The World’s Local Film

Last night was the premiere of my documentary, Get Over It, at the Showroom here in Sheffield. And I can’t get over it…

I anticipated a few technical glitches having done a test screening with the technicians the day before, and I think that made me feel unhappy about it. So I watched a few seconds of the opening from the back of the cinema before sneaking back into the bar for a confab with my friend/colleague Ry about our next feature – a fictional film which he’s writing and directing. Said glitches meant that seconds of footage were missing in the DVD transfer, and so there I was, sat chilling and chatting in the empty bar over a glass of lemonade, when people started pouring through, earlier than I’d expected. I dashed to the screen area as people walked up the stairs and managed to be there to face the reactions; I wasn’t sure whether people would want to shake my hand or slap my face. And, as they say, a pat on the back is only eighteen inches away from a kick in the ass!

Instead, all the reactions blew me away, almost all of them from people I had never met before. “Better than your first film project,” “You’ve found your niche,” and (it had to happen) “You could be Britain’s answer to Michael Moore” were just some of the many comments people made. One man who congratulated me showed me the miners’ tattoo on his left forearm; I know the look on his face was one that conveyed surprise at the fact someone – anyone – still gave a damn about him and his ilk, let alone some spiky-haired, bespectacled, goateed 28 year-old.

People of all ages, genders, and races offered their support. Apparently the audience laughed, cried, and applauded…three times (although in my modesty I think this was because I had segments of footage in the credits so they never knew when the bloody film was finishing!) You know you’ve done something right when you have your audience booing and hissing when Margaret Thatcher appears on the screen! Wow. And though I’m now sat here tweaking the film and working tonight to make the DVD better before it goes elsewhere, the whole experience is more than all my hopes or dreams prior to the night itself. It’s been a veritable roller-coaster ride, full of ups and downs and unnecessary obstacles I haven’t had the opportunity to tell you about until now…

In the late summer of 2001 I returned from the United States with a broken heart and broken dreams, without a media degree which I lost when I left my own country, a couple of grand more in debt, coming off Seroxat (Paxil), looking for a home, and looking for a job. When the terrorist attacks occurred at a time when my Visa was expiring, and in the cities I’d have had to travel through, I began to count my blessings, and I scraped through the remainder of the year. In 2002, I paid my dues, working on a training program for the council and getting a place to live. I think it paid off, because come 2003 I ended up with a job in a multimedia project. It was there that I wrote my own funding application to make a feature film by, about, and for the young people of Rotherham. I reunited my own “Crazy Crew” from Uni (all of us drop-outs), formed Stable Films (“stable” means the opposite of “crazy” and means the same as “crew,” you see, teehee), and, when only Ry and myself remained to oversee the project, creating Tales from Nowhere. It was whilst making that film that people approached us and made two points: firstly, that it reflected how bad things were in that town, and secondly, that it sadly didn’t offer any explanations. So I got to thinking about making a documentary about the subject – why was Rotherham in such a bad way? Sure, it had been hit hard by the loss of jobs in the coal and steel industries, but why wasn’t it able to get over it?

And so, with two and a half grand of my own money*, scraps of dodgy filming equipment, an apprentice from the Netherlands, and a group of hard-working volunteers, I made Get Over It – about how the locality went from coal-mines to call-centres. The film even included a fun little campaign to bring a cinema to the deprived Rotherham, but we then began talks with another local film company who were able to transport their own mobile cinema and so help us screen it there anyway! But these filmmakers too, like us, had experienced difficulties. Whereas we saw each other as collaborators – not rivals – we’d both experienced frosty receptions from other (larger, profit-making) companies from the area, companies that had all the money, all the equipment, all the workforce, and all the councils’ support…yet, as far as I’m concerned, are style over substance, and when they tackle important issues, they deliver it as cotton candy floss, written in such a condescending way as to be almost offensive. Fortunately people have only said the opposite about my film so far, which I’m glad about, because I never wanted to insult the intelligence of anyone, or patronize anyone, or even tell them exactly what to believe. I always said I wanted to stir emotions, stimulate minds, and get people involved in diplomatic debate. And, the day after, I’m already hearing from people that they went home with friends or family and talked about the film’s issues way into the night.

So, I’m content, because the seeds have been sown, and I’ve achieved everything I ever wanted to with this film at this point. Next it’ll be screened in Rotherham (I guarantee it…watch this space!) Then, onto other towns, because not only will they learn about what happened to our area after Margaret Thatcher had her way, but they’ll realise similar things are happening in their towns, too. Which is why the publicity calls it “the world’s local film,” a pun on HSBC’s slogan “the world’s local bank”, which, as the film shows, is really ironic as they’ve been making layoffs and shifting jobs overseas to pay people on the cheap, whilst posting record profits. And a few people noticed men in suits in the cinema, taking notes. As the potential funders weren’t able to make it, might it have been HSBC representatives? Really?! I hope so. I expect them to be concerned. Because according to the Showroom report I have here, the film filled almost all 170 seats (Tales from Nowhere only filled half its seats). 10 of them were from the film company itself, 87 of them were adults, 18 were concessions, 8 were senior citizens, 1 was a child, and 41 of them were students…meaning that the future isn’t Orange. Or HSBC. The people who will occupy this world’s future are hungry for information outside the establishment media.

Get Over It, like the town it’s about, has fought against the odds. But, like the message of the film itself, it has had one thing going for it which made it ultimately more successful than those projects by companies with more clout: it was built from necessity, not just of myself, or those around me, but by the town itself; its people’s cry for attention. It was by and about the local community, in literally a whole world of big businesses with little concern for their fellow human being. And thanks to those who have stuck with me throughout these times, those who have worked on this film, those who contributed to it and came to see it…it truly is “the world’s local film.”

*more debt

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