Polifilm Blog @ The British School at Rome – Week #1

The BSR entrance

The BSR entrance

So here we go: putting aside my natural dislike of blogs, which I often rate as glorified public diaries with very little to offer their readers, I’ve decided to write a brief weekly account of my time as a resident at the British School at Rome.


First things first: it is actually The British School AT Rome, not IN Rome.
For the purposes of this blog I ran a quick survey asking staff and librarians in the hope of finding out why it is “at” and not “in” but alas came back empty-handed.
It remains for the time being a curious mystery (though I would’ve preferred a good old anecdotal bit of trivia to kickstart this blog… but there you go).


The reason I’m here is that I was selected to be this year’s resident at the BSR for the Creative Scotland Document24 fellowship in documentary filmmaking.
I must confess it is a pretty amazing deal (and I count my blessings daily): three months in Rome, being fed and housed, with a bursary to fund your work and no commissioning editors lurking over your shoulder making sure you’re making the film you promised at the pitch!

This sort of freedom is a rare luxury in a world guided by market rules and I’m really excited about the many possibilities that this time/space/bursary offers especially in terms of exploring the medium of moving image and developing my own documentary language.

The BSR itself is a surreal institution; housed in a beautiful Neo-classical building in a well-to-do area north of Villa Borghese it is a bubble of Britishness amidst Roman chaos. Within an hour of arriving I had sipped my afternoon tea with shortbread and played tennis with fellow residents; for those of you who don’t know me, these activities are pretty unusual in my day-to-day life even back in the UK, however I decided to dive into the experience wholeheartedly and to go with the flow in what is to be my home for the next three months.

My studio/room @BSR

My studio/room @BSR

Here life is very regimented, we even have a bell to call us to meals (the fact that it is a Neapolitan who performs this task with Swiss-like precision is yet another example of what becomes possible in this parallel universe!)
More seasoned residents will know what food we’ll be eating or whether there will be candles or drinks receptions just by the day of the week.

I myself have slipped into the routine here effortlessly in this first week, getting to enjoy the hang out with other artists and scholars in the evenings and finding that work is much easier in my spacious and bright studio than it is in my cluttered and messy office back home.


Outside the walls of the BSR Rome carries on at its simultaneously hectic and leisurely pace; the city itself is full of contradictions which in itself makes it a great playground for a documentary filmmaker.
My whole project in fact (working title Roman Postcards [#RomanPostcard on twitter]) is centred on the coexistence of very different worlds within the city’s boundaries: on one hand the tourists’ romanticised and dreamy experience of amazing architecture, art and history that can be found round every corner with a sprinkle of Italian style and cuisine thrown in for good measure, on the other hand the city itself, a bustling metropolis in which real Romans deal with the hardships of Italy’s current economic crisis or struggle through rush-hour traffic. Every duality you can imagine coexists in a what appears to be a well-tested and miraculously sustainable balance: religiousness and sacrilegiousness, far right and far left, noise and quiet, authenticity and tackiness, tradition and innovation, aggressiveness and generosity…

The list could go on but I think it’s about time I get out of the cosiness of my studio, hop on my bike and dive into the city for my day’s work.
Today I’m going to try and catch the gypsy pickpockets in action at the Colosseum with my telephoto lens and to meet to meet a gladiator who wants to drive rickshaws thus breaking the family line of photo-op gladiators… just another doc-making day in Rome.

More on my BSR residency and the film’s progress next week so watch this space!

Tomás Sheridan

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