PoetryFilm Becomes a celebrated Art Form



The audience watches poetry film during the PoetryFilm Paradox event at the BFI. Source: poetryfilm.org

Our ancestors awarded us with a glimpse into their modes of communication by leaving us etchings and drawings on cave walls. These remnants were left many centuries ago, and with each century came new modes of communication. Naïve drawings evolved into written and spoken language. Some of the world’s oldest languages like Sumerian and Egyptian hieroglyphics give us insight into the lives of our earliest ancestors. In many ways language can be the strongest mode of communication, it can readily be ever so precise and clear, providing nuances that define meaning. As time evolved we also found that there can be immense beauty and clarity in elaborate tongue. Hence poetry was born, perhaps even before the written word. Many scholars believe poetry predates literacy and the earliest poetry was memorised and recited or sung. These poems were always a reflection of the human condition, discussing matters such as routine, religion or romance.


For some visual art is considered the strongest mode of communication, despite how abstract it may at times be. As technology evolved the motion picture became another important mode of visual communication. This visual art form merged sound, language and visuals, making it a powerful and immersive medium. What would a marriage of poetry and film conceive?


In 2002 a cultural movement began in London where poetic depth and beauty was transposed onto the screen, this movement began with the creation of PoetryFilm. Celebrating the experimental composition of text, image and sound, PoetryFilm curates screenings in cinemas, galleries, literary festivals and with academic constitutions like Tate Britain and the Southbank Centre to highlight performance artworks that modernize and digitize a classical literary form. These performance artworks spurred from the personal practice of Zata Banks, PoetryFilm’s founder.


What at first was at first an idea and practice quickly grew to become an art project that invited submissions and encouraged participation from other creatives working in the same field. About 15 years later a hushed practice has become a celebrated mode of art. The PoetryFilm Archive boasts over 1000 films that stroke perception and induce deep emotional experiences. Forming collaborations with relevant respected institutions like Cannes Film Festival, The ICA and Freud Museum London, PoetryFilm has developed the credibility to match its vast collection of exceptional works.


We pick at the adept mind of PoetryFilm’s founder, Banks to explore the representation of meaning in art and communication, the intricate pieces that come together during production and the future of the poetry film medium more generally.


<iframe src=”https://player.vimeo.com/video/152076649″ width=”500″ height=”375″ frameborder=”0″ webkitallowfullscreen mozallowfullscreen allowfullscreen></iframe>
<p><a href=”https://vimeo.com/152076649″>Palindrome</a> from <a href=”https://vimeo.com/user33258520″>PoetryFilm</a> on <a href=”https://vimeo.com”>Vimeo</a>.</p>


What spurred the creation of PoetryFilm back in 2002 and how has the organisation evolved since then?

PoetryFilm was founded through my personal practice: I was writing and making poetry films and, at that time, there wasn’t a regular screening platform for this artform, so I began producing events to showcase poetry films. I opened up submissions, encouraging others to send in their work. The aim of the project was to celebrate creativity and to help create a cultural movement. Today the genre has gained a lot more recognition, but 15 years ago the cultural landscape was very different – there was considerable hostility to the notion of poetry film in some quarters and, from my point of view, at least, it took a full 15 years’ hard work to achieve the situation today.


What has been one of your most memorable moments working with PoetryFilm?

In terms of institutional kudos, presenting three programmes at Tate Britain and two at CCCB Barcelona are highlights, as they are both hugely prestigious venues, and I’ve really enjoyed working with Film London and the BFI. Being invited to travel overseas has been a real pleasure – the Edgewater Poetry & Athletics Club in Miami was quite an experience! There was also the legendary intervention by venue security at Curzon Soho in 2009 to escort two over-enthusiastic Russian performance artists through the Fire Exit.


PoetryFilm has produced over 80 events, inspired creatives and provoked thought over the past years, what else would you like to achieve? What is the future of PoetryFilm?

PoetryFilm will soon produce its 100th event! To mark this occasion, the PoetryFilm 100 festival will showcase exactly 100 works. The Archive continues to grow with exceptional material continually being added – it now contains over 1,000 artworks and is a valuable cultural resource. As for the future of PoetryFilm, there are some very exciting new projects in the pipeline, though for the time being, unfortunately I need to keep them under wraps!


What do you think is the future of poetry and film in a more general sense?

Different modes of communication are constantly converging and evolving. New generations use new technologies, but we are essentially still drawing on the cave wall, trying to leave residues and find meanings. The future comes from unexpected combinations.


In an interview you explained how the PoetryFilm project explores semiotics and meaning-making approaches of the art form. What are your thoughts on the concept of art not needing meaning to be great?

It’s not possible for something to not have a meaning. Meanings are being made all the time – whether they are intentional or not. The meanings may be latent, or they may be unsophisticated, but they are still meanings.


What advice would you give to someone interested in creating a poetry film work?

Think about every element, about how combinations of elements affect each other, and about the artwork as a whole… and enjoy the process! Sometimes spontaneity or simplicity can produce interesting work.


Can you tell us a bit about your current residency in Iceland?

I’m living on the north coast of Iceland, near the Arctic Circle, for three months. The temperature has dipped to –15 C, the Northern Lights appear most nights, and the snowstorms produce beautiful snowdrifts in the mornings. As I’m in Iceland for a while, I’ll be presenting a PoetryFilm programme at MENGI Creative + Music + Art venue in Reykjavik on 10 March 2016, so do drop if if you happen to be passing.


Who are some of your favourite poets/filmmakers and how have they influenced your personally or in your work?

A poet I admire is Wislawa Szymborska and a filmmaker I admire is Krzystof Kieslowski. Both explore the human condition in their work – its grace, mystery and timelessness. My own work explores language and its abilities/failures to communicate. As humans, we have an innate need to connect with each other. We use language as a tool to connect, though sometimes communication is simpler than language; older than words. I also explore what is referred to as Oulipo (Ouvroir de littérature potentielle) techniques, which involve mathematics, or inventing and then observing certain constraints in the work. The idea that constraints are liberating is attractive.


In London? or Iceland? See Zata’s travel tips.