SCREEN FILM SUMMIT: Belle director Amma Asante calls on industry to support filmmakers beyond their first movie.

Amma Asante

Amma Asante, the award-winning director of Belle, has rallied the industry to back filmmakers beyond their debut feature.

Delivering the opening keynote of the Screen Film Summit this morning, Asante recalled hearing the buzz phrase ‘creating a sustainable industry’ when she made her first film A Way of Life in 2004.

“In my world, I took that to mean an industry in which all involved in making films could not only complete one or two, and then find themselves squeezed out by the financial pressures, but one in which the individuals who make up the industry could truly survive, maybe even thrive, through their continual contributions, that could be fairly reflected on as that thing called a ‘career’,” she told delegates.

This was something Asante considered in the 10 years between her first a second film – the period drama Belle.

“For a filmmaker, the first movie is tough - but I would argue that the second - or as Hollywood has affectionately labelled it - the sophomore movie, is at least as tough, if not more difficult to get off the ground,” she said. “Those difficulties appear to become compounded when the filmmaker is female and/or of a minority.”

Asante acknowledged that she needed a “champion” on both projects. “They decided not only to invest in a movie, but to invest in the talent who would be behind it.,” she said of her champions, including the late Chris Collins of the BFI who suggested producer Damian Jones connect with her to develop Belle.

“I would argue, then, that whilst we must continue preserving, developing and building on opportunities for first time filmmakers - which is essential, we also need to reach a point where we are nurturing filmmakers beyond the first movie, through that sophomore project and beyond.”

Backing up that comment, Asante argued: “Nurturing and developing filmmaking talent, so that they go on to become financeable worldwide is the only way to create a sustainable film industry in the long run here at home in the UK.“

The filmmaker added that new talent was essential for the future. “No industry can remain sustainable without new and diverse life blood and without those who have the opportunity to hone and develop their talents and skills to their most full potential,” said Asante. 

“When filmmakers dabble with a single or even a couple of films and then disappear, what we will never know is whether or not we have lost our very best - we lose  the opportunity to grow, strengthen and develop our industry.”

Asante called on funding entities to offer their support. “It  makes sense for all funding entities of our industry to play a part in this - the leap between the first and second movie is often laden with the ambitions of the filmmaker who wants to make a bigger second movie than their publicly funded, low budget debut alongside fears from commercial entities such as distributers and financing partners,  that the skills to make this kind of film are not transferable to bigger budget, more commercial product.

“This simply is not true and has been proven time and time again. Real talent make good movies.  Real talent make even better movies when supported - and their films can and do make money.”

Asante said she was “relieved” to have made it through her second film. Her third film, Unforgettable, will be made through Warner Bros Pictures and her fourth with Pinewood Pictures.

She added: “I want to compete not only in a thriving UK film industry but also a diverse one - one in which talent from all kinds of backgrounds go beyond the first and second picture. Therein lies the future of a real sustainable film industry.”

Asante advice

Later on during a Q and A, Asante offered advice to first and second-time filmmakers facing challenges funding their films.

“It’s always darkest before dawn. The door doesn’t open from the outside. Find your champion. They are out there for everyone. ‘No’ is not a full stop, it’s a pause. Don’t give up.” 

The director also confirmed that the Pinewood-backed film is a 1940s-set romantic drama set in Germany about the experiences of a mixed-race woman. The project, once titled Where Hands Touch, has long been a passion-project for Asante.

Warner Bros’ backed thriller Unforgettable is due to get underway next spring.