Chris Burton (Black Pyramid Organisation) Interview

Chris Burton

Interviewer: Kevin Phelmon

Organisation: Black Pyramid Organisation

Date Started: 07/01/12

Date Finished: 08/01/12

Interview: 0: 00.02.2 – 0:15:15.5

CHRIS: Alright err, my name is Chris Burton and I was born in Bristol, um I grew up in Montpellier Bristol. Um yeah, born and bread there, I grew up around that area and um, yeah, I am basically from Montpellier. That’s me and I err, have always been interested in media and anything radio really. That kind of goes back to when I was a little kid.

KEVIN: Um, growing up in Montpellier, how well were you ready were you to belong to the area you were growing up as a BME person, a person of BME?

CHRIS: Err, yeah I mean, Montpellier was very multicultural and quite mixed area, um, from when I was young anyway. So, it kind of grew. I went to St Barnabas Primary School and I went to St James’ Agnes Nursery, which is basically next-door to Cabot, well it used to be, not there anymore. Yeah, I went to St Barnabas, which is now a Malcolm X Centre, it used to be St Barnabas School when I was young. That’s where I went and um… Yeah, it was very multicultural, very, it was, it was mainly Black and Asian, um, um, the area like, I grew up in really so… yeah, that’s, it was very, just that’s, that’s the way it was and I didn’t really know any difference until I grew up, went to secondary school, yeah.

KEVIN: OK. Tell me about the early days of what was then Black Pyramid?

CHRIS: Oh right, Black Pyramid. Yeah, mean for me, Black Pyramid. I mean, how I got into Black Pyramid was that I, I was, I was really um, I wasn’t really doing that much. I was having a laugh, messing around and being a teenager and being whatever you do when you’re that age. And I went to New York actually; my sister lived in New York and um I went there for a month in 1992 or something. And um I realised, my Mum said to me that you got to do something with your life, sort of thing. You know the mother kind of conversation that they kind of have with you. Um, anyway so I went to yeah, I went to New York and I came back and I thought what can I do? My Mum said do something like, do something that you like doing. That’s the best advice she can give you is actually that if you want to do a career, at least do something that you like, that you’re interested in. There is no point being in a job for the rest of your life that you hate so, I thought, I was thinking to myself what do I like? I love music; I would love to be a musician, DJ or whatever it was? But I never saw that as a, as a viable way of having a career, especially back then. So I really didn’t think of it. Now I probably would have done that. But, back then I didn’t really think it was an opinion. And I thought what else do I like? I really like films. So anyway, I did film studies at College. Um, and then I thought to myself I need to get into a company. Um Black Pyramid I saw an advert saying, that they were giving good traineeships, at Black Pyramid films. I didn’t really know what Black Pyramid films was? I kind of heard about them but I didn’t really know what they were? Anyway I went along to the interview, got the traineeship; I think this was about 94, 95 sort around that sort of time. And I think Black Pyramid had only being in existence a couple of years before that anyway maybe? So it’s still quite early on in their existence themselves. And what I found there was like very minded people, people that thought very similar to how I where thinking. Obviously a lot more experienced than me, um a lot more experienced than me, but had the same sort of mentality. And basically what their philosophy was for Black Pyramid was. They needed to get into the media industry themselves but they weren’t going to go through the tried and tested roots. Like everyone else in the media industry been through like, university, BBC, do you know what I mean? They didn’t, that wasn’t an opinion especially for Black people as well. The media was a very closed shop towards Black, colour underground film makers at that time so Black Pyramid for me was the only way for somebody like me, being a Black man from Montpellier in Bristol to get into the media industry without any experience. Um, that’s the only way that I could of done it basically and Black Pyramid was the only organisation, I, even in the South West, could even of been in the country? I know there were something in London at that time. Can’t remember what it was called, um Sancofa or, no not Sancofa. I can’t remember what it was called? It was somewhere in East London anyway. But I think that it was the only the other one that was happening in the country. Um, yeah Mensek Mabass, those guys had something to do with it in London. Anyway, but um Black Pyramid is the only one that I new of in Bristol. So, yeah I went along aside according to the training and, and suddenly worked my way through Black Pyramid really.

KEVIN: How much of the objectives as Black Pyramid did you think they achieved? Did you know what the objectives that they were setting?

CHRIS: Yeah.

KEVIN: How much of that…

CHRIS: Good…

KEVIN: was being met by Black Pyramid?

CHRIS: Good question. Um, I mean the objectives, the early objectives, the mission statement I mean that’s obviously; I mean the founding people of Black Pyramid was Femmy, Clarde and Ian Sergeant. And theses were the guys that really kind of set the idea of what Black Pyramid was. And what, what I learnt was Black Pyramid was, was like I said a minute ago was the chance for people with no experience, not even no experience, people with experience and people with no experience just people from a diverse background to get into a high level of media. Um and be honest their objectives did work because the most of us that has been through Black Pyramid are still in the industry. Are working in different various different forms but still doing stuff within the films stroke media music industry. So I think their, their output, their um mission worked. I think, I think, what they, what they kind of set out to do worked basically and were living testament of it.

KEVIN: Ok. If you had to like, surmise or list all the things that benefited you personally getting from Black Pyramid what would they be?

CHRIS: Err god, there’s too, there’s too many to mention really. I mean everything I know pretty much now is through Black Pyramid. I know it sounds crazy, but there, there’s times that I am doing something when I think god I remember learning that when I was at Black Pyramid. I mean, I am the kind of person who, who asks a lot of questions anyway. So I think that’s helps me in a way because I think especially in the media and where was. I mean, what I first thought of Black Pyramid, we ended up many good contacts. I mean we had the cameraman from Aardman, sorry, yes sort of banged my hand there. We had the cameraman from Aardman, um, um who was training us basically. Which is absolutely unbelievable. I mean this is the guy that films Wallace and Gromit and things like that. So we had him training us and what I used to do, I used to get on his nerves because I asked him questions constantly about what he was doing and how he was doing this and how he was doing that. And um and yeah, and that basically helps me because I found out so much more by just, by me being me, if you know what I mean. By not satisfying with just standing there holding the boom mic or something. I wanted to know what the camera worked; I wanted to know what the director was doing. So that was, but Black Pyramid encouraged you to do that. It was that, that sort of atmosphere where everybody was working together there was nobody, there was no hierarchy it seemed. The guy who was doing the camera work, camera work, to camera training, um, um, Mark Chamberlain and Frank, Frank Passen, those two guys, who were I mean, camera trainers, there were like, they didn’t have no kind of airs or graces. You didn’t feel like you couldn’t approach them. So you could approach them. They become really good friends of ours anyway. So we um, so that kind of environment, really bread really kind of creative people I think, and really confidant people and we looked at the media industry in the slightly different way to it being out of our reach. It was something we could attain to, we could achieve basically. And that’s what it felt like. It felt like it was something that we, we could be just as good as anybody else if we tried hard enough. At that’s what the, that’s what we, and that’s what came out of Black Pyramid for me really. All the Skills, I mean, I mean, I teach young people film now. I mean, this is a test towards the Black Pyramid. I am teaching the same skills that they taught me really, to everybody else. Um, There is stuff that I, I, I learnt at Black Pyramid trust me that I still use to this day and I’ve been, I’ve worked for the BBC, I’ve worked the British film institute, I’ve worked, and all these others massive institutions and don’t get me wrong their brilliant too but what I learnt at Black Pyramid stands up against what they taught me as well. And that shows how good it really is. It really was. It’s a shame.

KEVIN: What about, what about in terms of the community? How well was, were it received? How much support did you get?

CHRIS: I think the community; it supported Black Pyramid really well. I mean, we, most of our stuff started off making community films obviously because that was the first, that was our first audience. Um, yeah the community supported us really well. I mean, just in terms, I ended up running the film festival. Um, that’s what I started working on. I started working on the um, Phemy Clardy originally started the film festival but he left and moved back to London in about 1997, 98 and I ended up taking over the film festival. And basically the film festival we held it at the Watershed. It was the Black, I think it was the first Black film festival in the UK. I might be, I might be stand corrected on that but that’s what I think it was anyway. And we shared films, Black films at the Watershed, which the Watershed at time was a very white middle class; sorry I keep banging on, sorry, let me say that again. The Watershed at that point was a very white middle class venue and not many Black people from the community; its stroke, the, in the inner city would go to that venue as a normal course for a Saturday night or something. So it was a really hard to get the audiences in the Watershed. But when we had the Black Pyramid film festival where we shared films like Dance Hall Queen, and various other big sort of Black films, we completely filled the cinema, it was, we had to turn people away, it was packed. We could have showed the film three or four times over and we still wouldn’t of had, we still wouldn’t of had people standing outside. The community supported really, really well. I mean I can’t thank them so, enough really because they, they voted with their feet. They all came out and supported Black Pyramid.

KEVIN: Ok.

CHRIS: Big time, yeah.

KEVIN: Ok, I’m gonna move into a, something else of um of heritage and um BME sectors. Um, Black Pyramid was a Black um, organisation if you like.

CHRIS: Yeah.

KEVIN: What do you think of BME organisations in general? How useful do you think they are?

CHRIS: Yeah, that’s another really, really good question. Um, it, it depends what context I suppose?

KEVIN: We start with the emphasis that there not gonna hear much…

CHRIS: Yeah, sorry. Yeah, um, I think BME, BME um, organisations, um, the usefulness these days… if, in terms of what I, what I came through. I mean, I think, I probably came through a golden period where it was still really, really fresh and there was loads of opportunities out there and there’s probably loads more money being handed out by government agencies i.e. the Arts Council, Film Council and the British Film Institute and places like that. So there was more money I would imagine then, it was a lot more fresh. So I think that Black organisations then really worked actually, I thought, I think they, it was really, really needed. I think a lot of that stuff came out of the riots and all that. You know when the riots happened in, in Bristol and London that a lot of community and um, enterprise agencies and organisations suddenly sprung out of. And that’s where Malcolm X came from as well, I think as well. I think the community really needed it. But also, equally I think the community really needs it now, as well, Black organisations. Um, and I think that, I don’t think there’s enough, I don’t think, I think the problem, I think the powers that be sorry, think the problem has been solved. “We have given you a lot of money back then”. But the problem is, is not just throwing money at someone, its sustaining it and having a long-term goal and I don’t think there was a long-term goal in terms of the politics. But listen I don’t know much about politics and I don’t want to get into that but I do think there needs to be more of, more of a sustained effort towards Black, Black community organisations now. I think it really needs it right now.

KEVIN: What do, what impact do you think um, BME organisations have had in the area that you come from?

CHRIS: What, the um, the area like Montpellier and that, St Paul’s? I think that they had massive input. I mean, for instance, look at Ujima Radio. I mean, I’ve been, I was a Presenter at Ujima Radio myself, it’s helps me, its helped a lot of people, it gives people a voice and I think that’s just one example in itself. It something that’s is accentual in the community. All the community feel from my experience feels a close identity with it and they feels like it’s their voice. And I think that for instance that in itself is a just a shinning light, but that’s only one. I think it needs to have a lot more of those very similar organisations. I mean obviously St Paul’s Carnival another one, which has been there for years. But I think that it needs to have more of a community identity when it comes to its own organisations.

KEVIN: Ok, how would you define heritage if you have to?

CHRIS: Oh, heritage. Um, a sense of belonging, a sense of knowing what you are I think.

KEVIN: So heritage for you?

CHRIS: Yeah, heritage for me is a sense of knowing I think, of knowing who you are and where you come from and where you belong. And it isn’t, I mean, it’s a, it’s a very difficult word I would imagine. Everybody has got their own views on heritage life. English heritage I always think of like old buildings stuff, when I think of English heritage. When I think of Black heritage I think of the um, the heritage of slavery but also I think there’s another thing about heritage for me that slavery that I have just mentioned is one part of our history, there is so much more to Black history that we don’t know about. We always seemed to be defined by slavery but then we were, we were Kings and Queens doing way before slavery and I think that is one thing that I’ve started to learn, what I knew about, what I’m started to learn and do a lot more research into is about history before slavery and what that means to Black people now. And I think that’s another thing that we should, as Black people, well I should, which I am doing is focusing on is our heritage as strong intelligent creative people before slavery even happened and I think that’s another thing that we, that we seem to be stuck to the carpet. People don’t really, people don’t really know about or understand but we’ve got a long heritage going on before slavery and I thinks that needs to be dug up and looked at.

KEVIN: Finally…

CHRIS: Um.

KEVIN: What do you see in the future, what do you think is the future for BME acceptance? Um, you can touch on importance or less importance, or what you think BME sector should be doing?

CHRIS: For me the future of BME sectors. Um, in the future, I, I don’t know? I’m quite fearful at times. I think that um, the government sometimes, like I said before seems to think that they have put a plaster on the problem and the problem will go away. And they need to focus on something else now like; um, I don’t know whatever sector they feel is hot this month or whatever. I do fear for it a bit. I think that the future for BME sectors is very, very shaky and, and I don’t like saying that but that’s, that’s what I see really I think that a lot of things, especially in the current claimant financially. I think that everybody is worried about their own skin at the moment and nobody wants to give any money out anywhere develop anything they don’t need to, government included. Um, so I quite scared um, about the future, um for the BME sector really. Um, so yeah I’m not sure really? I think that what I would like for it to happen I mean, is, is another influx of, not necessary money but just interest, um, pushing the boat forward and letting people develop their skills because I think at the end of the day throwing money at one, something is only, is only part of the problem. I think, like I said before developing a long-term plan. That’s what the most important thing is, is having a vision to look twenty years into the future and say, we want to be there in twenty years. So right now we need to do X, Y and Z to get there in twenty years. I think a lot of the people just looking at short-term problems and looking for short-terms solutions and then a year goes by and the problem is still there or it comes back again with a vengeance. Do you know what I mean? And I think if I was in any kind of power I would look into the long-term future of developing BME communities, stroke businesses, stroke enterprise, stroke creativeness.

KEVIN: Thank you.

END of Interview

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