It was a dark and stormy February night. Outside that is. Inside Soho’s Ham Yard Hotel it was a whole other story. 10 of them in fact, but we’ll come to that. Gillian Smith took shelter at the Netflix Documentary Talent Fund launch for a fresh perspective on British stories…

Ever at the cutting edge – and to be honest, just really curious – My Soho Times was on hand to witness the launch of the Netflix UK Documentary Talent Fund. Watch the films, chat to the directors and participants and generally soak up the atmos, charged as it was with enthusiasm, happiness and I will admit, the odd glass of red wine. Spending the evening in the company of a score of fledgling filmmakers who, courtesy of Netflix, are getting to see their visions on up the big screen for the first time, has to be a pretty good start to the week. It was a Tuesday, but hey…

This is the inaugural year for the project and competition to win a place was steep. The successful bidders, who came from across the UK, each received £40,000 in financing to create their own documentary short film, answering the brief: “Britain’s Not Boring And Here’s a Story”. Following swiftly on from the premiere, all 10 films are live-streaming on Friday 18th February at 7pm via a Netflix TikTok. Thereafter they can be viewed on Netflix’s YouTube Channel Still Watching from Sunday 20th February.

It’s a huge break for these guys and the quality of their work for sure reflects that. Insight and authenticity are the two words that spring to mind. These are personal projects and the commitment of filmmakers to protagonists shines through at every level. Taking a look at the sheer range of projects – from bee whisperers and seal searchers through Derry rap artists, to a London barbershop where six Black British men talk about their lives, via the logistics of delivering a Pan-Asian drag cabaret – you can only marvel at the vision, artistry and keen eye for a story out there.

As Jonny Taylor, Director, Original Documentaries at Netflix, commented: “It’s been an absolute pleasure to work with these talented filmmakers and to watch each teams’ nucleus of an idea blossom into fully formed documentaries.

The directorial newbies themselves were eager to share their sometimes daunting, but very often cheerfully life-affirming experiences behind the camera. Every day is different, of that you can be sure.

Jakob Lancaster, Director of Seal and the City, filmed on the Thames foreshore, shared a few tips on gaining the trust of the Billingsgate fish traders who formed a crucial part of his piece on the search for Sammy the Seal, “One of the ways we went about it was essentially eating a lot of fishy fry-ups at the café they have there at about 4 in the morning. Life changing to be honest.”

For Shiva Raichandani, who helmed Peach Paradise, a look at the work of The Bitten Peach, the UK’s first Pan-Asian, gender diverse Drag Artist Collective, it was a passion project from start to finish. “I come from a performance background myself, I got to the chance to perform with them and then I realised that this is a story that really resonated with me… I wanted to shine a light on it and capture the true experiences of these performers and to track them in a lead up to a show.”

Raichandani and Women of the Market director, Tavie Tiffany Agama, shared the same word when speaking about the original pitching process: “Terrifying!” Once through though, the 10 teams took part in workshops that covered all the legal, creative and financial aspects of film production. They were further supported by a mentorship programme from a network of industry figures.

And Netflix are more than happy with the results. “These films are a testament to everyone’s hard work and an exciting glimpse into the future talent of UK documentarians,” says Jonny Taylor.

Undoubtedly her contemporaries will be wholly in agreement with Tavie Tiffany Agama, “My takeaway is I’ve learnt so much, I feel like I’ve grown so much as a filmmaker and as a director and I just want to do more. I want to do it all again.” Good to hear. And even better to see.

You can watch the film/s via a Netflix TikTok Live taking place at 7pm on Friday (Just follow Netflix on TikTok to watch – here). 
The films will then drop on Netflix’s YouTube Channel Still Watching on Sunday 2pm.

Written by Gillian Smith. Images courtesy of Netflix Documentary Talent Fund.

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