Compass Presents set sail for Bristol on a tall ship

Compass Presents are bringing a tall ship to Bristol for their immersive event Celluloid Sail (which they are talking about at Cinema Rediscovered). We caught up with Compass' Tara Sachdeva to chat about what it’s like blending archive and contemporary film, all on board a floating venue.
Celluloid Sail - tall ship docked to harbourside with projections on sails and acrobat hanging from rope.
Credit: Paul Blakemore @ Blikmo

Creative events company and Pervasive Media Studio residents Compass Presents are bringing an incredible tall ship to Bristol for their immersive event, Celluloid Sail (currently on tour around the UK). In advance of Celluloid Sail (which Compass will be talking about in The Archive Sessions: Designing Experiences event as part of Cinema Rediscovered), we caught up with one of the women behind the company, Tara Sachdeva, to chat about what it’s like blending archive material and contemporary film, all on board a floating venue in Bristol’s harbourside.

So, what can you tell us about Celluloid Sail?

Celluloid Sail is a show on a tall ship which combines a screening of Wes Anderson’s Life Aquatic, archive content projected onto the sails of the ship, and circus aerial performance in the ship’s rigging. It’s part of a wider programme from the BFI called Britain On Film which is about trying to get people engaged with archive content.

There are two distinct parts to the experience - one is that you can board the ship and see the archive bits up-close, which is really cool because it’s a beautiful boat and you can climb into these hidden parts you wouldn’t normally get to see. All for free! In the evening the boat is lit up as an installation, with archive footage projected onto the ship’s sails and experimental content projected onto the ship itself, so it’s a beautiful spectacle from the shore for people wandering by.

The other part of the experience is a ticketed event where people come and see all the stuff on the boat, then they sit on the shore and watch Wes Anderson’s Life Aquatic. Before the screening there’s a short show, partly based on the film, with circus performers in the rigging!

What is Compass Presents?

Compass started in 2006, initially as a film festival centred around the four compass points of international film, with directors and screenings and a side programme of arts and theatre. In year three or four of the festival we became more interested in pop-up and found locations. Now, we still focus on film but do more with expanded cinema, where the films are supported and extended by performance elements and the location.

After one of our first theatrical productions, The Caligari Experience, a show based around silent film The Cabinet of Dr Caligari, we got a residency at the Pervasive Media Studio. It felt like the sort of place where we could get some support around the development of bringing everything together. Before that we were out on a limb just trying to do stuff - we didn’t really have much input or guidance around the world of funding. It’s been amazing to be positioned here with the support the studio offers.

Why do you like working with archive material?

The marrying of mainstream and marginal culture has always been fundamental to us, and from that has come an interesting and very specific aesthetic (kind of old, gravelly films). With archive people often think - boring, not interested. But I think people are excited by seeing somewhere they recognise from the past.

The first thing is the hook-in for people: why is it interesting? Is the location somewhere people will be able to recognise? Secondly, being able to do something interesting with the edit.

We look for a mixture of straight footage that gives you historical information and shows the development of the community or the land, and something which is more character or people based. Things that might look quite dry may have the capacity to be quite cool with music - we’ve played around with the movement of ships and choreographed them to music. It’s a bit more contemporary, more of an abstract and experimental treatment of film.

How do you get to put on events like this?   

Compass is a member of Film Hub South West & West Midlands and through that we hear about opportunities like Britain On Film. Last year we did something as part of Britain On Film's rural output where we screened The Wicker Man down in Boiling Wells (St. Werburghs, Bristol). We had lots of pagan footage hidden in the trees so people could go on a trail, and there was a performance and projection mapping. Film Hub helped us to approach other Hub members who might want to show The Wicker Man as part of the same activity, so there’s a networking element to being a member, and support through that national network in terms of visibility.

What’s in the future for Compass?

There’s lots of potential for this show and developing this format. The ship is such a beautiful asset and projecting images onto it looks incredible. The experience of having done stuff in dilapidated buildings in Bristol, in beautiful gardens in Boiling Wells, and then on a ship, has shown how interesting it is to work in different locations with content that fits with the place, be it archival or otherwise. But first - we want to tour the world on a ship! We want to go to the Caribbean in particular…

Compass Presents’ Celluloid Sail is part of BFI Britain on Film, made possible with funds from the National Lottery. It began its voyage in Plymouth and will tour around the UK over the summer. In autumn, they hope to go to London, but in the meantime they’ll be heading to our shores in Bristol on 14 and 15 July. To book tickets head to their website.

This year's Cinema Rediscovered takes place Thu 27 - Sun 30 July and brings digital restorations, contemporary classics and film print rarities from across the globe back onto the big screen where they belong. Explore the whole programme to find other screenings, events and tours.

Film Hub South West & West Midlands, part of the BFI Film Audience Network, is a membership organisation comprised of cinemas, arts venues, festivals and those working in the exhibition sector.  They provide members with a wide range of funding opportunities and audience development support. To find out more visit watershed.co.uk/filmhub