Rivers’ films focus on lives led at one remove from society, commenting on the desire to achieve liberty through the simplification of lifestyle.
The films of Ben Rivers (born Somerset, 1972, lives in London) are rich, cinematic portraits that explore wilderness environments and self-contained worlds, representing memory through visual fragments. Primarily shot on 16mm black and white film, sometimes on out-of-date stock, Rivers' work has the appearance of ageing, archival footage. The artist shoots on an old Bolex wind-up camera, and works creatively within its limitations – including contraints of duration, since its the longest continuous shot is 30 seconds. The aged appearance of the film is also partly a consequence of Rivers hand-processing each film in his own kitchen sink. He compares the creation of his films to assembling a collage, and although he places great emphasis on the editing process, he is in fact strongly involved in all stage of his films' creation, through his roles as cameraman, developer, editor and director. The distanced quality of Rivers work – albeit a knowing construction – extends to the spaces and subjects that the films focus on. Whether exposing desolate and crumbling interiors in works like Old Dark House (2003) and its sequel House (2005), or portraying the hermetic world of the 'outsider' figure Jake Williams in the much acclaimed This is My Land (2006), Rivers' work is engaged with zones at the edges of contemporary life. Other works, such as Ah Liberty! (2008) which depicts a community inhabiting a rural and seemingly sublime landscape, appear to exist outside modern living altogether, signifying less alienation from the mainstream than liberation from it. Although they depict real-life subjects, Rivers' films are not primarily documentary or ethnographic in style, despite drawing heavily on these genres. Rather, his work is personal and fragmented, reminiscent of the idiosyncratic styles of Scottish filmmaker and poet Margaret Tait and American director George Kuchar. Other influences – perhaps less apparent in Rivers' imagery than in his soundtracks – are as wide-ranging as thriller, film noir and horror. This range of sources reflects Rivers' work at Brighton Cinematheque, where he has helped run a regular screening programme since 1996, one that includes both recent and historical work. Rivers is presenting a special screening programme for Nought to Sixty, drawing on his experience at Brighton Cinematheque. The artist is showing his own work alongside that of other recent filmmakers, in an attempt to highlight different strategies for dealing with the histories of documentary and ethnographic film. Emphasising diverse and creative approaches to history is fundamental to the project, as is an attempt to establish a common language that lies between the confines of these problematic genres.