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N21 Day 5 - Sleep Furiously

Friday 22 June 2012, by Lauren A. Forry

After a day fighting tourists for pavement space in Leicester Square, it is quite the contrast arriving at the Green in Winchmore Hill. N21 events have taken over the area for the week, but this Thursday evening is quiet, the bunting and a lone sign the only proof of any festivities.

Travelling where Google Maps cannot follow, signs point the way down a narrow tree-lined path to the 3rd Southgate Scout Group, the site of tonight’s screening – Gideon Koppel’s award-winning documentary, Sleep Furiously. The rustic scout cabin is a fitting place for this film about the rural Welsh village of Trefeurig. The strong smell of popcorn and wine which dominates the room feels an appropriate mix for this low-key screening.

All the films in the festival were chosen because of how they document the transition of villages to towns, and Koppel’s may be the best representation of what Winchmore Hill has experienced itself. Silent London editor Pamela Hutchinson explained that this film is an attempt to preserve Trefeurig and asked if the idea of a village with in the M25 is nothing but semantic nonsense (much like the title of the film – taken from a Noam Chomsky quote – which the director has refused to clarify). Yet, Sleep Furiously is more than a document of village life and its traditions but also asks questions about what is community? How is it formed? What holds it together and what can tear it apart? Does the rivalry of nature versus technology hurt community or help it?

Throughout the film there are fusions of nature with the modern technological world: a mobile library van delivering history books; traditional baking using electric mixers; farming with modern machinery. But it is not only within these scenes that nature and technology are fused. Koppel draws further attention to the relationship by juxtaposing scenes which show the duality of the village: an old woman picking berries followed by a mechanics shop fixing a van; cows led through a pasture then being attached to mechanized milking machines. Even the background music by electronica group Aphex Twin is blended with pastoral scenes of rolling Welsh hills. Occasionally, the music is suddenly removed, leaving only the images and the sense that something has been lost.

Koppel seems as conflicted as the village community over the modernization of the area. While the townspeople fear the closing of the local school and the introduction of a laptop to the mobile library, they ask the librarian for the Idiots Guide to Computers. Throughout, Koppel shows how seamlessly technology can be a part of this world, yet he seems to fear advancement, ending the film on a series of downbeat images of an abandoned house. Is this his fear of what the community could become in a few years’ time or is it certain this is its fate? Neither prospect seems appealing.

Sleep Furiously was shot on film and an actual print must render the images of the Welsh landscape beautifully. However, as digitally projected here, it is heard to capture the true impact of Koppel’s cinematography. The digital projection better serves the opening shorts – the winners of the 2011 MyStreet film competition. These films, some of which were shot on iPhones, depict the streets where the filmmakers live and demonstrate how technology and life can together create something new and visceral. None of these filmmakers seem afraid of what technology can bring to their towns but embrace it in order to show a unique view of their communities.

Koppel has captured a view of idyllic village life, yet leaves us with questions of what community is and what it should be. Can a village exist within the M25? The N21 Festival is certainly trying to prove that if not a village then a community, at least is.

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