Ich Bin: James Burt, filmmaker

‘By stepping outside of your own head and seeing life from the top down, you realise that we’re all just bodies walking around and standing in rooms’

‘I guess being bullied was good for me. It’s given me a lot of empathy.’ James Burt
James Burt is senior editor at an east London-based production company, and has lived in Brockley, Lewisham, for a couple of years. “I graduated from Kingston University in with a first in Creative Writing then soon afterwards discovered my passion for filmmaking,” he says. Making short films in my free time under the alias Darkslide, they’re a mixture of narrative, art, music video and mood films. He also “tries to record heartfelt folk music” under the same alias.

When were you happiest?
There’s no doubt that I’m at my happiest now. I have a fulfilling editing job, my relationship is stable and I live in an alright situation in a nice part of South East London within easy reach of most things. I’m not a nostalgist; if you make the present good, then the future will be too.

Where would you like to live in south London?
The great thing about this area is accessibility, that you don’t actually have to live bang in the middle of a buzzing place to feel like you’re close to it. I’d really like to live in Herne Hill, though. I love the idea of a village in the middle of a city. Brixton’s just there but it’s still relatively mellow. But then I’d really miss New Cross. Southwark would be amazing too for sheer centrality. I work in Wapping so could walk across Tower Bridge.

What is your favourite sound or smell?
My answer to this is slightly abstract. My favourite sounds are those which I haven’t heard before – from one of the many new music nights in New Cross on a weekly basis. There’s a good music scene down there, probably because of Goldsmith’s. That’s very valuable in a city in which the live music scene feels a bit lost through having too many options.

Who is your favourite south Londoner?
My good friend Kerry Fitzgerald. We’ve worked together on several film projects. She introduced me to bingo at Surrey Quays Gala.

What is the most important lesson life has taught you?
That by stepping outside of your own head and seeing life from the top down, you will realise that we are all just bodies walking around and standing in rooms, just like one another. And so you don’t have to worry or be anxious about the situations that life puts you in because any outward pressure is in your own head. You can go or you can stay. It is totally up to you.

What is your earliest south London memory?
Being driven through South London in my parent’s car on the way to my Nan and Grampa’s. They live up in Leyton in a house full of relics of my family past. Its like a dark, sad museum with two lovely people living in it.

What makes you unhappy?
When coffee runs low, when my girlfriend is unhappy and when I realise that I don’t spend enough time with my friends.

What simple thing would improve your quality of life?
Southern trains providing more carriages/services in the morning so everybody doesn’t get crushed into each other.

What is your most unappealing habit?
Working really hard and putting everything into what I do, then when it is done never believing that it is any good.

What is your guilty pleasure?
Going to get my hair cut at Chaplins in Deptford. Mem (the owner) is a really deep, interesting guy and a very talented barber. He puts all his skill and attention into his work and still runs a place that makes you feel part of a community. Kat, the other barber, is great too and always good for a laugh.

Where do you hang out?
New Cross Inn for cool music, New Cross House for Pizza and drink. Brixton Village is good for an impromptu meal. Peckham for a house party in the street type feel. During the day you can’t say no to the gardens of The Horniman Museum in Forest Hill. They do good festivals there. Greenwich is another favourite.

Who or what do you dislike and why?
Except for the haphazard train service everything is tickety boo.

Best south London gig or night out?
Peckham, I’d say, though I don’t go out south as much as east.

What’s your worst experience?
Worst – well, probably when somebody tried to break into my flat in the middle of the night. Thank our landlady for fixing super strong doorframes.

What do you most dislike about your appearance?
I’m a skinny guy. But I don’t dwell on it too much.

What’s the worst thing anyone’s said to you?
Well, I’m also ginger, so a lot of abuse has stemmed from that. I guess being bullied was good for me. It’s given me a lot of empathy.

What has your career taught you?
That if you enjoy your job, then you will be a happier person. Discover what gives you pleasure in life, then find a way to make that employable. Working hard won’t feel like working hard because the process will be fulfilling to you in a greater way than just career development. Editing in a part of me, it is a part of my brain. It is also a very simple job. I don’t put myself in a position where I have to juggle many external factors. I have my footage, I have my computer, I have my brain. Time to make a film, then go home.

The house I live in is…
…shared with my landlady. She lives downstairs, with no physical separation between us (she can hear our goings on via the open stairwell.) It is a nice size and comfortable. The benefit of living with an OAP is that she likes having the heating on through winter with no extra charge to us.

What is your greatest life achievement?
Discovering a job that I am good at that makes me very happy. I guess that’s an achievement of my parent’s too. That’s what I want for my child. My dad has always had a hard time since I’ve known him because he hates his work. I think that’s why he had the patience to help me.

Describe yourself as an animal.
A cat with a dog’s head because I’m loyal but also very independent. A ‘Dat’. Or a ‘Cog’.

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