In the Light of Eduardo Guedes

By Pascale Lamche

Born: 21 April 1941, Moved to London in 1961 Died: 29 August 2000

Eduardo, my second dad, came from the South, where the sun shone and Cinema was invented – or so I thought when I was 10. But it didn’t change much as I got older, for he still brought light and depth of field, narrative and image-making to my contemplation, my range of senses.

For my birthday in 1971, he gave me a kitten and called it Fushka, explaining that was a wisp of pale smoke in Portuguese. My father had been a poet, so I understood the imagery of the word. In the battle ground years of industrial strife in Britain in the early seventies, my parents and Eduardo and other ‘emancipative’ filmmakers borrowed and eventually bought cameras, recycled short ends and gratefully housed old Steinbecks to make films for the class struggle. A game of Monopoly was bought, to my joy, only to be used as a prop in a film about squatters. I remember sitting under trestle tables listening to debates about the social contract, shop stewards and independence until they blurred into one never-ending Cinema Action meeting.

bearskin-eduardo-guedes-ann-guedes.jpgAnn and Eduardo Guedes directing Bearskin, 1990. The film starred Tom Waits and Ian Dury.

But when I glanced up at Eduardo, although he knew best how to wield an Eclair or a Bolex and how to organise a cutting room (he’d been to film school), I saw the nervous tap of his foot betraying the confident drape of his body and felt an affinity. Endless debate was not for him. For there was jazz – Charlie Parker and John Coltrane – and there was Cinema – Rossellini and Huston and Wilder – and there were masters of light – G.R. Aldo and Vittorio Storaro – and the power of the frame. My world view went anamorphic and I drew close to Eduardo for aesthetic reasons and for his sensibility.

The first image that sent my soul soaring was the flight of a seagull up the double-bottomed hull of a gigantic ship. White on black to the sound of a penny whistle piercing my consciousness. This was Eduardo’s shot. I responded to the emotional power of the image but could barely understand the words of the Upper Clyde Shipbuilders’ convenor as he explained why they were occupying the yards. Cinema in Action had come from the streets of Paris in May 1968. I had lost my home, my school, my friends and mourned quietly this exile in grey old London. Eduardo showed me that those same filmmakers who’d been active in 1968 also made A Bout de Souffle (Godard) and Baisers Volés (Truffaut).

rocinante-eduardo-guedes.jpgEduardo Guedes directing John Hurt in Rocinante, 1987

I used to pray from time to time when I was 12, just as insurance in case my parents were wrong and there was a God. (My French Catholic grandmother was the other great pole of my aesthetic consciousness). I prayed one night that the films the grown-ups were making would have more images like the bird and the ship. And more stories. My mother Ann returned next day from a shoot in Wales, during the 1974 miner’s strike, bringing footage I recognised with a mildly sinking feeling. Crates burning, pickets warming their hands and a woman trade-unionist talking about equal pay. But then they followed her home on the bus, and we found out she was called Shirley and she had a front room on a steep hill in a smokey town and she didn’t want her son to go down the pit. Narrative was born or returned from whence it had been relegated for a while.

In the five years it took to make So That You Can Live, in my view one of the great documentaries, I learned that the best documentary stories are filmed over time. In 1999 I finished editing a film I produced about a man who had successfully mounted a campaign for compensation from German firms for having exploited him as a slave labourer – it was filmed by Luke Holland over 5 years. Right now, I am editing a film I’m producing about a family in Soweto, which was filmed over six years by Duncan Sim.

Narrative documentaries turned into narrative feature films, with Rocinante, Bearskin, Pax and Knives and Angels. With these films I learned that putting stories into film form costs lots of money and is best done by ignoring what £400,000 could do to improve someone’s life and collecting chunks of finance from several different sources internationally. Ann and Eduardo’s experience on their film Talk of Angels taught me about the power of Hollywood and Harvey Weinstein, whose arrogance matched the depth of his pockets.

But it is Eduardo’s last two films, shot in Portugal, that are to me the most moving for they are truest to his own authenticity. And therein lies good filmmaking. I am dedicating my next film, which is my first as a director, to Eduardo. In the same way that it was a struggle for him to break the mould of the ‘collective’ and boldly claim the title of director, he has challenged me to face the fear of fucking it up. As he began to write the last film he would never make, when his body lost the strength even to sit up a while, he dared my film out of me. And it’s a film about jazz and gangsters, oppression and freedom.

I miss him much, would like to show him the first cut and talk it through with him, for he’s made me the filmmaker that I will continue to become.

Pascale Lamche makes feature length documentaries at the independent production company, Little Bird Features.