Featuring prime cuts from the BFI’s extensive National Archive and a typically soul-stirring soundtrack from acclaimed Brighton collective British Sea Power, director Penny Woolcock’s lyrical visual collage From the Sea to the Land Beyond (2012) gets a live screening at Sundance London this week, having already wowed audiences at last year’s Sheffield Doc/Fest. Effortlessly recalling British documentary filmmaking’s heyday, Woolcock and BSP have co-produced perhaps the definitive celebration of this nation’s scenic coastline, cataloguing our obsession with ‘ol’ briney’ from 1901 all the way through to the modern age.
Funded by The Space, an archiving initiative helmed by both the BBC and Arts Council, From the Sea to the Land Beyond offers contemporary audiences a powerful, immensely evocative look back into Britain’s nostalgia-heavy past, whilst also utilising montage and juxtaposition techniques effectively to draw timely comparisons between the way we were, and the way we now are. Our journey begins, appropriately, at the turn-of-the-century, as a unit of Edwardian servicemen vie for the attention of several bathing suit-clad belles, oblivious to the decades of conflict that tragically await in the coming months and years.
As we continue along the coast’s sheer cliff faces, daredevil egg collectors brave the perilous precipices, whilst two cataclysmic World Wars cause untold death and devastation across the English Channel. Emerging into post-war uncertainty, the first seeds of multiculturalism are sewn as the Empire begins to shrink beyond recognition, ushering new cultures and races to our shores. Finally, we end in a windswept Blackpool, as bedraggled revellers battle the elements in search of merriment. Incorporated amongst the wide array of archive films painstakingly reconstructed together here by Woolcock are artefacts courtesy of renowned duo Mitchell and Kenyon, as well as Marion Grierson – sister of British ‘docfather’ John Grierson.
The enormity of ambition and sweeping scope of Woolcock’s latest endeavour should not be underestimated. Though contemporaries such as Andrew Kötting have tackled similar themes in the past and near-present (his 1997 film Galivant is a more-than-suitable comparison piece), with From the Sea to the Land Beyond, Woolcock has perfectly married sound with vision, thanks in no small part to the stellar contribution of BSP. In fact, it’s almost impossible to think of any other current band better suited to the film’s subject matter, such is their affinity with both British tradition and the “briliantine mortality” evoked by the ever-evolving seascape.
A shimmering hidden pearl washed ashore beneath a wave of Sundance fodder, Woolcock’s latest triumph undoubtedly deserves a far wider audience than it is ever likely to accrue. Much like the spectres witnessed throughout From the Sea to the Land Beyond, archive footage-led filmmaking is sadly on the decline, which only serves to increase the importance of the cataloguing and restoration work currently undertaken by the BFI, BBC and Arts Council. Leave your preconceptions at the door, and immerse yourself in this post modern wonder.
The 2nd Sundance London film and music festival takes place from 25-28 April, 2013. For more of our Sundance London 2013 coverage, simply follow this link.