Ben Rivers & Ben Russell: A Spell to Ward Off the Darkness
presented in association with Kadist Art Foundation
Ben Rivers In Person
CROSSROADS 2014 is sponsored by Ninkasi Brewing.
Thanks to our co-presenters, community partners and advertisers: 23Five, Artists’ Television Access, BAVC, Canyon Cinema Foundation, the Center for New Music, The Exploratorium, Fandor, Oddball Film + Video, the SF Dance Film Festival, Shapeshifters Cinema and Yerba Buena Center for the Arts
A Spell to Ward Off the Darkness (2013) by Ben Rivers and Ben Russell; digital video, color, sound, 98 minutes, from Rouge International bay area premiere
“With its very title, A Spell to Ward Off the Darkness is a film that announces itself as being in league with forces not entirely of this world.” (Michael Sicinski, Cinemascope)
<p> “Beginning with a fire song and ending with a scream. A Spell to Ward Off the Darkness is cinema-sorcery of the most embodied sort. It is a proposition for cinema as both a way forward and a way for the present. This is the light that brings us out of the shadow.
“Intended as an elaboration upon themes that have been present in our individual works (ritual and ceremony in Russell’s Let Each One Go Where He May and Black and White Trypps Number Three; nomadism and post-industrialization in Rivers’ Ah, Liberty! and I Know Where I’m Going) and as an opportunity to move our own practices forward, A Spell… is a partnership in the fullest sense of the word.
“From conception to execution, from initial camera position to final edit, every decision that has been made is one that we have made together.
“Three years in the making, this film collaboration pushes ever harder at the rapidly expanding boundaries of documentary and non-fiction filmmaking. At its center, A Spell… is a proposal for a dynamic and visceral approach to contemporary media, one that refuses to maintain the borders between art and cinema and art-as-cinema.
“By shifting between fiction and document, between ideological inquiry and contemplative engagement, A Spell… asks its viewer to participate in a dialogue that is especially relevant to our present moment: where do we find belief in the backward glance towards modernism? What is the place of uncertainty, of mystery, in an existence that has been overdetermined by understanding? What glow remains in the ash of cinema, and how can it be ash if the aura persists?
“In focusing our lens on the various markers of a spiritual existence, we seek to produce experience itself—for cinema should not simply be leashed to representation, it should create reality. In as much as A Spell to Ward Off the Darkness is a film about the transcendent, our goal is transcendence itself.” (Ben Rivers and Ben Russell)</p>
<p> “During Rivers and Russell’s film, in the transition from the first to the second part, and then to the third, a triangle appears, scratched onto the film itself, branded into the black. The two filmmakers, one British and one American, sharing a first name and initials as though predestined to double and reflect in each other, have often shared similar creative journeys, which grew closer, intersected and have now joined together.
“Two directors for a film in three movements, and the union of the segments in the closed and continuous shape of this triangle stands for the journey of the project and its main character. He leaves a community of which he is a member and a mute witness. Alone, he passes through forests, lakes and memories, before arriving at a new community, this time musical, completing a journey from silence to shout. The film is inspired by the luminous colours and social utopias of Rivers, slides towards a common enchanted ground in which the visions of both meet, and arrives at a long and mysterious performance sequence, with the Dionysian charge typical of Russell’s work.
“During the final concert, the camera lingers on the faces of the audience, mirroring on screen the faces of the film’s audience, us, like them, part of an experience that has transformed the room into an autonomous space, and listening and seeing into a progressive liberating alteration of the senses.” (Sergio Fant: “Two Directors, Three Movements,” Locarno Film Festival)</p>
Ben Rivers studied Fine Art at Falmouth School of Art, initially in sculpture before moving into photography and film. His practice as a filmmaker treads a line between documentary and fiction. Often following and filming people who have in some way separated themselves from society, the raw film footage provides Rivers with a starting point for creating oblique narratives imagining alternative existences in marginal worlds. In 1996 he co-founded Brighton Cinematheque which he then co-programmed through to its demise in 2006. He continues to programme on a peripatetic basis.
Ben Russell is an itinerant media artist and curator whose films, installations and performances foster a deep engagement with the history and semiotics of the moving image. Formal investigations of the historical and conceptual relationships between early cinema, visual anthropology and structuralist filmmaking result in immersive experiences concerned at once with ritual, communal spectatorship and the pursuit of a “psychedelic ethnography.”
Robert Aiki Aubrey Lowe is a Brooklyn-based musician and performer best known for his solo project Lichens. Utilizing a microphone, a loop pedal and sometimes little else, Lichens’ performances are both trance-induced and transformative. The resulting music exists as a real-time reflection of internalized experience—a near-mystic illumination of symbiosis, serendipity and synchronicity.