‘Dust & Metal’ – Professor Esther Johnson awarded British Council’s Digital Collaboration Fund
The great news that Dust & Metal has been awarded the Digital Collaboration Fund has been covered by international film industry news resource Screen Daily. Click here to find out more.
The British Council have announced that DUST & METAL (Bụi và Kim loại), the second feature from director and Professor of Film and Media Arts Esther Johnson, will receive funding of £50,000 from their Digital Collaboration Fund, enabling completion of the film in the face of significant barriers posed by the pandemic.
With production disrupted and travel not possible to complete the film in Vietnam, the Live Cinema UK-produced project will partner with the Vietnam Film Institute and Hanoi-based film collaborative TPD: The Centre for Assistance and Development of Movie Talents, to remotely produce an innovative archive documentary, sharing never-before digitised archive materials between Vietnam and the UK.
DUST & METAL will utilise archive and newly shot footage to bring real stories of freedom in Vietnam past and present to the screen, through the unique relationship with the country’s ubiquitous mode of transport: the motorbike. A new electronic score by Vietnamese artist Xo Xinh and sound artist Nhung Nguyen will be devised with the unique aim of being performed live as a “cine-concert” for the project’s initial festival run.
The work lays new ground for the repositioning of, and accessibility to, rare archive film: in the vein of Johnson’s first feature Asunder, DUST & METAL will comprise primarily archive footage alongside newly shot footage from Johnson during initial production in Vietnam in late 2019.
“Much of my work is concerned with uncovering alternative social histories and this project is all about stories connected to Vietnam’s unique relationship with the motorbike. On first arrival in
Vietnam I was hypnotised by the swarm of motorbikes and was exhilarated getting around Hà Nội on the back of a bike. Bikes are such a powerful symbol of Vietnam’s history: the popularity
of motorbikes now replacing the mass bicycle use in the 1950-70s that was crucial for the transportation of supplies during the war in Vietnam. Both cycles and motorbikes are invaluable for navigating Vietnam’s ‘hẻm’ alleyways too narrow for cars. The current independence and freedom of Vietnam motorbike culture reminded me of Hồ Chí Minh’s famous quote, ‘Nothing is more precious than freedom and independence’.I am fascinated by archive film and this project is designed to offer a new perspective of Vietnamese cultural heritage and place through the synergy of collaging heritage and new film, with contemporary music and traditional instrumentation. During the development of the concept
for Dust & Metal I was fortunate to view material held in the Vietnam Film Institute archives and am excited to be working with both VFI and TPD on the project and am grateful to British Council for supporting this new initiative.”Esther Johnson
Through the repositioning of difficult to access archive film, contemporary footage, and a live score, DUST & METAL will make rare archive film available to new audiences and illuminate unfamiliar histories of Vietnam. A symbol of Vietnam and its history, motorbikes encompass notions of work, class, travel, technology, and escape. Owning one has enabled movement and enterprise for millions of people.
With a population of 97 million, and 45 million registered motorbikes (amongst the highest in South East Asia) that’s almost one bike for every two people. The countries urban roads, and ‘hẻm’ alleys that are too narrow for cars, are awash with the transportation of goods of all types and sizes on the back of motorbikes, including washing machines, entire families, and chickens. The sounds of engines and horns create a symphony of Vietnamese life.
During the war in Vietnam, bicycles were invaluable for transporting supplies of all sizes. Bicycles have been replaced with motorbikes to navigate the growing waves of traffic. In response to national and international debates on climate change, urban planners in Ha Noi aim to ban petrol/diesel motorbikes by 2030 in an attempt to ease traffic and curb pollution. Young people will be most affected by this change and companies in Vietnam are producing electric motorbikes as an alternative form of transport.
Media narratives of Vietnam tend to show the country either through a tourist lens (the Golden Bridge, Ha Long Bay) or through Hollywood versions of the war in Vietnam. These views contrast with news stories on human trafficking and the case of 39 Vietnamese nationals who died entering the UK in the back of a truck in October 2019. The contrasts are symptomatic of the country’s complex and opposing identities as a tourist destination, communist nation, and growing GDP in a time of flux. Stepping away from dominant depictions, DUST & METAL offers an unorthodox perspective of Vietnam that merges sound and vision for an immersive appreciation of a unique cultural heritage. Initial principal photography includes shoots in Ha Noi, Saigon, Danang, Hue and Hoi An. Research into archive film shot in Vietnam has been undertaken, with oral histories recorded, and environmental sound collected for production.
Esther Johnson is Professor of Film and Media Arts within the Art, Design and Media Research Centre at Sheffield Hallam University. Follow Esther’s work on her website, on Twitter @BlanchePictures and Instagram @Blanche_Pictures. Dust & Metal is on Twitter @DustandMetal and Instagram @dustandmetalfilm.Esther is an artist and filmmaker from Hull working at the intersection of artist moving image and documentary. In 2012 she won the Philip
Leverhulme Research Prize in Performing and Visual Arts for young scholars. Her poetic portraits focus on alternative social histories and marginal worlds, to reveal resonant stories that may otherwise remain hidden or ignored. Recurring themes include personal histories, heritage, tradition, folklore, regeneration, and exploration of architectural vernaculars and the inhabited environment.
Previous work includes a ROLE to PLAY (2019) featuring former Bolsover MP Dennis Skinner; 14-18 NOW commissioned WW1 feature documentary ASUNDER (2016) utilising newly shot footage and little seen WW1 archive film with music by Field Music and Warm Digits, performed with the Royal Northern Sinfonia and The Cornshed Sisters; and Abstractions of Holderness (2017) a collaboration with Saint Etienne, with score composed by Pete Wiggs and played live with the BBC Concert Orchestra. This work was made for the Will Gregory (Goldfrapp) curated ‘Mind on the Run’ event held during 2017 Hull City of Culture, in honour of extraordinary
composer Basil Kirchin. Other works include Alone Together: the Social Life of Benches (2015) supported by the Arts & Humanities Research Council; and It’s Quicker by Hearse: The Tale of the Petitioning Housewife, the Protesting Schoolboy and the Campaign Trail Student (2015) supported by the Science Museum and the National Railway Museum in York, and Chalk Trace (2013) a Channel 4 ‘Random Act’ supported by Film London.Works have exhibited in 40+ countries, including screenings at BFI London Film Festival; CPH:DOX, Copenhagen; ICA, London; International Documentary Film Festival Amsterdam; Landscape Institute, London; NASA, California; Sheffield Doc/Fest; and Tate galleries, London; with exhibitions including Humber Street Gallery; Istanbul Biennial; Japan Centre for Contemporary Art; and New Art Gallery Walsall. Film works have been shown on BBC and Channel 4, and audio works have been broadcast on ABC Australia, BBC Radio 4, Resonance FM and RTÉ radio.