Wednesday, 20 November 2013

The illusion of Potential - A Disease of the Age.

(sorry no chapter breaks in this - its a Blogger-bug) This is a copy of my letter as sent to Unlocking Potential, Cornwall. Its a business initiative of our times, I'm pretty sure theres one similar near to you. I shall not be attending your ‘Business Boot camp Sessions’ and I thought you may like to know why; I do not want you to be able to claim that you have helped me in any real way, as you have not. Only money could do that right now and the offer of that was my incentive for attending the initial sessions, where I soon found out that, that golden carrot was only to be snatched away from under my nose and offered to those with a better chance of offering a good return by way of providing statistical evidence of creating employment, despite the fact that those figures of employment are falsely swollen by graduate internships lasting for no more than a year and which in real terms amount to nothing more than paid work-experience. I did all my work experience, un-paid and off my own back, so no I don’t approve. I did find some of the initial sessions helpful, and was encouraged when it was mentioned by one sympathetic speaker; that success is hardly ever achieved alone and that most successful people have been helped a great deal along the way. This statement was soon to be proved correct as a pretty girl confidently discussed in front of the group her plans for a Cornish design agency and then referred to her badly drawn (and vacuous) life experience diagram supporting the worst examples of stick figures I think I’ve ever seen. This is just the sort of competition which I see your start-up scheme supporting, year on year, saturating the market and creating an un-level playing field for struggling individuals such as myself. Whose experience and personal commitment is constantly undermined by business hand-outs which set-up an unfair advantage based on no real skills assessment what-so ever. I attended my interview and noticed the shiny gold band glistening on the index finger of my interviewer. We all make compromises in life to get the best out of our lot and I thought to myself that my ‘interviewer’ my have chosen his family, as is often the case and that’s what makes His career of dishing out placatory venture capitalist hand-outs rewarding to him. The job is a means to an ends of greater personal value. That is not my life. I have spent my whole life training, re-training and constantly up-grading my skills which in turn allow for the creative fulfilment of my potential. I have sacrificed chances of security offered by a regular income or of having a family of my own, in the vague hope that my own talents may be fulfilled within my lifetime and become my main income. I still have a second job after 7yrs in my own business and I remain heavily in debt due to my education and business investments. I did not factor in a triple-dip recession. So don’t tell me that I’m not worth investing in. I do not want to indirectly pay your wages for attending the ‘Boot-camp sessions’. I do not want you to pay a business mentor on my behalf; who is most probably my contemporary, drawn from an exclusive list of hand-shakers and back-scratchers and who of course is worthily seeking an extra income. I am aware that by writing this I am in danger of offending a large number of business professionals in Cornwall but that is no reason at all not to do it. I am an Artist and that is what Artists do. They make social comment where others can’t, wont or don’t know how too.

Thursday, 11 July 2013

The Politics of exclusion in regional film production

It seems to me that most Freelancers suffer the sporadic income and lack of financial security just to maintain working in a job which they love. Given half a chance many of them continue to perfect their skills by creating, producing and show-casing small projects of their own. It’s an expanding area of un-monitored talent development. Never have there been more filmmaking schemes, independent projects, online competitions and local, theme or skill based film festivals. A freelancer can waste a lot of time and money wading through the potential opportunities, and a surreptitious sub-industry is growing-up in the area of training, script editing and the mentoring of these aspiration talents and this in turn, is providing a different kind of work for the senior freelancer.
Over the years I’ve inadvertently become an expert in rejection letters from just this kind of opportunity; here is the perfect example of how an organisation can promote itself and its own virtues over the applicant, while leaving the very person they should be encouraging dispirited and deflated. Who has not received a letter like this; I’m sorry your submission wasn’t successful. We had a very high standard of applicant this year. Now what could be more crushing than that? All this statement serves to do apart from elevate the status of the Festival, Competition, Event, etc. is to propel the said applicant into a deep state of self-doubt. Generally speaking entry fees to festivals are not cheap and applications are time-consuming, so it’s easy to see why after a few futile attempts a filmmaker will give up all expectations of a festival and maybe even withdraw from contributing to it at all.
There are not many ways to successfully promote yourself as an independent filmmaker at a ground roots level. It’s not as I imagined it would be, in a rural community such as Cornwall; a case of the proving of ones self within a locality. Unfortunately it seems that success is more often gained by a vicious and persistent attempt to remove any viable competition, by means of controlling the exposure available to that competition. Thereby establishing and maintaining the illusion that the status quo is fit for purpose and ‘good enough’, when in actual fact people are generally un-aware that they may have other options open to them, because it has been orchestrated so. I’m pretty sure that similar ‘gate-keepers’ exist in other regions and perhaps in other areas of life, but in an effort to grasp hold of this ethereal subject material. I am sticking to my own life experience in the hope that it will help you to find your own stories mirrored in objective clarity, from between these lines.
For filmmakers in Cornwall the greatest local opportunity for the exposure of their talent to the community at large comes in the form of the Cornwall Film Festival. For several years now there has been a persistent discontent felt amongst a large faction of the festivals contributors. Complaints range from films shown in the wrong aspect ratio, credits being cut off and screenings clashing with major events in the scheduling or being scheduled into an un-popular and poorly attended slot. These may seem like minor complaints and on first inspection could be passed off as a general disregard on the part of the organisation. But on closer inspection one finds that programming has been consistently biased towards a select group of individuals, you could find for example that it’s your direct competition which is standing in judgement over you in the selection jury. Are they really going to give you an advantage, when giving you that advantage, may mean that they lose the advantage which they have currently secured for themselves?
Both my feature Documentaries; The Many Romances with Rosemarie and Remembering Rosemarie where shown at Cornwall Film Festival and considering the length of the films running times at a full hour and a half, this is an achievement in its own right. Unfortunately when The Many Romances With Rosemarie was screened in 2011, it clashed with one of the Festivals most popular events and so only drew a crowd of around 20 individuals. Similarly in 2012; Remembering Rosemarie was beautifully screened in cinematic perfection at the Phoenix Cinema in Newquay to an audience of about four. I guess most people would choose to omit the truth and state that these screenings were a great success. But I feel this ‘cover-up’ culture is damaging to the festival experience and leaves no room for improvement. Those placed in a position of trust and who have taken public monies to promote and distribute films locally, on the understanding that they are in some way benefiting or promoting the local community, really do need to ensure that they are doing so fairly and across the board.
A person usually participates in the festival structure because they have a genuine interest in films, their own or those of others. Okay active participants at a local film festival level can sometimes be thin on the ground and someone who works on a particular film may also be involved in the screening or promoting of that same film at the local festival event, even when it has been entered into competition. But this is no excuse what so ever for prioritising the screenings of publically funded productions over other speculative applicants who arguably are already at a disadvantage as they have had to produce their work with no financial assistance awarded in the first place.
Public funders beware; your responsibility is high. For as you select one to be at an advantage, so too do you place another at a disadvantage. Do you think I exaggerate? Consider this; it’s un-arguably in the interest of funding bodies to be seen to do a good job of initial selection, ideally of a worthy and reliable candidate. Achieving public backing alone will often open the doors to several other organisations or institutions, which are dependant upon similar resources and so a mutually agreeable, promotional situation develops where by one party promoting or endorsing the other is deemed beneficial to both. There is far too much of this ‘mutual endorsement’ going on currently in Arts and Media funding. If you are un-funded and have produced something of quality, then you can literally become a threat to those who’ve taken public cash or private investment and produced a similar or lesser result with more support. No-one wants to look bad; not those that have produced and certainly not those that have invested. The victim of this situation is the speculative filmmaker, who now will have an even greater struggle gaining any promotional support as their success appears to benefit no one other than themselves.
Those persons who are excluded from the privileges of these selective promotions often believe themselves to be in an isolated situation and are usually un-aware that a similar fate may have also befallen their contemporaries. Sometimes the speculative applicant, having gone into production off their own back, will have competed for the same funding budget, as another funded and promoted film, which is screening at the same event. Un-funded filmmaking is not as daft as it sounds, when you consider the amount of time already invested in the creative preparation and the funding application. There is also the real possibility that the creative idea once out there, may serve to inspire someone else who is then convinced that it or something very similar to it was born of their own making. So at a certain point in the filmmaking process, a no budget production just becomes the logical way to protect your own interests, and it also offers the potential for attracting external investment on this production or the next. Damned if you do but doubly damned if you don’t. At least if you have a film you have dated evidence of your work. Without it, Plagiarism has a free reign.
At some point in time the National and International market beckons to the regional independent filmmaker. When this happens in Cornwall we have a special place to go, it’s called The Celtic Media Festival and it’s an award ceremony and media celebration showcasing the Film, Television and Radio broadcast work of the Celtic language countries; Scotland, Ireland, Wales, Brittany, Cornwall and the Isle of Man. It’s special because it celebrates our indigenous Celtic culture, but also because it offers wider career opportunities to talent as it finally reaches a larger professional platform. Arguably this is especially valuable to the smaller Celtic regions like Cornwall, as they can benefit from networking with the larger nations which have more established media industries.
How-ever it seems to me that the problems encountered at a local level are often repeated at a National and International level, with the same reliance on the few familiar faces, and the same persistence of an elite selection that closely guard their own interests by excluding the competition where-ever possible. I do not suggest that this is necessarily a conscious behaviour on the part of the excluder; more often than not I think the motivation is simply one of plain greed ‘playing it safe’, ignorance or opportunism and the success of this exclusion, in turn then serves to preserve or even to advance the corrupt establishment even further.
Both my Documentaries were entered into the Celtic Media festival; The Many Romances with Rosemarie in 2012 and Remembering Rosemarie in 2013. Neither film reached the international jury as at the time of submission they could be voted out of the competition by a local jury consisting of just three persons. Thereby ensuring that they never had a chance to reach the wider exposure which I so desired. Cornwall is a small place and the selection of the jurors at this time was questionable, as it was made solely upon the recommendations from the Cornish Rep Denzil Monk. To rub salt into the wound, when I approached Catriona Logan the festival producer, she informed me that all the film submissions from Cornwall, for both those years could have gone through to the international Jury selection, so it seems to me that it's not so much a local jury selection process but a suppression process.
Since then I’m glad to say, the Cornish Filmmakers Alliance (a group which I am acting secretary) has effected a positive change by requesting that the Cornish Jury at the Celtic Media Festival be increased to six and by so doing we are merely adopting the standards of the larger Celtic nations who already employ this method. Jury selection has yet to be addressed and while these changes are positive, they come too late for me, my films have been successfully suppressed and nothing changes that. Individual filmmakers are seemingly invisible and literally un-accounted for and in some cases; perhaps conveniently un-accountable to. If this situation continues, they may go-under financially, emotionally or have their creative ideas capitalised upon by less scrupulous, more affluent or ambitious candidates.
The fragmentation of industry, cuts in funding and the rise of small scale independents seems to be set to stay. So institutions awarding funding cannot be allowed to just settle for good enough by falling back on the familiar, they must work harder to seek out and support real talent and not just those capable of reducing their own workload by supplying a generically correct application form. I’m not suggesting that there is such thing as a Black-list when it comes to public funding, but that there is most definitely a White list and that ultimately it amounts to the same thing. This is a disease of these anti-talent times we are living in and we must expose it for what it is, wherever we find it.

Friday, 13 January 2012

Is this plain amateurism or a direct disdain? - Cornwall Film Festival 2011

While Cornwall Film festival seems to excel in promoting itself in an extremely favourable light. It is failing to promote the participants who are the very reason for its existence.

Having finally got my hands on a copy of the 2011 programme, I was horrified to find that my carefully considered film synopsis and quality artworks, dutifully submitted with the official application, had been completely ignored and replaced with extracts from an out of date internet review, accompanied by a screen-cap image from last years web-site.

Despite getting the best screening slot ever, for the feature documentary; ‘The Many Romances with Rosemarie’ in my personal experience of eight years of Cornwall film festival entries. I have been completely let down by the festivals publicity, which as any struggling filmmaker will tell you, is the most important thing after the quality of the film itself.

The film synopsis which was actually printed in the 2011 programme has been entirely gleaned from an article released by Devon & Cornwall film early in 2010. If the person writing my synopsis had bothered to read the article properly, they would have realised that it didn’t refer to the finished film at all (which was completed in June 2011), but to the innovative web-platform HouseboatTV, which I was launching at this time, to accompany my filmmaking journey and to encourage community participation in the film, by screening monthly episodes of the Rosemarie Houseboat residents, as I shot and edited the interviews which would eventually go to make up the whole 1hr and 45min feature length film.

There was however, not a single mention of HouseboatTV in the festival programme, so rather than highlight my novel method of film production, the implication is that the film itself was completed in 2010. There wasn’t even a link to the HouseboatTV web-site; where I am currently selling DVDs on-line. There was however a link to the defunct Devon & Cornwall film article. In retrospect, I had thought it a bit strange that I hadn’t received a single order for a DVD, following the Newquay, Lighthouse screening. As usually even the smallest screening would bring with it a handful of sales. Now I know why!

Over the years I have felt repeatedly let down by the Cornwall Film Festival, with films being screened in the wrong aspect ratio, at ridiculous times of day, or clashing with main, highly publicised or popular events. In 2008 my documentary film ‘Let Sleeping Dogs Lie’ was unceremoniously pulled from the festival, by Denzil Monk without so much as a phone-call. Once even having my credits entirely removed, in the screening of my short film; ‘A fruity Affair’, which had been commissioned by an audience vote the previous year at the O’Region ‘Bigger Pitcher’ event. I’ve not wanted to participate in it since, and it’s also interesting to note that in the C.F.F 2011 my screening of The Many Romances with Rosemarie, was scheduled against this very popular event. Nor was I invited to do a Directors Q&A, as I have been at several other screenings, and there was no correspondence at all before, during or after the event.

Despite all this, I have always given Cornwall Film Festival the benefit of the doubt, as it remains the only local show-case for my work as a struggling filmmaker. It has not gone un-noticed by me, that works by other reputable Artists and Filmmakers, such as Andrew Lanyon, Tony Hill, Emlyn Harris, Nick Duffy and Amanda Walsh have also been shamelessly side-lined in my humble opinion.

To conclude, I just wanted to state that I shall continue to enter my films into the Cornwall film festival, but I will no longer remain quite about any misgivings. So if you see less of me in the future, I expect this will be why! I would also be very interested to hear from other filmmakers who have had similar experiences.

Friday, 4 November 2011

A tale of two halves

Its been a while since I up-dated this blog, which I’ve used to document my original research and the production of the film; The Many Romances with Rosemarie and the progress of the web-platform; HouseboatTV, which I designed and built to encourage content and participation, while also promoting the project. This is largely due to the success of the HouseboatTV face-book page and Twitter, which have encouraged me to report my progress in shorter and more numerous up-dates, but for deeper reflection the value of a more considered blog remains.

Nearly three years on and the film is now finished. It exists as two feature length documentaries, which are each available to buy on DVD, for only £10 plus p&p at These are Special edition copies which have been produced entirely by myself, while I continue seeking to find outlets for my products.

The film ‘The Many Romances with Rosemarie’ tells of 40yrs of Houseboat history onboard the Rosemarie, from 1970 when she was found neglected at Sailors Creek to 2009 when she was broken up for scrap on ‘Muddy Beach’ Penryn and finally in 2010, when her keel was re-cycled and used to restore the wooden fishing boat Rosa.
This is a chronological arrangement of the HouseboatTV episodes re-cut into a narrative and captures many social and environmental changes whilst maintaining focus on the vessel and the succession of her owners, which have now been defined. The HouseboatTV series continues in its own right and is currently re-screening as episodes at .

The sister film; ‘Remembering Rosemarie’ documenting for the first time ever, the fascinating history of the Rosemarie, built in 1930 at R.S.Burts of Falmouth, more famous for the construction of the Falmouth Quay Punts. The Rosemarie began life as a luxury motor yacht; she went on to be a Wartime River Patrol boat, and then worked as a pleasure ferry on the river Fal. Taking passengers from Falmouth and St Mawes to Malpas and the Helford river, finally ending her working life as a holiday rental houseboat at Gillan Creek on the Lizard Peninsula in Cornwall.

As my research into the previously un-documented history of the Rosemarie tuned out to be so fascinating, it became evident to me that the working history of the boat deserved to be a film in its own right. The 79yr life-span of the boat, divided neatly into two halves, her working life and her Houseboat history, both with a very different feel which I was able to accentuate more clearly in the two separate ‘sister’ films.

These two films both work as complete documentaries in their own right, but I can still see the potential for a re-cut of them both back into one which documents the whole life of the Rosemarie as I originally proposed to BBC3 and CH4, for broadcast in 2009. I do intend to make a taster and continue to take the project up to pitch-point.

I have been advised that I would only succeed in this venture as a new Director & Producer, if I partnered up with an established production company, but my experience of this to date is not good. In 2007 I signed a joint contract on another documentary idea, with a production company which shall remain nameless. My idea then sat on a shelf for two years, before they decided not to proceed into development, when I could have been perusing other possibilities for it. This time I have taken things into my own hands, and now that I have a good product, I find myself looking for appropriate outlets, and if I don’t achieve commission I shall be screening both films locally for many years to come and I can rest in the knowledge that it was I who added the story of the Rosemarie to my local history.

Monday, 4 April 2011

The Dunkirk Dilemma

Oh dear me, on reflection I just don’t have enough evidence to make the claim that the lovely Rosemarie was a Dunkirk Little ship as I deeply suspect she was. I have been working hard to try and prove that Rosemarie deserves recognition and the prestigious Little Ship status, but I just can’t risk putting my unsubstantiated beliefs into an otherwise charming and creative documentary without jeopardising the other content! So this is a last desperate call to anyone with information which may verify my suspicions, while I’ve still got time to include it in the film.

I must add that the ‘Association of Dunkirk Little ships’, haven’t helped me at all during this research and in fact have not replied to a single one of my e-mails which I started sending over a year ago now! It seems they like to concentrate on the few boats they know, which is a disgrace in my opinion as there are potentially hundreds more boats to be found, and the living memory of these is fading fast.

Russell Plummer, in his book; ‘The Ships that saved an Army’ identifies around 800 small boats but states that there may be up to 1,300. That’s another 500 to yet to be found! There are non specific entries in the list which could be applied to Rosemarie (or similar craft), such as; Rose Mary particulars unknown, and Motor Boat 42 particulars unknown. Unfortunately I don’t have The Rosemaries service number, but descriptions like this do not invite my trust in the original recording of details.

My distrust is heightened further, when I hear that some boats which have been awarded the Dunkirk status didn’t actually go, as Raymond Peake informed me. “Some boats from Newlyn went to Falmouth for the Dunkirk evacuation but they were sent back because they displaced too much water, and I know that ‘ Maid Marion’ has a brass plaque saying she went to Dunkirk, but I know she never went! What they were looking for was boats like the Rosemarie with a shallow draft, they only wanted boats with a 6ft draft, which could go right in close [to the beaches]”.

In May 1940, Falmouth was one of the Departure points of the small ships leaving for Dunkirk. Rosemarie was requisitioned in 1940 and worked as a patrol boat around the Lizard peninsula for her first year of service. I know that one of the Rosemaries wartime jobs, with Frankie Peters as skipper and Fred Hamling as Engineer, was to record all the troops returning from Dunkirk and check the ships, so the Rosemaries job was in effect to list these ships, such an irony she’s not listed! I can’t believe she didn’t go to Dunkirk herself, particularly for the final evacuations where the call was sent out for any able ships, in desperation to get all the troops off the beaches. On Friday the 31st of May, A boat called Rose Marie, was towed over, by the dutch Skoot ‘Hilda’, captained by Lieutenant A.Gray of the Royal Navy along with five other motorboats ref; ‘The Evacuation from Dunkirk’ W.J.R Gardner ISBN 071465120-6 Page 72. Which Rose Marie this is, is still unclear to me as details such as the length of the boat and numbers are unfortunately not listed.

From ‘The Ships that saved an Army’, I can see two ‘Little ships’ called Rose Marie. One owned by J. Boyer, Sheerness, (no other details) and another; a twin-screw schooner built by J. Crossfield, Conway 1926. Now this boat from my own research at the National Maritime museum in Falmouth, was not acquired by the Government until 1946, and so it is possible that she is a case for mistaken identity. Her Lloyds reference number is 148325, she measured 53ft by 13.2 with a 7.7 draft. I think she could easily have travelled to Dunkirk (if she did go) under her own power, and would be a large boat to tow as part of a flotilla of 8. Her draft was also, well over the admiralty requirements so I think she could be stealing our Rosemaries glory, but as I can’t prove this. I have to go with what I’ve got in the film, and let people make their own conclusions; otherwise I’ll be using the film to argue this case, poor Rosemarie, she deserves so much better.

Thursday, 10 March 2011

Rosemarie Target-towing in Mounts Bay

I spoke yesterday with Billy Stevenson of Newlyn, who remembers the Rosemarie target-towing for the Navy during WWII, at Mounts Bay. There is some dispute as to weather the Rosemarie was Army or Navy run. Billy would have been about 12yrs old at that time and remembers seeing the Motor Yacht towing a target for the 4 x ex-Destroyer guns, which were mounted in concrete at sites around the Lido pool at Penzance. Local Historian John McWilliams believes these guns were manned by the home-guard, but I could find no reference to this at the Cornwall records office.

Billy also informed me that the Army was stationed during the first part of the war at the old 'Sailors Home' (behind the pool). Later the Americans took over the nearby Taylors Garage.
He is looking out a photograph of the Sailors home, for me from this time but unfortunately He didn't want to give me an interview for the film.

I also asked him if there were any pictures in existence of the guns at Jubilee Pool. He didn't think that there was, and He should know, as He has been searching for the same image himself over many years. I suggested that we might mark down the location at least of these guns on a picture just for reference and I hope to do this with him at some time in the near future.

I'm still looking for someone who will testify to Rosemaries role as Target-tower, on film. If I find someone I'll arrange for a location shoot also, but I have so much material now that this would just be an added bonus.

Tuesday, 15 February 2011

George Ellis Photograph collection

Still searching for memories of Rosemarie - I have found some fantastic images of the Truro wartime 'River Patrol', none in the collection of the Rosemarie unfortunately, but these fine images may help me to illustrate the nature of her service work.

The 'Ellis' collection is housed at the Cornwall Centre Redruth, and is a window into the life and work of George Ellis, photographer to the Cornish Guardian Newspaper. It comprises of thousands of negatives, which have been copied onto microfilm for ease of viewing. There are lots of Weddings, christenings, prize ceremonies, Horse shows, agricultural events, but there are also pictures of wartime damage to properties and US Troops in Cornwall.

I particularly like George Ellis's character studies, He really does seem to capture people in a natural and unguarded fashion. Each Image is meticulously recorded in Mr Ellis's hand written ledgers, which were a delight to handle, but I do recommend going there with a specific subject in mind, or the choice will be overwhelming. The Cornwall centre hold the copyright to the entire collection and so It is a direct clearance which is a relief.

I can't help thinking that all this talk of Newspapers 'having had their day' in favour of websites and other faster digital mediums, is just that; talk! In my search for the facts and photographs, during the making of this film; 'The Many Romances with Rosemarie', I have drawn upon the resources of Newspapers time and time again. Not only for the convenience of factual historical documentation, but also for the promotion of my film project; having put out a call the public on a couple of occasions now through the West Briton Newspaper, which has brought back several useful contacts for me whom I otherwise would never have known. I think the local newspaper will always have a place, even if its domain is erroded or encroached upon.