Robert believes that culture is the only human endeavour capable of bringing people together, helping them to overcome many social and life problems and healing people in post war societies and those from impoverished backgrounds.
Robert has photographed and filmed numerous projects specifically about individual artists or theatre companies and their productions and has made films concerned with wider issues of how politics affect the cultures which surround people, as several of the films below show.
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CANDLES AGAINST THE NIGHT
“I became involved in Srebrenica through my wife who was invited there to help develop the work of a group of young people, aged between 14 and 20, who were trying to run a music theatre for even younger children. The teenagers wanted and needed training and support.
“I realised how open they were to learn form others and to help the younger children. These young people, to whom we refer as the ‘young team’, coming from a town suspended in the shadow of genocide committed at the end of the Bosnian War in 1995, hope to throw off their undeserved guilt by engaging in cultural activity between the three major ethnic groups but in particular the Serbs (Orthodox Christian) and Bosniaks (Moslem) as there are few Croats in the region.
“The young team have seen employees of Non-Governmental Organizations’s come and go through-out their lives. Once the memory of the war and the genocide faded from the front pages and only the ghosts of war remained, Bosnia’s plight was forgotten by politicians and the press. A local poet said ‘foreign aid has rebuilt the bridges but not the people’.
“As I began to film, I realised that the lack of concentration, the rude interruptions and talking over others, the flaring tempers, the emotional rollercoaster of most people’s lives, the ennui, the overwhelming sense of uselessness and the inability to plan ahead were signs of war trauma most Bosnians suffer from. Rarely though do they understand that this condition exists even as it rules much of their consciousness of the older generations.
“Although there are signs of inherited (secondary) trauma in the young team, their determination to make a better world for themselves and the younger children is inspirational.
“It was their story, the story of a phoenix rising from the ashes, I set out to film, partly because of and for them and partly because I believe that all the lost teens in Denver, Manchester and Lyon may see the young team as an example of how they too can shake off the assumptions of their societies and rise to collective cultural actions which can help themselves and those around them.
“As the filming proceeded, it became clear that the depth of distrust, despair and hatred created by the morally corrupt political leaders was going to have to be revealed if I was to create a whole and honest picture of the young team’s lives. And it became clear that this would not only be an aesthetic and intellectual challenge but would create hostility and antagonism. From some adults it has and the journey is not yet completed.”
“…you have certainly transmitted how wonderful they (the young team) are –and how dreadful the environment and the politicians who couldn’t give a damn, that is a great accomplishment.” Ariel Dorfman
STORIES OF SEVDAH – THE BALKAN BLUES
“When I first heard this emotionally stirring music called Sevdah I had no understanding of it nor had I made any assumptions other that it would probably be one of those Eastern European gypsy like energetic music forms. After the first three notes I was astounded by its beauty, lyricism and seductive rhythms – my heart felt too big for my chest.
“I had been asked to film the premier of Differences in Demolitions in Mostar by my wife who is the producer of that beautiful opera which is based upon the music of Sevdah. I decided that there could be an interesting story to pursue around the idea, so, having made a number of acquaintances over the three years the opera had been in development by OPERA CIRCUS, I set out, somewhat innocently, to film whatever I could stumble across.
“The very first morning of the first day I was introduced to Selem Berberovic who told me the story of the Bosnian War (1992-1995) using cherries he plucked from his tree. At that moment I realized I was about to discover and uncover much more than I had expected and from there the film developed a momentum and life of its own.
“The stories of pain and suffering were constantly tempered against goodwill, great human warmth and a desire to overcome the despair and pain caused by war and death with love and culture…I witnessed the aftermath of barbarism mitigated through cultural identity. In a place where politics and economics had so clearly failed to heal the people, culture and in particular music played a vital, fluid part in recovery. I believe that these lessons are far more universal in application than only for the Balkans and I hope this film may serve as a carrier of these thoughts.”
ESSAYS IN WOOD
“JOHN MAKEPEACE is one of the most admired and honoured English furniture designers and makers of his generations.
At the same time as I was working with John on this film, I had been going back and forth to Srebrenica (the scene of the genocide in 1995) filming the town through the eyes of local young people for what became CANDLES AGAINST THE NIGHT. It was difficult to switch between the nightmare filled town to John’s highly refined aesthetic.
John and I were politically wary of each other although I held and hold tremendous respect for him and his work. None the less, I believe I was chosen by him rather than by the Arts Council (who financed the film via the Devon Guild of Craftsmen) which was a credit to John. He said at one point that he liked a bit of grit in the mix…I guess my politics were the grit. But as the project went on, I began to increasingly appreciate John and his attitudes. It’s fascinating how often political opinions are emulsified by someone’s humanity.
“When I began to assemble the film, I felt at a loss. My first efforts were stodgy, pedantic, concerned with description. I was overly concerned with his procedures, techniques and opinions. The edit was going nowhere. I metaphorically paced for a week and then I remembered the wonderful sound of the wind whipping through the bare winter branches of a forest we had visited and the wonderful bird song of a sunny spring day when we were looking at felled trees in another forest.
The sounds gave birth to the idea that so much of what John had said to me made sense in terms of his embrace of the forms and materials of the natural world. His first comments in the film represent that.
“I had shot the story; I simply needed to understand what I had done. The material talked to me.”
SAVOURING EUROPE – 13 TV half hour documentaries
England, Ireland, France, Italy, Spain, Portugal, Greece, Belgium, Sweden, Germany, Lithuania, Romania, Hungry
From 1999 through 2005, Robert shot 26 documentaries about food and culture around the world, based on an idea of his. After having filmed these two documentary series, SAVOURING THE WORLD and SAVOURING EUROPE, and having encountered during the making of them the many problems about globalisation he is delighted to work for those who are part of the new solutions.
The series of 13 26 minute films based in 13 European countries reveals the relationship between the food people grow and prepare and the sustainability of rural communities and their farming and processing methods in the face of government and EU regulations and global economic pressures.
The films are an appetising treat for the eye and the heart, which encompasses an exciting breadth of foods, landscapes and traditions.
Robert said ‘People need to be free to live a life defined by their traditions rather then to be forced to conform to what others would impose for the needs of the market, politics or profits.’
Children as well as adults appreciate the series, which is educational and very enjoyable.
You can contact Robert at moc.serutcipnedlogtrebornull@trebor
SAVOURING THE WORLD 13 TV half hour documentaries
Japan, Thailand, Vietnam, India, Lebanon, France, England, Spain, Morocco, Brazil, Jamaica, Mexico, the USA
Savouring the World is a series of 13 26 minute films based in 13 countries around the world. It is the first of these two series (see above) revealing the origins of ingredients and what is made of them in these 13 diverse cultures. What the films make clear is that all food is a consequence of topography, geography, tastes, skills and human endeavour. Each area is beautifully filmed with numerous stories which take the viewer from the seas to rivers and lakes, mountains and valleys, revealing how, in each place, the food is also influenced by history as well as the prevailing winds.
“I think they are wonderful, and will clearly
have an enormous resonance with many people.”
Dr. Jules Pretty – UK government advisor on sustainability
“SAVOURING EUROPE is a beautiful look at the gastronomic roots on which
the continent is founded, and viewers will not only recognise the
rolling hills of West Dorset in one episode, but build up a
picture of the diversity of landscape and traditions and the
similarities of the threat that all 13 communities face.”
Blackmore Vale Magazine review
“Apart from the lovely stories, it’s sad to think that all the people featured are facing the end of their traditions the scripting was top notch…the filming was second to none…each shot brought brilliant results, and the lighting and colour were spectacular…I love (the voice over by Tina Ellen Lee)…not only does it have character; she has the passion that one would use to describe something fanatically… and the slight tweak to pitch makes you sit up and notice – and there was something in the way she described the fishermen as having a ‘collective individuality’, made us all take especial note.”
editor at BBC Norwich
“I have seen the film and I think it is really special, rural, down to earth, I loved it.”
Katalyn Bogyay -Ex Director of Hungarian Cultural Centre, London, currently UNESCO Ambassador for Hungary
For additional information about Robert’s documentaries, their or his availability please contact him here.
A GIFT OF CULTURE
-shown in conferences, universities and at the Davos Economic Forum
A GIFT OF CULTURE is an intelligent, articulate film about the damage done to children by the war in Bosnia:
a subtle portrayal of the burdens and vulnerabilities carried by the children, their families and communities.
But it dwells thoughtfully on the complex knots of emotional difficulty that implicate also the adults who try to help.
There is a sensitive counterpoint between visual images and words. The intellectual horizons are broad, with questions
about what music, the human voice and natural rhythms mean to us all. Above all, it is richly humane.
John MacAuslan, on the board of Warchild
A DVD can be purchased below.