Archive for December, 2009

Happy New Year

irish film board avoids saying ‘cut’ (as much as it might)

The Irish Film Board will see a 5% reduction in funding next year despite swingeing cuts to public sector pay and services announced by the Irish Government in its 2010 Budget.  Having survived a recommendation in the infamous McArthy Report that it be abolished, the 5% cut is seen by the Board as “clear affirmation of the economic importance of Ireland’s content production industries in the context of the emerging Smart Economy in Ireland and the key role the IFB plays in developing this sector“.

With public sector workers facing cuts of between 5% and 10% and child benefit to be cut by 10%, the IFB’s settlement is much better than the industry feared. 

The Scottish Government could do worse than take a look at the Irish experience in considering the future of film policy within Creative Scotland.  For complex reasons, not the least of which is they simply make more films than we do (See  lecture for part of the explanation), it remains the case that Irish indigenous films generate audiences four times as large as in Scotland while also making a bigger economic impact.

(re)creating scotland in film

Hannah McGill, Director of the Edinburgh International Film Festival (EIFF), gave her ‘Edinburgh Lecture’ tonight and it proved to be a thoughtful and eloquent tour d’horizon of the complexities of Scottish identity and its representation in film.  Her articulation of the seemingly perennial dilemma of Scottish film-making (not the same as Scottishness in film, most of which is ‘from the outside’) that (I paraphrase) ‘to be judged successful you must appeal to a universality that denies Scottish specificity’ is largely but not wholly true as she herself acknowledged.  Trainspotting relies as much on its sense of demotic authenticity as it does its appeal to the universal experience(s) of the urban underclass, drug-fuelled cross-class hedonism and ‘inferiorism’.

Hannah’s belief that Scottish identity permeates any kind/content/locale of a film whose creative forces have a rootedendess in Scotland is appealing but it doesnt address the deficit of representations of the experience of coming from/living in/relating to Scotland that arguably is an entitlement of any national identity.  Of course that doesn’t mean those representations must perforce be made by Scots (if it did we’d have to stop claiming Ken Loach’s films, albeit scribed and performed by Scots, as being ‘of’ Scotland, or indeed Danny Boyle, Andrea Arnold, even Lars Von Trier)  but it does leaves us with an unresolved dilemma.  The ‘entitlement’ to see ourselves reflected on the screen (e.g. in the way in which Gregory’s Girl was a defining moment in Scottish adolescence as portrayed in film) does not come with a corresponding obligation on anyone to produce such representations.   There’s the rub – unless writers/producers/directors and all the rest of the complex array of people who must all share a filmic vision get behind something that touches a nerve in the (Scottish) audience it can’t happen.  It can’t be socially engineered – it needs a confluence of forces, appetites, aspirations, creativity to produce a movie that speaks to a (national) generation, far less a transnational one.  Gregory’s Girl managed it, so did Trainspotting but between and since those peaks there’s an extensive desert in termns of connecting with audiences (not to be confused with important and influential films).  Perhaps that’s inevitable in a small country although the experience of our European neighbours suggests otherwise. 

On a more hopeful note Hannah concluded by suggesting EIFF aspires to moving into producing and would be knocking on Creative Scotland’s door with that in mind.  My initial reaction was negative (wouldnt that compromise the objectivity of the Festival as curator?) but then again – why not?  There are no distributors or any other ‘market makers’ in Scotland who bridge the audience/producer gap so why not let EIFF have a go?

cultural musical chairs as the recession bites

As it happens I was in Ireland when news reached me of Mike Russell’s departure from Culture to take up the Minister for Education portfolio.  It was only a week earlier that he had sat next to a former Irish Culture Minster, Michael D. Higgins, who had stressed how important it had been for him in the 1980s to build up the Culture portfolio with responsibility for broadcasting and other areas in order to ensure it was a ‘player’ in cabinet.  Anger in the arts community (see Sunday Herald) at Fiona Hyslop’s appointment to the culture brief being labelled in the media as a ‘demotion’ has rightly focussed attention on the low status attributed to the post. 

As has been widely noted the culture seat at the cabinet table has seen no less than ten incumbents, making it the reshuffle holding bay of Scottish politics.  Unusually Mike Russell’s departure has, for the first time and despite (or perhaps because of?)  only ten months in office, prompted a sense of loss that his predecessors, whatever your view of their merits, singularly failed to do.  I cant recall any of them receiving an enconium like Phil Miller’s Herald  opinion piece.   This may be due as much to his image as someone with a genuine concern for, and background in, the arts and media as it does his achievements in office.  His short-lived tenure means that he had little opportunity to deliver results.  The respect he seemed to engender across the political spectrum may have rested disproportionately on anticipation that he could make something out of the messy birth of Creative Scotland, a creation he had previously opposed but whose lumbering momentum had become a fact of life.   We wont now find out if that was simply a honeymoon period or something more substantial.   We can however hope that he might carry some of his concern for arts and culture into the Education portfolio where support for arts across primary, secondary and tertiary sectors needs bolstering.

It’s doubtful if the same hopeful anticipation that Mike Russell benefited from will extend to Fiona Hyslop who faces an increasingly weary arts and creative industries sector.  That’s despite the brave face put on further evidence of financial gloom in this week’s Arts Council report on the impact of the recession.  Taking a glass half full approach the SAC press release accompanying the research, which shows 61% of SAC funded organisations surveyed reporting a fall in income, cheerfully points out that almost 80% “expect the future to remain unchanged or that their income will improve” (primarily from increased catering receipts) while only 21% describe themselves as “‘pessimistic about the future”.  I suspect that’s as much keeping fingers crossed that the recession has bottomed out as it is wishful thinking that the budget cuts which will spring forth from whichever party is in power in Westminster dont wash down through the Holyrood culvert.

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