An Englishman abroad
Almost five years ago, 60 or 70 people crammed into Fuel Café Bar in Manchester to watch My DDR T-Shirt. It was the first time the film had ever been screened in public and it was a big deal for me – for two reasons.
Firstly, it had taken me three years to make it. Apart from actual editing time, I had all kinds of technical problems and no money to fix them. I also made a few personal/life changes and there were long periods when I wondered if I’d ever finish the film. It was a massive relief to have a final edit.
Secondly, it was my last night in Manchester – well, as a fella who lived and worked there. I’d been in the same flat for around ten years and I loved it. It was home, but the day after the screening, I left Manchester to start a new job in a new town.
Making My DDR T-Shirt was often a lonely experience. Filmmaking can be that way. It’s intensely solitary – just you, the computer and your project. You can never trust whether that sequence you love is as good as you think. This is why the first screening of a project is so important. It’s absolutely nerve-shredding, but there’s no better way to test your work and gauge the response.
On that night at Fuel in 2008, the room began to fill and eventually overflow. Literally, standing room only. When the film started, one of the biggest thrills was to watch the audience. In the darkened space, faces lit by the light of the DIY screen, people were really watching my film – just like they’d watch any film in a cinema. I don’t know what I expected, but that was amazing.
Of course, many of the audience were friends – perhaps 60% or so. Because I was leaving Manchester the next day, the screening was a moment to reflect on the social network I was part of back then. There were some good friends in the audience. I haven’t kept in touch with them all, but it was great to appreciate them for a moment before I left.
Making a film and making so many friends and aquaintances felt like affirmation of things that were important to me. I was anxious about leaving those people and that life behind, but at least there was a legacy to be proud of. I felt pretty lucky.
In March this year, a friend organised another screening of My DDR T-Shirt, right here in Berlin. Although My DDR T-Shirt has screened in several countries since 2008, it was the first time it had been shown in Germany. The venue was St Gaudy Café in Prenzlaur Berg, similar to Fuel in many ways. And just like the first screening, the room was full.
Watching the film again, I had a chance to reflect on the journey I’d made since leaving Manchester. Ultimately, it was a journey that led me to Berlin.
And just like that first screening, I had chance to take a look at my friends and appreciate them. I’ve met so many people since moving here: from Berlin, elsewhere in Germany and around the world. Lots of nice people – though not all of them were at the screening (this isn’t a passive/aggressive dig at people that didn’t come to watch!).
Although I’ve lived in Berlin over two years, most of the friends had no idea I’d made a film about the GDR. Perhaps I could’ve mentioned it earlier? But I’m not very good at that self-publicising kinda stuff.
In a creative city like Berlin, cafés and venues like St Gaudy are crucial. They don’t just serve Kaffee und Kuchen, they organise all kinds of activities and events. Hats off to Berlin’s independent café culture. For people like me – who follow that stoopid instinct to make stuff – they offer a platform. Be it a cinema, a stage, a workshop, a performance space, an anything. Thank you St Gaudy Café.
Because the screening went so well, St Gaudy were happy to screen my second full length film, A Nuclear Family, a few weeks later. It was the first ever public screening and just as big a deal as that first Fuel screening in 2008.
Yet again, good friends and nice people came to watch. And again, it was nerve-shredding to present your work for the first time. Hundreds and hundreds of hours have gone in to making A Nuclear Family. The film tells a story that’s pretty rooted in northern England, but the making of it and post-production are pure Berlin. It’s been a big part of my time here. Berlin enabled me to do it and I’ve made some cool friends along the way.
It was great to share such a crucial moment with my Berlin friends. Thank you to everyone who came. You engaged with the film and most importantly, you enjoyed it. It was enormously encouraging and the Q&A/debate at the end was fascinating. It helped me believe I had a project worth showing, and that was fantastic.
I wonder where I’ll be five years after this first screening? Hopefully, I’ll be having as good a time as I am now. But just like the screening at Fuel, I’ll still be in touch with some of the people who were there. Some people slip off your radar, and you off theirs, but that’s life, right? And sometimes, like the screenings I’ve described here, you get chance to step back, take a look at your life and appreciate how lucky you are.
I’ll be arranging more screenings of A Nuclear Family. If you’re interested, get the latest information on Facebook, Google+ or A Nuclear Family. Or if you want to help organise a screening near you, let’s do it. We need lots of help so if you feel like sharing your skills, contacts and ideas, get in touch.