Two teenage boys journey alone across the stunning Eastern Sierra of California in the 33-minute short film No Go Backs. The setting is important. It’s the route of the ‘water wars’ where Los Angeles siphons off snow melt via the Owens River. However, this is not explicitly mentioned in the film, in fact there is no dialogue.
Artist and director Stanya Kahn dramatically slows down the apocalyptic pace of her previous film – the beautifully frenzied Stand in the Stream (2017) – and instead forms a liminal space for her young protagonists to wander through. The film is nudging us towards the minds of those inheriting a world of ecological and political disaster. Yet their resilience is a form of optimism, and their gentle on-screen relationship a form of care and compassion in a wilderness that might not be so wild after all.
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Across this and other films, this year’s Experimenta programme at LFF presents a range of positions from young people on the future, which form a defiant proposition: when others have gone, they will remain.
These films have also been co-created with young people. In No Go Backs the 2 leads (Kahn’s son Lenny Dodge-Kahn and his best friend Elijah Parks) contribute to, and improvise for, the narrative and soundtrack. Kahn’s work often connects the personal and the political using small gestures, soundtracks and humour, rather than grand narratives. The landscape appears to empower rather than defeat them; perhaps they will learn to collaborate with the planet, or as Kahn says, “the kids will reconfigure the house we’ve left them”.
Sound for the Future is Matt Hulse’s ode to youthful creativity, dissecting his childhood post-punk band, The Hippies, and the tensions between his older brother, younger sister and momager Ruth against the landscape of Thatcher’s Britain. While this alone makes the feature film unmissable, Hulse’s art practice leads him to reform the group with a youth theatre workshop in Glasgow, leading to 5 more versions of The Hippies and Generation Riot, a band formed by 3 of them who couldn’t make the original date.
There’s a punk spirit of defiance seeping through both the film and the bands, however outright rebellion, or even competitiveness, is tempered by the gentle and thoughtful dispositions of the aspiring actors.
A collaboration between artist Mikhail Karikis and students from Birmingham City University, Ferocious Love explores how ecological catastrophe could lead to a new era of care, where emotional responses may be as important as practical ones. Against a soundscape by The Liverpool Socialist Singers, the group live in an under/overground wilderness, where they debate why they are together. Their futuristic attire signals that they have leapt to 2050 to imagine the next generation’s turbulent inheritance. As in all of these films, there’s an embrace of creative methodologies to deploy hope. Looking to the future is often an important way to distil and articulate exactly what we most want right now.
Stan Greengrass’ and Maddy James’s documentary Down There the Seafolk Live explores the effect of HRT on trans performers and perceptions of their singing voices. The title is a reference to The Little Mermaid, a fairytale of heteronormative sacrifice, yet the film resists easy comparison. Instead, it’s an attempt to articulate the complexity and experiences within their peer collective of trans masculine and non-binary singers. Part-demand, part-challenge, part-plea, and by no means a plot-spoiler, Stan closes the film with the words, “we need to know it’s going to be okay”.
In such a year as 2020, these films contribute to our conversations around care, collaboration and creativity. What if the big questions and decisions of our moment, from identity to ecology, always involve those it affects the most? These films show a world where, if the youth really have gone wild, we could do much worse than to follow them into the wilderness.
Originally published: 29 September 2020