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I started making films at CCAD (now The Northern School of Art) in Middlesbrough, in the late 80s. I wanted to make docos about Teesside because you rarely ever saw the place on TV, even regional TV and in those dark ages long before digital, professional kit cost a fortune so films rarely got made outside of TV. You had to borrow and blag to make things happen. It was filmmaking with a DIY punk ethos and right up my alley. I was into documenting subjects and stories that mattered, inspired and sparked debate; and which TV would never make.
A CENTURY IN STONE for example, told the forgotten history of the ironstone miners of my native Eston. The original half-hour version I made in 1989 when I was on the dole (aka the pancrack!). It was the first ever local film released on video and sold 900 copies. In the early 2000s, after many projects including TV work in New York and Toronto, I returned to my first project. I raised £100k in funding (£75,000 from David Puttnam‘s NESTA organisation) and turned it into a 2-hour epic. In 2004, it packed thousands into local clubs and halls before becoming the first ever local film to open at a Teesside multiplex. It ran at Cineworld for 4 weeks before showing at cinemas across Australia and selling over 15,000 DVDs. It was all unprecedented for a local film and the impact of dreams.
Similarly, the story of folk legend Vin Garbutt had never been told by TV. This was a local story that was also global and I filmed him from South Bank to Sydney. Teesside Troubadour premiered at Cineworld in 2010 and went on to pack venues across Teesside and also further afield including The Sage in Gateshead and Assembly Rooms in Derby.
Around the same time, the arrival of YouTube, inspired projects with campaign groups trying to stop local authorities selling off green spaces to housing developers. Two films, Coatham-A Common Concern and Bulldozing Democracy we managed to get screened in Parliament. They helped land a spot on the BBC Politics Show for one campaign and a victory in the Supreme Court for the other.
Today, amid the daily deluge of unlimited TV channels (which still offer no more local content of course) and junk video streaming across all devices, the local indie doco is no less relevant and can still be potent. It can uniquely get much closer to a subject and bottom line, a good story is still a good story. The art of telling it well and trying to make some kind of impact is still the name of the game. A testament to this is Eddie Straight – To Hell and Back which I made in 2015 about a WW2 veteran and Belsen liberator from Saltburn. It was technically very simple but told a very powerful story that left audiences transfixed and many in tears. So here’s to more in the future. I also am happy to report I have started working on a book. It should be quite a document and I have high hopes for it. Watch this space!
Craig Hornby 2021