Credit: Steppenwolves Films
Premiered at the Raindance Film Festival 2022, Night Burns like Cigarettes by director Elisabeth Felson tells the story of silently disappearing nights. The documentary takes the audience through sleepless London, while narrator Lily Cole converses with professor Nick Dunn about how urban artificial light is threatening the life of the night. Dunn does not talk of the club-light flashing partying type of nightlife we would think, but the existence that takes place in darkness. He explains that we are extending the daylight activities at the expense of the patterns of wildlife and the starry sky, and This act of burning the nights away like cigarettes provides us with a temporary pleasure, while hiding the long-lasting harm.
Night Burns Like Cigarettes poetically captures London's empty yet fully-lit streets, buildings, and roads at night. The melancholic peace one feels on solitary night walks translates through the meandering camera movements and the monochrome tone of the film. On top of that, composer, dancer and singer Kwaye creates an even gloomier ambience with his music and dance performances in deserted places throughout the movie. Overall, Felson’s documentary reminds us to embrace the darkness of the night, when we would not think of anything but our inner thoughts, desires and fears. The darkness and the isolation of nighttime allow us to take a break from our lives that are woven with others’ and to reclaim our autonomy. But we are unabashedly consuming the night like a commodity instead of savouring it.
Although the film is a beautiful love letter addressed to the dark hours, it does not mention the fact that the need for street lamps goes beyond just an extension of daylight. Professor Dunn argues that the fear of the darkness can be traced back to the bogeymen from the storybooks. However, nowadays the predators that lurk in the dark are not only mythical creatures, but also more sinister real beings. To illustrate this, the Office for National Statistics (2021) says: “Four out of five women and two out of five men felt unsafe walking alone after dark in a park or other open space.” Thus, it was a bit ignorant on the part of the film’s creators to not include this social issue that compels people to turn on the lights at night.
With its beautiful cinematography and equally impactful performances by Kwaye, Elisabeth Felson’s new film Night Burns Like Cigarettes prompts us to cherish the night as it is: dark, lonely, and celestial.
Night Burns Like Cigarettes premiered at the Raindance Film Festival 2022, on the shortlist for Best UK Feature and Best Cinematography.
Edited by Lydia Leung, Film & TV Head Editor