A documentary about the Welsh steel plant threatened with closure won the Vice Rule Britannia pitch at Sheffield Doc/Fest 2016. Sibling filmmakers Shelley and Jamie Jones won £25,000 for their documentary Port Talbot: A Little Town Built on Steel focusing on a group of employees who are contemplating their futures in the face of the company’s possible closure.
On announcing the winner, George Pank who chaired the pitch event praised the film for its timeliness, ambition and intimacy. Wendie Ottewill, Vice UK’s executive producer for digital programming said that the team had ‘an incisive eye for the tone of Rule Britannia and balanced the warmth and humour we look for, with the grit required to cover this complex subject’.
Shelley and Jamie Jones pitched alongside four other teams who had been chosen from 120 entries. Wendie was accompanied on the selection panel by fellow Vice UK employees William Fairman (Senior Producer) and Rhys James (Senior Producer, Director).
Before the pitches started the team explained what would make an ideal Rule Britannia film. Wendie explained that she was looking for great access, robust characters, humour, pathos and something that would surprise the viewer. Will added that he was looking for a film with an authentic voice that would give a unique perspective on what’s happening in the country – a ‘sign of the times’ that would spark debate.
Each filmmaking team did a short pitch, which included showing a 90 second teaser. And the panel then grilled the filmmakers, trying to find out which film best exemplified everything the Rule Britannia strand stands for. The key focus of the questions were around ‘access and narrative’.
Port Talbot: A Little Town Built on Steel
Wendie asked the sibling team if they had secured access to anyone from the ‘other side’ i.e someone who would explain why Tata Steel has to close down to show conflicting voices in the film. William wanted to know if there was anything in the film that would show that there could be a positive future for the employees. In a similar vein, Wendie wanted to know if there would be any surprises in store in the film.
Rhys asked about the timeline of the film and was concerned that there would not be a beginning, middle and end. However, the filmmakers assuaged him on this point as a key decision in July will lie at the dramatic heart of the film.
Act of Hunting – Louis Leeson and Mark Young
Louis had secured access to the anti hunt activists after photographing them over a long period of time and the panel wanted to know if they would be able to secure access to the fox hunters themselves. Wendie asked how they would manage to secure access on both sides given their opposition to each other and how the narrative of the sides could be weaved together. The team explained how the film would not just pit the two groups against each other, giving an example of how an anti-hunt activist who worked as a paramedic ended up giving treatment to a fox hunter who had fallen off his horse.
Gypsy Girls – Charles Newland
Given that Charles is a member of the Gypsy community himself, the panel was interested to know whether this would affect the objectivity of the film and whether or not he would be prepared to ask the girls difficult questions. They wanted to know what Charles was curious about and what he was hoping to uncover in the film.
The panel also asked Charles if he had access to the parents of the Gypsy girls to give a different perspective on the girls’ lives.
Pleasure Boys – Alice and Emily Stein
The panel wanted to know how they got the access to the group of male strippers, what the main narrative of the film would be and what made this a Rule Britannia film, as opposed to just an access film about strippers. The filmmakers explained that it was about masculinity and the panel delved further asking whether they would try to change perceptions about strippers and if they would address how stripping has become a dying trade (which it isn’t according to the filmmakers).
Queen Muay – Raeshib Aggerwhil
Wendie asked if the film would show that the main character – a female Muslim Thai kickboxer with chronic fatigue – had a dilemma of being caught between two worlds. She was also curious to know if the pressure to have a family would be apparent in the film. Following on from this, Rhys asked if Raeshib had access to the character’s immediate family.
The panel wanted to know what the film would be exploring in relation to the character’s chronic fatigue. For example, has she got any decisions to make re the illness? William asked what does the character want? And when she’s not in the ring what does she do, what is her personality?