IN THE FIRST OF OUR ‘NOTES ON THE SCREEN DOOR’ SERIES, ESSEX FILM COLLECTIVE’S VERY OWN DANIEL KEEBLE REFLECTS ON THE PANDEMIC’S IMPACT ON HIS FILMMAKING, AND HOW HE SEE’S IT AS A GOOD THING.
Take 1…take 2…rewrite…scrap it, edit, damn it…try again. Without dwelling too much on the affects this last year has had on us all, these lockdowns have certainly made me stop, reflect, re-charge and do a new take.
For any creative journey, one must be inspired.
Yes, a photographer invariably needs to take countless photographs, a writer writes and re-writes, actors study to craft their own unique styles. But I believe you have to not do that as well. What? OK, hear me out.
I think it’s crucial to find the time to step back, stop working and just be inspired by the very thing it is that you’re trying to inspire others with. Creative people should be able to enjoy other creative people’s work; and for me, as a filmmaker, this pandemic has bestowed me this freedom, and, inadvertently, realise something else.
Let me paint a picture quickly : A year or two ago, you’d never have convinced me that I’d be watching the wonderfully charming ‘My Feral Heart’ (filmed in Essex, and recently shown on BBC FOUR) before the newly released ‘Zack Snyder’s Justice League’ movie (they both aired on the same day). You’d never suggest I’d find the value in watching the ‘Ingmar Bergman’s Cinema’ collection, one disc after the other, juxtaposed with repeat viewings of ‘Three Men and A Baby’ and ‘Dolemite Is My Name’…or be signing up for streaming platforms like MUBI to go hand in hand with my Netflix or Amazon Prime membership.
“I’m learning what I really like, what drives me, what makes me think, and I’ve really welcomed this extra time I’ve been given in order to do that.”
The best ‘take’ 2020 gave me was the free time. A chance to develop my writing, directing, cinematography and production. I had time to read more books, enjoy more podcasts and, most notably, have time to be unequivocally reenergised by a plethora of world cinema and arthouse films. (What a tongue-twister. Sorry).
Sure, I’ve had an affection for independent cinema for a few years now, but it always felt so overwhelming. I didn’t know how to absorb it all. I guess, because I didn’t grow up with that world, I could take it or leave it. But these days, niche distribution companies like the fab Criterion Collection, BFI, A24, Arrow and services like MUBI and Curzon Home Cinema have become so accessible and prominent that, given time, anyone can effortlessly fall into that world; a world of engaging, compelling and diverse storytelling that take risks, challenge and provide a somewhat filmic exegesis on society’s burgeoning issues. Without these lockdowns I know I wouldn’t have had the time to explore these rabbit holes and watch everything I needed to.
I’ve also revelled in discovering the old ‘classics’ of Hollywood, all the while pondering to myself “Where the hell have I been?!”. I’m learning what I really like, what drives me, what makes me think, and it’s broadened my knowledge on film history and notable directors and producers. I value this extra time we’ve been given in order to do that, and I believe it’s having a wonderful affect on my work as a filmmaker.
So…put the camera down, no more lens testing today…let’s watch some Kubrick.
Yes, of course, as we know, all art is subjective, and when it comes to arthouse films, they’re not for everybody. I’d happily sit and study a Tarkovsky film, crack open some French avant-garde, or chill with Japanese samurai films from the 1950s …all the while enjoying something mainstream on a Saturday movie night-in with my friends. It’s great we have that choice.
There’s only so much I wanted to write here, and I’m trying my best to not repeat well-documented debates on the merits of beloved pop culture movies or the pretension of cinema elitism. I get it, movie-lovers want fun and escapism for the most part, and I, myself, enjoy the Marvel films and STAR WARS as much as the next person. There’s a place for it all, but there is also an important place for small indie films to be consumed and enjoyed. To suggest one can’t be inspired by both for personal growth is, indeed, a fallacy.
But, these days, I’ve now had the time to realise it’s the smaller, independent films that are ticking my boxes more so than ever.
And I have a global pandemic to thank for that.