Celebrities on Celluloid: guest post by Oska Bright Film Festival

If you have been in Brighton Museum or Hove Museum recently, you may have spotted a celebrity gossip magazine featuring local historical figures such as Martha Gunn, Harry Cowley and ‘Smoaker’ Miles. In this guest post by the Oska Bright Film Festival, Sarah Watson and Jason Eade explain how local young people have  reinterpreted these figures for the modern age.

What would some of Brighton’s leading celebrities from the 18th and 19th centuries have to say if they were under today’s celebrity spotlight? 

Chat Back magazine front cover
Chat Back magazine front cover

Young people with learning disabilities from Downs Park School in Hove have worked with award-winning film-makers from the Oska Bright Film Festival team to explore the lives and legacy of some of Brighton & Hove’s historical pioneers. In a short film and a style magazine, they put a modern spin on these personal stories.

In a chat-show format, the guests on celluloid become these important latter day figures. They are given more publicity through a style-magazine, Chat Back, which gives them another opportunity to raise their celebrity profiles in words and pictures. All the gossip and hot news of the time, in glorious colour. (Download Chat Back magazine.)

Hove is the birthplace of cinema so it is fitting that the film and an accompanying exhibition was launched and premiered at Hove Museum, before setting off on a tour of Brighton & Hove venues.

Young person dressed as Maria Fitzherbert for Celebrities on Celluloid
Young person dressed as Maria Fitzherbert for Celebrities on Celluloid

Watch and read about the notorious Mrs Fitzherbert, Brighton bather Martha Gunn, “The Gov’nor” Harry Cowley and Nellie Chart – who still haunts the Theatre Royal!

‘It’s fun. I’ve learnt a lot about my character Smoaker Miles. I love filming,’ says Downs Park student Finlay. Teacher Sophie adds: ‘The young people are simply glowing about the project, as am I. All feel genuinely proud and privileged to have been involved.’

The magazine has gone out across the county and it’s been interesting finding out who’s ended up seeing it. A few months ago we received a phone call from the Grandson of “Blind Harry” Vowles, Chris Vowles. Chris is currently writing a book about his grandfather and he explained how he came across the magazine.

‘A friend of mine’s son who is disabled attended the Blue Camel Club and picked up the copy of Chat Back.  When she saw the name Vowles she wondered if he was related, and passed the copy on to me.

I think it is marvellous that he has been picked out as he would be a true inspiration to anyone who is disabled as he never let his blindness get in the way of achieving what he wanted to do.  He would walk to and back from London unaided, after he had attended the latest musical hall shows and learnt the songs of the day.  On returning to Brighton he would perform the latest songs along Brighton Prom next to the “Peace Statue” as well as entertain local society in their own homes.’

Who knew it would reach a relative of one of the celebrities in the magazine?

There’s still time to catch the exhibition at The Garden Cafe, St Anne’s Well Gardens from now until Thursday 8 August.

And look out for the Celebrities On Celluloid interactive trail during the Brighton Digital Festival in September.

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Celebrities On Celluloid from Carousel on Vimeo.

The Oska Bright Film Festival takes place from 17 – 19 November 2013 in the Brighton Dome’s Corn Exchange. It is the world’s first and largest international festival of short films made by people with learning disabilities. See www.oskabrightdigital.co.uk

Sarah Watson and Jason Eade, Oska Bright Film FestivalChat Back magazine

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