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British Humour

Opening title Dreaming you are on television … speaking in another language. Amateur films reaching over 100,000 viewers. Still more surreal, the TV show presents amateur film in a respectful way. Incredible, but it really happened to me.

ORF (Austria’s BBC) broadcasts a series of programmes on the Bavarian Science and Education Channel BR-alpha. The name of this broadcasting platform is 'alpha Österreich'. Working together, VÖFA (Austria’s IAC) and ORF present amateur films in the show called 'Videowelten' (Video Worlds).

They show videos and interview film makers. Previously it was all about Austrian film makers. In 2011 they added extra shows for films from other countries, working with the help of UNICA. The first 'Video Worlds - Worldwide' programme, had movies from different countries, but the transmission on 13th April 2011 featured British films.

The films presented to the station’s 100,000 to 120,000 viewers were: Extinction Event by Alan Atkinson, Dropping Off by Ken Wilson and Car Park by Bob Vine and Graeme Webb. All had been recommended by VÖFA President, Alois Urbanek, who asked me for help in making contact with the film makers.

Normally the show interviews the film makers. They were prepared to do so in German or English, but problems of technology and time eventually left me speaking for the Brits. They dodged paying my air-fare to Vienna by using a clever computer system called switchX. Effectively this gave a video-phone link between the presenter, Robert Steiner, and me. When the TV producer 'cut to Dave', switchX stored on my own computer a very high resolution video image. After the interview was completed, that recording was 9 minutes long. It took five hours to drag it over the web from my computer to the studio!

At the time of the recording I was recovering from surgery, on pain-killers and not sleeping much. My attention span was about 30 minutes. Setting up the links, preparing the studio and so on took 90 minutes, so when the first question came, I really was startled out of a light doze. It was no problem. Tine (Christina) Widmann, the editor, assured me it was OK to ask for another take or a pause at any time. The presenter, Robert, gracefully pretended to fluff his opening lines and asked for a re-take to make me feel better. Soon we were underway with me speaking clumsy German, which the folks at the other end called 'charming'.

Presenter Robert Steiner
For our film makers the process involved little more than signing a slightly terrifying contract (required by the station’s lawyers for all films) and listing the music used so that the music copyright could be cleared. That was not an easy task for films made several years ago. Ideally the film makers could have talked directly with Robert about their films. All it needs is a decent broadband connection and a little time.

Alan’s permission was sought to trim a brief sequence from Extinction Event where a giant wave crashed onto a beach. Transmission was too close to the Japanese Tsunami disaster to use such a scene for comedy. Alan agreed and the BR-Alpha people snipped it neatly out.

My task was to explain a little about the amateur film scene in Britain and to talk about the film makers. The key question was what makes British film humour so popular internationally. I replied (in German) 'It’s something of a surprise to us. I think the basic reason is that the humour you see in our amateur films is not cruel. It is nice, gentle … no one is killed in our films. Usually the stories concern ordinary people, doing normal things and a situation arises which gets ever more complicated and absurd. Perhaps they are rather in the Monty Python style.' Dave and Alan

At one point the producer stopped the interview. She was concerned about the lighting on me. It took a few seconds to realise that the sun had come out. I assured her this rarely happened in Britain (!), pulled the blind and we continued.

A few weeks later I met Tine Widmann in Austria and asked her about the show. She seemed surprised that British television usually only mocks amateur film. She enjoys working with the Austrian federation and its president, Alois Urbanek. She also likes seeing so many fine amateur films. That was what made her agree to be a guest juror at the Festival of Nations, where we met. She is also a fine singer and performed at the Festival social evening with her partner.

I wish there were producers like her and the 'alpha Österreich' team in Britain and a channel like BR-Alpha to bring the best non-commercial films and our best film makers to a huge audience.

- Dave Watterson Summer 2011

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Page updated on 11 October 2011
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