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T Dan Smith and Newcastle-upon-Tyne's Amber cooperative

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[THIS WEEK] Newcastle proves endlessly fascinating for a group of film-makers, says James Pallister

In 1969, a group of young film students moved to Newcastle-upon-Tyne, their mission to document and celebrate the working-class culture of their adopted region. One of the most well-known products of the Amber cooperative is Sirkka-Liisa Konttinen’s Byker Revisited (AJ 25.03.10). The story behind these photographs that documented the Byker estate is the focus of Today I’m With You, a film showing this Sunday on BBC4.

But for a more wide-ranging sample of Amber’s unwavering – and often unfashionable – commitment to locally rooted social realism, make sure you spend some time on the clips available on the SideTV website. September’s selection includes a montage of shots exploring Newcastle’s Quayside, its exchange houses, wharfs and warehouses. Overlaid are voices reminiscing about the area’s vitality; although the film dates from 1979, the story is already about industrial decline.

Most compelling is Mouth of the Tyne, a film named in homage to T Dan Smith, the disgraced former leader of Newcastle City Council. The charismatic Smith (pictured above) made his mark on the city, and even approached Le Corbusier to build there, but his dream of Newcastle becoming the ‘Brasília of the North’ was not to be – he was convicted on counts of corruption in 1974 following his entanglement in the John Poulson affair.

In the film, a post-incarceration Smith rails against the silent machinations of England’s establishment, which he felt were instrumental in his downfall. He also suggests that the type of crimes the infamous Freemason architect Poulson was prosecuted for later became legal. As he wrote in 1985: ‘Thatcherism, in an odd sort of way, could reasonably be described as legalised Poulsonism. Contributions to Tory Party funds will be repaid by the handing over of public assets for private gain.’

  • Today I’m With You, BBC4, Sunday 12 September, 8pm
  • See clips of assorted documentaries at www.sidetv.net
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