Try Red Pepper in print with our pay-as-you-feel subscription. You decide the price, from as low as £2 a month.

More info ×

Blockbusters only please, we’re British!

Filmmaker Clive Nwonka responds to the recently published UK Film Policy Review paper, and David Cameron’s questionable stance on film funding.

January 26, 2012
5 min read


Clive James Nwonka is a British screenwriter/director


  share     tweet  

Prime Minister David Cameron recently declared that the UK film industry should support “more commercially successful pictures”. His words outline the mandate, as he sees it, suggested in the UK Film Policy Review . Cameron’s comments, which came prior to the 16 January publication of the Review, have sparked outrage among sections of the film industry.

Led by Lord Chris Smith, and backed by Downtown Abbey creator and Tory Peer Julian Fellows, the Review has been framed around the transatlantic success of the King’s Speech. It argues that public money, via National Lottery funding, should be directed to film projects that will rival the commercial success of the “best international productions”.

Cameron stated that, “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.” Social realist film director Ken Loach publicly criticized Cameron’s conclusions on BBC Breakfast, also prior to the publication of the review. Loach said: “We do not have, as in other countries in Europe, a wide spread of independent cinemas. Now, unless you can really see a wide variety of films you don’t have a vibrant film industry and we get a very narrow menu.”

In effect, Cameron wants the film industry to serve as the government’s international relations agency, selling the rest of the world an ideal version of Britishness as seen in A King’s Speech, An Education (2009) and the lamentably apolitical The Iron Lady (2011). His words have little to do with cultural entrepreneurialism, and everything to do with the politics of his own survival.

A narrow menu

The suggestion that the industry is afflicted with a poverty of commercial ambition is a narrow analysis of British cinema.  The films of Loach, Mike Leigh and more recently Shane Meadows and Andrea Arnold, represent a triumph of critical success over commerciality. It’s this very diversity of British film that makes it successful. To declare that potential film projects in the UK should now be funded on the subtle premise of revenue forecasting goes against the very raison d’être of cinema.

Commercial viability can never be the axis around which an entire film industry can operate. Unless the industry can provide funding for low budget, or “risky” projects, which the burden of purely profit-making goals will stymie, young British filmmakers and screenwriters will be unable to develop their talents. It will also push the very best of our established filmmakers to look to Europe for funding, or be reduced to subverting their own work in order to survive under the new regime.

Film is a commodity that cannot exist in isolation from its paymasters. And there must be present a correlation between a film and an audience’s willingness to pay for it. But what is at issue goes beyond the commercial viability of projects to be funded by the British Film Institute, and the example of the King’s Speech speaks volumes about a possible wider agenda at play: it telegraphs a tranquil version of the British experience to America via a cultural discourse, at a time when British social life is anything but serene.

In this new era of film funding in Britain, heritage filmmaking will bloom, tended to by a government hanging on to its authority. The viewing public will be presented with an ideal, particular vision of national identity. Making Britain proud of its heritage will become a survival stratagem. Heritage films can and should have their place. But there must be equilibrium.

We need a holistic approach to cultivating a British film culture that fully represents and serves the society it draws its funding from. It must be a cinema that is commercially successful, but also one that expresses society and actively participates in it.

Silencing dissent

With the government actively encouraging a specific brand of film, it will became harder for emerging filmmakers, who cannot appeal for funding abroad, to go against the grain. Cameron’s words will become the perfect mitigation for a film industry already weary of funding film projects with concrete social engagement. The few films of this period that may allude to social reality will be heavily depoliticised, lest they bring the nation into disrepute. Loach has every reason to be concerned. The potential sacrificial lambs of the review’s policy recommendations are obvious.

The aspect of social criticism in films by Loach, Leigh, Meadows and Arnold certainly needs to be taken into consideration in an analysis of Cameron’s comments. Loaches’ characters are victims of their social circumstances, and his depiction of working class life provides an indication of what is transpiring politically, implicating the government through their policies as wilful allies of the status quo. But commercial success is rarely achieved by filmmakers wishing to adhere to political reality rather than popularism.

The 1980’s was a decade marred by political disquiet and anxiety under the Tories, and this was articulated by a group of distinctively anti-Thatcherite films. And while the turmoil of this decade will spur filmmakers to indulge in politics, under the proposals in the review, the industry may no longer allow such transgressions.

sions.

Red Pepper is an independent, non-profit magazine that puts left politics and culture at the heart of its stories. We think publications should embrace the values of a movement that is unafraid to take a stand, radical yet not dogmatic, and focus on amplifying the voices of the people and activists that make up our movement. If you think so too, please support Red Pepper in continuing our work by becoming a subscriber today.
Why not try our new pay as you feel subscription? You decide how much to pay.
Share this article  
  share on facebook     share on twitter  

Clive James Nwonka is a British screenwriter/director


Contribute to Conter – the new cross-party platform linking Scottish socialists
Jonathan Rimmer, editor of Conter, says it’s time for a new non-sectarian space for Scottish anti-capitalists and invites you to take part

Editorial: Empire will eat itself
Ashish Ghadiali introduces the June/July issue of Red Pepper

Eddie Chambers: Black artists and the DIY aesthetic
Eddie Chambers, artist and art historian, speaks to Ashish Ghadiali about the cultural strategies that he, as founder of the Black Art Group, helped to define in the 1980s

Despite Erdogan, Turkey is still alive
With this year's referendum consolidating President Erdogan’s autocracy in Turkey, Nazim A argues that the way forward for democrats lies in a more radical approach

Red Pepper Race Section: open editorial meeting – 11 August in Leeds
The next open editorial meeting of the Red Pepper Race Section will take place between 3.30-5.30pm, Friday 11th August in Leeds.

Mogg-mentum? Thatcherite die-hard Jacob Rees-Mogg is no man of the people
Adam Peggs says Rees-Mogg is no joke – he is a living embodiment of Britain's repulsive ruling elite

Power to the renters: Turning the tide on our broken housing system
Heather Kennedy, from the Renters Power Project, argues it’s time to reject Thatcher’s dream of a 'property-owning democracy' and build renters' power instead

Your vote can help Corbyn supporters win these vital Labour Party positions
Left candidate Seema Chandwani speaks to Red Pepper ahead of ballot papers going out to all members for a crucial Labour committee

Join the Rolling Resistance to the frackers
Al Wilson invites you to take part in a month of anti-fracking action in Lancashire with Reclaim the Power

The Grenfell public inquiry must listen to the residents who have been ignored for so long
Councils handed housing over to obscure, unaccountable organisations, writes Anna Minton – now we must hear the voices they silenced

India: Modi’s ‘development model’ is built on violence and theft from the poorest
Development in India is at the expense of minorities and the poor, writes Gargi Battacharya

North Korea is just the start of potentially deadly tensions between the US and China
US-China relations have taken on a disturbing new dimension under Donald Trump, writes Dorothy Guerrero

The feminist army leading the fight against ISIS
Dilar Dirik salutes militant women-organised democracy in action in Rojava

France: The colonial republic
The roots of France’s ascendant racism lie as deep as the origins of the French republic itself, argues Yasser Louati

This is why it’s an important time to support Caroline Lucas
A vital voice of dissent in Parliament: Caroline Lucas explains why she is asking for your help

PLP committee elections: it seems like most Labour backbenchers still haven’t learned their lesson
Corbyn is riding high in the polls - so he can face down the secret malcontents among Labour MPs, writes Michael Calderbank

Going from a top BBC job to Tory spin chief should be banned – it’s that simple
This revolving door between the 'impartial' broadcaster and the Conservatives stinks, writes Louis Mendee – we need a different media

I read Gavin Barwell’s ‘marginal seat’ book and it was incredibly awkward
Gavin Barwell was mocked for writing a book called How to Win a Marginal Seat, then losing his. But what does the book itself reveal about Theresa May’s new top adviser? Matt Thompson reads it so you don’t have to

We can defeat this weak Tory government on the pay cap
With the government in chaos, this is our chance to lift the pay cap for everyone, writes Mark Serwotka, general secretary of public service workers’ union PCS

Corbyn supporters surge in Labour’s internal elections
A big rise in left nominations from constituency Labour parties suggests Corbynites are getting better organised, reports Michael Calderbank

Undercover policing – the need for a public inquiry for Scotland
Tilly Gifford, who exposed police efforts to recruit her as a paid informer, calls for the inquiry into undercover policing to extend to Scotland

Becoming a better ally: how to understand intersectionality
Intersectionality can provide the basis of our solidarity in this new age of empire, writes Peninah Wangari-Jones

The myth of the ‘white working class’ stops us seeing the working class as it really is
The right imagines a socially conservative working class while the left pines for the days of mass workplaces. Neither represent today's reality, argues Gargi Bhattacharyya

The government played the public for fools, and lost
The High Court has ruled that the government cannot veto local council investment decisions. This is a victory for local democracy and the BDS movement, and shows what can happen when we stand together, writes War on Want’s Ross Hemingway.

An ‘obscure’ party? I’m amazed at how little people in Britain know about the DUP
After the Tories' deal with the Democratic Unionists, Denis Burke asks why people in Britain weren't a bit more curious about Northern Ireland before now

The Tories’ deal with the DUP is outright bribery – but this government won’t last
Theresa May’s £1.5 billion bung to the DUP is the last nail in the coffin of the austerity myth, writes Louis Mendee

Brexit, Corbyn and beyond
Clarity of analysis can help the left avoid practical traps, argues Paul O'Connell

Paul Mason vs Progress: ‘Decide whether you want to be part of this party’ – full report
Broadcaster and Corbyn supporter Paul Mason tells the Blairites' annual conference some home truths

Contagion: how the crisis spread
Following on from his essay, How Empire Struck Back, Walden Bello speaks to TNI's Nick Buxton about how the financial crisis spread from the USA to Europe

How empire struck back
Walden Bello dissects the failure of Barack Obama's 'technocratic Keynesianism' and explains why this led to Donald Trump winning the US presidency


11