Ben Rivers needs to be included in this year’s advent calendar. When I watched his film first time round at last year’s Slow Cinema weekend in Newcastle, and heard more about him, he was immediately a point of interest. Perhaps this was the case because he made and still makes films the old-school way. Analogue film, developed in his kitchen sink. This alone says a lot about his approach to filmmaking. It also says something about slowness.

Two Years at Sea (2011), Ben Rivers

Rivers’ approach stands in contrast to, say, Lav Diaz. What I gathered from reading about slow-film directors, I could figure that making a slow film is relatively fast. Or can be, if the funding is right. Let’s think about a mainstream blockbuster for a moment: There are so many cuts in them that it must be a real pain to maintain an overview of all the shots (angles etc). I only ever made short films at university (apart from the 12mins documentary), and they weren’t slow. It was difficult to keep on track of things, and even though I know that I’m not a professional at all, I always imagine blockbusters to be a jigsaw of 300,000 pieces, which takes ages in the editing room to put back together.

I remember Béla Tarr having edited The Man from London in a week. Lav Diaz isn’t exactly slow either. It’s easy. A static camera, a long take. There’s nothing much to edit. If you’re clever and successful enough in your filmmaking, all you need to do is glue the long-takes together. This is not to say that slow-film directors don’t have editing skills. Not at all. It’s just an entirely different way of editing for some directors.

Rivers slows down the whole process of filmmaking by developing the film himself. He’s one of the few directors who have so far remained with analogue film. Tarr was another director who would have never touched digital (though I suppose he probably does now during his teaching in Sagreb).

Two Years at Sea (2011), Ben Rivers

Two Years is a lovely treatment of solitude. Of a happy life in solitude. While in other slow films, solitude is a state the characters long to escape from (as evident in Tsai Ming-liang’s films), Rivers uses solitude to show its beauty. The film doesn’t contain any dialogue, or rather monologue, as we’re all alone with Jack in the middle of nowhere in the Scottish Highlands. It tells the story of a man in his own world. In a happy world, in a world free of everything. There is no dependency apparent. Jack is a free man.

The film cuts to old photographs from time to time. We see Jack’s history, memories of the past, time arrested. The two media visually recording history come together here. And again, Two Years is at times more photographic than – what is the word, cinematic? Filmic? Rivers has a sharp photographic eye. Combined with a static camera, he joins the club of slow-film-or-photo-album directors. I can’t wait for his new film, he did in collaboration with Ben Russell!

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