Hollywood embraces Britain's black film talent

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The Independent Culture

Britain's most talented black and ethnic minority actors, writers, producers and directors have been picked to meet the most powerful studio executives in the American film industry.

Kwame Kwei-Armah, the first black Briton to have a play staged in the West End and whose credits include the award-winning Elmina's Kitchen, was among 12 talents selected by a UK Film Council panel for his role as a writer and producer. The group also includes Noel Clarke, the writer of the cult film Kidulthood, and Florence Ayisi, the award-winning documentary writer.

The group will leave for America at the end of the month to attend a gala night in Los Angeles at which they will be showcased in front of an audience of American film executives who are hungry to discover new talent from across the Atlantic. It would take them weeks to secure such appointments if they were representing themselves individually.

To prepare for the trip, the group has already been advised by Tim Bevan, the co-chairman of Working Title Films. They will also be guests of the Hollywood black film festival, which attracts some of the industry's most prominent agents and producers, as part of an initiative called Breakthrough Brits.

Kwei-Armah said it was an "exceptional" opportunity, adding: "I did the whole Hollywood experience about 12 years ago and I had an absolutely terrible time. I swore I'd never go back until I had a huge project or was invited. What's good about this is that we've already had people sit down and talk to us about the industry and how to negotiate the world of film."

A programme designed to introduce female British talent to Hollywood two years ago included Emily Blunt, who starred in the Hollywood blockbuster The Devil Wears Prada, and Mary Nighy, the daughter of the actor Bill Nighy, who featured in Sofia Coppola's Marie Antoinette.

Marcia Williams, the head of diversity at the UK Film Council, said the programme would undoubtedly "raise their profile with some of the most influential industry figures both in Britain and in Hollywood".

She added that now was a good time to court Hollywood, which is increasingly open to talent from Britain. "The feedback from executives in America is that Britain is a goldmine for up-and-comers. Our talent pool is small, but there is extraordinary depth," she added. Adam Goodman, the head of production at the DreamWorks studio who has just finished making a film with the British director Sam Mendes, said: "We are totally Anglophiles right now."

Donna Langley, the president of production for Universal Pictures, was recently quoted as saying: "There certainly seems to be a certain brand of honest, bracing talent coming from the UK."

Big at the box office

*John Giwa Amu, Director

His film company's credits include Little White Lies, which received two BAFTA Cymru (Wales) awards. Is developing the urban revenge thriller Stab City. The script is optioned by Richard Holmes, producer of box-office hit, Shooting Fish.

*Kwame Kwei-Armah, Actor/playwright

Triptych of plays set in the African Caribbean community was premiered at the National Theatre. Has won several awards and a nomination for a Bafta.

*Florence Ayisi, Documentary writer/director

Documentary film Sisters in Law won 25 international film awards including the Prix Art et Essai at Cannes.

*Noel Clarke, Actor/director/writer

Scriptwriter for the award-winning film Kidulthood. He has since directed and starred in follow-up, Adulthood.

*Kara Miller, Director/writer

Winner of Hitchcock Award, Screen Nation's Best Emerging Talent award and shortlisted for BBC's New Filmmaker Award.

*Karlene Page, Producer

Founder of Big Hug production company, whose credits include The Browning of Britannia, directed by Faisal Abdu'Allah, which is on show at BFI Southbank Gallery.

*Esther Douglas, Producer

Co-founder of Fiesta Productions Limited, which made Life and Lyrics.

*Rita Osei, Producer

Produced award-winning animation for Cartoon Network. Founder of Sugar & Water Films Ltd, whose credits include The Curry Club and Threesome.

*Osbert Parker, Director

Three-time British Academy Award nominated director whose Film Noir was nominated for the Palme d'Or at Cannes.

*Barrington Robinson, Producer

Founded Redbag Pictures in 2006 and has projects in development including Chance to Dance and Police and Thieves. Picked as one of Screen International's 'Stars of Tomorrow 2006'.

*Zoe Stewart, Producer

Co-founder of Shona Productions, her first feature, Hush, is due for release from November 2008 and will be screened at the Cannes Film Festival next week. One of Screen International's 'Stars of Tomorrow 2007'.

*Sunandan Walia and Yugesh Walia, Co-producers/directors

Since creating Endboard Productions in 1985, the brothers have produced and directed critically acclaimed documentaries for British TV networks.

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