Out of the shadows: B Movies for Birmingham
It seems, at long last, that the word ‘independent’ is beginning to carry as much weight and importance as some of the more conformist terms us filmgoers are used to when concerning the cinematic development of Birmingham ‘B movies’.
With independent filmmakers growing in strength and being given freedom of expression, the national screen that was once the desired and only realistic outcome of any production is now being bypassed, somewhat ironically, by the sheer evolvement of B movies. The international stage is where the filmmakers and visionaries of this category aspire to be, and aspire they will indeed.
The last few years have seen a number of independent movies win significant awards and gain an incredible amount of recognition from all over the globe. Pip Piper’s Last Shop Standing, which includes Birmingham’s very own record shop, The Diskery, on Bromsgrove Street, was named by Q magazine as one of the “top 10 DVDS in 2012”. Turbelence, a 2011 film by Micheal B. Clifford, which depicts a very fateful connection between a struggling pub and a local rock band, was shot in the fairytale of Kings Heath but in fact internationally premiered at Edmonton Film Festival, Canada. The leap might be surprising to the majority, but according to Roger Shannon, who did an interesting piece on Birmingham B movies in the Birmingham Post, it’s been a long time coming. He believes that B movies are:
“Independent in spirit, experimental in storytelling, filmically fluent, financially versatile and regionally centric. A film festival all on their own.”
It’s as if Roger Shannon took the ink from my pen before I had the chance to write a very similar anecdote. From that, what I enjoy and want to emphasize is the raw connection between the real life representations of characters and the personable feel the independent scene has brought to the viewer. When using the word ‘character’, the people we are watching are not elevated beyond our reach, which we are so often accustomed to when sitting eating our popcorn watching a blockbuster movie that cost us a weeks wages (sarcasm, or is it?) to go to. We can relate to B movies, as they are made by the people for the people.
The simplicity of that notion is as effective as it is long lasting. A ‘less is more’ approach is one I personally agree with. The individuality of both the filmmaker and their vision runs parallel with the cultural diversity and variation of Birmingham’s community. A local audience can engage and relate to what they are watching on screen, as filmmakers such as previously mentioned Clifford, or Mark Pressdee, who wrote and directed Titanic Love (2012) (which may I add won Best Screenplay Award at L.A’s Comedy Festival In Hollywood) have kept true to the core factors of B Movies; solely produced, directed and written by City filmmakers.
To now focus on the city centre itself, two locations that personify this ever growing B movie crusade are as follows: The Electric Cinema on station street, and the Custard Factory theatre. Being the UK’s oldest working cinema (1909), The Electric Cinema is by name as it is by nature, being bought and renovated in 2004 by local entrepreneur Tom Lawes and spending the last nine years under his guidance as a platform for emerging filmmakers to present their finest pictures, doing everything to help push the power that is independent films to the heights we see today.
The Custard Factory Theatre is placed in the heart of Digbeth, known for its alternative and dynamic background as well as its very independent music scene. There is a ‘monthly film club’ where in art-house, independent and cult films are shown in the mix. I strongly suggest you take a trip to both these places, as I hope this article has proven, if anything, that the shepherds of the independent B movies are starting to finally lead the mainstream sheep.