URBAN COWBOYS

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The Independent Culture
Drugs, violence, alcholism, madness. Who'd have thought there was so much going on in Stevenage? Certainly not the town council, which obstructed the making of Paul Hills' Stevenage-shot Boston Kickout every step of the way. Out this week, the semi-autobiographical movie follows four boys who leave school only to lose themselves in a hellish, concrete commuter-belt. "I've been influenced by everyone from Fellini to Ken Loach," says the director, "but my hero is Martin Scorsese. I got inspiration for the film from Mean Streets, which is based on Scorsese's youth in New York."

Independently funded and distributed, Kickout is the darkly comic debut of a 28 year-old whose only previous experience was a 16mm movie you'd be hard-put to find on video. The film is a shoestring triumph, but it hasn't been easy. When Hills' first put forward his script, the "New Town" had just spent pounds 2m on an ad campaign which told new business to "Come to Stevenage!" Hills' angsty teenage low-lifes did not fit the brochure.

Nevertheless, he began filming late in 1994. "The council made us send them advance location schedules. We were trying to capture the soulless squalor, the lack of community, but wherever we went it was spotless," laughs Hills. "After a while we realised they were cleaning up before we got there, even hoovering up leaves." More clean streets than Mean Streets, but Hills pressed on. When the film was complete the council tried to get an injunction to stop it being shown in Hertfordshire. "They should really have banned it outside the county," argues Hills, "because everyone who lives there already knows how horrible it is."

Like Hills, fellow brit-packer Shane Meadows has drawn on his own experiences to produce an edgy, contemporary realism distinct from the work of older auteurs Leigh and Loach. His first feature, Small Time, marks Meadows as an anarchic Coogan-like talent to watch. One of the highlights of Edinburgh, Small Time gets another screening next month at the London Film Festival.

Based on a Nottingham housing estate, the movie follows a group of shell- suited cons, led by Meadows' delightfully childish "Jumbo". The lads' criminal exploits (which stretch to ripping off dog food) are quickly subsumed in a story of partners, vibrators, class and gang loyalty. Meadows only picked up a camera for the first time in 1994 but, like Hills, he's a British director who looks ready to take up the mantle of Danny Boyle and give the US independents a run for their money.

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