Kent’s ambiguous charm and seediness permeates Kent Kino 2020

The upside of lockdown gallery closures is that the migration of moving image art onto accessible online platforms has been greatly extended. Strangelove Time-based Media Festival (will MIA have to convert to TBM?) is a prime example of imaginative online curation and it includes recent films from a brilliant pioneer of the genre, Andrew Kotting, that I will reflect on in a future blogpost. Included in the Festival is the previously gallery-based Kent Kino , a regular exhibition of short films from artists with links to the county curated by Ben Barton. There is some fine, though-provoking, film-making on show here and I have selected my highlights.

Laura Spini- still from You are Whole (2014) courtesy of the artist

Laura Spini’s, You Are Whole (2014), is a gently satirical film that focuses on the vulnerability of an often ignored marginalised group; single, aging, lonely women who are so frequently the target of scam artists. The unlikely, hero/villain, played with soft spoken charm by the superb Fred Melamed, shows genuine concern for the women he makes house-calls to. But is he prone to murderous violence others suspect him of? We know he is obsessed with death as he is peddling his self help book promoting a kind of reassuring mystical/materialist worldview: the atoms of our bodies come from stardust that originated in the Big Bang and after death they will continued to be recycled. Laura is Italian born and has an acute ear for the subtleties of polite English understatement. Benign and sincere in his self delusions, her deluded evangelist conveys the ambiguity that underlies all help offered by strangers and gives the film its unsettling undertow. The cinematography is also consistently entrancing with interiors of sitting rooms rich in a lifetime’s accumulated paraphernalia illuminated by the hazy natural light often observed on the North Kent coast adding to the spookiness. Well worth 16 minutes of your time.

Still from X Anniversary (2019) courtesy of the artist

Yvette Farmer’s X Anniversary (2019) skilfully exploits the seedy and photogenic aspects of Margate’s psychogeography including the incredible chalk cliffs. Seaside resorts often feel like dowdy relics even as the green shoots of revival emerge, like Margate’s retro Dreamland amusement park. The sense of suspended time is an appropriate backdrop for her monologues of loss. Four very different characters, two male and two female, performed by the versatile, Keeley Forsyth, each reflect on a failed relationship. The first character is the most compelling as she mourns the loss of a childhood best friend to the vagaries of social mobility and cultural drift. It includes a line that really made me sit up: “You laugh along with all the small-town mindedness, the so casual racism… nationalism, sorry” Yes, racists prefer to see their attitudes as patriotic, reclaiming their culture. Racism hiding behind the less threatening sounding, but more insidious, nationalism is what we should be worried about. The script veers between the poetic and the vernacular so the tone and authenticity sometimes falters and the risk of covering a person’s response to a suicide in just a few minutes was perhaps too much of a gamble. Nevertheless that one line gave me a new perspective on our current culture wars which made it well worth a view.

Also foregrounding the elderly, Sophie Dixon’s dual-channel film, The Shore (2014) is one of those little gems that in only 3 minutes, punches well above its weight. Resonating with my own experience, this moving work also demonstrates that a good idea does not need sophisticated technical hardware. A halting voiceover, sounding like snippets of an authentic interview, gives the care-giver’s perspective as we contemplate a worried pair of eyes, the main channel of communication between people if verbal language function seriously deteriorates with age. A concrete groyne dimly discerned below the waves on the second screen is freighted with multiple, poignant meanings. The sound design taps into the consoling power of the sea. The final understated shot beautifully captures the desperation of the need for escape felt by both the carer and the cared for. Simple, seemingly effortless filmmaking.

Sophie Dixon-still from The Shore (2014) courtesy of the artist

During lockdown many couples have had to negotiate sharing a workspace with a partner while coping with isolation from their work colleagues. On first sight, Hannah Whittaker’s Emotional Distancing looks like a nine box Zoom meeting screen with two people awaiting the arrival of the other seven. What she does with this scenario in 60 seconds is hilarious and a rye comment on the irony of this new working context.

Hannah Whittaker- still from Emotional Distancing (2020) courtesy of the artist

Helga Dorothea’s Confessions of a Statue (2020) blasts us with a clatter of rapid fire images including strange statues fading in and out of focus. Their significance is unclear apart from the hint of an abusive relationship the narrator is struggling to exit. The oft cited “dream-like” as a “get-out-of-jail card” for a weird/incoherent narrative is played. In the opening frames her text bravely suggests: “You will perhaps make sense of this later” …or perhaps not, but I still enjoyed the roller-coaster ride. The extended sequence of a barber snipping furiously away at the hair of an invisible client is great fun.

Nichola Wong’s Murmurs (2019) has a great premise. A grieving father finds solace in a meeting with the last patient his dead daughter had helped. The assumptions we make are dramatically overturned in a pivotal and moving scene followed by a sequence of father-daughter japes on a sandy beach referencing sentimental Hollywood tropes to jarring effect.

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