25th May2018

Interview: Christopher Ian Smith talks ‘New Town Utopia’

by Philip Rogers

New Town Utopia is a new documentary from director Christopher Ian Smith, which has been selected to play at the Southend Film Festival on Saturday 26th May. I got a chance to ask Smith a few questions about what his inspirations for were creating the film, why he chose to take a look at Basildon and working with Jim Broadbent.


What can we expect from the film New Town Utopia?

It’s a story of Basildon told through its artists, musicians and creative. It looks at the town’s journey from utopian dream to modern reality, but hopefully does so in a way that is honest, poetic and challenging. The people in the film are funny, honest, but have led tough lives, but they haven’t stopped doing the things they love.

At the very least I hope that through watching the film encourages people to see Basildon and the other British new towns in a different way to before they walked into the cinema.

What was the original inspiration behind creating the film?

I initially started this project as I wanted to explore the modern love and appreciation for brutalism, modernist architecture and post-war design – and how this is in conflict with the real, lived experiences of these that grew up on these estates and in these ‘iconic’ buildings (e.g. Brooke House in Basildon).

Basildon was the obvious choice for me to explore this. Firstly, I’m local, growing up in Benfleet, and Basildon has long been a political bellwether – it voted for Thatcher, Blair and then Brexit. With this in mind, I hope that the film, through its focus on one town, reveals something about the state of modern Britain. In the 70s the town began a shift from being a socialist stronghold dubbed “Little Moscow on the Thames” to a Tory stronghold within ten years.  

Did working on the documentary change the way in which you look at Basildon?

Yes, very much so. I’m much more understanding of how complex this place is – over time hundreds of thousands of people have shaped Basildon’s history – some in good ways, some not so good… I strongly believe that one key reason Basildon has suffered a bad reputation for a long time are because it is a working-class town. The lack of respect and demonization of working class people still continues in modern media.

Jim Broadbent is the voice of Lewis Silkin MP in the film.  How did he get involved in the film and what was he like to work with on the project?

He was great to work with. I asked him to get involved because I wanted someone to play the role (though voice only) of Lewis Silkin – a key politician whose utopian ambitions drove the new towns project forward. I wanted Silkin to sound hopeful and ambitious, and also for the audience to connect with him.

Did you face any difficulties whilst doing the film?

The main challenges were that it was not funded – until I raised some money through the support of Kickstarter donations – and that I was acting as director, producer and cinematographer. These roles would normally be separated to share the workload and also bring different ideas. It was due to these challenges that the film took a lot longer to complete than planned. But we got there in the end.

Do you have any new projects which you are working on?

I’m hoping to get another documentary focused on Epping Forest – and the characters that have lived around it – off the ground soon. It would be similar in some ways to New Town Utopia in its focus on place, but darker, weirder and spanning thousands of years.

If someone is looking to direct their first film, what advice would you give them?

Don’t stop working at it – you’ll never finish your film if you do. Stick to your vision – by all means listen to other people, and learn from their mistakes when you can, but only you can make the film that’s in your head. Find collaborators who you like, trust and are amazing at what they do. It’s worth the time up front to find these people. It’s hard work, so get ready for battle!


New Town Utopia will be playing at the Southend Film Festival on Saturday 26th May at 8:30pm. For more information on the event and to purchase tickets for the Southend Film Festival please see the website for details: https://www.southendfilmfestival.com



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