Portrait of a City

Portrait of a City

Date: 06/04/2016 14:09

Mark Cousins on the films that influenced I Am Belfast

Films featuring cities... perhaps you'll call to mind Woody Allen's Manhattan (1979), New York crackling with manic energy, a place alive to adventure, its iconic buildings captured in sumptuous black and white to add that sheen of sophistication. Maybe you're thinking of Don't Look Now (1973), Nic Roeg giving us a mist-draped, out-of-season Venice, a place at once haunting, beautiful and otherworldly.

The best films about cities cast that city as a character in its own right. Mark Cousins' I Am Belfast is one such film, giving the viewer an impressionistic take on the city, his Belfast assuming the form of a 10,000 year old woman (Helena Bereen). This Belfast has seen a lot, endured a lot.

The film reveals Cousins' hometown to be a contrary place, altogether more complex and conflicted than any tabloid potted history might suggest. It's a place of great heart, of humour and kindness. But there's intolerance and cruelty too, the kind that manifests in violent, tragic conflict. With I Am Belfast, Cousins' shows us the city in its unvarnished, multifaceted form, Christopher Doyle's exquisite cinematography capturing Belfast's unshowy beauty.

With the film due to hit cinema screens - QFT from 08-14 April - Mark has been speaking to the BFI about his favourite films about cities and how he went about researching I Am Belfast, including a delve into our very own Digital Film Archive. Read the full feature here.