18 November, 2009

ALL THAT IS NOT US screens in Hackney

Remembrance Sunday, 2009.
First screening: ALL THAT IS NOT US. Shot on a cold green-grey day in January, cold sea lashing Brighton beach, storm clouds gathering, ALL THAT IS NOT US is a short film that documents a writer's relationship with her novel from love to destruction.

Brett Campbell took the train from London to Brighton with a bag containing all the drafts of Brett's novel, all the accompanying paperwork, a small camera, and an even smaller box of matches. They bought a litre of premium paraffin from a hardware shop on the Lanes and headed to the beach.

Brett wanted to burn the novel, and everything to do with it, as she had loved it but her heart was no longer in it. "Stuffing it away in some drawer would have suffocated it," said Brett. "It was important to set it free. Love is open-handed."

So at 11am on 10 January 2009, sitting on a bank of wet stones overlooking the turbulent sea, Brett unwrapped the ginger cake from its foil, and Campbell poured tea from the Thermos.

A storm was brewing, the sky was yellow, and it looked as if would rain any second. They had discussed the burning many times. It had to be special.

It wasn't just paper that was being burned, it was five and a half years' work: hundreds of hours spent writing out of blind faith, put before social life and relationships and money; phone calls, reading, conversations, a trip to Croatia, all in the name of research, printing in the early hours, waking at 4.30am to write before work, editing on the bus, on trains, in cafes, weekends crossed out in the diary, saying "novel"; life put on hold -- for what?

They had conceived the burning as performances involving metres of rope and local tramps, Baroque head dresses, candles and intricate mermaid-coming-out-of-the-sea dances. But in the end they had decided seaweed would be the only frills, if the sea deemed them worthy. It wasn't about pomp. It was a burning, and that was it. Just the two of them and the flames and the sea. And now it looked as if it may be rained off.

"I think we just do it," said Brett. "Out of the way of people, before it rains. We'll just burn it."

"Where are you going to take your clothes off?" asked Campbell.

"Dunno," said Brett. "By the water, probably." And she picked up the paraffin and the bag and walked off.

"See you there," Campbell shouted but her words were lost to the wind. Campbell felt uneasy. She packed up the Thermos, put the tin foil it in her pocket, felt something cold, pulled out the camera and looked up. Brett was tiny against the wild sea, and it was at that moment that Campbell decided to document the procedings.

What people said:

“I wanted to say how much I enjoyed the film and how thought-provoking it was. It made me think about impermanence, endings, dead ends but also about something deeper inside us, that goes beyond all that. I was so moved.”

“The sounds and images of the ocean and the fire and the burning of something very precious – powerful symbols. Although out of it came this beautiful art I can't help feeling a sense of loss for the work that you put your heart into, and an intense sense of wonder about why you burned it. I want to see it again, because there was so much to digest.”

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