The first month of Olympic year in London has not failed to disappoint in terms of celebrating the best of British. At the time of publication of this blog came news that the network television premiere of ‘Sus’ – co-produced by and starring Clint Dyer attracted 600,000 viewers on BBC 1, dominating all TV viewing at the time of broadcast (which at 11.15pm is quite impressive). Previous BUFF blogs and the festival in general have championed the likes of films like ‘Sus’ and will continue to do so. For everyone involved in its success to date, there is satisfaction to be had from a UK independent film being appreciated by the mainstream. News of the film’s success came in the same week that the coalition government commissioned a panel to draw up proposals to increase audience choice and grow the demand for British films in the UK. The panel, chaired by former Culture Secretary Lord Chris Smith commented on how British film is currently going through a golden period: “A run of British-made and British-based movies has been taking audiences around the world by storm. But we cannot be complacent.” Complacency is certainly not a trait you can lay at the door of this month’s guest blogger who, although is known to his peers and fans as an actor, is also immersing himself as a writer, producer, director and founder of his own acting school. In the first of a two-parter, Aml Ameen writes exclusively for the BUFF blog and gives us a rare insight into his own take on UK film & broadcast media and what he sees as the way forward. Part 2 will be published next month…
While in London, home for the holidays, and fresh off shooting my recent AmeenDream short film “12” The damaged race, (which is a short film about London in 2011), I attended a screening of The Naked Poet. This is a feature film, funded, starring, written and directed by a good friend of mine Jason Barrett. The screening was a success, and brought about much debate surrounding British films from an urban perspective; the stories being told; the way in which companies that are making urban films are debasing themselves for commercial success whilst lacking diverse creative story telling – in essence the state of this ever growing UK urban film industry. Let me be clear – when I say urban, I not only mean BLACK, but also the YOUTH of the UK which has become an amalgamation of so many cultures, and races, potentially a very multifaceted NEW generation of young people.
After the screening, as everyone was heading to the bar to indulge in free cocktail (me included), I ran into BUFF founder Emmanuel Anyiam-Osigwe, a graceful welcoming guy I had previously met several years back at an event, but never having held a full conversation. Early on last year while in the States, Emmanuel had gotten in contact with me, regarding two AmeenDream Entertainment short films that he’d heard of from my production company launch in April. “Special Delivery” a silent film, and the online favourite DRINKS DRUGS AND KFC (HYPERLINK “http://vimeo.com/23434756” \t “_blank” http://vimeo.com/23434756) written and directed by me.
Emmanuel screened both these shorts at the BUFF film festival. While in the halls we caught up on the film ‘The Naked Poet’, on my success across the pond, on my film making here in the UK, and then he posed the question to me, why did I not discuss my thoughts during the Q&A session? Why did I not share my opinion on why British actors are on an exodus to the states? Why are people not supporting different types of films from an urban perspective? What do I make of my peers in the UK essentially picking up a camera in frustration and creating work for themselves? “I’m sure people would be interested in hearing your opinion”…
I smiled at this man, with respect, and responded “I prefer to be active and be the change I personally wanna see” (sound corny?) perhaps, but very true for me. I hate fucking complaining! Especially when I’ve seen a fair amount of success from the UK film industry; especially when I believe in my generation who are making world wide moves, and especially when I’m aware that I’m in the company of people where my opinion is valued. Emmanuel then smiled, and I could tell the cogs were working rapidly, as he then asked “Would you consider writing a blog for BUFF sharing you experiences and opinions?”…
(Smiles) So this is my attempt to do so, though I have written a blog before which I very much enjoyed. “AmeenDream Journey”, which was about my experience in the States before signing on to “Harry’s Law”, was very much to inspire any of the up and coming artists out in the UK. I suppose this blog will be about my opinions (which I very rarely share) on UK film; I’ll discuss briefly why I left for the States and why I’ve turned down a few notable UK projects; Why I began AmeenDream Entertainment; The success of my peers in the UK independent film world and what I’m sure will be the controversial short film “12” when it is released.
Frustrations: (The future is Trans-Atlantic Business)
Being a Hollywood actor has always been the dream of mine from an early age. Growing up in the UK, there were very few “stars” that I could look up to, that looked like me from my home town. I would run to my mother upset, saying how was I going to make it as an actor speaking with a British accent. Thank God for Adrian Lester in the film Primary Colors, who gave me my first bit of hope. Fast forward 15 years and there are many people pioneering a generation of what is becoming known as British American Actors, (British actors that primarily work in the US), of all races. From a black perspective it’s getting better and people are making waves to allow future generations an easier leap over. The future to me is a trans-Atlantic career, and British actors having more of a presence as their British selves in America.
WHY is there a mass exodus to the U.S. is the question? To me, the quality of roles and variation of characters that are available for black British actors (particularly young black British) in Britain, in terms of collective narrative story telling, is nothing short of abysmal. To be blunt, the characterization of youth stories are damaging, limiting and very telling of the perception of the youth in our country. I have encountered a few opportunities to come home, and work (most of which I’d love to do) however the roles have either been revamped versions of characters I’ve already played or just degrading. I was a part of the movement and franchise that was Kidulthood/Adulthood. At the time when these films were made, there was a yearning for the tales of disgruntled youth to evolve from how terrestrial TV were portraying them. We (young people) wanted to see ourselves on screen; our language, our culture, our real life. I think that in no small part to the likes of Kidulthood, Adulthood & Bullet Boy and also with the commercialization of urban music, this has been achieved.
I personally am now FRUSTRATED that this is all we are seeing. Being clear on my point, I don’t think gritty street films/TV shows should go away, on the contrary a great story is a great story but we (the audience) are not stupid; we can quickly identify the difference between an honest piece of entertainment and watered down, formulaic, “riding a wave” type films, that not only lack in quality content, but are there for pure commerce and rarely achieve that goal. Bullshit doesn’t stand the test of time, quality does. It would be nice if more of our talent were in a position to refuse work that doesn’t push the growth of our diverse culture. It’s quite possible that people are choosing to do exactly that and if so I stand corrected. It would be nice if the major channels supported a “changing of the guard” of the sort where we see less shows that are about the hardships of street life (for now), and instead perhaps (maybe) we start to watch dramedies, non- race specific action thrillers, or shows about relationships.
Where are our ‘young people’ films like The Goonies & Back to the Future? Where are our period pieces like The Wonder Years about a time in the 60’s and 70’s? Am I dreaming too big? A bit deluded perhaps to think these things are possible? Are there not people writing this kind of material? Or are they just being backed into a corner (much like young black British actors) having to perpetuate the same stories and being told “There isn’t a market for it”. Many of my friends and previous colleagues are working behind the scenes to change this, much like I am, so my words are not to discredit their efforts, or the efforts of others working to change this, or to downplay the recent success we’ve had in “Small Island”, “Luther”, “Anuvahood” (a comedic play on the street thing), but merely to re-awaken a much discussed and complained about issue – “developing the representation of black actors and urban youth in entertainment”.
Growing up, films and TV shows were one of my first points of call to an education of the world outside of my sphere. Entertainment not only informs and shapes opinions, but plants seeds that help change the world. An example of this is President David Palmer in “24” played by Dennis Haysbert. The powers that be introduced the masses to the notion of an African American President, which in turn planted the seed for a future realisation of this, and that the idea of a black President was not obscene or an impossibility, but almost a projection of a time we were heading towards. To a lesser extent I remember receiving emails during my time at The Bill, where young black males were telling me that through my character Lewis Hardy, they could see themselves thinking about joining the Metropolitan Police – one young man even wrote to me saying he did indeed join the Met as a result. Entertainment is powerful, and I agree sometimes should be reflective of life, but at other times should be aspirational. Is it just me that feels this?
What good is coming out of this? The birth of the independent film maker – innovators who are using technology and the internet as an outlet for new material and for work to be shown. My hope is that these projects become more supported through finance and that production companies, and TV companies alike take a risk and support quality work, that can become commercial. Trust me I love commercial films as well as indies, I’m not a complete believer in art over commerce, I’m just saying can we not beat a dead horse, until all that’s left is the carcass, and that no one wants anything to do with “Street Films”.
Buff Enterprises is the home of urban film coverage in the UK. Keep up to date online at www.britishurbanfilmfestival.co.uk BUFF 2012 comes to London in October.