Finding Stories

Learning to be a Filmmaker

‘Jeepney” My first short film

‘Jeepney” My first short film

I’ve always been a fan of filmmaker Ken Loach. He seems to be able to create authentic stories of people living on the margins of society and make their lives rich and important. Stories that entertain us, but also stories we need to hear that teach us something about the world we live in.

With the thought/delusion that I might be able to make movies like Ken Loach, after a long time of working in the theatre, I went to college to learn how to be a filmmaker in 2006. I thought, at the time, that the most interesting creative work was in happening in films. Theatre seemed to me to be a little stale. I was tired of seeing clever people showing off  – which is what I was beginning to think professional theatre was all about – and I wanted to see stories that explored real lives in real situations.

I wasn’t learning much from a lot of actors ‘standing about on stages and talking to each other’.  In fact, I’ve never really been keen on the idea of ‘actors’ pretending to be somebody else, I was much more interested in ‘performers/creators’ who expose something of themselves in front of audiences/spectators as well as presenting great stories and beautiful imagery.

In describing this I am using the language of people like Robert Lepage. Robert pointed out some years ago that audiences listen and spectators watch – he wanted a new word to describe the people who came to his shows – he wanted them to participate in the process.

As for film – there now seems to be so many new ways of making movies whether it is high quality 3D like Wim Wenders with “Pina” and Alfonso Cuarón with “Gavity” – both amazing by the way – or the guerrilla style documentary that explores the relationship between fiction and reality. It is now possible to make movies on a smart phone or to get hold of professional equipment quite cheaply. People can become filmmakers comparatively easily and can make amazing films that are successful and groundbreaking on a very small budget. The opportunities for creating films are getting easier, the old days of subsidy for the arts maybe collapsing but if you want to make a short movie you can do it – on your phone.

People Playing Themselves

I am particularly interested in how the US based Italian filmmaker, Roberto Minervini, develops his work. His latest film “Stop the Pounding Heart” was premiered in Cannes last year and is currently playing cinemas in Europe and doing the festival circuit.

'Stop the Pounding Heart’ film by Roberto Minervini

‘Stop the Pounding Heart’ film by Roberto Minervini

Described in the Hollywood Reporter as:

“ … a hybrid of documentary and unscripted narrative depicting real people in an insular rural community, the film’s cast is made up primarily of members of two large families in Texas. The chief focus is the Carlsons, goat farmers who run an artisanal dairy business, selling milk, cheese and yoghurt at local farmers’ markets.

The parents, Leeanne and Tim, raise their twelve children according to a strict interpretation of the Bible, homeschooling them to limit negative influences. It’s an austere life of prayer, work and religious studies at mealtime, with no sign in the house of such standard communication tools as television, computers or telephones.

At 14, Sara is one of the older siblings, helping to educate and care for her young brothers and sisters while navigating her own way into adulthood. When she meets Colby Trichell, a young amateur bull rider from a more rough-edged Christian family, a mutual interest develops that’s so guarded it could barely be defined as attraction.”

The Passage

I worked with Roberto in The Philippines on my own short films and later in Texas when I played one of the leading characters in his first feature, “The Passage” – a road movie that took us from from Houston to Marfa, Texas. It was great fun and it taught me a lot. The film was created on the road in ‘real’ situations, with the ‘real’ people we met on the way playing themselves.  The character I played was also pretty close to me, a lost soul, an artist, searching for something to believe in again. There were also a few confrontations with the police, which was a bit scary, and all those guns!

Marfa Red

‘The Passage’ a film by Roberto Minervini

Learning in Unexpected Ways

I had also been working this way at the International Academy of Film and Television in Mactan Island in the Philippines, my college, trying to get inside the hearts of the people of the place and let the camera tell their stories. I made four short films there and, after leaving college, started to make my first feature.

However circumstances changed and a terrible tragedy made me give up filming there.

I returned to UK pretty broken. But the years have healed the sense of quilt I felt and I am now working productively again. I’ve gone back to creating theatre but in different environments and circumstance. I worked for a few years with the homeless charity ‘Changing Lives’, (Formally The Cyrenians) working with people who had experienced homelessness, trying to reflect and shine some light on their stories. We did performance work, writing projects, photography, short films, sang together, built web sites and held music events. All of it was aimed at understanding the lives of people who had found themselves in deeply chaotic times and needed help to rediscover themselves and their sense of worth, their abilities and their talents. It was a learning process for me and I shared that learning with many people – both the people who participated in the activities and the people who came to see and listen to our events.  It was an important time for me and I hope for the hundreds of people that I worked with. I know that a lot of them benefitted from the process and from the creation of the different events we worked on together. I remember them all and smile.

The Performance Ensemble

(c) David Wardle

The Performance Ensemble

Now I have moved on again and am developing a new Ensemble. – The Performance Ensemble – which works with people over the age of 60. The ensemble makes contemporary theatre for audiences of all ages. Stories that emerge from the heart of communities. Creating a hybrid company of an ‘Ensemble of Equals’ from different backgrounds, skill and cultures searching for authenticity and meaning  and creating beautiful events.

But I’ve written about that before – you can read about that here


4. El Sistema Venezuela

Screen Shot 2013-05-05 at 22.23.43

‘Socially, inclusion is the basic principle. Our motto is the disadvantaged first and for the disadvantaged the best tools, the best teachers, the best infrastructure. Culture for the disadvantaged cannot be disadvantaged culture. It should be large, ambitious, refined, advanced; not scraps’

Maestro José Antonio Abreu Founder of El Sistema

The story of the El Sistema revolution in Venezuela is one of the most powerful proofs that art can change the lives of individuals, communities and even nations. On 25th June last year I attended a ‘Festival of the World Summit’ at the South Bank Centre in London entitled ‘Art Will Change The World”. In Britain today such a statement generally brings guffaws of laughter from the rich and privileged and from the people that currently run our country. However much we explain, prove with statistics, give examples of people whose lives have changed through the arts and prove that money spent on the arts saves millions of pounds on other budgets and services the establishment doesn’t believe it.  Recently there have been 100% cuts to arts budgets from local authorities across the country in the mistaken belief that the arts don’t give value for money. But it is wrong – deeply and depressingly wrong.

On that day in June I was in the company of people that believed in the power of the arts to change lives and as I heard the orchestra play,  any doubts of the possibility that Art Will Change The World  were washed away in a tidal wave of passion and friendship and community and love and music

Jude Kelly at the South Bank had brought Jose Antonio Abreu founder of El Sistema (“the system”) to London, with the now world famous, Simon Bolivar Symphony Orchestra. They played 4 sold out concerts with live relays in the Clore Ballroom played to thousands more people free of charge

In 1975 José Antonio Abreu set out to help poor Venezuelan kids learn to play a musical instrument and be part of an orchestra. nearly 40 years on, El Sistema has seeded 102 youth orchestras, 55 children’s orchestras, and 270 music centers — and over 250,000 young musicians. Jose Abreu’s  visionary philosophy has, since 1975, been based on the notion that a free, immersive classical music education for the poorest of the poor might positively influence the social problems plaguing the country. His hypothesis has been overwhelmingly vindicated, with more than 380,000 children engaged in national music programmes, more than 80% of whom come from low- or middle-income areas. Of the two million graduates of the programme since its inception, many have gone on to become not just musicians, but lawyers, teachers, doctors and civil servants.

“Music has to be recognized as an … agent of social development in the highest sense, because it transmits the highest values — solidarity, harmony, mutual compassion. And it has the ability to unite an entire community and to express sublime feelings.”  José Antonio Abreu

Listen to the TED Talk  HERE

Many music education projects have been modeled after the Venezuelan program in more than 25 countries. Argentina, Australia, Austria, Bolivia, Brazil, Canada, Chile,Colombia, Costa Rica, Cuba, the Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, England, Guatemala, Honduras, Italy, Jamaica, India, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Portugal, Puerto Rico, Scotland, South Korea, Trinidad and Tobago, United States, and Uruguay are among them.

There is a documentary film by Paul Smaczny and Maria Stodtmeier called “El Sistema”