Archive for July, 2010

Save the UKFC online petition

If you want to express support for the UKFC there is an online petition at

Balkans unbowed in film production stakes

This month’s Screen International feature on film in South-eastern Europe casts yet another light on Scotland’s relatively low level of film production, especially when you take account of our relative wealth compared to the countries of the former Yugoslavia.  Of course the decades of pre-1989 cultural and economic seclusion behind the Iron Curtain (even the more porous variety fostered by Tito) and the usual continental advantage of a language barrier to US product provided an excellent bulwark against Hollywood domination and helped foster a relatively healthy domestic market.  From that background have emerged acclaimed film-makers like the Serbian Emir Kusturica, Bosnian Ysmila Zbanic, Macedonian Milčo Mančevski and Slovenia Maja Weiss. Now it seems a number of eagle-eyed UK companies are active in co-productions in the region and one recent co-production was supported by the Irish Film Board. 

Just as dedicated public bodies for film in the UK become an endangered species, SI reports that around the Balkans “Until recently, institutional support in the region was minimal but film centres are opening up and at the regional forum hosted by Screen International and CineLink at last year’s Sarajevo Film Festival, national film bodies agreed to set up a joint pavilion at Cannes this year.”

The fact that Bosnia Herzegovinia can produce the same number of features a year as Scotland, with a GDP one tenth the size, is surely food for thought.

Scotland and South Eastern Europe compared            
       Prod.s.         mean m.pop $bngdp
  pop. (m) gdp.$bn 2005 2006 2007 2008 2009      
Bosnia-Herzegovinia 3.9 17 3 6 9 7 6 6 1.6 0.360
Croatia 4.5 62 10 14 13 11 13 12 2.7 0.200
Macedonia 2 8 2 2 5 1 9 4 1.9 0.480
Serbia 7.8 42 12 14 25 30 24 21 2.7 0.500
Slovenia 2 50 10 4 12 15 6 9 4.7 0.190
Scotland 5 173 6 8 4 4 6 6 1.1 0.030
Sources: Screen International issue 1725 with additional scottish data and pop/gdp figs. from the  
Screen Media Research Centre at Edinburgh Napier University        

UK Film Council axed – Minister chooses new artwork for his walls

Staggering news that the Coalition Govt. is to abolish the UK Film Council, reportedly in order to secure a  “direct and less bureaucratic relationship with the British Film Institute”.  An odd spin to put on yet another wielding of the blunt axe.  The BFI is a venerable and valuable organisation which has in the past played a key role in fostering new film talent, championing diversity and bringing critical and creative perspectives on film together.  It is, however, not exactly well placed these days to assume the talent, skills, development and production functions of the Film Council so we have to wonder what exactly Jeremy Hunt has in mind. 

In the DCMS press release announcing the changes Hunt states that 

we will look to transfer key functions to other existing bodies so as to continue to support our sectors and preserve the necessary expertise. In the case of the Film Council, for example, this will include their current responsibilities for the distribution of Lottery funding for films, which will be maintained, as well as support for the certification process which is critical to the film tax relief, which will also be maintained.”

So taking this at face value is he going to give the BFI what may be left of the UKFC budget and an enlarged role as champion of both film industry as well as culture (its core purpose)? Or is he going to hive off the support of the film industry to the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) or an even  more ‘Balkanised’ solution – either of  which latter options would be supremely idiotic. 

This has all the marks of ‘quango busting’ for no good reason other than to reduce the quango count, regardless of the merits of the organisation and, worse still, drives  coach and horses through any notion of a coherent policy towards film or the wider creative industries.

Still we can take comfort in the news from Mr Hunt’s blog that he has found “consolation from the pain of having to submit my Treasury spending review bid on Friday by choosing the artwork for my office“.

Cinema ‘a far-reaching influence in the life of the community’

As your ‘blog-espondent’  is going to be away for the next wee while we leave you with a flashback to the cold, dark days of February 1941 when Scottish Cinema was but a gleam in the eye of the far-sighted.  Judge for yourself just how much things have changed…

No extravagant picture of the part cinema might play in post-war Scotland was drawn at the Saltire Society’s conference in Edinburgh on Saturday.  While it was claimed for the drama that it was quite simply the greatest of all the arts, and that one did not begin to live until one had studied the value of the cinema was estimated in a more modest and realistic manner, Mr Norman Wilson, chairman of the Edinburgh film guild, discussed the cinema as a medium of expression and persuasion which might serve the reformers, the teachers and the builders of the Scotland of tomorrow.  He spoke of the film’s powers of persuasion, illustration, and condensation, and said that whatever we might feel about the cinema as an art or an entertainment, there was no doubting its far-reaching influence in the life of the community.

This is a realistic point of view and there was realism too in Mr Wilson’s recommendation that film production in Scotland at present is practically non-existent.  The opportunity presented by the Empire Exhibition was seized, a Films of Scotland Committee was set up and about half a dozen films were produced.  These were on the right lines – stimulating, forward-looking surveys of education , agriculture, fishing, housing, and the heavy industries.  But, unfortunately, they have not marked the beginning of a film policy for Scotland, and under war conditions the effort has petered out.

… Mr Wilson held that the successful establishment of film production in Scotland after the war would depend on the support of large public organisations.  It was essential, he said, that there should be a constant flow of work which would enable units to exist and expand..”

“The Cinema. Films in Post-War Scotland”, The Scotsman, Tuesday February 18th, 1941

The Scottish Screen (or is it ‘Screen Scotland’?) dug is dead.

Today sees the official birth of Creative Scotland and the demise of the Scottish Arts Council and, according to the Press Association , as dutifully reproduced on the Herald and other newspaper websites around the country, something called ‘Screen Scotland’. (It would seem that the old newspaper practice of checking agency copy is now a thing of the past.)

Those gathered at last night’s farewell do in Glasgow for departing Scottish Screen staff and those who came to work today for their new employer, Creative Scotland, had the opportunity to swap reminiscences about the ups and downs of the agency’s thirteen years (91 in dog years so quite a good run) and look forward, albeit with a certain amount of trepidation, to the new era.  As a former Scottish Screen employee myself I’d be the last to say that it was an unalloyed success.  Some of the good intentions behind the joining together of the Scottish Film Council, Scottish Film Production Fund, Scottish Broadcast and Film Training and Scottish Screen Locations were at best only partially fulfilled and the operational silos that persisted in some areas only really began to be dismantled with the arrival of its third and final CEO Ken Hay.  That said, the ‘Golden Umbrella for films by Scots’ as the Herald put it back in 1996, did shelter a lot of good work and sustained the bare bones of a film industry still struggling to achieve critical mass. 

The task facing Creative Scotland (and as one of its newly installed Board Members that of course includes me) is to build on Scottish Screen’s (and its predecessors’) achievements; identify new/better ways of supporting screen work and the people who make, show and benefit from it; and pull together the various national, regional and local players who can make both screen culture and industry stronger.  More of a ‘big tent’ than an umbrella you might say.

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