By James Clarke


Country of cinema: Borderlines Film Festival and rural media

Like smaller streams meeting at a critical point, strengthening, deepening and widening, so too Borderlines, the UK’s first rural film festival, drew together disparate voices and films in Herefordshire and Shropshire during March. For festival director David Gillam, the intention was “to show some of the more interesting, off-beat British movies, to encourage venues to be more daring in their programming and to give local filmmakers a platform to come together and say what they’d like to see happen next”. For a community comprising small market towns and villages this was a new thing entirely.

The main driver for the Festival was Hereford’s Rural Media Company. With a mission to ensure the powerful and effective communication of the rural voice (particularly that of young people and children) in society, Rural Media was well placed to bring together a coalition of regional and local partners, including award-winning, innovative rural touring programme Flicks in the Sticks; statutory partners like Herefordshire’s Creative Industries programme; regional screen and development agencies Screen West Midlands and Advantage West Midlands; and the counties’ flagship arts venues, Hereford’s Courtyard, Ludlow Assembly Rooms and Shrewsbury’s Music Hall.

The festival showed not only a range of features (with 80 screenings in all, including Christy Malry’s Own Double Entry, Pure and Hoover Street Revival, all with directors present) but notably took them on the road to 18 different venues across the counties, giving genuinely local audiences the chance to see films their urban counterparts can (more often than not) take for granted. Thus the road-show snaked from Ballingham and Bolstone Village Hall, via Garway and Gorsley, Leintwardine and Leominster to Michaelchurch Escley, Market Drayton, Wem and Whitchurch. Ergo, Ken Loach’s austere Sweet Sixteen was shown in a small church hall in Ross-on-Wye which, although a small market town, has its own share of the troubles and tensions dramatised in Loach’s film.

As part of its reflection on filmic rurality, however, the festival screened Andrew Kotting’s intense, mud-caked, churning, anarchic and time-bending feature This Filthy Earth. The discussion session afterwards offered a confluence of distinctly different positions and opinions from film-savvy academics to aging Herefordians who’d grown up in remote Golden Valley and for whom Kotting’s ‘hard living’ images were real memory jolts.

However it was not all one-way traffic. The festival also included a 90 second film competition for local filmmakers (with the winner Hereford-based writer/director Rick Goldsmith for his elegant and amusing super-short Al Fresco).

And consideration of the realities of making moving pictures in the UK dominated the Focus Day, fuelled by Alex Cox’s rallying cry in support of independent filmmaking and the “just do it” ethos. The filmmaker had already introduced his bold and imaginative Revenger’s Tragedy and, along with producer Tod Davies, fanned the flame of Herefordshire filmmaking ambition.

The session was then given over to Herefordshire filmmakers to talk about their practical experience of securing funds for work set in rural locations. The situation is more hopeful than the location might suggest but smart, creative thinking is critical at all stages. In a world of increasing diversity, creative rural communities are potentially as much of a vanguard as the most urbane centres of media activity. Working in the country is becoming more feasible than a first, long-distance glance might assume. Of course, there are significant challenges and yet, speaking as someone working in the heart of it, the possibilities are thrilling.

A second and third festival are assured and the hope now must be further to broaden the diversity of voices and expression showcased, continuing to celebrate the adventure of being a rural filmmaker, finding a way to make it in this (occasionally) hard land.

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James Clarke is a writer and producer based in Herefordshire. His most recent publication was the Virgin Film Guide: Ridley Scott and, in November 2003, Virgin will publish his study of the work of Francis Ford Coppola.