We sat down with Hetain Patel, the man behind a new exhibition at QUAD, to find out a little bit more about the two short films that will be on show for the next six weeks.
The two works explore Hetain’s fascination with staging archetypal Hollywood action scenes within domestic settings. The films, crafted into a single multi-screen installation, create an immersive cinematic experience that is in turns playful, suspenseful and occasionally ominous.
The Jump connects the widely-recognised fantasy of action and superhero films with the domestic setting of his British Indian family home in Bolton, in the UK. Featuring 17 of his family members, the film is shot in Patel’s Grandmother’s home, the house that he and all of his relatives have lived in at various points since moving to the UK, and where his Grandmother still resides. Featuring Patel’s homemade replica Spider-Man costume, The Jump presents two different viewpoints of the artist leaping, suited up, in slow motion that is so slow it sometimes feels like a moving photograph.
Don’t Look at the Finger is, at one level, an exploration of how the highly stylised genre conventions of Hong Kong martial arts movies have permeated the mainstream through the influence of directors like Quentin Tarantino and in blockbusters like The Matrix. It is also a reminder of how some of the highly specific signature symbols of historical cultural traditions and languages can become interestingly blurred and entangled in today’s hybrid and eclectic visual landscape. Shot in a church, Don’t Look at the Finger presents a wedding ceremony where bodies speak physically, where the protagonists seek human connection through ritual, combat and signed languages.
Ahead of the exhibition opening on Friday 29 September, we chatted with Hetain to find out a little bit more about his work.
This is the first time these films have been shown in the UK?
My first film, The Jump was made two years ago but this will be its UK premiere. We’ve already shown it in the States and Australia, but it’ll be the first time we’ve shown it over here.
The new film, Don’t look at the Finger, is the first time it will have been seen anywhere.
Is there a link between the two pieces?
Yeah, I guess very loosely you could say it’s taking something from a very familiar setting, like a living room or a church, mixing it with identities of a marginalised nature and then connecting them with something really widely known, such as Hollywood and pop culture.
What are you looking for people to take away from the films?
Politically I’m interested in creating freedom. When I made The Jump I understood what the image of my family can be seen as, in saris and Indian attire, and the stereotype or box that can be put on that. I wanted to loosen that up a bit by putting Spiderman into that frame with a Hollywood-esque soundtrack.
It’s the same with the Afro-Caribbean characters in my new film, Don’t Look at The Finger. I wanted to unpick assumptions or stereotypes of what cultural rituals belong to who, and who’s allowed to use them.
I’d like people to enjoy the surprises in the work and I’d like to think the films trip you up, hopefully in a pleasant way.
I’m wanting people to open themselves up to being surprised by people. That isn’t a preach or a judgement, I direct that at myself as well. We all do that, it’s part of human nature. Things don’t always fit the way we think they should fit.
Are there any artists or works in particular that have had an influence on your work?
Specific film references for my current work are things like The Matrix and Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon, which have had a massive influence on me and the ways they present martial arts and cultural blending in such an exciting and revolutionary way.
On a wider scale, I’d say my favourite director is Christopher Nolan, not just because I enjoy his films but because of what he does. I can’t think of many other directors, maybe he’s the only one, that can make an art film but on a blockbuster scale. His work stands up to the test of being layered and intelligent but at the same time being played on an IMAX screen with a Hans Zimmer soundtrack, with full on special effects.
That’s my ambition, to take these things that matter to me and, can often be complex, but communicate them in a big wide way.
There’s certainly a lot of technical expertise in those films you mentioned, both in front and behind the camera. Did your latest project involve a lot of prep work before you went into production?
The two main protagonists are dancers by profession and one of them is a choreographer as well. The female protagonist is part of a hip-hop group, and the male protagonist is from a contemporary background, so they were naturally very good at picking up material.
We did three weeks of rehearsals where a fight choreographer came in and we created the material together and they learnt and practiced it. That was really essential in not just getting the choreography and the moves right, but also creating a chemistry together.
When you see the film, you see they really do have a chemistry, and that comes from us having spent valuable time together in the studio beforehand.
Is this the first time you’ve exhibited in Derby?
It’s the first time I’ve shown work in Derby but I am familiar with the area because I studied at Nottingham Trent Uni and was based in Nottingham for around 10 years.
I remember Quad when it was built and I’ve kept abreast Louise Clements’ curatorial practices, as she puts on a fantastic programme. My work refences the cinematic medium a lot too, so it’s great to finally exhibit here and share a space with the cinema.
What are you looking to do next?
The current film is the second in what I feel will be a series of three films that will connect something domestic and familiar with something big and Hollywood. Beyond that, my aim is to make a feature film.
These two pieces on show at Quad, along with the third, will provide me with the ‘thinking blocks’ to help me make my feature – that’s the big ambition I’m working towards at the moment.
Hetain Patel’s exhibition will be on display in QUAD from Friday 29th September to Sunday 19th November 2017. For more information you can visit QUAD’s website.