On Showing a Film: Some Thoughts and Voices

By Peter Todd

garden-of-earthly-delights-stan-brakhage.jpg The Garden of Earthly Deligths, 1981

Showing a film raises as many questions as making a film, although it may depend on the film and the showing. I say ‘showing’ a film rather than screening a film because screening implies a screen, when it could just as well be a wall or other surface.

Putting one film with another begs many questions as to how two images relate to (edit) each other in a film.

Seeing a film more than once is a new relationship. Seeing a programme more than once is a new relationship.

Are the films being put one by one on the projector or are they joined up already on to a reel, creating different pauses spaces sounds between the films. How do the places in-between feel, when a film is not there?

The context changes as well with the setting and those involved, projecting, or welcoming those attending. With the words said before, after, or during, and the notes given out or provided. With the length of the programme. With the shortness of the programme.

The experience, and after the experience.

These programmes [1] represent several years of looking at films, searching for films, selecting films and thinking about films and other programmes / groups of films presented during the same period. Perhaps, most of all, they reflect time and life lived. Films to see, and maybe again. Then starting to form groups or pairs. Others added and others put aside.

Meanwhile there is a dialogue with the film makers. Voices and thoughts come in from them.

“Dear Peter Todd, Surely I would love to be in the new Garden Pieces programme. Almost all my films have some nature in them: I garden a lot… and I believe all my films are poetry.” [2]

I had seen Emily Died (reel 80 of Anne Charlotte Robertson’s Five Year Diary, on VHS from the super 8mm original) at the Impakt Festival in Utrecht in 1998. I had always remembered it and this changed into wanting to see it again and if I was going to see it again it would make sense to make it available to others as well. I probably first wrote to Anne Charlotte Robertson in 2003. In 2009 it will screen.

Time passes.

“It was the summer of ’95 that I was screening for Ute Aurand several of the shorts she hadn’t seen before. She had already put on shows in Germany of what was available through the London Film-Makers’ Co-op. I showed her the two little garden pieces, silent; she liked them and urged me to continue with a third one. I had to think of it afresh and bring camera and editing equipment back into use and into working order… Summer / Autumn ’97 I was at last shooting what I needed for Grove… the first prints of the set of three Garden Pieces were ready by the end of July ’98.” [3]

“I have never had any ambitions to organise screenings but this was necessary both to see films myself and to establish the activity in France. We started screening in drastic conditions… Composing a collection of films, Les Archives du film expérimental d'Avignon, was done to allow us to run programmes at a time when hardly any experimental films were in distribution in France… I just hope new generations will have the courage to continue the battle.” [4]

I often start off thinking of one or two films I really want to show, then note them down on a piece of paper. One or two other titles get added. Something like a shopping list then exists, maybe for a few months. A title gets crossed out, another added. I might start writing down running times as well. Sometimes a few notes to do with aspects of the work. Then appropriate / possible screening dates and venues. Checking if the prints are available. Then a kind of thinking and reviewing process and hopefully the programme emerges, with an audience in mind. The works are each individual yet a part of the programme in various ways.

I have been thinking for the past few months of a new programme, for 2009. A dialogue (hidden / visible?) in the new programme, Glimpse of the Garden, was with the film I was working on at an almost corresponding time. Which brings me back to the beginning. Making a film asks as many questions as showing a film and vice versa.

I hope these films work as programmes, together, although all the works have other places, and contexts, not just these. Making this point to one of the film-makers with a work in Glimpse of the Garden, Robert Beavers replies, “dear Peter, you can imagine that I find the question of how a film programme works beyond the individual film (and maker) extends in many directions.” [5]


[1] Three single screen programmes - Garden Pieces (2001), Trees Plants Flowers – Lives (2004) and Glimpse of the Garden (2009) screen at BFI Southbank in April 2009, and a programme of Margaret Tait’s films marking ten years since her death (16th April 1999) takes place at Tate Modern on 15th April, also curated by Peter Todd.
[2] Letter from Anne Charlotte Robertson, 6th February 2004, Framingham.
[3] Margaret Tait, Garden Pieces: Their Slow Evolution, in Poem Film Film Poem No.5, December 1999.
[4] Rose Lowder, email of 28.11.08.
[5] email of 5.11.08.

Peter Todd is a filmmaker and curator.