Noun: ‘an image or idea of life in the countryside that is believed to be perfect’
Sight & Sound: ‘An exhilarating audio-visual journey’
UNCUT: ‘There is magic in this film’
With Arcadia, the BAFTA award-winning Scottish director Paul Wright has repurposed archive material to tell a provocative story for our times. Set to an original score by musicians Adrian Utley (Portishead) and Will Gregory (Goldfrapp), Arcadia blends a mixture of film and TV footage from the BFI National Archive and regional archives around the UK, creating a powerful mosaic of images, sounds and moods, taking in folk carnivals and masked parades, hunting and harvesting, communes and raves, mechanisation, environmental destruction, fires, floods, storms. Arcadia reminds us what happens when our connection to nature, and each other, frays and unravels. By exploring and asking ourselves what we have gained and lost in the last century, perhaps we will discover something of what we’ll need to survive in the next.
IN THESE FIELDS OF LIGHT AND DARK
BAFTA award-winning director Paul Wright on making Arcadia
There were other titles that we deliberately stayed away from as we knew that the film would have this folk horror feel throughout – the idea of the secrets of the land coming back etc – so we knew that certain films could have been used to emphasise that point more, but they were just too strong as folk horror imagery. Those films certainly influenced Arcadia, but I think it would have been too much to have them in the film itself. It was about trying to make it work on a visceral, emotive level rather than an intellectual one.
It was definitely about showing different versions of the countryside and its conflicting histories. It feels like there’s something in the air now. We are generally looking at identity, what’s important to us and what it means to be British. It seems having the rural landscape as a character in itself helps focus these questions.
These politics are in the film as an undercurrent throughout, though it’s left to the audience to interpret rather than witnessing a straight polemic. It became a blurring in the film to show the complexity of where we are just now, while also looking at where we may be going next.
CROSSING THE LOWLANDS
Portishead’s Adrian Utley on creating the score for Arcadia
The most thrilling and challenging thing about working on a new soundtrack for Arcadia, was finding ways to respond musically to the rich archive material, and finding the right way to accompany and enhance the contrasting emotions and ideas that the images trigger. The film is a sensory journey, so Will Gregory and I wanted to compliment this emotional movement through a mixture of genres.
Arcadia also uses ‘natural’ sound: the wind in the trees, the pitter‐patter of rain, the mechanical changes in agriculture and our re-modelling of the land. Using these sounds sparingly and at the right time, the soundtrack worked with these moments to vary the pace and energy, balancing music, silence and sound around the broader themes and moods throughout the film.
VALE OF THE WHITE HORSE
Artist Stanley Donwood on designing the poster for Arcadia
I’m often on a train travelling through the bleak interior of the islands of Britain. One strange feature in that landscape is the white horse of Uffington, a chalk figure on the hill that slopes down from the Ridgeway. No-one knows how old the white horse is, or who cut it from the turf. Uffington, strangely, seems to have more than it’s share of murders, and it is certainly true that the Plain of Salisbury which it abuts is a peculiar and haunted place.
I was interested in cellular growth and this led me to the organic nature of field patterns. The painting, Vale of the White Horse, is partly a topographical painting but it’s also cartographic, as I’ve used a large-scale Ordnance survey map to copy the field patterns of Uffington. the older fields close to the village are small and irregular, bearing evidence of forgotten boundaries, vanished buildings and ancient rivalries, while the newer fields, further out, are characterised by straight lines and large sizes. They’re post-Enclosure Act. The painting was done in plastic, acrylic colours and the ‘sky’ is a light-absorbing matte black.
I have decidedly ambivalent views about the countryside, which is probably why I was interested in Arcadia and its layers. The film poster has been adapted from the original painting, and I’ve also made a print edition with Vaughan Williams at Tin Dogs in Brighton. It’s an edition of only twenty large prints, with super-saturated colour and silver leaf gilding on the white horse. It’s almost like a seductive advertisement for a product that will never exist. I’m very happy with them; to the extent that I’m going to hang one at home.
ON COMMON GROUND
Arcadia co-producer, Adrian Cooper, on why a charity is involved in the film
Common Ground is charity based in Dorset, which has been at the forefront of community conservation and environmental education in England for the last thirty years. We are not a think tank or political pressure group. We are a small, grassroots organisation that collaborate openly to reconnect people with nature and inspire communities to become responsible for their local environment. We believe that enjoying where you live and celebrating the connections people have with the wildlife and landscape on their doorstep, is at the root of meaningful conservation.
Cinema brings people together. Not only is the process of making films collaborative, but the screening of films creates a community event that can inspire conversations, debate and celebration. The process of making films and experience of screening them can uncover intimate attachments to particular landscapes and develop the kind of enjoyment and resolve that strengthens community resilience and cohesion in uncertain times.
Common Ground was founded in 1983 by Sue Clifford, Angela King and the writer Roger Deakin. Projects like Apple Day, New Milestones, Parish Maps and Community Woodlands have captured the imagination of hundreds of communities all over the country and continue to unearth very strong feelings of attachment and belonging, to local history, to language, nature, architecture, folklore, and to the landscape of places. In recent years, Common Ground has started producing films and hosting cinema events to explore how archive, music and film engage communities in conversations about our relationship with the land.
Arcadia is Common Ground’s first experience of co-producing a feature film. Following a series of conversations with Robin Baker, Head Curator at the BFI National Archive, who was involved in the digitisation of BFI’s rural archive for the Britain on Film project, the idea emerged to invite a young film-maker to mine the rural archive for images, and from its rich seams find a personal narrative that journeyed through the contradictory ideas and images of the land we live in.
With this idea, Common Ground approached co-producer Mark Atkin (Crossover Labs) and teamed up with producer John Archer (Hopscotch Films), who had recently finished working together on Atomic (directed by Mark Cousins, with music by Mogwai). John Archer introduced the project to a young fiction director, Paul Wright, whose previous feature film, For Those in Peril, was awarded a BAFTA. Paul has an extraordinary talent for balancing image and sound, and dove into the archive feeling as if he was time travelling, or wandering into a strange, forgotten land.
Arcadia is the result of Paul’s journey through the archives, enhanced by Adrian Utley and Will Gregory soundtrack that melts across genres, from folk to techno, punk to acid house. With the film complete, Common Ground is inviting people to respond to the film in words, music or images, and encouraging communities to host screenings of the film to widen conversations about nature and the land. We are also working with other organisations to explore the imaginative use of archives and storytelling in education and community-led projects.