Review: By Our Selves


DIR: Andrew Kötting • PRO: Edward Fletcher, Andrew Kötting • DOP: Nick Gordon Smith  • ED: Andrew Kötting, Cliff West • MUS: Jem Finer • CAST: Toby Jones, Freddie Jones, Alan Moore, Iain Sinclair


British filmmaker and artist Andrew Kötting’s twenty-five year idiosyncratic career has seen him become one of the most creative visionaries in contemporary cinema, exemplified by such films as Gallivant and This Filthy Earth. Through aesthetically challenging, absurdist innovation and pensively surreal, hybrid composition, which places the landscape at the pulse of his visual and structural ingenuity, the filmmaker synchronically delves into the soul of English national identity with creative structural flair across an amalgam of digital platforms, to explore concepts of origins, community, home and individuality.

Based on psychogeographer Ian Sinclair’s book, ‘Edge of the Orison’, Kötting’s latest piece from his distinctive canon takes little-known, paranoid schizophrenic nature poet, John Clare as his subject, whose powerful celebration of the rural English landscape has seen a recent resurgence of interest in his work, situating him as one of the most significant English poets of the nineteenth century. Taking Clare’s punishing four-day, eighty-mile journey on foot from Epping Forest to Northborough as its loose narrative framework and delving into the psyche of the tortured poet through a sonic mélange of musical vocalizations, By Our Selves is a vividly hypnotic odyssey of multisensory, audio-visual and semantic virtuosity.

Opening the narrative and steering the psychic reflections of the eccentric poet, the recurrent refrain, ‘John Clare was a minor nature poet who went mad’ becomes the only recognisable soundscape throughout the narrative in which to root the audience into some semblance of orientation and structure, before Kötting embarks on a heightened audio-visual maelstrom of sound, image, verse and language. Having escaped from a mental asylum in 1841 to undertake the journey in search of his true love, Mary Joyce, an unvoiced Toby Jones as the wandering elegist, undertakes the same pilgrimage, to which Kötting’s surreal soundscape becomes the narrative’s principal component to interpret the delusion and confusion driving Clare’s mental and physical odyssey.

Plucked from the depths of Clare’s febrile mind and which Kötting presents as an alternative sensory means of seeing and hearing his frenzied poetic effusions; musings, hysterics, hallucinations and lyrical narrations emanate from the rambling extracts of journals, poems, letters and medical prognoses amidst the deafening din of traffic jams, whirling wind farms, whooshing straw bears and wistful wails of Mary Joyce, to create a series of unsettling jolts, which produce their own internal narrative and sonorous logic, through a visually staggering and visionary structured enquiry.

As is customary in both Clare’s and Kötting’s oeuvres, it is a dissection of the English landscape and its relationship to the text, image and space that is at the heart of By Our Selves rather than a categorical reenactment of Clare’s most infamous peregrination. Anchoring the sonic-visual hotchpotch, as Toby Jones traipses, his father, Freddie Jones, as the elder Clare, vocalizes the poet’s own locutions and tortured inner monologue, which has a serenity and rationality to its chaotic, meditative, stream of consciousness amidst the rural landscapes and which dissipates into a more frenzied panic as they lumber through contemporary cityscapes, underpinning the symbiotic relationship between poetry, nature and insanity.

Kötting’s gnomic mish mash of audio-visual experimentation is a deeply evocative sensory exploration that fuses the past and the present, the dramatized and the experimental and the simulated and the real, through a physical investigation into the mindscape and headtalk of a brilliant, yet tortured poet. While Kötting’s piece invites his audience to view and explore the anomalous poet through a uniquely different way of seeing and hearing and despite its overwhelming audio-visual aberrations and esoteric, yet erudite musings, there is a lucidity and coherency in both Kötting and Clare’s work that seems to gel into some sort of peculiar rationality, marking both eccentrics out as two of the greatest visionaries of their generation. As there has been a recent piqued interest in the work of Clare, to those unfamiliar with the bewitchingly detailed dialect that emanates from his idiosyncratic opus or his acute observations as a fervent social and environmental commentator, Andrew Kötting’s rivetingly, outlandish portrait of John Clare is the perfect place to start.

Dee O’Donoghue


80 minutes
By Our Selves is released 2nd October 2015










IFI & JDIFF Collaborations

The IFI teams up with Jameson Dublin International Film Festival (JDIFF) to present three fascinating programmes; film works by British artist Andrew Kötting; films by Derry filmmaker Terence McDonald (1926-2001), and a showcase of work from the Arts Council’s Reel Art scheme.

The IFI collaborates closely with JDIFF each year to present an exciting programme from an exciting and challenging international film artist: this year’s focus, Andrew Kötting (Feb 25th), is one of Britain’s most interesting and resolutely independent film artists. This year the IFI and JDIFF will also be presenting two additional programmes of Irish film work; a diverse selection of work from the Derry filmmaker Terence McDonald (Feb 26th) and a showcase of work from the Arts Council’s Reel Art scheme (Feb 21st-23rd) that encourages experimental and imaginative approaches to documentary making.

The IFI & JDIFF collaboration on filmmaker and artist Andrew Kötting features two of his films, Gallivant and This Our Still Life. Gallivant explores the deepening relationship between the artist’s grandmother Gladys and his daughter, who has learning disabilities and uses sign language, as they take a quixotic 6000 mile trip round the coast of Great Britain in 1996. A touching and eccentric film described in Time Out as ‘a marvellously fresh, warm, enlightening and often very funny look at Britain’. This Our Still Life, Kötting’s recent bittersweet feature, looks again at his adult daughter Eden living in their shared farmhouse, painting, singing and watching the seasons ebb and flow. Following the screening of This Our Still Life, Kötting will be interviewed by GradCAM Fellow, Martin McCabe.

The IFI Irish Film Archive’s Monthly Must-See Cinema programme for February, in association with JDIFF, is Out of the Past: Terence McDonald celebrating the pioneering work of the late Derry amateur filmmaker. This series of short films ranges from slapstick comedy, experimental work and local documentary, and includes a remarkable portrait of Derry, scripted and directed by a then 26-year-old schoolteacher, John Hume.

Reel Art is an Arts Council scheme, showcased by the IFI and JDIFF, which provides film artists with a unique opportunity to make highly creative, imaginative and experimental documentaries on an artistic theme. The three featured Reel Art films from Margo Harkin; Julius Ziz and Dónal Ó Céilleachair; and Oonagh Kearney are all challenging and evocative celebrations of the filmmakers’ unique visions.

IFI & JDIFF Joint Presentations Schedule

Reel Art, Films from the Arts Council Reel Art Scheme

The Far Side of Revenge Margo Harkin 18.30 21st Feb

Dreamtime, Revisited Julius Ziz & Dónal Ó Céilleachair 18.30 22nd Feb

Wonder House Oonagh Kearney 18.30 23rd Feb

IFI Irish Film Archive: Monthly Must-See Cinema

Out of the Past: Terence McDonald 14.00 26th Feb (An approx. 90 min shorts programme including A City Solitary, The Man From Aunt, Nebelung, The Fugitive, The Portable Theatre)

IFI & JDIFF: Andrew Kötting

Gallivant 14.00 25th Feb

This Our Still Life 16.00 25th Feb

Followed by an onstage interview with Andrew Kötting

The Jameson Dublin International Film Festival runs from 16th-26th February. See for the full schedule.

Tickets for the Andrew Kötting films Gallivant and This Our Still Life and are available from the IFI Box Office 01 679 3477, the IFI website, the JDIFF Box Office 01 687 7974 or visit Tickets for the Arts Council Reel Art programme are only available through JDIFF.