Off Shore Island

I am still ruminating over my Prime Minister's decision to leave us without a chair at EU discussions over the euro. I suppose I am like many Brits. I call myself a European but I also want the UK to be sovereign, so I don't want us to sign up to the euro and I don't want tighter fiscal or political ties. So I should be content with what has happened but, actually, I am depressed. 1 against 26 is no negotiating position and the UK could end up out of the single market floating around as an offshore island. If the mood of Europe is united for more integration I would rather be 'in' than 'out'. I do have something special to contribute to this debate. For the last twenty years I have worked in Europe as Head of, or President of, EU Media projects designed to help the audio visual industry, in my case documentary films. I have realised that language is crucial and as long as us British only speak English then we are  not really Europeans. Before the enlargement of the Community in 2004 , we got stuck in an us/them camp consisting of those for whom English was the first or second language (the UK, Germany, Holland, Scandanavia) against  those for whom French was  the first or second language (France, Italy, Belgium, Greece, possibly Spain). The culprits were the British, who seem too stupid to speak other languages, and the French, who are too arrogant to do so. Now, at least in my industry, there are two different divides. Language is less directly important because everyone speaks English, unless the French want to be difficult - and why  shouldn't they be? This new divide is between the keen new Europeans who want to benefit from the Western market (Hungary, Rumania, Poland,  the Czechs, Slovakians and Slovenians) against some old Europeans like the British and French, again, who are selfish and stand-offish. The language barrier exists here because it is more a state of mind then anything else - a 'we are in Europe on our terms' mentality.

I find it embarrassing and deeply selfish. My present EU Media training scheme is EsoDoc, designed to enable and encourage young documentary film makers to work in human rights. We have held workshops in Poland, Hungary, Latvia, Slovenia and Romania; these relatively poor counties generous and welcoming. We have never in nine years managed to get money to hold a workshop in either France or the UK; mean and arrogant. In the UK case, philistine as well, and if you don't believe me then find out more about the right-wing of the Tory party, who belong on an off shore island.

I'm wondering how long it will be before there is some kind of retaliation. When well-wishing Europeans like me in the audio visual industry or in the manufacturing industry are told on a personal level to go and find euro-paid work elsewhere. To be bracketed with the right-wing of the Tory party would be adding insult to injury.


The 20th century historian

Like many so called 'communicators' of my age I have yet to feel a friend of the internet. At EsoDoc <> we teach New Media, or Trans Media as it is more usually called, and our young documentary film makers finance their films by 'crowd-funding' (Kickstart and Indigogo), transfer them on-line, publicise them via FaceBook, Vimeo and U Tube, and enlist Twitter to put the word around. It seems to work and sometimes leads to a paid commission from a broadcaster. I confess I find this difficult. Yet as a part-time historian I am amazed how easy research has become on-line. The Sussex Academic Press has commissioned a revised edition of my book The Last English Revolutionary because so much more information has become available about it's subject, the revolutionary Tom Wintringham.  Enter now the Grimsby librarian Phyll Smith. He is such an authority on Wintringham that no-one, including me, could write difficult enough questions should he enter for the BBC Mastermind. Through the internet we have accessed at the National Archive Wintringham's World War One military record (simple of course), Cabinet Papers and MI5 reports referring to his time as a near founder member of the Communist Party, later the divorce proceedings where he was mentioned as the third party. Its not that the records are on-line but the means of finding the right files are. Using the internet we have found at the British Library correspondence between Wintringham and George Orwell as well, of course, as every book where he is mentioned in the index. There are scores of these as Tom Wintringham's impact on public life in the 30s and 40s was like a stone dropped into a pond which sends ripples in all directions. The Liddell Hart Library at King's College London has the complete catalogue of the Wintringham archive on-line. The University of Sydney in Australia, the University of Middlesex  and, of course, the Imperial War Museum  yield sound tapes as well as written material, all identified on-line. Amazon or Bookfinder, accessed on-line, deliver long forgotten books within days or ordering.

This easily accessed abundance of knowledge about a life is scary, and it causes difficulties. It's now not a question of what to put in, but what to leave out. As we say in the film world 'more means worse'. How many pages is a biography worth for the general reader? These days he/she can forsake a book for the internet and surf, addictively,  over mixed media packages. For the writer, the lap-top is a threat as well as a friend.



Readers of my last blog will know that Anthony Baxter, a Scottish documentary filmmaker who attended the course I run called EsoDoc  mortgaged his house and raised money by 'crowd-funding' to make a documentary called 'You've Been Trumped'. This followed the  local protest  movement  objecting to the American billionaire  Donald Trump developing a wild stretch of Aberdeen coastline to build two golf courses and a whole lot of real estate. His film was a classic 'David v Goliath' scenario, or powerless victims taking on a big bully armed with helicopters, security guards and smart press department, seemingly with Scottish politicians in his pocket. During his filming Anthony was arrested, handcuffed and put in the local police nick, only for the charge to be thrown out of court. The film won the  Green Award at the Sheffield Documentary Festival and this  was greeted by a standing ovation - unique in my experience. So what has happened since? This is the exciting news. It  shows the power of a conscience-raising movie plus the internet to mobilise public opinion. His documentary showed for several nights at the Belmont Picture House in Aberdeen, watched by hundreds of locals. The news  spread; children are displaying pictures in his support on Facebook; Indian newspapers have taken up the story; more money has been raised through IndieGoGo, the crowd-funding website, to pay for Anthony's trip to New York. He has just arrived and on 7 July, at 8.30pm, his movie will premier in the billionaire's back yard at the IFC Centre Preview Theatre. Then it will go to the San Francisco Green Film Festival. So far, Anthony has made his film entirely 'pro bono'. He has received no money for his efforts and no TV sales. It's all very well occupying the moral high ground but a man has to live!

Meanwhile, I see on the TV news  that Donald Trump has stopped his Aberdeen Menie Estate development blaming the economic climate. He has one golf course up and running from a temporary clubhouse but no more.

I wonder if there's a connection here between Goliath and David, or should I say Donald and Anthony?

TRUMPED – For Nothing!

At the Sheffield Documentary Festival, on 10 June, I watched a 90 minute film called ‘You’ve Been Trumped’ about the so far successful attempts of the American property tycoon Donald Trump to construct two golf courses and associated housing on the wild Scottish coastline near Aberdeen, despite local opposition. The film maker, Anthony Baxter, who lives not far away, took the side of the protestors. It was a classic case of David versus Goliath: of powerless victims against a stonking rich bully with all the symbols of his power - helicopters, a fleet of Range Rovers and a team of sidekicks who looked like the cast of Reservoir Dogs. It was depressing to watch how power was able to buy over forces who should be neutral like the police and private security. At one stage ‘the Film Maker’ was arrested on a ‘trumped’ up charge (very appropriate word in this instance), handcuffed and gaoled for a few hours – only for the court to throw out the charge.

So far, so all too familiar we might say. But the sting in the tail of this story is that Anthony Baxter has made a Green  Award-winning film entirely at his own cost and so far without any TV showing. He has mortgaged his house, raised money by crowd-funding to edit his film and spent months hanging around the Trump landgrab without any reward. It’s not that he is an amateur documentary maker. He is a professional and his movie is in the public interest. An indignation-arousing, well-made, documentary is a powerful weapon – expect placard waving and protest when it is shown in Aberdeen soon – but why should  Anthony Baxter have to make it as a hobby?

Actually, this happens all too frequently these days in the documentary film world. The influence of  social issue docs is increasing, what with theatrical release and the global internet, but the money available is diminishing. It is common, even usual, for a producer/director to spend at least four times as much time raising money as making the film itself. Who would/could do that for a living?


EsoDoc 2011

The first workshop of EsoDoc 2011 starts in Bucharest on 15 May. It is our eighth year of running three summer workshops to encourage young documentary filmmakers to work in the areas of human rights and environmental protection. is an EU Media initiative administered by Zelig Film School in Italy. As always, two questions about EsoDoc concern me. Why are so many of the applicants to EsoDoc young women? – over 50 of the 65 who initially applied this year. Try as we might, 16 of the 22 who are coming to Bucharest are female. This, of course, is pleasant for us males though a better sex ratio is always a good thing. I can only think that young women have more of a social conscience than young men. In the gap year before university, a girl is teaching at a Nepalese hill school while her brother is on the beach in Goa smoking ‘spliffs’.  There has to be a reason because, if anything, more men go into filmmaking than women. This year I shall carry out a survey of motivations.

The other question that embarrasses me is  why the poorer east European nations are keen to host [ilink url=""]EsoDoc[/ilink] (and other EU Media projects) while the richer states, in particular the UK, are not interested?  The answer given is that the UK has plenty of film training courses already. Further, that UK politicians are anti-the EU and looking for every opportunity not to spend money. This may be so but it is short-sighted and mean. In point of fact, about half of the film projects that students bring to EsoDoc eventually get made, This  is surely good for the European film industry, in a small way, and each film  helps to make the world  a better place, even in a miniscule way: but thank God for something positive!