Jeff Keen – Instant Cinema
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Jeff Keen – Instant Cinema
Jeff Keen, Marvo Movie (1967). Image courtesy of the BFI

Jeff Keen, Marvo Movie (1967). Image courtesy of the BFI

Daniel Fawcett on the great artist filmmaker, Jeff Keen.

I met experimental filmmaker Jeff Keen this week; he is now 86 and sadly ill with cancer. I went to his house and met him and his wife Jackie. We talked for several hours about art, Brighton, their life together and of course his films.

They have found themselves in a difficult position; they are being evicted from their house and have nowhere to go. Jackie talked about this a lot and it was clear that the situation was causing them a great deal of anxiety. Jeff’s films have never made any money and due to his uncompromising nature he has never worked in the industry or made films for any other reason than personal drive. This is both admirable and a warning to younger artists.

It’s a big issue that needs to be addressed at the start of your life as an artist. At what point do you compromise? Why do you want to make art? And who are you making it for? Where do you stand in relation to art and economy?

It is only this year that Jeff’s work has become available on DVD. The BFI have released a nine hour overview of his work.  He has been making short films, drawings, poetry and books since the 1960s, and now that I’ve come to know about him and his work, I am shocked that he isn’t better known.

His films seem to have two strands. One is a kind of home-movie documentation of places, people and events from his life, often edited in split screen with two or four reels playing alongside each other with a nostalgic rock and roll soundtrack. The other is an extension of his drawings and collages. In these films, with titles such as Irresistible Attack, Instant Cinema, Flik Flak, and Omozap, images are energetically created and destroyed constantly. They feel like they could and should go on forever. There’s never a resolution, just a point when they end. With these films he is more than a filmmaker: he is a painter or illustrator who uses film to bring his images to life.

Jeff comments that the BFI have been “going around catching interviews with old filmmakers before they die, just in case they are important”. He has had recognition in fits and bursts throughout his career. He thinks this is because he is not commercial enough. Jackie comments that it’s because Jeff is the isolated artist in the most traditional sense, with no desire to network or suck up to the people in the industry. I admire this, but wonder if the gains of ‘playing the game’ might be worth the small amount of compromise. For me, at the start of a life as a filmmaker, this is a very relevant and immediate debate. I see in Jeff’s philosophy a reflection of my own, and I wonder if I believe in myself enough to risk poverty and the anxiety that comes with it. I am as yet at no resolution.

What I like so much about his films is the feeling that they have been made so energetically, without hesitation and with instinct over intellect. There’s such great spontaneity and honesty. Little time is spent on analysis; he just gets on with it and creates. He starts with an image or a single idea and everything grows from that. One image becomes the next and in turn each film leads onto the next. The greatest compliment I can give a film is that it makes me want to do something. It inspires me to action, to make, create and go out into the world. Jeff’s films have this effect on me. If you haven’t seen his films I urge you to do so.

For more information on Jeff Keen, visit his website at

GAZWRX: The Films of Jeff Keen is out now on DVD & Blu-ray from the BFI and is available via the BFI filmstore. To be in with a chance of winning one of three GAZWRX box sets we are giving away, visit our latest APEngine competition.

About the Author: Daniel Fawcett, Writer/Director and founder of One + One, the Brighton Filmmakers Journal.

Check out what others are saying about this post...
  1. [...] last year, it was revealed that Keen is in ill health and was in the process of being evicted from his home. Although, I haven’t [...]

  2. [...] dire situation first surfaced in an article by another British filmmaker Daniel Fawcett that was published on the website Ape Engine. Fawcett and a colleague of his are doing their best scanning, photographing and otherwise [...]

  3. [...] and artwork that coincided with his falling into ill health and other recent troubles. Articles, such as this one by young filmmaker and journalist Daniel Fawcett, brought attention to Keen’s plight.In 2009, the British Film Institute released a major [...]

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