Filming Cornwall's Red River

Lead Research Organisation: University of Exeter
Department Name: English


Filming Cornwall's Red River will involve making a 30minute documentary TV film for transmission on BBC4 TV about the research findings of the AHRC ECR LF project Red River: Listening to a Polluted River (AH/S012303/1). The BBC has agreed to air the programme on BBC4 during October 2021 as part of its celebration of National Poetry Month. The BBC are a partner on the project, contributing cash and in-kind costs (although they are unable, for legal and business reasons, to state the value of air-time and other costs associated with transmissions). The programme will contain extracts from the long poem written as the practice-as-research output for the original Red River AHRC project.

In the 1880s, the river was described as one of the most lucrative in the world because of the mineral wealth generated from the mine sediments carried in its water. After the collapse of mining in Cornwall in the 1990s, the mining district of Pool, Redruth and Camborne, through which the Red River flows, became one of the poorest in Europe. The impact of this shift has been dramatic and traumatic. Now, with investment flowing back into Cornwall to fund the 'ethical' extraction of rare-earth metals like lithium and cobalt, and 'enabling metals' like tin, the area is again being described as the UK's mineral 'Klondike'. This is the right moment to think about the river's past, present and future as a complex human/nature hybrid subject shaped by extractive industries, and to use the poem (and associated research) composed for the Red River project to inform a BBC4 TV documentary about the river that will foreground the issues it raises at a national level.

The film will cross BBC TV's arts and nature programme genres. It will take an innovative filming approach to the small-scale, damaged and sometimes 'ugly' appearance of the river and celebrate its complexity as a neglected human/natural hybrid landform rich in culture significance, and damaged and recovering biodiversity. The film will explore questions about the future of the river and, by extension, other mistreated minor watercourses. Interviewees will be drawn from the pool of individuals who have contributed to and shaped the research project, and will include local voices as well as academics and experts. Interviews will be conducted on location at sites along the Red River to ensure the programme is local in its engagement with the detail, but of national and even global significance in terms of landscape debates around remediation and local community engagement.

We will hold live regional screenings and panel discussions with our regional partners to ensure that the film reaches local audiences who do not usually access BBC4 TV, and to debate and record impact responses to the issues it raises. These events may take place at the Eden Project, Heartlands, The Cornubian Arts and Science Trust and the Environment Sustainability Centre at the Penryn Campus of Exeter University. These events form part of the existing programme of impact and engagement activities planned for the second half of 2021 as part of the Red River project.

The PI will present and co-write the script with the independent ex-BBC producer Simon Willis. The scripting, organising, interviews and filming will take place over a period of approximately two months from the start date of the award. The film will greatly enhance, through creative and innovative filming, the impact of the original AHRC-funded Red River project. Project viewing figures for the programme range between 300 000 & 600 000.


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Title Cornwall's Red River 
Description BBC FOUR 30minute documentary 
Type Of Art Film/Video/Animation 
Year Produced 2022 
Impact 476 000 views on night. Confirmed viewing figures including i-Player likely to be 600 000. Stimulated the Connecting the Red River project with Cornwall Council and Environment Agency regarding the future of the Red River in West Cornwall. 
Description We discovered additional social and personal histories associated with the Red River valley through the interview and research process. We were able to raise the profile of the Red River and stimulate additional volunteering work and renewed interest in the Red River valley as both a recreation amenity site and a source of biodiversity and site of complex expressions of local identity. We were able to make a film that has been overwhelming successful in stimulating a renewed sense of understanding of a hidden, or less visited, part of Cornwall. The programme has reached over 600 000 viewers through BBC FOUR and the publicity interviews prior to that reached an audience of 150 000. The programme is very good example of the integration of poetry into a documentary film. The film was on iPlayer for a year.
Exploitation Route The work is currently informing the Environment Agency-funded Cornwall Council project 'Connecting the Red River'. It is also shaping on of the themes of the RENEW: renewing biodiversity through a people in nature approach (Exeter University) project (12.2 million) funded by NERC.
The film has been used by the Camborne Town Team as part of the UK Govt-funded Towns Fund initiative.
It forms one of the education resources available to teachers working on the local history, pollution, ecology and poetry.
Sectors Creative Economy,Education,Environment,Leisure Activities, including Sports, Recreation and Tourism,Government, Democracy and Justice,Culture, Heritage, Museums and Collections

Description The publicity surrounding the transmission of the BBC FOUR documentary film stimulated a renewed local interest in the Red River valley as a social amenity, site of biodiversity hotspots and a place through which to think about the past present and future of Cornwall and Cornish identity as the importance of its mineral reserves are re-evaluated in the light of our increased need for critical metals. Volunteer peaked after the transmission of the film and local volunteer groups benefitted from donations and addition support from Cornwall Council and private businesses. The film, which includes adaptations of poetry written for Red River: Listening to a Polluted River (ECR AHRC LF), as reached well over 600 000 viewers, which is exceptional for a BBC FOUR documentary. We are awaiting the final figures now that its year-long presence on iPlayer has come to an end. The film has been used by other artists working on the renewal of Camborne Town as part of the Towns Initiative (UK Gov £25 million), and as an educational resource in local schools. A public footpath and new bridge was installed in the Red River Valley as part of the renewed interest in the amenity value of this less visited part of West Cornwall. The Environment Agency decided to invest in a new scoping project title 'Reconnecting the Red River' and the research from the film and the poem have informed this research.
First Year Of Impact 2022
Sector Communities and Social Services/Policy,Creative Economy,Education,Environment,Leisure Activities, including Sports, Recreation and Tourism,Culture, Heritage, Museums and Collections
Impact Types Cultural,Societal,Policy & public services

Description Reconnection the Red River
Geographic Reach Local/Municipal/Regional 
Policy Influence Type Participation in a guidance/advisory committee
Impact Increased participation in volunteering and use of the river and its history as an educational resource.
Description Cornwall's Red River: 30 minute film for BBC FOUR 
Form Of Engagement Activity A broadcast e.g. TV/radio/film/podcast (other than news/press)
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact BBC documentary based on the Red River: Listening to a Polluted River research project. Audience figures on the night 373 000 rising to a likely figure of 400 000.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2022