Someone once told me about a strategy of war: bomb the archives first. Recording our past is crucial to preserving our sense of who we are – and this is true of individuals and communities alike. But what if an archive was constructed by the colonisers? And what if your childhood memories are not real, but made up from photographs somebody else took? In The Host, filmmaker Miranda Pennell reconstructs her journey through the BP archive and her own family photographs and letters, uncovering the role that Britain played in Iranian history and exploring the role that images play in remembering. She makes use of different filmmaking techniques borrowed from the documentary, essay film and artist film genres to try and destabilise the truths that certain pictures try to present, dislocating the narrative from the images on screen, focusing in on figures that weren’t supposed to be there, scenes that weren’t seen by the people who recorded them. Her camera seeks out the things between lines, beyond frames, memories unremembered. This is a film about different ways of looking: the colonial gaze; the defiant stare; the redaction and selection of images; the personal perspective. It reminds us that it’s difficult to see through the eyes of others, but dangerous to trust – on first glance – what’s before our own.
Yesterday I led a Q&A with Pennell following a screening of her film at Picturehouse Central in London. The Host is currently on a nationwide ICO tour.