People Like Us Festival – Alan Van Wijgerden

Q & A with Coventry Legend Alan

Pre lockdown most creative events in Coventry Alan would be at with camera in hand to capture people’s thoughts on different social action questions he had. 

Since lockdown started Alan has been sharing photos of a deserted CV1. Taking snaps on his daily walks to show how this pandemic affected our city. He has also been sharing photos from his vast archive of Coventry on his Facebook page 

Alan has also been involved with a community-powered Social Action documentary group called Action Rayz. This was sparked with the help of Connecting For Good. They share info through their Facebook group 

Action Rayz 

This is more than just a group for screening docs. They want to bring people together who have a passion for film, filmmaking and social action. Once the Covid-19 crisis is over and it is safe for them to do so, they also plan on continuing these screenings in the real world. They want to create meaningful connections across Coventry, around passions, interests, hobbies, third places (your home away from home) and activities.

Screening For People Like Us Festival – Tuesday 7th July 2020

Jubilee – In a time of quiet needing some diversion Queen Elizabeth the first has a magician in her court conjure a vision of the future via the spirit Ariel. And so a future possible vision of the time of Queen Elizabeth the second appears. Essentially being a documentary of a possible dystopian future. Featuring Jenny Runacre and Toyah Willcox

Derek Jarman was the foremost LGBTQ+ director of his time. The only one able to write a letter to a major national newspaper and have it published on the front page of the paper. A sad loss to the AIDS epidemic that cut down all too many important figures in their prime. We’ll start watching at 6pm next Tuesday 7th July and the discussion on Zoom will start at 7:40pm. Get your tickets here and we will send out your zoom link later today 

Tell us about your project’s before lockdown 

I was working on radio play/film of four older women talking with a very Harold Pinter edge to the dialogue.  The one one minute doc a day on Facebook. Also was trying to get back to longer-form videos such as Coal, Gas and Diesel. Perhaps back to once a week as I did for eighteen months. Also, I was keen to try and develop longer form dramas such as my early Concrete Steel Tarmac And The Blue Blue Sky.

What has been people’s reaction to your work?

Mainly good! There are many strands to this and some work has been better received than others. But I suppose my heart is really in Documentary, and I DON’T mean promotional videos where typically short video clips are edited to upbeat mean music. I mean such things as the Free Cinema docs. Following the manifesto statements:- 

No film can be too personal. 

The image speaks. Sound amplifies and comments. 

Size is irrelevant. 

Perfection is not an aim. 

An attitude means a style. A style means an attitude.

So far what have been your top ten films and why?

As a drama probably Concrete Steel Tarmac And The Blue Blue Sky. And of course Coal, Gas And Diesel if only because of the number of views it’s had. I’ve tried with some of the more community-based films to put over the event in a way that shows the event without too much mediation and use of After Effects.  A Day In June shows a series of events in Coventry occurring on the same day, again without a mediating voiceover. I do feel that far too much of today’s factual programmes are presenter-led. They’ll take you to, say, Machu  Picchu show you 10 seconds of the ruins and then two dozen shots of the presenter with a voiceover. 

You like to keep things simple so what are your top tips for filming one-minute shorts.

Get the editing right! Content over After Effects. I still think Humphrey Jennings Fires Were Started is a master class for editing.

What is your favourite piece of camera kit?

My favourite piece of camera kit will always be the 16mm Bolex. A camera that always brings to mind exciting projects and many interesting first films.

What inspired you to get into photography/docs/filmmaking/animation?

I had my first camera when I was about 12, alongside an interest in electrics/electronics and taking things to bits to see how they worked. What inspired me with films was my experience in an old children’s hospital called Bramcote. Here a group of amateurs brought 16mm films for us to watch every two weeks, and it was far and away the best high light of the hospital calendar. The first films I remember seeing there were Will Hay’s Oh Mr Porter and the Disney film Twenty Thousand Leagues Under The Sea.

Have you seen any changes in Coventry since we were awarded City Of Culture 2021?

There’s been a few high profile events and some nice dinners but I think it’s yet to impact on individual grassroots artists. I think they’re going to be surprised when they realise what a small circle of artists Coventry has actually got.

What would be your dream collaboration?

This would have to be working on a film with the editor Stewart Mc Alistair. Person (living) I’d most like to meet would be Wim Wenders.

Talk about Coal, Gas And Diesel.

This started out as a project on the canals in general. But the first thing I found was that very few of the boats are original. And people will tell you that nothing happens in a hurry on the canals. It proved difficult to get stories from the general canal boat people. Typical pleasure cruising bears a resemblance to weekend caravanning. However, with some discussion there was talk of a working canal boat that made deliveries of fuel to canal boats and businesses on the canal side on the Coventry canal network.  And so I was introduced to Gravener Boating and Rick Cooper. Rick’s boat was about as original as you get these days built in 1935 and served initially as a fireboat on the river Thames during the Blitz. It had the original small working boat cabin which Rick lived in with his dog on his trips off selling fuel. His stove had a permanent pot of hot coffee on it. He was in out and around that boat like a proverbial mountain goat! Whilst I was very unsure being faced sometimes with either a four-foot drop into the bottom of his boat or the canal. I clung on grimly! One-shot I wanted was over the top of the cabin with Rick at the tiller. So I got on the end of the cabin, only to find that I was two foot from the engine exhaust belching neat diesel fumes. I spent twenty minutes leaning away as far as I could until the boat touched the bank and I could jump off! Rick was a very gracious character who was completely unfazed by my filming him.   The rally of working boats was filmed at Alvecote marina, Ricks base. A place I could only get to by Taxis, although it was right next to a high-speed railway line! On that day the marina was full of painted boats and here I recorded the music and the engine noises. There were such oddities as the cheese boat which sold just about any type of cheese you could mention

What are your top ten docs?

  1. Listen To Britain
  2. Everyday Except Christmas
  3. We Are The Lambeth Boys
  4. Oh Dreamland
  5. Brief City
  6. Invocation- Maya Deren
  7. Man With A Movie Camera
  8. The Spanish Earth
  9. Wim Wender’s doc about Pina Bausch
  10. Some news 24 short films

Tell me one random fact about yourself

My feet are size 12 wide and there’s only one place in Cov I can buy shoes!

If you were on a desert island what book/album/film would you want and why?

Album- Nina Simone – cause I Like it.

Book – Cinematography by Malkiewicz- cause it always reminds me of the excitement around 16mm projects

Film – A Taste Of Honey- I’ve always been a fan of social realism. 

Get involved with Action Rayz

Captured by aLAN 2018

Check out Feel Good’s doc filmed by the man himself in a very cold day in 2018!