Sally Potter at BIFF 2014

On the filmmaker, her BIFF
Fellowship and book Naked Cinema

by Rona Murray

Sally Potter’s body of work outstrips most of those of many other British directors. In being involved in her retrospective at Bradford International Film Festival 2014, this is necessarily a personal view. However, as her fascinating talk which accompanied the conferment of her Fellowship at BIFF demonstrated, she is crucially important because she is still working and she is willing to reflect on her own processes of film-making. Her book, Naked Cinema*, does exactly that, focussing particularly on the complexity and variety of her relationships with actors as a director.

Potter is an artist and filmmaker who has moved beyond being defined as feminist or feminine. There may come a time when the work and commitment shown here in the Network means it will become redundant where it is a term of limitation. One great quality is Potter’s hunger to examine our emotional lives (without definition – male, female, other), our political lives and our relationships to each other. Another is her fascination with the material of film, her constant re-invigoration in experimentation (now in the more virtual material of digital form).

Her interview expanded on the many insights in the book: the creation of a kind of temporary “insanity” that Potter dubs “falling in work” to characterise the intensity of the personal trust that can be generated when working. She talked through a number of clips which lifted the curtain on this sensitive process – Quentin Crisp’s gentle (and quite self-effacing) reading to camera, fascinatingly juxtaposed with his more magisterial reading in the final film “Do not fade, do not whither, do not grow old.” There were the audition tapes of Elle Fanning and Alice Englert (alongside those of other hopefuls) demonstrating their peculiar quality that meant they could be cut together as a rough cast of the future scene.

Potter is an incredibly generous interviewee, reflecting her familiarity with the complex process of listening and responding involved in giving direction and existing in a moment. She was fully in the moment at Bradford. Her interviews too reveal the variety of these performers’ temperaments (Joan Allen was affecting in her willingness to reveal her vulnerability). Their trust in Potter ran through the conversations – and Potter’s conversation on stage (following on from that in the book) created an intimacy with her audience, reflected in an intent silence and tangible aura of listening in the auditorium. Potter reflected on how the process can often seem obscure. Showing a difficult scene from Yes (this backstage footage can be found on the DVD) she discussed how the drama and intensity that was reached in rehearsals was not quite recreated once they were on set. However, the argument undertaken more wearily by her two actors in the car-park has its own truth and intensity. At the time, as director, Potter herself doubted what had been realised. In retrospect, she saw the new emotion uncovered. Potter’s great articulacy about her practice, without over-intellectualising her process, undoubtedly adds to her importance as a British director.

There is also the digital archive that Adventure Pictures is developing with all the production materials accrued over the years. Alongside the fellowship evening, SP-ARK staged an important event at BIFF with university students working on all kinds of aspects of Ginger and Rosa’s development and production resources. Those for Orlando are already available for research students to sign up to via http://www.sp-ark.org/. Anybody interested in including Sally Potter’s work as part of their teaching and research should contact Sarah Atkinson (sarah.atkinson@adventurepictures.co.uk) or Clare Holden (clare@adventurepictures.co.uk).

*Sally Potter (2014) Naked Cinema: working with actors, Faber and Faber: London. A 30% discount on the book’s price of £22 is available here before 1 August 2014.

Rona Murray is a PhD candidate at Lancaster University, researching into  women’s authorship in the cinema. She has been involved in presenting film courses at the National Media Museum, Bradford for a number of years with a particular interest in promoting the work of women in film. She is presently writing on Agnès Varda’s short films as a contribution to a proposed volume on women and ageing in the media.

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