An envoy of creative talent from Birmingham will be flying the flag at Westminster today to say why Birmingham is a great destination for the creative industries. Apparently the BBC are playing a big part in the promotion of the city despite making Birmingham based programmes like ‘Peaky Blinders’ and ‘Citizen Khan’ everywhere but Birmingham. Thankfully, Channel Four decided to make ‘Benefits Street’ here, or we’d be relying on the staple diet of ‘Doctors’, ‘Gadget Show’ and ‘Embarrassing Bodies’ to sustain the local creatives.
Don’t get me wrong, I think it is great that people are proactively lobbying Parliament for recognition of Birmingham. But the inference of ‘Birmingham Day’ is that every other day is about some other place. Whilst I love the fact that for one day, every three months, the focus is on our city, it would be really awesome if it was constantly in the mind of Parliamentarians that there are a whole load of cities outside of London that a) elect them, and b) expect them to represent us in Parliament. Daily.
‘It’s better than doing nothing’
The purpose of this event is to represent the city in Westminster. Sure, it may raise the profile of the city and remind them that there is somewhere north of Watford. ‘What harm can it do? It’s better than doing nothing!’
Is it really though? The problem is, when you don’t make things here, you don’t have control over the way in which you’re seen in the wider world. It’s why the media representation of Sparkhill is ‘Citizen Khan’ and Islamic fundamentalist schools. But is ‘Birmingham Day’ really challenging that image, or is it contributing to it by reducing our potential to a series of ‘days’ where we explain what Birmingham ‘is’? Derry and Hull each won the right to have a year celebrating their culture at a national level, Birmingham failed in their bid so they get a ‘day dedicated to culture’.
Am I right in thinking that we are lobbying Government in the hope that they will be encouraged to make things here, by promoting that we already do make things here? If so, we could do so much more for ourselves. We could take control of the things that our city council has influence over, like the swathes of unused factory space, and encourage creatives to pitch for their use. We could reverse the noise abatement orders that have choked the creative district of Digbeth. We could empower Film Birmingham with a small production fund that could be used to encourage filmmaking in the region. We could create a space in the city centre that would be the destination for all creatives wishing to meet, greet and exhibit, so that when people like Ted Hope and Christine Vachon come to town, we wouldn’t have to host them in the back of a Digbeth pub.
We did bring Ted Hope and Christine Vachon to Birmingham and we are trying to make a film here, but neither of these pursuits are profitable and sustainable in Birmingham if people (or politicians) don’t support them. A Government that loves a free-market as much as this one, isn’t going to do it for the love of Birmingham. If we want it here, it has to start with support from ourselves.
It is interesting seeing it from a 72 Project perspective. We’ve made these movies before in Galway and Melbourne, two cities that could be considered ‘second cities’ in their respective countries. They have thriving cultural scenes whereby the locals invest heavily in the preservation of the culture because it is a meaningful economic driver in their economy. They invite people like us, to make a 72 in their region because it brings our money into the local economy (hotels and food etc), and it provides unique content for the locals to part with their shekels also (festival admissions etc). Audiences support the festivals wholeheartedly, and it becomes a platform for cultural diplomacy and international business. The Leonardo Project that runs from the Lighthouse in Wolverhampton to various places in Ireland grew with the support of the 72 Project, as did the MSc in Digital Feature Film in Dublin with Staffordshire University. When communities come together to create, support and celebrate something cultural in this way, the product travels and becomes the way in which lines of communication open and take place. When we made a film in Melbourne and then took it to festivals around the world, it reinforced the notion that Melbourne is a great cultural place to be. The Melbourne people and businesses recognise this and got behind our movie to make it happen.
In fairness, at I mentioned at the start, it is a proactive thing to set up when faced with the unfathomable complexity of trying to convince ‘the people’. The MP responsible for the event would be criticised if she wasn’t seen to promote Birmingham in parliament, so she is most definitely positive in this sense. In all likelihood it is a constructive response to ‘the people’ in her constituency who would be damning her if she didn’t organise Birmingham Day. I only wonder whether ‘Birmingham’s-not-shit Day’ actually translates to ‘Birmingham-is-shit Day’ purely because of the need to have it in the first place?
As local filmmakers, we need the public to help for all of the above reasons. The money we need is to be spent in the local economy and then we have something to take to festivals around the world that isn’t ‘Benefits Street’. We don’t plan to play it in parliament on ‘Birmingham Day’ to convince politicians that we are a creative economy, we plan to take it to festivals in other creative economies and open up more pathways like the Leonardo project, or the franchises at Staffordshire University, that bring jobs, opportunities and money into the region. We need help promoting to the public at large (even the Birmingham public) what Birmingham has to offer, not to the representatives of the public in Westminster.
We are making a movie in Birmingham. Please support us by contributing here.