Patience (After Sebald)

About the Film


by Grant Gee (director of Patience)

W.G. Sebald has, in the ten years since his sudden death in a car crash (14.12.2001), begun to exert an almost uncanny influence over contemporary art and writing. He's become one of those rarest of writers: the adjectival author, in the shortest possible time. ‘Sebaldian’ has entered the language. I wanted to find out why this is, and trace his influence through the zeitgeist.

Both my previous major long-form works – Radiohead’s Meeting People Is Easy and Joy Division – as well as the recent short film The Western Lands, examined iconic contemporary artists in the context of the landscapes they inhabited, respectively the ‘non-places’ of international touring, the post-industrial wreckage of late 1970s Manchester and the lethal cliff faces of the Orkney Islands. These artists could not be understood fully without an understanding of the landscapes and locations they occupied. The dialogue between personality and place is thus central to my own artistic investigations.

Rarely has the idea and importance of place been more prominent in culture and thought than it is at the moment. There are many reasons for this, not least the effect of globalization, with its spread of ‘sameness’ and the subsequent alienation and lack of belonging people feel. As things are erased, so they become even more significant.

This destruction of ‘place' is a kind of catastrophe in our imaginative lives. It doesn’t have to take the form of explicit environmental or topographic change. Perhaps even more pernicious is the long-term psychological effect. Sebald’s body of work is profoundly aware of this and offers the richest statement I have come across about the importance of attention to place and the histories it holds and has made.

Properly to honour the associative nature of the book and the themes discussed, the ‘essay film’, a ‘genre’ employed to great effect by the likes of Chris Marker, Harun Farocki, Patrick Keiller and Chris Petit, seems a very helpful and productive means to explore such material.

Such a form allows for multiple tones and textures, essential when considering Sebald and place. It is also a personal form, not governed by pre-ordained structures and templates. I am extremely glad to have had the opportunity to work with this approach, and hope in a small way to have done justice, on film, to the remarkable work of this most important and influential writer.