Cherry Colour Buttonholes [Brenda Miller, UK, 2018]
Brenda Miller’s filmmaking style is experimental in a social rather than artistic sense. Artistry and craftsmanship are the ostensible preoccupations in her films, but the activities on display here, namely the hand-stitching of buttons, are used more as a vehicle to encourage social interactions. Cherry Colour Buttonholes is just as much a conversational meditation as it is an insight into artisanal practises.
The women in the film are never actually identified. To do so would be beside the point. We do hear their voices as they discuss different materials, techniques and colours and their conversation weaves in and out of personal and creative subjects much like the fabrics with which they implement their dextrous craft. The camera for the most part closely frames their hands as they skilfully and carefully fasten buttons to an assortment of materials.
In some ways the film is a kind of fly-on-the wall style documentary, the camera observing and non-manipulative. It is singular in its appeal though and one imagines this would test the patience of many who do not have any such interest in textile crafts. Miller’s engagements feel slightly personal as she pursues the values of certain traditions and their efficacy as a social or mental facilitator and, in this way, the film operates on a reflective rather than suggestive level. Depending on which side of the stitching you fall, this can be a benefit or a drawback for the short film.
A still frame for the end credits with a background photo of the group of women (this time with their faces and the room in which they are gathered partially visible) is an inspired stroke, revealing a range of talent and creativity in a way that cleverly expresses gratitude to the people that make up the film. It also adds fascination to the ending and leaves the audience in a state of suspense and with a tantalising desire to see the final outcome of the textile project.
In comparison to her film Knitting and Walking, Cherry Colour Buttonholes is slightly less successful in its aims. With the former, the film clearly designates its intentions, positioning two seemingly disparate routines firmly within the same time and space and that delivers a progressive rumination on the therapeutic purposes of knitting and walking, both through physical demonstration and historical research. Here, we are dropped in the middle of a scene, which is rewarding for those involved but not so much for the viewer.
Cherry Colour Buttonholes was a film in consideration for Short Focus Film Festival 2018.