The Two Bens: Four Short Films by Ben Rivers and Ben Russell

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Four short films that take us on a mind-expanding trip across the globe, melding documentary footage into something altogether more fantastic.

Year: 2011
Country: UK, USA
Running time: 83 mins
Genres: Art, Cinephiles

The two Bens, Rivers and Russell, have come a long way since both visited NZIFF together in 2008 with their 16mm programme We Can Not Exist in This World Alone. Their works have appeared in festivals and galleries all over the world and this selection of their recent films illustrates the pair’s shared, almost ethnographic interest in documenting the strange and hidden. Russell’s films evoke a psychedelic state of mind, with a focus on animism and ritual, while Rivers’ films are equally primal, both more grounded in traditional documentary conventions and at once otherworldly and unusual. Their work perfectly complements each other’s and they are currently teaming up for the first time in the Nordic wilderness on a new feature film project. — MM

Sack Barrow

Ben Rivers/UK 2011/21 mins/Blu-ray

This observational documentary captures the texture and atmosphere of a run‑down and soon-to-close electroplating factory on the outskirts of London: the old, tired building; years of built-up chemical residue; broken machinery; faded pin-ups; graffiti on the walls; and snippets of AM radio as the workers share a joke with each other.

Trypps #7 (Badlands)

Ben Russell/USA 2010/10 mins/HDCAM

Beginning as an intense, screen‑test‑like portrait of a young woman, this mind‑expanding short shifts and opens a new dimension into the barren South Dakota wastelands.

River Rites

Ben Russell/Surinam/USA 2011/12 mins/HDCAM

Russell takes his transcendent cinema to new heights with this amazing short documentary which transforms an idyllic riverside scene of a group of Saramaccan Maroon children playing and washing in the river into a sort of sacred animist rite. Features a superb noise-metal soundtrack from Brian Chippendale and Matt Brinkman.

Slow Action

Ben Rivers/UK 2011/40 mins/HDCAM

Taking his inspiration from such venerable literary utopias as Samuel Butler’s Erewhon and Francis Bacon’s The New Atlantis, Rivers’ four-part featurette documents a succession of wholly imaginary islands by melding strange documentary footage with a hypnotic and charmingly offbeat narration crafted by cult author and art critic Mark von Schagall. Filming at several far-flung locales, Rivers takes us from the blasted lavascapes and strange architecture of Lanzarote in the Canaries to the haunted, abandoned island city of Hashima near Nagasaki, and the low-lying, rubbish-strewn Pacific islands of Tuvalu. The result is an entrancing blend of post-apocalyptic science fiction and ethnographic documentary that channels the likes of Chris Marker and Werner Herzog.

NZIFF STAFF PICK: Michael McDonnell