BFI WORKING CLASS HEROES EVENT, HOSTED BY DANNY LEIGH

A review by Elizabeth Costello, Leigh Film Society

I was delighted to win two tickets for this ground-breaking event – a celebration of working class people who have achieved success in the film industry, curated by Cinema For All Patron Danny Leigh.

Coming from a working-class background myself, and running a film society that falls within one of the most deprived communities in the country, I very much wanted to fly the flag and represent our town and our great achievements as an award-winning film society. Alongside this, my daughter Emma lives and works in London in film production and has first-hand experience of how hard it is for people from a working-class background and how having a northern accent can mean working harder to be accepted within this industry.

There were so many panels it was difficult to choose as each one promised to deliver quality discussions.

Keynote Speech – Maxine Peake
Maxine Peake is one of the most famous working class heroes. Maxine is very often political which she feels is important as a public figure if asked to have an opinion. She spoke openly and honestly about her struggles for acceptance and is a strong voice for working class people and all things northern. She recently made a documentary called The Acting Class about the financial struggles of young people affording high end drama schools. Leigh Film Society CIC helped in the making of this film with sponsorship. We felt it was important to support working class drama students across the country and to help get their message across about the difficulties they face, proving there is no greater barrier to socially mobility than money. Danny mentioned Maxine’s new film called Funny Cow about a working-class female comedian on the club circuit, prompting Maxine to say how working-class people use comedy to lighten the load.

How To Make It – Vicky McClure, Jonny Harris and Asif Kapadia
Leigh Film Society had recently screened the Johnny Harris film Jawbone. It’s an outstanding film made with passion and perfectly demonstrates the struggles of working class people. I was really looking forward to listening to Johnny Harris. He didn’t disappoint. His passion for filmmaking and representing the underdog really came through. It turned out to be a great panel, keeping its focus on celebrating working class heroes and not making the privileged or middle-class members of the audience feel under attack. Johnny made some great points about casting agents and how they need to get away from RADA and check out the undiscovered talent at local colleges and drama groups. It is now his mission in life to make this happen. This panel was entertaining, funny and focused on exactly what the event was about.

Woodfall – Actors Rita Tushingham, Tom Courtenay and Joely Richardson, Journalist Paris Lees and Filmmaker Jez Butterworth explore the gritty stories brought to life by Woodfall Films
This turned out to be a lovely session taking the audience on a journey reminiscing through the many films made by Director Tony Richardson. Listening to Rita Rustington talking about the films she’d made with Woodfall and how coming from Liverpool she was a new breed of working class actor.

So many groundbreaking films made in the late 50s and 60s that raised issues about class tensions and at the time were referred to British New Wave. Saturday Night and Sunday Morning (1960) is still shown in schools today. Joely Richardson spoke with so much affection for her father’s films and how location was import to him. Rather than using studios he used actual deprived estates keeping his films authentic. I particularly enjoyed Tom Courtney reminiscing about the many comparisons over the years between himself and Albert Finney. These antidotes delighted the audience.

We had a wonderful day together celebrating and recognising the great work and successes of working class people. I cannot praise Danny Leigh enough for putting Clss on the agenda and hosting this event.