The BFI’s #BritainOnLockdown project is a major campaign highlighting the massive role played by online video in the UK’s national experience of the COVID-19 pandemic. Over the last 10 to 15 years, webfilm has grown in scale and significance to become at least as big, rich and important a moving image form – socially, culturally and artistically – as cinema and television. Its central place in people’s lives has been confirmed, and taken even further, by the way it has informed and educated, entertained, amused, outraged and moved us during this crisis.
#BritainOnLockdown has invited the public to make their own recommendations of the best, most interesting or most representative videos. In our next article, we’ll showcase some of the films you’ve suggested. Meanwhile, here are some further picks from recent weeks by curators of the BFI National Archive.
Dr Hope’s Sick Notes #16
I am hooked on this occasional series of vlogs from Dr Ed Hope. Dr Hope is an excellent name, chiming nicely with the optimistic tone of these online films dealing with different aspects of daily working life for a junior doctor in an NHS A&E department during the COVID-19 crisis. It has a level of insider detail that we are generally not seeing much of elsewhere, interviews with experts in the field of respiratory disease and handy advice. Start with #16 in which the doctor explains 26 acronyms and obscure terms about COVID-19, including what COVID-19 means. Accurate information is how we will beat this, and I reckon Ed Hope’s mix of medical experience and social media savvy is just what the doctor ordered.
Gareth Evans introduces LRB Screen at Home
Best known as a literary magazine, the London Review of Books also manages a book shop under its own name in central London, where writers and thinkers frequently present talks and discuss their work in conversation. One particular night presents films that encapsulate something of the spirit of the magazine and the bookshop, and the connection between the moving image and the written word.
In our time of isolation and quarantine, this initiative is alive and well in virtual form. The LRB has been presenting weekly online Q&As with pioneering voices in contemporary artist film, with their relevant film previewed with an open, riffing introduction by the organiser of LRB Screen – and a strident advocate of all things personal, poetic and community-centred – Gareth Evans.
This is not just another online video platform. This particular video directly, powerfully, but also modestly and in a spirit of generous speculation, situates the world in which we now find ourselves as we engage with each other, out of time and through various different online portals. As the curator here puts it in a subsequent introduction: “It is a guided tour through the landfill of contemporary visual culture”. It points outward to the world, the LRB magazine and offices, the films that will be screened and also the forthcoming conversations.
But the as-yet-unmentioned co-presenter – the alert but calm mixed-breed dog, Ella – always brings us back in again, offering a very grounding presence, continually returning us to the room. Forthcoming guests, or videos to catch up on later, include Andrea Luka Zimmerman, Andrew Kötting and Ben Rivers, all beaming in from elsewhere as we collectively explore their work and the current situation.
Coronavirus: How to Survive Relationships
In this Financial Times video, psychotherapist Philippa Perry offers a mixture of practical and psychological tips on maintaining relationships with children, partners and others during lockdown. She is characteristically articulate, entertaining and clear-sighted. “There’s no way of getting it right,” she says.
She poses rhetorical questions as she roams round her colourful house – and an additional pleasure is to be found in the tantalising glimpses of interior décor ranging from shades of lime green to vivid pink as well as an array of softer tones.
Perry’s friendly manner encompasses subtlety and grimaces, wit and wisdom. She covers challenging questions such as “How the hell am I going to maintain my relationship with my partner?” Answer: “Don’t sweat the small stuff” – let them have their wayward way with stacking the dishwasher. At the other end of the scale, she also points out that any cracks in relationships will be magnified. But she suggests that this may be a good thing, because then you will know what you need to deal with.
And how to deal with uncertainty? Acknowledge that this is a time for us all to accept that we never did know what the future holds.
You Clap for Me Now
The Thursday night clap in support of NHS and care workers has become a regular fixture during lockdown in the UK, and has been well documented by people filming the applause on streets up and down the country. For many it has become a signifier of community cohesion that feeds into a broader sense of national solidarity.
Three weeks into the tribute, however, creative director and producer Sachini Imbuldeniya countered with a simple video-poem suggesting that this sudden outpouring of appreciation was both ironic and hypocritical. You Clap for Me Now utilises a straightforward campaign-carousel format of talking heads reciting lines from a poem by Darren James Smith with an emotive musical overlay. He repurposes language and imagery commonly used to describe the virus in order to highlight the historical discrimination, xenophobia and racism faced by frontline workers of colour and immigrants to the UK.
Making a broader point about the undervalued contributions of these workers to the economy and British life, the video pushes beyond more regularly featured frontline roles and includes teachers, shopkeepers and delivery drivers. You Clap for Me Now invites viewers to think about how society might value its workers in a post-coronavirus world and took on extra resonance when – a day after its release on Instagram to 215m global views in 72 hours – an inquiry was announced into the disproportionate impact of COVID-19 on BAME communities.
Virgin Media: Stay Connected
For many people right now, being connected with others is what matters most of all and it wasn’t going to be long before internet providers responded to their paramount usefulness. While the face of the Virgin brand has been a hot topic in political debates, Virgin Media were quick to tune into the spirit of the nation and help to lift people up.
Here, using clips from a wealth of personal stories across social media, the Virgin Media brand celebrates with a pastiche of all the ingenious, resilient and resourceful ways we’re building connections with the people we love. Across the network people are finding ways to stay fit, find sporting glory, rock out together, eat dinner from (and support) their favourite restaurants, find love, celebrate and comfort one another. Aeroplanes might be down but internet usage is up!
Launched across commercial broadcast television and simultaneously across the web, Virgin Media were among the first brands to reflect and respond to #BritainOnLockdown.
Life in Lockdown: Brits Speak Out, from a Safe Distance
Reportage and capturing the vox populi are currently hindered by movement restrictions and physical distancing. Different approaches to capturing the national mood are necessary. John Harris and John Domokos’ excellent Anywhere but Westminster series for The Guardian continues to deliver the goods under lockdown through the use of video calls and submitted vlog entries from across the country.
Will Hazell’s Life in Lockdown mini-doc for Vice Media takes a different yet parallel approach, converting the impediments of confinement and separation into both the subject and structuring device of the film. Having contacted members of a London COVID-19 Facebook page, in order to sample the mood of people under lockdown, Hazell proceeded to drive to their streets and record them from the enclosure of his car.
Through two windscreens in a carpark rendezvous, a driver for a ride-hailing app is filmed at the wheel of his own vehicle as his precarious employment collapses. Others are recorded speaking at their windows or balconies using a telephoto lens for visuals, a telephone for sound. While these technologies of transmission over a distance use the manner of surveillance, they stake out an intimate space for the public voice to be heard.
The film concludes with performances of poetry by spoken word artist Desree, and music by the Mazaika duo of Igor Outkine and Sarah Harrison.