British filmmaker and artist Ben Rivers will be one of the three recipients of a retrospective at this year’s Karlovy Vary Film Festival. Laurence Boyce caught up with him to ask what the retrospective holds.
As Karlovy Vary’s ‘Imagina’ section focuses on films that push the boundaries of traditional narrative cinema, it’s appropriate that this year the festival will focus on the work of British artist and filmmaker Ben Rivers.
Often utilising 16mm, Rivers work explores the history of cinema, blurs the boundaries of experimentalism, ethnographic study and documentary whilst also being a playful comment on a wide range of genres.
Already well-established on the festival circuit thanks to short films such as Ah! Liberty (a winner of a Tiger Award for Best Short at the 2008 Rotterdam Film Festival) and This Is My Land, some of Rivers’ greatest visibility came in 2011 thanks to feature length documentary Two Years At Sea.
Premiered at the Venice Film Festival, the film is a languid, black and white examination of the life of hermit Jake as he lives in the remote Scottish wilderness. Near wordless it’s a powerful and enigmatic work that deservedly earned Rivers many plaudits.
His current film A Spell To Ward Off The Darkness (co-directed with Ben Russell) is an arresting exploration of one man’s search for utopia that premiered at the 2013 Locarno Film Festival.
What kind of things can audiences at Karlovy Vary look forward to in the retrospective at the festival?
Well, most of the films I’ve made – they’re showing about 25 films, including two features, so there’s quite a lot to take in. It’s always nice to show a lot of work together because people can then see connections between films, how themes and ideas recur but are treated differently in various films.
You’ll be showing A Spell To Ward Off The Darkness. How has the reaction to the film been so far at its various festival screenings?
It’s been really positive – we premiered in Locarno and it’s gone on to play all over the world and will be release soon in US, UK and France, so we’re very happy.
It’s not necessarily an easy film, and asks for a certain kind of involvement from the audience, because the viewer is not being carried along by a clear plot driven narrative – but audiences seem to be responding well to this.
Karlovy Vary is well known for attracting a large audience of young people looking to experience new works and films. How important do you think festivals – especially so called ‘A-List’ ones – are in getting people into more esoteric and less mainstream film?
They’re increasingly important these days, because sadly it gets harder and harder to get the less mainstream films shown in the cinema. Even if the cinemas want to, the distributors have a great deal of control over what gets shown.
I still very much believe in the cinema being seen on the big screen - there’s nothing like that kind of immersion, and sitting in a room full of people in the dark, which is a very different experience to watching at home. So if film festivals are one way of this continuing then that alone makes them very important.
Is there anything you’re particularly interested in seeing yourself at Karlovy Vary? And are there any directors you particularly rate at the moment?
The two other retrospectives [of Italian filmmaker Elio Petri and Indian director Anurag Kashyapook] look great, so I hope to watch a lot of those.
There are many other films that look interesting. I’m a big fan of Sion Sono, so will be going to see his new film [Why Don’t You Play in Hell?]. It may be too soon to watch it again but I was happy to see [Alexey German’s] Hard to be a God In the programme, which is the best film I’ve seen so far this year.
There’s lots of good cinema happening now, I’m excited. I like the films of Gabriel Abrantes, which is why I am collaborating with him on a film, shooting straight after the festival.
What new projects are you currently working on and what films will we see out of you in the future?
Apart from the one I just mentioned, I’m making a portrait of painter Rose Wylie, shooting right now, and a new feature, which I am shooting in the winter, called The Two Eyes Are Not Brothers, which will be an hallucinatory film about filmmaking.