Kim Longinotto at Sheffield Doc/Fest 2014

Kim Longinotto’s latest film Love Is All: 100 Years of Love and Courtship follows on from Penny Woolcock’s From The Sea to the Land Beyond and Martin Wallace and Jarvis Cocker’s The Big Melt in a series of all-archive films produced by Crossover and Sheffield Doc/Fest. Set to a soundtrack of songs by Richard Hawley, and co-edited with Longinotto’s long-time collaborator Ollie Huddleston, the film uses footage from the BFI archive, Yorkshire Film Archive and other archives around the country to encapsulate a century of love and courtship in the UK.

On 11 June, Love Is All was screened outdoors on the Chatsworth House estate to a packed Sheffield Doc/Fest audience. We talked to Kim Longinotto on the morning of the premiere.

“We’ve broadened the idea of love,” said Longinotto. “I’m not a big fan of weddings myself, so there’s less weddings and there’s more love, different kinds of love, in it. You could have a wonderful 75 minutes of weddings. I think somebody called Doug Block has done that. But we wanted to celebrate different aspects of love as well.”

Arguably given a more challenging and ambiguous exercise of piecing together a common archival aesthetic (that of ‘love’) than Woolcock and Wallace/Cocker had with the British coastal life and steel industry, Longinotto intuitively put together her take on the subject in just eight weeks. A take that may seem surprising to some.

The film sets itself apart from the other archive compilations in the series by showing the presence and evidence of past multiculturalism in the UK, as well as the inclusion of gay and lesbian scenes from early film history. Screen time is given to Chinese silent-film star Anna May Wong in the BFI-restored Piccadilly and Indian actors in Brick Lane – other more thematically ambiguous archive clips also make it into the film to represent the wider idea of love. One of these clips, which Longinotto became very fond of, was the crowning of a young black girl as a village’s May Queen:

“We all have different attitudes to it [love]. 100 people in a room would have made 100 different archive films,” she said, reflecting on how her students at NFTS end up with completely different films in their editing exercises using the same footage. What then makes this film distinctly a work of Kim Longinotto is the approach she takes with film-making in general – subtlety. “The film has a little voice,” she said, “but it’s saying things in a very playful way. You can’t have angry soundtrack with Richard’s music.”

One of the unearthed public education films included in Love is All proclaims the strict societal roles of women and men, the idea that men are more creative and that women should stay in the home with their broad hips and babies. “It’s a mad bit of film which we found. It’s just a gem. So there’s no way that’s the voice of the film. You can see it’s a gentle way of mocking it. It’s such fun. You know, it was like getting back at those voices in a very gentle way.”

Longinotto’s dislike for voice-over in general is perhaps reflected in the fact that one of the only examples of narration in the film is in place for the purpose of laughter (which proved effective at the film’s premiere) and recontextualisation.

“If I think of the films that have really affected me from my whole life, it’s been films that aren’t… they’re not campaigning films, and I don’t really go to watch documentaries that are campaigning documentaries. I’m really glad they’re there, and I’m glad other people go to them, but I don’t go to them. I always feel very awkward if I feel I’m being told what to think or if there’s a commentary, so I avoid films with commentary or being told what to think…. Apart from Michael Moore. I make an exception for him ’cause he’s fun.”

As a film, Love Is All is true to this philosophy. The viewer is not told what to think or given a concise idea of love, and at times has the disorientating task of considering that the love shown on screen could be constituted by the faculty and not the object.

“Love is so hard to find, and even harder to define.” – lyrics from Richard Hawley’s soundtrack (Open Up Your Door).

In The Art of Loving, Eric Fromm wrote, “if a person loves only one other person and is indifferent to the rest of his fellow men, his love is not love but a symbiotic attachment, or an enlarged egotism.” The film’s social mapping of 100 years of love and courtship in the UK suggests that the British have taken some, however small, steps away from this indifference to allow societal change and certain LGBT rights. The story is far from over, and as Longinotto said, “maybe history goes in waves. I imagine it probably does.”

Reeling The Real is a website dedicated to the discussion of all kinds of moving image including documentary, film essays, archive re-use, artists' moving image and more.

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