After several years in Berlin and Poznan, moving back to the United Kingdom in 2016 was not easy. Although I was certainly up for a change, I wasn’t expecting the results of the EU referendum and I hadn’t really considered where we were going to find work and relocate to until we were drawn to a small former mill town in northern England. This was to be a temporary move and four years later, this is where we are observing lockdown in a time of a world-wide pandemic. As I write this, time is flowing very strangely. The Queen has made her speech, the prime minister has been hospitalised, and right now the world portrayed in my art work The Movie Makers seems like a distant dimension, though curiously, as I reflect, I feel that a few elements of the piece remain meaningful in our new era.
“People care for each other as individuals, but my hope is that we will see a community that will care for the whole community.” − Words of a Pendle Movie Maker (2018)
The Movie Makers is one of my first major art projects since moving back to the UK. It was filmed over two years, during which I joined a local amateur filmmaker club. I approached the group as an ‘artist filmmaker’ and quickly realised how interesting it would be to make a film about filmmakers. Years earlier, I had been aware of the amateur film clubs in socialist Poland, thanks to Kieslowski’s Camera Buff and the art exhibition Enthusiasts (2004) I visited as a teenager at the Centre of Contemporary Art, Ujazdowski Castle in Warsaw, but when the existence of the local community group ‘The Pendle Movie Makers’ was brought to my attention, I was completely unaware of the vast network of amateur film clubs based in UK, particularly in the North West of England.
Originally founded in the 1960s as the ‘Pendle Film Society’, the majority of the group’s members (some now aged well into their 80s) pursue community-based documentary recordings and are often interested in capturing their local surroundings and events, particularly aspects of their community and the need to share stories. What struck me was the long lifespan of the group. With reference to a number of examples of the group’s archival material, including one of the first films made by the group in the 1960s entitled ‘Vanishing Britain’, the video work addresses wider themes of ageing, change, technology and community.
I’m not a fast worker. I prefer projects that take time, mainly because they involve a process of working with people and it is this process that is increasingly taking precedence within my practice. Moving to a semi-rural setting in northern England was in many ways very unfamiliar. It was easy to feel like an outsider but joining a community group signified more than just inspiration for a video work about amateur filmmakers; it was my own way of connecting to a place and community that is otherwise very rooted. My position of outsider shifted to insider. The fact we could bond over videomaking made it a very organic and interactive co-operation and I am still very close to some of the members, some of whom are just streets away from where I live and whose monthly meetings – in normal times – I still attend and take minutes. The experience has really taught me the value of inter-generational friendships, something that up until then had never really happened in such depth. A friend once directed me to the words of Derek Jarman and they’ve stuck in my mind ever since:
“I always felt that my role was to find family within the films, so that we found community within film-making […] that was the real purpose of film-making; to create community […]. There shouldn’t be this hierarchy.” − Derek Jarman in conversation with Simon Field (1987)
This is a project that led to my becoming more deeply involved in works that fall into the category of community video practice, a process that entails varying levels of exchange with participants and acknowledges the dynamic between filmmaker and collaborator. The members had all been very generous in their participation in a video project. Although I started with a more observational and conventional method of filming in the early stages of the project, a style that was perhaps more familiar to the group members, there came a point where I started to question my own position as the documentary filmmaker. It wasn’t enough to hide behind a camera when I had become part of the group. I had an urge to make it more of an interactive process, one that activated and involved both myself and fellow colleagues. In order to facilitate both participatory practice and collaboration that moves away from conventional hierarchies within documentary film practice, a large part of the project drew on other inputs including a creative workshop with the support and involvement of a London-based, all-female film collective, Collective-Iz, as well as inviting the ‘subjects’ to also interview the filmmaker (myself).
Now in 2020, subtitling this work into Polish encourages me to reconsider the film group as a community not only specific to its local surrounding and heritage, but something that goes beyond this. Namely, the universal strengths of such a group; the dedication of the amateur and their long-term pursuit of creativity simply for the love it, as well as the perseverance of maintaining a creative social group that survives well into older age.
Anna Raczynski is an artist filmmaker principally interested in documentary and community art practice. She received an MA in Intermedia from the University of Arts, Poznan, Poland (2013) and is a recipient of the Jerwood Visual Arts bursary for emerging artists in the UK (2017). Her film The Movie Makers (2018) was commissioned by Jerwood Arts as part of a touring major group exhibition ‘Survey’, presenting 15 emerging artists from across the UK. Most recent works have been commissioned by In Certain Places and the Harris Collection (Preston, Lancashire), as well as Greater Manchester Combined Authority with LGBT Foundation, for whom she is currently hoping to resume an artist-in-residence programme entitled ‘Back in the Closet’ exploring the lack of LGBT visibility in retirement schemes and care homes.