Regeneration, and an interview with James Burt

At last month's Absurdia event, we were perplexed, amused and challenged by some interesting short films compiled around the theme of the magical and surreal. Among the best was James Burt's Regeneration, a film which he introduced as having to do with a woman releasing a past trauma. I was somewhat expecting a visceral or disturbing piece, yet what I saw was an oddly beautiful journey through the marriage of the manmade and the natural, the psychological and the otherworldly. Really beautiful work.

London's James Burt has been quietly sneaking up on us with his talent and intuition. I got some answers to my "who is this guy?" questions via mailterview with the man himself. Enjoy.

ML: What brought you into the world of film?

JB: I've always had an obsession with film since I was child. I used to make short films with my dad's DV camcorder and edit them in-camera to VHS -- this is where I developed a fascination with editing. The first match-cut I ever made with this horribly painstaking method was a great satisfaction, and it wasn't until after I came out of uni with the intention of becoming a writer that a bleak-looking future somehow forced me to rediscover filmmaking. Something otherworldly took my hand and lead me back towards editing, and within a year of looking at a non-linear editor for the first time I had my first freelance editing job. Now, four years later, I am Senior Editor at a rapidly growing production company and spend a lot of my free time making short films and experimenting with my other love -- getting hands-on with cameras and using them to express my ideas.

ML: The first film I saw of yours was To You My Love at Shorts on Tap a few months ago. That film, combined with several of your others like Through the Looking Glass and Tiger Bread, contain some interesting depictions of women. Is there any particular motivation behind this?

JB: As a white middle class man I've always been able to take a lot of things in life for granted, and as I've matured and become more outward-thinking I find myself being a lot more conscious of and a lot more interested in the experiences of others. I thank my girlfriend, Ellie, for my becoming a feminist. I know that through film it is unlikely that I will ever be able to communicate the feelings and experiences of a woman as truthfully as a woman could, but I've come to realise that it's just as artistically interesting to communicate what I -- a self-conscious man -- feel a woman's experience is, not that there is actually such a thing as linear and succinct as 'a woman's experience'! I suppose what I'm interested in are the fears and vulnerabilities and biological implications that a man would never have to worry about, and through film I am trying to understand and relate to these things.

ML: I really love the way you film nature and man-made space, especially in pieces like Hainault and Regeneration. What inspires/has inspired you to film them the way you do?

JB: I grew up in a town in Kent which, despite the natural beauty of its surroundings, I have never felt comfortable in. Every few weeks my parents would drive me into East London to see my grandparents, and I always found something so magical about the skyscrapers drifting past on the horizon. As I grew older I would spend as much time in the city as I could, fascinated by the different cultures and the energy and the things happening everywhere. I am a skateboarder so the smooth streets and concrete everywhere was my playground. It felt like the environment matched the speed of my brain activity, when in the countryside I was fizzing away and bored and angry because I felt like I was surrounded by people who were unhappy with themselves, and so in turn unhappy with others, and had no intention of doing anything about it. (Since I've moved to London it's only when I go into the suburbs that people shout insults from their car windows at me, and since I've moved to London I haven't met any more casual racists). 

However, in the past few years of living in the city, and still loving it, the pressures of work have made me re-evaluate my relationship with the countryside and nature, and I have rediscovered my absolute love for walking through forests. I go to the forest to clear my mind, but quite often I take my camera with me and actually never manage to clear my mind at all for getting to excited about creating another film! My film FOREVER is about the experience of happening upon the quiet peace and subtlety of nature and feeling in that moment truly connected with it.

I'm working on a film at the moment which is trying to express the same thing but about the city; feeling connected with the environment and pure racing joy of just being there -- in London -- in the element. With this film I'm also trying to return to one of my other inspirations, the marriage of jazz and beat poetry, which always sets me on fire with ideas.

ML: Is there a particular type of film you'd like to make in the future? 

JB: Yes! I'm really drawn at the moment to documentary. I've got a couple of simple short docs in the pipeline with the view of experimenting with style and gaining confidence to tackle something more interesting. I'd also like to up my game with a really good narrative short, though my scripts so far haven't been up to scratch. I've directed a couple of commercials for my day job, which has boosted my confidence and have been working with some way more experienced directors. I am hopefully learning enough from [them] to lead my career in that direction, towards artistic commercials. I'm thinking more Nike, not Daz Doorstep Challenge.

ML: What's coming up next for you?

JB: Next, as mentioned, are some short docs. I'm up-ping my game now visually, while trying to retain the style of camera work that I feel most elemental and creative doing. I have almost finished a short documentary that I filmed last year, in which I follow a young woman to the grave of her mother in a small, remote village on a hill in Gloucestershire. She lost her mum when she was fourteen and has never been able to see her grave apart from on disparate, stuffy family visits, and not having her close has has a tremendous effect on her grief. The film is a quiet, intimate journey to this hillside. Its been edited, I just need to pick up one more shot before I can release it, but this something that I'm hoping some people might be able to relate to and find comfort from.

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For more on James Burt's work, stay glued to his Vimeo page. My deepest thanks again to James!

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