Sunday, March 16, 2008

City Film Cultures: Amber Films

As a testament to the power of the internet to link up folks and share ideas, I only found out about this group via my participation in an online fan site for English folk-punk singer Billy Bragg. Two or three of the participants were from the Newcastle/Sunderland area in Northeast England, and turned me on to this cultural project (it extends beyond films).

Amber Films started out in 1969, coming out of what might have been a sort of independent guerilla filmmaking scene in Britain at that time, where collectives would form and make indy films. Very non-commercial. Amber survived for nearly 40 years, so impressive longevity for a nonprofit volunteer project.

What makes Amber interesting is their political commitment, and especially their local focus.

Here is an excerpt their “about us” statement on their website:

“The work is rooted in social documentary, built around long term engagements with working class and marginalized communities in the North of England. …

"The approach is celebratory, even when the marginalization of lives and landscapes makes this more difficult. Production grows out of the relationships with these communities, and our creativity is inseparable from that of the people with whom Amber works. In any project, the first commitments are to individual lives, a particular landscape, or a set of concerns…”

Recent examples of their work is this documentary about a person in the local music scene working percussion (that he does “sound sculptures” makes me think of Michael Bashaw)….

…And a drama with a local theme
Amber does go beyond documentary films, working on drama and experimental, and also combining a bit of all three. Their long-term committeemen to basing film on everyday life and work in a certain location is maybe not unique, but rare enough (in the US) to seem so.

Amber also runs a café, gallery, ant theatre, and does film education, like this 2 day film school:

…so one can see there is outreach and education going on as well as cultural production.

For some outside opinion on Amber click here and here (both UK film websites)

One calls the body of work “…one of the great unsung achievements of British cinema.”

Would This Work in Dayton?

I think in the US, there isn’t anything equivalent to Amber, though some commercial US filmmakers do occasionally have a localist theme in their work. Good examples in recent cinema would be Baltimore, in some of the films of Barry Levinson and John Waters.

One can almost imagine what an Amber Films for Dayton would be like, as a force for development & celebration of city culture and as a way of building community. Locally the closest we have are the occasional projects of Cityfolk, who has sponsored a film festival dealing with Appalachian culture. Yet Cityfolk (as far as I know) has not commissioned film or tried to generate local filmmaking activity around Dayton-specific themes and subjects, since they are a presenter, not a producer.

The issue, as with all things in Dayton, is funding. As non profit Amber recieves support from local government, foundations, and "Arts Council England", and has recieved support in the past from the BBC. It would be unlikley such funding could be secured in the Dayton region for something like this.


Anonymous said...

I don't know if my :30 min video South Park Soliloquy counts- but, it was a short about the South Park Neighborhood done back in '96
We've got the talent locally.
I'm planning on doing some stuff about open democracy this summer-
we'll see.

Jefferey said...

Oregon Stories would be another example.

Amber did do a documentary on a Newcastle neghborhood called Byker (its a link in one of those UK catalogues), so, yeah...