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Inner States: A series of first-person films

Tarnation - Inner States lead image

Tarnation, US 2003, Dir Jonathan Caouette


Inner States: A series of first-person films
Exclusively available on Cinema On Demand
Fri 11 – 24 Sep

Barbican Cinema presents Inner States: A series of first-person films, featuring five pivotal documentaries each expressing an interiority rarely achieved on film. Also included in the series is an extraordinary set of free to stream short videos Lockdown States made since the beginning of the pandemic by filmmakers from India, Lebanon, US and Canada who have been looking inwards in relation to the exceptional circumstances affecting the entire world.

Inner States: A series of first-person films is co-curated by Gali Gold, Head of Cinema, Barbican and Alisa Lebow, Professor of Screen Media, University of Sussex.

The season, which is available to stream exclusively on Cinema On Demand from 11 to 24 September, will also include two virtual ScreenTalks: with filmmaker Jonathan Caouette on Wednesday 6th September at 8pm talking about Tarnation hosted by Alisa Lebow; and on Monday 21st September at 8pm Brett Story (The Cop in Our Heads and the Cop in Our Hearts), Carol Mansour (COVID-eo Diary & My Father), Shahzaib Naik & S M Seraj (A Season in My Paradise) talking about their short films, hosted by Gali Gold.

All the films in this series offer a journey to the inner sanctum of the self: be it the experience of isolation, displacement, confinement, mental illness, creativity amidst political censorship, or just the simplicity of keen observation from a unique vantage point.

In David Achkar’s exquisite and rarely seen Allah Tantou (God’s Will) the filmmaker imagines his father’s experience in 1968, when he was disappeared and imprisoned in Guinea’s notorious Camp Boiro prison; in Là Bas, Chantal Akerman limits herself to the tiny interior of a rented apartment in Tel Aviv, restricting her view almost entirely to what she can see through the matchstick window blinds.

Raed Andoni’s probing Fix Me is an extended meditation on what it means to be an individual—let alone an artist with a distinctive vision—in the midst of a collective struggle. Jonathan Caouette’s psychedelic, one-of-a-kind Tarnation could rival any experimental fiction film and yet, its destabilising power resides in its firm grounding in lived experience; and, in This Is Not A film, filmmaker Jafar Panahi channelled his creative energies inwards when he was placed under house arrest and banned from filmmaking, to create a personal and cinematic declaration of dissent. Presented at the 2011 Cannes Film Festival by his friend and colleague, cinematographer Mojtaba Mirtahmasb, This is Not A Film gained the freedom of movement its creator has yet to obtain ten years later.

The programme of shorts, Lockdown States, features work from international filmmakers including Beirut based filmmaker Carol Mansour who reveals both sides of lockdown, with its liberating and its devastating effects, and Kashmiri filmmaker, Shahzaib Naik and Indian filmmaker S M Seraj Ali, consider the restrictions of lockdown alongside the military crackdown they’ve experienced since August 2019. For acclaimed documentarist, Brett Story, the most unexpected aspect of this  unusual time is the way it has prompted people to internalise official and medical restrictions to the point of being moved to police other’s behaviours. New York student and call-centre worker, Taylor-Alexis Gillard emphasises the absurdly humorous aspects of the mind-numbing isolation produced by lockdown, and from Canada a broad range of filmmakers have been invited by veteran film programmer Stacey Donen to participate in a capsule collection of short films, Greetings From Isolation.

Gali Gold, Head of Barbican Cinema said: “Who among us has not had to self reflect upon our lives during the current global pandemic. The experience of lockdown may have been varied, but the sense of a global phenomenon lived at a very personal and private level has been pervasive. Filmmakers have taken up cameras now as in the past, to express their own interiority and convey their most intimate feelings through their medium. Further, at a time when social norms are rapidly changing and the boundaries between private and public are less and less clear, these films offer a profound insight into a cinematic account of the self and its relation to others and to the world.”

Alisa Lebow, Professor of Screen Media, University of Sussex said: “Subjectivity finds its filmic expression, not surprisingly, in very personal ways, yet it is nonetheless shaped by and in relation to collective expressions of identity and experience that can transform the cinema of 'me' into the cinema of 'we'.”

Barbican Cinema on Demand is supported by the BFI FAN Resilience Fund, awarding National Lottery funding, and the Mayor of London's Culture at Risk business support fund.

The season is supported by Sussex Docs, School of Media, Arts and Humanities, University of Sussex.


Allah Tantou (God’s Will) (15*)
France & Guinea 1991, Dir David Achkar, 62 min

A lost gem of first- person filmmaking, this exquisite film explores the story of UN ambassador to Guinea, Marof Achkar, who was recalled, charged with treason and disappeared in1968.

Years after the fact, Achkar’s family discovered he has been executed back in 1971. David Achkar, director of this film, wrote that "I knew my father was a hero, but I wanted to know what that meant."

Thus, the filmic journey begins, with David’s exploration of his father’s state of mind when imprisoned in the infamous Camp Boiro concentration camp. Marof left a remarkable diary that gives insight into the experience of being unjustly stripped of status, identity, purpose and family. In David’s effort to imagine his father’s experience, he stages haunting re-enactments of the time in prison, accompanied by the father’s own words. A poignant and poetic account by a son who endeavours to recreate the father’s experience, in order to better understand what he went through, and who he was.

Là Bas (U*)
Belgium/France 2006, Dir Chantal Akerman, 78min

Master filmmaker Chantal Akerman, who was no stranger to filming in constrained interior spaces (Saute ma Ville, La Chambre, Je, tu, il, elle, Jeanne Dielman, among others), essentially limits herself to the tiny interior of a rented apartment in Tel Aviv, restricting her view almost entirely to what she can see through the matchstick window blinds. Akerman turns her voluntary confinement into a vast exploration of her own interior thoughts about space and her place within it, her Jewish identity, her childhood and family relations. Interiority and exteriority, belonging and displacement, self-reflection and voyeurism all come together in a minimalist film that manages to have a maximal impact.

Fix Me (15*)
France, Switzerland & Palestine 2009, Dir Raed Andoni, 98min

Does a Palestinian have the right to a simple headache? This seemingly irrelevant question takes on much greater significance in the face of the long-lasting Israeli occupation. 

Raed Andoni was jailed along with thousands of young Palestinian men during the first uprising in 1989. Since then, Andoni claims that he has had a headache. He consults doctors and films his therapy sessions to find an answer: is his headache political, or is it his body’s claim to its own autonomy? This probing film is an extended meditation on what it means to be an individual—let alone an artist with a distinctive vision—in the midst of a collective struggle. Andoni declares his independence from that collective identity even as he remains committed to its cause.

Tarnation (15)
US 2003, Dir Jonathan Caouette, 91min

Part psychedelic head trip, part self-therapy, this classic first-person film never fails to astonish.

Jonathan Caouette was an inveterate filmer from a very young age, and in an effort to piece together his broken childhood, he edited fragments of footage using iMovie. The result is anything but amateur, as this one-of-a-kind film takes us deep into the realm of psychic disarray. The film viscerally connects you to what a state of psychosis might feel like. It’s both a tender tribute to a troubled mother, as well as an attempt to use the power of film to heal the wounds left from a dysfunctional childhood. With unforgettable performances and kaleidoscopically intense editing, this film could rival any experimental fiction film and yet, its power resides in its firm grounding in lived experience.

This Is Not a Film (U)
Iran 2010, Dirs Jafar Panahi & Mojtaba Mirtahmasb, 75min

When renowned Iranian filmmaker, Jafar Panahi (OffSide, Crimson Gold, Taxi) is put under house arrest and banned from making films by a government warrant, he channels his creative drive inwards.

Together with his friend and colleague, cinematographer Mojtaba Mirtahmasb, he documents one day of incarceration in his flat. While Panahi’s other family members are out preparing for the celebrations of the Iranian New Year, he’s left to watch the news; contemplating the nature of cinema; hanging out with the family pet, Igi the Iguana; reading fragments of the script from his new production, while looking through footage of some of his internationally- acclaimed films. Without breaching the rules imposed on him, Panahi creates a personal and cinematic declaration of dissent. This Is Not a Film, ended up premiering in Cannes, gaining the freedom of movement its creator has yet to obtain.

Lockdown States  (PG*)
Total programme running time: app 45 min

A Season in My Paradise 
India 2020, Dirs Shahzaib Naik & S M Seraj Ali, 11:50min

A haunting and imaginative video essay that asks young people living in Covid lockdown in New Delhi to imagine an alternative version of lockdown currently being experienced by those living under harsh military occupation in Kashmir.

COVID-eo Diary
Lebanon 2020, Dir Carol Mansour, 5:40min


My Father
Lebanon 2020, Dir Carol Mansour, 4:45min

Veteran Lebanese filmmaker, Carol Mansour, made two videos during the first few months of the Covid pandemic. The first celebrates the strangely liberating aspects of this unique moment—the traffic-free streets, the time to reflect, the odd moments of socially-distanced connection, the freedom to go braless.

The second video, however, records precisely what has been so devastating in this same period, losing a loved one, in this case Mansour’s father, at a distance of several unbridgeable miles, as he dies alone in a care home.

Greetings from Isolation created by Stacey Donen
In the hopes of finding inspiration and enlightenment from our shared human experience of isolation under COVID-19, a broad range of Canadian filmmakers were invited by veteran film programmer Stacey Donen to participate in this capsule collection of short films. Included in this series are four films from this project. To view all visit the Greetings from Isolation website

In This Moment
Canada 2020, Dir Yuqi Kang, 3:45min

‘Time is like a running river, never flowing down stream.’ There’s nothing like a pandemic to get great artists to reflect on fleetingness of life and the passing of time. As the ground beneath our feet dropped away, filmmaker Yuqi Kang managed to capture that sinking feeling.

Canada 2020, Dir Laura Bari, 7:30min

An exquisite cine-poem that takes us into the interior dialogue of a beautiful mind, and out into the world of painful oxymorons created or exacerbated by Covid. ‘I made this film to build a zone of common consciousness and act as metamorphosis-through-art.’ – Laura Bari

Canada 2020, Dir J.L. Whitecrow, 3:50min

Are you prepared for the coming apocalypse? Do you have your safety bundle? If the pandemic is a dress rehearsal, are you ready for the real thing?

The Cop in Our Heads and the Cop in Our Hearts
Canada 2020, Dir Brett Story, 3:50min

HD and Super8 film

A neighbourhood in Canada is ordered to shelter in place and snitch lines are set up in every town.

‘Don’t walk so close’, ‘sneeze into your elbow, please’, ‘keep to your side of the pavement’. How many of us haven’t had the urge to police our neighbours’ perceived COVID-infringements? This video comments upon how many of us turned into self-monitoring cops before we even realised what was happening.

It’s Fine
US 2020, Dir Taylor-Alexis Gillard, 4 min

One young woman’s experience of lockdown in New York City, expressed with absurdist humor and exceptional timing.

For further information contact:
Ian Cuthbert, Communications Manager, Cinema

[email protected] / 07980 925 352

Sarah Harvey, Barbican Cinema Press Consultant
[email protected] / 07958 597426

Ticket prices:
All features: £6, Members: £4.80, Young Barbican - £4
Lockdown States: free