Sally Potter at MoMA

The Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York presents a retrospective of Sally’s film and video work, opening on July 7 with the US premiere of a digitally-remastered version of the Oscar-nominated ORLANDO, followed by an onstage conversation with Sally Potter and Tilda Swinton.

The MoMA exhibition also includes world premieres of a number of newly-restored early works, among them COMBINES, a dual screen film originally created in 1972 as part of a performance by the London Contemporary Dance Theatre, choreographed by Richard Alston.

See the full programme

Waiting for Godard

It rained in Cannes the day I left; the Croisette and the open-air cinema on the beach suddenly desolate and deserted.

I had queued for an hour the day before in hot sunshine to see the new Godard film “Film Socialisme”, only to be turned away. But then Godard didn’t turn up to his screening either, and I have rarely managed to see any films at these festivals unless I am on the jury.

The real purpose of Cannes for most people working in the film industry, in any case, is not to see films but to meet people. Relying on chance encounters as one hurries back and forth along the seafront is almost as good a way of organizing your schedule as any other. In this way we managed to connect with past collaborators and co-producers from many countries. This was not, however, a hard-sell mission. Though armed with two new screenplays, one more ‘finished’ than the other, my real purpose was to take an open-eyed, if fleeting, look at the industry which has formed a backdrop to my adult working life.

Cannes is a notoriously commercial, market-driven festival, though looking back nostalgically to the ghosts of New Wave cinema and all it signaled. Godard is still fighting his rearguard action, shamelessly intellectual and global in his concerns, uninterested in glamour and acclaim.

But the pursuit of glamour remains a preoccupation of many on the Croisette. There are still, after all these years, young women trading on their looks, balanced on precarious and ever higher crippling heels; there are still insecure older women looking like casualties from a burns unit – the quiet horrors of cosmetic surgery – there are still confident men with long lenses searching for the new face. Critical opinion is still formed by a handful of individuals writing reviews for Variety and Screen International, which everyone devours at breakfast each day; the die is cast.

Some say sales are picking up, some say film financing will never be the same again. Piracy, digital distribution, the recession itself; all have changed the economics of filmmaking drastically, and no-one seems to really know where it’s going. At moments like these it feels like an advantage to be something of an outsider, able to take risks and embrace the new in ways that more heavyweight companies or corporations with huge overheads cannot.

With the next film, however, I intend a different strategy altogether. Even being an ‘outsider’ can become a habit.

(Welcome) Back to the Future

Work on SP-ARK, the Sally Potter online archive, is now underway, with material and virtual archives starting to happen simultaneously, in collaboration with Goldsmiths, University of London.

Treasures uncovered so far include a hundred photographs of the Mosfilm studios, taken just before the Yeltsin putsch; a handwritten contract – in Russian, on a napkin – to shoot sections of Orlando in Khiva, Uzbekistan; and the original presentation book hand-made by Sally Potter, in 1988, to show potential financiers with colour prints of Tilda Swinton in various historical costumes at Knole House.

On the virtual side, Professor Michael Casey and database expert Adrian Evans will be advising us on the digital management of these “assets,” as they are known in the trade. Professor Michael Casey is course director for the Creative Computing B.Sc. at Goldsmiths and director of the Media Futures Laboratory in Goldsmiths Digital Studios. Also based at Goldsmiths, Adrian Evans is a former BBC archivist who has co-developed a unique asset management system, called the ‘Media Matrix’, that allows filmmakers to organise and access all their pre-production material digitally, using a heavyweight Oracle database.

What you’ll see when the website goes live, however, will be the work of Martins Skujins a London-based web designer who has worked for many media organisations. He’ll be creating the user specs that will make SP-ARK a unique interactive experience.

SP-ARK is now set to be live online by autumn 2008. Before that, we will be trialling the pilot in a number of undergraduate and graduate level courses within the Media and Communications department at Goldsmiths, starting with a demo on 26th November 2007 for students and faculty members including Chris Berry, Julian Henriques, Rachel Moore, Janet Harbord, and Judy Holland.

If you would like to be part of the research and development process, hosting a workshop where students can enjoy exclusive access to SP-ARK and the opportunity to give essential feedback, then please get in touch with the Education Co-ordinator, Sophie Mayer. We can also collaborate with you on designing lectures and assignments based around Sally Potter’s work and SP-ARK.

Look out for a piece on SP-ARK by Sophie, in the dossier section of a forthcoming issue of Screen – thanks to Jackie Stacey, Annette Kuhn and John Caughie for their interest in the project! Screen published the first academic article to discuss Sally Potter’s work, back in 1979, about Thriller: So it feels very apposite that they have invited us to contribute a piece about SP-ARK.

Open Knowledge Conference

Andrea Rota from Liquid Culture kindly invited Alex Johnson (New Media Director), Christopher Sheppard (Executive Director) and George South (Consultant) to present SP-ARK at the Open Space session, part of Open Knowledge 1.0 at Limehouse town hall this Saturday.

This event was the first in a series to be put on by the Open Knowledge Foundation, a group set up to ensure that the “increased and more equitable access to knowledge…as well as its collaborative development” offered by the technological revolution is actualized.


Open media panel

Though a day of discussions on the semantic web essentially all pertained to issues of online archiving, most immediately pertinent to SP-ARK were the insights given by Paula Ledieu during the Open Media session regarding her experience in what she frankly termed the “fuck up” that was BBC’s Creative Archive project (now, two years after its launch, in the process of a PVT). Previously Project Director of the BBC Creative Archives project, now Managing Director and Director of Open Media at Magic Lantern Productions and at OK1.0 to present on OMNI, she stressed her concern that the public had “failed to exploit the institutional momentum that presented itself a few years ago regarding public access to public assets…To enshrine archives to look at and not participate in is not acceptable”.


Open media panel (L-R: Paula Ledieu, Susana Noguero and Olivier Schulbaum from Platoniq, Zoe Young, coordinator of Transmission’s metadata working group)

Whilst Potter’s work is not a public domain collection, we fully support Paula’s reasoning that it is critical that it is communicated to the BBC (as well as the BFIand those in other public sectors that hold collections) that we know they have been holding these collections in trust for the public until they can provide – as a clause in the BBC’s Charter describes – “meaningful access”. We now have the technology before us to do just this – to make our UK cultural heritage accessible to all in a participatory form. Taking this landscape into consideration SP-ARK is a clearly a timely project.

In her capacity as ex-Director for Creative Commons International, Paula also requested that the community refocus on outcomes rather than philosophy when it comes to the use and re-use of data and to question the underpinnings of a system that conflates legal and business models. SP-ARK were keen to discuss with other participants how aspects of our application might be made more open and developed within this culture of openness and free information, given the certain restrictions imposed on the project by Adventure Picture’s necessity to ‘protect’ certain uses of Sally Potter’s assets (a working, live archive still used by the original creator herself). During the Q&A George South and I discussed how the main impetus of SP-ARK was as an open learning tool, rather than the importance being placed on the redistribution of assets for secondary creative use, and that all user content would be made available through CC -or equivalent- licenses.


L-R: Christopher, Alex and George

Saul Albert from The People Speak encouraged us to look at incorporating tools that are already actively being used by the open media community and Dr Lars Christof Armbruster invited discussion on the concept of an application (SP-ARK) being simultaneously academic and user run, citing the 911 archive at the Center for History and New Media at George Mason University as an academic resource that includes new media aspects and UGC and has just been acquired by the Library of Congress. Paula Ledieu and Jessica Clark from the Center forSocial Media at the American University, Washington expressed their interest and a wish to hear more on SP-ARK.

Thanks to Rufus Pollock and the OKFN team for letting us get involved and congratualtions on a great event.

Visit Liquid Culture

Goldsmiths Workshop Video

“The SP-ARK vision of Social Learning gives us a glimmer of the future today. Instead of locking archive materials away and restricting availability, it promises ready access to anybody anywhere with a computer and the internet.

Furthermore, the solitary archive user is transformed into a producer and a member of a community by the ability to build pathways of connections and commentary through the material. In the process, the cinema is extended from a fixed object to be viewed into a dynamic, interactive, and growing network of digital debate and active learning.”

Dr. Chris Berry, Professor of Film and Television Studies, Goldsmiths College, London.

Goldsmiths College Workshop

Goldsmiths College Workshop

Yesterday the SP-ARK team ran a usability workshop in conjunction with The Screen School at Goldsmiths College, University of London (Visit). Using 6 different versions of the first page of Sally Potter’s ‘Orlando’ script from various stages of her adaptation process, we trialed an offline, paper version of our pathway concept.

Students who attended came from departments as diverse as Film, Media, Modern Literature, TV/Print Journalism, Sociology, Image and Communications, Computer Arts, Performance Making, Cultural Studies, Screen Studies, Screen Documentaries and Scriptwriting.

We will post a video of the workshop shortly.

The students were polled on various aspects of the workshop. When asked about SP-ARK 95% agreed that archival materials should be made accessible online, 80% said they thought it was important to interact with other users online and 95% said that social networking technologies are useful for education.

When asked about the workshop 80% said that they learnt about the creative process from the material presented and 75% said they learnt from interacting with other students’ ideas.

Photos by James Karinejad

View all Goldsmiths workshop photos on Flickr

Dr. Chris Berry, Professor of Film and Television Studies commented:

“How will the physical archive transform in the digital era? What is the next stage after the DVD in the proliferation of cinema? The SP-ARK vision of Social Learning gives us a glimmer of the future today. Instead of locking archive materials away and restricting availability, it promises ready access to anybody anywhere with a computer and the internet.

Furthermore, the solitary archive user is transformed into a producer and a member of a community by the ability to build pathways of connections and commentary through the material. In the process, the cinema is extended from a fixed object to be viewed into a dynamic, interactive, and growing network of digital debate and active learning.”