Get set for GREAT Britain Arts 13

London: The Modern Babylon

Riding the wave of the 2012 London Olympic and Paralympic Games, GREAT Britain Arts 13 is an exhilarating, large-scale festival of British arts and culture. This unique celebration is presented by the British Council Australia in collaboration with various arts organisations across the country, and we’re very excited to be a part of it.

Throughout spring we’ll present a series of diverse screenings under the banner ‘Great British Film’. From fashion, music and performance (in collaboration with Melbourne Music Week) and films for kids and families to a series of new films and restored classics, this vibrant program covers a wide range of genres, audiences and interests.

Programming around a ‘national cinema’ as expansive as the United Kingdom’s is a daunting task considering the enormous wealth of talent – Alfred Hitchcock, David Lean, Charlie Chaplin and Carol Reed. We can add more recent creatives to the list too, such as Turner Award-winning artist–turned-filmmaker, Steve McQueen (Hunger, Shame and the upcoming Twelve Years a Slave), daring cinematic voices Andrea Arnold and Lynne Ramsay, and Oscar®-winning, blockbuster directors Danny Boyle, Ridley Scott and Christopher Nolan.

While we couldn’t include all British film luminaries in the program – Ken Loach, Mike Leigh, Joseph Losey, Nicolas Roeg, Derek Jarman – we’ve selected some of the UK’s most recent filmmaking talents alongside some undisputed greats. ‘Great British Film’ spans decades, genres and geography; from the Highlands of Scotland (Shell) to the mean streets of London (Ill Manors).

Spanning the genres
As impressive filmmaking partnerships go, it seems impossible to pass over the perfect triumvirate of legendary cinematographer Jack Cardiff, art director Alfred Junge and directors, Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger. The romantic narrative and innovative stylistic choices make Powell and Pressburger’s A Matter of Life and Death an undisputed landmark of British film.  And for more of their work, catch the newly restored The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp at Melbourne Cinémathèque.

Screening in the same month is the Australian premiere of Jacqui and David Morris’ BAFTA-nominated documentary McCullin. This astounding film charts the career of British photographer, Don McCullin whose collected works Susan Sontag called “the photography of conscience.”  This humbling and unforgettable film explores the humanity involved in documenting conflict and the moral questions that reside within every artist and viewer alike.

A Matter of Life and Death

Spanning the decades
The Ring was made in 1927 and was the only film Hitchcock scripted. A tale of two boxers competing for the love of a woman, the thematic thrust of The Ring dovetails into another of Hitchcock’s investigations into marital deception, the 1954 classic Dial M for Murder. Hitchcock is one of the giants of cinema not only for his unmistakable style but for his sheer endurance as a director. He enjoyed a successful silent career in Britain before moving to Hollywood where he maintained a filmmaking style that was distinctive yet relevant to modern audiences and shifts in technology.

Both films in this program were recently restored for the big screen. In 2012 the British Film Institute (BFI) embarked on an enormous project, The Hitchcock Nine, painstakingly restoring the nine surviving silent films. Likewise, in 2012 Hitchcock’s only foray into the original, analogue 3D technology, Dial M for Murder, was restored making the film available to audiences again – this time in digital 3D technology.

Dial M for Murder

Leaving the capital
Many films of the British New Wave moved away from the capital and headed to northern industrial towns for inspiration. Keith Waterhouse, author of Billy Liar, recalled “at one time you couldn’t walk around the slag heaps without tripping over a light cable.”  John Schlesinger’s classic screen adaptation of the beloved novel stars Tom Courtenay as Billy, a lowly administrator whose days are spent slipping in and out of a vivid fantasy land escaping his dreary Yorkshire surrounds. Not surprisingly, this evocative mix of settings made an impression on Michel Gondry who said, “John Schlesinger’s film certainly had an influence on my films, especially The Science of Sleep, just like The Secret Life of Walter Mitty or other films intercutting layers of consciousness. Only Billy Liar is one of the few to achieve that in the context of a social satire.”

Billy Liar

It all starts here
Opening the season is Julien Temple’s London: The Modern Babylon, a mesmerising film that sits within a great tradition of ‘city films’ in the vein of Dziga Vertov’s Man With a Movie Camera and Walter Ruttmann’s Berlin: Symphony of a Great City. However, it is most interesting in this context because it documents London from the birth of celluloid to the present day. With footage drawn from the extensive archives of the BFI and the BBC, Temple’s cine-poem offers an embarrassment of riches on screen. The film is most certainly British in every respect but pays homage to a city (and a culture) that has been shaped by its relationship to Empire; enriched and defined by immigration, political struggle and diversity.

Great British Film runs from 22 August to 10 November 2013 at ACMI Cinemas.

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