Film Archive

Amber: The UNESCO Inscription

Kendal St, Byker, 1969
Kendal St, Byker, 1969

The photographs of Sirkka-Liisa Konttinen and Amber's films - an intertwined collective narrative of works between 1968 and 2010, documenting working class and marginalised communities in the North East of England - have been inscribed in the UNESCO UK Memory of the World Register as an archive of national cultural significance! Byker Revisited, 2009
Byker Revisted, 2009

What does this mean? Who are Amber's fellow 2011 inscribees? King Alfred for the 890 manuscript of the earliest surviving book written entirely in English; Oliver Cromwell and 58 others for The Death Warrant of King Charles I (1649); Parliament for the 1689 Bill of Rights (1689); C19th publisher John Murray for an archive, which includes the papers of Lord Byron; Lothian Health Service for an archive charting the unprecedented rise of HIV/AIDS in Edinburgh and Lothian (1983 - 2010); early C20th filmmakers Mitchell & Kenyon, the pioneering documentaries and industrial films of the GPO Film Unit.... Amber feels honoured indeed!

The inscription includes the following bodies of work by Sirkka-Liisa Konttinen: Byker (1969 – 83), that documented the working class community demolished to make way for Ralph Erskine’s Byker Wall Estate; Documenting the North (1970s/early 80s), a series of short photographic narratives, many of which have never been exhibited; River Project (1972 - 74) looking at industry and its legacies on the River Tyne; The Hoppings (1976) documenting the annual fair on Newcastle Town Moor; Quayside (1976 – 79) documenting the working community in the then rundown area of Newcastle’s riverfront, part of Amber's campaign against plans for demolition; Jungle Portraits (1980) taken in a fish quay pub in North Shields; Interiors (1980) interior decoration in working class homes in North Tyneside & the families living there; Step by Step (1980 - 86) long-term documentation of a dance school in North Shields; Writing in the Sand (1971 - 96) documenting and celebrating the life on North East beaches; The Coal Coast (1998 - 2003) documenting the legacy of the coal industry in the ‘terrible beauty’ of the Durham coastline; Byker Revisited (2005 - 09, portraits and landscapes from the Byker Wall Estate, exploring the traditional working class community, the artists and professionals and the often temporary communities created by its use as a major refugee dispersal site.

It includes the following Amber films: Maybe (10 mins, 1969) about the Shields Ferry; Launch (10 mins, 1973) celebrating a Wallsend ship launch; High Row (33 mins, 1973) about a drift mine in the Pennines; Bowes Line (28 mins, 1975) about the Stephenson-designed, rope-hauled railway that carried coal to Jarrow Staithes; Last Shift (17 mins, 1976) about a brickworks in Swalwell; Glassworks (20 mins, 1977) about an industrial glassblowing works in Lemington; Quayside (16 mins, 1979), part of the campaign to save Newcastle's riverfront; The Filleting Machine (45 mins, 1981), a drama by Tom Hadaway, set in the Ridges (later renamed Meadow Well) estate, North Shields; Byker (53 mins, 1983), a celebration of a traditional working class community that incorporates Sirkka-Liisa Konttinen's photographs; Keeping Time (57 mins,1983), a documentary drama exploring mother daughter relationships in a North Shields dance school, incorporating photographs by Sirkka-Liisa Konttinen; Seacoal (83 mins, 1985), Amber's first feature film, a drama made with the seacoaling community of Travellers on Lynemouth Beach in Northumberland; Double Vision: Boxing for Hartlepool (60 mins, 1986), a documentary/drama about boxing; T Dan Smith (85 mins, 1987) a blend of documentary and drama about and made with the politician who drove urban change in Newcastle in the late 50s and 60s and was jailed for corruption in 1974; In Fading Light (103 mins, 1989) a drama exploring the North Shields fishing industry, made in collaboration with local fishermen; Dream On (115 mins, 1991) a drama about women’s lives on North Shields’ Meadow Well Estate, developed with women from the community; The Writing in the Sand (45 mins, 1991) a documentary celebrating a working class day out on the beaches of the North East, constructed almost entirely from Sirkka-Liisa Konttinen’s still images; Eden Valley (95 mins, 1995), a drama about and made with the Traveller/horsey community involved in trotting; The Scar (114 mins, 1997) a drama about and made with women, who had been strongly involved in the Miners’ Strike, in the aftermath of the closure of Easington pit; Like Father (95 mins, 2001) a drama exploring men’s lives in the aftermath of the closure of Easington pit, made with people in the community; Shooting Magpies (80 mins, 2005), a drama made with people from the community, exploring the impact of heroin in the post-closure Durham coalfield; The Pursuit of Happiness (90 mins, 2008) a documentary about a horsey community family in Durham, involved in trotting races, which, when he died mid-film in 2007, became a documentary about Amber founder member Murrray Martin, himself actively involved in trotting; Today I’m With You (53 mins, 2009), a documentary about the new Byker and its communities, growing out of and incorporating photographs by Sirkka-Liisa Konttinen.