latest SXSW-alum documentary I Am Belfast .
Ticket Information: $9.50 general admission at the door
courtesy of the press kit:
I Am Belfast is a unique film about a notorious city, Northern Ireland’s capital. Opening with filmmaker Mark Cousins saying that he met a 10,000 year old woman who claims she is the city itself. She becomes our unpredictable guide. At first she shows us fun things — the way people talk, visual surprises. But then her story deepens. She turns the clock back, unafraid of tragedy. She’s good at forgotten, shocking detail. It’s like she’s remembered everything, with x-ray vision.
With the evocative imagery of cinematographer Christopher Doyle, and a haunting new score by David Holmes, Cousins moves beyond the conventional portrayal of Belfast in the movies — as thriller, or hard man place — and shows, instead, the women and the dream life of Belfast. Magic realist with gritty truths and some flights of fantasy, Mark Cousins’ film is influenced by Soviet cinema, popular song, and the storytelling of his grandmothers, and grandmothers everywhere.
“Belfast the City, is like a fascinating character in a book or a film, full of contradictions. It’s tragic because of the war but also warm and very human.” — Mark Cousins
“Painting = Seeing + Thinking.”
courtesy of the press kit:
Mark Cousins is an Northern Irish filmmaker, writer and curator living and working in Scotland. In the early 1990s he became director of the Edinburgh International Film Festival. He has made films for TV about neo-Nazism, Ian Hamilton Finlay and the Cinema of Iran.
His 2004 book The Story of the Film, was published in Europe, America, China, Mexico, Brazil and Taiwan. The Times said of it “by some distance the best book we have read on cinema.” Cousins adapted the book into a 930-minute film, The Story of Film: An Odyssey (“The place from which all future revisionism should begin” – New York Times). Michael Moore gave it the Stanley Kubrick Award at his Traverse City Film Festival. It won a Peabody in 2014.
Next Cousins wrote, directed and filmed his first feature documentary, The First Movie, about kids in Kurdish Iraq. It won the Prix Italia. His other feature films include What Is This Film Called Love?, Here Be Dragons, A Story of Children and Film, which was in the Official Selection in Cannes, Life May Be, co-directed with Iranian filmmaker Mania Akbari, and 6 Desires, an adaptation of DH Lawrence’s book Sea and Sardinia. He is currently making Stockholm My Love, a symphony starring Neneh Cherry, and directing the archive film Atomic, a collaboration with the band Mogwai.
Photograph: Gareth Cattermole/Getty Images
Letter to My 8 1/2 Year Old Self
courtesy of Vertigo Magazine:
“Letter to My Eight and a Half Year Old Self”, by Mark Cousins
You are in Belfast. It is 1974. The city is a war zone, dead and locked up at night. You are living in that house on the Crumlin Road. You do not know it yet but in two years time, a bomb in that street will destroy it. Don’t worry, you will all be evacuated and, as a result, you will start a new life on a housing estate in a town called Antrim.
There will be lots of Belfast people there – tens of thousands, in fact, but Antrim will have no cinema. You will see movies on TV – BBC2. You are about to fall in love with two directors – Alfred Hitchcock and Orson Welles. In Belfast in three years time you will see a film called Jaws, but it is one by Welles – Touch of Evil – that will change your life. It will make you fall in love with the drug of cinema, the feeling it gives you.
How will cinema change your life? It will stop the world feeling scary. You will discover a quietude in cinemas, in the dark, before the lights go down. In a letter to her son, who is the same age as you are, an actress named Tilda Swinton called this feeling “ecstatic removal”. My friend Tony McKibbin says that in life people should protect their nervous systems. Looking back, I can see that you were a nervy wee boy in the 70s so maybe you went into the Odeon on Great Victoria Street to protect yourself in the way Tony describes. But protect isn’t quite the right word. You will find, as you grow up and become a man, that release is what you will feel in cinemas, the sense that your nervous system, which is usually defended, in the ready position, stops shrinking and opens out like a flower.
To what will it open out in the coming years of your life? Tilda tells her son that he will discover “the promised land of freedom”, and that’s what you will find too. You will feel imaginative fireworks explode in your head, so unfettered is cinema. You will feel the rush to tears at the beauty of Claudia Cardinale in Once Upon a Time in the West but then, later, you will realise, with life changing consequences, that it was only partially her that brought those tears. It was also, inconceivably, impossibly, ridiculously, the exalted sweep of the film’s image up into the air, over the railway station and further still to reveal a frontier town being born.
You will run like a sprinter with this realisation that form, camera moves, what Daniel Frampton romantically calls the thinking of the film, moves you and sustains you. You will come to find, as a teenager and in your early twenties, that you need cinema, the way you need to dance, to remind you of the bodily and mental liberties that existence affords you.
This sprint, this dance, this love will become your life. And here’s something you could never guess, living where you are, in working class Belfast, a planet away from Hollywood: you will earn your living in cinema, close to its contours. Are you shocked? I’d expect so. You’ll discover that documentary films – in which the director is really co-director, with life itself – suit your sense of not wanting to be in full control, and you’ll make some daring ones. You’ll write and talk about films in newspapers and on TV but, soon, you’ll find that you have made a vow to yourself not to be part of the marketing of mainstream cinema, so you will sprint some more and find that suddenly you are amongst the films of people with names like Weeresethakul, Tsuchimoto, Kiarostami, Sokurov, Dumont, Almodovar, Chahine, Farrokzhad, Mambety, Imamura, Kotting, Bill Douglas, Jarman and Malick. By the time you realise this, you will be miles from anywhere. You will feel lonely there – so letters like Tilda’s will mean a lot – but dead happy too, alert, paying attention, as John Sayles would say, astonished, as Jean Cocteau exhorted.
Then something else will happen. You will notice that most of the world is talking about a James Bond film called Casino Banal. You will go and see it and find it cheesy and boring. You will get angry at such things. You will start to write about the fact that invigorating movies get squashed, or outrun, by steroid-boosted cookie cutter ones. Tilda talked about her work as being an act of resistance. Your work will feel like that. As a passionate, decentred, curious critic, you will try to articulate an opposition to the dead contrivance of dominant cinema, in the way Terry Eagleton suggests in The Function of Criticism.
So movies will do something to you and, eventually, you will begin to do something back to them. But what, for now, at the age you are now, do I wish for you? I wish you had more film books at hand than Halliwell’s. I wish the world of cinema would open up faster for you. You found your way to Iran and its cinema, the work of Ghatak and Dutt, Gerima and Muratova, all on your own. But, tying Tilda’s thoughts and mine together, I wish for this: something called the 8 ½ Foundation. A trust, based in Scotland perhaps, where Tilda and I live, which would make 20 films available for free on DVD to children around the world, on their 8 ½ th birthday, their movie day. These films would be the best, most imaginative, movies of all time – directed by Miyazaki, Norman McLaren, Buster Keaton and Michael Powell, films with titles like Pelle Alone in the World, The Red Balloon and The Singing Ringing Tree. They would be available subtitled in 50 languages. The foundation would be funded by film studios around the world, to enrich the culture in which they operate, a gesture of optimism about their medium.
8 ½ is the perfect age to fall in love with cinema. It was the name of a great film. I found out only last year, in the dark, when someone recognized my voice at a firework display, that the Indian family who ran the Curzon cinema in Belfast in 1974 – which is now, for you – ran spectacular Indian movies in the morning back then, before the doors opened. They are running them now, as I write. Isn’t that remarkable? The 8 ½ Foundation could be remarkable.
You lucky thing. You are about to discover your passion.
LinksHere is a curated selection of links shared on our Facebook page for additional insight/information:
4/4/16 – “I wanted to look at a familiar place in a non-familiar way. Other places are not as alive: people don’t drink as much, or talk as much. Polanski once spoke of life having ‘great amplitude’ and I think that’s true of Belfast. It’s a great city to study human truth: you have warmth and tragedy all in the one place. Emotions are exposed, not hidden; there’s no such thing as a stiff upper lip. We are a melodrama all to ourselves.” Mark Cousins, director of I Am Belfast, The Irish Times – link
4/7/16 – From Mark Cousins: My Guardian article on Belfast and film – link
4/18/16 – Back in 2012, Mark Cousins’ The Story of Film opened the 6th annual Buffalo International Film Festival at the screening room cinema cafe! – link
4/19/16 – “Mark Cousins has created a meditative tribute to his hometown of Belfast in the ‘city symphony’ tradition that stretches from Dziga Vertov’s Man With a Movie Camera to Terence Davies’s Of Time and the City. It’s musing, free-associating and visually inventive, with wonderful images from cinematographer Christopher Doyle. Like all of Cousins’s documentary film-making and criticism, it refuses easy cynicism in favour of unashamedly heartfelt human sympathy.” Peter Bradshaw, The Guardian – link
4/26/16 – The Essay Film: A Manifesto by Mark Cousins
In the last two years I have made three essay films – What is This Film Called Love?, A Story of Children and Film, and Here be Dragons. In the next year, I will make two more – I am Belfast and Stockholm My Love.
In making these, and watching many more – by Anand Patwardhan and Agnes Varda, for example – and after reading Philip Lopate’s book on the essay, I started to make a mental list of the elements of, and the principles behind, essay films. This list is a kind of manifesto.
1 – A fiction film is a bubble. An essay film bursts it.
2 – An essay film takes an idea for a walk.
3 – Essay films are visual thinking.
4 – Essay films reverse film production: the images come first, the script, last.
5 – Filming an essay is gathering, like a carpenter gathers wood.
6 – A fiction film is a car, an essay film is a bike; it can nip up an alleyway, you can feel the wind in its hair.
7 – A road movie has outer movement, an essay film has inner movement.
8 – An essay film is the opposite of fly on the wall.
9 – An essay film can go anywhere, and should.
10 – Two essay films should be made every year. Why? Because, after F for Fake, Orson Welles said this to Henry Jaglom during lunch at Ma Maison: “I could have made an essay film – two of ‘em a year, you see. On different subjects. Various variations of that form.”
11 – Commentary is to the essay film, what dance is to the musical.
12 – All essay films would be improved by a clip of Dietrich (see Marcel Ophuls).
13 – An essay film cannot create the atmosphere of Wilder’s Sunset Boulevard; A fiction film cannot explain that atmosphere.
14 – Even Hollywood makes essay films – look at DW Griffith’s Intolerance.
15 -Essay films are what Astruc dreamt of.
16 – Digital had made Astruc’s dream come true.
3/24/17 – Cultivate Cinema Circle alum Mark Cousins wrote a letter to the late Ingmar Bergman, ten years after his death. – link
Average cinema screen is abt 500 x size of average TV screen, 3000 x size of a tablet + 12000 x that of a smartphone. #BiggerThanLife
— mark cousins (@markcousinsfilm) April 18, 2017
Local Media Coverage:
4/27/16 – “I Am Belfast looks at the home city of film essayist Mark Cousins, best known in the US for his 15-part series The Story of Film. Mixing leftover footage from other projects and archival clips with new footage by the brilliant cinematographer Christopher Doyle, the film is a poetic look at the past and present of a city much older than the recent troubles for which it is best known. Filled with gorgeous images, it’s a blessing that I Am Belfast – 2016 will be screened (if only once, this Thursday at 9:55pm) at the North Park Theatre.” M. Faust, The Public – link