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The Ridgeway signs, showing ridgeway and bridelway- iStock-486898652
Photo credit: iStock/ James53145

“There’s something in the Zeitgeist” – discussing folk culture with film director, Giles Borg

Film director, Giles Borg, discusses his new project, Albion, with Jon Wilks, and detects a growing interest in all things folk culture and psychogeography.

Giles Borg is a happy man. This morning the Kickstarter for his new film, Albion, was successfully funded. Lights can be trundled into place, cameras can start rolling. Things are afoot.

The director has two feature films behind him (1234 and Flutter), as well as 20 years creating music videos, commercials and other short films, but this one seems to have been gnawing at him for some time. And it’s hard to deny that the time certainly seems to be right for his tale of friendships explored among the ghosts and sprites of the old country.

The internet is so all-encompassing that people are being driven out from it. We spend so much time in the internet that it’s really interesting to be out.

Giles Borg, film director, Albion

On a glitching Zoom call, Borg explains the origins of Albion. “The first film I made, 1234, was about a failed, up-and-coming indie band trying to make it, but very much not. I’ve always been really interested in music, and since I was very young, I had an interest in folk music as well. After we did 1234, I wanted to write something which – without sounding too pompous – was a kind of state of the nation thing, but at the same time, much smaller.

“We came up with this idea of two old friends walking the Ridgeway. I wanted to do it as an exploration of their friendship, against the backdrop of the local folklore. The two characters represent different sides of the country in a way: one of them is very much tied to the past, struggling to move forward, and the other one’s about to emigrate – very scared of the future. It’s a sort of seasonal journey: they walk parts of the Ridgeway at different times of the year, and in doing so it allows them to explore and experience different sides of folklore. They come across different things in quite a natural way. So it’s almost like it’s an educational thing as well. And we all knew that we’d have to have really strong music – traditional folk music.

“Originally, when we first started to get into this, we were thinking along the lines of the late 60s, early 70s, folk revival stuff – Fairport Convention, Steeleye Span. The way bands like that meshed two worlds together was really interesting, and that’s also what’s happening in the story. And then I went to the End of the Road festival last year. It was baking hot so we headed into the woods, and as I was walking along I heard a band playing on the small stage. They were playing ‘Willie O’Winsbury’, so I pushed my way through to the stage, and it was Broadside Hacks. I didn’t know anything them, but I thought it was incredible. I didn’t have a chance to chat to them at the festival, nor when I saw them play again in Stoke Newington a few months later, but I took a photo of them at their London gig and stuck it on Instagram. They saw that and said, “Can we use your photo?” I said, “Yes, but can I come and have a chat with you?”

“So I went down to their folk club, and two things really amazed me. First of all, it felt like the Tim Hart take on things again, you know? People from outside the tradition approaching tradition and doing something interesting with it, but still being respectful of it. The other thing that really struck me was that the crowd was so young. There were loads of people who were under 30, and many who were under 20. I thought, “Wow, something’s going on. This is terrific.” So I pitched the idea and asked them whether they’d like to do the music, and they thought it was great. So what we’re going to do, hopefully, is investigate the songs of the seasons.”

As I say, things are afoot. Maybe it’s the time of the season; maybe something’s on the wind. For the second time this week, ‘psychogeography’ stumbles into the conversation. Is this the latest buzzword? Are folk singers psychogeographers now?

Borg continues: “The first iteration of this story came about 10 years ago when I got some money from the BFI to develop it. I wrote this script and everybody seemed to love it. People said the nicest things, but nobody would give us the money to make it. So I put it away. When I took it out a few years later I thought, “OK, I can see why.” It was too big. The set pieces were too large for what’s basically an arthouse film. So I scaled it down to these two people walking. And again, everybody said, “Oh, my God, we’d love it!” Terrific feedback, but nobody would give us the money again. So I thought I’d try writing it as a book. And that’s when it changed.

Psychogeography is the study of the points at which psychology and geography meet. "My interpretation of psychogeography is that it's a way of looking at landscape in a more holistic way. Rather than just looking at one specific part of it, you're looking at all the things that are linked to that landscape - the history of things rather than just the straight geography - and your personal relationship to it." - Giles Borg, director of Albion
“Originally, the two characters were doing the walk in one go, but the book made it seasonal. They just went when they could. And that was interesting. It allowed me to bring in an element of psychogeography. When a character goes to get the bus, you know, you can talk about how that was a Roman road, talk about the straight lines and things like that. I remember, halfway through writing the book, realising that it was like a collection of short films. I could do that a lot easier than I could a whole feature. So, we’re shooting one of the seasons with this Kickstarter, we will use that season to then try and raise the money to shoot the other three. And hopefully, at the end of that, we’ll have a feature film.”

I’m keen to know more about how psychogeography plays a part in the film. He quotes from a character in the Albion script, a farmer called Donald who makes the observation: “It doesn’t matter who you are. These hills make you English. You could come from a little village in Timbuktu but after a couple of years living under that you’ll be apologising for everything and being embarrassed by sex, just like the rest of us.” It reminds me of a scene in Nell Leyshon’s FOLK play, in which Louie Hooper berates Cecil Sharp for not understanding that the traditional songs she sings are imbued with the spirit of the land around her. Borg tells me that he recently went to see Mark Rylance in the restaging of Jerusalem. “It feels like there’s something in the Zeitgeist,” he says, “a real interest in these things.” I wonder why he thinks that might be.

“I went out for a drink with John Rogers the other week, who’s a very noted psychogeographer. He thinks it’s partly because the internet is so all-encompassing that people are being driven out from it. We spend so much time in the internet that it’s really interesting to be out. And so people are doing a lot of going out and exploring and trying to see connections. I think it’s very interesting that in East London, there are three kinds of music that are really prevalent at the moment: folk music, heavy metal and jazz. They’re everywhere. And when you think about it, it’s obvious. They’re three things that you don’t do on your computer.”

Does he think this resonates across the generations – whether it’s something that is happening to all of us, regardless of whether we can remember life in pre-internet days. He points to his surprise on entering the Broadside Hacks folk club and finding people in their teens digging traditional folk songs. “I think people are liking the fact that, although it’s not completely acoustic, there is that side of it, and there’s a connection to history. There has also been this big resurgence in interest in board games because people are enjoying the interaction with others, rather than sitting alone at a computer screen.”

Despite Borg’s observations, he’s not a man dousing for energies in the modern landscape; he’s not pushing Albion now because of a perceived growth in interest. “To be working in film, to be a director, I think you have to have a certain bloody-mindedness about you. I’ve always liked this script a lot, I’ve kept returning to it, and it has always annoyed me that we haven’t got it off the ground. So I’m doing it now because I think it’s a story worth telling and I think it’s something worth investigating. It’s not polemic. It’s here to raise questions and open up debate. It’s a film about friendship, but if this can be in any way part of a wider discussion about what sort of country we are, I think it would be worth doing.”

Albion, by Giles Borg, was fully funded on Kickstarter on May 18th, 2022. Working with an impressive team, including Director of Photography, Mike Eley (The Dig) and actor, Mark Williams (Shakespeare in Love, Harry Potter) amongst others, shooting takes place in July and August. For more information keep an eye on the director’s Twitter account.