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Bringing black talent to the big screen

MAN OF ACTION: Marlon Palmer launched Kush Films in 1998

SET UP to create awareness of independent black filmmakers and their work, Kush Films has been running for 15 years.

Following its creation in 1998 by entrepreneur and former club promoter Marlon Palmer, Kush’s first initiative was the successful Kush Film Club, which sought to create an exhibition platform for independent films with an emphasis on black and other ethnic minority filmmakers.

The club, which began its screenings at The Curzon cinema in Turnpike Lane, north London, became so popular, its team was invited to organise a number of premiere film screenings to assist the launch of the new Cineworld multiplex cinema in Wood Green, north London in 2001.

Screenings of films including Scary Movie, Shaft, Nutty Professor 2, and Romeo Must Die – before its theatrical release dates – helped to put the new Cineworld on the map.

And today, the company’s Film Boutique, which screens an array of new movies, further solidifies Kush’s reputation as one of the UK’s leading promoters of black-interest films.

Now gearing up for the latest Film Boutique screening 42 - which tells the story of celebrated baseball player Jackie Robinson, and The Last Fall starring US actor Lance Gross – Marlon Palmer talks to Life & Style about launching his company, the importance of unity between black businesses, and his desire to expand his business to the Motherland.

Why did you decide to launch Kush Films?

I was at a point in life where I wanted to give back to my community after living as a young man on the other side of the tracks of life. I also previously was a well-known party/rave promoter and knew I had the skills to bring people together. One day I walked into a local cinema showing Bollywood films in Turnpike Lane, and asked if I could show films there, yet I really had no idea of how I was going to go about it. But I knew I wanted to create a platform for black filmmakers who I felt were not being given a fair opportunity to have their creative works seen on the big screen or TV back in 1998.

What have been the highs and lows of running the company?

The overall low was the continuous fight Kush/myself received from the industry, who at times didn’t want to engage with what I see as an independently strong black man running his own business, and who wouldn’t be taken advantaged of or controlled in any way.
The highs include helping to launch the brand new Cineworld multiplex cinema in Wood Green, where we screened many black films first in the UK, sometimes months before the film received a general release like Spike Lee’s film Bamboozled.

Also, organising marketing and PR campaigns along with premiere screenings for films like Ray, Crash, Beauty Shop, Coach Carter and over 150 others. It has been the support Kush received from mainly black women over the years that has really kept me going within this crazy industry.

Have you found it challenging to gain exposure for your company and/or the films you’ve promoted, with people perhaps feeling that the black film industry is too niche or specialist?

No, not really. When you are working with big films like Ray and Crash, you’re naturally going to get widespread exposure, which Kush did, especially when distributors are backing what you are doing with a budget behind everything.

The issue now for Kush is the fact that our core audience has grown older along with our business and its now embracing the development of technology, different marketing strategies and re-introducing Kush to the current new young people out there with disposable incomes; those who would be interested in supporting the work we do, creating a national platform for urban filmmakers.

Where would you like Kush to be in five years time?

Kush has moved into distribution and bringing new films to the UK. This is being supported by the creation of a new distribution/exhibition network across the UK.

Kush has recently signed deals to bring its flagship exhibition platform the Kush Film Boutique to The Drum in Birmingham and the UK Centre for Carnival Arts (UKCCA) in Luton where new audiences enjoy a combination of live artist performances, guest hosts, exclusive & premiere feature and short films along with networking and parties. The plan is for the Film Boutique to be in at least seven-eight different cities of the UK by August 2014, thus creating a new network for the exhibition and distribution of urban black films; one less dependent of government funding and the mainstream.

Within five years the Kush Media Group will be an international company recognised as the leading distributor of urban/black film content in Europe, with a branch and influence in Africa all backed up with strong business partnerships attached to the United States!

Anything else you’d care to add?

The one thing I have always tried to use Kush to do is bring black business and people together.

Over the last few years, I have seen the weakening and almost disintegration of black unity in the UK and the lack of support, development and cooperation between black businesses.

This breaks my heart and black business leaders need to wake-up and recognise our current failings and lack of influence within the British industry.

We need new stand-up leaders and mechanisms to bring us together, strengthen our businesses, create more jobs and exert influence, especially to inspire the new generation of young entrepreneurs.

The Film Boutique screening of 42 will take place at The Drum, Birmingham on September 20. The Last Fall will be screened at the Riverside Studios, London on September 22. For more information visit www.kushfilms.com

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