Published in this months issue of Filmwire, we spoke to Duaine Carma Roberts.
Birmingham filmmaker Duaine Carma Roberts has been self-funding his own work since he left college, filming in and around the city he was born in. His first film Angel City was released two years ago, and 2021 brings the arrival of his second feature Navy, featuring Rocks star Shaneigha-Monik Greyson. We talked to Duaine about raising funds, getting his films seen and what needs to be done to encourage more filmmaking in Birmingham.
When did you first start making films?
I started at the age of 18 after I had finished college, and I'm 26 now. I noticed that there weren't a lot of films from Birmingham that reflected the kind of thing I watched in my spare time. I liked indie dramas and thrillers, but I didn't feel I was seeing any of that coming out of Birmingham. I couldn’t see that we really had a council or hub at that moment that were constantly funding work, so I decided to just self-fund and put the work in myself.
Angel City was your first feature. How did you find that as an experience, and what did you learn from doing it?
It definitely wasn't easy, is what I'd say! I was working a day job four days a week, so I'd always utilise my Wednesdays off to plan for the weekends I set aside for filming. I saved up £3,000 of my own money over about six months, so I could pay actors, location and crew. I didn't get into any festivals for Angel City, so I did my own sell-out screening in Birmingham and then I self-distributed with Amazon Prime. I didn't really feel that fulfilled after it, but then I was nominated for Best Feature Film alongside films like Rocks and Blue Story at both the UK Entertainment Awards and Screen Nation Awards, which I think was the reason I was lucky enough to end up working with Shaneigha-Monik Greyson in my new film.
Can you tell us a little about Navy?
Navy is as close to autobiography as any of the films I've done so far. The main premise is based around a singer reunited with a childhood friend who’s searching for a supporting act to join her on tour. We see love begin to bloom between the two, whilst he also has to deal with his older brother's life of crime. I wanted to raise around £10,000 to make the film, so we raised £2,000 via GoFundMe and then I saved up a lot myself from work and filming music videos. About two thirds went towards the actual film and then the final third has been set aside for promotion, festivals and potentially to do some screenings in Birmingham, London, Nottingham and Wolverhampton. I'm from Birmingham, some of the actors are from London, Shaneigha is from Nottingham and I have links to Wolverhampton, so I thought those cities would work.
So what's your plan for the cinema release of Navy? Are you self-distributing again?
I'm waiting to see if I get into any major festivals or if any sales agents are interested. The film has good sound, visuals and acting quality, so I think we have a chance. I would probably self-distribute on Amazon Prime again, as it has a big reach. I did want to use Vimeo On Demand, as financially you get back more of the profit, but I don't think enough people would know about it. I wouldn't mind a distributor taking it on, though.
You've mentioned in other interviews how talent often has to leave Birmingham for London if they want to make it in the cinema industry. What needs to be done to try and fix that?
I literally just think opportunity. With Navy, my assistant director, behind-the-scenes photographers, sound person and runners were all university students, and they said working with me gave them knowledge that they hadn't learned in university. I never went to university myself, so I even learned things from them too. I think there should be more shadowing opportunities and we need to stop focusing on only short films. TV series and feature films provide more jobs and they generate more profit than shorts, which will actually build our community.
Do you feel hopeful that change is coming?
I think so, yes. There’s a new Birmingham film called The Tale Of The Fatherless which has had multiple screenings around the UK last month. The last time a black-led film of that calibre had a chance to screen in Odeon was the 2009 film One Day, which the police ended up banning, so it's great this film had a chance. At first Odeon only gave it screenings very early in the day and most people would have been working at that time, but the director Stefan Davis was able to get a few evening showings sorted, which all ended up selling out. I normally just use conference centres for my films, but now I'm inspired to show Navy in cinemas. It's good to see both our films co-exist. We’re both supporting each other and it's not just one film for itself.
Navy will be screening across the Midlands this autumn. For more information on Navy and Duaine’s company CarmaFilm, head to www.vimeo.com/carmafilmuk.