Portable Cinema Project.

A film festival launching The Arcades Project : A 3D Documentary

October 2008



The Portable Cinema was a site specific film festival held in an empty shop under the shadow of a shopping centre development at the moment that the economy unravelled. It screened documentary, experimental and artist films that sought to map complex narratives current to the 21c city.

The free 'cinema' sought to create a point of resistance in the city, an open space outside a system of relentless commodification.

Films by: Peter Wyeth/ Semiconductor/ Nathaniel Kahn / Jem Cohen/ Bureau of Inverse Technology/ Charlotte Ginsborg/ Vision Machine/ John Smith/ Margret Tait/ Jean Rouch & Edgar Morin/ Stan Brakhage/ Guy Sherwin/ Rosalind Nashashibi/ Cordelia Swann/ Mayling To/ Dziga Vertov.

In addition to the film programme artists Peter Cusack (Sounds of London) and William Raban presented their work. Peter Cusack spoke about his project 'Sounds from dangerous places' playing recordings he had made in the exclusion zone around Chernobyl.

William Raban presented his trilogy 'Under The Tower', a series of films made around Canary wharf exploring the changes in London’s East End as it was transformed into a major financial centre.



5pm My Architect
My Architect: A Son’s Journey is a 2003 documentary film about the American architect Louis Kahn. Kahn led an extraordinary career and left three families behind when he died of a heart attack in a Penn Station bathroom.

The film was made by Louis Kahn’s illegitimate son Nathaniel Kahn, and features interviews with many giants of modern architecture, including I.M. Pei, Anne Tyng and Philip Johnson. Throughout the film, Kahn visits all of his father’s buildings including Yale Center for British Art, Jatiyo Sangshad Bhaban and the Indian Institute of Management Ahmedabad.

7.15pm Peter Wyeth
Twelve Views of Kensal House http://www.concordvideo.co.uk/
An innovative block of modernist flats which was built in 1936 as a model estate. When it was opened a film was made extolling its virtues. In this film the views of 12 people, some of whom appeared in the original film, are combined to create a film essay of the issues involved, seen with the benefit of hindsight.

Peter Wyeth’s film is the biography of a building, London’s Kensal House, from its opening in 1936 to the present day. Mixing Thirties film footage, oral testimonies from residents past and present, interviews with the architect Maxwell Fry and contemporary footage of the area in and around Kensal House, the documentary attempts to describe and account for the changes in the building’s social space: the living dimension of the property. Built in the mid-Thirties by the Gas, Light and Coke Company as a showpiece for modern architectural design and the benefits of Gas Power, Kensal House was widely acclaimed. The company produced an eponymous documentary film, excerpts from which are included in this contemporary reappraisal. The original ‘Kensal House’ documentary set out a Utopian vision of Kensal House as an ideal “Urban village” while Wyeth’s ‘Twelve Views’ chronicles the souring of the vision in the light of lived experience. Going beyond a simple (and easy) critique of Modernist architecture and post-Bauhaus urban planning, the film high lights how much of the Kensal House project’s initial success was due to the benevolent capitalist subsidy of the Gas, Light and Coke Company and the crusading zeal of the philanthropic Elizabeth Denby. The film’s final sequence of modern residents unaware of the building’s illustrious heyday contrast strikingly to the testimonies of the original inhabitants, and expand the film’s focus from architectural history to social present. Exemplary for its resistance to definitive accounts and/or simple trajectories of decline, Wyeth’s film constitutes a valuable exploration of the relation of architecture to social experience. Director: Peter Wyeth Production Company: Capitol Films Arts Council 1984 Colour, 55 mins.

815pm Semiconductor
UK, 2004, 10 mins, video
The Sound of Microclimates reveals the sights and sounds of a series of unusual weather patterns in the Paris of today. Here, architecture has become interwoven with the natural processes of the geographical landscape. Set within the un-noticed moments in time, extreme microclimates are presented as the future in city accessories, revealing the unseen urban terrains of tomorrow. Like the temporary staged events at an World Expo these weather patterns hi-light public spaces and architecture within the City or Paris. They exist as a series of weather observations that animate the evolution of the inanimate urban condition. Each microclimatic intervention has its own audible frequencies, where the sound from each environment animates the movement and reveals each sites unique narrative.


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5pm Jem Cohen
USA, 2002, 99 mins, video
As regional character disappears and corporate culture homogenizes our surroundings, it’s increasingly hard to tell where you are. In Chain, malls, theme parks, hotels and corporate centres worldwide are joined into one monolithic contemporary superlandscape that shapes the lives of two women caught within it. One is a corporate businesswoman set adrift by her corporation while she researches the international theme park industry. The other is a young drifter, living and working illegally on the fringes of a shopping mall. Cohen contrives to turn the entire planet into a stretch of New Jersey commercial property – a universe that feels entirely real yet has the distinct smack of JG Ballard otherness.
“Jem Cohen’s CHAIN is a hypnotic, highly original piece about what its like to live in the new global corporate landscape” - Daily Telegraph

7.15pm Bureau Of Inverse Technology
UK/USA, 1999, 15 mins, video
A critical aero-anthropological study of Silicon Valley USA. The Bureau of Inverse Technology, an information agency, deploys its model spy plane the BIT PLANE [wingspan 31″] on this mission deep into the glittering heart of the Silicon Valley, to investigate the progress of the Information Age.

7.30pm Charlotte Ginsborg
THE MIRRORING CURE UK, 2006, 28 min, video
Tracing the life of a large construction site from demolition to the completion of new office space, The Mirroring Cure focuses on the company secretary who decides to interview those employed around her. She wants to understand their relationship to work, their hopes, fears and anxieties. We witness her fascination with the Design Manager whom she discovers suffers from a loss of balance exacerbated by the large scale of the site. She becomes intrigued by the bizarre and surreal solution he develops to cope with his affliction, his ‘mirroring cure’. Appearing initially as a documentary detailing the complexity of personal identities formed through being ‘at work’, as well as the effects of architecture on behaviour, the film begins to incorporate fictional elements leaving the viewer unsure as to where reality lies. To what extent the characters are acting remains ambiguous. Shot on 16mm over a two year period the film forms an intimate portrait of five working lives set against the visually arresting and constantly shifting architecture of the building development. CG

8.20pm Vision Machine
THE GLOBALISATION TAPES UK/Indonesia, 2003, 70 mins, video
The Globalisation Tapes: a collaboration between the Independent Plantation Workers’ Union of Sumatra (Indonesia), the International Union of Food and Agricultural Workers (IUF), and Vision Machine Film Project.
Sharman Sinaga’s granddaughter looks bored as her grandfather demonstrates for the camera his favored technique of market liberalization: holding union activists upside down in flooded fields. He mimics their gargles as they choke in the mud. He could hold down two or three at a time he boasts; he seems faintly nostalgic in the dim light and the smoke; his only regret, that his arms and knees aren’t what they used to be.
The orders to hold people upside-down came from the top, he tells us, from Surhato; they came also with support from high on Capitol Hill.
The Globalisation Tapes were made in collaboration with those a little further down the pile, closer to the mud (and the rubber and the oil), closer to the memories of the massacre that cleared the way for Indonesia’s ‘modernisation’.
Using their own forbidden history as a case study, the Indonesian filmmakers trace the development of contemporary globalisation from its roots in colonialism to the present. Through chilling first-hand accounts, hilarious improvised interventions, collective debate and archival collage, The Globalisation Tapes exposes the devastating role of militarism and repression in building the ‘global economy’, and explores the relationships between trade, third-world debt, and international institutions like the IMF and the World Trade Organization. The film is a densely lyrical and incisive account of how these institutions shape and enforce the corporate world order (and its ’systems of chaos’).


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1pm Chronicles of a Summer
Chronique d’un été (Chronicle of a Summer) is a documentary film made during the summer of 1960 by sociologist Edgar Morin and anthropologist and filmmaker Jean Rouch, with the esthetic collaboration of director cameraman Michel Brault[1]. The film begins with a discussion between Rouch and Morin on whether or not it is possible to act sincerely in front of a camera. A cast of real life individuals are then introduced and are led by the filmmakers to discuss topics on the themes of French society and happiness in the working class. At the end of the movie, the filmmakers show their subjects the compiled footage and have the subjects discuss the level of reality that they thought the movie obtained. This feature was filmed in Paris and Saint-Tropez France. It is widely regarded as an experimental and structurally innovative film and an example of cinéma vérité.

John Smith
THE GIRL CHEWING GUM UK, 1976, sound, B&W, 12 mins, 16mm & video
‘In The Girl Chewing Gum an authoritative voice-over pre-empts the events occurring in the image, seeming to order not only the people, cars and moving objects within the screen but also the actual camera movements operated on the street in view. In relinquishing the more subtle use of voice-over in television documentary, the film draws attention to the control and directional function of that practice: imposing, judging, creating an imaginary scene from a visual trace. This ‘Big Brother’ is not only looking at you but ordering you about as the viewer’s identification shifts from the people in the street to the camera eye overlooking the scene. The resultant voyeurism takes on an uncanny aspect as the blandness of the scene (shot in black and white on a grey day in Hackney) contrasts with the near ‘magical’ control identified with the voice. The most surprising effect is the ease with which representation and description turn into phantasm through the determining power of language.’ - Michael Maziere, John Smith’s Films: Reading the Visible’ Undercut 10/11.
’John Smith’s improbable treatise on representation has deservedly become a Co-op classic.’ - Ian Christie,Time Out.

John Smith
THE BLACK TOWER UK, 1985-1987, sound, colour, 24 mins, 16mm & video
In The Black Tower we enter the world of a man haunted by a tower which, he believes, is following him around London. While the character of the central protagonist is indicated only by a narrative voice-over which takes us from unease to breakdown to mysterious death, the images, meticulously controlled and articulated, deliver a series of colour coded puzzles, games, jokes and puns which pull the viewer into a mind-teasing engagement. Smith’s assurance and skill as a filmmaker undercuts the notion of the avant-garde as dry, unprofessional and dull and in Tower we have an example of a film which plays with the emotions as well as the language of film.’ - Nik Houghton, Independent Media.
’The Black Tower expands the core of Smith’s interests: chiefly, the image as a filmic fact which is constantly questioned and often undermined by language and soundtrack. Like his earlier films, The Black Tower is concerned with description, but this time framed by a story whose undertow of melancholy balances its wit and wry humour, and which is a remarkable fiction in its own right.’ - A.L. Rees.
’The hilarious and slightly menacing The Black Tower is one of the most accomplished films to come from the British avant-garde for years.’ - Michael O’Pray, Independent Media.

Margaret Tait_
ON THE MOUNTAIN UK, 1973, sound, colour, 35 mins, 16mm
‘Made in Edinburgh’s Rose Street, On the Mountain incorporates the whole of a previous film (Rose Street, 1956), including the leader and the titles. The original was shot in black and white, and the negative was lost, and for this reason Tait had the idea of preserving the film by framing it complete in colour, in a contrasted look at the same street in 1974…
On the Mountain records and preserves the change. The camera broods and recognises the dustcart. Changed is too gentle a word, the street has ben ripped apart by the developers. An ugly modern precinct has emerged with shabby boutiques and plastic food. The back lane where the children played hopscotch reveals a gap site, a decaying Princess Street, with thumping machines and concrete.’ - Tamara Krikoria

Stan Brakhage
THE WONDER RING 1955, Colour, Silent, 6 mins, 16mm.
‘On a theme suggested by Joseph Cornell. A sharp change in Brakhage’s work, we see New York’s Third Avenue El (since demolished) as though through the eyes of a child on a merry-go-round.’ - Cinema 16.

William Raban
AUTUMN SCENES UK, 1979, silent, colour, 25 mins, 16mm
The film is in three parts, each one exploring the fragmentary experience of perception by resorting to various forms of temporal and spatial dislocation.
Concrete Fall and Fergus Walking are both filmed from a moving viewpoint, and the camera motion is ‘converted’ through simple editing and printing procedures to register subtle depths in space, the layering between foreground and infinity. In Packeted Passages I filmed with two synchronised cameras and fused the two views in the printing stage into one disintegrated screen space. W.R.

5.15 Sans Soleil
Stretching the genre of documentary, this experimental essay-film is a rich composition of thoughts, images and scenes, mainly from Japan and Guinea-Bissau, “two extreme poles of survival”. Some other scenes were filmed in Iceland, Paris, and San Francisco. A female narrator reads from letters supposedly sent to her by the (fictitious) cameraman Sandor Krasna.

Sans Soleil is often labelled as a documentary or travelogue, however it contains fictional elements and moves from one location to another without regard to a location-based narrative.

Cordelia Swann
UK, 1992, 13 mins, video
‘Once there was a woman who lived alone in a fairly prosperous citadel. If the weather was fine, a rare and precious thing occurred, she would go out
and explore, or she would do the shopping…’
Inspired by the tragedy of Dido and the fall of Carthage, with references to the stoning of Mary Magdalene and the execution of others, The Citadel
documents the perceptions, action and dreams of a woman as she experiences, or rather, doesn’t experience, national and worldly events. Using a range of stunning imagery within an allegorical structure, The Citadel follows the imaginary journey of a woman through a city of beauty and desolation. Shot in lyrical documentary tradition, akin to the work of Humphrey Jennings, the piece weaves together a subjective narrative with an idiosyncratic vision of London.

Rosalind Nashashibi
EYEBALLING UK, 2005, 10 min, 16mm
The anthropomorphic city. A series of faces found in architectural facades or in objects around an apartment are juxtaposed with shots of policemen in uniform loitering around their precinct.

Guy Sherwin
UNDER THE FREEWAY USA, 1995, sound, colour, 16 mins, 16mm
First film in the ongoing Freeway Series.
”Street-life at a busy intersection beneath a freeway in San Francisco. An urban landscape film with an underlying formal structure.
Under the Freeway results from a trip Sherwin made to San Francisco during 1995. The space of the film is a public one; an intersection of streets in a poor neighbourhood, dominated by the overhead freeway of the title. The camera is static, although not confined to a single viewpoint, and this elicits a quiet attention from the viewer.
Under the Freeway presents us with urban life at the sharp end, its on-the-street detail unseen by those rushing by overhead. Under the freeway life proceeds at a different pace - in its examination of the cityscape the film offers space and time to observe city life, one’s sense of closeness to, or distance from the reality represented controlled in part by the coming and going of the sound. The framing offers continually interesting compositions in deep space as well as an evolving sense of the film’s complex urban location. It is tempting to see, in the pace of the shots and the pace of the actions filmed, a critique of both life in the world of the freeway, and of its customary film or television representation.” - Nick Collins. notes for an Arts Council screening, Tate Gallery 1997
FREEWAY SERIES (works in progress). beginning with Under the Freeway 1995 this is a group of films, some of which use multiple projection formats, set around Freeway 101 in San Francisco.
AFTER THER FREEWAY incorporates film shot in 1997 after the freeway had been partly demolished. For 2 or more screens
BAY BRIDGE FROM EMBARCADERO uses 3 screens for cinema projection or gallery installation (2004)

John Smith
SLOW GLASS UK, 1988-1991, sound, colour, 40 mins, 16mm & video
‘The film begins with a shout in the street and a smashed pane, and ends with a bricked-up window. Between these literal images of opening and closing, Slow Glass spins immaculately shot puns and paradoxes that play on reflection and speculation - words that refer both to acts of seeing and of mind. Glass is the key, as a narrator’s running commentary sketches the glassmaker’s art, splicing a history lesson with a quasi-autobiography. The authority of word, voice and picture is questioned through the film’s gradual revelation of its own (highly pleasurable) artifice. The cutting of glass is matched to the editing of film, and the camera’s lens to the surface which it captures. Through the pub-talk and the downing of glasses, other themes emerge, among them is the constancy of change, as the face of London alters and the past becomes present (conveyed in jump-cuts showing streets and shops changing over time and season, and in a gently ironized evocation of a 50’s childhood). The flowing Thames echoes the theme of flux, but also underscores the renewed attacks on East London life in the age of the property war - another kind of speculation. Slow Glass suggests that the living past has been turned into capitalized ‘Heritage’, that the British Documentarist’s noble craftsman only survives as a museum piece, and that reality in film is itself a fiction. In this film, the fiction is a crafted illusion that always has a human face.’ - A.L. Rees.

Mayling To
The Land Behind (2007)

Against a father’s narrative of migration, of escaping civil and military warfare among thousands of others, of torn families and the loss of homes, To’s insistently mute technological visions speak of both the impulse and impossibility of ever recapturing the past, of recovering histories or bridging the vast gaps in temporally and spatially dislocated experience. Sometimes fallible, sometimes failing, a father’s memory of the past flows in and out of the present and future and across territories; in mute landscapes of the present, where rapid industrialisation has erased homes, histories and ways of living, To employs technology as both vision and veil.

Text (abridged) © Diana Yeh 2007

The Land Behind (2007) was originally commissioned for Arrivals and Departures, Urbis, Manchester by Sally Lai and Yuen Fong Ling.

8.45 Mon Oncle (”My Uncle”) The film centers on the character of Monsieur Hulot (who had already appeared in Tati’s previous comedy, Les Vacances de Monsieur Hulot), and his quixotic struggle with postwar France’s infatuation with modern architecture, mechanical efficiency and American-style consumerism. As with most Tati films, Mon Oncle is largely a visual comedy (Tati began his career as a mime). Dialogue is of minor importance, and most conversations in the film are intentionally barely audible, merging with background noises. Most of these conversations are not subtitled. The complex soundtrack uses music to characterize environments, including a lively musical theme that represents Hulot’s world of jolly inefficiency and freedom.
1958 film by French filmmaker Jacques Tati


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12 – 1pm Peter Cusack, Talk/ Presentation
Peter Cusack, based in London, works as a sound artist, musician and environmental recordist with a special interest in environmental sound and acoustic ecology. Projects move from community arts to research into the contribution of sound to our senses of place to recordings that document areas of special sonic interest, e.g. Lake Baikal, Siberia, and Xinjang, China’s most western province. Recently involved in ‘Sound & the City’ the British Council sound art project in Beijing 2005. His current project ‘Sounds From Dangerous Places’ examines the soundscapes of sites of major environmental damage, e.g. Chernobyl, the Azerbaijan oil fields, controversial dams on the Tigris and Euphratees river systems in south east Turkey.

He initiated the ‘Your Favourite London Sound’ project that aims to discover what Londoners find positive in their city’s soundscape, an idea that has been repeated in other world cities including Beijing and Chicago. He produced ‘Vermilion Sounds’ a monthly environmental sound program on ResonanceFM radio, London, and is a Senior Lecturer in ‘Sound Arts & Design’ at the London College of Communication. Recently appointed research fellow on the Engineering & Physical Sciences Research Council’s multidisciplinary ‘Positive Soundscapes Project’

1.30pm Man With A Movie Camera/ Dziga Vertov
A cinematic portrait of a day in the life of a city. Differing film speeds, superimposition, manipulative editing, and rhythmic graphic composition all blend seamlessly in a magic show of life above and below the city. Shooting shops, traffic, children, coal miners, workers, human bodies, and nature, Vertov creates visual rhymes and graphic portraits mirroring the structure of Soviet life in the 1920’s.

William Raban recommends that you see this film if you are coming to his presentation.

3pm LIVE PRESENTATION William Raban, Talk/ Presentation
work includes expanded cinema, installations and films for cinema and television. He will introduce “Under The Tower” a trillogy of films which blend documentary and structural film to explore London’s Canary Wharf during the ‘90’s. In the trillogy Raban continues to explore formal ‘filmic’ concerns but also draws on the changing nature of the area.William was a manager of London Filmmakers’ Co-op Workshop, Published bi-monthly Filmmakers’Europe, and a member of the editorial board of Vertigo 1994-2001. He is currently a Reader in Film and Video at the University of the Arts London.
August 28, 2008




Project © Jennie Savage 2008