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"Art for art's sake" campaign supported by local legends

CHANGE-MAKER: Sheffield filmmaker Juliet Ellis in her ‘No Commercial Value’ t-shirt (image credit: Benji Reid)

DAUGHTER OF former boxer and title-holding bodybuilder Lloyd Stewart has garnered support from fellow Sheffield creatives and local outlets after a rebuff from a movie financing panel; which inspired her to champion ‘art for art’s sake’.

Juliet Ellis was told her film, Morning, which is told from the point-of-view of Ruby, “a lonely child” and the power she finds in her own potential, was of “no commercial value” so in response she decided to seek alternative sources of finance, which included producing t-shirts with ‘No Commercial Value’ printed on them. This tongue-in-cheek response has tuned into a series of fundraisers for the film and a platform for Ellis to magnify the struggles faced by creative who are balancing artistic integrity with economic survival.

Ellis told The Voice:

“I have heard so much talk about creating opportunities for diversity in film and for female directors and for the regions and obviously I fit into all of those categories.

“I think funding bodies and institutions are really comfortable with artist of colour in development but any opportunity to actually realise the work and get it out there just doesn't come to fruition so then there is nothing to build on.

MESSAGING: A series of billboards erected on a busy Sheffield roadside (image credit: Anco Digital)

“When I am going through the writing process I am guided by the story, by what the characters need and want. I am thinking about creating authenticity about what I am trying to communicate. If you are in the process then the film starts to write itself. At no point was I thinking ‘Oh. is this going to sell’! It's not the kind of artist I have ever been.

“The British Film Institute (BFI) reported that in 2012, only 5.3% of the film production workforce were from black and minority ethnic (BAME) backgrounds. Based on this, an assumption could be made that the percentage of black female directors is even lower.”

Sheffield natives DJ Norman Hazel, famed for introducing house music to UK ravers in the 190s, hip-hopper and visual artist Benji Reid and advertising agency Anco Digital, who funded aspects of the campaign, including roadside billboards and Morning itself; have all bought awareness Ellis’ campaign against the commodification of creativity. Ellis’ bodybuilder father, who is the current Mr. Miami and a former heavyweight boxer has also lent his name to the drive for artistic authenticity.

International support has also made its way to Ellis, after creatives from abroad resonated with what they see as the importance of people being able to make films and contribute to culture in other ways without feeling hampered by a lack of funds.

ART FOR THE SAKE OF ART: DJ Norman Hazel dons a t-shirt in support of the movement (image credit: Benji Reid)

The t-shirt idea came from Ellis’ friend in Amsterdam and a New York designer worked-up the text that finally made it onto the t-shirts.

“I have had amazing support so far”, says Ellis.

“This is evident in the success of the Indiegogo campaign we launched to help raise funds for the film. We see crowdfunding as the modern-day equivalent to grassroots movements of the ‘60s, and with it we can change the way films are made and also change the narrative of which films gets made.

“We raised nearly £15,000. People were very generous not only with their hard earned money but also with there words and actions. I received a cheque in the post for £10 from a woman who said she really wanted to help but doesn’t do online banking. That really moved me. My friends over in New York are having a summer fundraising concert for the film, where Dana Fuchs, who is an acclaimed American singer/songwriter is performing.

Speaking to a lack of local provision for artists to be able to cultivate ideas, Ellis said:

“The creative scene here is really spread out, there doesn't seem like a central hub where artist hang out. There was suppose to be a cultural quarter but I wouldn't say people hang out, not like the Cornerhouse was in Manchester or the new HOME that has replaced it.

STRONG SUPPORT: Local boxing and bodybuilding legend Lloyd Stewart (image credit: Benji Reid)

“There are amazing people working out of Sheffield. Third Angel, who I have worked with, Forced Entertainment…of course we have Warp Films whom I am working with at the moment on a new Shane Meadows drama. There are lots of interesting filmmakers...Colin Pons, my producer, set-up the Showroom Cinema here, Debbie Howard a good friend is making interesting work, but I really don't belong to a scene here.

The ‘art for art’s sake’ and ‘No Commercial Value’ messages have encapsulated the experience of Ellis and her peers, magnifying the original aim of simply funding the Morning film.

“I know many great artists or creatives who have just given-up because it's just too hard.

“An artist I knew cashed in a PPI cheque and begged and borrowed money to make her first show, which I directed and that paid off. It was nominated for a Manchester Evening News award and now she is being commissioned left, right and centre, but lets be honest - it’s a really hard balance.

“People are loving the campaign - I think they are sick of being told what to like and what not to like.”

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