Caught by the River

Video Strolls Film of the Month: Heavy Water

17th February 2017

Video Strolls choose a film per month to showcase on Caught by the River. Owen Davey introduces this month’s selection:

February’s film is Heavy Water, the latest by Adam Scovell. Adam’s films plait parallel histories – folk horror, literature, experimental film, experimental music – into relived journeys through super-8 landscapes that are dense with sound, texture and the associations of the occultish underbelly of 20th century British art.

It’s this murky tension that makes Adam’s work an essential part of our Video Strolls programme at this March’s Alchemy Film & Moving Image Festival . The programme’s theme is folk, landscape and sunshine and also includes films by artists Andrew Kotting, Rebecca Meyers and Emily Richardson, whose own work has revisited the uncanny moonscape of Orford Ness, along the same coastline as the Sizewell B Nuclear power station that Adam explores in Heavy Water. He describes the journey he took:

‘I remember being sat on a bench on Dunwich Heath in September 2015 and seeing the dome of Sizewell B for the first time as an adult.  I had just walked a little way down the coast after a day of filming further down at Orford Ness, from Dunwich beach through to the heath.  I simply was not expecting to be greeted by such an alien object.  In spite of having been surrounded all day with alien, Cold War architecture at Orford Ness, Sizewell seemed even more odd, almost impossibly so.  In between where I was and where it was sat the Minsmere RSPB reserve, the ultimate in popular wildlife destinations.  How could such a foreboding object simply sit uncontested on the land, especially around a land that is filled to the brim with people whose sole purpose in being there was to observe?  It screamed of a delicious conspiracy and one that needed to be filmed on super-8, though Heavy Water is more than simply a travelogue.  Because of the history of Dunwich and because of a constant engagement with Hauntology as a theme, the two places spoke to each other with such ease as to make the film an almost post-apocalyptic proposition.  

The writing of W.G. Sebald also played a huge part in the creative impetus for the film, his work actually inspiring the original trip down there that lead to me seeing the station, albeit with far more pulp tendencies than the writer’s work. Because of this, the film deliberately used a mixture of colour and black & white reels – capturing that mixture of past and future that Sebald captures often and beautifully – the former is actually stock that is far out of date; hence its Derek Jarman/Journey To Avebury graded inflection, only slightly more blue and far more degraded.  Using this reel especially was a risk and, though not all of the footage has come back at a good quality, hopefully the disintegrated feel should be in line with the film’s themes.  For the music, I looked again to Richard Skelton who scored last year’s Holloway film and whose piece, The Glimpses Of The Empyreal Light, had already shown that he was a creator of music with a dark swell.  As the film is very much about water in its own, pessimistic way, his ebbing score for this film is perfect and beautiful in its own right.  I only hope I’ve managed to somehow match its undercurrents.  I also looked again to Paul Carmichael for the voice, his own lucid tones starting to narrate my inner thoughts through sheer engagement in constantly editing his tones.  Heavy Water is the first in trilogy of the films all about Suffolk and this particular coastline; in fact, it may also be the first in a trilogy of films all about the concept of nuclear, though what the third of that potential three will be, I can only guess at.  Most of all, I wanted to convey my awe at the place and the walk, the experiencing of which has been a pleasure on every occasion.  Though Sizewell may be full of debris and metal, it has its own beauty and poetry – one that I really hope has been captured in a continued effort on my own part to re-evaluate our undervalued and written off landscapes.’

Watch the film below:


You can find the the previous Video Strolls posts here.

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Adam Scovell on Caught by the River/on Twitter