Magazine article Metro Magazine

Revisiting Afghanistan in the Noon Gun: An Interview with Anthony Stern: Anthony Stern's Short Documentary Film, the Noon Gun, Is a Poetic Reminiscence about a Young Cameraman's Journey to Afghanistan in 1971

Magazine article Metro Magazine

Revisiting Afghanistan in the Noon Gun: An Interview with Anthony Stern: Anthony Stern's Short Documentary Film, the Noon Gun, Is a Poetic Reminiscence about a Young Cameraman's Journey to Afghanistan in 1971

Article excerpt

Stern began his work as a director and documentary filmmaker in the 1960s and 1970s. He won awards for his short film San Francisco at the Melbourne and Oberhausen film festivals and assisted English avant-garde director Peter Whitehead on Charlie is My Darling, the first documentary film about the Rolling Stones. After a number of years in television, Stern turned to glassmaking and became one of the most renowned glass artists in England. Two decades later, The Noon Gun is his return to filmmaking.

The Noon Gun, shot over three decades ago and edited from 16mm material, is a moving reminder of the beauty of a country ravaged by years of devastation. It features fascinating footage of the old city of Herat, the Bamiyan Buddhas and the local people Stern encountered on his journey. The film's central poetic motif is an old cannon on the periphery of Herat marking the noon prayers; a relic of the colonial past and a stark reminder of the tragic events that mark Afghanistan's history. The stages in the preparation of the cannon are intertwined with extraordinary images of the camera-man's journey, until they culminate in one poignant, symbolic blast.

The footage, recently uncovered by the filmmaker, prompted Stern to complete the film in digital form, working with Sadia Sadia and Stephen Tayler, the fusion musicians of Equa, who composed the original score and edited the film.

BORIS TRBIC: How did the 1960s scene influence your thinking and experiences that led to your interest in film?

ANTHONY STERN: I was born and educated in Cambridge. Both of my parents were academics. My father left Czechoslovakia in 1939 and became a professor of German at St. John's College. I grew up during the 1960s, the time of LSD, drug experimentation, beat poets and psychedelic music. One of my best friends was the founding member of Pink Floyd--Syd Barrett. We often discussed the fusion of music and image, the possibility of creating the 'third thing', a fusion, or what the Spanish call duende, a term in flamenco music for a moment when oneness is achieved. That is where my interest in film was born. Of course, there were books and films that influenced my thinking at the time; Fellini's films, especially 8 1/2, some of the early films of Stan Brackhage, as well as the beat poets.

In the late 1960s, you worked on a number of music related projects. One was Peter Whitehead's documentary about the Rolling Stones' concerts in Belfast and Dublin, Charlie is My Darling.

AS: I was an assistant to an avant-garde filmmaker, Peter Whitehead. The two of us followed the Rolling Stones on their tour of Ireland. We actually followed them for forty-eight hours on their concerts in Dublin and Belfast and filmed their concerts and interviews. We didn't sleep much during those two days. I assisted Whitehead and worked on sound. This was the first documentary made about the Rolling Stones. It was made in black and white and was primarily a visual experiment, a record of the boys on tour.

Your short film San Francisco, an experimental film about the urban counterculture of the 1960s, was awarded at the Oberhausen and Melbourne film festivals.

AS: This short film was financially backed by the BFI and won an award for editing to music in Sydney. It was well received by the local film community. [David Stratton said at the time that San Francisco divided the audience: 'Most probably detested it, but for local experimental filmmakers and others it was probably the best film in the Festival.'] I continued to work with Whitehead for the following two or three years. We worked on short music films for the Wednesday evening Top of the Pops, a very popular TV show at the time. We created film accompaniments to recently released singles. We also worked with the Beach Boys and Rolling Stones on a number of occasions.

How did you end up in Afghanistan? Why did you travel there?

AS: Fascination with the East was a part of psychedelic culture. …

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