Category Archives: PassengerFilms


Landscape Surgery’s cinema for cultural geography, PASSENGERFILMS, wins its second national award in a row for its work in education and public film curating.

Write off the map

bffs award 1

passengerfilms bffs award 1

Last night the British Federation of Film Societies held their annual award ceremonies for innovative film exhibition, and I’m excited to say that PASSENGERFILMS – the cultural geography themed cinema which I founded three years ago, and have worked on with a team of other volunteer PhD students since – won the national award for Best Film Education Programme for the second year running. (Above – me on stage at NFT1, accepting the award!) Congratulations to the PASSENGERFILMS committee, Miranda Ward, Mia Hunt, Liz Haines, and Harriet Hawkins. This means our programme of cultural geography themed events over the last twelve months has once again been nationally recognised, thanks in no small part to the fantastic speakers, researchers, and guest curators with whom we’ve been collaborating. Full information on all of our previous screenings is on the blog here, and some photos of recent screenings follow below.

Passengerfilms Images-page-001


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Expeditionary Film, Geographical Science and Media Culture

This PhD project, funded by AHRC and based in Royal Holloway’s Social & Cultural Geography Group, is supported by the newly-established Collaborative Doctoral Partnership between the Royal Geographical Society (with IBG) and the Royal Society.

The project will focus especially on the production, distribution and presentation of films made on successive Everest expeditions between 1922 and 1953. Drawing on unique archival film collections held by the BFI, the Everest expedition archives and related collections such as The Times archives, the research will consider the logistical and technical requirements of expeditionary film, including the role of Sherpa porters in film-making; the role of media sponsorship in shaping the presentation of expedition work; and how film was shown, and to what audiences, within the context of popular and scientific understandings of mountaineering in the period.

The research will also consider the wider significance and potential uses of the expeditionary film archive. This involves consideration of the role of key organizations, including the RGS and the BFI, in developing a community of interest around geographical film in the first half of the twentieth century. In addition to research in the unique Everest archives and in the associated BFI collection, the project will examine the potential of digital film in the context of public engagement and public memory.

The project will be supervised by Felix Driver (Professor of Human Geography at Royal Holloway) and Catherine Souch (Head of Research at the RGS-IBG). It is supported by the British Film Institute.

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‘From the Sea to the Land Beyond’

Waves breaking on the shore appear in cinema from the pioneering kinetoscope nature documentary Rough Sea at Dover (1895) to last year’s documentary The Secret History of Waves (2012), and were a returning feature of this week’s Passengerfilms event. The screening combined archival coast footage with live music and discussion of film scoring and landscape.

The J. B. Holmes documentary The Way to the Sea (1936), a part collaboration with composer Benjamin Britten (score) and poet W. H. Auden (narrative), retold the story of the electrification of the London-Portsmouth line and the superimposing of the National Grid on the old Roman road to the sea. Starting in AD 286, it gave a rapid history of invasions and shipping, finishing with Auden’s eccentric address to this century’s leisure-seekers on the ‘last straight run to the rolling plain of ships and the path of the gull’. The text (‘we seek… the sea!’) is available in full online here.


‘Foes, they are’ – guess who? in ‘The Way to the Sea’

Dr. Julie Brown, reader in music at Royal Holloway, discussed the remaining evidence of the scores of the Royal Geographical Society expeditionary films to Mount Everest (kinematographer J. B. Noel’s 1923 and 1924 films). As well as presenting the guttural Tibetan music which inspired the movements, she traced the history of the films’ exhibition in Britain, including live performances by visiting Tibetan monks, and played samples of her own reconstructed ‘palimpsest’ score.


Julie Brown playing her reconstructed accompaniment to ‘The Epic of Everest’


‘Into a Fairyland of Ice’, Epic of Everest intertitle

Guitarist and viola-player Kieron Maguire then introduced ‘The Shanty of Living Cinema’, a collection of extracts from experimental coastal films with a live soundtrack by himself and Robert Parkinson (dulcimer) of The Cabinet of Living Cinema. His talk moved from the sea horizon to the fascination with sea creatures in surrealist cinema. The film ‘The Salmon Jumped Over the Sun’ (Guinane, 2009) uses a canoe to film the waves from a seagull’s perspective. Jason Eberts’ ‘Aqueous Duende’ (2010) injected billows of ink into water to revisit the underwater aesthetic of cinematic works like H. M. Lomas’s ‘Fathoms Deep Beneath the Sea’, Jean Painlevé’s ‘The Love Life of the Octopus’, and Jean Vigo’s ‘L’Atalante’. Finally, an extract from ‘At Land’ (1944), by high priestess of surrealist cinema Maya Deren, opened with images of waves breaking and descending back into the sea, as Maya emerged like an amphibian to climb driftwood. (This film is featured in a montage of cinematic waves on beaches here, alongside Peter Hutton’s film on shipping containerisation ‘At Sea’). The Cabinet of Living Cinema finished with an audio piece, Sound Journeys of Dorset, which recorded experiences of stone quarrying in the Dorset sea cliffs by rock climbers, wild gardeners, and shell collectors.


‘At Land’


‘From the Sea to the Land Beyond’

The feature film, Penny Woolcock’s ‘From the Sea to the Land Beyond’ (2012), was nearly dialogue-free, entirely composed of a hundred years of coastal footage from the BFI’s archives, in collaboration with the Brighton-based band British Sea Power, who composed the full score. Some of the original archival clips are also mapped out on the English, Scottish, Welsh, and Irish coastlines here (click the interactive map). The use of collective filmmaking of this kind allowed the film to range across the many periods and themes of the coast (which Auden appeals to in his commentary), from boat building to beauty pageants, dancing halls to military armaments, and shipping containerisation to endangered migratory birds. Amongst the inevitable romantic themes – the derelict wharf; the lone lighthouse – were montages studies of historical change: phone networks, railway lines, shipping forecasts, and the changing practice of sea rescue across time. Motifs ran throughout the evening’s screenings and talks:  the ebb of tourism, the rhythm of film scores, snatched footage of seagulls in flight, and, of course, the waves breaking on the sea shore, across the century of film.

'From the Sea to the Land Beyond'

‘From the Sea to the Land Beyond’

For further information on this event’s materials please see here; to be informed of future Passengerfilms events (which are monthly), subscribe to the Passengerfilms blog, or follow them on Twitter (@PASSENGERFILMS) or Facebook.

P.S. Coincidentally, sound artists Mark Fisher and Justin Barton’s audio-essay on the Suffolk coastline, On Vanishing Land, combines digital music with coastal ghost stories, and will be screening until the end of March.

Amy Cutler (Ph.D. candidate) writes on the materials being screened and performed on Monday at Landscape Surgery’s PASSENGERFILMS event.

Write off the map


While I usually don’t post my own events here (the monthly academic screenings can be seen at the Passengerfilms blog), Monday’s event (7.30pm, 25th Feb, Roxy Bar & Screen) is explicitly coastal. The Cabinet of Living Cinema are performing a live cinema voyage “from Romantic poetry to avant-garde cinema to surf films, exploring our aesthetic relationship with seascape and coastline”. This will include excerpts from Maya Deren’s second experimental film, At Land, and also the live radio piece, Sound Journeys of Dorset, recorded amidst the quarries of Dorset’s man-made wilderness. The live scoring and live foley will be by Kieron Maguire (guitar, viola) and Robert Parkinson (dulcimer).



At Land, made partly in collaboration with John Cage, is a fifteen minute silent film in which Maya Deren is a creature washed up from the sea, crawling into cramped, claustrophobic society. The soundtrack will be…

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Herds and hills / Animal Geographies / Passengerfilms

A still from Herd in Iceland at the Roxy Bar and Screen 23rd January, courtesy Rupert Griffiths

Still from Herd in Iceland / Roxy Bar and Screen / 23rd January, courtesy Rupert Griffiths

The first Passengerfilms of the year set us off to a great start. Many thanks to all of those who came along, despite the wintry chill.  All three films at this screening focused on the activity of herding; a human-animal-landscape interaction with its own special rhythms and forms.

The short ‘Reindeer’, (Eva Weber, 2011)  was a brief study of the flurry of bodies and breath in the dusk of Lapland. ‘Herd in Iceland’ (Lindsay Blatt/Paul Taggart, 2012) was a charming portrait of Icelanders involved in the annual tradition of letting the horses loose to graze, then gathering them in again. The feature-length documentary ‘Sweetgrass’ (Ilisa Barbash/Lucien Castaing-Taylor, 2009) really brought across the sweat and tears involved in driving a flock of sheep across the wilds of Montana; a sheer mass of animal weight and will.

Passengerfilms owes a very special thanks to Hayden Lorimer. Hayden came down from Glasgow to talk to our London audience about the effect that a summer spent with the Cairngorm reindeer herd has had on his life. Ten years down the road, new reflections had emerged. It was an evening with cinematic wind in our hair, ears ringing from mewling of animals, stories of affection, violence and co-habitation. And more than I think we anticipated, a welcome break from shuffling in and out of central-heating and slushy gutters. Coming up in February will be an exploration of sound and landscape in film. If you’re not on the mailing list- click here to sign up, and we’ll keep you posted…

Prestigious Award for Passengerfilms

Amy Cutler, Elizabeth Haines, and Rupert Griffiths

Amy Cutler, Elizabeth Haines, and Rupert Griffiths collect the Film Society of the Year Award for Best Film Education Programme.

PASSENGERFILMS—the cultural geography film series, run by postgraduate students in the Department of Geography at Royal Holloway, University of London—has today won a prestigious national prize: the Film Society of the Year Award for Best Film Education Programme. Amy Cutler, Elizabeth Haines, and Rupert Griffiths (Ph.D. candidates) accepted the award at a ceremony at the Institut français du Royaume-Uni in South Kensington.


Passengerfilms profiled by the NCCPE

Recent Passengerfilms posters

Recent Passengerfilms event posters.

Passengerfilms—the award-winning cultural geography film series, run by postgraduate students in the Department of Geography at Royal Holloway, University of London—is profiled today by the National Co-ordinating Centre for Public Engagement.


Earth-writing and film

Like the English summer and the Central Line, this post comes slightly delayed; nonetheless, a recent Passengerfilms event is worth recounting, especially because it launched a new chapter for our Department.

On the 19th of July, a crowd at Roxy Bar & Screen celebrated the new Master’s program, jointly run between Geography and English at Royal Holloway. The MA Creative Writing: Place, Environment, Writing, is the first of its kind and captures the current renaissance of place-based creative writing.

Passengerfilm’s founder & PhD Candidate Amy Cutler introduces the evening (photo by Rupert Griffiths)

David Gilbert spoke briefly about the much-anticipated program before introducing former Poet Laureate Sir Andrew Motion, who read ten short poems, setting a reflective, if somewhat wistful, tone for the evening.  Along with his tender writings, Sir Motion shared his enthusiasm for the program, its applicants, and the evening’s rich program.

David Gilbert invites Andrew Motion to the floor (photo by RUpert Griffiths)

Heather Yeung, co-organiser of WALK, introduced our first film Little Sparta, a visual ode to Ian Hamilton Finlay’s renowned garden.  The film pensively meanders through the epigrams and historical witticisms inscribed into the landscape at varying states of (in)completion, reflecting Finlay’s belief that “a garden is not an object, but a process”. Many of us agreed we want to see the garden in the flesh and at one point David Gilbert could be overheard reminiscing about days past when, behind the wheel of a mini-bus, he took postgrads on road trips.  Could a tour to Little Sparta be in the cards?

Ian Hamilton Finlay’s “Little Sparta” (photo by Rupert Griffiths)

Head Curator Jamie Andrews promoted the British Library’s current exhibition Writing Britain: Wastelands to Wonderlands, which exposes the storied relationship between British landscape and literature.  This was followed by UCL’s James Kneale who joined us to introduce the Literary Geographies blog, which promises to be useful for geographers and writers alike – required reading for new MA students perhaps?

The evening’s feature was introduced by the film’s co-producer, and author in his own right, Gareth Evans.  Gareth said he thought the film Patience (After Sebald) (2012) captured the spirit of this enigmatic writer.  We couldn’t agree more.

Crowds enjoying Grant Gee’s “Patience (After Sebald)” (photo by Rupert Griffiths)

Grant Gee’s meditative film weaves through W.G. Sebald’s walks and meditations around coastal East Anglia and around his masterpiece The Rings of Saturn (1995).  The moving work charts Sebald’s influence on other practitioners, including Tacita Dean, Robert Macfarlane, Katie Mitchell, Rick Moody, Andrew Motion, Chris Petit, Iain Sinclair, and Marina Warner.  Visually and aurally compelling, the film captures the complexity and melancholy of Sebald’s work and illustrates how a writer’s imagination, experience, and creativity imbues place with life and meaning.  Even in David Gilbert’s mini-bus, we may never find Sebald’s East Anglia.

From “Patience (After Sebald)” (photo by Rupert Griffiths)

Sebald’s work is sure to inspire the place-based writing of incoming MA students.  Indeed, we all left the cinema with both a reverence for his work and an excitement for the work to come.

Mia Hunt (Ph.D. student at Royal Holloway)

Amy Cutler (a Ph.D. student at Royal Holloway) discusses July’s upcoming PassengerFilms event.


‘In August 1992, when the dog days were drawing to an end, I set off to walk the county of Suffolk, in the hope of dispelling the emptiness that takes hold of me whenever I have completed a long stint of work…’ (Sebald, Rings of Saturn)

To celebrate the launch of the new Place, Environment, Writing MA run collaboratively by geographers and writers at Royal Holloway, we’re back at the Roxy Bar and Screen putting on a special screening of Grant Gee’s Patience (After Sebald) (2012), alongside launch drinks, a short film by theEYE on Ian Hamilton Finlay’s Little Sparta, and talks from Sir Andrew Motion, James Kneale, Heather Yeung, Jamie Andrews and Gareth Evans.

Patience (After Sebald) (2012, 82mins) is a stunning multi-layered film essay on landscape, art, history, life and loss by the acclaimed documentary film-maker Grant Gee (‘Joy Division’, 2007). It’s an…

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