Putting it on the Map

By Alex Usborne

last-ball-eight-matt-booth.jpgLast Ball Eight, dir. by Matt Booth, 1998

Visions of an innovative film culture go centre stage with some impressive regional initiatives

As a producer I’ve always tried to use the advantages of working regionally – a connection to place that gives stories a heart and soul; a sense of distance and space that allows ideas and stories to develop at their own speed with distinctiveness and originality.

It’s an exciting time for regional filmmakers. Through the Film Council’s Regional Investment Fund for England (RIFE) real money is reaching the English regional agencies, enabling them to develop something that’s built to last. There’s also the New Cinema Fund’s short film schemes, key to which is the Low Budget Digital Shorts Scheme. With a partner in each of the nations and regions we put up £80,000 a year for eight shorts in each area – that’s 88 shorts a year.

plastique-sarah-tripp.jpgPlastique, dir. by Sarah Tripp, 2002

Whether it’s from a small theatre group, a bunch of artists, a local press or someone with a passion for heavy metal, they’re always worth a look. At regional command and control centre in Sheffield, news keeps coming in of previously uncharted film-making activity in Stoke-on-Trent, Coventry, Luton, Hull, Bradford, Lincoln and – most thrilling of all – in Rutland! Here’s news of a few front runners, and there will be more to come.

Digicult Glasgow

Digiculters are an eclectic bunch and include people like director Sarah Tripp who made the hallucinogenic and visionary film Testatika, Graham Eatough who runs innovative and original Suspect Culture Theatre Company, writer and computer animator John Butler, the creator of the viral hit Workgroup Alpha, Nick Bone, Artistic Director of Magnetic North Theatre company and Vincent Hunter, whose short films 3Wood and Hi-8 1/2 mark him as one of the brightest new Scottish directing talents.

ronde-nick-bone.jpgLa Ronde, dir. by Nick Bone, 1995 

"I wanted to create a space where people could collaborate, where people from different creative disciplines could connect, where we could get a vibe going. I wanted Digicult to be risky, experimental and playful. I wanted it to inspire,” says Paul Welsh, founder. He has brought in people like Phil Parker, Tinge Krishnan, Seamus McGarvey and Alex Cox to inspire the Digiculters. There’s space and time and a sense of identity, of being part of an important creative team. Cameras and editing time are made available to test ideas, processes, cast and techniques – organic growth for both projects and filmmakers.


The Film Fund TRURO

Cornwall cannot be said to have a huge film and TV infrastructure, but the Cornish can certainly tell a good yarn. My own film favourite is Troubled Waters by Jed Trewin, the powerful story of the plight of Cornish fisherman made with real heart and soul.

inflorescence-sarah-tripp.jpgInflorescence, dir. by Sarah Tripp, 2002

Pockets of local talent are now looking to the new Film Fund, run by Colin Rogers and fired by Cornwall’s European Objective One status. This includes people like director Bill Scott, who runs the Miracle Theatre in Falmouth and made the well-regarded short Wind, recently finished a First Film Foundation/Sci Fi Channel short for £100,000 called Cheap Rate Gravity; theatre writer Nick Darke; novelist D.M. Thomas and young director Mark Jenkin, whose low budget feature Golden Burn won the Best First Time Film at the last Celtic Film Festival.

“Just setting up a film fund makes people come out of the woodwork and enthuses them about what might be possible,” says Colin Rogers, who expects a pot of around £1 million for feature film production. In the meantime the Fund is backing project development and short films.

Forkbeard Tiverton

Take a trip to Tiverton in deepest Devon to meet the Forkbeard Theatre Company, pioneers in connecting theatre with cinema. Forkbeard have been around since the late 70s putting on extraordinary theatre shows, creating strange and original art installations and publishing a number of curious books.

see-through-brain-sarah-tripp.jpgSee Through Brain, dir. by Sarah Tripp, 2002

The Forkbeards’ idyllic, converted cottage serves as creative centre, editing room and office while two enormous sheds house countless film projectors, an animation studio, a countless number of gadgets, machines, designs, costumes and, gloriously, three steenbecks.

Led by the blazing, creative energy of the Britton brothers and assisted by a number of key collaborators, their work is filled with comedy, fun, story, gizmos, contraptions and illusion. Dazzling.

Intermedia Nottingham

There’s a buzz and energy here, a warmth and friendliness. Intermedia – based in a lively, old building in downtown Hockley which backs on to the Broadway Cinema – runs training schemes and a development and production fund. It houses edit suites, start-up space for small companies and a studio. But the real success is in the way it has identified, nurtured and developed the talents who have walked through the door.

magic-flute-nick-bone.jpgThe Magic Flute, dir. by Nick Bone,1999

Shane Meadows (Once Upon a Time in the Midlands) and Paul Fraser (Heartlands) we all know about, but Chris Cooke has been painstakingly developing his skills through his dark and edgy short films Map of the Scars and Shifting Units. Look out for his first feature, One For the Road. Then there are Steve Shiels, Laura Smith and Tim Cunningham, all of whom are making low budget digital shorts, and behind them there’s another wave, very young and fired-up.

They all know each other, hang around together, talk through their writing and projects and collaborate. Most of them are pretty skint so they’ve really embraced digital technology and collectively begun to push it into new forms. If you want to see the very cutting edge of DV film-making, go to Nottingham.

Alex Usborne is Senior Executive for the Regions and Nations at the Film Council’s New Cinema Fund.