Coaley Peak (A Fragment), 2021
6 minutes 19 seconds

Selected by Exeter Phoenix for their 2021 Artists’ Moving Image commission, Dan’s idea was to make a film about Blackness and belonging in the English countryside, taking a family photo of some of his relatives at the Gloucestershire viewpoint Coaley Peak as a starting point. Whilst making the film, something happened.

Coaley Peak (A Fragment) is self-distributed, email me for more information

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Selected screenings and exhibitions

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Texts / Reviews

“Reading the poem Afterwardness by Mimi Khalvati, to contextualise the framing of my selection for the Whitstable Biennale 2022 short film programme, evoked strangely familiar and uncomfortable feelings... In light of this I was drawn to works that seek to balance pain, sadness, rejection, and displacement, with poetic beauty, hope and humour. I’ve chosen films that tell stories, that provoke us to think about our own sense of belonging, and the role we play in creating a welcoming and nurturing home for the people and natural life we share the planet with. To me these 10 films are honest and ‘feeling’ works. They tackle complex, very real and eternal states of being and living. They explore the pains and beauty of displacement, and the ever-resourceful power of the human spirit to adapt, survive, and thrive.” — Jas Dhillon, Whitstable Biennale

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“Guthrie was also bound by a commitment to his commissioning body, Exeter Phoenix, to produce a film exploring “Blackness and belonging in the English countryside.” Instead he offers us Coaley Peak (A Fragment), 2021, an honest, clear-eyed and moving 6 minute single take film shot in 16mm on a Bolex cine camera. We are viewing a family photo from the 1970s held up in front of the landscape in the Gloucestershire countryside in which it was taken and we are implicitly asked the question: how far has the brief been fulfilled? The captions vividly capture the shooting process and reference the burn out that led to the film’s current form... This glowing, muddied image is a thought-provoking prompt” — David Andrews, mialondonblog

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“Coaley Peak takes this same premise and pushes it further. Here too, we have a document of Black figures from the past, this time even less ambiguous. The photograph was taken in living memory, they are the artist’s own relatives. We know that in this case black means Black - not in a foul mood or dirty ‘black’ but ‘you’re not from around here are you?’ Black. And still there’s something uneasy in the act of viewing the photograph. The wind pushes and pulls at it and for some reason, the film footage is contaminated with light leaks, as though the landscape itself is forcing its eerie ways into the most documentary of apparatus, the camera.

All this is compounded by the tantalising lure of something going wrong that is addressed but not elaborated on. ‘It just didn’t feel right’, the caption reads. The mind speculates. It conjures up the darkest of outcomes, even if it then dismisses them rationally. The film begins to take on that characteristic so unshakeable to the English landscape again, that sense of dread. But here, though the event was not in the filmmaker’s control, the decision to only address it partly was. We are not left speculating because we cannot know, but because the artist has chosen to not reveal it to us. Guthrie is playing the landscape at its own game, leaving the fragments that he chooses.

And the film is indeed a self-described fragment but not because the rest was lost to the winds of time, but because it may be yet to come. The eerie, the absent, is here grabbed by someone who understands these forms innately, by someone who was born in their terrain and who can redirect them to new ends. Whereas for many of us, the absences in the landscape have made us feel there are gaps that we, as outsiders, can never come to fill, Guthrie’s rural explorations stay true to the form of the eerie but instead posit these gaps as invitations, as blankness seeking to be populated.” - Siavash Minoudakeh, Acting in Whispers (Two Films / Devonshire Collective text)

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“This experience of otherness subtly continues in Dan Guthrie’s Coaley Peak, a short 6 minute meditation of an idea that is intentionally left as a fragment. In captions, the narrator tell us they didn’t finish the film for reasons they’d prefer not to go into, and presents us with a single 1970s photograph of three black figures in the English countryside. In front of them are green rolling hills, but they’ve twisted away from the scenic view and are looking back to the camera. Again, the problem of assimilation is suggested by the narrator who puts words to their expressions, they are saying; we’re here now, so what? The question is simple but so quickly a divide is created. The binaries come flooding in: English and white, countryside and leisure come up against; black and foreign, urban and deprived. Who owns this land and who is this view for? The narrator leaves it open for us to speculate, and the photograph of these people is left flapping in the wind, their distance from the scene held taut.” - Leah Reynolds, Moth in Relay (Spirit Messages / aemi text)