Archive for November, 2009

craters or ripples? British film’s impact

The cultural impact of British film was probably self-evident to the mix of film academics and policy folk gathered yesterday at Birbeck college to discuss the UK Film Council’s recent report “Stories we tell ourselves: the cultural impact of UK film“.  But the discussion was livelier than one might have anticipated as the perennial tension between applied and academic research priorities asserted itself.  Behind the UKFC’s commissioning of the report lay its concern to reinforce the cultural case for film policy interventions.  The original tender made these very clear:

  • “to feed into the implementation of the UK Film Council’s current policy and funding priorities”

  • “to shape an understanding of what we mean by film culture in the context of any future policy discussions with the European Commission about state aid for film.”
  • “to demonstrate what the UK Film Council understands by cultural value and how UK Film delivers cultural value back to the UK citizens and consumers and to the Government, and to provoke discussion”
  • The political/policy context is clear – the UKFC (and other agencies such as Scottish Screen/Creative Scotland) need to marshall the arguments for continued funding of film from education via production to exhibition.  As the economic/creative industries rationale for film investment has been restated endlessly, and as in some areas it is not delivering the goods (i.e. those films which dont themselves make a significant economic impact, which is the majority), attention is once again being turned to other reasons to support our film industry, viz its part in our wider culture.

    Of course most of the people in the room probably never bought into the creative industries policy rhetoric ushered in during the Thacher era and taken up enthusiasticaly and hegemonically by New Labour.   But that doesnt mean there wasn’t considerable anxiety about some aspects of the report, particularly its attempt to examine how British film extols/critiques “British values”, a concept critiqued by several attendees.

    Overall the enterprise of the study, the dataset of British film and its impact that it has created and the general thrust towards revalidating the widespread, non-obvious, complex and overwhelmingly positive ‘impacts’ that British film-making has had were all enthusiastically welocmed. 

    However there was plenty ‘taking to task’ when it came to discussion of defintions (e.g. what is a ‘British’ film) and methodology.  That said no-one appeared to doubt the value of the study in illuminating further avenues for research, providing an extremely valuable, if as yet incomplete, dataset and,  perhaps more significantly, a set of questions with genuine potential to foster collaboration between the funding and policy community and film academics across history, genre, effects and many other areas of interest.

     

 

tightening up telly’s support for film

Interesting, if ironic, that the Digital Economy Bill adds a specific obligation on Channel 4 to participate in (i.e. invest in) high quality films that “reflect cultural activity in the United Kingdom” (something it has always done, and very well) when no such obligation applies to any other PSB.  Unlike many other European countries, and despite the good work of BBC Films and C4,  our broadcasting system is woefully inadequate when it comes to investment in the film industry whose products its happy to show after the fact.  German TV, for instance, invests around ten time as much in film production as the UK while France requires its broadcasters to invest around 3% of their revenue in film.

Now if Holyrood assumed responsibility for Broadcasting in Scotland would it ensure that Pacific Quay paid its dues towards the film talent and infrastructure that also supports the TV drama everyone is keen to see more of coming out of Scotland?  One would like to think so…

“Never waste a good recession”…

..was the advice from Michael D. Higgins, former irish Culture Minister, at last nights seminar on the Creative Economy at the Parliament, hosted by our culture supremo Mike Russell.  Higgins meant that as the neoliberal market paradigm collapses around us its a good time to reassert more enduring values and goals in the cultural industries.  Erudite, poetic and fiercely intelligent, Higgins recapped on the Irish experience of building a strong cultural portfolio in Government, setting up the second Irish Film Board, the Irish language broadcaster TG4 and the dangers of letting culture be subsumed under the ‘how does this help the economy?’ banner.

Mike Russell spoke of the need, in the debate around the setting up of Creative Scotland to ‘move on’ from talking endlessly about structures although he didn’t quite clarify exactly what we should be talking about though he picked up on a lively exchange between Lesley Riddoch and the BBC’s Ed Sayer around whether the broadcaster had succumbed to the cult of celebrity earlier bemoaned by Higgins.  For Russell (as for many of us) Broadcasting in Scotland can’t move on significantly until Parliamentary oversight for it moves to Holyrood.

Scottish Screen CEO Ken Hay looked forward to the more joined up Creative Scotland and the opportunity to work more closely with other arts and creative sectors, but then he doesnt really have any choice as we were reminded by the Minister once again that the Creative Scotland train has left the station and by another contributor that the only real questions are where it is heading and what class we are travelling.  Perhaps not the most appropriate analogy for a body charged with widening access and participation but there you go.  Next stop….?

Would exhibition quotas help British or Scottish film?

Robert Carlyle thinks they would (see http://www.heraldscotland.com/arts-ents/more-arts-entertainment-news/carlyle-calls-for-british-screens-in-multiplexes-1.931537) but I’m not so sure. Previous attempts at ring-fencing British films in cinemas proved to be a recipe for more bad films rather than ensuring better audiences for good films.    The real question is why are distributors reluctant to acquire more British or Scottish  films?  Are they constrained by lack of resources to fund P&A?  Is it simply they judge the majority of films that they are offered (prior to or after completion) as bad bets?  Is it really true that exhibitors cant see the potential in a swathe of great British films and are denying them exposure?  Or is that many of the films just aren’t strong enough to earn a place on the distributor’s slate? 

Of course every filmmaker who struggles to get a distribution deal believes the answer is anything but the last possibility, but since overall British films are actually doing quite well – their Box Office has almost doubled in the last decade – is may be that the films sitting on the undistributed shelf just don’t make the market-makers excited enough.  That is bad news for strong, challenging films that don’t (appear to) have mass appeal (yet) but that’s a different issue – that’s where we need a strong network of subsidised film theatres with as-good-as-a-multiplex facilities, decent marketing budgets and joined-up thinking between the exhibition and production arms of Scottish Screen and the UK Film Council.


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