London Overground Q&A with Iain Sinclair at the East End Film Festival

After working on London Overground for almost exactly a year it was a special moment to see it fade up on the big screen at the Rio Cinema in the East End Film Festival on 2nd July. It was the first time I’d watched the film all the way through without changing it and tinkering in the edit.

I sat next to my 13-year old son in the 4th row and out of the 170+ people in the auditorium it was his reaction I was most attuned to. He fidgeted in the way you’d expect a teenager to but at the end he said, almost surprised, “I enjoyed that”.

Iain Sinclair & John Rogers

The Q&A with Iain Sinclair afterwards covered the basics of how the film evolved and then towards the end into the territory of discussing ‘the state of London’ and various responses to it. When I’m doing these events with Iain I always feel like I’ve got the best seat in the house to sit and listen to him talk – but with the added bonus that I get to contribute.

The film now takes on a life of its own – once screened it is liberated. There are more screenings planned for the autumn and winter as I start to turn my mind to future projects.

London Overground world premiere trailer

The world premiere of London Overground is on Sat 2nd July at the Rio Cinema, Dalston screening in the East End Film Festival. I’ve been working on the film for almost exactly a year now following on from the interview I shot with Iain Sinclair about the book. Shortly afterwards we shot the first section of the Overground walk with Andrew Kotting – strolling from Rotherhithe Station to the Thames shore then down to Surrey Quays through Andrew’s old memory grounds. We stopped in the same cafe they did in the book, La Cigale near Greenland Dock.

Iain Sinclair Andrew Kotting Overground film

From there we dropped by the Cafe Gallery in Southwark Park where Andrew deposited a found object from the Thames shore, and passed by the New Den to Queens Road Peckham. The walked ended with possibly one of the most extraordinary things I’ve ever filmed … but you’ll have to watch the film to find out.

The next shoot with Bill Parry-Davies of Open Dalston picking through the horrors of regeneration around Dalston Junction and getting to the heart of the Overground loop and it how it gave birth to a new model of property development in London underpinned by overseas investment.

Iain Sinclair Wapping John Rogers

In autumn and early winter Iain and I walked alone in two stages from Haggerston back to the Thames at Wapping. Here we traversed key landscapes in Iain’s life and writing – the East End, Truman Brewery, Anti-University, Hare Marsh, Whitechapel, St. Dunstan’s-in-the-East, Narrow Street, Wapping.

Iain Sinclair Andrew Kotting Overground film

I was back out on the road with Andrew and Iain early this year as they reprised the Overground walk in full but in reverse – starting in the evening and walk counter-clockwise through the night arriving back in Haggerston at 10am the next day. I only stayed the course as far as Hampstead Heath but strapped a GoPro to Andrew’s head to capture highlights of the rest of the circuit.

Iain Sinclair Chris Petit overground film

We headed to the northwest quarter with legendary Radio On director and noir novelist Chris Petit to explore Willesden Junction – which confirmed Iain’s idea that the Overground was a ghost railway.

The rest – oh, there’s loads more including great contributions from Marcia Farquhar and Cathi Unsworth, a brilliant soundtrack from the likes of Standard Planets, Bill and Adam Parry-Davies, Free Seed Music, and Rosen.

John Rogers Andrew Kotting Iain Sinclair

Hope to see you at the Rio on Saturday.

Film talk – making London Overground, 10 years on YouTube etc.

I don’t usually make videos like this – just talking to the camera, I much prefer to be out shooting on the hoof. But since I’m imprisoned in my box room finishing the London Overground film for the premiere in the East End Film Festival it seemed like the natural thing to do. I did try and record it by the river at Chelsea Harbour, but being battered by the wind muddled my brain.

I ended up reflecting (again) that I’ve been on YouTube for 10 years now – an eternity for a website just 11 years old. The first video I uploaded was an excerpt from a walk I’d done with Nick Papadimitriou in 2005 following the northwest Middlesex main drainage scheme – Deep Topography with Nick Papadimitriou. There is a direct link between that video and the London Overground film (as explained above) so it’s apt to be finishing the film this year.

 

Talking about London Overground film on Soho Radio

Went in to the wonderful Soho Radio on Wednesday morning to talk about my London Overground film with Ben Ramble and Holly Horne on their show Free Seed on Soho.

It was a suitably rambling chat (you can listen to the entire episode above) where I went on about YouTube for too long, but then it is integral to my development as a film-maker and also as a writer. I’d also recently realised that I’ve been on YouTube for 10 years now which is a bit of a landmark when you consider that the platform is just over 10 years old itself. We touched on the work-in-progress screening at Close-Up the week before where we screened 20 minutes of footage and discussed the film and book with Iain Sinclair.

Iain Sinclair John Rogers

The morning after the Close-Up screening I went out to do one of the final shoots with Iain picking up the Overground trail at St. Mary’s Church Battersea where William Blake got married Catherine Boucher in 1782.

The finished film will premiere in the East End Film Festival which runs from 23rd June – 3rd July.

London Overground film – edit notes #1

Iain Sinclair Overground film

Screen shot from the edit

So the editing of my film of Iain Sinclair’s London Overground has formally begun. I’ve previously casually spooled through rushes, and even put together a 7 minute short cut from the first shoot for a couple events Iain has done and at which we’ve spoken about the film – but today is the day I mark the edit as beginning.

It can be a lonely business at times working as I do alone on the film-making side, although I have become so conditioned to this process now I don’t think I could work any other way. I say ‘alone’, but the shoots have been a thoroughly collaborative process with Iain and Andrew Kotting. But it’s at this stage looking down the barrels of what will become a 3 month edit that it can feel slightly daunting – the edge knocked off with each clip you view. It’s looking good.

So I wanted to share this as I go – with you – the readers of this blog, the single piece of work that links all my projects together.

I worked on a ‘big’ documentary once – one with a proper ‘big’ budget and a team, a team that changed and grew, then shrunk, as the project endlessly lumbered on for years. There was a period that must have lasted for about a year (if not longer) where the core team of 4 of us sat in a small edit suite every day viewing rushes, cutting, discussing, despairing. I took to calling it ‘the group therapy room’. This partly explains why I work the way I do on my own projects – no budget, no producers, no crew, just me and the people I’m working with in front of the camera.

Serendipitously that edit suite was next to the Overground and we passed it on the recent Night Walk for the film – it felt like a moment of redemption for all those wasted days.

Now I sit in my box room alone at midnight slowly working through the footage I’ve shot on and off over 7 months with a festival screening in the summer to aim at. From the first shoot, with Iain and Andrew Kotting walking from Rotherhithe to Queens Road Peckham, the biggest dilemma was always going to be what to leave out. There is a conversation between Andrew and Iain in La Cigale cafe in Surrey Quays that runs for about 12 minutes – I must have watched it through 4 times and I still can’t see a cut, it’s all great stuff (and if you are a fan of either of their work then it’s priceless viewing).

Tonight I’m going through a walk with Iain from Haggerston to Shadwell. I am less than half-way through the bin and there is 24 minutes on the timeline. Assuming I carry on at this rate, if I follow the old edit adage of ‘Kill Your Darlings’ then this will make the Slaughter of the Innocents look like an exercise in passive restraint.

Iain Sinclair Overground film

screen shot from the edit

At this stage I feel that the film will take multiple forms. There will be the ‘feature length’ cut of no more than 80 minutes for public screenings. And I think we’ll try and find somebody to put out a DVD. But after the initial run of these I can see it as a YouTube series that could run for several episodes.

Both my previous feature docs – The London Perambulator and Make Your Own Damn Art enjoyed great runs of screenings (that continue to pop up). But they’ve also had a second life online with London Perambulator clocking up over 50,000 views on YouTube. After some successful screenings Make Your Own Damn Art was distributed online by Curzon On Demand and was also on a continuous loop at New York’s prestigious MoMA PS1 for 6 months. It was odd to sit at home in Leytonstone and imagine my film playing for 8 hours a day to passing art liggers in one of the world’s great galleries.

Independent film-makers today are spoilt for choice – as long as you don’t want to make money – and if you want to make money then you shouldn’t be making films.

Ok, I enjoyed sharing this with you – thanks for listening. There are going to be a lot more nights like this over the coming months. I better get back to the edit, Iain is just arriving at Hoxton Station – this is a really good bit.

Overground Nightwalk with Iain Sinclair and Andrew Kotting

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I was out last night filming the first section of Iain Sinclair and Andrew Kotting’s nocturnal 35-mile yomp around the London Overground – a reprise in reverse direction of the walk they performed for Iain’s book about the ‘Ginger Line’, London Overground. I scampered alongside with my camera (often falling behind then having to run ahead) from Haggerston before leaving them at Hampstead to head off into the freezing cold night with my GoPro strapped to Andrew’s head.

I’ve been shooting the film in small sections since last summer with just a couple of shooting days left. We started at Rotherhithe in July, a walk that ended with Andrew dressed as a Straw Bear traversing the Old Kent Road. The previous walk saw Iain joined by Radio On director Chris Petit surveying the area around Willesden Junction and Old Oak Common.

Shooting is always the fun bit – soon starts the edit of long nights sat in front of a screen. Look out for news of screenings in the summer.

A chat with Iain Sinclair in the basement of the London Review Bookshop

Iain Sinclair was launching his latest book, 70×70 – Unlicensed Preaching: A Life Unpacked In 70 Films so I got the opportunity to interview the great London magus in the basement of the London Review Bookshop. This was the second time I’d interviewed Sinclair, the first was for my documentary, The London Perambulator in his Hackney home 6 years ago almost to the day.

On that occasion we’d talked off camera about Iain’s elusive film collaborations with Chris Petit that had been originally broadcast on Channel 4 – The Cardinal and the Corpse and The Falconer, now impossible to find on DVD or YouTube and Iain had invited me to watch them with him there and then on VHS. But I’d had to pass up this golden opportunity as the strong painkillers I was taking following knee surgery were making me dizzy and nauseous and it had been a massive effort to get through the interview without passing out on his floor.

Those Petit collaborations had eventually been screened in the 70×70 season put together by King Mob to celebrate Iain’s 70th birthday – a year of 70 films which had been mentioned in Sinclair’s books, and screened in venues both obscure and grand, some of them joining the ranks of the disappeared before the season had been completed.

The 70 x 70 book is more than just a record of this filmic dérive around London, it is a repertory cinema season on paper, the SCALA brought back to life in print; a revival of the world of wall-charts peppered with classics by Fritz Lang, Douglas Sirk, Godard, unheralded oddities, all-nighters interrupted at 4am by a punk band to keep you awake. But it is also a form of autobiography, weaving a path through Sinclair’s life and work as he discusses the background to each selection, or “an accidental novel”, as he describes it.

So we chatted not just about the book. We spoke about Iain’s early years in London as a film student and eager cineaste, the Paul Tickell film for BBC’s Late Show that captured the world of Downriver when it was still provisionally titled Vessels of Wrath. This rare 20-minute gem included memorable scenes of Sinclair reading aloud in the still semi-derelict Princelet Street Synagogue and the notorious bookdealer Driffield scavenging for rare tomes in Gravesend and Tilbury.

He discussed his collaborations with Chris Petit and Andrew Kotting. It led us to the subject of John Clare and the idea of ‘fugue’ walking, “… to do it purposefully, if that’s not a contradiction, seems quite an important way of dealing with a city that is a series of defended grids and official permeable ways that you can drift through that lead you to the next supermarket”.  Walking, Sinclair told me is “absolute”; “The silence of just moving, hearing your own footfall, listening to the city, watching the city, drinking it through your pores”.

The interview came to a natural conclusion as the camera battery ran out just after Sinclair had recounted a pavement confrontation in Hollywood with a Warren Oates lookalike. The event organiser seized their moment and moved in as went to my bag for a spare. I could have kept asking him questions all night and Iain is so amiable and tolerant you sense he’d sit there patiently answering, but upstairs Chris Petit, Gareth Evans and Susan Stenger were waiting sat before a packed audience for the 70×70 launch event.

70×70 Unlicensed Preaching: A Life Unpacked in Film is published by King Mob

This article was originally published on 3:AM magazine