1.05 Words of Wisdom

Rollo Jackson Cult Cuts

Filmmaker Rollo shares his favourite documentaries.

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After a youth spent immersed in UK dance music culture, Rollo Jackson has made music videos and films for the likes of James Blake, Hot Chip, Jamie xx and Warp Records, as well as the documentary ‘Tokyo: Where Do You Know Me From?’ for Stormzy. More recently, Rollo directed the ‘First Never Follows’ campaign for Adidas Football, featuring several of the game’s superstars, and a narrative film for Stormzy’s album, G.S.A.P.

Here are his Cult Cuts

Adam Curtis - Bitter Lake
This is an amazing film about the Middle East and American politics. In an era when many documentaries really try to have an “angle” or are super stylised, (or in ten parts!), this is like a cannonball through all of that. It’s meditative, poetic and supremely informative. Like the best documentaries it lets you make up your own mind about things, too. Creating documentaries purely from archive footage is insanely laborious; once you’ve found what you want to use, you have to find out who owns it and then negotiate permission and terms – so to make a two-hour film that’s so in-depth is an extraordinary undertaking. In many ways it’s a very straight film, almost like an essay or a visual history, but the richness of the archive, the narration and the juxtaposition of it all is just so good. A scene where some British soldiers in Afghanistan try to hire a photocopier becomes funny and tragic at the same time because of its context. The edit jumps around geographically, politically and chronologically, yet it remains educational and, despite being stitched together from different archive clips, totally immersive.

Les Blank - Burden of Dreams
This is a documentary about the making of Werner Herzog’s Fitzcarraldo. Maybe it’s just me but I often find films less interesting than learning about how they were made. That’s not the case here – go see Fitzcarraldo! – but this documentary is amazing because it runs almost parallel to the film itself, life imitating art. In the film, Klaus Kinski plays a rubber baron who attempts to haul a steamboat up and over a hill on a very remote and densely forested part of the Amazon. He almost goes mad in the process. The film itself is pretty out there but seeing how it was made is on another level; mainly because of the disintegrating relationship between Herzog and Kinski – two crazy Germans, trying to heave a real steamboat up a real hill in a real jungle, while constantly at each other’s throats. When I say “crazy”, though, it’s meant as a compliment. If there’s ever been a film about will, belief and passion – in the face of absolutely everything: geography, religion, language, a lack of manpower – this is it. Which is why to this day I ask myself, “What would Werner do?” whenever something goes wrong.

Adam Smith - Wot Do U Call It
I’ve chosen this film because of what it signified to me personally when it came out. It’s essentially a portrait of grime, made very early in the scene’s lifespan, off the back of Wiley’s first album on XL. It’s a bit like what labels used to call ‘EPK’s (Electronic Press Kits), which were basically label-made documentaries about an album that they would service to the press. This was made for XL but went a lot further. I think part of its strength is just the sheer range of MCs they managed to get in it, bearing in mind this was the MySpace era of music when grime was still in its infancy, still very local to Bow, and not in its current ‘Skepta going out with Naomi Campbell / Drake on stage with Section Boyz’ global domination phase. Being a massive fan of that music since it appeared, recording the tapes, buying white labels, knowing friends like Ben Drury who were involved with those first Dizzee Rascal and Wiley albums, this film felt so exciting. It’s authentic, gives everyone a voice and has this constant fisheye lens view of East London, which, cut to “Ice Rink”, made it feel like a music video. At a time when I was working in TV and getting frustrated by its rules, yet super excited by all this London music, this nine-minute doc confirmed that it could be visualised successfully – and I wanted to go do it more than anything else in the world.

Stills by Alex Hulsey.

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