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.