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Monday, 23 April 2012

Comics documentary maker faces funding threat


The Invisible Artist
from Northern Visions NvTv on Vimeo.

(with thanks to Andrew Luke): Northern Visions TV (NVTV), Greater Belfast's community TV station which backed the comics-related film The Invisible Artist last year, is under threat of closure because of controvrsial funding cuts.

Northern Visions is a non-profit organisation originally formed in 1986, originally serving as a training ground for Belfast's local journalists and technicians wanting to make in-roads to working for Channel 4. Sometime after they metamorphisised into a sort-of public access station, giving an air to community voices in Northern Ireland's capital as it left the Troubles behind it.

"Beneath all the gloss of the birthplace of the Titanic and the MTV awards, NVTV gave voice to real Belfast," feels viewer and comic creator Andrew Luke, who made The Invisible Artist documenatry with the support of the station. "And if you wanted to make a documentary, you'd get professional mentoring and assistance to write, film and edit. Post-production, the pieces were screened on local television and then made available for free on NVTV's spaces on Vimeo and Youtube."

Sadly, one of the stations's main funding bodies has decided it no longer qualifies for ther financial support.

During the 1990s NVTV were funded by the Arts Council NI, and from 2007 by film and digital body, NI Screen. Last month NVTV and the Arts Council were informed NVTV no longer fit NI Screen's criteria. The Arts Council had delegated their lottery funding to NI Screen, essentially blocking the station out of the revenue stream. Without this funding, there is no access for paid staff or volunteers to a central location, editing suite, or the other production costs.

An emergency meet with the Arts Council last week for core funding ranked NVTV high with artistic Quality, Financial/Project Management, Preserve Frontline Services in the Arts, Key Components of Artform/Sector(non- duplication of Service/Provision) and in Innovation. However, the Arts Council disagreed with the Moderator's recommendation that NVTV is digital media and not the arts.

"No funding streams (exist) for any form of activity based around access to and participation in film, new media arts for communities," notes Marilyn Hyndman of NVTV. "The central question remains which is -  where do the communities Northern Visions work with fit within the arts, film and digital media – community groups, young people, older people, ethnic minorities, interface groups, local heritage groups, women, people with disabilities, victims of the Troubles, disadvantaged communities?"

Andrew Luke tells us talks with the Arts Council are ongoing, for "without core funding NVTV will close, but in the meantime, he's urging fans of The Invisible Artist to join hundreds of others and drop a note to support the work of NVTV at http://www.northernvisions.org/index/commentsfromsupporters.html

"I realise many of you have seen my own film," he says, "which would not have happened without station staff who kept the project turning. While my disabilities played up, producer Carl Boyle took over the final production in the editing suite. You no doubt found it an educational and representative piece, so please just drop a line and tell them what it meant to you."

The campaign to reinstate funding is backed by North Belfast MP Nigel Dodds. "At a time when the Department of Culture, Arts & Leisure is advocating community based work in disadvantaged areas, it is a tragedy that an organisation of nearly 30 years standing, which has pioneered community digital media and community arts with hundreds of groups in socially disadvantaged areas or at risk of social exclusion should find that they too, are excluded," he said in a letter to Northern Ireland's First Minister. "I count on your leadership to preserve the only community digital media and arts resource of its kind in Northern Ireland."

Over 100 groups each year benefit from Northern Visions services within the voluntary and community sector, the arts, film, music, vulnerable minorities, older people, victims of the Troubles, people with disabilities and minority ethnic groups. Its volunteer scheme involves over 125 active citizens and its seems to me that this is a service which has promoted the comics form – and will surely do so again – and deserves support.


• If you doubt, or would like to see more on NVTV's impressive work, here's a proportionately tiny list of Andrew's recommendations:

Giro's (20m version), (54m version)
Charting the tales of those who ran Belfast's infamous grass-roots community club during the punk and new wave scenes of the 1980s. Vibrant, engaging, refreshing, fascinating.

Market Memories (60m)
Valuable narratives, rare interviews and footage across four generations of families and friends at the city's beloved central market, St. George's.

Sailortown (13m)
Before the machines and the tourists, labourers worked the Belfast dock-side and build up a community. This film reflects on another near forgotten age; those who remember the stories tell them.

Paint for Peace (40m)
Documenting the relationships of two A graffiti artists, one from the Protestant Falls Road and the other, from the Catholic Shankhill. This film examines their friendship and collaborations in one another's areas as well as at John Lennon Roundabout, Liverpool.

SeaWorthy (22m) 
Lough Neagh boat enthusiasts talk about their development of traditional methods of building and sailing their craft.

The Invisible Artist (34m) An expertly informed history of contemporary Belfast comic book and cartooning culture, co-produced by Andrew Luke and NVTV

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