A Portrait

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The close friendship between the English film Director Derek Jarman and Christopher Hughes, Director of Photography, was strengthened on the sets of The last of England (1987) and The Garden (1990). These two artists have a multifaceted personality and an unusual sensibility. Jarman was a writer, painter and filmmaker who blurred the lines between art and cinema, without ever forgetting his first love, gardening. An example of which is the unforgettable Prospect Cottage’s Garden in Dungeness, Kent, today a house-museum and one of the locations for the short film directed by Carlotta Beck Peccoz.

This film is a delicate and profound tribute to this friendship. A portrait in the portrait, in which Christopher reminisces his life and commemorates Derek’s personality, who has prematurely died in 1994 due to AIDS. The movie was nominated to Straight8, which is an international competition for short-films shot on a single roll of super8. And their success did not take too long to come. A Portrait was one of the eight films that won and would have had their debut at Cannes Film Festival.

The story behind the making of the film is very interesting.

Carlotta’s first idea, together with Timothy and Ivan Wood, the Directors of Photography, was to realise a more technical film, in stop-motion, the same technique of many of the projects that have been awarded in the previous editions of the Festival. However, after reflecting on this more, the perfect story came to them, taking the movie on a more intimate and personal path in which Christopher, Timothy and Ivan’s friend and mentor, got involved.

A potrait è una pellicola intensa, la riservatezza e la compostezza di Christopher sono il carburante che alimenta il flusso dei suoi ricordi, una rappresentazione commovente che riesce a superare il confine del dolore per la perdita dell’amico, scomparso in un momento storico in cui l’AIDS colpiva gravemente e molte persone morivano nella rassegnazione di una cura inesistente e nella condanna sociale. Le immagini che scorrono sulle parole di Christopher muovono dalla città alla campagna in luoghi in cui il protagonista si muove silenziosamente sino a giungere al Prospect Cottage, uno spazio essenziale per questo film a cui, però, è molto difficile accedere.

This difficulty is also due to a project in which Christopher was involved and the story is a funny one.

Years ago, for a friend’s graduation, Christopher was called to help shoot a film for which the director burn a dead cow on the beach near the cottage. Clearly, it wasn’t Christopher’s idea but there was so much smoke that France sent England a warning for a devastating fire on their coast.

Carlotta and her team succeeded in gaining the permission to shoot the film there anyway, giving a circular construction to this tribute full of little references to the work of the two main characters. The short-film is shot on 8mm film, the media Jarman had started with and used throughout his career. They filmed on Christopher’s original Beaulieu, a real vintage camera. The shots of the red sunset are a reference to The Garden, and the effect was achieved using graduated filters, recreating the same technique used by Christopher in Jarman’s film.

Due to Covid-19, Cannes Film Festival didn’t take place, however on the 24th of June there was an online prémiere on the Straight8 website, showing all the awarded short-films. That night the entire team made by Carlotta Beck Peccoz (Director), Timothy H. and Ivan Wood (Directors of Photography), Karen Simon (Producer), Alessandro Giovanetto (Composer) and Erik Moore (Sound Designer), has seen their film for the first time. The anticipation was high because one of the fundamental rules of Straight8 is that filmmakers are not allowed to see their film after shooting, until the first official screening. It must be all recorded in Super8 on one single cartridge and without editing. The camera rolls and cuts, rolls and cuts, that’s the only editing allowed, and therefore everything must be right the first time. Everything must be planned in advance and executed without mistakes. The audio of Christopher’s story was recorded in 01Zero-One studio in the heart London. Then the scenes have been filmed following a carefully planned shot-list to match the points of the story. This is a complex work by itself. But, in addition, the old Beaulieu records 24 frames per second as if they were 16, without precisely counting them, and the realisation became an interlocking and guessing game. A Portrait, as Carlotta and Timothy told me, could have been a complete disaster without reviews. Instead it’s a powerful short-film, that in a little more than three minutes portrays the emotional turmoil of a life. I really recommend to watch it and to follow this young and talented team.

You can see A Portrait, together with all the other awarded short-films, at the following link:

Translated by: Silvia Rainero


Laureata in Beni Culturali, appassionata di arte, letteratura, cinema, musica e danza.
Lavora come bibliotecaria presso la Biblioteca Civica del proprio paese
e collabora con l'Amministrazione per iniziative culturali e sociali,
legate soprattutto al museo etnografico
che gestisce insieme ad altri colleghi.