Islington People: Filmmaker who went from raver to director

Young director is now up for documentary film festival award

�Director Tom Cordell started out filming 1990s raves on a handheld camera – now he is up for a top award at a major documentary film festival next week.

Utopia London, his entry into the Open City London festival, tells the story of some of London’s most striking buildings – including two Islington landmarks – and could land him the prize for best emerging director.

The film begins by focusing on Finsbury Health Centre in Pine Street, Finsbury, and Bevin Court in Cruikshank Street, Islington – both designed by the pioneering modernist Berthold Lubetkin.

Mr Cordell, who lives in Bevin Court, said: “The film looks at what I call the ‘social architecture’ of London from the 1930s to the 1980s.

Low cost

“It uses the buildings as a symbol of the ideas of the society of that time, and the aim to create a fairer, more equal society. The Finsbury Health Centre, for example, was the prototype for the NHS.”

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Utopia London grew out of his passion for modernist architecture, which he feels has been vilified over the past 35 years.

It is a first feature-length work for the 33-year-old – whose career started with his days as a teenage raver.

“I used to film drum ‘n’ bass raves when I was about 19,” he said. “Around 1997, digital cameras came onto the market that meant you could suddenly go and film things at a very low cost.

“A producer at the BBC saw one of those videos and offered me some work – that’s how I got my foot in the door.” He went on to make music videos for a host of UK Garage acts, including the Dreem Team, as well as working as a researcher and assistant producer in TV.

“I worked on loads of crime documentaries before this film,” he added.

“I spent a year of my life spending lots and lots of time with murderers and drug dealers. This was a bit of a change of gear.”

n The Open City festival runs from June 16-19 at UCL in Bloomsbury. Utopia London will be screened on Friday, June 17 at 5.30pm.