Lit­tle voices still have plenty to say de­spite din of the block­buster

Yorkshire Post - Culture & The Guide - - STAGE - TONY EARN­SHAW

Hands up if you queued at your lo­cal mul­ti­plex last week to see a slice of over­priced and un­der­whelm­ing Hol­ly­wood fluff. Hands up again if the film you watched was play­ing on not one, not two but three screens.

That’s the re­al­ity of the ’plex cir­cuit th­ese days. The stu­dios call the shots and the ex­hibitors line up to swamp their cinemas with big (and not nec­es­sar­ily qual­ity) movies. It’s get­ting harder to nav­i­gate a safe route through the rocky shoals of high-con­cept prod­uct. And with art­house venues com­ing un­der in­creas­ing pres­sure to make a buck even the hardi­est in­de­pen­dent pic­ture palace finds it hard to show what it wants. In­stead the pu­rity of the pro­gramme is of­ten com­pro­mised by com­mer­cial in­ter­jec­tions.

But when it comes to cov­er­ing costs, pu­rity doesn’t come into it. The bal­anc­ing act is not in over­whelm­ing the pro­gramme – giv­ing au­di­ences a lit­tle bit of fluff along­side what they re­ally want.

So I was de­lighted to hear that two low-bud­get projects have been pick­ing up gold at fes­ti­vals near and far. Manch­ester-based Ian Ver­non’s com­edy drama Best Lit­tle Whore­house in Rochdale scooped Best Fea­ture at the Lon­don In­de­pen­dent Film Fes­ti­val. Mean­while Dan Hart­ley’s deeply per­sonal fam­i­ly­ori­en­tated tale Lad: A York­shire Story has gone down a storm… in Texas. At the Hous­ton World­Fest Hart­ley’s story of a Dales boy and his park ranger men­tor nabbed awards for best film, best ac­tor, best sup­port­ing ac­tor and best cin­e­matog­ra­phy. Not bad for a film none of the ma­jor dis­trib­u­tors would touch.

So many emerg­ing film­mak­ers have to box clever th­ese days. Ver­non’s film has been on the fes­ti­val cir­cuit for a while as he di­vides his time be­tween the Pen­nines and Los An­ge­les. He’s bat­tled to get it seen and the glory sits on his man­tel­piece for all to see.

Hart­ley is just be­gin­ning the same jour­ney. Yet it’s the same bat­tle he will fight, the same re­wards he will pur­sue. Gongs and glory don’t pay the bills but both Ver­non and Hart­ley will agree that ap­pro­ba­tion counts for a lot. And if it means trav­el­ling to the Deep South to get it, so be it.

Empty block­busters act like a mes­meric mag­net to so many peo­ple. Bam­boo­zled by mer­chan­dis­ing, TV ad cam­paigns, on­line mar­ket­ing and friendly film mag­a­zines with a vested in­ter­est in sell­ing copies, they feel al­most hon­our-bound to see the lat­est piece of over-hyped tat.

The trick is to seek out the stuff that makes the grade de­spite bud­getary lim­i­ta­tions. The films with spirit and a will to over­come the chal­lenges of in­tran­si­gence and in­dif­fer­ence. Films that touch the heart or the funny bone – films that mean some­thing.

Ver­non’s lat­est, a post D-Day drama called The War I Knew, is close to com­ple­tion. As for Hart­ley, he’s surf­ing the wave of ap­pre­ci­a­tion for a lit­tle film that dared to think big.

Good luck to both of them, say I.

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