The Derek Jarman Lab has a unique stance on audio-visual research. We are embedded in the university but also active as a production unit. We are engaged in creative practice both with our own research topics and with those of our students and collaborators.
Film is increasingly recognised by the academy as an invaluable tool of public engagement, and at the Derek Jarman Lab we are concerned to make this engagement real and meaningful. In 2018 we won Birkbeck’s Public Engagement Collaboration Award for our partnership with the Wellcome-funded Hidden Persuaders project run by Professor Daniel Pick. Our work on this project included compiling an archive of TV advertisements from the 1950s to the 1970s, training local Year 12 students to make films about their understandings of contemporary brainwashing and social influencing, and producing our own film about a key text for the project, Vance Packard’s Hidden Persuaders (1957). Watch the short form of this film Nothing Exists Until You Sell It (Bartek Dziadosz, 2019).
Work like this provokes continuous reflection on how to convey and interrogate ideas through film, and a consideration of format and audience is crucial here. In 2019 we undertook our first BBC commissions for the Ideas strand, presenting research and analysis in films of just a few minutes (Bea Moyes on the ‘Hemline Index’ and Edmund Bolger on the evolution of pregnancy tests). Our feature-length documentary on John Berger, The Seasons in Quincy (2016), took some of Berger’s ideas — on politics, life, art and animals – and presented them in an essayistic form which has gained viewers around the world from the United States to Kosovo to China.
The work that Lab members have produced in the last few years shows the variety and scope of our use of the medium. Lily Ford’s gallery films A Humbrol Art: The Paintings of George Shaw (2018) and Fallen Women (2016) both depart from the medium of painting to consider the narratives we create, or have created for us, around our life stories. Dr Will Viney and Edmund Bolger’s Leverhulme-funded Twins on Twins (2017) also deals with projected narratives, this time turning the tables on society’s tendency to stereotype identical twins by allowing them their own say on their identities. It was this instinct to document an alternative perspective on a research question that led Birbeck’s Professor Luciana Martins to approach us about taking a camera to the Amazon, while investigating a nineteenth-century botanist. The film she made with Bea Moyes, The Many Lives of a Shield (2016), can be seen here. At the moment we are also working with Professor Fiona Candlin to produce a film about plastics and the notion of closure as part of her AHRC-funded Mapping Museums project. Watch a trailer of The Plastic Phoenix (Bartek Dziadosz, 2019).
As part of its remit of film as research, the Derek Jarman Lab hosts discussions of important themes in contemporary practice. In 2019 we partnered with BAFFTS, Society for Animation Studies, Dr Paul Ward and Dr Romana Turina for a conference on animation and essay film. In 2017 we organised a programme of events around fair dealing and its provisions for filmmakers and academics which offered both practical and theoretical approaches to the vexed issues of copyright and creative reuse. In 2016, in partnership with AICA-UK and the Birkbeck Institute for the Moving Image we gathered some 70 readers, scholars and collaborators of John Berger to celebrate and discuss his work on page and screen (Faces of John Berger programme). We also run a filmmaker’s research group, Meshes, which meets annually, and we have provided facilities and creative consultancy to artists and filmmakers such as the directors of An Insignificant Man (2016).