Life & Culture

Want to make a film? Start here

Always dreamed of making a movie? Here's a scheme to get you started


Would you like to be a film-maker? And what’s more, would you like your work to focus on the experience of the British Jewish community, a demographic largely ignored by the mainstream film industry?

This is not something I’d ever considered until last year’s UK Jewish Film Festival, when I went to an inspirational evening of short films screened at JW3.

The subject matter of these three to four-minute gems was rich and varied —from comedian Ivor Dembina selling jokes on the South Bank, to the peacock that took up residence in a Leeds shul car park.

The film-makers were of all ages, some experienced, others making their first-ever steps into the world of film-making. And each one was so compelling that I felt three minutes was probably the perfect length for any film.

One — entitled Shabbos Goy — told the story of Radlett United Synagogue’s caretaker Terry. Made by Adam Goott and Alexander Szlezinger, in four minutes it managed to be both jokey and profound, as Terry talked about his work at the shul and his Romany background and love of horses. It also incorporated a piece of animation, explaining the help that Terry could give the community during Shabbat.

When I heard subsequently that Terry had died, I felt as shocked as though I’d known him — a real testament to the film’s power.

These short documentaries were all part of a scheme run by UK Jewish Film aimed at encouraging people to turn the lens on any aspect of our community they think deserving of it.

You apply with a 500-word pitch, giving details of your idea and how you’d film it (the closing date is April 22). Five film-makers are selected and given £1,000 to make their film. If the winners are new to film-making then full mentorship is available.

“We’re looking for great ideas,” says Benjamin Till who runs the scheme. “There are so many fascinating stories to be told in this format.”

Till’s own story would be worthy of a film of its own. Growing up in Northamptonshire, he had no idea there was any Jewish aspect to his family.

Discovering his heritage was “like coming home” he says, and he’s keen to encourage others to explore their Jewish identity through the arts. He’s an award-winning composer, with a long, successful career in theatre during which he has worked with Arnold Wesker. The playwright always told him he was Jewish: “He knew before I did!”

In fact, Till has been central to a film— his wedding to Nathan Taylor in 2014, one of the first gay weddings in the UK — was filmed by Channel 4 as a musical, written by the grooms and broadcast two days after the wedding — a fabulous mix of music and real life, hailed by the critics.

So you could hardly have a better guide to help you create your masterpiece. And if documentaries aren’t your thing, and you aspire to be the next Steven Spielberg, Till can also help. He’s just taken over running the UK Jewish Film Pears Short film scheme, which makes two grants a year of up to £13,500 to help directors make a 10-minute feature with a Jewish theme.

It’s an incredibly successful programme, which has already backed 32 films, including one by Till himself, 100 Faces in which 100 British Jews say what being Jewish means to them.

Till has taken over as co-ordinator of this scheme from the film-maker Asher Tlalim, who died in October last year. He pays tribute to his predeccessor’s passion and energy — “a genuine force of nature and a hard act to follow”.

The deadline to be considered for the Pears scheme has just past, so you have a year to start writing your script and planning for 2024. Steven Spielberg, watch out!

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