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Edwin Miles: Looking to the Future artist spotlight

Today we are talking to film maker Edwin Miles, taking a closer look at his practice as well as discussing his inspiration for his film Shadows in a Landscape which is currently featured in our Looking to the Future online archive. Edwin Miles is a filmmaker, moving image artist, and home moviemaker from Worcestershire in the West Midlands, UK, dramatising personal memories to create narratives through film.

Image description: a black and white landscape poster depicting a a close up shot of a staircase weaving up to the edge of the frame, with a thin window at the top left. Bold white text in the centre reads Edwin Miles, underneath in a smaller font reads @eajmiles.

Can you briefly introduce yourself and describe the kind of artwork you are currently making?

I am Edwin Miles, a self-shooting filmmaker, moving image artist, and home moviemaker from Worcestershire in the West Midlands, now based in South London. A lot of my film work to date reflects on a relationship between person and place, often turning to the contrast between my current city circumstance and my small riverside town upbringing.

What do you draw inspiration from to inform your filmmaking?

Many things but namely a combination of my film interests, the home movie aesthetic, the real-life journeys I take, and my current circumstances that are often in connection to the places I find myself in.

The first would be my interest in British travelogue or psychogeographic cinema or films that place film form and film image first. Some examples would be Derek Jarman, Peter Greenaway, John Smith, Michelangelo Antonioni, Scott Barley, artist filmmakers Daniel and Clara, and Pedro Almodovar. For me, to varying degrees, these filmmakers place an emphasis on film form as a means of driving any kind of narrative whereby its image, its placement, its location is integral. Their explorations around and imagistic distillation of places and spaces – be that Stonehenge from Daniel and Clara, foggy South Wales hilltops from Scott Barley, cityscapes of Milan or London from Antonioni – has helped me understand my own connection to places and perhaps has informed my use and interrogation of the locations I find myself in.

Secondly, I have come to have a close connection with home movies and consider them as the most experimental films ever made; they pan with an amateur twitchiness, erratically zoom in and out, cut from scene to scene with a harsh abruptness, have a terribly low image quality, and the relationship between subject and filmmaker is directly explored in the fabric of the film. They are the most experimental by nature yet the most cherished too. With home movies, the avant-garde is pulled right into the mainstream, from the underground into the comfort of a living room – and this I absolutely love. The effortlessness of the home movie, its natural ability at being formally interesting and visually stimulating, is something I am constantly trying to recapture throughout my film work.

As previously mentioned, a lot of my film practice to date relies on specific locations and the real-life journeys I take around these spaces. Therefore, the film’s narrative often directly responds to these spaces and incorporates my on-location observations and certain things that have happened while I have been there. These are then dramatised to fit within the framework I am using, helping blur the lines between documentary and fiction and, importantly, play with ideas of authenticity – something I am always putting into question within my film work.

Finally, I draw inspiration from the places I currently live, too. This is often looking at how far I have found myself detached from my own memories – which is explicitly explored in my latest film Shadows in a Landscape and will be further explored in my upcoming film projects too. Living in London city has made for a big inspiration as its own landscape separates itself from the rest of the UK; trips away from the city are noticeable on a visual level as the cityscape cascades drastically as you leave via train or car. Therefore, my film work often draws inspiration from London’s disassociation with the rest of the UK, regularly turning back to the contrast between my current circumstance in the city and my riverside town upbringing in the West Midlands.

Edwin Miles, Window Works, film still, 2021

Image description: a montage of two black and white images. The top image depicts the entrance to a building, featuring pipework and metal gates. The image below shows a closeup shot of a man sitting by a window, their hand stretched to there face.

You have described how journeying to different cities is a source of inspiration for your work. Can you tell us more about this influence?

I’ve always been interested in place and, particularly, the relationship between people and place. My favourite places aren’t the grand cities I’ve visited or the short holidays abroad I’ve had, but are the places that have resonated on a deeply personal level: Bewdley High Street on New Year’s Eve, North Beach in Tenby making sandcastles with my Grandad, beach-side barbeques while living in Cornwall. These places eventually move into memory and it is while there that they are eulogised and made eternal. I can’t seem to let go of memories and they seem to permeate my work as a result.

Moving to London was quite a shock at first. The expansive cityscape drastically contrasts the small riverside town I grew up in; Bewdley’s timelessness vastly juxtaposes London’s constant ever-changing, ever-growing landscape. London fails to stay still long enough for you to make a connection to it in the same way as my hometown (though I hope some connection will grow the longer I live here). This fact makes you look at the city in a different way and my work naturally started to comment on London’s unique difference to the rest of the country, particularly the West Midlands I knew well.

I’m a huge fan of British travelogue or psychogeographic cinema – for example, the short work of Mark Jenkin, the clever of John Smith, the highly political of Patrick Keiller, the immensely homemade of Margaret Tait, the early work of Peter Greenaway, or the untouchable Derek Jarman. These films often used image and voice over as its form, a style which felt attainable for a self-shooting, early-career filmmaker like myself. This simple, yet effective, narrative device effortlessly manages to draw a connection between person and place all the while drawing attention to film form; how the film is put together, layered, how it is composed, its pacing all start to come into view more directly. These films all started to comment on a British landscape that I was either aware of or coming to terms with, too, so there was an instant, integral interest already there.

What drew you to a practice in filmmaking?

I used to collect a lot of VHS tapes and DVDs when I was younger. Films became something to hold, something to do, something to occupy time, something to think about, something to discuss, something to share with others, something to do with others, and I probably naturally realised films could also be something to make as well. Films were probably the first thing that I had really started to gain an interest in and that has just stuck the further I have gone into the world of cinema and explored its many forms, different styles, and history. It is also worth noting that my Grandad would always film family events using his VHS camcorder and my oldest brother, like me, collected DVDs and would watch a lot of films. Being around that environment when I was younger must have had some kind of subconscious affect and film therefore became something familial too.

What is your process for creating a new film?

At the moment I try to stay away from writing scripts. I like to approach film firstly from the viewpoint of The Image. The Image is key. This doesn’t necessarily refer to its pictorial qualities but, moreover, how a subject is contextualised within a particular framework. This could be a stairwell seen in my first film Window Works, the Four Stones that sit atop the Clent Hills in Shadows in a Landscape, or a river seen in one of my upcoming short films, The New River. Structure is then naturally borne from image, primarily using journeys that navigate around these spaces. I see myself as an opportunist filmmaker, taking inspiration from the great Margaret Tait, where images come from the surroundings that I situate myself in. From image to structure then comes narrative.

So far, throughout my film work, I have treated filmmaking like a series of layers, a slow construction of pieces that fit on top of one another, eventually combining to make a whole. The major narrative device I used in Shadows in a Landscape, and my other films, too, is voice-over narration, though even this is borne from the image, being inspired by the real-life journeys I take and the images my camera captures. So planning (or pre-production), by and large, goes out of the window as these film projects almost naturally construct themselves over a spanned period of time, all the while trying to experiment with formal elements that help add thematic importance.

We recently showcased your short film ‘Shadows in a Landscape’ as part of the Looking to the Future film screening. Can you tell us more about the themes and concepts within the film and your creative process?

At the end of 2019, I decided to take a walk up the Clent Hills near Birmingham after seeing pictures of the Four Stones on my brother’s iPhone. The stones reminded me of Derek Jarman and his short film A Journey to Avebury, a beautiful film about an enigmatic place, shown without words or character – the place took centre stage. I initially wanted to make a picturesque film about the landscape in Birmingham, dispelling any prejudice of the West Midlands landscapes and finding a further attachment to a place I hadn’t lived in for over 5 years. When I arrived on location I was quickly greeted by cold winds, rain, fog, and a lot of people. The landscape’s picturesque qualities were therefore clouded and the people’s conversations regarding dog poo and messy nights out spoiled the atmosphere I had wanted to capture on film.

However, my camera has quite a magical quality in that through its monitor it shows a coloured image but through its viewfinder it shows a monochrome image. As I was about to turn and leave the hills I looked through the camera’s viewfinder and saw moving shadows appearing from a cluster of trees nearby. The people turned into shadows, the fog turned into mysticism, the hills into a new landscape completely. Looking directly into a viewfinder, and therefore blocking out my peripheral vision, helped see the landscape in a new light and suddenly the conversations that had ruined my walk were starting to fade away and I started to perceive things in an imagistic way. It was then that I realised what film I was actually making: a film about the relationship between people and their spaces, exploring how the two are continually attached.

Shortly after this discovery my dad (who drove me there) appeared from the fog in the distance. I hadn’t expected him to come up on the walk and his silhouette on the horizon made him look like an apparition or ghost – there was something unreal about seeing someone I knew yet not being able to fully make out their person (I also have bad eyesight). Here, I quickly realised that my own relationship to place, and particularly the Worcestershire landscape I had grown up in, was going to be a key theme in the film and this spurred the decision to dramatise my childhood memory of a family myth to coincide with my dad playing his own ghost in the film. He stood out in a landscape that was starting to become more and more interesting the longer I stayed there. His appearance (or reappearance) reinforces the idea that I didn’t go to see Worcestershire the landscape but the real Worcestershire, the people that occupy it.

Edwin Miles, Shadows in a Landscape, video, 7:06 min, 2021

Video description: a black and white video in a travelogue style, depicting handheld footage of a rural landscape, depicting a climb up the Clent Hills. The film includes a autobiographical narration reflecting on the present moment and thinking back at specific memories.

Why do you choose to shoot films using Mini DV over more modern filming processes?

I like to think that my association with video, and Mini DV in particular, has something to do with how my Grandad always held a VHS camcorder during my childhood and the subsequent home movies that would be watched; Jason and the Argonauts would quickly be followed by the Miles Family Christmas 2002.

Shadows in a Landscape was the second film project of mine that was shot using Mini DV. Having been a big fan of Derek Jarman for a number of years, I was initially interested in Super 8mm and particularly the texture and graininess of outmoded filmmaking formats and the way these films seemed inextricably linked with formal experimentation. The crucial difference between Super 8 and Mini DV for me, though, was how Mini DV was reminiscent of the videos I watched growing up – that is, my Grandad’s VHS home movies. Introspection, memory, family, and home as themes prevalent in my current film work seemed to go hand in hand, then, with Mini DV while simultaneously adding a textured, grained look to the images that I was interested in with Jarman’s Super 8 work.

You describe how psychogeography is a prevalent theme within your work. Can you tell us what this means to you and how it informs your work?

I understand psychogeography as being how particular geographical locations influence a behaviour or psychological response to that space. However, in my work I like to take this even further, connecting geographical spaces with memory and this naturally starts to explore the importance of home and family – which is taken further still through my use of Mini DV.

I also first came across the term when I started watching the films of John Smith and Patrick Keiller whose explorations of London were shown via a film form that exploited the voice over. So psychogeography also became a style as well as a study. The concept that the voice is a reflection of the mind, something that rests above and hovers over the image, something that is working in a different timeframe – the image as present, the voice as looking back on the image – helped me come to terms with using voice over as a stylistic device. There was something beautifully self reflective about both Smith’s and Keiller’s work, an integral connection between subject and filmmaker which I found was prevalent in home movies and of which I really wanted to try and do in my own unique way.

Psychogeography is an odd term but it is one I gravitate towards, too, because of my dislike to refer to my films as experimental. Experimental sometimes seems to be a buzz word for weird and pretentious and is therefore marginalised for this, so I prefer to use the word psychogeographical, rightly or wrongly, when referring to my own film work. I also like the idea of attaching myself to a common historical thread of British cinema, as if continuing the journey that started with someone like Humphrey Jennings, was picked up by the likes of Jarman, Tait, Smith, and Keiller, and then continues with Mark Jenkin. This in itself seems almost psychogeographical and perhaps is more important than the actual films themselves. A journey through (British) cinema.

Edwin Miles, The Bew River, film still, 2021

Image description: a black and white landscape image showing a country setting with a dark country house sat upon a river lush with greenery.

What are you working on now and what might you be doing moving forwards?

I have two films I am working on at the moment. First is a film called The New River. Second is a film triptych called The Meeting House.

The New Riveris another travelogue-style film set along The New River in North London, a 28-mile-long man made river that travels slowly into Islington. In this film I wanted to push the fiction further in my work and I’ll be playing a convict on the run from his hometown. The film (if completed) will be part travelogue on the real-life journey I took along the entire New River route, part fictionalised convict story, and part warning signal for climate change, reflecting, too, on the West Midlands flooding that kick started last year and re-emerged at the beginning of this.

The Meeting Houseis a film project commission on the working-class community in Newington Green as part of a larger event on the subject that will take place in the Meeting House building later in the year. The Meeting House will use a triptych to create a congregation of images shot around Newington Green, Stoke Newington, and the surrounding streets to form a meeting place for the locals to reflect on their understanding of the working class. This is an exciting project as it has made me start to think deeper about and embrace my own class heritage and it is a project that substitutes my own personal connection with places with other peoples. If Shadows in a Landscapes my story about my hometown, The Meeting House is their story about their home, their place. This excites me.

I am working on some other films – a short home movie about childhood memory set in a seaside town in South Wales, another short film called Flood Water, and a fiction film called Modern Nature – but these are mere ideas so far.

If you would like to see more of Edwin's work you can find most of there artistic updates on Instagram: @eajmiles.

Edwin Mile's work alongside others can still be viewed in the Looking to the Future digital archive here.

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