Saturday 22nd May 2021 to
Sunday 13th June 2021
Part of The Telling Image. Ten films from eight film makers, curated by Gareth Evans for Estuary 2021.
Jem Cohen: The Militant Ecologist, Bella Ciao and This Climate
Both The Militant Ecologist and Bella Ciao were made for guitarist Marc Ribot’s Songs of Resistance project. Ribot’s versions are notably based in early Italian folk songs historically attached to militant struggles (ie. partisans fighting fascism in the 1930’s and 40’s). Eras, histories, and lyrics change but resistance is, sadly, always necessary and often too little too late. Ribot and Waits' take is resolute and mournful, angry and weary, and in these contradictory impulses it recognizes the complexity of our times and our resistance.
Bella Ciao is in part a reworking of Jem’s independent short about the Trump inaugural, Birth of a Nation. As Jem says “the song, Bella Ciao, can be considered a protest-movement ‘chestnut’ at this point, but who cares - reactivation is half the point of ‘folk music’. My challenge was to collaborate with the Ribot/Waits version in making sure the song belongs to the present and future as well as the past. I pulled shots from my archives of a Black Lives Matter rally and a climate change protest and in the middle of editing I rushed out to shoot protests in defense of immigrants, one of many Trump-exacerbated crises. I also included a massive windowless tower that was part of the NSA’s secret spying operations in lower Manhattan.”
The Militant Ecologist features the vocals of Meshell Ndegeocello, a full-on renegade as well as a very deep bass player/composer. Her work, notably her extraordinary engagement with that of James Baldwin, can be explored here: https://meshell.com/. Shot with a bolex camera on an New York City rooftop, the view shares a sci-fi dystopian vibe with the song. The 16mm film was processed at a local (to Jem) analog collective.
This Climate was a commission from a small arts group, TAMAAS, to make shorts related to climate change. The resulting work by Jem Cohen does that, albeit at an angle, by looking at the broader landscape of consumption that drives global warming. The film hopes to redirect notice towards the unsustainability we are complicit in when we succumb to the extremes of “getting and spending” that have somehow been made to seem normal.
All films will be live on this site from 22 May - 13 June.
Image: Still from The Militant Ecologist, courtesy of the artist.