Downtown Camera (Dir. Andrew Yeadon, 1977)

Some context to two new/old film documentaries digitised and uploaded to the Vimeo. Both shot in and around Bradford in 1977. Both, unfortunately, are multi-generation copies from tape (not original 16mm) so the image quality reflects this. However, I’m trying to source better version for preservation.

One of the most innovative proposals of the Yorkshire Arts Association’s (YAA) early foray into sponsored independent film-making was the Yorkshire Projector series. The vision behind it was to capitalise on a wave of YAA short films being produced in the region yet unable to gain little access to market. Film Officer Jim Pearse decided that a sensible way of promoting this activity was to take these shorts and package them together, topped and tailed with a title sequence. They could then be distributed to film societies and Regional Film Theatre’s. It is an idea steeped in the history of the mobile newsreel; a magazine format with items of local and regional interest first established in the 1950s. The first edition screened via the North Yorkshire mobile cinema unit in December 1976 and was twenty minutes long. It came loaded with a bespoke stop-motion animated title sequence of a puppet called ‘Albert’ made at the Yorkshire Communications Centre on 16mm Bolex, and accompanied by a specially shot advertisement marketing the services on offer at the centre.[1]  Jim Pearse originally designed the Yorkshire Projector series as a four-times a year release, but in practice (because of his other commitments as Film Officer) the series stopped at Yorkshire Projector #2. Writing in a 1977 press releases announcing the second edition, Pearse claimed that the Projector was ‘welcomed by the local and national press as an imaginative attempt to draw attention to the work of independent film-makers in the region.’[2] Its promotion of the word ‘independent’ is a notable shift in the semantics used by the YAA to describe film activity, and the three sophisticated films which make up Yorkshire Projector #2 point to a new future of a more professional independent film culture emerging in the region.

The newsreel leads with a film about a North Yorkshire festival by Peter Bell, followed by the second work from Sheffield Film Co-op about the harsh realities of domestic abuse (That’s No Lady), and is bookended by a stark documentary from Telegraph and Argus photographer, Andrew Yeadon.

Downtown Camera (Dir. Andrew Yeadon, 1977)

Downtown Camera is a 12-minute piece in vivid black and white, which follows Yeadon documenting the inner-city decay of post-industrial Bradford. The film cuts together, sometimes harrowing, footage of the city to Yeadon’s photography who also narrates: ‘I show my pictures to people and they say, “Where’s that? Not Bradford” and I say “It is… you’ve just not seen it.”’ Downtown Camera is a bleak picture, shot with composure and empathy by Yeadon, showing the city and its characters in a state of decline, poverty and unemployment. Yeadon was only 24 at the time of Downtown Camera, and after further training as a news/documentary photographer and journalist on London newspapers, he joined Haymarket Publishing as chief photographer on Autocar magazine. He has since worked freelance, specializing in automotive, travel and lifestyle photography with work published globally. [3]

The importance of a character named Albert Hunt to the development of the arts and theatre in Bradford will be explored in future posts, and in 1977 one of Hunt’s peers made a drama-documentary about youth unemployment in Bradford. Facilitated by the Hunt-led Media Education Unit (MEU) at Bradford Art College, and financed partly by the YAA, the Gulbenkian Foundation and the Commission for Racial Equality, Jim O’Brien’s film Black Future meets a group of unemployed young West Indians in Bradford who create a science-fiction drama (a film-within-a-film), about a Britain ‘as it will be in 1983, with two million unemployed and the country divided into welfare zones.’[1]

Black Future (Dir. Jim O’Brien, 1977)

Jim O’Brien trained at the Guildhall as an actor before joining the Nottingham Playhouse enjoying a succession of well-received performances as actor and director. He then became Artistic Director at a theatre for new writing in Soho, London and retrained at the National Film and Television School (NFTS). Perhaps due to his connections in community theatre in Nottingham, he found himself working with Albert Hunt at the MEU in Bradford and devised the Black Future project. Interviewing a body of local youth about poverty and unemployment in the city (while showing a series of statistics about joblessness), he then boldly takes the same group of youths to a dystopian future of 1983, as the group act out (and film) an even bleaker existence than the one they find themselves in 1977. O’Brien finishes his film with a sobering follow-up on the protagonists’ work prospects and life after production. It makes for stark viewing. This bleakly prophetic work is given extra vitality, as it is cut through with live musical performances from the UK reggae outfit, Aswad.

As a testament to the polished final production, Black Future was later shown on BBC2’s community access program, Open Door, in November and December of 1977 and screened at Newcastle, London, and Oxford film festivals. It remains an honest snapshot into the lives of inner-city ethnic youth, and the struggle for employment in the post-industrial towns of the North. O’Brien himself had a glittering career in the 1980s, working for the BBC (he is perhaps best known for the drama series, Jewel In The Crown, 1984) and the adaptation of a Beryl Bainbridge novel for feature film (The Dressmaker) in 1988.

Jewel In The Crown (Dir. Jim O’Brien, 1984)

While his direct connections to the YAA and the region itself seem limited, in many respects Black Future is one of the standout films of the period, and it is evidently the work of a film-maker heading to bigger budgets, the BBC, and London. As was often the case, this is a well-worn path in the history of YAA film-makers – especially in the 1970s. O’Brien died in 2012 and his life was celebrated across the industry.

Watch this space for more on Bradford history, especially activity at the nexus of the Playhouse Theatre, Art College, and the Yorkshire Communication Centre.

end.

[1] Jim Pearse interview, 2018.

[2] Press release YAA unpublished. 1977

[3] Andrew’s current work can be found here – http://andrewyeadon.com/ my thanks for his interest in the project.

[4] Quote from film