By Helen Cox
I don’t know if you noticed but British PM David Cameron said one or two things yesterday that infuriated a good portion of the UK film community. Cameron made his statement during a visit to Pinewood Studios in light of a film report that is to be published by Lord Smith on Monday.
The Prime Minister (apparently an expert on the British film industry – who knew?), commented “Our role, and that of the British Film Institute, should be to support the sector in becoming even more dynamic and entrepreneurial, helping UK producers to make commercially successful pictures that rival the quality and impact of the best international productions.”
Cameron was backed up by the likes of Oscar winner Lord Fellowes who stated “The idea that you only put public money into films where it will probably be lost doesn’t seem to me to make an enormous amount of sense.” This is a bizarre comment. Not least because nobody in the industry is suggesting that money should only put into arthouse / alternative films, but many are greatly concerned at the idea of only putting money into mainstream pictures. Considering that Transformers 3 and Pirates 4 were two of the top grossing films of last year, this is hardly surprising. Is this what we want our own industry to look like?
Perhaps one of the key reasons industry figureheads are ruffling their feathers is because they were under the impression that Britain was already making “quality films that rivalled the best international productions?” And had been doing so for some time: The King’s Speech, Bhaji on the Beach, 28 Days Later, Kill List, The Railway Children, Brief Encounter. It’s not like Britain has never produced a successful film. In fact 2011 was one of the most successful years in British film history.
Many I’m sure are also interested to see just what magic formula; what refined and tested criteria the Conservatives would like the film industry to use when deciding which films to back. Seemingly, by their comments, they believe there is a simple and straightforward way of identifying a box office smash. If this were the case, would producers not already be doing it? Their comments are not only insulting to those working in the industry but are in many respects inane and redundant (a word the government is quite familiar with I believe).
Finally, the comments of members of the Conservative party demonstrate a complete ignorance of how creative industries work, or their artistic benefits to society. 80% of books fail on a commercial level, does that mean they should not publish them? Not every song makes it into the top ten, does that mean that bands should stop writing them? It’s a Wonderful Life flopped at the cinema, if it were possible to predict this would the world (and Christmas) be better off without the tale of Bedford Falls?
As angering as all this is there are three very important things to keep in mind. Firstly, the report has not been published yet, this means a lot of the fears that have been bandied about in the media over the last couple of days are based on speculation alone. Secondly, the review has been headed by an ex-Labour culture minister so mudslinging at the Tories, tempting though it is, for their “rob from the poor to give to the rich” ethos isn’t really that valid at this stage. Thirdly, the film industry is…an industry; independent of the government. They do not bend to the whims and fancies of the PM. Thus, regardless of what is published in the report on Monday, Cameron doesn’t really have too much of a say in the output of the British Film Industry. And on that score we can all sleep easy.