Director's Diary

Open Source Documentary Making

showroom Cinema

I’ve only made a couple of documentaries before, both on shoe-string budgets with second-hand equipment, with no corporate backing and a fair amount of credit card debt from myself.

I’ve been fortunate enough to enjoy several screenings on two continents – at community centres, town halls, universities, and independent cinemas. My first film was sold out to the extent that numerous people were turned away, and even my family and friends weren’t able to sit together; I was so unused to such a thing, I shied away and waited in the bar, missing the applause. My second film won me a standing ovation; in that case, I was told afterwards it’s custom to stand up and take a bow, but I’d never dreamed of preparing for such an occurrence.

Despite doing things my own way – getting a credit card here, a charitable grant there – I always believed I’d be able to count on the independent cinema circuit for screening of this documentary. The plan was to raise enough funds through crowdfunding to get us into these venues, then utilise whatever proceeds we made from box office to go around key communities to screen the films there.

Today, I was told by at least one supposedly independent cinema that, sure, they’d let me screen my low-budget guerilla film there, but they wouldn’t promote it in any way, nor provide box office personnel, or ticket sales. Right, okay. That’s like saying someone doing a dance dying to pee can use your bathroom, but can’t use the toilet. It kind of defeats the purpose.

But then I got to thinking, while it’d be nice to give the film a premiere, what’s the big loss? I had my box office moment in the glitzy world of post-industrial cities like Sheffield, South Yorkshire, England, and Kitchener, Ontario, Canada – truly major movie towns! – and I’d enjoyed my ovations, speeches, and BBC radio interviews. This film, though, more than ever before in my life, is about me only in so much as it’s my perspective after growing up in Doncaster, and nothing more. It’s not about me at all. It’s about the fact that my country is at a crossroads, where we’re on the verge of choosing uninhibited survival-of-the-fittest dog-eat-dog Social Darwinism and rampant inequality and individualism over collectivism.

So, what’s it matter that the so-called independent cinemas won’t touch it? In these tough economic times, they have their money to make, right? They have to count on the guaranteed box office successes backed by big studios. So, let them. This film is supposed to be open source. I’m editing it hunched over my computer using Kdenlive, for crying out loud – free software! I’m using a headset from the SBm Hub‘s internet lounge to capture my voiceovers!

So it’s time to premiere the film…online, for free. Then, communities and citizens all across the country can view it and share it and screen it how they choose; in their homes, in their local pubs, in the civic halls. Who cares as long as people see it? Our crowdfunding campaign already proved that people who can least afford it will be the first to contribute, and so people have paid for it already, and don’t need to pay for it again. People can screen the film themselves in the ways they choose – they know themselves and their own communities better than I ever will.

I always was too radical to fit in with the film crowd in the home of DocFest preaching to the converted, anyway, dah-ling. I’m no filmmaker. I’ve never pretended to be. I just wanted to use an accessible medium to get a different message out there; a voice of reason.

So, the documentary is on its way. Then it’ll be yours. For free. Enjoy it. Arm yourself with it.

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