Charlie Phillips

Charlie Phillips is the Head of Documentaries at The Guardian. As he embarks on two schemes to get filmmakers from Cuba and Ukraine pitching short online documentaries, we settled him under our spotlight to talk about the films that made him.

Charlie Phillips

Charlie Phillips is the Head of Documentaries at The Guardian responsible for Guardian Documentaries, a project to commission and acquire new documentaries from all around the world for The Guardian's global website, one of the world's most visited serious online video platforms. The Guardian is one of the world's most read English Language news sources, with 140m monthly unique browser visits. Winner of the Pulitzer Prize in 2014, it has a long-respected reputation for news, investigation and multimedia. Charlie's task is to commission mostly short form documentaries which show brilliant storytelling and characters focused on contemporary subjects which are relevant globally and feel very new. Charlie was previously Deputy Director at Sheffield Doc/Fest for 7 years before joining The Guardian in 2014, and prior to that he was Editor of FourDocs for Channel 4.

What’s your connection to the British Council? 
I've worked with the British Council many times, first in my previous work running Sheffield Doc/Fest when we used to frequently collaborate to get documentary makers from under-represented countries to come to Sheffield and meet with Decison Makers and collaborators and generally get their documentary making known better, and I also helped shape the Docunexion programme. Then more recently with The Guardian, where we've planned a couple of very exciting schemes to get filmmakers from Cuba and Ukraine pitching me short online documentaries - we want their stories, they have access to stories no one else has. The British Council are great to work with, there's a real passion for docs there.
What are you working on right now?
I commission short documentaries for The Guardian which screen online all across the world. In the last year we've put out 30, and they're films I'm very proud of.
What/who originally turned you onto film?
I'd always loved going to the cinema as a child, I used to get taken all the time by my parents, it's always had a romance and mystery to me. I just never stopped watching films!

What has been your career high so far?
Joining The Guardian - I honestly think this is the ideal organisation for me. I fully admit I am very very Guardiany. And it's exciting doing a new, slightly experimental, project with the documentary commissioning.
What was your first job in the film industry?
Various roles being a runner on short films - not always enjoyable.
If I knew then what I know now…
I'd say make films yourself and organise your own screenings, if you start right from the bottom, it's very hard to work your way up. Make your own opportunities, and be creative! Never stop creating.
What is your favourite British film?
Listen to Britain (Humphrey Jennings) - surrealism, documentary and glorious humanity all in one!
If you could have directed/been involved with any film ever made, which one would it be?
Todd Haynes' Velvet Goldmine - I'm still in love with that film, it must have been so fun to be involved with, it seems like a real passion project.
What’s the first film you remember seeing?
It probably wasn't the first but I remember The Land Before Time - I think I liked being in the cinema on a morning feeling cosy and entertained. I still love early morning screenings.
What’s your favourite line or scene from a film? 
Right now, I love the scene towards the end from Hindle Wakes when the main girl decides not to get married - very old film, very liberating sequence. Or maybe the rollercoaster scene from the same film - I love the elation.
Favourite screen kiss?
Lady and The Tramp - because dogs are better than people.
Who’s your favourite screen hero and/or villain?
Currently, my heroes are the two main girls from Tangerine - total commitment to honesty and the struggle of life. I like everyday heroes.
Villain - not sure I dislike people enough in films, I like to see their humanity too much, I like flawed characters.
Who would play you in the film about your life? 
Bob Dylan, but he'd struggle to play the younger me. Why? I think he'd like the irony.