20.30: Ceri Levy
‘My job tonight is very easy. I don’t have to do anything,’ said chair Bryan Talbot after his paltry introduction to documentary film maker Ceri Levy. The rest of the event was given over to Levy. He talked about the genesis of his new book, Extinct Boids, a collaborative venture with artist Ralph Steadman.
Whilst holidaying on the Scilly Isles Levy became interested in twitchers, birdwatchers who specialise in finding rare species. He decided this would be the subject for a new documentary. He visited Birdfair in Rutland and a speech by Margaret Atwood convinced him of the importance of protecting rare birds. Levy decided to hold a fundraising exhibition for Birdlife International. He started contacting artists, asking them if they would like to contribute a painting.
One of these was Levy’s hero, Ralph Steadman. However, once Steadman agreed to do one picture he could not stop drawing extinct birds. He also started inventing entirely fictional birds and drawing them too. Steadman’s mountain of artwork was eventually enough for an exhibition and forms the pictorial content of Extinct Boids. Levy read diary entries and extracts from correspondence with Steadman, both of which form the text of this book. Although Steadman’s humourous idiosyncracies came through, Levy sounded like an excitable teenager about to meet his favourite celebrity.
Although Levy did show documentary footage of Steadman that gave some insight into his working process, the rest of the talk was excruciating to sit through. He clearly idiolised Steadman to a scary degree and his uncritical attitude to conservation was plain boring.
Steadman’s paintings were part of a slideshow behind the stage. Unfortunately Levy had control over it and, at one point, he decided that we should all play a game. This involved Levy challenging the audience to guess which ‘boids’ were invented by Steadman and which had actually existed. Levy, at least, was amused by the whole affair: ‘you’re all looking really nervous…it’s so much fun from up here!’
A competent chair would have stopped Levy from torturing the audience. But, like an extinct bird himself, Talbot sat and did nothing. Once the floor was open to questions and few came, he did manage to speak. But only twice: to ask a question and end proceedings. Walking out of the theatre yours truly glanced at the clock. The event had finished early. It was no bad thing.