Alex Wilson

Gentle Ihor Learns To Speak (1979). Directed by Ivor Tymchak. Sheffield Polytechnic. 

Pretend You’ll Survive: Archiving Independent Film and Video in Yorkshire, 1970-1990

Pretend You’ll Survive (1981) is the name of a Leeds Animation Workshop film about ‘nuclear nightmares’, but these words also speak to current concerns over audio-visual archiving practice. To date there have been no detailed studies about this area of Yorkshire film and video history.  It is hoped this project can be catalyst to a new phase of preservation for the vulnerable moving images of the research period. The common production formats involved (VHS, U-Matic, 1” Video) are now estimated to have a maximum playback-life of between 5-8 years. As a result, it is an archival imperative to rescue moving image of this kind from physical degradation and equipment obsolescence, before it’s too late.

This project can help build the growing body of work on regional film in the UK, that refocuses attention in British film culture away from a London-centric narrative toward the local. It is hoped the study will occupy this void and develop further research and engagement with Yorkshire’s moving image heritage, and mark the region as an important site in independent filmmaking culture.

The focus is mainly cultural, not aesthetic. Although this does not exclude analysis of specific films or makers, it will always be in the context of the industrial culture of the independent cinema; the processes that make art, not just the texts. The unifying methodology of much regional film history is foregrounding the significance of case studies in understanding the structural dynamics of people, place and cultural products. Much of this work is engaged with the archive, drawing upon policy documents, film journals and trade presses, conference reports, interview testimony and the films and videos materials.

Using this model, the project will embrace those works which have historically been omitted from the literature, including: experimental cinema; music video; club and performance visuals; radical documentary; student film. The first phase of research will feature a study of the state-funded catalogue of productions supported by the Yorkshire Arts Association and also the output of the Channel 4 funded workshops that were active in the region: Sheffield Film Co-op, Leeds Animation Workshop, York Film, Steelbank, Hull Film.

Another research area will direct an examination of the activity that existed between filmmakers and musicians in the region, exploring the cross-pollinations that happened at the intersection of sound, moving image and performance. This will involve a case study of the VHS label, Doublevision; founded by Sheffield post-punk band Cabaret Voltaire as an outlet to distribute work from the industrial/experimental scene. It will then turn to a critical overview of later musicians who integrated video art and early computer graphics into their expanded performance practice– culminating in the live visuals of the Acid House / Yorkshire ‘Bleep’ scene, and particularly the pioneering music videos of Warp Records.

The written history will attempt to answer a series of research questions:

-What were the key social and political and technological enablers for an independent moving image culture to emerge in the region?

-Who were the primary creative figures, and what were the film and video works produced in the region during the 1970s and 80s??

-How does Yorkshire independent filmmaking fit into a wider British film culture?

-And what strategies can we devise to help shape the development of audio-visual archiving practice in this area?

The project will collaborate with a diverse range of memory organisations, further education institutions, and the commercial sector. The project will seek a close connection with the Yorkshire Film Archive on preservation and digitisation and engage with a number of partners to establish a ‘Yorkshire Independent Film and Video Archive.’ Strategic collaborators here include Sheffield Hallam, the University of Leeds, the BFI, Film Hub North, Pavilion North, and the London Community Video Archive. In the final year, there will be a series of screenings, a temporary exhibition, and an international conference at The British Library celebrating regional film cultures from around the world.

 

Biography:

Alex Wilson has a decade of professional experience working for audio-visual archives including The British Library, EFDSS, National Jazz Archive and Bridgeman Footage Library. He also runs the record label Public Information, and has worked in the industry for Rough Trade and Warp. Alex gained a BA (Hons) in History at the University of Leeds in 2005, and returned to academia in 2015-16, completing an MRes in History at Sheffield Hallam researching the Sheffield Independent Film Group (1976-1984).

His main research interests are independent film and music culture, audio-visual archival practice and theory, 20th Century Yorkshire history and identity. Alex is supervised by Niels Petersson at Sheffield Hallam and Natasha Vall at Teeside University.

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