REVIEW: AV FESTIVAL PART 1 | NARC. | Reliably Informed | Music and Creative Arts News for Newcastle and the North East

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Image: Eric Baudelaire, The Anabasis of May and Fusako Shigenobu, Masao Adachi and 27 Years without Images, 2011. Courtesy the artist and LUX, London

We’re now a little over halfway through this year’s AV Festival and whilst it might initially seem that the programme lacks the big-name impact of previous years (high profile events like 2012’s Peter ‘Sleazy’ Christopherson memorial concert or 2014’s Test Dept audiovisual installation at Dunstan Staiths), closer examination reveals a wealth of fascinating material to immerse yourself in: highlights so far have been the Thomas Spence installation at the Lit & Phil which is a delight, showcasing the radical life and work of a local man whose witty and subversive coins served as a kind of détournement nearly two centuries before the situationists made that technique such a distinctive part of their assault on culture; and Kevin Brownlow’s little seen but marvellous film Winstanley, an account of Gerrard Winstanley’s Diggers and their occupation of St George’s Hill in 1649, a fascinating watershed of early radical action; and, last weekend, the screening of Eric Baudelaire’s The Anabasis of May and Fusako Shigenobu, Masao Adachi, And 27 Years Without Images as part of a weekend of activity looking at radical Marxism in Japan through the prism of the Japanese Red Army.

This comparatively short but immensely powerful film used voiceovers from the titular May Shigenobu (the daughter of JRA member Fusako) and filmmaker Masao Adachi to tell the story of the cell of JRA members in hiding in Beirut from the early 70s until Fusako’s arrest in 2001. As well as archival news footage and clips from the ‘pink’ movies of the time, the film largely consists of footage of Beirut and Japan, some of it recent, some of it contemporary to the era, all of it relating to Adachi’s discipline of fûkeiron. It becomes clear that the use of this seemingly unrelated footage draws attention to May’s ’27 years without images’: part of living in hiding for the first quarter century of her life involved not only assuming different names and identities as she moved from school to school and house to house (often as many as five in a single year), but also made it dangerous for her to keep any photos of her life lest these implicated her mother and their comrades.

As moving and compelling as the film was, in many ways the Q&A afterwards, featuring May in conversation with artist Michikazu Matsune, was even more rewarding: now largely resident in Beirut and working as a freelance journalist with a deep understanding of – and compassion for – the plight of the Palestinians, Shigenobu is clearly a remarkable woman, politically astute and clearheaded about her past and her mother’s activities. It was a privilege to hear Shigenobu discuss both the minutiae of her uniquely fractured childhood and the broader context that led to it.

This is the kind of thing that AV Festival does best, and with two more weekends of screenings and events to come as well as the month-long exhibitions and installations, there’s still a great deal more to engage with before things come to a close at Easter. In particular, Saturday’s screening of An Unprecedented Campaign at the Tyneside Cinema, with a live soundtrack from Test Dept, is a must see.

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