~ Filmmaker: Kate Sweeney ~

HairBrush by Kate Sweeney

A gentle and personal piece reflecting on motherhood, HairBrush is a hand-drawn animation from UK artist, film-maker and writer Kate Sweeney, whose work has featured a number of times before here at Moving Poems. From the synopsis at Vimeo:

After adopting our son during lockdown… I wanted to explore my journey towards becoming a mother.

HairBrush is a meditative reflection upon an everyday activity – a haircut. It documents the laboured process of making a paintbrush out of a golden curl from my son’s head. The brush then being used to paint each frame of the film.

Watercolour, instead of blood or DNA, becomes the metaphor and material for describing how we imagine and manifest our selves through each other.

The film was one of a series of microproject commissions at Star and Shadow Cinema, a co-operative in the north east of the UK.

Blank by Linda France

Blank is another in a series of collaborations between film-maker Kate Sweeney and poet Linda France. Sweeney’s artist statement about the film:

In the administrative section of the Bloodaxe Books Poetry Publisher’s archive, there is a post-it note stuck to an invoice. The note has slipped through the archival ‘cleaning’ process and rather than being discarded, has been preserved by accident. In 2017, I drew and digitised a font from the letters making up the short message written on the note. For every missing letter in the font, there is a dot; a hole, an ellipsis. I called the font, ‘Janet’.

‘Janet’ an ephemeral trace drawn from an archive has become a conduit for other voices and the starting point for collaboration with other artists and writers to speak, not about or for, but through ‘Janet’.

In 2019, I invited poet Linda France to write a poem using ‘Janet’. Blank is a response to both the metaphorical and the structural potential of the font, ‘Janet’. France has extracted the implicitly feminist possibility of ‘Janet’ as a tool for articulating the female experience of the effect of the male gaze (and consequently the effect of its absence).

As a printed document it is possible to see how France has utilised the concrete and structural qualities of ‘Janet’. The poem printed on the page is punctured but readable. In order to make the video, Linda and I had to translate and devise a way to ‘sound out’ the poem. And so, as a video poem, Blank becomes a playful presentation of the relationship between the visual and audible characteristics of the mark – the period, the omission – and its use within poetic texts presented on the page, the screen and in performance.

Blank is one of a series of video-poems produced in collaboration with other poets and artists. It is part of my practice-led PhD project; working with the Bloodaxe Books publisher’s archive as a site and source for my research into the ways collaborative practice can be used to look at the shape and form of the hidden archival artefact.

Both film-maker and poet have featured several times before here at Moving Poems, on projects together and and with other artists.

Startling by Linda France

British filmmaker Kate Sweeney, whose work we’ve featured here in the past, collaborated with one of my favorite contemporary ecopoets, Linda France, for a poetry film in support of her tenth collection with Faber. Here’s the YouTube description:

A short film by Kate Sweeney, with poetry written and read by Linda France.

“I have taken to counting what I want to call ‘Startlings’. They are creatures who, sensing their species is facing extinction, feel the cell-tingling impulse to evolve and ensure their survival. Within their tissue and bones, hearts and minds, they enact the necessary transformation. For every Endling there is a Startling.”

To celebrate the publication of Linda France’s tenth poetry collection – influenced by her three years of writing the climate – artist Kate Sweeney has created a new film responding to Linda’s words.

Linda France’s residency as Climate Writer was supported by New Writing North, Newcastle University and Arts Council England. Startling was published in partnership with Faber Books.
Find out more about the residency and its projects: https://newwritingnorth.com/event/writing-the-climate/
Order a copy of Startling: https://www.faber.co.uk/product/9780571379026-startling/

Space by Kate Sweeney

Space is the most recent video by UK artist Kate Sweeney. It is a touchingly simple piece reflecting on an in-between place where she found solace during lockdown. The brief animation that closes the video was painted using inks and dyes made from materials in this environment.

Some of Kate’s fine work as a film-maker collaborating with other poets has been previously shared here at Moving Poems, but this is the first time we have published her work as both poet and film-maker. Space is part of her ongoing project, To Be Two, in which she creates work drawn from her intimate surroundings.

Vaccine by Christy Ducker

I can’t say enough good things about this animated film by the ever-inventive Kate Sweeney. It works equally well as a poetry film or as a lyrical promo for vaccination; the transition from prose narration (by Dr. Mohamed Osman) to poetry half-way through is natural and powerful, and the poem by Christy Ducker is extraordinarily good. Here’s the description:

An animated film highlighting the research and fieldwork into finding a cure for Leishmaniasis, a chronic disease affecting millions of people in areas such as Sudan and Syria. The film was made as part of a collaboration between poet Christy Ducker and artist Kate Sweeney and scientists working at York University at The Centre for Chronic Disease.

Working in collaboration allows access to an other’s research, in this case, the work of scientists who are actively working to find a cure, and to study the causes and exacerbations of the Leishmaniasis disease. Dr Mohamed Osman sent me photographs he had taken when in Sudan of the people he was working with, trialing a vaccine for the disease. I was able to interview him, talk to him about my interests in stories and how we tell stories to frame experiences and use his response and his photographs in the initial part of the film. The second part of the film is an animated response to Christy’s poem that explores metaphorical links between medical vaccinations and the grieving process. Where the loose style of the first part of the film reflects the nature of conversation, the more structured animation in the second part reflects poetry’s structured, considered language.

A Scientist’s Advice on Healing by Christy Ducker

The winner for Best Animation at Rabbit Heart Poetry Festival 2017, where it was also a finalist for Best Overall Production. Filmmaker Kate Sweeney notes in her c.v. that the 2016 film is a “2.05 min hand-drawn animation. In collaboration with poet Christy Ducker and Centre for Chronic Diseases, York. Funded by Wellcome Trust.” It’s one of at least two films that came from that collaboration, as well as a pamphlet of photography and poetry called Messenger.

Drawing on the science of immunology, Messenger explores how we wound and how we heal. Whether the focus is a tiny molecule or a global problem, Christy Ducker’s succinct poems offer ‘hope and a warning’. Illustrated throughout by Kate Sweeney’s striking photographs, Messenger shuttles between science and art to suggest alternative ways of looking at recovery.

For more on Ducker, see her website.

Hammersmith by Sean O’Brien (excerpts)

This new poetry film by UK filmmaker Kate Sweeney, based on a poem by Sean O’Brien, was commissioned by the 2016 Newcastle Poetry Festival. The Vimeo description reads:

In response to extracts from Sean O’ Brien’s same-titled poem, ‘Hammersmith’ is an elegiac, hand-drawn animation sweeping through 1950’s London. drawn from the iconic cinematography from Jules Dessin’s 1950 noir film, ‘Night And The City’.

The soundtrack by Lady Caroline Mary includes a song by Bernadette Sweeney.

In the Air by Kate Sweeney

A unique poetry film: a hand-drawn animation of poets’ hands from interview snippets that can also be seen as a remix videopoem. Kate Sweeney explains in the Vimeo description:

Created from short elliptical sequences taken from archived interviews with four Bloodaxe poets. I wanted to isolate the gestures used when explaining the poetic, the abstract thoughts they couldn’t express in words alone. Gesture is communication that is also a kind of drawing in the air.

C.K Williams, in his interview with Ahren Warner, muses that “In a sense the final version of any work of art pretends to be an improvisation; even a painting. First the painter puts down the ground on the canvas or the wood then he puts down another layer of something then he begins to put the blocks in and then the last layer, little brush strokes, that look like improvisation”. The archive offers a window through to all those described layers. It tracks the process of producing a poem, a book and in a way, a poet. Inspired by my research in the archive, the animation includes the smudges, rips, mistakes and corrections, of the paper it was drawn on, revealing and incorporating the process into the final version.

Bees by Beverley Nadin

Kate Sweeney directed this film for Beverley Nadin’s Commended poem in the 2014 National Poetry Competition.

From the judges: ”This poem of historical abuse works powerfully because it’s written with a tremulous watchful grace. The adult perspective recalling the child perspective is very finely done, as the bifurcated character remembers the day that clove her in two. Its rhymes are halting, haunting, they come and go as if desperate both to remember and forget.” – Glyn Maxwell.

The Poetry Society’s annual National Poetry Competition is for previously unpublished single poems.
Filmpoems have been commissioned in partnership with Alastair Cook and Filmpoem for all eleven winning poems, and will tour at festivals around the country and beyond.

Proof: a poetic glimpse into the archives of Bloodaxe Books

A poetry film/documentary hybrid. The filmmaker, Kate Sweeney, describes it in the Vimeo description as

A poetic glimpse into the archives of the North East [UK] poetry publisher Bloodaxe Books, the contents of which were recently purchased by Newcastle University.
The film was made by artist Kate Sweeney in collaboration with poets Tara Bergin and Anna Woodford in spring 2013

Anna Woodford and Tara Bergin both held residencies at the archive. Bergin talks about her fondness for archives in a video introduction to the film. The same site (CAMPUS social network) gives a fuller explanation of how Proof came to be:

In 2013, Newcastle University acquired the archive of Bloodaxe Books, one of the most important
contemporary poetry publishers in the world. Two poets and recent PhD graduates, Anna Woodford and Tara Bergin, were asked to take a look into the as yet un-catalogued boxes to gain an initial sense of the archive’s scope and potential. To document their findings, they teamed up with artist Kate Sweeney to make a short ‘poem-film.’ They called it ‘Proof’.

“It was very strange and very interesting,” Bergin says.

The film includes guest appearances by Bloodaxe authors Gillian Allnutt, Simon Armitage, John Hegley and Anne Stevenson.

Love on a Night Like This by Josephine Abbott


A Kate Sweeney film, commissioned by Filmpoem and the Felix Poetry Festival in association with the Poetry Society. This is one of three films for the winners of the Poetry Society’s National Poetry Competition 2013.

From the National Poetry Competition judges: ‘This poem, built on motion, powerfully presents the balancing act of loving another human being. It depicts both the simplicity and enormity of that act, and our powerlessness in the face it, reduced as we are to “sea-birds in the teeth of a gale.” We loved the atmosphere and detail – that plastic pot skittering on a path, birds “made helpless as plastic bags”… This is a poem in which the personal and universal, the minute and the enormous, do more than co-exist: they are one and the same thing.’ {Julia Copus}

For a bio of Josephine Abbott and the text of the poem, see the Poetry Society website.

Antiphonal: a “communal act of making” with twelve poets

An eight-minute filmpoem that still ends up seeming much too short. Digital artist Tom Schofield and filmmaker Kate Sweeney have created a truly masterful, immersive work that pays tribute to one of the glories of Medieval art. I’ll let Sweeney explain:

The Antiphonal project began as an original commission to 12 poets to write a poem inspired by the Lindisfarne Gospels. The poets involved are all based in the region and include: Gillian Allnutt, Linda Anderson, Peter Armstrong, Peter Bennet, Colette Bryce, Christy Ducker, Alistair Elliot, Cynthia Fuller, Linda France, Bill Herbert, Pippa Little and Sean O’Brien. The poems were then turned into a sound installation, entitled Antiphonal, by digital artist Tom Schofield, and sited in two iconic places: the newly renovated Lookout Tower on Lindisfarne and the crypt of St Aidan’s Church, Bamburgh.

Visual artist Kate Sweeney then produced two films in response to the sound installations. Using time lapse Kate sought to capture the colossal beauty of the landscape at Lindisfarne and how it changes through the course of a day. This is contrasted with the fragile detail captured in the Crypt at Bamburgh, where she imagines the breath of the past gently disturbing the cobwebs over the stones.

There’s more background on the website of the Newcastle Institute for Social Renewal.

This project was also part of a larger project, The Colme Cille Spiral, of which it formed one of six ‘knots’.


The project was a communal act of making, involving a group of poets and digital artists sharing inspiration on two journeys to Bamburgh and Lindisfarne, before they embarked on the commission. Eminent medievalist, Professor Clare Lees, King’s College London, was also involved in a conversation with the poets and artists, providing relevant texts, images and stories. The sound installation produced from the poems worked in a different way from the written page, enacting a dialogue between the poems, and demonstrating the emotive power of the human voice. The project reworked medieval themes and images, translating them and re-interpreting them for the present. It also placed poetry in new settings and involved different audiences. The crypt was more successful than the Tower, because of the number and noisiness of the visitors to the Tower. This was the first use of the crypt, which has been newly opened to the public, and the members of the church and community took ownership of the project, asking for there to be chairs so they could sit and listen over a period of time. The impact of the project continues in two further exhibitions, and a radio programme. The project is about listening and attention, and about hearing the echoes of the past in the present.