impressive roster of artists to create non-commercial film-based work, has always been committed to local education programmes. The school was inspired by the Free Cinema documentary movement of the 1950s in which a new wave of British cinema took film production out of the studio to make authored films on the street with handheld cameras. One of the thinkers in the Free Cinema circle was the sociologist George Goetschius who later undertook the study Working with Unattached Youth which examined and advocated community building and creativity amongst young people without state intervention around Edgware Road in the sixties. Goetschius in turn had been trained by the Italian activist Danilo Dolci, pioneer of the ‘reverse strike’ in which spaces were occupied and unauthorised public works for the poor were undertaken without pay. All of these ideals were incorporated into the Free Cinema School, which drew on the talents of artists and equipment belonging to no.w.here as well as the actors Cressida Trew and Khalid Abdalla, star of The Kite Runner, both of whom are members of the Zero Production film company in Cairo. An enthusiastic and multicultural group of young people were soon attracted by camera crews on the street, others passing by the shopfront dropped in and got involved, adding to collaborators recruited through the Serpentine’s outreach activities and via Facebook. While some taught, others filmed and acted, took photographs, designed posters and devised scenes. Without rules or fixed roles the resulting film is a marvellous tribute to the potential of communal creativity and imagination and was screened at the Serpentine Gallery pavilion on September 11th.
Sharing the space was a concurrently run project by CAMP, a Mumbai collective dedicated to opening up public video from CCTV to personal testimonies and the curating and creating of archive film. The presentation at the Serpentine was of a Block Study, a fascinating exercise in video urban archaeology which uncovered traces behind an Edgware Road shopfront of the once glamorous Gala Cinema, and its production arm which was responsible Peeping Tom, followed by the deterioration of its programming to the joyous German sex ‘education’ film Helga. With the onset of a new era and with the growth of the Middle Eastern community the new owners of Gala went into video production including an amusing Kuwaiti tourist information film about Britain, and the cinema also staged Arabic comedy theatrical shows before being refurbished as a nightclub and a hookah bar, which, threatened by the smoking ban, fell into its current delapidation which a charming musician now uses for a studio. All of which, illustrated with remarkable archive finds, insightful interviews and annotated by critical media materials, made an exemplary and entertaining template for an original approach to urban exploration. The Centre for Possible Studies itself aims to remain open for as long as possible as a base for further film production, screenings and discussions.
Karen Mirza and Brad Butler are about to unveil their latest project, The Exception and the Rule, a film to be shown at the forthcoming London Film Festival, a richly experimental work based on their observation of civil unrest in Karachi, including the testimony of local activists and their own performance and graphic interventions to present a radically alternative image of Pakistan to the alarmist spectacle offered by the media, one that engages with the actual textures of the street and local perceptions and strategies. The film is just part of an ambitious Artangel project by Mirza and Butler, The Museum of Non-Participation, which runs from 25 September to 25 October behind Yaseen’s barber shop at 277 Bethnal Green Road in London, which includes an exhibition space, film screenings, discussion groups and its on newspaper.