A combined programme featuring Huw Lemmey and Onyeka Igwe’s lyrical reflection on intimacy and surveillance through the development of British espionage, and Manuel Muñoz Rivas’ transporting voyage across an expanse of water, half-light and darkness.
Followed by a Q&A with Huw Lemmey and Manuel Muñoz Rivas
John le Carré meets Derek Jarman in this subtle reflection on the complex relationships between the development of British espionage and male homosexuality. Based on extensive research and voiced by actor Ben Whishaw, Ungentle draws on the life stories of famous historic operatives from the mid–20th century, from Anthony Blunt and Guy Burgess to Noël Coward and Hardy Amies, exploring the tensions between loyalty and lust that ran parallel in the lives of spies and gay men.
A collaboration between writer Huw Lemmey (of utopian drivel and Bad Gays) and BFMAF alumni Onyeka Igwe, Ungentle was commissioned by Studio Voltaire and stemmed from a walking tour led by Lemmey looking at sites linked to spying around South London. Ben Whishaw, known for his indelibly British roles such as Q in the James Bond franchise and as the voice of the seemingly deified Paddington Bear, is our anonymous narrator who talks us through the various chapters of his twinned lives of espionage and homosexuality. Vivid stories of intimacy and surveillance sit atop gorgeously filmed tableaus of luscious countryside, busy Central London streets and nighttime cruising zones to paint a confessional portrait of the type of man used to keeping professional and personal secrets.
~ Dan Guthrie
Huw Lemmey is an artist and writer. He has published the novels Unknown Language (2020), Red Tory: My Corbyn Chemsex Hell (2019) and Chubz: The Demonization of My Working Arse (2015). With Ben Miller, he hosts the highly-successful podcast, Bad Gays, ‘about evil and complicated queers in history’. Their book, Bad Gays: A Homosexual History was recently published by Verso Books. Lemmey writes on digital culture, sexuality and politics for publications including Architectural Review, Icon, Art Monthly, L’Uomo Vogue, The Guardian and The White Review, among others. Ungentle was developed directly from a walking tour by Lemmey, commissioned by Studio Voltaire in 2018 as part of the offsite project Rainbow Aphorisms.
Onyeka Igwe lives and works in London. Her work has been presented in solo exhibitions and screenings including at The High Line, New York; LUX, London; Mercer Union, Toronto; and Jerwood Arts, London. Her video works have been screened at institutions and festivals including KW Institute for Contemporary Art, Berlin; London Film Festival; Rotterdam International Film Festival; CC Matienzo, Buenos Aires; Smithsonian African American Film Festival; ICA, London; and Edinburgh Artist Moving Image. She has been featured in major international presentations including the Dhaka Art Summit and Berlin Biennale. She was recently nominated for the 2022 Jarman Award; the MaxMara Artist Prize for Women 22-24; and awarded the 2020 Arts Foundation Futures Award for Experimental Short Film and the 2019 Berwick New Cinema Award.
Ungentle (2022) in collaboration with Onyeka Igwe
The Miracle on George Green (2022), a so-called archive (2020), No Archive Can Restore You (2020), the names have changed, including my own and truths have been altered (2019), No Dance, No Palaver (2017-2018), Corrections (2018) with Aliya Pabani, Sung (2018), We Need New Names (2015)
Onboard a ferry, a group of passengers cross a river from one side to the other. Manuel Muñoz Rivas’ reflexive, oneiric cine-voyage unfolds as a series of elliptical vignettes in a gently shifting landscape of half-light and darkness. Through vaporous fog and hushed voices, we encounter a cast of characters suspended in a floating space. On the water time is expanding and the destination is deferred – motion itself, and the transporting power of images becoming, perhaps, the only certainty.
Each moment feels at once both dense with omens and a mere glimpse into a languid, ordinary journey. Some travellers are asleep, others are discussing plans, songs, or dreams while metallic sounds and foghorns chime in. Evoking the river Acheron leading to the underworld of Ancient Greek mythology, two children playfully call out to the mythological ferryman: ‘Charon, where are you taking us?’ The first words voiced in the film also resound with haunting ambiguity: ‘I wish I could’ve said goodbye’ – are these someone’s words in the afterlife or a casual observation? While death looms large yet remains elusive, a clear reflection of life appears through the still silhouettes of people observed against an ever-moving background – life beyond human scale, life as that which occurs, envelops, and flows.
~ Ilinca Vanau
Manuel Muñoz Rivas is a filmmaker based in Spain. He is a graduate of EICTV, International Film and Television School of San Antonio de los Baños (Cuba) and the Faculty of Communication Sciences of the University of Seville. He alternates between his personal film projects and co-writing and editing films for colleagues. He also teaches workshops on Film Narrative and Editing at various film schools internationally.
AQUERONTE (2023), EL MAR NOS MIRA DE LEJOS (THE SEA STARES AT US FROM AFAR) (2017), PÁJARO (BIRD) (2014), CON EL VIENTO (WITH THE WIND) (2009), SENDERO (2008)