Saturday, 5 December 2009

Starsuckers goes on the road...

Have spent the best part of the last 2 weeks zig zagging around this fair island, screening the film in a very wide variety of locations. Tour highlights thus far:

Edinburgh On the train about an hour away from Waverly station, I was approached by a not unattractive member of the opposite sex who asked: "Are you Chris Atkins?". The endorphins kicked in and my ego swelled. "Yes" I responded as though I got asked this all the time. "Well, I work for the PCC." Once I got over the initial shock of the absurd coincidence, we had a very pleasant chat about how I had made a film that rubbished their entire organisation. It transpired that the entire PCC took an office outing to the afternoon screening of Starsuckers at the London film festival. Apparently someone asked me during the Q&A if there was anything practical that could be done about the appalling state of the British news media, and my response was "Abolish the PCC." Not unsurprisingly this put a bit of a downer over their little cinema trip. I apologised for ruining their day, and elaborated that I didn't think that the idea of a PCC was a bad one, and that actually the code was fairly written, but the fact that it is run and paid for by the newspaper editors themselves, has made it a laughing stock that nobody inside or outside the newspaper industry takes the slightest bit seriously as a regulator. She said that the newspaper editors don't "run" it, and that the PCC does do it's job properly. I pointed out that we had caught a journalist on undercover camera boasting that PCC complaints were "brushed aside" by editors and seen as a "slap on the wrist", and that it was "run" by the newspapers editors, to which she responded that in her view I had unfairly entrapped that journalist. Intrigued as to how filming someone attempting to break the law counts as entrapment, I asked her to explain this interesting defence - especially as The People newspaper refused to comment and the journalist herself has since lost her job. She wouldn't elaborate any further on the entrapment theory, but this did to me illustrate the fundamental problem with the PCC - they are there to protect and serve the interests of the newspapers themselves, not the public. Anyway she seemed a very nice and decent person, which also goes to show a wider point which is that the people working for these organisations - be it the PCC or a tabloid newspaper - are not themselves unpleasant or malicious, but they happen to work in places that structurally designed to profit from lying to the public.

Eggham, Surrey. Spent the whole day screening the film at Strodes 6th form college. Their head of media studies decided that the entire college needed to see the film, and we turned the hall into a mini cinema in the morning and did 3 screenings followed by Q&A's during the day. Very sharp questioning from the students, who are much more likely to throw a curved ball question than older audiences. It did feel like a very new and exciting form of film distribution: no cinema, not even a distributor - just the film maker screening directly to the public. Plus they paid in cash which has cheered fliss the producer up no end. We've had a cash box gathering dust in the office for the last 2 years, and now we finally have some actual money to put in it. My proposition to stick it all behind the bar for the Starsuckers Christmas drinks has been firmly rejected, and unfortunately it's all destined to the lawyers benevolent fund.

Crewe Screening in the theatre/cinema in South Cheshire College to several hundred 6th formers. Drove up the night before (only problem with these school screenings is the painfully early start) and discovered that Dan the co-ordinator had taken the economy drive a bit too seriously and booked me into a "hotel" that resembled the flea pit in the Blues Brothers that Jake and Elwood spend the night in right before Carrie Fisher blows it up with a rocket launcher. Having said that the great advantage of staying in something that more resembles a borstal than a hotel, is that they don't have any fire alarms so you can smoke in the room. The delightful Linda Buchanan (head of media at South Cheshire College) insisted I come out for a drink, and I found myself gate crashing the Christmas party of the Natwich Bookgroup, which I have to say was a lot more pleasant than crashing Harvey Winestiens party at the BAFTAs. Couple of hundred students trooped in to see the film the following day, and I was confronted by probably the best question thus far from all the Q&A's:

Student: You know how your film, like, says that the media is all lies.
Atkins: That's about right.
Student: Well what if your film's all lies?
Atkins: Er, good point.

Drove out of Crewe, only to be pulled over by 2 members of The Cheshire Constabulary who took exception to me dancing whilst driving on the motorway.

Northampton Forum Cinema Screened to a packed cinema, so the word must be getting out somehow. Again lots of media students in the audience - I know this as 2 of them had a very heated exchange with their teacher in the corridor where I happened to be tapping away on my laptop. The gist of the debate from what I could overhear was that they wanted to quit their course, as the film had shown the world of media to be full of lies, corruption and deceit. It occurred to me that we have just made something which to some people is the equivalent of sitting in a room full of young children and explaining that Santa Claus doesn't exist and the tooth fairy is actually their mum.

Next week is pretty busy - Sunday 6th is Richmond Curzon 2pm, with Q&A hosted by the delightful Riz Ahmed (brilliant young actor who played the lead in the superb "Shifty", and the BAFTA winning "Britz"). Tuesday is a special screening at the BFI on their Popular Press day. Apparently someone from the PCC was going to come down and give a talk as well, but have now apparently backed out once they heard I was going to be there. Heaven forbid that anyone from a public body that is supposed to serve the interests of the public ACTUALLY has a public debate with the public about extremely serious questions that have been raised about their organistion. If they do have a change of heart I'll happily debate with them just how effective the PCC is, and see if we can get it filmed and put on the blog.

Screenings are still being booked now right up to March. Ideally we'd like to get the film booked into as many cinemas as possible, so do email your local independent cinema asking to get it played. In some cases we are arranging private screenings - especially to schools and colleges that are having difficulty arranging school trips, so do email us at to talk about setting something up.

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