Archive for August, 2012

Edinburgh Festival theatre celebrates the power of cinema

By sheer coincidence both my first and last Edinburgh festival shows this year yoked the power of the moving image to live theatre.  From an impressive display of physical dance-theatre in Leoa one man show on the Fringe, to the exuberant spectacle of Les Naufrages du Fol Espoir in the converted Lowland Hall of the Royal Highland Centre at Ingilston, the impact of cinema on the 20th century was clearly in evidence.  Leo took a very simple premise – projection of a 90 degree rotated image of the performer in a bare set, whose walls are shaded different colours -and exploited it to the fullest extent imaginable.  Every sight gag possible with gravity running side to side rather than up and down was employed – recalling the early days of cinema when exactly such ‘trick’ photography played an important part in the medium’s early forms entertained admiring theatre and sideshow audiences.  But the climax of the show introduced a second element of cinema-magic with the performer drawing chalk ‘furniture’ and props on the bare walls which then, through superimposed animations, came to life, the goldfish swimming off as the room ‘filled’ with water and Leo ‘swam’ through the waves.  A superbly physical piece of theatre which danced with the magic of 19th century cinema by the simple device of a 21st century high-definition video camera.

Théâtre du Soleil’s magnificent Les Naufrages du Fol Espoir also delved into cinema history, but on a much grander scale with nearly forty performers in an epic (four hour) tale of the pre-Great War hopes of socialist transformation.  It re-enacts the making of a filmic tribute to socialist values by a troop of cinema workers who have left the Pathe studios to go it alone and wound up in the attic of a restaurant  thanks to its starry-eyed owner.  The show synthesises the magic of theatre’s mechanical operations – swift scene changes, lighting, smoke and sound effects etc. – with the illusionist power of the early cinema to recreate exotic worlds with a dash of painted background and a seagull on a stick.  It’s a show which tackles the difficulty of telling complex stories and history through the medium of entertainment, whether on stage or screen, and the difficulty of realizing visionary states of human society amidst the seemingly irrepressible lust for land, power and domination that besets humankind.

In very different ways both shows remind us of the theatrical origins of cinema and the shared techniques and tropes that make both capable of transforming a darkened space into a window on another world and a crucible for considering other ideas.

Scotland reverses decline in EU MEDIA programme awards but no medal (yet)

After seven years of steady decline Scotland finally saw an improvement in the level of investment secured from the EU MEDIA programme as the programme itself nears its end.  As we’ve noted in previous posts (see October 2010 and May 2011)  Scottish production companies’ share of MEDIA’s Single  Project and Slate development funds hit a high water mark in 2004 then dropped to a low point in 2010.  Last year Sigma Film’s £170k Slate award helped stop the rot but the overall share of the €14m MEDIA funding in the UK coming to Scotland remains less than 2%.

To be fair we would not expect Scotland to be sharing in the around €8m support to distributors, sales agents and individual films given the absence of first run distributors based in Scotland and only one film (Sigma’s Perfect Sense) in the eligible list.  And in the skills department we’re not faring too badly (thanks to Screen Academy Scotland’s ENGAGE project) with €150K of the €971k invested in training programmes.

On the other hand no Scottish company secured Single Project development funding (19 English and 2 Welsh companies shared €740k between them), Interactive Project funding (€150k awards went to two English and one Welsh company) or a share of the €1.2m in support for TV Distribution shared by five English companies.

All in all a small improvement but not exactly gold medal territory.  In any case with the EU MEDIA and CULTURE programmes being replaced in 2014 by ‘Creative Europe’ (if you want to know more those kind people at the European Commission have posted some short FAQ video answers here.) we will all have to get used to new structures, priorities and application processes.

With €1.8bn to spend between 2014 and 2020 (assuming the European Council and Parliament approve the Bill and budget, which have yet to receive their ‘first reading‘) there’s a lot at stake, and not just for media companies.  Whether or not Scotland gains independence during that period, we would get a lot of benefit from securing a larger slice of the pie than we have managed recently.

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