This article also appeared in Hastings Online Times, published 24 October 2017.
"The only thing from the outside world that had really intruded into Agafya’s otherwise pristine forest was loads of fallen space junk amongst the trees," says Rebecca E Marshall about the surroundings of an extraordinary recluse called Agafya Lykova, who at the age of 73 lives alone in the Siberian Taiga.
Annie Waite speaks with Marshall, co-director and owner of Electric Palace Cinema, Hastings about Marshall’s astonishing forthcoming feature film, The Forest In Me, and her short films retrospective on Sunday 29 October 2017.
Hastings sea swimmers on film
Alongside a tantalizing extract from The Forest in Me, Marshall will also screen some of her other engrossing films during a retrospective of her short films, taking place as part of this year’s annual Black Huts Festival.
Glitter and Storm offers an admiring snapshot of the hardy Hastings’ sea swimming community who take to the water at night. It’s an almost soothing, dreamlike glimpse of some our town’s more wholesome nocturnal goings-on. You’ll likely recognize some of the swimmers included: well-known filmmaker, Andrew Kotting, joined by Nick Snelling, Berry White, Laetitia Yhap and many more local folk enjoying a dip in the channel.
“Glitter and Storm is not specific to a group but offers portraits filmed only in the sea of a diverse range of Hastings’ characters, from artists to bankers. The swimmers discuss time and death, balanced within both calm and stormy seas, drenching the viewer into a horizontally banded joyful world,” says Marshall. Iain Sinclair, the British writer and filmmaker, enthuses: “This film is a delight, a drench, a dream: as reviving as the thing it depicts, the elective rinse in the English Channel.”
In 2002, Rebecca E Marshall joined forces with Rachel Pearson and together they founded the Electric Palace Cinema in Hastings Old Town, Sussex. Marshall is an accomplished filmmaker and was awarded a scholarship for a PhD in Film by Practice with Exeter University and The London Film School.
As it’s the start of the academic year, many local students will have recently embarked on filmmaking courses. What advice would Marshall pass on to those just starting out in the field?
“It’s tough making films that don’t fall easily into mainstream categories, but there are routes that you can take. I will be taking questions as part of the event on Sunday and will be really happy to answer anything people want to know about the options of finding your path as a filmmaker. Also, I have to say that part of the joy of running the Electric Palace Cinema is programming such a range of films that I get to watch, and then really importantly being able to talk about the films with the audience. It’s a definite education in itself!” says Marshall.
Living in the forest alone
There’s a lot of excitement over the forthcoming feature film, The Forest In Me. I asked Rebecca to explain how this film came to fruition. “This project began in 2014 when I read an article about Agafya Lykova. She was born in the Siberian forest after her parents fled from religious persecution in 1936 to live in hiding, surviving for the rest of their lives hundreds of miles from the nearest town,“ says Marshall.
Agafya was the youngest of four siblings, and she didn’t meet another person outside of her family until the age of 38. The last of her family died nearly 30 years ago and since then she has chosen to remain in the forest on her own. “I had so many questions for Agafya, and I managed with the support of a successful Indiegogo fundraising campaign to travel to meet and film with her in 2015,” says Marshall.
Space junk in Siberia
As the sole survivor of a strict family of Russian Old Believers with no close family or children, Agafya keeps no images or written records from her life. Her entire existence, before her discovery in 1978, spanned decades of history while being totally outside it. “Agafya’s life is completely out of sync with the information age, a world where each individual is showered daily, now from our earliest years, with an immense amount of media-generated information,” says Marshall.
“I found it mesmerizing to consider the seasonal sense of time in her isolation. The only thing from the outside world that has really intruded into Agafya’s otherwise pristine forest, was loads of fallen space junk amongst the trees, jettisoned from rockets launched from the Baikonur Space Station in Kazakhstan,” continues Marshall.
The project has taken some surprising turns since its original inception. With modern intrusions into Agafya’s isolated world in mind, Marshall’s film contrasts the atmosphere of Agafya’s otherworldly life with another strangely parallel existence on the other side of the world, where six astronaut-scientists are isolated for a year, in a small pod on a Hawaiian volcano.
The crew, who are living as a simulation of survival on Mars, talk about time and space travel and what helps them to be happy in their secluded environment – including sitting around a virtual forest campfire. “Finding connections between the heart of the forest and a futuristic techno-pod, suddenly gave me a feeling of floating out of time, a sense of something shared and timeless,” says Marshall.
How time flies
During its early production stages, she had her first child (and has more recently given birth to her second son). “This experience has pulled into focus age-old thoughts about how to use time well. Time seems to rush by so quickly and at the same time stretch out so slowly…. I found myself taking so many pictures and videos on my phone of my new baby, and at the same time, I started to question my own need to film all these fleeting moments. The urge seemed to contrast even more my way of living to Agafya’s, who records nothing. However, she did love telling us stories of all her memories!” says Marshall.
So this ‘challenge’ has ended up feeding into the film, with contrasts and connections between ideas of past, present and future: space junk in the forest, a virtual forest in a space-pod and a forest of everyday moments shared between friends and family.
Alongside the clip from The Forest in Me, and Glitter and Storm, Marshall describes the other short films screening on Sunday. “The universal fascination with time has always been a driving element to my films. I have selected short films made in previous years that also play with these ideas.
“These will include Bee Fever, which is a carefully observed short documentary filmed in Brede, of a woman with cancer and how she uses her love of beekeeping as a metaphor to understand death and the cycle of life.
“Philip is a short piece about the naming of fields by a young Devon farmer spoken in his beautiful lilting accent describing the names that are not written down, only passed down orally through the generations.”
Hastings Black Huts Festival 2017 highlights
See Rebecca’s retrospective of short films including local folks and locations, on Sunday 29 October as part of Black Huts Festival of Music, Poetry and Film. During this year’s festival, the cinema will also host ‘The Doors Building’, a special two-seater pop-up cinema in situ, created by Bob and Claire Humm. The pop-up will be showing short films – reflections, dreams, memories – for 45 minutes before each event of the festival at the Electric Palace.
The full line up of events at the Electric Palace Cinema for Black Huts Festival 2017 are as follows. Book now!
- The Ballad of Shirley Collins (plus Q&A in the evening): Thursday 26 October, 11am and 7.30pm
- The Last London with Iain Sinclair, Pete Brown and Olie Brice (plus Q&A): Friday 27 October, 8pm
- Pump (plus Q&A with special guests): Saturday 28 October, 8pm
- Fever of the Light plus Q&A with Rebecca E Marshall: Sunday 29 October, 8pm