Shooting at a casino leaves four dead in new Darlington movie Sparrowhawk

Saturday 25th January 2020

BY day, Mike Tweddle is a mild-mannered quarry inspector with Durham County Council, but by night, he transforms into something remarkable, something fabulous, something utterly unexpected...

In his spare time, Mike is a film director and on Monday, his second feature-length film, Sparrowhawk, gets its hometown launch at Darlington Forum.

A shooting at a casino has left four dead. Undercover police have hauled in a homeless guy for an interrogation which takes place in an atmospherically desolate and dilapidated workshop (conveniently discovered in Darlington's Oxford Street).

"It's a crime thriller," he says. "It's a multi-layered story about duplicity: everyone lies, everyone has got an agenda, and you don't know who is the good guy and who is the bad."

And it builds to a murder. "There is violence," he says. "Less is more, I know it's a cliché, but it's true. In Scarface, Al Pacino is handcuffed in a shower while someone is chopped up with a chainsaw, and although you don't see it, it is horrific, so in Sparrowhawk you see the implications of the murder although you don't see the actual murder."

Mike, 52, traces his beginnings to his punk rock youth. Behind the snarls and the spit, punk rock was about having the courage to be yourself, so Mike wrote and produced fanzines and tried to work out how to get into film.

He also had to support himself and his family, so he did a science degree at Durham and became a quarry inspector, while making short films - including one about Darlington's pioneering black footballer, Arthur Wharton - in his spare time.

In 2013, he made his first 90-minute feature, Damaged Goods, which is a gritty drama filmed amid the industrial beauty of the coast at Redcar. It's about a brother and sister from a broken family who find a dog that's been badly damaged by dogfighting. They nurse it back to health - but then have to fight against the men who want to drag it back to fighting.

"It's a subject I feel very strongly about, one of the most abhorrent things that mankind does to man's best friend," he says.

Made with the support of the RSPCA, it has been shown around the world.

"It featured a couple of County Durham kids in the lead roles, and I ended up taking it to America," he says. "I remember one screening where people came up to me at the end and said 'love your film but can you use subtitles next time because we didn't understand a word those kids were saying?'."

Damaged Goods had a budget of £5,000. For his next project, Sparrowhawk, he set out to crowdfund £12,000 - a target reached with the help of Newcastle businessman/philanthropist Roy Stanley.

"It's a small budget which would not even cover a day's catering on a Hollywood film, so I needed something striped down with one location," he says.

The bulk of his budget went on hiring Canon C300 cameras so that when the derelict Victorian workshop was lit it with blue-white tungsten lights, the audience could see every unsettling detail of its dilapidation.

"It's a great location - it's got atmosphere and it feels quite ominous, from a director's point of view," he says. "Although it is a grim setting, I think it looks quite beautiful."

The seven actors worked for expenses, and Mike was surprised when Hollywood composer John Robert Wood offered to write the soundtrack - Wood has scored global adverts for Mercedes-Benz, Nike and Nintendo, and has twice been nominated for an Emmy for his work on US TV shows.

"I emailed him back and said sorry I didn't have the budget to pay him, and he said he'd do it for a bottle of wine because he comes from Darlington originally," says Mike. "And it has really worked. The idea of the story is mine, but the music is the final character."

Mike found the film title in a quarry. "In my work, I get to see a lot of birds of prey and the sparrowhawk is the smallest," he says. "It hunts pigeons three or four times its own size and it can attack six or seven of them at a time. In my story, this guy is on his own and he's fighting this team that have caught him and are interrogating him."

His aim is to get Sparrowhawk shown at film festivals around the world, and He's already working on his next short film, which will star legendary children's presenter, Derek Griffiths. His next feature will be about Stephen Murray, the BMX world champion from North Shields, who became a quadriplegic after a crash in 2007.

"He's the most inspirational person I've ever met - he's brought up two kids who've become BMX riders and they're now doing the tricks he did," says Mike. "It's an amazing story, and I want to tell it."

His hope is that Sparrowhawk is being picked up from a festival by one of the online streaming sites, and its success will enable him to move into the movies full time.

"I'm at the age where I've got my kids into university, so the instant I get the chance to do it, I will be gone from the quarries," he says. "I'm itching to give it a go."

Let's hope that Sparrowhawk really flies.

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