Consider this a sequel to when I called James Cameron a prick, these Camerons rile me right up. A report is to be released on Monday by Lord Smith reviewing the government’s film policy and David Cameron has spoken out ahead of its release and said the following:
“Our role, and that of the BFI, 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.”
It is only appropriate to behave like the rest of the internet and focus on one part of what he said and extrapolate this beyond all recognition, making sure to ignore the fact that he was probably only saying what he had been advised to say and that he probably cares very little about what films we make. Cameron has annoyed me in the past so I’m happy to get subjective about this.
Let’s focus on that key phrase “commercially successful pictures” and bring in the fact that the BBC suggest that “Lord Smith is also expected to recommend developing an export strategy to increase the profits of British films”. To rile me up fully let’s hear from Julian Fellowes, screenwriter and contributor to Lord Smith’s report, who says:
“There has been the thinking in the past that public money should only go into films that can’t get any investment anywhere else. When you actually analyse that it means it should only go into films that nobody could conceivably want to see and there’s no logic in that – you want to make a film-friendly, audience-friendly industry.”
All of this suggests to me that too much emphasis is going to be put on the financial viability of a film, rather than the film’s quality, when it comes to deciding whether or not it deserves public funding. Britain has a reputation across the world for making quality films of substance rather than vapid, effects-laden blockbusters and to put this second to profitability is foolish and not really something a politician should be getting involved in. We’re talking about art not policy, and the mere idea of being able to predict a film’s future success is laughable.
I would actually argue against Julian Fellowes and say that the perfect reason for a film to receive public funding is that it is a film worth making, but is at risk of not receiving funding elsewhere. A mainstream British film with broad appeal can presumably find finance elsewhere so doesn’t need the BFI to help coax it to the big screen. Looking back at my Top 20 Films of 2011, eight films on the list are British films and of those only The King’s Speech can really be said to have set the international box office on fire. Other films such as Tyrannosaur, Attack the Block, Submarine and We Need to Talk About Kevin are examples of fine British cinema which showcase our talents without ever finding huge commercial success. I realise that not all of these films received public funding, but it does go to show that our finest productions may not be those bringing in the big money.
Julian Fellowes might not find the finer British fare to be something anybody “could conceivably want to see”, but for me these are the films we should be making and public funding should support this without so much as a sideways glance towards profitability or any other words which lead creatives away from their vision. The BFI has long been celebrating and protecting the history of British cinema and now that it is in charge of its future too, the BFI should not let return on investment get in the way of funding worthwhile projects.
My final point is simply that the highest grossing film of all time is Avatar by my arch nemesis James Cameron. I could not be more proud of the fact that Avatar is not British and hope we can continue to fund films which never use the word “unobtainium”.