Auto-portrait. Tazewell, Tennessee 2022
I was born in the north of England in the late 70s. I’ve always been an outsider. I have a deep fascination and curiosity about people and I spent most of my teenage years with a sketchpad in hand, sitting on the street, in parks, in pubs, observing life. I quickly realised my sketchpad gave me a means through which to encounter others. As I got older, I replaced the sketchpad with a camera.
I studied documentary film at Leeds University and from there took a wide range of roles as a director, producer, and development executive. I became involved with the rapidly burgeoning independent documentary sector, establishing Doc Heads as a means for filmmakers to meet and share independent, artistic work. These early years showed me that whilst there is no one way to approach a film artistically, that working with “the real” means approaching each piece from the heart and with a curiosity to discover something I don’t already know. I only make films that I feel a connection to, and my work tends to arrive in the world in its own idiosyncratic way: in cinemas, television, in galleries, online, and on the street.
I don’t set out to “choose” stories, I find my inspiration in elements of life that intrigue me. I try and look at the things others feel are insignificant as it is often in the spaces in between that the more interesting contradictions of life are revealed. My films often include intersecting characters, formal invention, the poetic use of place and time, conversations in cars and mirrors, and the construction of “situations”. As time has gone on my work has become more personal and reflexive, often questioning the role of the filmmaker (and sometimes the viewer too) in inventing reality.
My first feature-length film, The Divide, was released in 2016. It was my first “mosaic” film, a form I have returned to in different ways since. Supported by the BFI and Creative Europe, the film premiered at Sheffield Doc/Fest to widespread critical acclaim, had a national theatrical release across 200+ UK cinemas, and broadcast on Netflix. I’ve also worked on a number of “symphony” films, producing the Michael Powell Award nominee London Symphony, and creating and directing the “live documentaries” Twelve Thousand Years in Fragments and Anthropocene in C Major, part of the collaborative multidisciplinary Climate Symphony project supported by CPH:DOX, Serpentine Galleries, Forma Arts and Arts Council England. I’m currently working on two films that explore the car as a provocative documentary “situation”.
I co-founded Disobedient Films in 2014, and filmmakers collective Doc Heads in 2009. In 2018 I was asked to run a summer school at UCL’s Open City Documentary School, which launched a parallel research and teaching practice that has informed and aided how I approach my films. I now work as a Lecturer on the MA Ethnographic & Documentary Film at UCL, and conduct practice-based research at LCC. I have also taught and given masterclasses at Royal Holloway, London Film School, Four Corners, Sheffield Doc/Fest, BAFTA and the Roundhouse, amongst others.