Steve Rainbow has always tried to think of others before himself – and the result has been an unconventional film-making journey.

Now he’s set to honour the inventiveness of his personal hero, Alexander Parkes, with two new movies.

The first, More Canals Than Venice, will be distributed to every senior school in the city and made freely available to all clubs and societies.

Fun With Caravans, a Hitchcock-style thriller due to begin shooting this month, might then become the film which finally establishes Steve as a national name.

From early beginnings with award-winning short films, his 20-year route to get this far has been a fascinating one.

Steve initially began to use his fine art degree knowledge as a form of “art therapy” to help people living rough, only to realise they could further broaden their outlook by filming each other.

Now, a fundraiser for the St Basils charity for the homeless, Steve’s most recent feature, N.F.A. (No Fixed Abode, 2012) shone a spotlight on what it would be like to be an executive who unexpectedly falls on hard times.

Backed by Sutton Coldfield-born director Justin Edgar and his 104 Films company, the lead role of Adam was played by the borough’s own Hollywood star, Patrick Baladi, who was keen to help out a local filmmaker with a goal, an agenda and no little talent.

On December 29 – the 200th anniversary of the birth of city inventor Alexander Parkes – Steve had another generous act up his sleeve.

After spending a year largely self-funding and making his own documentary revealing 100 great things about Birmingham, he launched More Canals Than Venice online as a one-day-only, free-to-watch film on YouTube to tell the world about Birmingham’s extraordinary contribution to the global, post-industrial society.

With production, marketing and distribution help from co-funder Blair Kesseler, More Canals Than Venice will now be freely distributed across all 97 senior schools in Birmingham during the next two months.

Clubs and societies can also screen it by request to try to let the entrepreneurs, scientists, thinkers and workers of tomorrow reflect on their heritage at the heart of the West Midlands.

Alexander Parkes remains one of the city’s most unsung heroes despite there being a Birmingham Civic Society 2004 blue plaque in his honour in Newhall Street.

The inscription says: “Inventor of the first plastic, worked on this site for Elkington, Mason & Company, Electroplaters. Circa 1840-1850”.

Compared with the likes of industrialist Matthew Boulton, James Watt, William Murdoch and Joseph Priestley, Parkes’ name has remained under the radar.

A metallurgist in a metal-loving city, he developed Parkesine – a material that led both to the modern plastics industry and to celluloid.

So would Parkes have been at No.1 on Steve’s list even if such a milestone anniversary of his birth had not coincided with his film’s release?

“Yes, he would,” smiles Steve.

“I made that decision half way through my research and planning of the film.

“Then I thought, ‘Why don’t we make it global and tell the world!’.”

What Steve can’t do is to charge for it otherwise he would be liable for the copyright materials featured in the film – he estimates that a TV broadcaster would have to pay more than £10,000 to cover such costs.

Steve is also hoping for find an investor to fund the film’s distribution across the city’s 377 primary schools.

Married to community nurse specialist April and the father of 10-year-old daughter Ruby, anyone who has ever tried to hold down a job and make a film on top will appreciate Steve’s efforts to get this far.

“It’s been a labour of love,” he admits.

More Canals Than Venice made by film-maker Steve Rainbow
More Canals Than Venice made by film-maker Steve Rainbow

“You get nothing back when you do something like this... except more love!”

Details about Alexander Parkes’ life are few and far between – even the city’s Thinktank museum refers only to Parkesine and not to Parkes.

I spent two hours in the city’s new Library of Birmingham looking for more and the best I could find were the honourable mentions in a reference library copy of a University of Birmingham paper called The Development of the British Plastics Industry 1855 to 1990.

“Without Parkes, we might never have had Hollywood,” says Steve, “so we have to get the story out there.”

As a child, Steve remembers the war between Warner Bros and Disney.

“Even today, those Warner films influence the way that I think,” says the Acocks Green-based director.

“I also used to love all of the films produced by Birmingham-born Sir Michael Balcon, Peter Greenaway’s early films, and those by David Lean, Hitchcock and Spielberg.”

On January 18, Steve will begin his next feature production, Fun With Caravans, starring actor David Proud, who was Graham in N.F.A.

“I’d love to get Toyah involved in that one,” he says.

“It’s going to be like Rear Window for the download and texting generation, all about how you can get things wrong just by having one letter out of place.

“It was a great experience working with Patrick Baladi on N.F.A. Not only was I confident working with him, I knew he could hold the film on his shoulders.

“Fun With Caravans is going to be something to really look forward to.”

* For more details about Steve, visit: and for Fun With Caravans’ crowd-funding opportunities visit

Steve Rainbow's top five film facts about Birmingham

1. Alexander Parkes – father of plastic and celluloid.

2. The Electric Cinema (est 1909) is the oldest working cinema in the UK.

3. In 2012 Islamic Help in Balsall Heath became the focus of the Oscar-winning documentary Saving Face, about the help that is being given to women who are victims of acid attacks.

4. Birmingham born Sir Michael Balcon gave Alfred Hitchcock his first directing job. The most lorded producer in British film history, he is credited as executive producer at the end of every Ealing Comedy – and he is the grandfather of Daniel Day-Lewis, the first actor to win three best actor Oscars.

5. The Odeon cinema chain, still Europe’s largest, was started in Birmingham 80 years ago by Oscar Deutsch.