Close Up

18 November 2022: Storming Heaven

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Exploring the concept of ‘fictional activism’, Storming Heaven presents a series of films intent on subverting the camera’s legacy of colonial and sexual violence through the use of fiction and reconstruction. Focusing on the work of Jarman award-winning filmmaker Michelle Williams Gamaker, the programme will investigate the camera’s irrepressible desire for the illusory, the fetishistic, and the exotic, by pairing Gamaker’s works with those of Isaac Julien, Miranda Pennell, and a segment of Michael Powell’s Peeping Tom, works that similarly see fiction as an agent of change.

The screenings will be followed by discussion between Kulraj Phullar and Michelle Williams Gamaker.

House of Women
Michelle Williams Gamaker, 2017, 14 min

In 1946, auditions were held for the character of the silent dancing girl Kanchi in Michael Powell’s classic, Black Narcissus. House of Women recasts the role, auditioning only Indian ex-pat or first-generation British Asian women and non-binary individuals living in London, to explore the gaps in representation and the spaces opened up by the “fiction machine” of the British studio system in the 1940s.

Extract from Peeping Tom
Michael Powell, 1960, 17 min

Voyeurism, psychopathy, and the seedy London 60s combine in this classic film about filmmaking, where the weapon is the camera and the victims, its willing or unwilling subject-matters. It would almost destroy Michael Powell’s illustrious career and signal the birth of slasher films.

The Attendant
Isaac Julien, 1993, 10 min

Set in a museum devoted to the history of slavery and starring Stuart Hall, The Attendant sets in motion a complex sexual and racial dynamic of dominance and submission that plays against a backdrop of Tom of Finland iconography and the AIDS epidemic that was still taking place at the time.

Elephant Boy
Michelle Williams Gamaker, 2016, 5 min

In 1936, while gathering footage in a maharajah’s palace in India, documentary filmmaker Robert J. Flaherty came across 12-year old Sabu Dastagir, the son of a mahout (elephant rider). He went on to cast him in Zoltan Korda’s award-winning Elephant Boy. In this short Gamaker brings Sabu back to life as part of her trilogy of films dedicated to the historical side-lining of actors of colour.

Why Colonel Bunny Was Killed
Miranda Pennell, 2010, 28 min  

Taking as a starting point a forgotten memoir entitled Among the Wild Tribes of the Afghan Frontier this study of archive photos challenges the impermeability of history to suggest that its biases still haunt us today.

The Bang Straws
Michelle Williams Gamaker, 2021, 17 min

Winner of Best Experimental Short, Aesthetica 2021 this short looks at one of cinema’s most notorious cases of casting discrimination. The Good Earth (1937) saw its lead wear racist “yellowface” despite Chinese-American star Anna May Wong’s clear desire to play O-Lan. The Bang Straws re-casts the film, setting it in a storm of locusts.


Storming Heaven is a bimonthly programme at Close Up assembled around filmmaking as a practice of solidarity and radical community building. Curated by Gerard Ortin Castellvi and Roisin Agnew. With the support of Goldsmiths University London.