Caught by the River

Video Strolls Film of the Month

Michael Smith | 1st October 2016

Here begins a new monthly column. Owen Davey gives us the lowdown on Video Strolls and introduces a film by Michael Smith (who, as film maker and flâneur, should need no introduction to our regular readers):

Video Strolls is a small network of artist-filmmakers who programme public screenings – of films about place, people and journeying – across Britain. We try to bring local artists and audiences together with better-known names and often share work specific to the community who host us.

Often, the films we show are ones in which individuals somehow document the physical undertaking of their own journeys. The resulting expressions reflect the personal nature of the explorations. There’s a uniquely rich but little-acknowledged (outside of The Art World) tradition of this kind of work here on these funny islands. By giving a platform to both new and old work alike – by both ‘amateurs’ and ‘professionals’ – we try to encourage folk of all kinds to take up the camera and get exploring.

Unfortunately, unless you were raised by artists or went to art-school yourself, whole obscure subgenres of film can end up passing you by.

But every so often, by some bureaucratic oversight, something Video-Stroll-y slips onto the telly and stays with you, the young viewer, for many years, perhaps igniting your own first dips into filmmaking and a life-long search for more stuff like it.

Michael’s 2008 BBC4 series, Drive Time, was one of those few bits of telly (and he’s recently re-released it onto the internet, so look it up!). Years later, when it turned out he was receptive to unsolicited emails, films like Mystery River became a staple of our screenings. So, as a gateway to my own route to Video Strolls, it seems only right to make his work the gateway to yours.

To keep up-to-date with our screenings, please visit the Video Strolls website.

Mystery River! from Maxy Neil Bianco on Vimeo.

MYSTERY RIVER by Michael Smith:

“I’m really pleased Mystery River’s getting a showing. It was made for The Floating Cinema, and sort of conceived as the third and final film in an ‘East End trilogy’ I made the summers before, during and after the Olympics, following on from Lost in London and Drift Street.

I lived in sight of Anish Kapoor’s messy red crayon squiggle and the whole colossal Olympic project troubling the bottom of Roman Road rag market at the time, and it was obvious that soon things would never be the same; it felt like the writing was on the wall for that low-rent, ramshackle East End that had nurtured the often precarious and marginal lives of the artistic classes, and I wanted to document it being CGI’d and Farrow & Balled out of existence .

The other two films dealt more with the East End people live in and call(ed) home. This film was more about getting lost round the back, round the industrial estates, sliproads and semi-wild, semi-derelict inbetween places that litter the banks of the River Lea, following the strange, often obscure course of that mysterious working river that gave birth to many of the Big Smoke’s biggest and smokiest industries. The working method was simple: follow the river from its unlikely source among some Luton tower blocks (Luton always struck me as an East End in miniature), all the way downriver through the thick of the old industrial East, till it debouched into the Thames at Limehouse, creating a kind of video-poem along the way …”