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Brussels Film Loops BFI Shirley Clarke Filmmaker Event

Filmmaker Feature by: Bruna Foletto Lucas


Throughout the months of October and November the BFI offers a programme that allows people to explore films made by the American independent filmmaker Shirley Clarke. The filmmaker revolted against conventions and created her own style of films without following an agenda – the result were experimental and dynamic films that often pushed boundaries.

Brussels Film Loops Review

Brussels Film Loops is a collection of silent short films envisioned by the well-known documentary filmmaker Willard Van Dyke. The idea behind the short film loops was to depict scenes of American life for the United States Pavilion at the Brussels World’s Fair in 1958. Van Dyke explained his vision as “a new film form based on imagery which allows ... a continual flow of ideas on one general theme”. Hired to direct the shorts was Clarke, alongside the documentary filmmaker D.A. Pennbaker.

The collection has in total 23 short films of 2-3 minutes each, and every single one of them explores scenes of the everyday life – such as traffic, good, people, and topography. Clarke’s loops are characterised for using rapid editing and, as she said herself, for trying to make a joke out of everything. Furthermore, the use of colour-saturated images permeates some of the shorts in order to create an illusory feeling that would shift the natural images into abstract forms. Her films were called “cine-poems” rather than dramatic narratives.

To contrast with the silence and the lack of narrative in the Brussels Film Loops, the screening was followed by A Scary Time, a film completed in partnership with UNICEF. In this 16-minute short, Clarke connects scenes of school children in Halloween costumes with scenes of extreme poverty around the USA. The kids in costumes are playing trick-or-treat whilst other experience hunger and hardship. Although the fact that this film has a narrative, Clarke stills uses rapid editing to create a sense of dread in the audience, especially when the two subjects she explores in this film are so different. The sound is disconnected to the images on the screen, augmenting the feeling of apprehension that hovers around the short until the very last moment when the last image lingers and turns our stomach.

Having the opportunity to sit through this screening was interesting, to say the least. Never had I been to a cinema where no sound was heard – neither by the film nor the audience. The respect and awe for the filmmaker was made evident by the attention given to her shorts.


Tickets to the various #BFI screenings and events being held in honour of Shirley Clarke as an important filmmaker are still available.

When booking use code BFIUKFR to get 2-4-1 on tickets!



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