Thursday, 1 September 2016

Exclusive Film Preview: New Town Utopia

Exclusive Preview: New Town Utopia
Brownlow Library
BT65 5DP
Tuesday 6 September

We are delighted to host film maker Christopher Smith, director of New Town Utopia for an exclusive Q&A and preview of excerpts from his upcoming documentary.

Christopher is joining us as part of Capturing Craigavon - a community-led, PLACE-delivered, investigation into the history of the new town of Craigavon. This event is the final in a series of documentaries, assembled for their insights into the design history of the 20th century, with a particular focus on the post-war urban design and architecture style from which Craigavon emerged.

In preparation for the event, we asked Chris for a little background to the project.

What inspired you to make this documentary?

I grew up in Essex and spent a lot of time in Basildon as a child. It always had a sense of ‘otherness’ compared to other towns. This came from the architecture and textures and the intriguing sculptures and public art.
I found the transcript of the New Towns Bill to parliament from 1946. It’s a lyrical, impassioned speech given in the midst of the post-war government’s progressive and radical policy drive. It evoked a desire to create a new type of citizen - with: “a sense of beauty, culture and civic pride” and evoked Thomas More’s Utopia.  

Beauty, culture and civic pride are not terms associated with Basildon now. It has a terrible reputation locally and nationally - in fact in popular culture its often referred to as a kind of cultural paradigm ‘the shit British town’.  It’s a challenging place that’s been through difficult times, but I knew there was more to the place and its people.

Is there something particularly interesting for you about Basildon?

Basildon is representative of many British towns in its economic an social struggles - and not just new towns.   The high street is populated with betting shops, pound shops and payday loan peddlers. 

Artists struggle to get funding or support from the people of the town and local government.
When it comes to art and culture, London (and some other major cities and towns) exist in bubbles. I live in London now - on my street alone there are five art galleries, four more than in all of Basildon.
Basildon was built to be a hub for the arts - but you have to smash the surface to glimpse it But it’s there, and the people in my film are all ‘artists’ in one sense or another… poet, puppeteer, musician, actor, sculptor. They are all people with talent, fight and never ending belief in the power of the creative spirit. Through exploring the story of the town through their memories and observations it highlights the importance of art and culture to the wellbeing, happiness and communities that ‘work’.

Can you tell us something about the process of meeting those residents?

It really has been a four year process - a combination of research and networking gradually led me to discover and meet different characters. Its been a privilege to share in the lives of so many interesting people.

Most contributors didn’t need much persuading to be in the film - all had something to say about the town!

About the film maker:

Christopher Ian Smith - Writer/Director
Chris is a London-based filmmaker with a background in television and advertising.
In his early career, he was a member of the audiovisual collective ADDICTIVE TV - producing an array of experimental audiovisual films, motion graphics and the ITV1 television series Mixmasters. He then moved into the digital advertising space as a Creative Director, working with brands such as O2, PlayStation, Guinness and Toyota to create and produce award-winning content and campaigns for 10 years.
He left the advertising industry behind to focus on developing documentary and elevated genre films. His work often explores the relationship between characters and their environment, the impact of technological development on our psyche and the juxtaposition of the every day and the uncanny. Recent completed projects include the Imogen Heap documentary CUMULUS and the science-fiction short film ALL THAT IS SOLID…
Current films in production are the feature-length documentary NEW TOWN UTOPIA, the feature thriller DOG BOY (as a Producer) and the improvised folk-thriller SULPHUR.
Chris has been selected for a number of prestigious film development and talent schemes, including Edinburgh International Film Festival Talent Lab, Filmonomics, and the FIlmLondon Micro Market. He also founded and programmes the future filmmaking symposium EMERGE which is part the East End and Cork Film Festivals.
You can follow Chris on Twitter and Instagram, and help to support New Town Utopia by contributing via Kickstarter

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