the republics



a 16mm film by HUW WAHL

A b&w 16mm artists' essay film, drawn from the book ‘Republic Of Dogs / Republic Of Birds' by Stephen Watts, exploring landscape, history, memory and the power of words to celebrate and resist.


16mm film, editing and sound recording

in collaboration with

based on Watts' book

studio recording, sound mix and design
assisted by

produced by
with funding from

run time 83 minutes
format DCP: Stereo


“For four decades, poet, translator and activist Stephen Watts has been the quietly urgent, profoundly committed voice of the marginalised and the overlooked, whether person or place. He understands that the true ethical centre that matters lies at the edge, whether in the pull of outpost islands or the common ground of migrant streets. His tools are perennial witness and precise resistance through poem and prose, anchored in lyric anger for justice and praise song to the loved but fragile things. The language he deploys is one of dark illumination. His is fiercely internationalist writing, a challenge to the abuses of the age that is tense with solidarity, resonance and grace.  

Now he has found his collaborative equal in the engaged 16mm filmmaker Huw Wahl, who has translated the text of Watt’s book-length prose poem Republic Of Dogs / Republic Of Birds into a luminous feature-length documentary essay of remarkable beauty and spirited attention. The Republics moves from the early 1980s to the present, and from London’s Isle of Dogs and Scotland’s Western Isles - where Watts lived and worked as a shepherd in his youth - to the mountains of Northern Italy: at once a topographic journey and a highly personal meditation on history, memory, identity and belonging.  

Anchored in Watts’ biography and lines, it nevertheless explores the larger truths of being and the calibrations of response to often hard earned, lived experience. Considering the changing landscapes of settlement in London’s East End and Scottish islands, the destruction of working-class culture and an attendant sense of the collective, the film and its writing are themselves forms of cultural activism: elegy, celebration and a toolkit for ongoing resistance.  

Never rhetorical, always endowed with a profound empathy and a deep sense of relation – to time, place and human struggle – The Republics is one of the most impressive artists’ films of recent years, whose own poetry speaks as honestly and eloquently as that of the writer it portrays.” 

Gareth Evans, Moving Image Curator, Whitechapel Gallery


'The Republics is shared experience made physical, promoting alternative responses to a world at risk from unbridled material wealth.'
Art Monthly, September 2021 issue

'It's so precise and yet so free. Rooted - and vagrant.
Or rather: seeking. It prickles and trembles. It really is exquisite.'

Sukhdev Sandhu, author of Night Haunts, A Journey through the London Nights

'The Republics is one of the most impressive artists’ films of recent years, whose own poetry speaks as honestly and eloquently as that of the writer it portrays'
Gareth Evans, Moving Image Curator, Whitechapel Gallery

'A gentle and unassuming, but forever-smouldering defence of the Others and the Other'
CPH:DOX Film Festival

'An important film for our times and for the historical record.'
Ken Worpole, Cultural Historian

'The best film on a poet I've ever seen.'
Marius Kociejowski, Poet and Essayist

'The Republics is the perfect example of how different art forms can complement each other. Photography, cinematography, poetry, writing, architecture all come together in harmony, serving the purpose of telling a beautiful story.'
Danae Papadiki, Review for Indy Film Library

'This film is beautiful; I loved Stephen's presence, seemingly everywhere... this really, truly inspired me. '
Justin Hopper, Artist and Writer

Honourable mention from Jury
Litfilms, Munster

'Wahl réussit à accoucher d’un tout cohérent, sans forme, qui s’évertue à ne rien symboliser, ne romantise rien non plus, (...) le film devient honnête et invitant.'
Olivier Godin, Filmmaker
Horschamp Review


'Future generations will wonder how it was possible for Republic Of Dogs/Republic Of Birds, one of the remarkable books of our age, to pass unnoticed like a prophet through our midst.'
Sasha Dugdale

'I am moved and fascinated by Stephen Watts's poetry in ways I find hard to explain and extraordinarily powerful to experience. He is among the most fine and subtle writers I know on the relations of landscape and mind.'
Robert MacFarlane

'Such free play of voice against finely calibrated shifts of light and atmosphere is intoxicating. Stephen Watts shapes a prose of rare integrity and grace. There is no estranged otherness, no prussic scorn even for the despoilers and exploiters of place. The poet's generosity catches us off-balance, as we sift the local tideline and the deep time-line of the islands, acknowledging hermits and passerines.'
Iain Sinclair