The Pursuit of Happiness
Amber Films 2008
When Amber founder member and key visionary Murray Martin died in 2007 the nature of the documentary the group was making in County Durham's horsey community the film changed. Recognised as a major figure in British film and photography history, he was loved and revered as a horsey man in the harness racing world. The film became an exploration of a filmmaker who became part of the world he documented; an exploration of how to be in this world.
After completing the digital feature film Shooting Magpies (2005), Amber began to work on a documentary about the Coulsons, a family deeply involved in the horsey culture of harness racing and road racing. Sanchez Coulson had taken a key role in Shooting Magpies and the whole family had helped out making the road racing and funeral scenes work. They had even let Amber film and incorporate the horse and cart-led procession of an actual family funeral. They lived in various caravans and houses on and around a piece of land in Craghead, County Durham. They sold the land to the building developers Bellway and bought a farm half a mile up the road, where they could develop the horsey business. Amber was following them on that adventure.
Murray Martin was always a gambler. He was a bookie’s runner for his Uncle Charlie as a kid. He was drawn into the horsey world when Amber made Seacoal (1985), the group’s first feature film made with the Traveller community gathering coal from sea at Lynemouth in Northumberland. Buying a horse was part of Amber’s approach. Murray caught the bug and horsey culture wove its way through Amber’s filmmaking over the next 25 years.
Eden Valley (1995), set in County Durham’s harness racing community developed the relationship with the Laidlers, one of the key families involved in Seacoal. ‘It was almost a home movie for us,’ explains Ellin Hare, fellow Amber member and Murray’s partner. ‘Horses somehow found their way into the films,’ says actor Brian Hogg, explaining the road racing aspects of Shooting Magpies, a film exploring the impact of heroin on the ex-pit villages of East Durham.
Still working on the new film, Murray died in 2007 from a heart attack ironically and improbably brought on by an infection by the bacteria Streptococcus equi – the horse disease known as strangles. Even before he died, fellow Amber members could see that Murray was looking at the larger than life figure of Warren Coulson, patriarch of the family, and thinking about himself and collective he had gathered around his vision since Amber came together in 1968.
Picking up the pieces of the unfinished documentary about the Coulsons, the film became an exploration of Murray. The story is taken up by Ellin Hare, his partner and fellow Amber member, by people from the horsey community and from the film world and by Murray himself, interviewed in 2003. It is revealed in his interactions with the community he was documenting and the quality of world in which he so vividly pursued the goal of happiness.
Craghead, County Durham, Lynemouth Northumberland, Easington County Durham, Amber's offices
Amber Production Team
Ellin Hare, Kerry Lowes, Sirkka-Liisa Konttinen, Murray Martin, Pat McCarthy, Graeme Rigby, Peter Roberts, Annie Robson, Peter Scott
Additional Production Work
Magnus Dennison (camera)
Anisa George (interviews)
Katja Roberts (interviews & sound)
Interview with Murray Martin (2004) by Elaine Drainville
Warren & Ada Coulson
Sanchez Coulson & Leeanne Cannon
Young Warren Coulson
Brian and Rosie Laidler
Original Music by Peter Tickell
Fiddle: Peter Tickell
Accordion: Julian Batten
Recorded and mixed by Julian Batten at Quayside Studios, Newcastle upon Tyne
Northern Rock Foundation
Northern Film & Media
The Coulson Family, Murray Martin, members of Amber and others associated with Amber's work over the years
documentary, Durham, horsey community, Travellers, Murray Martin, Amber, Coulson, Craghead