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Interview: Film-maker Melanie Manchot on Great North Run Culture

The latest film inspired by the Bupa Great North Run shows a very different kind of running. David Whetstone talks to film-maker Melanie Manchot

Artist Melanie Manchot
Artist Melanie Manchot

It is, of course, a great event, the Bupa Great North Run. If you must jog 13-and-a-bit miles from Newcastle to South Shields, you might as well do it in a crowd of bananas, Roman soldiers and superheroes with buckets.

Among the panting thousands on Sunday, though conventionally running attired and bucketless. will be artist and film-maker Melanie Manchot who was born in Germany and studied in New York and at the Royal College of Art.

She has run half marathons before. But Melanie’s contribution to this year’s event is not limited to her pounding feet on North East streets.

As the winner of this year’s £30,000 moving image commission from Great North Run Culture - the arts programme that complements the half marathon - she also made the film Tracer which is being launched tonight in Newcastle.


For this she engaged the services of Apeuro Freerunning, a North East freerunning - or parkour - collective whose agile members view the urban landscape somewhat differently to the rest of us.

Outlining the freerunning ethos, Melanie said: “Like most people, if I’m here and I want to go over there, I’ll go round these railings and those bollards.

“But to them, all these obstacles are simply means of propelling themselves forward.”

Freerunning also entails a freedom of spirit, it seems.

“Technically they’re very accomplished but they’re not interested in being gymnasts,” says Melanie.

“It’s the philosophical aspects of moving through a landscape that interest them and me.”

Melanie’s past work reflects her interest in the way people relate to each other in public, often in specially staged scenarios. For a trio of short films called Kiss, Fight and Spat, she reconstructed intense real-life moments she had witnessed in public.

A still from Melanie Manchot's film Tracer, commissioned for Great North Run Culture 2013
A still from Melanie Manchot's film Tracer, commissioned for Great North Run Culture 2013

“The Great North Run is an incredible collective event but everyone has to do it on their own and the experience will be different for everyone who takes part,” she said.

“There’s a huge difference between going on a 13-mile run on your own and doing the same thing surrounded by that many people.”

Unlike Mark Wallinger, who filmed the run route from the perspective of the leading runner, with an empty road ahead, Melanie largely steered clear of the actual route, instead filming the freerunners at nearby sites that appealed to them.

The roof of Sage Gateshead, the Tyne Pedestrian Tunnel and a farm half way along the route were among the locations chosen for the shoot, which began last year when the Central Motorway and other streets were temporarily closed ahead of the 2012 run.

Filming continued throughout the year as Melanie accumulated footage ahead of the final edit.

Tracer traces the well-trodden route but in an oblique fashion, the freerunners taking centre stage and the Great North Runners an implied presence just out of shot.

The public launch of Tracer, laid out as a dramatic film installation rather than as a conventional cinematic affair, takes place tonight at Baltic 39, High Bridge, Newcastle, from 7.30pm to 9pm. It will run until October 4 (Baltic 39 opens Wednesday to Sunday, 12 noon to 6pm; until 8pm on Thursday).

Melanie will give a public talk about the work on October 23 at 2pm at the Lipman Building, Northumbria University. Also look out for Melanie’s still portraits of the freerunners in bus shelters along the route.

Details of all Great North Run Culture events can be found on www.greatnorthrunculture.org


David Whetstone
Culture Editor
Graeme Whitfield
Business Editor
Mark Douglas
Newcastle United Editor
Stuart Rayner
Sports Writer