In Haunt

A century of archive film of Manchester, the inspiration of a poetry collection and considering the city as an imagined place – all play a part in the haunting new film Mancunia; to be premiered on Thursday 6 February at HOME. The screening will start at 6.30pm, followed by a question and answer session with the creators, chaired by Becky Swain, Director of the new Manchester Poetry Library.

Based on the T.S. Eliot Prize-shortlisted poetry collection of the same name by Michael Symmons Roberts, Mancunia is a lyrical short poetry film composed of interwoven footage from 100 years of North West Film Archive material of the city. With the archive content drawn together by Marion Hewitt (Director of the North West Film Archive) and interpreted by artist and filmmaker Steve Hawley, this allows for a fascinating account of place: encountering everything from old myths such as the Salford Mermaid ‘Miss Molasses’ to locations linking to Symmons Robert’s own past, such as the Tootal textiles factory where his parents met. The voices of Julie Hesmondhalgh and Esh Alladi can also be heard reading the poems, adding to the resonant experience. 


Hawley’s careful artistry has allowed hundreds of hours of film from throughout the city to merge into a single mesmerising account – a 32-minute journey drawing the decades together; from Whit Walks down Deansgate of the Edwardian era, to a 1970s student riot on Oxford Street, and much more. Rather than a romanticised version, the city’s highs and lows are explored; the exuberance of the opening of the Ship Canal, the depression of the 60s clearances, and the resurgence of the present, all playing a part to reveal a detailed portrait of a city.  

The multi-layered approach of the film could be considered fitting in light of Symmons Roberts’ poems – as when Mancunia was first published (by Jonathan Cape) in 2017, the book attracted attention through its imaginative, intricate account of Manchester over time… a place where myths unfold, characters are created, different frequencies run, light and shadow. It considers the complication that comes with affirmation, challenges the tendency to fall into automatic praise – and instead could be seen to explore Manchester as a city of varied movement, various shades. The Manchester in people’s ideas and ideals may be very different to the changing city occupied as time goes on. In turn, the film is highly anticipated.

Mancunia Oxford St

According to the artist behind it Steve Hawley:

 ”This is the first time a major city has been reflected in poetry and film, using only archive film of that city. It creates a sort of city-symphony, a multi-layered portrait which we hope will resonate with Manchester viewers, when they see a snatch of film or hear a phrase that expresses their feelings about their home city”. Recurrent themes include the much missed Piccadilly Gardens, which are seen though many decades and seasons, the symbolic heart of the metropolis.

“I am very interested in the way the mythic Manchester is portrayed in novels and film, especially in books such as The Emigrants by W.G. Sebald, and Passing Time (L’Emploi du Temps) by Michel Butor. Both were temporary immigrants to the city, from Germany in the 1960s and France in the 1950s respectively, and both worked at Manchester University. Both also saw the city as a depressed dystopian place, a malevolent entity almost, blighted by terrible food, awful weather and blackened buildings. In the 1959 Film Hell is a City, Manchester even appears as a chaotic Hades, long before the resurgence of the 1990s. Michael is interested in Moore’s Utopia, and has a strong bond with the city as his parents met at the Tootal factory here, and in our conversations there were a lot of correspondences in the way we see the rise of Manchester (the optimism of the building of the Ship Canal), its fall after the bombings of world war two, and it’s eventual rebirth in recent years. It is a mythological city in the way that Liverpool is, and Birmingham isn’t, in my view, and that mixture of myth (sometimes invented by Michael), and reality and poetry I hope comes through via the carefully chosen moving images drawn from the archive.”

Mancunia Piccadilly

So how did this come about? Symmons Roberts and Hawley are both Professors at Manchester Metropolitan University’s Faculty of Arts and Humanities, where they met and shared their enthusiasm for the mythology of Manchester.  Hawley was invited to make a film of Symmons Roberts’s poem Terra Nullius - about the victory parades that have snaked their way through the City centre over the years -  and following its success, they decided to collaborate on Mancunia. The North West Film Archive is also part of the University, and based in Manchester Central Library; therefore offering a fascinating visual resource to work with. Central Library itself also features throughout the film and joined in on the collaborative effort, which is part funded by The Granada Foundation.

For more information on the screening and tickets, visit the HOME website here.

Mancunia Moss Side

Images: Stills from the Mancunia film provided with thanks to Steve Hawley

The trailer can be viewed below: 




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