British urban film is a new genre and everyone’s excited by what’s happening in urban music. It’s been a great year and there’s that same sense of excitement in film – it’s our time. And whilst one is always looking for that opportunity to blow its’ own trumpet, those opening remarks were quoted by Mo Ali, the director of recently released Shank, the futuristic drama starring Adam Deacon (Adulthood), Ashley Thomas (aka Bashy) and Kaya Scodelario (Skins).
Not since the late Gene Anthony Ray burst onto our screens 30 years ago will there be such a fervour for dance at the movies when Streetdance is released later this summer. Over the years, audiences have been spoiled by the likes of Dirty Dancing, Billy Elliott, Step Up, Save the Last Dance and Beat Street, the last of which was screened by the Cannes Film Festival in 1984. British TV audiences have been spoiled too with the likes of Strictly Come Dancing and Dancing on Ice in recent years and this year BskyB have joined in with Got to Dance, not forgetting the BBC’s other dance competition – So you think you can dance? It remains to be seen whether the winners of Got to Dance and So you think… can achieve popularity on the scale achieved by Diversity and George Sampson, the last 2 winners of ITV’s Britain’s Got Talent.
The company Vertigo Films, who previously served up the uk’s 1st hip-hop musical in 1day are now behind the uk’s first film to be shot in 3D in collaboration with the UK Film Council and BBC Films. One look at the Streetdance link on the BBC films website makes for interesting observation as to what constitutes British urban film.
The first thing that springs to mind upon hearing the words amateur filmmaking is a sense that the best these people can do is to create home movies about domestic life which would only interest the filmmakers themselves, films that are technically flawed and which are shown in private places (presumably because someone deemed the material as not worthy for a bigger and more critical audience).
Youtube recently celebrated its’ 5th birthday and has done more than most to catapult digital filmmaking into the spotlight. TV programmes like ‘You’ve been framed’ also did their bit though the brief was merely to entertain and not just to educate, entertain and inform (as the BBC would say). And as for Nollywood, well look no further…
One could say that digital filmmaking is not what you would call ‘easy on the eye’, i.e. not buff to look at. In many ways, Buff can be seen as an antidote to the whole glitz and glamour of traditional Hollywood and certain british fayre, and has come to transcend these values not only by providing filmmakers with a platform but by screening films at venues one wouldn’t normally associate with multiplexes – and its’ all free of charge.
Snobbery is extremely prevalent in the film industry and one of the many charges that has been brought against the British Urban Film Festival is that only a certain type of film will get shown at these types of events because its’ free and because its’ urban. This has been perceived to mean that because the audience is not encouraged to pay to see a film that they’re going to be shown ‘any old stuff’ and also, that all the films are made by or about black people – which excludes 60-65% of the potential audience available. Wrong on both counts. Somewhere on Youtube, there’s a film called ‘Billy Blaze’ – one of the 1st films received for festival consideration. Simply put, Billy Blaze is a self-deluded rap singer from Newcastle who believe’s he’s got talent. The film was directed by a Daily Mirror journalist who heard about Buff at the Notting Hill Carnival. The film was subsequently reviewed by The Guardian and quoted it as ‘very funny’ – about as far removed from a black film festival as one could ever imagine (Rod Liddle eat your heart out).
As has been stated on previous occasions, in the 5 years since Buff came to pass, the festival has been vindicated in its’ approach to showcasing a unique brand of cinema. For every Adulthood there’s a Harry Brown, for every Disoriented Generation there’s a Fish Tank. Amateur filmmaking has moved on a bit, and the economies of scale as well as the recession has led to more creativity in how films are shot, edited and marketed. Paranormal Activity was a recent case in point of a film which was made for under £10,000 and went onto to gross over 100 million.
Speaking of Notting Hill and one never tires of telling the story about one of the reasons Buff was created in the first place. It was at an event in Belfast in 2001 when a young, brazen, fledgling filmmaker of Pakistani descent stood up and asked Duncan Kenworthy OBE “why weren’t there any black people in your film Notting Hill?” Mr Kenworthy was speechless and one fails to recollect the answer he eventually gave having been consumed by the sheer audacity of the question and the shock in the room that this young twentysomething – who has since had his films screened by Buff – had caused such a commotion. The rest as they say is history. They also say that history has an uncanny way of repeating itself and so it has proved as Channel 4 has announced that its’ to replace Big Brother by commissioning a docu-soap based on Notting Hill. It was 15 years ago when Richard Curtis’s film of the same name was released – omitting any references to Carnival or indeed black people. Does one expect to see more of the same now that the chance to showcase Notting Hill is in the hands of Channel 4 – created by government to serve minority interests. We shall watch with baited breath (those of us that are bothered enough to care anyway).
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