Category Archives: Documentary

Men of the City


Men of the City is the new feature documentary from Marc Isaacs’, a filmmaker with an incredible knack for managing to capture British life and people accurately. He filmed Men of the City over two years in the City of London, which for those who don’t know, is a square mile area within London itself and which is primarily the main business centre. The film focuses on four main characters, ranging from a high-end hedge fund manager to a street sweeper and we experience the crash through their journey and the effects it has on each of their lives. As is usual with Marc’s films no character is painted in either a sympathetic or negative light but merely presented as they are without judgement or assessment and again present is his ability to draw out the kind of on-camera admissions that most other filmmakers rarely eek out of their subjects.

Whether it was sheer luck or complete cunning to have started making a film in this area just before a major recession remains to be seen, but what it does mean is that Marc may have made the most insightful film we’ll see about the current economic situation and it’s effects.

isaacsOther recommended watching by Marc is The Lift, you can watch it in full at YouTube here and Second Run recently released a selection of his work available here

Men of the City will be shown as part of Storyville on BBC 4 on Saturday October 24th 2009 10.30pm

If you’re coming to Sheffield Doc/Fest you can see it’s showing at the following times:
Friday November 6th 17:05 Showroom 3
Saturday November 7th 12:15 Showroom 4

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Long distance inspiration

I had the pleasure of a completely unexpected call from a former classmate the other night, calling all the way from Pakistan.

It’s probably been close to a year since I last heard from Ali and to be honest I expected never to hear from him again, which made the phone call all the more fantastic.

Ali will be an amazing filmmaker, there’s no doubt about that. It’s in his blood. During our Masters I began to really like Ali as he lacks many of the social graces I do, in that he can’t tolerate bull***t, speaks his mind and isn’t afraid of putting people’s noises out of joint if they don’t agree with him. I’m not saying I always agreed with what he said, and that can be said from his perspective of me, but I certainly admired his complete focus to filmmaking and his constant desire to learn.

It was the first time I’d spoken to him since he completed his film and it was wonderful to just talk about the experience of making our respective films. We both shared an emotional rollercoaster in the process of the shoot, his far more so than mine as he was filming in Pakistan last summer throughout all of the numerous changes that happened in his country and the process left him drained and exhausted.

For the both of us the films had been less about an assignment as part of a course but our first chance to make films that we were desperate to make and to engage in something we were extremely passionate about.

Making a film about the Death Penalty challenged every sense of ethics, morality and justice that I have and really made me re-evaluate my own opinions in a way that has changed me forever. It was not an easy process and was mentally draining. Something I truly hope happens with every film that I make.

Ali’s experience was one that I can’t possibly comprehend, seeing his country combust whilst looking at it through a lens. Day in day out viewing political meltdown, death, grief and all the while dealing with the logistics of the shoot, while feeling as though you have to put your personal views of the situation to one side to remain impartial must have been unbelievably difficult. My experience pales in comparison.

Although he remains dejected about a large amount of the process, and still doubts and still feels frustrated it felt as though the experience had been worthwhile. Even though it feels like hell whilst it’s happening I can’t imagine Ali ever doing anything that wouldn’t push him to the extremes.
Making a light-hearted, safe film is just beyond his comprehension, and I hope mine.

More than anything the conversation made me feel extremely guilty that I haven’t picked up my camera for months. He was still in a place where the film was still consuming him and was still a massive part of his life, and I was jealous. It has been nearly a year since I finished the cut of my film that I submitted to uni and I felt ashamed.

I haven’t stepped back from documentary in any way but I have from filmmaking and my personal work. Although I have decided to put off attempting to be a full-time filmmaker for the time being, due to my lack of experience and need for further training, I am not using the camera enough and I am not in the mind set of just simply needing to be working at my filmmaking that I know Ali can never stop doing.

The phone call couldn’t have been more of a wake-up call and any better timed. My drive has returned and I have promised myself to make another film I care about before the end of the year.
So thank you Ali, even though you feel the film has pushed you to your limits you haven’t given up and you should be proud, and I can’t wait to see it.

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Cruel and Unusual?

So, I am half way through the shoot for my dissertation film. I’m in Texas and today stood outside the Walls Unit in Huntsville, Texas for the first execution of our stay.

It was, to put it extremely simply, horrible. I felt an overwhelming helplessness that someone was being killed a couple of hundred metres away from me and there was nothing I could do about it. The guards cordon off the area around the prison but the media are allowed to set up within the barrier just opposite the entrance to the prison. The witnesses to the execution have to walk past the media to enter the building and today I just couldnt join them. At the time I thought the media placement was disgusting but then I thought that actually the more coverage executions get the better. The more time we spend here the more we realise that the people who live in the town the death chamber is located in don’t even notice that executions are happening, or care. So why should the rest of the world? It sickens me that it was such a non-event. When researching this it never occured to me that there wouldn’t be throngs of protesters, vigils, media etc. How could there not be? State assisted homicide is surely something that would get thousands of people’s attention. But no, it’s such a common occurance that people are so de-sensitised to it. Plus the prison seems to try and make it as clinical and matter of fact as possible. In many ways I think that’s a good thing as it shouldn’t be an “attraction” however how can people not even notice that someone is being killed in their town? I just can’t understand it.

There is one man, who we have interviewed already, who attends every execution and stands across the street from the Walls Unit holding a candle, not protesting but just making a peaceful statement that he is acknowledging that this is taking place. He was obviously there today and I really hold my hat up to him for maintaining that action and his principals for something like 17 years. There were about 5 people there for the vigil and it was good to see that. The drive back left me shaken and I could barely talk for all the thoughts running through my mind. My brain was trying to numb the experience but I was conciously trying to put into perspective exactly what I just attended and the gravity of the situation. The only thing I could do was constantly imagine my usual life and then transpose the event that I had just attended into that. It’s shocking and it’s something that will stay with me forever. Although it disturbed me, I’m glad I was there. I think people should have to be there, especially the voting public of Texas as this is being carried out in their name.

Huntsville is such a nice place to be in, we’ve been there nearly everyday so far and it really is a joy to be there. It’s cute, the people are nice, the surrounding area is lovely and we have really been welcomed by people of all viewpoints. However within in that there is an immense awareness of all of the prison buildings, the numerous correctional officers in uniform walking around, the undeniable presence of the police and the fact that you occasionally see an inmate walking around in their prison clothing.

On our first day in town we drove up to the Walls Unit to just drive round it and to get a feel for the area. As I pulled up to the stop sign an inmate walked right in front of the car, on his own. I found that really strange. On our way round I gave way to an inmate driving a tractor and then looked to my right and saw an inmate watering the garden of a nearby house with a guard walking round chatting with him.

The next day we were doing some general shots of the town and I saw an inmate being taken to the doctors. Today and inmate brought out refreshments for the guards manning the cordoned area and as we started shooting we saw our second recently released inmate of the day (the are really distinctive because they are issued generic clothing, in this case both were wearing white t-shirts and fubu dungarees, and are holding their possessions in a clear plastic bag). But it was eerie to see a recently released man walking right in front of the cordoned off area just before an execution.

From the people we’ve talked to, it’s really just that they’re so used to it. The Walls Unit houses all the really low risk inmates and just happens to also house the chamber.

Every inmate that is released is processed at the Walls and some of them have been bussed hundreds of miles to Huntsville just to be released. They are given bus fare and must be out of town by sundown. Many are extremely far from home, or even where they’re been in prison for years. It must be extremely disorientating and scary.

Instead of rambling I should talk about how the film is going as that is the purpose of this blog. We have some great interviews down and the general shots are fairly easy. The best things so far have been our trip to Crockett and all that entailed and this amazing petrol station we stumbled upon which is location just down the road from the Walls Unit. It is owned by a Jordanian called John and another guy A.J. has his own cafe within the petrol station. They are both extremely intelligent, funny and interesting. We had a great afternoon filming with them andwe feel probably most at home there. Many people come and just hang out there to talk to these guys and to eat one of A.J’s amazing (and I say amazing) homemade sausages. We have met some incredible people while spending time there and to be honest I think a large amount of the film will come from there. So we have to keep going back there.

We have another execution tomorrow which I am dreading, but it has to be done and we have a few more interviews racked up for the next couple of days. I’m quite troubled about how to actually visualise the progression of the film so that I know to get what I need though. I’m trying to plan everything out but I still am unsure as to how to do it.

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