“It’s my belief in a world full of people claiming to “represent” everyone but themselves, the small, the fragile, the unfinished voice – that which searches and refuses to be anything but that – is a kind of resistance”
Laura Waddington, La Voix Petite, Fragile, Inachevée
Laura Waddington makes films, hybrid books and other creative projects, with a particular focus on issues of migration and statelessness and experimentations with form. Her films and videos have been shown at numerous international film festivals including Locarno, Rotterdam, New York Video Festival, Film Society of Lincoln Center, Montreal and London, and in museums such as The Reina Sofia Museum, Madrid, The Jeu de Paume, Paris, The Walker Arts Center, Minneapolis, The Wilfredo Lam Contemporary Art Center, Havana and MUNTREF, Buenos Aires – in single screen and installation form. Focuses on her work have included at the Oberhausen International Short Film Festival, the Pesaro International Film Festival, the Pompidou Center, Paris and the Austrian Film Museum, Vienna. She is the recipient of several awards including the ARTE Prize for Best European Short Film. She has spoken in locations such as the European Parliament, Brussels, has published articles on art and film internationally, and has lived around the world.
Born in London in 1970, Laura Waddington has lived around the world. She is half Irish and half British. After studying English literature at Cambridge University, she moved to New York for several years where she worked in independent cinema and began to make short films. Fascinated by how technology was about to transform our perceptions, she embarked on a series of experiments, learning to film without using her eyes. Her early videos of the 1990s — ZONE, shot with a spy camera sewn into her jacket on a cruise ship and The Lost Days, directed via the Internet with camera people in fifteen countries – experimented with the frontiers of the medium, creating fictional journeys out of intricately reworked documentary footage.
A series of pivotal chance encounters during those years (in which she lived in the US without residency papers), including the sinister reality glimpsed when she was detained in an immigration cell on the Canadian-US border, contributed to her deepening preoccupation with tales of people abandoned in liminal spaces and issues of statelessness and migration.
Moving to Paris by way of Lisbon and Barcelona; at the start of the millennium, she began to increasingly focus on borders, refugees and the hidden cost of globalisation, travelling extensively by bus, train and boat with her camera around the edges of Europe, the Balkans, Kurdistan and the Arab world. CARGO (a commission of the International Film Festival Rotterdam), filmed on a container ship with Filipino and Rumanian sailors bound for Syria and Lebanon, won several awards including the ARTE Prize for Best European Short Film at the 48th Oberhausen Short Film Festival. Border, shot over several months in the fields around Sangatte Red Cross camp, France, documented the nightly attempts of Afghan and Iraqi refugees to cross the channel tunnel to Britain. Premiering at the Locarno International Film Festival, it went on to screen in hundreds of locations worldwide, and received a number of awards.
In 2006, Waddington set out to Jordan to meet people fleeing the Iraq war, spending several months gathering testimonies and later returning to live in the region. Her faith in her practice was shaken when a young Iraqi man recounted to her his experience of mistaken imprisonment and torture in a pitch-black cell for two years, during Saddam Hussein’s regime. Haunted by his tale but unable to find the production funds or an effective way or to depict it in a film without revealing his identity, she eventually decided to teach herself to draw. M’s story is a hand drawn documentary on paper (the words precisely as the anonymous ‘M’ told them but the images only from her imagination). Inspired by outsider art and comics, the project which took many years to complete, is made to be shown in book and exhibition form (forthcoming).
Her book (also designed to be presented in composite form) Drip, drop, the rain (Notebook on war, embargo and the love of books in Iraq), is an intimate record of the scars that totalitarianism and conflict leave on individual lives. A hybrid of notes and narrative pulled together from the diaries that she kept during her months spent with Iraqi refugees in Amman, and revisited during the covid pandemic lockdown of Lisbon, it shines an alternative light on the invasion of Iraq and the situation of artists and culture under war and dictatorship (also forthcoming).
Laura Waddington’s films and videos have screened at numerous international film festivals (including Locarno, Rotterdam, New York Video Festival, Film Society of Lincoln Center, Montreal, Edinburgh, London, Sydney), on ARTE and ZDF television and in museums such as The Reina Sofia Museum, Madrid, The Jeu de Paume, Paris, The Walker Art Center, Minneapolis, The National Gallery of Art, Washington, The Wilfredo Lam Contemporary Art Center, Havana and MUNTREF, Buenos Aires; (in installation or single screen form), and are in public collections such as the The Centre Pompidou, Paris. Focuses and homages to her work have included at the 51st International Oberhausen Short Film Festival, the 41st Pesaro International Film Festival, The Centre Pompidou, Paris and The Austrian Film Museum, Vienna. She has spoken at locations including the European Parliament, Brussels and the Flaherty Seminars, New York and has contributed to international art and film publications.
Among her short published writings, ‘The small, the fragile, the unfinished voice’ appears in the book Le cinéma critique. De l’argentique au numérique, voies et formes de l’objection visuelle (Publications de la Sorbonne, Paris); ‘Abdullah and the Fireflies: On reading Georges Didi-Huberman’s ‘Survivance des Lucioles’ in the magazine Engramma, Italy, and in the book Devant Les Images – Penser l’art et l’histoire avec Georges Didi-Huberman (Les Presses du Réel, France); ‘Letter to my father about ‘The Battle of San Romano’ by Paolo Uccello’ in La Furia Umana 1, (Duen de Bux, Spain); ‘Scattered Truth’, a 17-page essay in which Waddington reflects on the making of her films and how her childhood influenced her practice, grew out of a series of questions posed by the film theorist Bidhan Jacobs. Her texts about cinema in general, include an interview with the great Mexican cinematographer Gabriel Figueroa conducted in 1992 and published in the magazine El Amante / Cine, Buenos Aires; ‘On the films I saw in Isola: ‘Daratt’ by Mahamet Saleh Haroun, ‘Harvest: 3000 Years’ by Haile Gerima, ‘Bellavista’ by Peter Schreiner” (Ekran Magazine, Slovenia) and ‘Small Gestures. Notes on a clip from Tokyo Story’ written at the invitation of the British Film Institute and projected in the form of a pre-recorded video address on the occasion of ‘The Anatomy of Ozu’, part of the celebrations of Ozu’s 120th birthday at the BFI, South bank, London.
Lenghtly discussion of her work can be found in books by Georges-Didi Huberman, Paweł Mościcki, Elena Marcheschi, Scott MacDonald and Stefania Rimini, among others. Extracts from these and other books and articles, and several of her short written texts, can be found on this website. Please feel free to get in touch with any questions.
1992 The Visitor
1994 The Room
1996 Letters to My Mother
1999 The Lost Days
Grand Prix Experimental-essai-art vidéo, Cote Court, France 2005
First Prize Videoex 2005, Festival of Experimental Film and Video Zurich, Switzerland
Special Mention of the Ecumenical Jury, The 51st Oberhausen International Short Film Festival, Germany, 2005
First Prize ex aequo, Videoex 2002, Festival of Experimental Film and Video, Zurich, Switzerland
ARTE Prize for Best European Short Film, The 48th Oberhausen International Short Film Festival, Germany 2002
Arts Council of England Artist’s Film and Video Production Award 1996