pancrack home

Cineworld M'bro, 2004.

I am a Teesside-based documentary maker into people, politics, local history and environment. I grew up in Eston, live in Saltburn and one day will retire to a camper van and hit the road. But not yet. I have more films to make, a book to write and a painting and photography exhibition to do.

I started making films at CCAD
in Middlesbrough, in the late '80s. I wanted to make docs about Teesside because you rarely ever saw the place on TV, even regional TV; and in those dark ages long before digital, professional video kit cost a fortune so films rarely got made outside of TV. You had to borrow and blag to make things happen. Local film therefore was highly novel and potentially powerful. It didn't have the quantity of a TV audience obviously but screening to a live audience with a Q&A had a quality that TV didn't have. The ultimate aim was, and still is, to document a story, attract an audience and make some kind of impact - be it educational, social, cultural, political, whatever...

In the 90s, I did a few stints crewing on TV projects including a couple of years in New York and Toronto. By the decade's end, I got sponsored by a production company and returned home to sort out my emigration to Canada. This coincided with the advent of all things 'digital'. Pro-video kit was suddenly a fraction of the cost and the UK was awash with funding for 'digital projects'. I'd long had a dream project and suddenly it seemed not so unrealistic. I went for it. It was back to blagging and the pancrack (aka dole!) for a while and then the first bits of funding came in. Then in 2001, a letter dropped on the mat from David Puttnam. Teesside University had put my name forward. He invited me to apply for £25-75,000 from an organisation that he had set up called NESTA. It was bizarrely fortuitous - they had a fund for people with ambitious projects who were at risk of emigrating! I applied for 70. I got 75 and was made a 'Nesta Fellow'. It was game on with bells on...

In 2004, A Century in Stone my epic labour of love, was screened to thousands! It packed pubs, clubs and village halls on a 40-date tour. It then became the first ever local film to open at a Teesside multiplex. Cineworld ran it for a month it did that well. It made BBC Radio4 and The Guardian. BBC North East were blitzed with requests to put it on the box. Only if it was cut from 2 hours to 28 mins they said and I said no chance. In 2005, it opened at Dendy Cinema next to Sydney Opera House and then cinemas across Australia (Oz Tour). The DVD was an Xmas bestseller on Teesside at WHSmith and Asda. It has sold over 16,000 copies to date and remains the area's most successful independent film. It was the impact of dreams...

Sydney Harbour with Vin Garbutt, 2007.

I returned to Cineworld in 2010 with 'Teesside Troubadour' a documentary-feature filmed around the world, about the roving life of folk legend/comic/protest singer Vin Garbutt. It packed them in and sell out shows followed in Stockton, Saltburn and The Gateshead Sage with Q&As featuring the man himself.

While making the Vin film, I was inspired by the sudden arrival of YouTube to try and make some kind of political/environmental impact. I got involved with three protest groups all fighting to stop public green spaces being sold off to developers. The resulting films went 'viral', were featured on the BBC Politics Show and even shown in Parliament!
Filming for BBC Politics Show, 2009.

The explosion in recent years of new media technology has been profound. It has brought an incredible array of creative tools and, via streaming and social media, the means to broadcast to the world in an instant.

But as incredible as all this technology is, it is still subordinate to content and intent. It is only that which gives meaning and purpose. And given the daily deluge on all devices of video that doesn't matter, it is important that films that do matter keep on being made. The trivia will be forgotten but important stuff will be of value, on record and remembered. We can't rely on TV to make them or show them, in fact they now show less regional content than ever so no loss there!

Belsen Liberator Eddie Straight, 2015
A testament to all this is my film on 95-year old WW2 veteran Eddie Straight-To Hell & Back. It comprises largely of just an interview but it tells such a powerful story. It is an account of the Holocaust that is unique as it is told by an eyewitness from Teesside. It had audiences transfixed and in tears. It was clear proof that 'local film' can still be potent. So here's to more in the future, as and when a story grabs me and time and funds permit...

School History Hike to Eston Nab, 2016..

Local History &

As a spin off from 'A Century in Stone', I started doing 'history hikes' on Eston Hills with the public and local schools. A few years later, I got involved in environmental campaigns and in 2013, I combined the two. I co-founded The Friends of Eston Hills and launched a campaign to try and raise funds to buy land that had suddenly come up for sale on Eston Hills. The hills were in a dire state and we wanted to see them fully in public hands and conserved for future generations. We raised £15k in just 6 weeks and managed to buy a 3-acre plot at the historic Nab! There are still around 200 acres on the market and I would love nothing more than seeing it all bought and a major conservation programme being rolled out. For more info on what's been going on:

~ 2017 ~