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Branchage Film Festival: Fritz Stolberg

We speak to the artist and director at the Jersey-based festival about his new exhibition taking film-footage creating a utopian life

Europe’s most imaginative and enjoyably beguiling film festival launches into its fourth year for a long weekend of inspirational film, parties, frolicking great music. Its location on the island of Jersey lends Branchage its idiosyncratic oddness, with the festival making full use of the island’s spectacular locations and buildings for screenings and events.

Powered by Jersey’s coastal winds, ‘Variable 4’, a meteorological sound installation by James Bulley and Daniel Jones, will be set up at Elizabeth Castle. The brilliantly named Ebenezer Church hosts ‘Postman’s Familiar’, an animation inspired by Kenneth Anger’s ‘Rabbit’s Moon’, with a live track by harpist and songwriter Serafina Steer. Jersey’s ornate Opera House will screen various events including the recently restored footage of Captain Scott’s legendary trip to the South Pole including a live score specially written and performed by Simon Fisher Turner.

Social highlight, ‘La Bordee’, will mirror this year’s theme of wanderlust by recreating a lost island in a giant Spiegeltent – come dressed as island natives and gentry, dead celebrities or marauding plane crash survivors. We’re particularly looking forward to the ‘At Sea / At Land / At Last’ event by video artist and director Fritz Stolberg. Taking film-footage from Jersey folk, Stolberg has created a mysteriously utopian picture of island life, with a live score by This Is The Kit. Dazed Digital grabbed some time with Stolberg to hear what fascinations he’d discovered in the depths of Jersey’s hidden celluloid memories.

Dazed Digital: Did you know much about Jersey before starting the project?
Fritz Stolberg: At the start of the project my knowledge of Jersey was limited to a combination of vague ideas of a Nazi invasion, that it was referred to as a tax-haven, and that Victor Hugo lived in exile next door in Guernsey. That was as far as my knowledge of Jersey went. I only found out later that Claude Cahun lived and died in Jersey. So the idea of working with local archive 8mm film footage is a way for me to engage with people on Jersey; I learnt about the island through the personal histories of people's home cinema films instead of looking at travel guides or official history books.

DD: Where did the title come from?
Fritz Stolberg
The title "At Sea / At Land / At Last" is a nod to Maya Deren's surreal short film "At Land", which was the first thing that sprung to my mind trying to imagine the films shot in Jersey. It seemed obvious that there would be a significant amount of imagery around the sea and the island's shoreline.

DD: Was it quite a moving experience going through people's private home movies?
Fritz Stolberg: Oh yes, it was at first. I thought it was really brave of people to volunteer their family films for a public screening. So I decided to meet these people personally and get a first look at the material in the context of their homes. Most of them hadn't seen their films in many years. For most people it was almost as surprising as it was for me to see what was on there. So when I look at the films in my studio in London to prepare them for the screening, I can remember being in those homes listening to the stories people were telling about the films.

DD: Symbolism and humour seem to play a significant role in your films, have you found plenty to play with in the footage you've received?
Fritz Stolberg: There is definitely a lot of humour in the footage I found on Jersey, and the symbolism I found was that of the rituals of the everyday life. In the beginning I was toying with ideas of structuring all the material by its everyday symbols: clips of people watering the flowers, running into the sea or where we see a child fall over. But the diversity of the material was much higher than I expected, that this approach would rely on me imposing quite a different picture onto the reality I found in these films. So I tried to allow the images to speak more for themselves.

DD: What inspired you most about the films you've received?
Fritz Stolberg: After watching the first few hours of footage, a very idealised almost fictional image of people's lives on Jersey was emerging. The films were full of happy people doing happy things. No one ever is seen grocery shopping or going to the dentist or paying the gas-bill. It seemed an endless, happy day on the beach, out at sea, playing in the park, at the birthday party, etc. Ideas of Utopia shine through in most of my work, so I was happy to find it emerge here again without me expecting this at all.

Branchage Film Festival runs from 22 to 25 September 2011