Sands Films is a truly magical place, the very embodiment of a hidden gem and somewhere that astonishes and delights me every time I visit. Sands is housed in a historic warehouse (look at the beams!) in the oldest part of Rotherhithe, where stone steps still descend into the Thames’ murky waters… In fact the whole enclave makes you feel you’ve stepped into a film – but not in a stagey way. This is a living place, people going about their business, with Sands an active film studio, costumier and archive at its centre. On Tuesday nights, it also has a film club.
Currently working through a season of Greek films from the 1950s, the club is one of those dream discoveries that make London life worthwhile. Run for all the right reasons and presented with passion by Olivier Stockman, where else could you see films like these? At least see them in an auditorium, with other people, as the film-makers intended? There’s a genuine desire to share, to put these (sometimes) long-lost movies back into the public realm – to complete the picture, so to speak. Like most art, film needs an audience, and if these movies are to live on, they need to come out of the library and be amongst people again.
But back to the building. It’s an extremely sensory place to be – beautiful, hand-crafted costumes are all around to greet you, archives of books, magazines, photographs, maps line the walls. There’s a tangible sense of craft and warmth – it’s emanating from all of this wood, paper, linen and felt, from the invitingly open drawers and the piano that looks like someone just got up from playing. Then the journey from the main room to the cinema – this never ceases to amaze me. It’s like a labyrinth, a twisting corridor through more books, paintings, costumes, mysterious boxes… How many rooms do we pass through? I’m not sure, sometimes there seem to be more than others… There’s an element of being backstage which of course is appropriate as we make our way to watch a film. There’s also the feeling that open any of these other doors and you might find yourself plunging into a forest, the ocean or some other magical kingdom.
So far the Greek movies have been fabulous – three utterly contrasting masterpieces*. Who knew? 1950s Greek Cinema has been hiding in the vaults. There’s the insight that seeing a film from a different place and time can bring – we learn so much! We’ve been lucky too to watch in the company of some native-speakers – who can elucidate some layers that we might miss, to do with dialect or the choice of music for instance. A Greek member of the audience tonight told me how the faces in the film were characteristically Greek – but at the same time they were the faces of a different time, one where struggle and hardship were more deep-set even than now. Above all, it’s fantastic to have this opportunity to come together and share our curiosity about films and humanity – long live Sands Films!
*So far we’ve watched ‘I Kalpiki Lira’ (‘The Counterfeit Coin’, 1955), ‘Stella’ (1955) and ‘O Drakos’ (‘The Ogre of Athens’, 1956)