Betwixt and Between Brexit

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If any chapter was going to hit home how volatile is World Cinema and how incredibly difficult is the task of its remapping, it would have to be the one on British cinema.

We invited James Chapman to do the remapping of it pre-referendum, but the chapter came in post-it. James is Professor of Film Studies at the University of Leicester and editor of the Historical Journal of Film, Radio and Television. He is the author of several books on British cinema including The British at War: Cinema, State and Propaganda, 1939-1945 (1998), Licence To Thrill: A Cultural History of the James Bond Films (1999; 2nd edn 2007), Past and Present: National Identity and the British Historical Film (2005) and A New History of British Documentary (2014). The chapter was fine, of course, but we had to send it back because somehow we had to accommodate Brexit.

No-one really knows what British cinema post-Brexit will look like, much like no-one knows what the economy, health service, higher education, border controls, immigration quotas, etc. etc. will look like. Projecting a vision of British cinema into the unknown was akin to student cooking. You know, empty the fridge, fill a pan, add wine and stir. If it’s edible, fine, if it’s not, that’s all there is. Live on it for the rest of term.

When the British Film Institute presented its five-year plan Film Forever: Supporting U.K. Film 2012-2017 in 2011, it was criticised by some UK producers for not pushing for the UK to rejoin Eurimages, the Council of Europe’s European Cinema Support Fund, which it had left in 1996. Eurimages takes in around €25 million from 37 member states and gives it out again, primarily to co-productions. Five films funded by Eurimages won big at Cannes this year and all five were co-productions that included France.

The EU offers funding to filmmakers through programmes such as Creative Europe, which came into being in January 2014, when it replaced the MEDIA and Culture programmes. It wields a €1.46 billion budget that funds workshops and industry events and responds to applications from aspiring filmmakers in member countries. UK applicants tend to approach it through regional offices that answer to the British Film Institute, which also administers Lottery funding to UK filmmakers. Of the 23 films supported by Creative Europe showing at the 69th Cannes Film Festival in 2016, 11 won prizes, including British director Ken Loach’s I, Daniel Blake (2016), which won the Palme d’Or. I, Daniel Blake, which describes how UK government policies of austerity affect the British working class, received almost €100,000 from Creative Europe to support its development and distribution.

There are no co-production treaties in operation between the US and Europe. European filmmakers like Loach or their representatives can contact government-paid commissioners around Europe, who can also put them in touch with European producers seeking partners and investment opportunities for co-productions. US filmmakers also do this, if they qualify for European funding and if their films include elements sourced from European countries such as stars, crew or locations. Richard Linklater’s Before Midnight (2013), for example, tapped into Greek funding through its producer Faliro House, which determined its being set and filmed in Messinia with a largely Greek crew. Perhaps Ken Loach might consider making his next film about the Greek working class and their response to the austerity imposed by the EU?

Although British filmmakers would lose out on direct access to some European funding if the UK left the EU, they might still be able to apply to Creative Europe by fulfilling certain criteria, because several non-EU countries that are members of the EEA participate in the programme too. But if films were to be ineligible for EU grants and subsidies, then European companies would have fewer incentives to enter co-production agreements with UK companies, unless significant UK funding or tax breaks came with them.

The knock-on effect of any separation of interests could also affect distribution. In response to any restrictions on UK access to EU funding, the UK government might offer to establish a protectionist quota for UK films that could be screened at your local art-house cinema, rather like treating UK audiences as fish that need saving from being swallowed up by another’s ships. But British films might still have a hard job finding proper screens (online streaming services are another matter), unless they were good, which tends to rely somewhat on funding.

Here is James Chapman’s abstract for his chapter on British Cinema. The final version of this chapter, of course, will include an account of Brexit.

British Cinemas: Critical and Historical Debates

The King’s Speech, Tom Hooper, See-Saw Films, The Weinstein Company, The UK Film Council

British cinema has always had a reputation as being somehow betwixt and between: it has neither the artistic kudos of European, especially French and Italian, cinemas, but nor as a popular cinema can it match the zest and uninhibited popular appeal of Hollywood. Hence much of the academic criticism of British cinema has been couched in defensive terms: there is still a perceived need to make the case for studying British cinema. This chapter will focus on three of the key debates around British cinema. First the political economy of the British film industry, especially the extent to which Britain has been under the shadow of Hollywood and the various policies of British governments to support the production sector. Secondly questions of quality and taste: critical discussion of British cinema tends to revolve around the ‘realism and tinsel’ debate. While, for a long time, a discourse of realism privileged certain movements and styles, such as documentary and ‘kitchen sink’ drama, an alternative tradition has since emerged that champions popular genres and cycles (Gainsborough melodrama, Hammer horror, ‘Carry On …’, James Bond). Thirdly the ideological project of British cinema – across most genres and periods – has been to project and increasingly to interpret or even question discourses of national identity. Broadly a historical trajectory can be mapped from a cinema of consensus that subsumed regional and class identities into an all-encompassing view of ‘Britishness’ to a more diverse and plural film culture in which it is no longer appropriate to speak of one ‘British cinema’ but rather of British cinemas that explore regional, class, gender and ethnic identities.


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