Branded looks at an all to real world where creative expression is not only censored, but repressed. Writer, director and performer Pauline Amos explains where the film came from and why no artist should be forced to hide.
Branded is a film about repression. Why did you make it?
Branded was written in 2021, during the rapid take-over of Afghan by the Taliban. It was written as an expression of support for artists who are censored, imprisoned, or killed by repressive regimes. The work also references the Degenerate Art exhibition, Entartete Kunst, compiled by the Nazis in Germany 1937. The exhibition purported to demonstrate that modernist tendencies, such as abstraction, are the result of genetic inferiority and society’s moral decline.
April 2023, and I am editing the script, and working on pre-production for the film. I am watching the brave correspondents report on the war in Ukraine and listening to President Zelensky’s daily speeches and seeing the horrific images of war crimes and genocide. An attack on democracy, and fundamental human rights. Europe is re-living 1939 and hoping it doesn’t become 1940. Russian soldiers are pursuing, and Ukrainians are defending with hearts of lions. An underdog is fighting for its life. Fighting to maintain freedom. There is no doubt that if Russia prevails, artists and their work would be snuffed out or would have to work within the conditions and confines of the regime. Brandedemphasises the need for artistic expression, particularly in times of conflict and repression. The play is a reminder of what has gone before. It is a complaint and a warning.
I have worked as an artist for 30-plus years. An avant-garde, subversive, protest work, comments on the human condition, the human beast that eats itself, the insanity of humanity, the corruption of nature, challenging performance works, I have made my work, according to my code and I have never feared reprisals for the work I have made. I don’t want to have my freedom curtailed or be forced to restrict the work I make due to censorship or dictatorial doctrines.
Marcel Duchamp said, the artist of the future will have to go underground.
I do not want to have a life when I have to hide myself and my work. No one, no artist, should be forced to do that.
Nazar Grabar and Kateryna Polishchuk play voice roles in the film and are part of the Ukraine army. How did you find them, where was it filmed and what were the logistical issues with making Branded?
Nazar Grabar and Kateryna Polishchuk are both Ukrainian war heroes. Kateryna, also known as Ptashka of Azovstal, was captured in Mariupol and held as a prisoner of war for four months. She brings her real life-life experience to the film. Nazar was wounded in action, his brother was killed. I was introduced to Kateryna and Nazar by Ukrainian film producer, Jane Alieva. Jane works for PayBack4Ukraine, a campaign working towards seizing Russian assets for Ukrainian reparations. A campaign started by human rights lawyer Jason McCue.
You perform in the film, and you were writer, producer, and director. How affecting was it to put yourself in that position and to be part of a creative process that examined the denial of a creative process?
Researching regimes and the effect and repression of art and artists, I thought, what would happen to me, and if was the one captured, and the artist in a cell, what would I be thinking and feeling? That was the starting point for the script.
The film is beautifully shot, how important was the rich imagery and music to underlining the grim theme, how did you merge the elements together?
The narrative is harsh, a cruel and quite brutal portrayal of an artist incarcerated as the war continues around her. Wating for and hoping to be rescued. It was important to remember why she was captured, and her freedom stifled, who and what she had been before the war and imprisonment. Contrasting the cruel environment, where she is held in the story, with art, painting, poetry, music, is a reminder of why it is so necessary to fight for freedom. The film to be palatable, it needed the beauty and poetry as a relief from the scenes of oppression and intensity.
What is the role of the filmmaker or artist in society?
Two different roles, but then, a filmmaker can be an artist and vice versa. The artist must have a unique voice, is the voice, and dares to say what others dare not say, and guise it – or not -within the work. The artist is the unique voice, that challenges the doctrines and dogma. The artist doesn’t follow and develops a unique language and authentic mark and is the one that says, ‘no’, I do it my way. And thus why repressive regimes silence artists.
Art is the voice of freedom and regimes do not want that voice to be heard. This s a view from and for myself about this role, but there are many artists who do not want to fulfil this and want to be on a commercial mainstream path. They are not a threat to repression, but then in some countries they are, simply for being an artist. How many countries in the world forbid freedom of expression? And why should they? Creative expression is, I think, part of being human. If one is in love, the songs and poetry that expresses that are a way of expressing that, isn’t that human nature?
Artistic expression is not a luxury, it is a necessity, a human right. So, repression of self-expression is a corruption of human nature. I can’t accept that.
Branded is at the Totnes cinema in Devon, who should go to see it?
Everyone and anyone who cares about their freedom.
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