Hope, glory and celluloid success

As the London Film Festival drew to a close newspapers abounded with reports of a resounding success; a triumph for British film and a celebration of a vibrant British Film Industry. The films, and big name appearances by George Clooney and others, developed the media frenzy desired its organisers, the BFI.

For two weeks the world media spotlight was focussed on British Film. Thanks to the wide selection of British films available, and well received works by some great British directors, among them The Scouting Book For Boys, Ivul and The Disappearance of Alice Creed, British film – far from wilting under the limelight – bathed in the sweet glow of success. Had the festival included some more of the great British films to have been released this year, like Andrea Arnold’s Fish Tank or Peter Strickland’s Katalin Varga then British Film really would have shone brightly.

{{ quote At its best, British film can connect with us in a way no cinema from no other country can }}

Behind closed doors, however, those in the industry, far from looking to emulate this success next year, are wondering where their next meal is going to come from. From Britain’s bright young things to established masters UK director’s are having huge difficulties getting projects funded. As one producer put it simply: “there is no money.”

The films shown at this year’s LFF represent the peak of a wave, the culmination of a decade of investment brought largely through government subsidy. National Lottery money channelled to aspiring British film-makers by the UK Film Council has been the greatest source of funding for UK film makers over the last ten years. Together with Film4, and to a lesser extent BBC Films, they have enabled this ‘British Boom.’ With the diversion of lottery funding to the Olympics and cash flow problems at Channel 4, coupled with the recession, this money has all but disappeared.

But did British Film ever really experience boomtime? British film grossed $4bn worldwide in 2008 and John Woodward, CEO of the UK Film Council, argues “that’s a phenomenal achievement and is a measure of UK film’s vital contribution to the wider economy. Maintaining that level of commercial success is essential – encouraging inward investment, securing jobs, and boosting Britain’s reputation as a world leader in cultural excellence.”

Film, along with other British creative industries, has been one of the few economic sectors to have bucked the downward trend, in what otherwise has been a gloomy period for the British economy.

In 2007 a record seven British made films appeared in the domestic box office top ten. However, the extent to which these films are British is often somewhat debatable. Can we really call Harry Potter a British film? Made by an American studio, with American money, an American screenwriter and an international list of directors, it may have been filmed here and have British actors, but is this a British film? Sadly, I think not. Again, this is the case for scores of other ‘British films’, often produced on home soil by American studios merely wishing to cut costs.

British film making expertise has been lucrative for the American studios and investors who have profited from this wealth of talent. This skill base has been largely developed through British independent film making. Most people in British film got into the industry to make new and interesting British films yet ,for some reason they end up working on the new James Bond, or the latest Jane Austen adaptation targeted for an American audience. Why? Well, they pay the gas bill.

So what about real British film, by British directors, actually relevant to British people and the reason most people got into the industry? Films like Somerstown, Red Road or Hunger, films that could not have been produced anywhere else in the world, brilliant films, but most importantly films that reflect us. Well, nobody went to see them. Nearly all were subsidised and most lost money. Have you even heard of them? Probably not.

This article was prompted by the horde of blank looks I encountered when I attempted to find friends to accompany me to see Fish Tank. The film is one of the best I’ve seen all year (not just British), winning the Jury Prize at Cannes and being championed in almost every review. Nobody had even heard of it, but, crucially, they all thoroughly enjoyed it.

This is the problem: great British films are being made all the time, and those who see them agree they are often exceptional, yet nobody hears about them and nobody ever sees them. In this recession, when the fate of real British film hangs in the balance we need to act now! If we don’t start supporting our film-makers now, the closest thing to a real British character on our screens will be Albus Dumbledore.

But is British film really worth saving? I’ve heard French cinema is a lot sexier, and Hollywood films have more explosions…what’s so great about British film? We see our houses, our streets, our cities – our lives reflected on screen and with them a deep sense of identification. At its best, British film can connect with us in a way no cinema from no other country can.

Film reflects modern Britain in a way no other medium seems capable of doing fast enough to keep pace. British directors are constantly taking on new issues or probing the goods and ills of our society, constantly asking what it means to be British. Unlike the BNP and Daily Mail’s image of an ideal Britain frozen somewhere between the end of the Second World War and the arrival of the Windrush, films like Secrets & Lies or East Is East depict the rich, ethnically and culturally mixed society we have become.

{{ image 390 }}

Within British film’s appetite to tackle the issues of today, our unique sense of humour is omnipresent, and this makes looking at ourselves a treat. I challenge anyone who could replicate the specific breed of dark humour found in The Full Monty or the self deprecating comic genius of some of the exchanges in Fish Tank. We also use this self deprecating lens to look back at our often troubling past. This helps films like Billy Elliott or This Is England make reopening old wounds and asking tough questions feel like reconnecting with a lost part of ourselves.

British films can also help us escape, like Slumdog Millionaire or Shaun of the Dead, and they can also seize upon our darkest fears like 28 Days Later but for some reason, I always find that at its best British film has an effect on me that no other cinema can. We can do better than merely consuming the cultural crumbs America drops from its table.

British film isn’t always perfect (I’d be the last person to defend Donkey Punch) but there are a horde of immensely talented British film makers making incredible British films right now, from horror to documentary to comedy. British film provides the most exciting cinema anywhere in the world right now.

This vibrant energy has been recognised by critics, audiences and awards worldwide, from Cannes to the Oscars, the only people yet to take notice are the British public. That’s where the Boar’s British Film Campaign comes in. Over the coming academic year we’re going to be making a big effort to make sure British film gets the audience it deserves. We’ll be reviewing all the exciting new British films over the coming year, reviving recent classics and getting you acquainted with our best directors.

British Film is a vital part of our culture, reflecting who we are more accurately than any other art form today. Go out and see for yourselves, and by the end of the year we promise you’ll have learnt to love British cinema, the films will will speak for themselves.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.