27 October 2008

Ben Rivers: At the Edge of the World

This was a clearly a hot ticket last night at the London Film Festival - with people like Maggie Ellis (Head of Production at Film London) and Simon Field (festival director and producer) in attendance. Quite right too. It's about time the Festival did more to champion distinctive and contemporary talent.

And Ben Rivers is a rare one, doggedly portrait-ing remote eccentrics. Film is clearly important - he talked about how he carries an arsenal of  lenses and film stocks, deciding only when in situation what would/must be appropriate. The commitment to celluloid seems to be both an aesthetic and pragmatic strategy - it is intrinsic to the artist's approach to the subject, but set against the immediacy that we know is possible with video, it's possibly a barrier too. Ben spends time with his subjects, but the apparatus of his production means he never gets too close. 

I would like to see him take a turn from what's in danger of becoming a habitual choice of subject. There's a danger of teetering into bo-ho decadance - and sometimes the work feels not as detached as it might from the influence of early films by Andrew Kotting - rural eccentricity and feral ritual. Though that's probably to do with my taste, too. His editing feels both rigourous and loose at the same time, but his composition is emphatic - the camera may veer occasionally, but that's because it's searching something out. 

What abide are the films' many beautiful moments where subject and technique - textures and colours - are emphatically and breathtakingly engaged.

Image: Ah Liberty! (2008)

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