For many, London is an imaginary landscape, a composite of images that circulate in art, literature, and popular culture. On November 12, 2020 Block Cinema explored this landscape with Unreal City: Film Essays on London by Ayo Akingbade and Reece Auguiste a program of experimental essay films from the UK.
The screening was followed by a discussion with filmmaker Reece Auguiste and Tiff Beatty, Program Director of Arts, Culture & Public Policy at the National Public Housing Museum. Auguiste discussed his influential 1989 work Twilight City which traces Britain’s imperial past to London’s modern physical and demographic upheaval, exploring how gentrification, segregation, and homelessness threaten the future of the city.
Watch Now – Discussion with Reece Auguiste and Tiff Beatty
From the discussion
I was very much concerned with my mother’s generation, those who moved to the UK from the Caribbean, and elsewhere, from Pakistan, from India, from Africa to reconstruct the post-war economy. The dominant narrative of many of my mother’s generation was that they would some point return to the Caribbean but many would return. I knew one of my mother’s friends who go back to St. Lucia, and said, “I should never wanna come back to London”, but, you know, six months later she would be back in London, she went back and forth, so that return became a narrative thread.
I wanted to really explore the experiences of not feeling that one belongs to the city, but yet one wants to be there. I tried to basically just speculate what it would be like for my mother’s generation to leave London, go back to the Caribbean, and yet come back. What is that kind of existential experience like, which is what hopefully, I think I structured “Twilight City’s” voiceover narration around.
I love London at night. I like that kind of nocturnal space, and all the night sequences, evidently we were just driving around different parts of the city just shooting footage, you know, and just trying to get that ambience to the city at night, and then link that to the voice of a narrator in her own experiences. It is a very subjective voiceover narrative, right? And although it appears to be fictional is also grounded in the materiality of the moment of real historical fact, the historical moment itself.
The problem, I think, in some voiceover narration is that it can be very didactic, and I was trying to avoid that, and I think in our work, we try to avoid this kind of didactic kind of instructional type of voiceover narratives. We try to go for more of a poetic, more self-reflexive, more subjective, a more kind of existential perception, and account of the environment, right? Because then that resonates, and that has quite often a greater universal appeal. I think people can connect with it on a poetic level. It seems to resonate much, much better that way. The impulse was to have a voiceover narration that would be subjective, yet existential, one that is also very perceptive in terms of what’s going on in the city without being didactic, right? Where there is historical information, we try to interweave that data within the fictional narrative, voiceover narration, so it becomes something else.
About Unreal City
The program, presented in partnership with artists moving-image organization LUX, was guest curated by Northwestern graduate students Madison Ivory Alan-Lee, Gervais Marsh, and Tyler Talbott. The three scholars, working together as part of a unique partnership for the Center for Civic Engagement’s Chicago Humanities Initiative, have curated a year long film series, featuring the work of black British artists. The series aims to bring together artists, scholars, and activists to discuss both the socio-political and cultural landscape of the UK, while also expanding towards a more global conversation.
Unreal City was co-presented by The Block Museum of Art with support from the Alice Kaplan Institute for the Humanities, Black Arts Initiative, Gender & Sexuality Studies Program, the Department of Radio/Television/Film, Screen Cultures Program, and the Department of Performance Studies at Northwestern University.
About the Speakers
Reece Auguiste is a documentary practitioner and scholar whose research focuses on national cinemas, transnational screen cultures and documentary media practices. Auguiste’s fields of interest are film theory and criticism, aesthetics of the moving image, documentary screen practices, the Soviet and post-Soviet avant-garde, Iranian screen cultures, Chinese screen cultures, African Diaspora screen practices and their operations in transnational contexts.
Auguiste was a founding member of the critically acclaimed British-based Black Audio Film Collective and is the director of the award-winning films Twilight City, Mysteries of July., and Duty of the Hour. His essays on screen aesthetics and documentary practices have appeared in Framework, Cineaction, Undercut, Journal of Media Practice, The British Avant-Garde Film 1926-1995, Questions of Third Cinema, Dark Eros, The Encyclopedia of Southern Culture: Media and The Ghosts of Songs: The Film Art of the Black Audio Film Collective.
Tiff Beatty is the Program Director of Arts, Culture & Public Policy at the National Public Housing Museum. Prior to joining our staff as program director, Tiff worked with the Chicago Humanities Festival as the director of programming. In 2019, she was named a Chicago United for Equity Fellow and received the Field Foundation’s 2019 Field Leader Award.
A native of the Pacific Northwest, Tiff is also a spoken word artist, emcee, educator, and the founder of Art Is Bonfire, which takes place on the last Sunday of the month (June-September) at Promontory Point Park in Chicago.