Cheap Thrills- Free film festival offers an alternative for the ‘lost arts’

A martial arts spoof by a nine year old. A Thunderbirds homage made in a shed. Adventure films with a cast of action men. These are just some of the short films you will see on Saturday at the Cheap Thrills Zero Budget Film Festival in Pitsmoor, Sheffield.

Cheap Thrills, Zero Budget Film Festival at Burngreave Chapel, Sheffield

Cheap Thrills, Zero Budget Film Festival at Burngreave Chapel, Sheffield

This free, family friendly screening claims to be about community and accessibility and not about money. The audience is invited to join the ‘counter culture for one night’ and to see how the arts can be enjoyed at very little cost.

With the abolishment of the UK Film Council in 2010 and subsequent cuts to funding for the film, arts and cultural industry, arts organisations in the UK continue to suffer the effects of the global recession. Lost Arts was set up by eight arts and culture unions and claims that access to arts and culture is a human right. On Wednesday 18 September they are forming a human chain in front of the National Gallery to call on the government to protect funding for arts and culture.

Yet, amidst all this doom and gloom, there are a group of people in Sheffield and Loughborough who are refusing any kind of funding. They are celebrating the freedom and possibilities that zero budget events can offer.

Two weeks to make it

Cheap Thrills Zero Budget Film Festival is an independent community event which began in 2011 after a group of Sheffield-based filmmakers won a prize of £750 in a film competition. Instead of dividing the prize money, filmmaker Martin Currie and his team decided to host a community film festival.

Cheap Thrills, Zero Budget Film Festival 2013

Cheap Thrills, Zero Budget Film Festival 2013

Martin and his colleagues Steve Pool and Peter Applerock won the 2 Weeks 2 Make It competition held annually by the South Yorkshire Filmmakers Network. They had teamed up with the band, Wilful Missing to produce a music video in two weeks on a zero budget.

Martin explains why they decided to hold a film festival with the winnings.

“Times were tight for all of us, none of us really had that much in the way of money so I was prepared to divide the money up and say goodbye to it. But I thought we had worked well together and I was pleased with what we had done so I tentatively asked whether we should put it into other projects or just divide the money and to my surprise everyone wanted to make more films.”

Cheap Thrills, Zero Budget Film Festival at Burngreave Chapel, Sheffield

Cheap Thrills, Zero Budget Film Festival at Burngreave Chapel, Sheffield

The group put together a two-hour programme of short films and bought a screen and projector for an evening screening in the Burngreave Chapel, Pitsmoor. Martin said it was nerve-racking waiting for the audience but when they finally came it was very rewarding to show their films to a live audience.

Here is an audio clip where Martin talks about the first night of the festival.

Martin said that everyone assumed the screening was an annual event so they decided that ‘rather than disappoint people’ they would put a zero budget festival on every year.

“We’ve now acquired all the gear that we need, so this year we are putting on two shows for £250 all in and we will put out buckets for contributions on the night. We should raise £250 and hopefully we will reach a big fat zero, because it is not about profit.”

Collaboration and freedom

Janet Currie, Martin’s sister, became involved in the event whilst taking a year’s creative sabbatical after an extensive career working in the arts sector for the Arts Council and other arts organisations.

During that year Janet and her partner Peter Mosley set up their own training company for artists and creative people called the Refectory Table. Janet also became involved in a number of different projects including the Zero Budget Festival. She said it was a great opportunity to do something creative with her brother.

Here is an audio clip where Janet talks about working with her brother on the Zero Budget Festival:

Janet, who moved to Loughborough in 1988, explained the ethos behind the festival.

“The way we put the festival on and the way the films are made is all about collaboration, not about funding and it keeps it very free and very fluid. This also gives it the life it has and means it is completely independent.”

Janet said that she is not critical of funding and that she believes it is very important for arts organisations. However she is critical of the way funding is carried out in the UK.

“Funding nowadays is to do with trying to turn the arts into something that is ‘instrumental’ in carrying out certain criteria. We’re not denying the need for funding in the arts, but we recognise that if we were to seek funding for this project it would change the way we need to approach it, and in some ways quite radically in terms of formalising it.

“Zero Budget is about people creating stuff without needing to spend money. It’s about not allowing money to be a barrier to creativity. We try and remove other obstacles such as expertise and equipment as ‘excuses’ too by sharing them for free.

“The way we put the festival on extends the zero budget philosophy, we practice what we preach. No or as little money as possible is spent on the festival. People like the lack of formality, the ‘spit and stringness’ of it.”

An excuse to play

Martin, who lives with his partner and two sons in Pitsmoor, believes that anyone can make a film and has been making films with his children since they were six. He believes children understand technology and have access to it in a way he did not and he thinks more children should take advantage of that.

Martin and Frankie Currie

Martin and Frankie Currie

According to Martin an accomplished filmmaker is not someone who can operate a camera or edit well, but someone who “understands how to put a story together, understands that it does not have to be chronological and has an idea of something that will work as a film.” He talks about how his older son began to learn this concept at six years old:

Frankie’s film, Dr Who and the birthday party of the Daleks:

Martin admits that the film festival is an excuse for him to play.

“It does give me an excuse to play with my kids and to level the playing field. Grown ups and kids are after very different things when it comes to playing, I get to make a film and they get to be in a film and to imagine they are other people. It is nice to have somewhere to meet your kids on a level playing field where we both get something out of it.”

Building memories

Martin was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease seven years ago and whilst he said he would always have been making films and doing what he is doing, he feels his diagnoses has concentrated his mind and given him a sense of what is really important.

“I would be making films regardless of what happens, I’ve been making films since I was nine years old, but I find it a wonderful way to get on with my kids. Every summer we make a movie and this summer they made a movie on their own and it is in the festival, it is called the Cold Cadaver.

“This is also about building memories, my life is going to be quite finite and my kids are going to have memories, so I want to give them something concrete and definite to see. It is going to be dad as the action hero, as the villain, them and me actively involved and it is something that will be passed down the family.”

Cheap Thrills, Zero Budget Film Festival at Burngreave Chapel, Sheffield

Cheap Thrills, Zero Budget Film Festival at Burngreave Chapel, Sheffield

Cheap thrills

Martin admits that the title of ‘cheap thrills’ can have negative connotations and he said it was only supposed to be a working title until they came up with a better one. However, they ended up using the title on their posters and Martin said the title has begun to grow on him.

“Peter took a strong objection to the word ‘cheap’ and Steve is not a particular fan of it, but I have come to like it more and more because they are cheap films, but they are not. It hits the right expectation, if you come with low expectations you are going to be blown away, my description of them is ‘a stupid little film’.

“It is not intended to be a work of art, it is intended to be a piece of work. It’s not even a festival, it is a screening over one single night. ‘Festival’ is a ridiculously over-hyped name but it is turning into something. It’ll be a festival in a few years time I’m sure.”

Martin’s nine year old son, Robin, talks about the film he has submitted into the Zero Budget Film festival:

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