A Visit to the Mockingbird

Our new cohort of FTV students are now well into their first term at Birmingham. We’ve had an exciting timetable packed with seminars, screenings, guest workshops and practical training, and last month we also arranged a trip to the Mockingbird Theatre in Digbeth, led by Professor Roger Shannon. In this blog, Magdalena Swiatek shares her reflections on the day and some fascinating insights into Birmingham’s film culture, past and present. 

MagdalenaSwiatek (2)In Week 2 we – the new FTV Students – took a trip to the Mockingbird Theatre in the Custard Factory to meet Roger Shannon, producer and Professor of Film and TV, and alumnus Luke Smith, who had just finished the MA.

Luke showed us his amazing dissertation documentary about his first stand-up performance and talked about his experiences during the MA. He recounted the process of filming, his successes and the mistakes he made. It was motivating to hear how a former student experienced the year on the course and I´m sure all of us took a lot out of this meeting.

Afterwards, Roger Shannon gave us an overview over Birmingham´s film history and its meaning for the UK film industry. Even though the industry is not quite as vivid as it was before in Birmingham, there are still loads of opportunities for us to discover here. 

Birmingham and Film

Birmingham´s film history started in 1862 with the discovery of celluloid. Around 60 years later, in the early 20th century, three Brummies – Michael Balcon, Victor Saville and Oscar Deutsch – started to take over the film world from the West Midlands.

Michael Balcon (1896 – 1977)  – the honoured film producer who discovered Alfred Hitchcock was born in Birmingham. After the war he and his friend Victor Saville opened a film distribution company in London and started to produce films. In the late 1930s, Balcon was Head of the Ealing Company, one of Britain´s most famous studios.

Victor Saville (1895 – 1979) – the film director, producer and screenwriter celebrated his success in the UK as well as in Hollywood. During his life he worked on over 70 films.

Oscar Deutsch (1893 – 1941) – the founder of the ODEON cinemas was born in Birmingham as a son of Hungarian Jews. The first ‘Oscar Deutsch Entertains Our Nation’ (ODEON) – cinema was opened close to Birmingham in 1928. After this, many others followed all over the UK. 10 years later there were already over 250 ODEONs. The architecture and interior design were their unique recognition value. Today the ODEON remains one of the most important cinemas in Birmingham.

Birmingham´s Cinemas Today

The ODEON – located in the city centre of Birmingham, the ODEON prides itself on offering the best cinema experience, just as Oscar Deutsch promised. With 8 screens, the cinema offers a variety of current films.

Cineworld – on Broad Street, surrounded by pubs, clubs and restaurants, the cinema is located in the heart of the city. With 12 screens, the Cineworld offers a big range of top films for every age and interest.

The Electric – the oldest working cinema in Britain has been showing films since 1909. On two screens the viewer can experience loads of indie films, performance screenings and classics in addition to the latest film releases. A regular view of the program is worthwhile.

030715 Mockingbird

Our MA mascot, MacGuffin, at The Mockingbird

The Mockingbird Theatre – a Bistro, Bar and Theatre placed in the Custard Factory. Beside theatre plays and music gigs, the film club hosts festivals and organises indie film screenings

Midlands Arts Centre – one of the most important and diverse art centres in Birmingham; offering exhibitions, courses, theatre, music and of course films. It shows a range of new released films, art-house films and live screenings.

Everyman Cinemas – this independent cinema is located in the Mailbox in Birmingham. The uniqueness of this venue is its atmosphere and fancy cosiness.

A big thank you to the team at The Mockingbird for hosting us, and to Roger and Luke for sharing their knowledge and expertise!

Magdalena Swiatek

Favourite Kids’ TV Shows

With CBBC marking its 30th anniversary yesterday, we asked FTV students and staff which kids’ television programmes made an impression on their childhood.

Very few of the students remembered the days of Otis the Aardvark in the Broom Cupboard (making placement coordinator Jemma feel rather old!) but a lot of the favourites mentioned have stood the test of time, such as Zach’s programme of choice Pingu, arguably an all-time classic.

One of Shane’s favourites was Power Rangers, while Katharine has fond memories of singing along to the theme tune of Barney & Friends, which featured a purple anthropomorphic dinosaur. Incidentally, it transpires that programme convenor Dr Richard Langley knows all the words to the opening theme of Pinky and the Brain, a series about two laboratory mice who endeavour to take over the world.

Other favourites include Tracy Beaker (Mariam) and Horrible Histories (Luke). Our technician Oz says that Dick and Dom In Da Bungalow was a highlight of his Saturday mornings, as it was anarchic and reminiscent of Tiswas. Rob, on the other hand, claims that every time he watched Sesame Street he felt like he was doing his Dad a favour, and, controversially, that he hated Bernard’s Watch.

Although CBBC has only existed since 1985, television programmes aimed specifically at
children have been around for decades, with the long-running Blue Peter first airing iMcGuffin and Clangern 1958. This year has also seen the reincarnation of The Clangers on the CBeebies channel, a stop-motion animation set in space that was first broadcast in 1969, but has proved popular again with a 21st Century audience. What our mascot MacGuffin thinks of these creatures from the little blue planet, however, is less certain…

Deal or No Deal

On Monday 27 April, a group of FTV students travelled to Bristol to be in the studio audience for a recording of popular gameshow Deal or No Deal.

IMG_5220Armed with our confidentiality forms, we were welcomed into the audience area where there were lots of opportunities for photos – including, of course, with the FTV course mascot, MacGuffin.

Once inside the studio itself, we were seated on tiered benches and able to observe the final preparations for the recording, including the random allocation of boxes to each contestant. There was an audience warm up and then the theme tune played, the lights started flashing, and before we knew it Noel Edmonds was centre stage and the cameras were rolling.

We cheered and groaned as the game developed with the opening of each box, all feeling the tension far more as we saw events play out in person than when watching from our living room sofas. The dramatic changes in lighting each time the phone rang and Noel liaised with the Banker added to the atmosphere of anticipation. (As to the Banker, his identity remains a mystery!)

After the recording, the show’s director kindly undertook a Q&A session, providing us with some further insights into how Deal or No Deal is made and also offering the students tips for the next stages in their careers.

A big thank you to all the team at Remarkable Television in Bristol for such an interesting and enjoyable day!



Announcing the One Minute Movie Competition Winners!

On Tuesday evening we welcomed visitors to our third annual screening event, showcasing work by recent alumni of the MA. At the start of the second half, entries to the inaugural One Minute Movie Competition were also screened, and the winners were announced. The judges were hugely impressed by the range of creativity in all the submissions and awarded first prize to Dan White (BA American & Canadian Studies and English Literature) for his film An Interesting Trip.

The runners up were:

Imran Qureshi Exhibition – Anastasia Kharchenko

22:00 – A team effort from Jack Crowe, Vafa Motamedi, Tom Lofkin, Anya Hancock and Cameron Blair.

A big thank you to all who entered and everyone who attended on Tuesday. Congratulations to the winners!

L-R: Vafa Motamedi, Jack Crowe, Dr Richard Langley and Dan White

Left to right: Vafa Motamedi, Jack Crowe, Dr Richard Langley and Dan White.

Actuality Media Outreach to Kisumu, Kenya

Before completing his MA last September, Sam Robbins spent several weeks in Kenya producing a documentary film with Actuality Media. From the email that began his journey, to an award nomination for the finished project, here’s his account of the outreach programme.Sam R blog

In August 2014, I travelled to Kenya as part of the Actuality Media team. I’d been forwarded a link to their website by the MA staff, took a quick look at their page and pretty much decided right away that I wanted to do it. I’d been stuck at home for a while; before enrolling on FTV the bulk of my time was spent earning money for its tuition, then once I was there staying at home saved me that bit more from accommodation fees. I’d already lived it up in my undergraduate days, so it seemed the sensible option with no student loan available.

No surprise, living at home made me pretty restless though. I was more and more determined to get out and do something new and exciting, something ambitious and out of my comfort zone. I’d never even heard of The Study Abroad Programme that Actuality Media were offering, it came from nowhere, just some random email that I happened to pursue. I saw the words, ‘outreaches in Kenya, Ecuador and Cambodia’ and I was sold. The worst thing I could be was all talk about wanting to do this and that, it just took a little spontaneity and I was committed.

So roll-on August! That was my mentality for the next few months. I was accepted onto the Kenya outreach to be Producer for a short documentary on Palos Farm, a permaculture farm based in the sugarcane region of Kisumu. My team consisted of myself – the Producer – and three others: a Director, Cinematographer and Editor. So with twelve of us on the programme, that made three groups each working on separate documentaries within Kisumu, all of us relatively new to the work. To overlook and guide us on these projects, as it was so new to us, there were also two Production Supervisors offering their expertise in helping us create a polished piece.


Things kicked off with research. The first two weeks were dedicated to making a plan of attack. Whilst the leg work had already been done, liaising with the organisations we were going to document, we still had to discover a unique story to chronicle. Part of the outreach scheme was that each organisation we worked alongside was promoting social change in the community. Palos Farm was introducing a new, sustainable means of farming that could improve the livelihood of workers in the region. Meanwhile, the other two groups were working with the local charities SWAP (Safe Water and Aids Project) and the YCCM (Young County Change Makers). As Actuality Media were keen to find a strong protagonist to tell each organisation’s story, this meant uncovering an individual that had been positively affected by their NGO’s work. These protagonists were to take centre stage, a character with a compelling life that could promote all the work that each program had done for them.

Blog - Palos Farm Nursery (2)For my group, a large amount of research was spent immersing ourselves in Palos Farm. We learnt the structure and goals of the farm, what they were growing and why, and we also met and talked to a lot of the farmhands. It took some delving and at times work with a translator, but we soon met our protagonist in one of these farmhands, a supervisor named Joseph.

Once this was decided we had to structure our documentary. This meant creating an arc for Joseph’s story, specifically pointing to how Palos Farm had helped him and his family. We had to know beforehand how we were going to edit the film together and visually capture moments that backed-up what was being said. We needed to create a shot list, determine interviewees and decide on locations and the necessary questions to ask. In all, it meant putting together a production schedule that would take us neatly into week three; shooting week.


This week was all go, early starts, long days and a lot of organisation. We weren’t just spontaneously taking the camera around the farm, at the beginning of each day we needed to know the footage we were going to be able to log by its end. Having only a week to capture all the necessary material meant our days had to be carefully structured. There were times when we were re-enacting and working with large groups of people, some with limited English and most who had barely seen a camera before. To an extent, this was also why research had to be so thorough, we needed the documentary’s contributors to be comfortable around us and the equipment before any essential work.

Once we’d collected all the footage, the final week of the month was dedicated to editing the piece. With a story arc and corresponding shot list already compiled, it was now a question of stitching the documentary together and deciding what worked best. There was a large amount of material that needed logging, including some substantial interviews that kept our editor, in particular, working a lot of long hours. The dialogue often needed subtitling and most of the sequences were regularly altered as the piece took shape. The whole process also met setbacks, such as our protagonist asking us to omit certain information for the screening in Kenya, that meant rearranging the documentary. Although we were under the clock, we managed to complete our film in time for the local screening at the end of the month; an opportunity to showcase the result of our efforts.

Exploring KenyaBlog - Masai Mara

Of course, the month wasn’t all work though, our evenings and weekends were free to explore all that Kenya had to offer. This meant crossing the equator to visit Kenya’s only tropical rainforest, the Kakamega. It meant a boat trip across Lake Victoria to sight hippos and crocodiles, football games against locals, trips to Kisumu’s markets and nights out in restaurants and on the town. But best of all, a road trip to the Masai Mara game reserve, where we spent three days enjoying its world-famous safari drive and the great Wildebeest Migration.

For me, Actuality Media was the perfect program. If you’re into home comforts then maybe it’s not your thing, but it was exactly the experience I was looking for. I got to get out and immerse myself in a new culture and part of the world, working on a challenging project with a meaningful cause. It opened my eyes to a much wider world, all while testing and improving me as a filmmaker.           

Permanent Culture is available to view below and at http://vimeo.com/106930298, (remember to choose captions to watch it with subtitles). It has been shortlisted as a finalist for the 2015 Social Media Impact Awards in the Impact Videos Category.

Sam Robbins

The Off-Beat Path: Freelance Economics, Spiritual Wonderings and the Arts

Parul Punjabi Jagdish graduated from FTV in 2013. Since then he has developed a portfolio career, working in both Europe and Asia as a filmmaker and economist. His films have been screened at several international festivals and in this guest blog he shares his thoughts on the connections between cinema, life and spirituality.

ParulMy journey has been a bit more circuitous than many others’ from the course. And truth be told, it is not surprising at all: even when I joined the MA in September 2012, my motives were not merely making it big in cinema or becoming a filmmaker. The reason I joined, with no pretenses whatsoever, was to discover the ‘right path’ in life. Inspired by the Russian filmmaker, Andrei Tarkovsky (my favourite, if I can call any filmmaker that), I took to cinema mainly because I believed that when an artist engages in the act of creation, he (willingly or not) connects to his Creator. I never looked upon cinema as a medium of story-telling alone or a form of entertainment; it was a language of images and sounds through which experiences (from this world or beyond) could be communicated, or at least shared. “Share a sublime, purging trauma” between the filmmaker and the audience, if you will. Watching one or more of my films (though I frankly will admit the films were never meant for mass consumption and hence will not be appreciated by everyone) will help in understanding what I’m on about.

Anyhow, even I could not have even vaguely predicted the path my life ended up taking. While making the movies I so dearly cherished on the MA, several wondrous experiences came to pass. While I was locked up in my room, meditating on the dissertation film and its idea, images began to appear (dream-like) from nowhere particular and in a way I was ‘guided’ to make the film I made. Naturally, the urge to return to my country after the year in UK and to experience first-hand all these mystical utterances and experiences brought me promptly back to India after completing the MA. I set out to the Himalayan foothills and wandered, lost in abandoned caves or populated monasteries, seeking out the meaning of life, ‘the purpose of my existence’. Films were, so to say, a medium to lead me there. I admit that when I began it was about the films itself, but soon films became the container and the focus shifted to the content (life itself). The story of what all transpired in the monastery and afterwards is too long for such a brief account as this. Only, a spiritual awakening occurred, whereby the ideal became to love and to serve, rather than to lead and to condemn. It was more important to experience everything that life offered and not run after anything particular, to flow with the river instead of against the current.

After all that, I returned back to my mother’s home, then back to Italy for a while (where I lived a full life, working as an economist) and tried to set right all the wrongs. Of course, it is not an easy process, nor does it ever stop, for man makes more mistakes than he rectifies. And it is all right, it is part of living itself. In any case, returning to the story of my life, I sent my films to festivals and they were well received (in India, Thailand, UK, and now there’s something coming up in France). What I found particularly useful was shortfilmdepot.com with a listings of various festivals and the possibility to submit films online for screening. It was from that website I started and it led to several other festivals not included on the website.

While working on my dissertation project, I also received an opportunity to collaborate with a local UK artist, the painter Sara Hayward, and we ended up creating another abstract film (see above, and it should still be screening at the Winterbourne House and Gardens). In short, the films did reasonably well on the festival circuit and I took back my job as an economist, though of course working as a freelancer and from home. Now, I work freelance on public policy (to earn my keep), am developing a few scripts and even short stories/ novels, and tons of other things.

I cannot say this or that path is better: each one of us has his own marked out. Mine has taken me wandering both within myself and in the outside world and the objective now is to try to live in harmony with all that I see, both within and without. I feel films are no different: they do not have to mimic life, so long as they exist in harmony with the world outside. Life can (perhaps must, for what else do we have) inspire cinema, but cinema does not need to be a copying machine, reproducing scenes from life as they are. Let us first question how things really are! Do not take that as advice: the only advice I can proffer is to live life fully and to set out on your individual paths. Be not afraid to explore and be ever more daring in trying to express the experiences of your journey. Do not be bound by conventions; think of cinema as a new language to express the very stuff of the soul (words naturally cannot do justice to such a mission, and that is why we have poetry, that connects disparate things and creates a mosaic and makes us see the ‘in-between’ things).

Seek, and ye shall find! God bless…

Parul Punjabi

One Minute Movie Competition

The Department of Film and Creative Writing is pleased to announce its inaugural One-Minute Movie Competition!

This year, the University’s Arts and Science Festival (Monday 16th – Sunday 22nd March) is running on the theme of ‘Sight and Sound’, and we are asking you to submit one-minute films on that topic. You can take any approach you like – fact or fiction, literal or abstract, it’s up to you.

The competition is open to all University of Birmingham students (undergraduate and postgraduate) and the winner will be announced at a Department of Film and Creative Writing Screening Event to be held on the evening of Tuesday 17th March  2015.

First prize is an Amazon Kindle Fire HD!

The Rules

  1. Your film must match the theme of ‘Sight and Sound’.
  1. You must have copyright control of any audio or visual material that goes into your movie. This means either filming it yourself or using audio-visual material to which you have copyright permission. There are many sources of copyright free images, videos, music and other audio material available online that can be used under appropriate Creative Commons licenses.
  1. Your film must not exceed one-minute (60 seconds) in length.

Deadline for Submissions

1.00pm on Friday 6th of March

Submission Format

Films can be submitted on DVD to the Film and Creative Writing departmental office (4th Floor, Arts, opposite the lifts) to Jemma Saunders or Dr. Richard Langley.

Alternatively, films can be submitted via a USB drive at the same location, again to either Jemma or Richard.


If you have any questions about format, content, copyright, or anything else related to the competition, then please email Dr. Richard Langley on r.m.langley@bham.ac.uk.

If you are interested in attending the screening on 17th March, please email Jemma Saunders on j.j.saunders@bham.ac.uk