DADA and Film: Rebellion Of The Objects by Mike Freedman, Founder of the London Dada Festival: LonDADA

A specially commissioned article for Film Focus from Mike Freedman, founder of the world’s first Dadaist festival: LonDADA

Back in late spring of 2015, during my habitual descent down the clickhole on the time-sucking vampire mistress we call Internet, I came across the fact that 2016 would mark the 100th anniversary of the birth of the Dada movement. One source claimed that Hugo Ball, one of the founders of Dadaism, first performed his seminal poem “Karawane” at the Cabaret Voltaire in Zurich on June 23rd, 1916.

I shall be reading poems that are meant to dispense with conventional language, no less, and to have done with it.”

Hugo Ball, 1916

So on June 23rd 2016, a group of musicians, performers, artists, filmmakers and Dada enthusiasts gathered at The Cinema Museum in Elephant & Castle to attempt to recreate a Dada salon from a century ago, a deliberately inscrutable, disordered and confusing affair, mashing together art, music and theatre in order to shake loose some other force, some bright spark of creativity that might ignite a new understanding of why any of us do any of the things we do.


The audience enjoying the London DADA festival (Photo credit: Ben Gregory)

As a filmmaker, I was naturally drawn to showing films, but there was such an enthusiastic outpouring of interest and support from performers that I couldn’t help broadening the event to encompass all of the arts. However, the film programme remained a central part of my intention for the evening.

We showed a programme of experimental and Dada shorts by Hans Richter, Helmut Herbst, John Smith, Bob Georgeson and Francis Thompson, as well as a 1968 feature documentary by Helmut Herbst called “Germany DADA – An Alphabet Of German Dadaism”. We also projected a 35mm print of “Ghosts Before Breakfast”, Hans Richter’s seminal 1927 short film, with a new original score performed live by Vinzenz Stergin.

In this excellent interview from 1972, an elderly Hans Richter reflects on his early days in film and describes “Ghosts Before Breakfast” as a “rebellion of the objects”. Richter began as a painter and then moved into film before returning to painting. “I wasn’t interested anymore in the subject as such but more in the articulation on the canvas,” he says with regards to his shift from portrait painting to more abstract work. One could say that the emphasis in Dadaism is on process and not on outcome. The outcome is irrelevant and contemptible, a commercial preoccupation, while the process is the living part of the creative act.

“DADA remains within the framework of European weaknesses; it’s still shit, but from now on we want to shit in different colours.”

Tristan Tzara, 1918

The Dada filmmakers were interested in the handwerk, the handcraft, of filmmaking. Helmut Herbst, the director of “Germany DADA – An Alphabet of German Dadaism”, re-iterated that when I interviewed him for the video introduction to his film. He, like the Dadaist filmmakers, began as an artist and moved into film as a way of continuing his exploration of the techniques required to express his ideas. The twin pillars of independence and handcraft were absolutely fundamental for him as they were for the Dadaists whom he was inspired by and sought to emulate.

So where does that leave us today? The echoes of Dadaism are everywhere, in graphic design, on album covers (remember those?), t-shirts, in paintings, in galleries set up in railway arches or shipping containers. There is a direct line from Marcel Duchamp’s ‘readymades’ (found objects re-purposed and presented in an artistic context) to Tracy Emin’s bed and Damien Hirst’s shark, just as there is a clear flow of approach and execution from Richter to Terry Gilliam in film. But is every montage also a homage or a descendant of Dada? If the techniques survive or evolve but the purpose, the ethos, is lost or forgotten, is it really the same thing? Anyone can pick up a camera and knock something together with available technology, but do any of us really know why we are doing anything or how to do it? The ease of technology is anathema to handwerk, in a sense, because it makes the process as frictionless as possible, with the end goal being the production of the artefact itself rather than a change in the internal state of the artist or the audience.

“I won’t explain myself because I hate common sense.”

Tristan Tzara, 1918



Tristan Tzara – Founding Dadaist

In all this intellectual analysis, one thing gets lost – Dada was a revolutionary movement, not only because of the shift it brought to the modern art scene, but because it literally was in favour of overthrowing the established political, industrial and financial orders that had brought the world to ruin in 1916 with the folly and madness of World War I. That revolution didn’t materialise, and those same orders plunged on into World War II. Richter was actually commissioned to make a film about hyperinflation in the Weimar Republic, the same hyperinflation that contributed to the social conditions which would prove so fertile for the rise of the Nazis, who among their many excesses and stupidities would destroy the soundtrack to Richter’s film “Ghosts Before Breakfast” on the grounds that a “rebellion of the objects” could be a metaphor for or an incitement to a rebellion by the people.

“DADA was born out of a need for independence, out of mistrust for the community. People who join us keep their freedom.”

Tristan Tzara, 1918


The founders of Dadaism

Now, a century after a group of artists gathered in a dusty room and declared their contempt for the direction in which bourgeois industrial capitalism was taking society, we are again in a similar ferment. Economic hardship and instability weighs heavily on a greater and greater percent of the populace, war and terror seem to be present or spreading in every part of the world, the promise of technology and industry in many ways has never seemed less convincing, and the rumbles of discontent are beginning to show in the increased prevalence of extremism of all kinds.


Sir Gideon Vain performing at the London Dada Festival – Photo credit Ben Gregory

With all this going on, the artists appear to have either surrendered the field or declared full allegiance to the same financial, political and industrial interests they once defied or mocked. As Helmut Herbst asked when we spoke, where is the artistic radicalism that must be a counterpart to political radicalism in order to create a strong and lasting movement for change? In 1916 and in 1968, artists were outcasts or rebels, sniping at the established order from their basements and garrets. They were the loudest critics, the most creative opposition, fighting for the minds and emotions of the public, establishing a shared vocabulary with which to question, challenge and reject the predations of the rich and powerful. Now, it seems, artists are the house band rather than the protestors. The insidious influence of technology has been to turn all artists into consumers (or all consumers into artists). Multinational corporations don’t care what kind of ‘content’ you create with your camera, laptop, phone and tablet as long as you buy them and upgrade them regularly to newer models.

Is there a Dada influence in film today? Undoubtedly. Does that influence represent the same thing it did a hundred years ago? Does it point us towards opening our minds? Does it change the way we make, think and interact with one another and the world around us? No. Should it? That’s up to you.

This Blog was written by Mike Freedman

Mike Freedman was born in New York City.  He produced and directed the award-winning feature documentary “Critical Mass”, distributed internationally by Journeyman Pictures. His first non-fiction book, “The Revolution Will Be Improvised: Critical Conversations On Our Changing World”, will be published at the end of 2016. He is the founder and director of Day 600, a creative media company and consultancy. He lives in London with his wife.


Watch our interview with Mike.

Film Focus: BBC Proms Multi-Camera Director Peter Maniura speaks with Emily Cook

Film Focus’ Emily Cook speaks with highly accomplished multi-camera director and live events producer Peter Maniura. They met up at the BBC in London to talk about the art of directing multi-cameras for live TV, the media landscape of today and Peter’s top tips for anyone wanting to break into the industry.

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Emily Cook and Peter Maniura

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This blog was written by Emily Cook

Film Focus on: The Dogme 95 Film Movement with Ash Singh & Emily Cook

In this exclusive video Emily‘s joined by Film Focus‘ Resident Cultural Commentator Ash Singh to talk about the controversial avant-garde film movement, Dogme, where the director doesn’t get credited and sexual acts are depicted for real. In this filmed segment, Ash speaks about this exciting and often misused Danish school of filmmaking.

*Warning- trailers contain nudity and sexual references.*

Ash Singh
Ash Singh is a social and cultural commentator and broadcaster who has written for the Guardian,  Spectator, Scotsmen and appears regularly on national and international television. He has a book coming out later this year.

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Dogma 95 Emily Cookand Ash Singh Film Focus

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On Location: 5 Forests of Fear

In order to create the most believable ‘on screen’ worlds, films utilise a number of key elements, including computer generated imagery (CGI), set design and studio builds but perhaps most important, is the effective use of location. Films that rely heavily on a few key natural locations are able to keep costs down as they reduce the need for set dressing and costly studio rental fees.

Watch the Video Clip of Emily and Sarah Talking about the Films and Trailers

A natural location we see appearing time and time again in lower budget films is that of the forest. Low and medium budget thriller and horror films in particular make use of woodland in their on-screen worlds. The innate characteristics and physical benefits offered by the forest are a real gift to the film-maker. As far back as Shakespeare’s day, literature has presented the ‘woods’ as a place of mystery, trickery, evil and supernatural events, we see it again in the 19th century with the German fairy tales of the Brothers Grimm (e.g. in Hansel and Gretel), and the references continue right up to the present day with the likes of the 2014 film, ‘Into the Woods’ and aptly titled ‘The Forest’ (2016).

Physically, once under the canopy of the trees, our protagonists find themselves trapped,  disorientated, and confused within a repetitive landscape of untamed and unruly wilderness.  In the most basic sense, the trees and their darkness offer places for nefarious characters to hide and shelter so that their deeds can be concealed.

So now we invite you to follow us, breadcrumbs at the ready, into the deep dark forest as we explore our top 5 examples of when forests have been utilised effectively to generate a sense of fear and tension within a film.

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Our Top 5 Forests of Fear

1.‘Severance’ (2006) Directed by Christopher Smith
Chosen by Emily


A still from the film

What’s it all about ? Severance, directed by Christopher Smith is a British comedy Horror thriller that tells the story of a group of sales representatives who, when on a team building weekend in a remote cabin in the forests of eastern europe, become the victims of a group of crazed killers who will stop at nothing to see them dead. The film boasts an all star cast including, Toby Stephens, Danny Dyer, Claudie Blakley, Andy Nyman, Babou Ceesay, Tim McInnerny, Laura Harris and David Gilliam.

Why we selected this film?
Emily: With a relatively low budget of an estimated at £5 million, the film made great use of the dramatic and atmospheric forests of the Isle of Man, which is where most of the on screen  action takes place. Arguably the film is rather formulaic and not everyone’s cup of tea, no doubt Danny Dyer’s involvement might put some audiences off, but I found the film’s depiction of location presented an effective sense of impending doom, as an innocent situation very quickly became something rather more sinister. The chase scenes through the trees were particularly well shot.

Trivia: Hilariously Danny Dyer spent 10 weeks toning up in the gym prior to shooting. His efforts aren’t noticable in the film. 

Severance’s Trailer:


2.Evil Dead (1981)  Directed by Sam Raimi
Chosen by Sarah


Behind the scenes on set

What’s it all about?  The Evil Dead is a 1981 American supernatural horror film written and directed by Sam Raimi and executive produced by Raimi and Bruce Campbell, who also stars alongside Ellen Sandweiss and Betsy Baker. The film focuses on five college students vacationing in an isolated cabin in a remote wooded area. After they find an audiotape that releases a legion of demons and spirits, members of the group suffer from demonic possession, leading to increasingly gory mayhem.

Why we selected this film:
This is a bit of an obvious one to choose but it had to be done!  Even though much of the action takes place inside the cabin, the forest plays an integral part of the storyline (the thick expanse of trees hem the cabin in, adding to the secluded atmosphere, and, as anyone who has seen the original movie will know, there is an unforgettable and harrowing scene that takes place in the woods when one of the friends leaves the cabin)

Trivia:  Filming began in 1979 with a cast and crew of 37 people. Initial shooting finished in six weeks, but it took 1.5 years to edit the picture (Joel Coen was actually an Assistant Editor on the movie).

The Evil Dead Trailer:  


3.Take Down (2016) by Director Jim Gillespie
Chosen by Emily

Take Down narrow

Official promo image

What?  TAKE DOWN from Director Jim Gillespie, focuses on the reckless sons and daughters of international billionaires, who have been sent by their frustrated parents to an exclusive, tough-love boot camp on a remote island, where they will be taught basic survival skills in the hope it will teach them to take responsibility for their lives. When they are taken hostage and held for a billion dollar ransom by a group of sophisticated kidnappers, the young captives suddenly need every ounce of their brief training to survive.

The film stars a bevy of gorgeous talented young cast including Ed Westwick, Jeremy Sumpter, Phoebe Tonkin, Ashley Walters and Dominic Sherwood.
The film’s trailer has just surfaced, please watch out online for the film’s UK release date later this year..

Why we selected this film:  
Emily: I had the pleasure of working on Take Down when it was shot in 2014, so had first hand experience of being on location for the shoots. The majority of the lighthouse scenes were shot in Wales where as the quarry, cliff face, beach and of course Forest scenes were all shot in the Isle of Man. Over the fortnight of shooting, she film shot in several different Manx woodland areas including Ballaugh and Sulby Glen. The steep plantation floors made for a physically strenuous experience for both the cast and crew which reflect well on screen. The nature of the forest provides several perfect opportunities for ‘ambush’ scenarios. The woodland in Take Down houses the action sequences rather than the horror of Severance.

Trivia: In line with last month’s celebration of Female Filmmakers, the Film was Produced by accomplished producer Sarah Black.

Take Down’s Trailer:


4. Battle Royale (2000)  Directed by  Kinji Fukasaku

Chosen by Sarah

It's a pain in the neck

A still from the film

What’s it all about?  Battle Royale is a Japanese film directed by Kinji Fukasaku using a screenplay written by his son Kenta and stars, among others, Takeshi Kitano (probably best known for the TV show Takeshi’s Castle). The film tells the story of a junior high-school student who is struggling with the suicide of his father and who is forced by the government to compete in a deadly game where the students in his class must fight to the death, with only the sole survivor being allowed to live.

Why we selected this film:
This is very similar to films like Take Down or The Hunger Games franchise but pre-dates all of them (the novel the film was based on was published in 1999 and was seen as very controversial at the time).  The forest setting is used both as a sanctuary for the characters and a place where surprise attacks can be staged and traps can be constructed; the environment is much more functional than atmospheric in other words.  I’d say Battle Royale is a beautiful blend of action, horror and thriller and I urge everyone to check it out – it’s brilliant!

Trivia:  Director Kinji Fukasaku celebrated his 70th birthday during the production. He passed away two years later during the production of the sequel “Battle Royale II” (2003), ending a 40 year career in the director’s chair.

Battle Royale’s Trailer:  


  1. Camera Trap (2015) Written and Directed Alex Verner
    Chosen by Emily


    Official promo image

What’s it all about? Camera Trap from Writer Director Alex Verner is a natural history documentary style horror-thriller about a British wildlife film unit, set in the depths of central Asia. Using the latest in camera trap technology, four film-makers go out in search of the rare Amur Snow Leopard. What they discover is something far more terrifying than they expected.

Why we selected this film:
I worked on this film in 2013 creating all of the DVD extras or EPK, this is the third film we’re focussing on which was shot on the Isle of Man. The film has the same producer as Severance, Jason Newmark. Unlike Severance and Take Down, however, Camera Trap makes use of the forests at night time, displaying it a variety of erie ways. The USP of the film is how it makes use of various camera technologies, state of the art infrared cameras, handheld diary cameras, head cameras, body cameras, gopros, camera traps and starlight camera. The use of darkness in conjunction with camera footage that excluded great deal of information from the frame, plays on the audience’s fear of the unknown. It’s in Camera Trap that the location of the forest at night really shines. Who knows what’s lurking behind the trees…

Camera Trap is available to download on iTunes with this link:

Trivia:  The film seamlessly joins forest shot in the Isle of Man with that of Nepal.

Camera Trap’s Trailer:

Which films would you include in your top 5 forests of fear?


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Episode 6: The May Edition – The Power of Film Location & Special Guest Jim Gillespie

In this episode Emily and Sarah review new releases, ‘Captain America: Civil War’ and ‘Florence Foster Jenkins’ from the vibrant members bar of the Picture House Central. Emily catches up with special guest Director Jim Gillespie, most well known for his 1997 film I Know What You did Last Summer. and they speak about his latest film Take Down following it’s screening at the Isle of Man Film Festival.

We also let you know of any film-making opportunities and events on the horizon, the latest from the IOMFF and, as if that wasn’t enough, we discuss the importance of location in films; particularly how and why forests are used in horror and thrillers to increase tension. Emily and Sarah reveal their Top 5 Forests of Fear.

Jim Gillespie interview narrow

Emily Cook interviewing special guest Jim Gillespie at the Isle of Man Film festival. Photo by Steve Babb

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Film Focus on: London Has Fallen

Emily and Sarah review action thriller, London Has Fallen, the latest film from Director Babak Najafi which follows on from his 2013 film Olympus Has Fallen . London Has Fallen stars Gerard ButlerAaron Eckhart and Morgan Freeman

london has fallen t

Synopsis: After the British Prime Minister passes away, his funeral becomes a target of a terrorist organization to destroy some of the world’s most powerful leaders, devastate the British capital, and unleash a terrifying vision of the future. The only hope of stopping it rests on the shoulders of the President of the United States (Aaron Eckhart) and his formidable Secret Service head (Gerard Butler), and an English MI-6 agent (Charlotte Riley) who rightly trusts no one. Morgan Freeman also stars as the Vice President of the United States.

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Film Focus on… Wes Anderson
’s The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014) by Emily Cook

With an all-star cast, The Grand Budapest Hotel is a fast-paced visual delight from start to finish.  We enter a surreal story world of unexpected twists and somewhat farcical events, all within a meticulously planned-out frame.

A still from The Grand Budapest Hotel

A still from The Grand Budapest Hotel

In line with Anderson’s trademark style, every shot in the Grand Budapest Hotel has been created with an almost obsessive attention to detail. Through meticulous and finely-crafted production design, Adam Stockhausen created a visually rich world, as flamboyant as the characters that inhabit it.
Several shots are centred, making the frame and set sometimes more important than the actors’ movements within the shot. An interesting montage of Wes Anderson’s use of symmetry, entitled ‘Wes Anderson // Centered’, has been created and can be found on vimeo .

Echoes of Stanley Kubrick’s one point perspective perhaps influenced this hallmark Anderson technique.

The Grand Budapest Hotel is a film of many layers. Visually, it uses a combination of stop motion, live action, miniatures and matte paintings. Furthermore, the film is presented in not one but three aspect ratios. Each of the ratios is used to reflect the cinematic history of the respective period that they depict. The layering of techniques in conjunction with varying shot format, re-enforce furthur the idea of a story, within a story, within a story.
Anderson’s use of point of view (POV) shots was, in places, so abrupt that they broke through the suspension of disbelief and made the audience self-aware. This technique however can have strengths as it engages the audience, breaking up the traditional cinematic language we are accustomed to.

Here’s a very intriguing featurette on how they created the actual ‘hotel’.

It is a laugh out loud film, with much of the humour not coming from the dialogue but rather the character’s action within the frame. From skiing out of control down a mountain to a face popping out from a little window, I laughed with delight at the visual spectacle in front of me. Anderson creates much of this humour through the juxtaposition of scale between character, props and sets. At several points, I found myself whispering ‘wow’ under my breath.

Here’s the trailer for the film:

It was DOP John Craine who first made me aware of Wes Anderson and his work, I am thrilled he did. Have you seen the film? What do you make of it?

Emily Cook

This blog was written by Reel Vision/ Film Focus’ Emily Cook