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