Jonas Mekas and the Anthology Film Archives
July 30, 2012
10 films we love! A Response to Sight and Sound’s Top 50 Films
August 3, 2012
By Bradley Tuck
In 2011, One+One launched a film challenge calling for films around the topic of Revolution in Progress (see Issue six, a write up is also included in Issue eight). Below is an interview with the filmmaker.
Bradley: How did you find the challenge itself? Was there any rules or aspects that you found especially challenging?
Kai Fiáin: No not at all. The rules that existed were completely bendable anyway, and ideas of what is a revolution is and what utopia means is completely subjective therefore the film could have been about anything. Revolution for some could be falling in love, for others a moment of inspiration. For others political change. For me a moment of revolution was experiencing the effects of practising meditation for a prolonged period with a group of people and coming close to something like telepathy. At the time of the film challenge I just happened to be following the occupation movement so when it happened at the London stock exchange I thought I would use that situation to do something for the film challenge. I also wanted to take part as it felt at the time, that something was really happening.
Bradley: What may have appeared, in first impressions, as a film about the London occupy is actually very multi-layered. We hear the narrator appearing to deny the possibility of revolution and evolution (i.e. progress) and yet we also hear a lot of voices that conflict with this. We see images of stags rutting juxtaposed with revolution. There appears to be subtle, ambiguous and poetic undertones in this film. On the other hand the film isn’t simply affirmative, there is an element of dissonance? What made you choose to make the film like this?
Kai: Usually I am very ordered and organized in my work process. I usually write a film and story board it to the last detail before I get out the camera. This was a completely different process. I turned up at the occupation with a camera, a load of Rumi poetry and no tent, lol. I had no idea really what I was going to do other than hand out Rumi poetry and film people’s response to it. What was interesting was that I expected to enter a political space with people discussing political theories where in fact people what talking about the ‘awakening of consciousness’ and ‘gaining awareness’. I found it interesting that the occupation although perceived as a political movement had much more a feeling of a spiritual search for a different way off being. Rumi poetry was right at home there. Due to the external influence of our law enforcement officers, the occupation never ended up at the stock exchange but instead on the steps of St Paul’s.
Historically this location was a sacred worshipping site of the Roman Goddess Diana. Diana was a goddess of the hunt and of wild animals. Like her Greek counterpart, Artemis she was also a fertility deity and was invoked by women to aid conception and delivery. Diana also absorbed Artemis’ identification with both Selene (Luna) and Hecate, a chthonic (infernal) deity . I thought this was an interesting coincidence that we had been forced to gather on this ancient site of the moon goddess, Gurdjieff talks a lot about the influence of the moon on humanity. I’ve long been interested in the geographical effects on a place on human behaviour. There are some places on the planet that have hardly known peace for instance in a lot of Irish mythology the wars and violence are always taking place in the north? Those mythologies probably date back to Bronze age England. So I decided to add the imagery of the rutting stags, the stag is symbolic of Diana and is is one of her sacred animals, I wanted to imply maybe there were other forces that have bought us to that place. Is also happened to be rutting season in Richmond park so I went to film it on my way home from the occupation. Given half a chance I will always turn to mythology as a way of visualizing the human experience. Myths are symbolic stories of our inner selves. In the same way we are every character in our dreams we are also every character in a myth. We are the ugly sisters and Cinderella. We are each of the three brothers that have to individually make that journey the first time with the mighty ego of the eldest son the second time in the manner of the second son and finally we only succeed when we enter into the challenge with the innocence of the youngest son and accept with gratitude the unlikely help that is available. Mythology is a useful tool to understand and illustrate human behaviour, it also reminds us that these questions of revolution, utopia, change and progress are not new, they have always been with us.
Bradley: The film seems to explore the tension between the inner and the outer, the spiritual and the political? Why were these apparent tensions interesting for you? Could you also tell me a little bit about them?
Kai: In truth it’s my constant inner conflict. My whole life since I was very young I have questioned how humans are capable of such love and beauty at the same time as being capable of the most hideous stupidity and cruelty. It’s the paradox of being human; we have the possibility of everything, yet are unable to do anything. I have for close to 20 years now been interested in the teachings of G. I. Gurdjieff. He states categorically that ‘man’ cannot do anything, everything that happens to him/her happens because of external forces. Man cannot do anything because man has no permanent “I”. We are in a state of constant change usually from reacting to external situations and there for do not posses the ability to bring about change / peace /Love / harmony and all those desirable things. I have grown to understand and see that there is truth in that teaching. However, at the same time, I do not wish and do not believe we should be apathetic. I have no desire to enclose myself in a monastery, to retire from life in order to work on my higher self, and it does not feel right not to care about the injustice that happens in our society and the wider world. It still feels necessary to take part in activism and political discourse and to aim for higher ideas of equality, fairness, human rights and environmental respect etc. it just means that when I do take part I do so with a sense that we are all pawns anyway and none of it is really in our hands.
Bradley: In the film you use quotations from Rumi, Alan Moore and P D Ospensky? What made these writers especially interesting for you and what made you want to read them alongside occupy?
Kai: Well I’ve been reading the Ospensky for 20 years now. He was a pupil to Gurdjieff and so the ideas in the film are actually Gurdjieff teachings. Ospensky just wrote them down in a clear way. Alan Moore is without doubt my favourite writer of our time and generation. He manages to combine political issues such as racism, feminism, environmental issues with history and mythology, the man is living myth as far as I’m concerned. I was inspired particularly by the The 2nd book in the ‘from hell’ graphic novel in which the murderer (physician to the Royal family directs a cabby on a history, symbol and myth tour around London the murderer points out to the cabby that early life hinged on the childbirth mystery with the result that all the first gods were female, until patriarchy claimed its current stranglehold. The murderer brings the churches of Nicholas Hawksmoor to the centre of the tour and states that the churches and obelisks all phallic symbols are positioned in a pentangle creating a restraining chain around St Paul’s which stands on the ancient sight of womanhood. The murderer explains that the great work that they are about to do (murder women who happen to be sex workers,) is to maintain such traditions in order that suffragettes and labourers who talk of socialism and riot in Trafalgar Square do not assail the true Apollonian nature of the British empire’s rise to power. These writings along with David Icke directly influenced the Zeitgeist films and subsequent movement which seemed to have an influence on the occupy movement. Alan Moore also had another influence on the occupy movement in that his anarchist comic hero V who donned the guy Fawkes mask in V for vendetta also became the face of occupy and anonymous.
Bradley: One of the most interesting moments, for me, was the philosophical reflection on the I/eye. An exploration of change, inner and outer, etc. How do you these issue effect us politically today?
Kai: Again this is a direct influence from the teachings of Gurdjieff, which over the years of search and experimentation on myself I have found to have truth and resonance in me. He states that ‘man’ is made up of many I’s. By that he means that we see ourselves as one person in charge of making decisions about our lives but in fact we are many people. The person in us who decides to give up smoking is not the same person later the same day that lights a cigarette out of habit. There could be many many examples like this. The person who takes out a loan, is not the same person who then lies awake worrying how to pay it back. Often one I makes another pay for the decision that, that I, makes. Gurdjieff says that modern mankind has no permanent inner master, but instead we have many many small i’s jostling for there turn to sit on the throne for however long they can until external situation causes another small i to overthrow that I and take its place on the throne. This is al very well except that we believe each time that the person that is sitting on the throne is who we actually are and we believe we will always be that person. Then something else happens we stub our toe and this causes us to loose our temper and before we have even realized it another I is sitting on the throne calling herself king and in that moment that is who we believe ourselves to be. All this resonates very much when we think of traditional stories and mythology and how we are each character in the story.
If you really see and understand this fact that mankind does not make decisions but is governed by everything external, be it on a large or small scale, you begin to see that we cannot bring about change, however maybe we can choose under which influence we stand? And allow the effects of that influence to work in us? But even then maybe we don’t choose as the environment that we find ourselves to be is often purely an accident of our birth. When I made this film I really wanted to just raise questions I did not want to supply any answers. A question is something that is more alive. When we think we have found the answer then we immediately shut down and the friction that is created by a question which is useful and keeps us alive dies and we fall back to sleep again, this is so dangerous and causes religious nuts to kill each other in the name of their god. In terms of how this effects us politically is interesting but for me I see this inner state of humanity directly mirrored in our political system which when you look at it is laughable. Here we have two clowns one red one blue. People put massive importance on the colour of the clowns not seeing that these are just the costumes that the clowns wear and that in fact there is no difference between the red and blue clown. Each clown will take turn sitting on the throne each one promises to bring change, make life better each one believes that they can change something. However change never happens, because the clowns can’t change anything they have no power. They are just like you and me, they also have no permanent inner I. They are merely placed on the throne by external favourable influences and not by any great effort on their part. We all participate in this charade believing we are making decisions not realizing how much those decisions have been influenced again from the external influences we find ourselves in.
The media in the pocket of the multinational corporations and the financial businesses work to place the clown on the throne that is most favourable for their business. Here we enter conspiracy theory. I don’t really by into that. Those people who are heading up those multi nationals and making such profit out of our financial misery are just like you and me. They are also a product of their environment and the external influences that effect their decision making. People buy into conspiracy theories because they want to believe some one somewhere is in control even If they are evil. To have an evil king/queen is more comfortable than the idea that no one is in control, that everything that happens is governed from the outside be it big or small. This is terrifying for most of us because we all want to believe we are in control of our lives, that we can decide what is right what is wrong what is the correct way to behave. Etc.. The idea that no one is in control anywhere is more terrifying than having a figure of hate that needs to be overthrown. The situation in the world reflects the inner state of modern humanity.
Bradley: Can you tell me a bit about the techniques and methods you used? How was this effected by the challenge rules?
Kai: Grin, I used the rules to give me ideas then broke them, surely that is the only point of rules. In terms of techniques I took Rumi poetry into what I thought was going to be a political environment to see how it would sit. I thought there would be a juxtaposition of the inner and the outer, however I found myself in an environment where most people where incredibly open to philosophical/spiritual thought. I wanted to capture people’s thinking on the spiritual teachings of Rumi through his poetry and hoped that it would resonate with the external participation in the occupy movement. I did this by getting people to read Rumi on camera and then discuss what it meant to them in that situation. I then read teachings from Gurdjieff to juxtapose some of the ideas, I did not want to deny the importance of the people’s involvement in the occupation my intention was to create questions. I used the imagery of an eye as these are doorways to our souls to illustrate the inner state and juxtaposed this with imagines of political upheaval and protest. The shots taken of the occupation outside St Paul’s had Diana’s sacred animals locking antlers superimposed over them, again to reference history, mythology and humanities inner state.
Bradley: Now time has past, what do you think the future of the occupy movement or revolution in general is?
Kai: The occupy movement is still going and it is something that I personally want to continue to participate in. I think now we have to think differently in terms of how we protest. One thing that I really took away from being at the occupation was a sense of love and hope. I was inspired by the inclusiveness of the people, I was inspired by the determination that no group of people are in charge but that we are all participants and that we have an equal place in this movement. I can quite categorically say that I have had very little experience if living as a participating member of a community in my life. Our society does not encourage community living, we are a very individualistic society, it is all about me and my fight to survive, and having raised two children starting as a teenage single mother from a working class background that effort for survival has been all consuming. capitalism places us in competition with each other, and most people scoff at the idea of wealth sharing and the need for equal opportunities. I would like to see the occupy movement begin to reclaim land, to re occupy the land that was stolen from our ancestors through land clearances and invasions. The financial crises has exposed the monetary system for what it it is. Based on nothing real but with much very real suffering as people are loosing there homes to the financial corporations. In a sense the redistribution of wealth needs to be based on real wealth by that I mean land. Land is the only thing that can feed and water you and provide you with shelter. I would like to see a mass occupation of land. We could start with the 60 million acres of UK land owned by her majesty the queen. This would be fitting jubilee celebration I think. It may also inspire others across the world to reclaim and re occupy the 2,467 million acres that she owns in Canada, the 1,900 million she owns in Australia, the 114 million she owns in Papua new guinea, this land ownership makes our deceptively meek and mild queen the richest person on earth. Owning, one sixth of the Earth’s non ocean surfaces.
I would like to see the occupations reclaiming the land held by the aristocracy and class system communities growing that start with the ethos of equality, and respect for difference. Very simple ideals but ones that generations have yet to achieve.
However to bring about these changes and allow revolution to take place we have to not just change the system from the outside we need to change the system that our within us. Look to the traditional stories of our ancestors and take help with gratitude from unlikely places, just like the archetypal youngest son/ daughter.