Socialism, Scotland, Cinema and Song: Brett Gregory interviews David Archibald
Friday, 23 February 2024 09:12

Socialism, Scotland, Cinema and Song: Brett Gregory interviews David Archibald

Published in Films

Brett Gregory, UK Desk for Arts Express on WBAI-FM Radio (New York) interviews David Archibald, Professor of Political Cinema (Theatre, Film & Television Studies) at the University of Glasgow (UK), December 2023. Image above: The Tenementals

BG: Hi, this is the UK Desk for Arts Express, and my name is Brett Gregory. Tonight's guest is an academic, an author, an activist, a filmmaker, and a singer from Glasgow in Scotland.

DA: Hey, my name’s David Archibald, and I teach film studies at the University of Glasgow.

BG: Great voice, David. Anyway, as well as teaching film, what are your wider research interests in the subject?

DA: I'm the editor of the Political Cinema series at Edinburgh University Press, so perhaps that may indicate something of my general research interests.

BG: And what other projects has this led onto, specifically?

DA: I recently completed a book on Ken Loach, which is published in the series. And just now I'm working on a project that attempts to link feminist activists in Cuba, Catalonia and Glasgow through collaborative no-budget filmmaking. And I'm also doing another research project that explores how a music band might be able to make history with a capital H.

Front Cover Tracking Loach

BG: So what's your personal perspective on cinema as an art form?

DA: In common with the pioneers of Third Cinema, a radical film movement from what is generally now called the Global South, I take the view that cinema can be utilised as a generator of theory: that we can think and that we can learn through making.

BG: I like that, that's interesting. I reviewed your latest book, 'Tracking Loach,' for Arts Express earlier this year, as well as for the arts and politics website Culture Matters, which is based in the Northeast of the UK. Out of curiosity, what was your rationale behind the book's title?

DA: I called the book 'Tracking Loach' because I've been tracking the British filmmaker, Ken Loach, in different capacities for some decades, as an audience member for many, many years, but also as a journalist including writing articles for the great New York-based journal ‘Cineaste’, and as an academic with various chapters and articles.

When I heard that Loach was coming to Glasgow to film 'The Angels' Share' about 10 years ago, I was contacted and asked if I could look over his shoulder while he was making the film. And I proposed that I would write a book about his celebrated working practices. Thankfully, he said yes, so the book is an account of tracking Loach in many ways over many decades from a political perspective.

BG: What would you say is particularly significant about the films Ken Loach has directed in the first quarter of this century?

DA: What's noticeable about Loach's work is how the films are utilized to force the political discourse beyond the screen. And Loach's work – whether it be 'The Wind That Shakes the Barley' which deals with Britain's role in Ireland in the Irish Civil War, or 'I, Daniel Blake' about the conditions facing unemployed workers in Britain – what's noticeable is the significant way that they shift the discourse away from the one set by the British right-wing media.

BG: And how would you personally assess Ken Loach's impact on, for example, the field of cinema as a whole?

DA: Loach has been a socialist for his entire adult life. His contribution to radical cinema is unmatched in breadth alone on a global scale.

BG: Now, in this cold-hearted corporatized society of ours, what would you identify as a key practical value of independent artistic expression?

DA: I think that artworks help to set agendas for conversations to come into being. I've spent a long time attempting to foster and nurture alternative ways of talking and doing, being and making. There's a parallel perhaps in the invaluable work that alternative media, like your own radio station, do. They’re vital in creating a new set of possibilities for us. That's why I'm delighted to be here, speaking today.

BG: Yeah, it's all about digging deep, excavating the new, the unknown, the hidden, and sharing the wealth. So, Glasgow: a place that’s always brimmed with energy and ideas in the arts, culture and, particularly, grassroots politics. What does this tell us about the city's psyche, its outlook, and its history?

DA: Glasgow is a city haunted by a proletarian ghost. The city is well known for its industrial past and for a radical heritage which goes alongside it. The spirit of collectivism which developed when it was a major industrial centre continues to operate in much of the city's cultural scene. It’s manifest, for instance, through various ways that artists are open to working together. There is a collaborative ethos, and that's connected to the spirit of collectivism which was forged in the shipyards and factories. And I’m interested in exploring and have always been interested in this for a long time, exploring how to converse with that ghost and see what might transpire.

BG: But your passion for and your pursuit of these creative conversations, as you say, has taken you further afield beyond Glasgow, beyond Scotland even?

DA: I'm currently working with Núria Araüna Baró, an academic from the Public University of Tarragona, and with four groups of feminist activists in Havana and Glasgow, cities which are twinned, and Vilanova i la Geltrú in Catalonia, the city in which Núria resides and Matanzas in Cuba; these two cities are also twin. It's a project that tries to connect these activists through dialogical filmmaking, building trans-local connections. And we have an event at the Havana Film Festival in December next month, at which women from all the four cities will meet for the first time. It's a beautiful project, and I feel very lucky to be part of it. So although I create work that is deeply rooted in the city, always interesting to build international connections and alliances beyond them.

David Archibald centre at the Havana Film Festival

David Archibald (centre) at the Havana Film Festival

BG: Admirable stuff, man. Your students at Glasgow University are lucky to have you. Right, your band, The Tenementals. Tell us more.

DA: The Tenementals is a wild research project and a lot of fun. It attempts to recount the history of Glasgow in song and asks what might history look, sound and feel like if it was created by a group of musicians. It also asks not whether artworks or songs can be history but whether history with a capital H can be artworks or songs. It's wild because it refuses the strictures often imposed on conventional academic research and finds its own path within the artistic community. It runs to its own beat, untethered by authority or control. That's really the only way it can be alive. It has to do whatever it has to do, and the history that it constructs is a history of fragments. It's a radical history of a radical city told in a radical way.

BG: And your latest song – which we’ll be actually playing out with – has got a compelling radical history all of its own.

DA: Although we set out to record a history of Glasgow in song, we're certainly not parochial, far from it: our outlook is international. In January we played a support gig for striking workers and we wanted to do a cover. We were thinking through options, and I was speaking with a filmmaker and academic friend of mine, Holger Mohaupt. And we were talking about German songs popular during the Spanish Civil War. And he mentioned 'Die Moorsoldaten' or ‘Peat Bog Soldiers' in English. It was first performed 90 years ago this year, 1933, in a concentration camp for leftist political prisoners. And although it's been covered in English by a number of quite famous singers like Pete Seeger, Paul Robeson, it's not particularly well known in Britain. We asked Holger's daughter, Lily, to sing it because I'd heard her very, very beautiful but delicate voice on some films that Holger had made previously. The first time I heard her singing in the recording studio or in the rehearsal studio, I knew instantly that we had to record it.

The Tenementals Logo

BG: And the release is a bit different?

DA: We've just brought out two versions, one in German and English with a new translation, and one the rarely performed six-verse German version. We hope to introduce an old song to new audiences in a new way. It's a song about opposition in the most difficult and darkest of times, and I think that that has resonance.

BG: Yeah, the darkest of times pretty much sums a lot of things up at the moment. What are your thoughts on the future? Do you see hope?

DA: You know, when I was a teenager, people often used to tell me that I'd grow out of the radical socialist ideas which I held. Socialists are often presented as dreamers and fantasists, but if we look at the catastrophe which capitalism has created in terms of global climate change, the true fantasists are surely those who would have you believe that it can be resolved under capitalism. It cannot. Socialism, for me at least, remains the hope of the future. And while some academics often talk very vaguely about living differently or about being differently or working in a post-capitalist world, I suppose we're not afraid to name our object of desire: a democratic socialism in which workers have control over their own lives, and where human beings live in harmony with the world, rather than ruthlessly exploiting it in the interests of the ruling class.

BG: That's very honest and rousing, David. The struggle often feels lonely for many, myself included, but thanks to you, not today. It's been brilliant having you on the show. I'm really happy to have finally met you.

DA: Thank you, Brett. It's been great to talk with you, and good luck with all your great work.

BG: Cheers, man. This has been the UK desk for Arts Express, and I've been Brett Gregory. And, as promised, here are The Tenementals with their latest single, the haunting and historical ‘Peat Bog Soldiers’ which is available now via Strength In Numbers Records on Bandcamp.

This interview originally appeared on Arts Express via WBAI 99.5 FM radio in New York.



Loach returns to the Cannes Film Festival
Friday, 23 February 2024 09:12

Loach returns to the Cannes Film Festival

Published in Films

Rita di Santo reports from the press conference introducing this year's Cannes Film Festival.

It will be all about “romance and politics” declared Thierry Frémaux, director of the Cannes Film Festival, as he announced this year’s programme (14-25 May).

A quick glance at the nineteen titles in competition tends to confirm Frémaux’s statement, with some highly-anticipated works from heavy-hitters such as Ken Loach’s Sorry We Missed You, Pedro Almodovar’ s Pain and Glory, Arnaud Desplechin’ s Oh Mercy!, the Dardenne brothers’ The Young Ahmed, veteran Marco Bellocchio’ s The Traitor, and Palestinian director Elia Suleiman’s It Must Be Heaven and – top of the cake – Terrence Malick’s A Hidden Life.

Almodovar Cannes 2019

Cannes will be provocative from day one. Zombies could be seen on the first red carpet, with Jim Jarmusch’s The Dead Don’t Die opening the festival. It’s about the small town of Centerville, where the buried rise from their graves to feast on the living. The citizens of the town must fight for their survival.

The unconventional will return with the young French filmmaker Xavier Dolan’s Matthias et Maxieme. More titles from the new generation include Les Misérables by Ladj Ly on Paris suburbs, Bacurau by the Brazilian Kleber Mendonça Filho and Juliano Dornelles, The Gomera by Rumanian Corneliu Porumboiu, and Frankie by Ira Sachs, with Isabelle Huppert.

The presence of female directors is still not very strong, but at least is expanding, with four promising titles: Portrait Of A Lady On Fire by Céline Sciamma, Sibyl by Justine Triet, Atlantique by Mati Diop and Jessica Hausner’s Little Joe. Two more Arab women present films in Un Certain Regard: Papicha by Algerian director Mounia Meddour, and Adam by Moroccan director Maryam Touzani. In total, 13 of the 51 filmmakers (a little over 25%) announced in the overall selection are women.

Also, the quantity of American titles is not as strong as last year, but out of competition one of the most awaited Studio titles is Rocket Man, a biopic of Sir Elton John directed by British Dexter Fletcher, who replaced Bryan Singer on the Freddie Mercury biopic Bohemian Rhapsody after he was fired.

Once Upon A Time In Hollywood, Quentin Tarantino's latest film, was not mentioned because it is "still in editing". But like every year, the Festival reserves the possibility of hosting a film at the last moment.

Also out of competition, but one to look out for, is Claude Lelouch’s sequel to his Palme D’Or-winning A Man and a Woman, The Most Beautiful Years.

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The last words from Thierry Frémaux were dedicated to explaining the situation with the streaming giant “Netflix”. To appear in Competition at Cannes, a film must be available for theatrical distribution in France, disqualifying Netflix titles released directly onto the streaming platform due to the country’s theatrical windows policy. The policy caused Alfonso Cuarón’s Roma to miss out on a Cannes spot in 2018, instead premiering in Venice in August.

But despite the strict politics of Cannes Festival, the Palme d’Or is still considered the highest honour in world cinema, preserving the artform and contesting the illusions of the commercial.