When the mainstream media refer to how well British talent have done at prestigious award ceremonies they often use the term: “British Film Industry” but the truth is that what they are making reference to is “industry”, and certainly not “British Film”.
At next month’s BAFTA awards, the American film Gravity is competing in the category of “Outstanding British Film” and so herein lies one of the many problems within the British psyche and certainly within institutions like the BBC who have never understood what a national cinema means. I cannot pretend to know all the answers to what constitutes the nationality of a film, but instinctively I know that Gravity is not a British film. When we spout numbers about how many films get made in the UK, how many awards our talents receive, how many jobs are created through UK film production and how much revenue is generated into the economy from such productions; none of these figures highlight ‘the elephant in the room’ which is that culturally we do not tell stories that reflect our way of living.
Films like The Full Monty become iconic because films with a uniquely British perspective rarely get made or seen. In fact the only reason why The Full Monty became available to a paying market is because a foreigner invested in it while hailed British institutions like the BBC and Channel Four turned their backs on it.
How many films do you see that reflect our experiences of being British and living on these shores? How many films do you see that truly reflect our work places, schools, universities, and personalities.
I don’t just mean Ray Winstone! We have a rainbow array of personality and culture in Britain which has a representation in the cinema of next to nil. Forget elitist productions that serve Hollywood’s appetite for the monarchy or English literature; what about our appetite? If you think that people do not want to see such British films, then I suggest you research the takings of The Full Monty and remind yourself who profited!
Not since the days of Prime Minister Harold Wilson have we had an elected representative put a price (Eady Levy) on foreigners having access to our paying audience in order to aid homegrown stories. Ridley Scott, David Puttnam, Alan Parker and many others all benefited and grew from this support system.
Believe me, we need more than just an Eady Levy to start any national cinema. The South Korean’s, the French, and the Australians have all taken key decisions from Government to safe guard their unique cultures. We, on the other hand have just left it to the Americans which by definition is not very British.
Until we recognize the need for a complete shift of consciousness the term “British Film” will forever be a contradiction, because a film can never be deemed one nationality when it is owned and distributed by another where all the key decisions are foreign. This does not constitute a national language of cinema, it precipitates what we have today: British talent and labour for export.