Wednesday, 6 December 2017

Margaret Tait Award Nomination

Margaret Tait Award nomination for Sarahjane Swan & Roger Simian (The Bird And The Monkey / Avant Kinema)

Scottish Borders based artist-filmmakers, Sarahjane Swan and Roger Simian (aka The Bird And The Monkey), are proud to announce that they have been nominated for the 2018/19 Margaret Tait Award. Established in 2010, the annual award - a Glasgow Film Festival commission supported by Creative Scotland and LUX Scotland - was named in honour of the experimental Orcadian filmmaker, Margaret Tait (1918-1999). It celebrates innovative Scottish artists working with the moving image. Each year, the winning nominee is awarded a £10,000 prize to create new work, with the opportunity to screen the finished film at the Glasgow Film Festival.

 Sarahjane Swan & Roger Simian 

It’s so exciting to be nominated,” says Dunbar-raised artist/filmmaker/musician, Sarahjane Swan, a Fine Arts Sculpture graduate from Gray’s School of Art, who found her way to Roger Simian through a shared love of alternative music and 20th Century avant-garde art movements. “You could say that The Margaret Tait Award is the pinnacle that any experimental moving image artist in Scotland aspires towards. We really are honoured.

Writer/filmmaker/musician, Roger Simian, agrees. The one time guitarist with Dawn Of The Replicants, was brought up in Edinburgh and the Borders but has a strong family link with the Orkney Islands, where Margaret Tait herself was raised. “My Grandfather, Gerry Meyer, a journalist from London with Swiss-French parents, was stationed in Orkney during World War II. He helped to found one of the earliest forces newspaper,
The Orkney Blast, married a local Stromness lass, Norah Hancox, and settled on the Islands, becoming editor of the Orcadian newspaper for many decades. My Mum is from Stromness and older members of my family actually knew Margaret Tait, who was from Kirkwall, so we’ve been aware of her work right from the start of our first experiments with filmmaking.” 

Stromness by Moonlight
Digital stills shot during the
filming of the short film, Orkneyinga

We visited Orkney for a week in April,” says Sarahjane. “It’s so beautiful and with so much history: just gorgeous. We got the authentic Orkney experience this time as it was blowing a gale and it felt like we were in the middle of a hurricane, looking at all this mind-blowing scenery: the rugged landscape, severe cliff faces, raging sea. I did visit Orkney years ago, not long after I met Roger, but this is the first time we’ve brought our son along. He is autistic and he just loves extreme weather, so he was blown away.” 

Not literally,” quips Roger.

Sarahjane adds: “We were out there at the Ring of Brodgar with our Super 8 cameras and our Nikon, and we made a short experimental film, a mixture of analogue and digital filmmaking, which we’ve called Orkneyinga, after the Viking sagas.”

Orkney captured in home-processed Super 8

Being nominated for The Margaret Tait Award is the icing on the cake of an already exceptional year for Swan and Simian, whose eclectic mix of songs, film, art and writing have over the years earned them screenings throughout Scotland, London, Europe and North America, as well as radio play on BBC 6 Music from one time New Wave pop star, Tom Robinson. 

The pair, who now create their experimental visual works under the banner, Avant Kinema,
enjoyed a Creative Scotland funded trip to the London Short Film Festival in January; were invited by fellow filmmakers Daniel Fawcett and Clara Pais to screen in Porto, Portugal in February; put on the Experimental Arts Event, Moon Moths, in collaboration with Fawcett and Pais in Galashiels; received a grant from the South of Scotland VACMA (Visual Artists and Craft Makers Awards); contributed Super 8 / analogue work to Scottish director Grant McPhee's feature film Far From The Apple Tree; collaborated with renowned fashion designer, Jacqui Burke from Dunbar, for an event at the Voodoo Rooms in Edinburgh; screened films in Poland and Bulgaria with Iga Rita Stepien's Station to Station and London with The Exploding Cinema; joined Playwrights' Studio Scotland's Scottish Borders Playwriting Programme with Jules Horne; and had work broadcast across America through the cable access experimental film show, Here Comes Everybody

Previous winners of The Margaret Tait Award have included the Scottish video artist, Rachel MacLean, whose highly distinctive work with green screen, costumes / make up and meticulous lip-synching has led to her representing Scotland at this year’s Venice Biennale, as well as creating an iconic portrait of Billy Connolly for a recent BBC documentary. MacLean’s work for the Venice Biennale, Spite Your Face, was commissioned by Alchemy Film & Arts, an organization Swan and Simian have also worked with extensively. In 2016 this partnership led to their Super 8 filmmaking workshop in Burnfoot Community Hub in Hawick, with future workshops to follow in 2018. Since 2012, the pair have also created four full-scale video-art installations, commissioned by Alchemy director Richard Ashrowan, for the yearly experimental film festival in Hawick.

Still from Alphonso's Jaw installation, commissioned for
Alchemy Film and Moving Image Festival, Hawick, 2016

"The Margaret Tait Award nomination brings 2017 to a fantastic end," says Sarahjane. "Now we can start properly looking to the future. In 2018 we plan to develop our work even further, expand our ideas and hopefully work on our own first feature-length film project."


Monday, 22 May 2017

In The Dark I Sat script sample

experimental film script sample 
by Roger Simian & Sarahjane Swan, 2012 

In the days beyond The Fluxing, the times of The Soft Borders, The Great Anomolies, Hypocritical Phenomena, when worlds collapsed and the fabric between realities became fluid, an artist and the man she lost search for each other in reflections, shadows and dreams.


Production, Script, Direction, Performance, Videography, Editing, Sound, Music and Songs by Sarahjane Swan and Roger Simian.


Portobello Film Festival (London) - World Premier at Great Western Studios, 7th September, 2012
Alchemy Film and Moving Image Festival (Scotland) - Scottish Premier at The Screening Room, Heart of Hawick, 27th October 2012


INT. Bedroom. Day.
A woman sits, demure and melancholy, trying out her various personae in the glare of the mirror.

Woman's Voice:
What if I went looking? Came to find you? What if I came to find you? What if I were to press my palm flat against this icy reflection? Instead of the cold solidity I was expecting I found something warm, something fluid? I would push my fingers into this glass, into this glass like a knife into honey. I'd watch my hands slip on through, my reflected self rippling, glass rippling around my wrists like the ocean around the rocks. What if I went looking? Came to find you? What if I came to find you?

EXT. Busy Street. Evening.

A man briskly wanders through the dark streets. Shadows creep and spin in the strobe-flash of passing traffic and electric shop front lighting.

Man's Voice:
I had a dream. I had to get out, take a walk. I had a dream about The Fluxing, when worlds disintegrated and the fabric between realities became fluid. Vines and tree roots grabbed at my arms and ankles like monstrous fingers. My pursuers - shadowghasts with snaking necks and blazing eyes - fell on me, spitting and hissing like geese, their long necks swaying in a malevolent dance. I hoped, I prayed that some uncharted Soft Border would appear. That I could rip through the membrane of this reality into a safer world.

INT. Bedroom. Day.

Woman's Voice:
I think I saw him again. Saw him in my peripheral vision. He was important to me. My husband, I think, in that other place. In that other world before The Fluxing. We had a life together. He saw me red on the screen. I was a photographer. Or... or was I an actress? I wish I had some photographs. I wish I'd photographed the life we had together. I can almost see him in the shadows.

INT. Hallway. Day.

In split-screen the woman stands before us, before the mirror, with her camera, attempting to capture her own reflection.

Woman's Voice:
(as though tape has been cut up and wrongly spliced back together like a William Burroughs / Brion Gysin recording)
The 244 x 173 cm painting covered a canvas in Indian red Barnett down the centre. By sticking a thin strip of European-influenced 'biomorphic' style to test the colour in reference to his own article, 'The First Man Was a lighter cadmium, the artist was the thin band only a few centimetres thick down the unevenly spread gallery wall, 'the motive force for red intended to invoke that terror of the 'New York School', whose style became known as the 'unknowable' dense masking tape.

EXT. Busy Street. Evening.

Man's Voice:
My mind drifted on the foaming waves, momentarily unshackled from time or space or logic until it washed over the sands and encountered consciousness. For an instant I saw her there. Somewhere in the shadows. The artist. In the misted distance of a glass. 

Thursday, 18 May 2017


Here, after eight years of collaborating together on music, films, art, writing and the mad but brilliant life we live together with our little boy Nico - my long-term fiance, sister-in-arms, soul mate and bestest friend, the gorgeous Miss Sarahjane Swan and I have finally edited together our first official ShowReel, culled from an array of underground films and weirdo music videos which we've obsessively created on pretty much zero budget from the heart of our metaphorical garret. Today we offer this to you all for your viewing pleasure and today we renew our vow to work tirelessly towards elevating ourselves from our current state of comfortable Engagement (7 years and counting!) to one of exciting and scary but beautiful marriage! Marry me soon, Sarahjane Swan! This is my Official Proposal to You.

Loving you both Always & Forever (to Infinity and Beyond!) 
Roger Alexander Small (aka Roger Simian)

Tuesday, 7 February 2017

Dreaming In Analogue: Our Super 8 Adventures

Stills from forthcoming Super 8 short, MERZFRAU: Bloomed, which will screen at the
MIMC installation as part of Alchemy Film and Moving Image Festival, Hawick, 2017


Analogue forms and technologies are inherently suited to capturing ghost worlds: the realms of the subconscious, dreams, nightmares, fantasy, other planets, histories misted by memory.

Having spent years creating moving images, stills, music and design using digital technologies, editing in the “Soft World” of computers, laptops and tablets, we became obsessed last year with immersing ourselves in the “Hard World” of analogue creativity. We bought vintage Super 8 cameras, projectors and batches of long-expired filmstock; learned how to home-process the cartridges using household products; handcrafting film by directly scratching or painting the frames; then projecting the results.

Whereas digital forms are inexpensive and promote limitless possibilities, Super 8 costs upwards of £20 for a few minutes of film, which must then be processed before it can be viewed in a projector. We've found that – much like the Danish Dogme 95 rules - these limitations of the form actually invigorate us, as filmmakers, releasing untapped creativity.


We made our first Super 8 short, SuperFly Super 8 Circa Nineteen Seventy Seven, using a Canon 514XL (circa 1977) and an AGFA Family camera (circa 1980) shooting a cartridge of Kodak TRI-X 7266 B&W Reversal film at the standard 18 frames per second. We filmed mostly indoors with lots of summer sunlight spraying into the room. We hired Gauge Film in the West Midlands to process and create an HD digital scan of the cartridge which we were then able to edit on our Mac using iMovie: imagining what a trailer for a Film Noir might look like if it was directed by the New York No Wavers.

SuperFly Super 8 was shortlisted for Edinburgh International Film Festival's Short Film Challenge 2016, with a screening at Edinburgh Filmhouse in August, followed by two at Edinburgh Digital Entertainment Festival. The film has since had further screenings in Glasgow (FOMO 2 at Stereo Cafe Bar), Edinburgh (Forest Cafe) and London (London Short Film Festival at the Moth Club, Hackney).


There is a lot of long-expired Super 8 filmstock still available to buy on eBay, especially the hugely popular Kodachrome 40. Kodachrome film is no longer manufactured and has not been processed as a colour reversal film since 2010, when the last of the chemicals required were used up by Dwayne's Photo Lab in Kansas. We discovered that a few pioneering DIY filmmakers - such as Ben Slotover from London's Zero Budget Film School, Dagie Brundert in Berlin, Cherry Kino in Leeds and Troy's Visual Arts in Australia – have been processing expired K40 as a black & white negative at home using Caffenol: coffee, washing soda & vitamin c. We decided to give this a go ourselves and bought up a largish batch of Kodachrome 40 and all the kit and ingredients required.

This video shows us making up a 2 litre bottle of Caffenol CM, twice what is required to process a cartridge of Super 8.

Using old stock & Caffenol produces a monochrome negative with a golden tinge.

Once the footage has been turned into a positive in your computer you're generally left with a fairly lo-fi & grainy image with a blue tinge and a white frame.


If you're not 100% happy with the results of your Caffenol experiments with expired Super 8 you can still create very interesting results by scratching, painting and manipulating the film directly by hand. Because each frame is only 8mm high the process of projecting these onto a large screen makes each tiny fibre, scratch or marking much larger and wider with interesting results. Messing about with contrast, exposure & other levels in your editing software can produce an array of vibrant colours.

Handcrafted Super 8 Experiment (Caffenol-processed K40 & TRI-X, scratched & hand-coloured). from The Bird And The Monkey on Vimeo.