News, — September 26, 2011 18:25 — 0 Comments
Studying film is still often seen as lightweight. But in 2011 it’s arguably as important as literature and science, so where will the next generation of film-makers come from? Although this article is primarily about the UK film industry and our education system, I think it is relevant to anyone wanting to get into film and it does recognise the iPhone as a film-making tool
Tripping through Covent Garden market in 1968 armed with a clockwork Bolex 16mm film camera, I bumped into an opera buff friend who laughed at me when I told him I had won a scholarship to the London Film School, which was based (still is) in a sprawling warehouse near the market. "Sounds like a scam to dodge university," he scoffed.
Nearly 50 years on, studying film is still seen by many as a scam. And yet my granddaughter Tilda makes films on my iPhone. Egyptians changed their political regime with short films posted on the internet. Mike Tindall is compromised on CCTV thousands of miles away from his royal wife. My wife uses high-definition recipe films to cook supper. We can watch a documentary film on the bus instead of reading a newspaper. Artists make films and show them in the Tate.
And, of course, all of us can make and upload a film on to YouTube with our mobile phones. Commercials on TV, movies in cinemas, video lectures in the classroom – all examples about how film has progressed spectacularly from being a remote form of industrialised entertainment to become a medium for self-expression available to all; one perhaps as powerful as the spoken and written word.
The Department for Culture, Media and Sport has initiated a fresh review of film policy under the chairmanship of Chris Smith. The words "film" and "policy" have rarely been comfortable cultural bedfellows in Britain. Ever since the Cinematograph Films Act of 1927, successive governments have attempted to make laws that help the "film industry" thrive with a variety of measures, which have included establishing trade quotas to restrict US control of the entire production, distribution and exhibition process (a problem that has never been solved). Rarely have these policies considered the wider implications of what film represents. If this timely review is to be worth its salt it must recommend a radical and daring approach for government and the British Film Institute, which has inherited the recently disbanded UK Film Council’s mantle.
Properly empowered, the BFI could start a revolution in the way our society views film. It will have to be ruthless and brave, particularly in its own backyard. It must discourage the cleverly disguised, often abused, privileges and economic advantages for the self-serving structure of Britain’s Hollywood-dominated cinema industry. It must also devise a fairer system for the way government subsidies and lottery patronage are provided – whether it be for an archive, a festival, an independent cinema or a film producer.
Over the past two decades these sweeping powers have been in the gift of a small, undemocratically appointed elite. This has created arbitrary decision-making processes that have fostered unhealthy bitterness, especially among the independent film community, which has been woefully marginalised. In France, public finance for the cinema industry has been available for all who apply correctly. Their fairer system has been successful and film culture is embedded in their national identity. The British public has been deceived into believing that the favoured minority who have received public patronage represent a qualitative consensus. Successes are hyped, failures swept under the carpet. This is political deception and is disastrous for any cultural community.
But beyond all this, the BFI, Smith and the government have one vital responsibility. As well as continuing to encourage university-level film education, they must fund a comprehensive system to empower schools to teach film to children. And we are not talking about master classes from the makers of the latest popular success here. I mean providing and training qualified teachers and giving them all the resources to teach film to all-comers from the cradle to the grave. Affordable technology exists: cameras, computers, digital editing systems, the internet. The intellectual heritage exists: film is over 100 years old and kids can benefit from its history in the way that they might study the Renaissance in art. Teaching film should be as important as teaching literature, languages, history, economics and science. Our children need to be powerful communicators with film: far from being a scam, it is as important as literature, languages, history and science.
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