British advertising possesses something of a unique aura, attitude and aptitude, whether that’s for surprising you, for making you laugh or making you think. Its achievements and strengths are ones that Walker Arts Center acknowledges with its annual December showcase dedicated to screening the British Arrows Awards. As it proclaims on its site: “The Walker’s entertaining holiday tradition showcases a memorable mix of resonant mini-dramas, bold social commentary, and much-loved comedy from the ever-evolving world of British advertising.” And as the newly appointed Director and Curator of Moving Image, Pablo de Ocampo knows great work when he sees it. His curatorial record stretches back 20 years, with his practice rooted in artists’ film, while extending across the wider field of performance, music, and contemporary art – all elements that may well figure in that next British Arrows award-winning spot.
So, Pablo, how has the past year been at the Walker?
It’s been really great – I think we’re all still very much still figuring out what getting back to work and life looks like since the onset of the pandemic in 2020, but the last year has seen programming at the Walker start to settle back in. We’re seeing great audiences again, finding new ways to adopt hybrid online programming structures, and trying to adjust to new and different expectations of how audiences engage with culture.
What have been the highlights of the Moving Image department?
For this past year, mostly it has been welcoming audiences and artists back to the Walker Cinema for programming. We started doing in-person programming again in the Fall of 2021, but it’s taken much of this past year to really get things back on again, and have them feeling great. In 2022, we were able to host artists from around the globe, including Thai filmmaker Anocha Suwichakornpong, London-based filmmaker Aura Satz, and local artists such as Cameron Downey into the cinema for unique cinema programs.
The opening night of the British Arrows this year with Clare making her last visit as board co-chair was really spectacular. As a newcomer to the Walker, I hadn’t yet even really experienced the Arrows at the Walker in their full glory and this past December, I finally got to see the warmth and excitement of a full house, and share the great energy of the Arrows team!
What was your take on the last British Arrows winners’ reel to be exhibited at Walker?
As always, this year’s reel showed such an incredible range of material, with differing styles, emotional tones, and techniques. One particular set of ads that really stuck with me were the various Essity Bodyform ads (#wombstories and #painstories), using different techniques and forms to address two related narratives. These were really the standouts for me when I attended the Arrows Awards ceremony in March 2022.
When you look back at the tradition of the British Arrows winners being screened in Minneapolis (since 1986!), what are the key developments and changes, in tone, method, message?
I’m too new! I only just started at the Walker in 2021, so only have a couple Arrows programs under my belt. I did however review the “Best Of” reel, which was made during the first year of the pandemic, and covered the full history of the Arrows program. From that view, what I really appreciated was seeing how, for all the places where technology or products and companies have changed, the history of the Arrows winners all share creative ingenuity.
What are the particularly British traits you see in the British Arrows winners?
One big generalisation is that Arrows winners all seem to be unafraid of taking risks and doing things differently. They don’t always stick to a simple structure, and aren’t always even easily legible as to what they are “selling”. Those creative flourishes, different from the classical idea of creating memorable jingles, is actually what makes the ads have the impact and reach they do.
Is there an authoritative American equivalent to the Arrows, and what are the key differences between American and British approaches when it comes to award-winning campaigns?
There really isn’t anything else like the British Arrows! In general, American ads tend to really follow templates and structures much more rigidly.
What are your expectations of this year’s awards?
I think if I’ve learned anything in my short relationship with the Arrows, it’s that I can expect to laugh and to cry, probably one right after the other, but more than anything, I expect to be surprised.
Does the Walker have a commercials archive, a permanent collection?
Not specifically, though we do have a few “movie trailers” in our permanent collection. I think these are all cinema trailers produced for Hollywood films, but would love to compare how a film trailer might differ between the USA and the UK.
How will machine-learning and AI change and impact the moving image?
So many of the great strides that have come about in moving image production, I’m thinking here mostly of VFX and digital animation, rely on so much computing power, and if there’s one area I could imagine machine-learning and AI to have impact, it would be in continuing to expand the possibilities in these realms of production.
How do you think the platforms and audiences will evolve with evolving tech?
The pandemic really accelerated a lot of already-in-progress changes to how we engage with moving images. There’s been such a rapid transformation with films having simultaneous theatrical and home-streaming releases, that would have been inconceivable a few short years ago. I think the one obvious side of this is that more folks in more places will have access to films they otherwise might not have. There’s great implications for accessibility, as well, in how streaming and other viewing options are being built better for captions and other accessibility mechanisms.