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The Sheffield culture guide written by in-the-know locals

Brett Chapman

Brett Chapman is a Sheffield-based filmmaker dedicated to seeing our city represented in film in new and interesting ways – whether that's through documentaries like his latest, all about the brilliant Broomhall community project Unity Gym, or by using our fair city as the backdrop to a romantic drama in his short fiction film Tiny Little Rocks (which you can watch online).

His new doc about Unity Gym recently screened at the BFI in London and is coming to the screen up here on 21st January at Showroom Shorts, an incredible – and incredibly relaxed and supportive – night of short filmmaking that takes place once a month in the Showroom bar, all for free.

We caught up with Brett about what gets him excited about the world, what he loves about Sheffield and what he's working on next, ahead of the screening on the 21st.

How would you describe your work?
I work as a filmmaker from my studio here in Sheffield. It’s important to me that my work has a sort of tactile and DIY feel to it so I use a lot of handmade animations or homemade props in my work. For the most part I work as a documentary filmmaker but more recently I’ve been getting back into fiction work which has been a fun challenge and something I’m planning to continue with. I got into filmmaking from a relatively non-traditional route so I’m always interested in finding new ways to war that exist outside of the traditional models. For me filmmaking is both my job and my hobby – it more or less consumes my whole life! It’s certainly not a complaint, I feel very lucky to get to make my living doing something I’m passionate about in a city that I love.

How do you choose the themes you work with?
A lot of my early work was concerned with people’s relationships and their love lives – it’s still something I’m incredibly interested in and fascinated by but I’ve broadened out the scope of my work a little in recent times. I just want to make work about people and things that make me excited about the world – and I always want to see the north represented in cinema in new and unique ways. It’s very easy to get bogged down and become cynical about pretty much everything so when I find a story that makes me switch my perspective and feel inspired, I’m always onboard. For me making films is about taking your point of view and sharing it with the world to see if anyone shouts back and feels the same – or otherwise – so the subject matter I pick is unavoidably linked to who I am and what I care about.

What, who or where should be better known in Sheffield?
So much! Some of my favourites at the minute are Broomhall Cinema, which is exactly what it says, Next Left, which is a new political theatre group in the city and of course Sheffield Creative Guild which does amazing things for the many creative freelancers in this city! In terms of places I’m a fan of The Whaletown Coffee Company up in Crookes and I think The Rutland is probably the best and most interesting pub in the whole city. There’s also this animator in Sheffield called Old Man Chimes who I think is going to be super famous one day and is an underrated northern genius. This list could go on and on because Sheffield is a city absolutely full of indie talent.

What would you change about the city?
Personally I with we could retain more of our old characterful buildings in the city. I’d like to see them renovated rather than demolished and replaced with banks and the like. There’s already a Leeds, you know? I think very often, the people involved in the development of this city seem completely unaware of the things about it that people actually love. Wouldn’t hurt to sort the buses out either would it?

What are you working on at the moment?
I’m about to co-direct a large scale short film with the theatre company Slung Low, which is going to be an incredible challenge – one I’m relishing. After that I’m going to concentrate this year on finally getting the wheels in motion on my long gestating feature film. I’ve been telling myself every year for the last 10 years that this is the time… now I really think it is! I’ve also got a few shorts that I’m in the process of editing so people can always keep up to speed with what I’m making on my website.

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