Should Scotland have an independent film industry?

DA Filth & SonLeithOn the back of the news that the former Pelamis warehouse in Leith docks is to be transformed into a film studio, we republish this Forsyth Hardy Lecture by David Archibald from the 2014 Edinburgh International Film Festival. In it he asked the deeper questions of Scotland’s film industry and what kind of a future it could face.  

Should Scotland have an independent film industry?

Good afternoon and thank you for coming. It is an honour to be asked to deliver the Forsyth Hardy Lecture here at the Edinburgh International Film Festival and I’d like to thank the festival’s Artistic Director, Chris Fujiwara, and the Edinburgh Film Guild for extending the invite. I’d also like to thank Rachael Loughlan who coordinated my visit, kept me right with my deadlines and so on. I’m delighted to be here.

When Chris asked me to speak, he indicated that the lecture is the festival’s main platform for the public discussion of the past, present and future of cinema in Scotland and that I was welcome to speak on any relevant topic. I’ve selected the independence referendum and its potential impact on filmmaking because I think it is important that the conversation concerning Scotland’s constitutional relationship with the United Kingdom is as wide-ranging as possible. I take the view that regardless of the referendum’s outcome, the debate has enriched Scottish cultural and political life, both qualitatively and quantitatively: qualitatively in that the level has, in the main, been high; quantitatively in that the number participating surpasses vastly the number involved in general political discourse. Hopefully that will continue.

The title of today’s lecture is somewhat rhetorical. Although critics and policy makers often discuss cinema in national terms, for artistic and commercial reasons filmmakers in cinema’s formative years sought to traverse national borders. Today, cinema is increasingly transnational in terms of production, distribution and exhibition: a few examples illustrate my point.

DA Angels Share

The Angels’ Share, produced by the London-based company, Sixteen Films and directed by Ken Loach, was shot in various locations in Scotland in 2011. It was co-produced or supported financially by Entertainment One (UK), Why Not Productions (France), Wild Bunch (France), the British Film Institute (UK), Les Films du Flueve (Belgium) and Urania Pictures SRL (Italy). It had an English director and producer, a Scottish writer, an Irish cinematographer and a Belgian camera crew.[1] It premiered at the Cannes Film Festival where it won the Jury Prize and was distributed widely internationally. Sixteen Film’s next fictional feature, Jimmy’s Hall, comprised broadly the same team, although they also worked with the Irish-based production company, Element Films, with Film4 and the Irish Film Board providing financial support. Sixteen Films is currently in pre-production with an adaptation of Edinburgh-based writer Jenni Fagan’s debut novel, Panopticon, set to be directed by Jim Loach, with support from Creative Scotland. Loach junior’s cinematic directorial debut, the 2010 film, Oranges and Sunshine, was shot in Australia, but supported financially with UK money. Sixteen Films indicates how successful production companies – Loach senior has had more films screened in competition at Cannes than any other filmmaker – can move nimbly across borders, both within and outwith the UK.

This process is also apparent in the ongoing collaborations between the Glasgow-based company Sigma Films and Zentropa in Denmark. At the time of the release of one of their co-productions, Wilbur Wants to Kill Himself (Scherfig, 2002), I wrote a piece for The Guardian outlining how Danish filmmakers, keen to expand into English-language feature production, had explored co-production possibilities in London and elsewhere before deciding that working in a country comparable in scale, and with what they perceived to be shared attitudes, brought significant advantages. The film was the subject of one of Peter Bradshaw’s scabrous one-star reviews and consequently the article was never published. But, on the whole, this has been an extremely fruitful relationship, not least with the Advance Party films, which included Red Road (Arnold, 2006), another Cannes Jury Prize winner.

And I was speaking recently with the actor and film director, Icíar Bollaín, not quite so well known in this country perhaps, but well established in her native Spain. Icíar is currently completing a documentary outlining the precarious working conditions faced by Spaniards living in Edinburgh who have fled the economic crisis in their native land.

There are numerous other examples that one could identify. If filmmaking in Scotland is to flourish, international collaborations will be a crucial part of the process. One central question is whether Scottish independence will assist or hinder that process.

Along with Glasgow Short Film Festival’s Artistic Director, Matt Lloyd, I organized a ‘Film Industry and Scottish Independence’ symposium in February. Over 100 people attended: filmmakers, journalists, academics and members of the public. There were even two Scottish Government officials sitting in the front row taking scrupulous notes – I don’t know if they’re here this afternoon.[2] Today, I will build on that discussion and attempt to lay out the pros and cons of the debate relatively even-handedly. It is possible, of course, to be fully informed on these matters and adopt differing positions and I hope to provide sufficient information that will allow you to draw your own opinion. I will then outline a more subjective view on the impact of independence on film and then riff off some films to make wider points about the referendum. A recent Times Higher Education lead article notes that many academics are reticent about stating their position on the referendum.[3] I don’t fall into that category. I’ve been working on a short documentary about Medieval Govan with Cara Connolly and Martin Clark recently and, towards the end of the lecture, to paraphrase Marsellus from this frightening scene in Pulp Fiction (Tarantino, 1994), I’m gonna get political on your ass. There will be time for you to disagree or to raise questions at the end.

I was abroad last week and missed the Scottish Film Summit, which looked like an excellent event. I did, however, read the speech by Creative Scotland’s Chief Executive, Janet Archer, online. She states, ‘we do not expect any significant change to our funding or operational arrangements as a result of the Referendum, whatever the outcome.’[4] Of that, I’m not so sure. Here are the potential pitfalls, as I see them:

  1. Although the Scottish government’s White Paper does deal with television in some detail, information about film is sparse. This is it:

We will also encourage inward investment in film and television production in Scotland, and use our new overseas network to promote Scotland as a location for film and television production. We plan to continue the existing fiscal incentives for such production, and, within the first term of an independent Scottish parliament, we propose to look at ways to encourage further development in the sector, through incentives, infrastructural investment and support for development, skills and training. (Scotland’s Future, 2013, p.320)

The brevity of the references to cinema – described by May Miles Thomas as ‘one fuzzy paragraph’ this morning – is indicative of a disregard for film and indicative that matters pertaining to film have not been considered in full.

  1. The shift from the BBC to the proposed Scottish Broadcasting Service is dangerous. It puts at risk the opportunity to be involved with one of the world’s most successful broadcasting organizations, one which has played an important role in film financing and in providing employment for numerous film and TV practitioners in Scotland.
  2. The White Paper states that cultural projects will continue to be funded by the National Lottery. A ‘Yes’ vote, however, raises the possibility/probability of a significant change to lottery funding, thereby, threatening future film funding. Gordon Brown raised these points in a speech at the Borders Book Festival in mid-June.
  3. There are no specific details on what tax regulations will be in place. UK filmmakers currently benefit from tax breaks and these may well be jeopardised by independence.
  4. An independent Scotland would not automatically qualify for membership of the EU, as politicians like Jose Barroso have intimated; therefore, filmmakers would be unable to access EU funding. This takes on increased significance given that Creative Scotland, alongside Scottish Enterprise and the Scottish Government, is readying a sizeable bid for European Regional Development Funding.
  5. Filmmakers risk losing access to UK funding sources, not just the National Lottery, but, for example, finance opportunities available via the BFI and Film4.
  6. Scottish Films are often promoted internationally by organisations such as the British Council and Scottish filmmakers can be involved in UK trade delegations and so on. That UK-wide infrastructural support would be lost under independence.

These are the key concerns. It might best be summed up as ‘this has not been thought through sufficiently and is, at best, unbelievably risky. So, why take the risk? Getting any film project off the ground is difficult enough as it is without throwing in the inevitable uncertainty that independence would bring.’

What are the arguments from a Yes perspective?

  1. The lack of detail on film policy can be seen as an opportunity to forge a new modern policy, one befitting the needs of a new, independent nation state.
  2. The antiquated BBC, locked as it is to the British state’s interests, is in drastic need of reform. A new Scottish Broadcasting Service could be developed which, again, meets the needs of a modern nation state. And it could take a lead in funding European co-productions which are best suited to filmmaking in this country. Moreover, Danny Alexander stated recently that in the event of a Yes vote, negotiations could take place over continued access to the BBC and to how it might be possible to continue the National Lottery on a cross-border basis.[5]
  3. Scotland would have direct control over tax incentives and no longer be reliant on the position developed by the UK exchequer.
  4. With Ukip’s current electoral success, the prospect of the UK being outside the EU has increased. Continued access to EU funding is therefore more likely with an independent Scotland inside the EU.
  5. Marketing Scottish cinema under its own distinct banner would be more beneficial than trying to struggle for space within the British context.
  6. Independence would force a re-think of how cinema in Scotland is financed in this country. One could also speculate that a government which supports significant state-intervention in the arts – traditionally regarded as a left-of-centre position – is more likely to emerge in an independent Scotland than in the UK.
  7. Perhaps one of the Yes camp’s stronger cards is the notion that the closer you are to the seat of power the more likely you will be able to exercise influence over it. And we see evidence of that in relation to the debate over Creative Scotland, commonly referred to as the ‘Creative Scotland stooshie’, in which artists have clearly influenced policy, forcing the Scottish government to state explicitly that art and culture should be funded not only because they boost tourism or create jobs but because they have intrinsic value, that they can enrich our lives spiritually and intellectually.[6]

These are the main policy issues as I see them. The discussion should also take cognisance, however, of the current state of filmmaking and film culture in Scotland. In September 2013, I wrote a Financial Times article highlighting the strength and diversity of filmmaking in Scotland – perhaps the first time that the FT has devoted a major feature to filmmaking in Scotland. I pointed to the release of Filth, Sunshine on Leith, and For Those in Peril. I also flagged Under the Skin, Jonathan Glazer’s celebrated film, and the successes that were being made in non-fiction cinema, for example, former EIFF Artistic Director Mark Cousins’ celebrated film essays. On the same day, The Herald published an article by Phil Miller suggesting that the film industry in Scotland was perilously close to collapse with Scottish film producers calling for extensive state intervention. On the surface, the two articles were contradictory; how could an industry in a seemingly precarious condition be responsible for such a rich seam of films?

DA Bill Forsth 2This apparent contradiction highlights the most significant problem facing filmmakers in Scotland. There appears to be no shortage of talent: a small indicator of this was that a record 32 Scottish short films screened at this year’s Glasgow Short Film Festival, some of which have had significant success: Exchange & Mart, directed by Cara Connolly and Martin Clark, won the Scottish Audience Award and has had bountiful screenings on the festival circuit, from Sundance to Berlin. National Film and Television School graduate, Ewan Stewart, directed the Scottish Short Film Award-winning, Getting On, which has also had significant festival success including winning the best UK film at the London Short Film Festival. There’s a significant gap, however, between the talent base and the opportunities on offer for both existing and emerging filmmakers. Notably, in her address last week Janet Archer commented that, although she regards the amount of money allocated to film as insufficient, she does not anticipate any change in the foreseeable future. It is instructive to compare funding levels with some of our neighbouring countries: Robin MacPherson, writing recently in support of independence, noted that Scotland spends approximately £1 per year person on film compared to £2 in Ireland and £10 in Denmark.[7]

A historical view enables us to contextualise the current position. Let’s remember that Bill Forsyth’s 1979 feature-length directorial debut, That Sinking Feeling, was the first fictional feature both financed and made in Scotland. Fictional films had been made by Scottish-based filmmakers previously, not least The Bill Douglas Trilogy. Although notably it was funded by the London-based British Film Institute. The BFI rejected an application to fund Gregory’s Girl leading Forsyth to organise a pre-internet Kickstarter-style campaign which raised the necessary £5,000 to finance the film. It was only with the establishment of the Scottish Film Production Fund in 1982, however, that significant funding decisions pertaining to filmmaking in Scotland were made in this country.

Filmmaking in Scotland has come a long way in a relatively short time and, in parallel with wider political processes, we’ve in effect witnessed the devolution of many aspects of film culture. So although Scottish-based filmmakers still seek support for projects via the BFI and so on, a certain amount of funding is allocated by Creative Scotland. There’s a consensus amongst filmmakers, however, that the infrastructure to support a sustainable industry is not in place. If Scotland continues to lag behind its neighbours then the danger is obviously that success will be occasional rather than constant. And that talented filmmakers and actors will seek to move elsewhere to further their careers.

In addition to a lack of financial support, I want to highlight another four apparent absences in Scottish film culture.

People who want to understand a country would do well to listen to the country’s poets. People who devise film policy would do well to listen to the country’s film producers. Last week the Scottish-based producer Eddie Dick claimed that Scotland was the ‘only country in Europe without a dedicated film agency’.[8] You could argue that bringing many aspects of the arts and culture under the umbrella of Creative Scotland would allow for a more integrated approach, but it is clear that it has not worked, at least in relation to film. It would seem that there is widespread support for the establishment of a dedicated film agency and we should consider how this absence might be rectified.

It also might answer another question: Why is there no current film policy for Scotland? I realise that Creative Scotland is due to publish what Janet Archer describes as an ‘effective strategy’ this month but it adds to an apparent lack in film culture.

There has also been extensive discussion on the absence of a studio in Scotland. At the GSFF symposium, Philip Schlesinger noted that one could have been built for £1million 15 years ago. A studio has been developed in Cumbernauld, but exclusively thus far for the US TV show, Outlanders. Since the symposium, Pinewood has announced plans to build a studio in Cardiff and only last week they announced plans to develop substantially their facilities in England. It was also announced on Monday that the Irish Film Board are planning a similar process of expansion. Although Janet Archer confirmed support for a studio in her Scottish Film Summit address last week, Robin McPherson tweeted recently a Scotsman editorial from 1944 in which a studio in Scotland was discussed: why have we been discussing the establishment of a film studio in Scotland for seventy years?[9]

I want to say a few words about film education. Creative Scotland’s Review of the Film Sector in Scotland, which was published in January of this year, notes that ‘only 10% of Scottish children receive film education, compared with … 25% in England, 80% in the Republic of Ireland and 81% in Denmark.’[10] Given the stranglehold of the multiplex on exhibition, it’s vital that school students have the opportunity to view a wide range of films – including films made in this country – as part of their educational experience. An increase here would in time boost the demand for films that are not the staple fare of the multiplex.

On a more positive note, while Film Studies departments in England and Wales are facing recruitment problems not least because of the £9000 fees which have been introduced, in Scotland Film Studies is in rude health. Film Studies is taught in most of the country’s universities from older departments such as Glasgow, which has just established a new Filmmaking and Media Arts Master’s programme, to newer Departments such as St Andrews. We also have a number of Universities teaching more practical aspects of filmmaking. In his work on national film schools, Duncan Petrie notes that, as he puts it, ‘The history of national cinemas and nationally specific film movements demonstrates time and again the strategic role played by film schools in nurturing ideas and ambition, teaching technical skills and building a critical mass of creative activity, all of which are necessary for a dynamic and innovative moving image culture and industry.’[11] Petrie cites examples ranging from Soviet montage in the 20s, Italian Neo-Realism in the post-war period, the new Danish Cinema of the 90s to the Berlin School in the early years of the twentieth century. It’s almost impossible to imagine what cinema would look like now without these innovations.

DA 8 Duncan Petrie quote on Nat Film School

Why is there no National Film School in Scotland?

Based at Napier University and Edinburgh College of Art, Screen Academy Scotland was established in 2005 under a Labour administration at Holyrood. Labour seems to have been reluctant to name the organization as a national institution. Although it is a member of the CILECT (Centre International de Liaison des Ecoles de Cinéma et de Télévision/International Association of Film and Television Schools), my experience is that the National (by which I mean UK) Film and TV School in Beaconsfield is still the top place where aspiring Scottish filmmakers strive to be trained.

I want to raise here the idea that we discuss the establishment of a fully-resourced National Film School for Scotland, one which utilises the outstanding academic and filmmaking talent across a range of Scottish institutions. In some ways it could match the innovative organizational framework of the National Theatre of Scotland, which draws extensively on the strong talent base in Scottish theatre. It operates as a national organization without walls, a model also in place for the newly-established Scottish Graduate School for the Arts and Humanities, funded by the Scottish Funding Council, which coordinates postgraduate research across Higher Education Institutions in Scotland. A model like this would enable a new institution to combine the existing strengths of Screen Academy Scotland, whose student have had significant international success, but to also incorporate the abilities and experience of filmmakers and academics working in Higher Education Institutions throughout Scotland – Glasgow and St. Andrews, but also UWS, which under Nick Higgins has taken exiting new developments in production recently, the RSC, from which Paul Wright emerged, and tap into the skill base at Glasgow School of Art – notably, one of this year’s Turner nominees, filmmaker Duncan Campbell, studied on their MFA. I cite them only as examples; it’s the model that’s important. The School should also, of course, draw on the talents of Scottish-based filmmakers.

This school, if established on a sound basis and with extensive links to a new studio, could not only retain talent in Scotland but could develop a world-class reputation and attract students internationally. It should be a National Film School but with an international outlook.

That’s what is possible, but it will only succeed if it is approached with boldness, imagination and ambition, not to mention financial support.

I also want to add an important caveat: any studio or national film school which does come into place should be funded and supported by, but must be politically independent of, whichever government is in power.

It is often stated that Scotland within the UK gets the best of both worlds. One has to ponder the extent to which the lack of a studio or a national film school or a dedicated screen agency, even a film policy, flows from or is connected to Scotland’s position within the Union.

Of course, it would have been possible to have established these within the existing constitutional framework, at least in recent years. In an article published recently based in part with practitioners in the industry in Scotland, Phil Drake identified among the group what he described as ‘a sense of dependency on London, which they sometimes found frustrating’.[12] Arguably, the Union has been detrimental to the development of filmmaking in Scotland with too many aspects of film policy best described as a muddle.

We need an integrated plan which combines funding, infrastructure and education to developing filmmaking and film culture in this country. We will be best-placed to do so if there is a Yes vote.

DA SoulamaneFinally, I want to riff of some films to make some broader political points. This is an image of one of Edinburgh’s finest sons, James Connolly, as featured in the 1996 biopic Michael Collins. Born in the Cowgate in 1868, Connolly was executed for his part in the Easter Rising in Dublin in 1916. The Wind that Shakes the Barley, directed by Ken Loach in 2006, outlines Connolly’s position on the national question: you can change the flag flying over Dublin Castle, he argued, but it would be meaningless unless broader societal change – for Connolly that was socialist change – was introduced. It’s a position also developed in, Xala, directed by Ousmane Sembène, commonly referred to as the father of African cinema. Set in post-independent Senegal, the 1975 film suggests that it is the policies that are implemented subsequently that will determine whether independence will be successful, or otherwise.

Of course the relationship between Scotland and the UK is far different from that between Senegal and its colonial master and the one between Ireland and the British Empire. Scotland is both within and outwith Empire. But the general point is that independence alone is not enough. We need social change.

Filmmakers in Scotland are sometimes accused of producing miserabilist work; films focusing on the poorest sections of society, which present their plight in Goyaesque bleakness. It is a lazy and inaccurate charge in many cases – how else might we understand that films such as Sweet Sixteen (Loach, 2002) are both critical and commercial successes internationally but derided by politicians at home for their supposedly negative portrayals of Scotland. It is instructive to remind ourselves of what underpins this work. The latest report from the Child Poverty Action Group reads as follows:

By any measure, Scotland remains a society that continues to be scarred by poverty. The ‘headline’ poverty statistics from 2013 show us that:

• 870,000 people in Scotland still live in poverty (17 per cent of the population);

• 200,000 children in Scotland still live in poverty (20 per cent of all children).

Poverty in Scotland, and across the UK, is significantly higher than in many other European countries. In Denmark and Norway, for example, 10 per cent of children or fewer live in poverty, while the Netherlands has an over- all poverty rate of 11 per cent.[13]

And its not just children: as the writer, Raymond Burke, quipped last year: Government plans to raise the pension age to 67 will mean that pensioners in Glasgow’s East End will have to work for two years after they die before they can draw their state pension.

DA 3 Sunset SongSunset Song, directed by Terence Davies, has recently completed filming in the north east of Scotland – here’s Agyness Deyn and Peter Mullan in a shot from the film.

They’ve been trying to get this film off the ground for twenty years. ‘Nothing endures but the land’ says the central character, Chris Guthrie, in Lewis Grassic Gibbon’s novel. Let’s study Scotland’s current relationship with the land. Recently a friend of mine was allocated an allotment. Such is the demand for allotments in Glasgow that he had been waiting for eight years to cultivate fruit and vegetables on a small strip of land. Contrast that with the fact that private landowners own 83.1% of land in Scotland, 50% of which is owned by 432 people.[14] It seems the inequitable, pre- feudal distribution of land ownership is almost as enduring as the land itself.

I just use poverty and land as two examples. For me, they indicate that an independent Scotland that does not challenge crippling levels of poverty and inequality will be of limited value.

Let me say something about the nature of the campaigns. I did warn you that it was gonna get a bit political.

In the 1980s I was the Young Socialists representative on Labour’s Scottish Executive Committee. At monthly meetings there were serious debates about politics, about matters of substance. There were people on both wings of the Labour Party who are no longer with us who contributed: Scotland’s former First Minister, Donald Dewar, on the right, former Secretary of the Scottish Trade Union Congress, Bill Speirs, on the left. I look now at the Labour Party leadership’s contribution to the referendum debate with not a little incredulity. It’s not that I don’t agree with what they say; it’s that the political level is embarrassingly low. When the Labour Party tweeted ‘It’s Scotland versus Alex Salmond and Scotland will win’, I stared at the computer screen in disbelief.[15] (I should record that, struggling to locate that tweet, I posted a request for assistance on Facebook: it was fitting that it was ex-EIFF Artistic Director, Hannah McGill, who helped me locate it.)

Screen Shot 2014-07-01 at 11.19.33I attended the European Network of Cinema and Media Studies conference in Milan last week and, reflecting a keen international interest in what is happening in Scotland, spent some time fielding questions about the referendum. I also spent some time attempting to assuage concerns raised by two academic colleagues with knowledge of nationalism, Joyce Goggins from Quebec and Dunja Jelenkovic from Serbia-Montenegro, that inward-looking or reactionary nationalism was not the dominant force driving the Yes campaign. For the record, let me state that I find myself in the ever-growing ‘I am not a nationalist, but I’m voting Yes’ camp. I’m distrustful of nationalism’s Janus-faced nature and my first encounter with the SNP was outside Clydebank’s Elgin Street Primary School when I was distributing ‘Vote Jimmy Reid’ stickers, as the leader of the 1971 Upper Clyde Shipbuilders work-in stood in the 1974 General Election. Outside the polling station, I poked fun at the nationalists, suggesting that the letters SNP actually stood for Scottish Nose Pickers. It was childish, but then I was still in short trousers. That tweet exemplifies Labour’s current political immaturity: to personalize the campaign; to avoid debate by focusing on, at best, tangential concerns, and to construct then demolish straw men.

In its defence, it could be argued that it is difficult to run a positive campaign calling for a ‘No’ vote. Yet, the 2012 Chilean film, No, directed by Pablo Larraín, shows how an upbeat, positive No campaign secured a positive result, one which led to the removal of the dictator, Augusto Pinochet, in the country’s 1998 plebiscite.

In contrast, to the No campaign’s negativity, the Yes campaign – not the SNP but the broader Yes campaign – or the Yes movement as Guardian columnist Deborah Orr described it recently – is marked by its positivity, free-thinking, radicalism and its forward- and outward-looking nature.[16] It is not coincidental that most artists and filmmakers, at least those who have declared a preference, have stated that they will vote yes.

DA 2 French:SpanishSomeone recently asked, rather flippantly I think, whether poets would write better poems in an independent Scotland. It raises an important question over the extent to which the socio-political climate shapes or influences culture. This is a screenprint by Dhivya Kate Chetty, formerly of Hopscotch Films. Dhivya’s screenprint references Miro’s ‘Aidez Espagne’ which was produced to support the Spanish Republic as it confronted fascist aggression during the Spanish Civil War. That conflict and the period preceding it produced an outpouring of great work from artists enthused by the possibilities that seemed on offer in the new Spanish republic. Similarly, the end of the dictatorship with Franco’s death in 1975 ushered in La Movida, a cultural movement which matched the new period of openness and optimism and from which emerged the great Spanish filmmaker, Pedro Almodóvar. Filmmakers in Scotland would do well to strive to match the positive energies that would, I believe, emerge in an independent Scotland.

The opening chapter of Tom Nairn’s The Break-up of Britain is titled ‘The Twilight of the British State’. The question now, perhaps, is whether the British State is entering its death agony. If we trace the historical trajectory for support for independence, then it has been on an upward curve for decades. Predicting the future is rarely wise. I lost a week’s wages on a horse when I was 18 and haven’t gambled since, but I’d wager that this process is likely to continue. Even if the Yes campaign loses, it appears likely that the result will be close, raising the prospect of a further referendum in 5 to 10 years. A No vote, rather than ushering in a period of stability is likely to lead to a period of greater uncertainty, for politics in Scotland, and for filmmaking in Scotland.

To conclude, then: Would the film industry in Scotland benefit from independence? Nothing is guaranteed, but if all the levers of power which shape filmmaking and film culture are located in Scotland and there’s sufficient support in terms of funding with a dedicated film agency, a new film policy, a new studio and a new national film school in place, then I contend that the answer is yes.

At the Glasgow Short Film Festival symposium, producer Ian Smith suggested that independence perhaps requires a leap of faith and that there may be parallels with the filmmaking process itself.

Let’s go for it.


David Archibald is Lecturer in Film Studies at the University of Glasgow. His publications include The War That Won’t Die: the Spanish Civil War in Cinema (2012) and numerous articles on Scotland’s cultural and political landscape. He is currently writing up a production study of The Angels’ Share (Ken Loach, 2012) and completing a documentary about mediaeval Govan.


[1] Producer, Rebecca O’Brien, describes herself as a ’Scottish Londoner’

[2] For a critique by symposium panelist Philip Schlesinger, see ‘The Film Industry and Scottish Independence’ [accessed 3 May 2014]

[3] ‘Erudition needed for in-out vote’ Times Higher Education, 12-18 June 2014, p. 5.

[4] Janet Archer, ‘Keynote – Scottish Film Summit’ 18 June 2014. Available at [accessed 20 June 2014]

[5] ‘Severin Carrel, ‘BBC could be shared with independent Scotland, says Treasury secretary’, The Guardian, 19 June, 2014, Available at [accessed 19 June 2014]

[6] For more info see David Stevenson (2014): ‘Tartan and tantrums: critical reflections on the Creative Scotland “stooshie”’, Cultural Trends. Available at [accessed 19 June 2014]

[7] Robin MacPherson ‘Independent Screens’, [accessed 19 June 2014]

[8] Leo Barraclough, ‘Scottish Desire for Freedom Raises the Question: And Then What?’ Variety, 19 June 2014, Available at [accessed 19 June 2014]

[9] [Accessed 23 May 2014].

[10] Creative Scotland, Review of the Film Sector in Scotland, 2014 Available at [accessed 19 June 2014]

[11] Duncan Petrie, ‘The Struggle for a Scottish National Film School’, The Education of the Filmmaker in Europe, Australia, and Asia, Mette Hjort (ed.), Palgrave Macmillan, 2013, pp. 67-84.

[12] Philip Drake, ‘Policy or Practice? Deconstructing the Creative Industries’, in: Szczepanik, P. and Vonderau, P. (eds). Behind the Screen: Inside European Production Cultures. Palgrave Macmillan, Basingstoke. 2014, pp. 221-236, p. 228.

[13] Child Poverty Action Group, Poverty in Scotland: The independence referendum and beyond 2014, John H McKendrick, Gerry Mooney, John Dickie, Gill Scott and Peter Kelly (eds). Available in part at [accessed 20 May 2014]

[14], [accessed 24 June 2014].

[15] [accessed 21 June 2014].

[16] Deborah Orr, Scottish independence would change England more than Scotland, The Guardian, 13 June 2014. Available at [accessed 13 June 2014]


Comments (17)

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  1. That’s very thorough and interesting analysis of European film in relation to Scotland’s paucity of activity, but rather too long and detailed to state the obvious.

    The greater film funds reside in London, governed by those there. They alone hold the key to the funding banks. It is only natural an English film industry masquerading as a ‘British’ industry will nurture its own cultural interests before any other, and so it has proved.

    There is no ‘leap of faith’ voting Yes. Self-governance ensures we can concentrate on a genuinely Scottish outlook in our subject matter without looking askance to check London’s standards or commercial interests.

    In any event, we know full well Scottish literature can be as international in application as any. It does not require weighted dice to win praise and film production.

  2. bellacaledonia says:

    This is true yet there are so many aspects – and missing infrastructure – to Scotland’s film industry that they need to be detailed and circulated for serious debate. A question hangs in the air: whether we want, or can afford, a Scottish film industry. I’d hope the answer to both is yes, and that the required infrastructure will be put in place.

    In my opinion movies are important in order to reflect and transmit the lives of a people to a national and international audience. But as David Archibald says in his lecture we’ve been waiting decades for a film studio, we have no bespoke national film agency, nor a national film academy, and the merging of Scottish Screen with SAC has hardly helped matters. All of these could have been tackled with existing powers so not everything can be palmed off as “after Indy we can do this”. In essence this is a debate about whether Scots want a film industry worthy of the name, and whether there’s the political will to make it happen.

    1. Alasdair Frew-Bell says:

      indeed it is all about will, and our preparedness to take risks. The cautious and canny Scot stereotype suited the old order the new one will need an entirely different model.

      1. Risks?

        Risk is second-nature to the artistically driven.

        If someone is creatively-minded, either with pronounced ability or raw, untutored skill they will gravitate to wherever lies activity to develop their skills. The urge from within is either there, or it is not.

        If film, that platform of encouragement unavailable in Scotland, there’s always London, or Los Angeles. I hear Wales is doing rather well these days with Dr Who, and New Zealand is riding high with Peter Jackson’s energies and output.

        The Irish, like the Australians before them, attracted a lot of talent inwardly – which in turn inspired indigenous effort – offering very low tax rates to creative individuals who moved to Ireland to live. But those palmy days are greatly reduced. Australia cut its tax incentives a decade ago.

        When in power Gordon Brown offered six tranches of £30 million to six existing ‘British’ film production companies. Though at least three existing Scottish companies had fine international successes in their portfolio none received the largesse. The chief recipient was Working Title in London.

        It hasn’t looked back since.

      2. Grouse Beater
        The Welsh are good at this. S4C and independents have produced loads of tv for Welsh speaking children which has been re-voiced and sold abroad. The Dr Who franchise has boosted Cardiff as an innovative media centre. The success of Hinterland/Y Gwyll, a daring production concept which almost nearly didn’t materialise, shows what will and determination can achieve.

  3. Alasdair Frew-Bell says:

    The first tangible manifestation of the union of Scotland and England, the personal union when our monarch annexed England, was the court’s flit to London. Royal courts and their ancillaries were the drivers and financiers of artistic creativity. Although Scotland had experienced the predations of the iconoclastic and culture hating activities of our very own equivalents of Salafism and Wahabism, under James VI things were loosening up. Had the court stayed put, even with the personal union, things might have been very different culturally. Instead Scotland became a dependency of the English speaking world and provincial to boot. The reformers default hallowing of English as the language of the holy writ had struck the first mortal blow. English being the language of the new dispensation our national tongues were expected to rot way. Although, embarrassingly, the sweet stink of their decomposition never quite quit the room.
    Come the fateful mortal blow to our existence THE Union we were softened up to accepting that we had nothing to offer of our own and needed to become pukka Englishmen and women in the new Cool Britannia. OK we had the “Scottish Enlightenment” but it was a stripped down dour cerebral beast. It did not challenge the status quo, thought in English, thought itself British, was pretty lacking in fun and in the case of Hume had an inferiority complex about that Scotch thing. Voltaire apparently loved it but he would have passed muster in a black Geneva gown preaching to the stuffed box pews of the sub-divided St Giles.

    We need our own “cultural industries”. The damage, deep damage, inflicted by an existentially disastrous sequence of events will take some repair. Cinema and tv and media product would be our version of Agitprop. The moving image has the immediacy and power to provoke, excite and stimulate. This is thinking well beyond the cultural comfort zone of the British experience. It is also a new definition of what constitutes “politics”. In a Scottish democracy, the D-word signifying republic, nothing human ought to be beyond its scope, art, design, architecture, technology, literature and the movies are as much to do with politics as Holyrood, bankers, the EU and the conceits of Tony Blair. It is radical, world-embracing, cosmopolitan, internationalist “nationalism”. It has more imagination and innovation and aspiration in its smallest appendage than the entire naw-saying, nauseating clique of buttoned-up latter-day Unionists might, had they the imagination, dream of.

  4. In essence this is a debate about whether Scots want a film industry worthy of the name, and whether there’s the political will to make it happen.

    In some regards that’s a false debate. Governments cannot degree ‘there will be creativity!’

    That can encourage it if aesthetic education is part of an educational system.

    Story telling expressed in film is thee method of presenting drama in the 21st century. Scotland has the writers, the novelists, the animation experts, and those already working extremely successfully in video games. It can, in time, provide good investment.

    Alas, we do not have audience numbers to offer decent returns on investment, therefore filmmaking will need to be subsidised until such time as Scotland secures its own home-based distributor. Norway has a system wherein producers are guaranteed a large share of box office despite Norwegian films rarely travelling outside Norway. The state broadcaster, NRK, is charged with funding films too and transmitting them later. Then again, Norway was smart enough to ringfence its oil reserves and invest the money wisely in Norwegian culture. In terms of film, it keeps actors, producers, directors, and crew employed.

    Creative Scotland is a government funded organisation, a top down institution, you might say one imposed on those it is obliged to support. It supports by its own formulated criteria, by selection, not by duty.

    Indigenous filmmakers need the equivalent of what writers and painters have had for over 100 years, a grassroots up institution they possess and run, that nurtures and protects <i.and promotes: an Academy of Film and Television, a place with public access, a place for archival record, for practitioners to meet and offer praise, a centre of excellence respected worldwide.

    It could happily incorporate Edinburgh’s struggling film festival and give that a boost too. It could work with exchange visits, master classes, lectures, and retrospectives.

    1. Alasdair Frew-Bell says:

      Taking culture seriously enough to give it a permanent place as a core element in public education? The utilitarian landscape at the grass-roots could do with the addition of more “exotic” flora.

      1. Granted, two hours a week art class, (two if the pupil is lucky) doesn’t constitute an aesthetic education. The result? Watch folk dithering at B@Q paint shelves desperate to understand if that hot red will go with their pale taupe curtains and flower wallpaper.

      2. Grouse Beater
        That Better Together beige is a nice colour!

  5. Douglas says:

    I will be voting YES too, David but it won’t be because of the SNP’s policy to film, which isn’t really a policy at all but a complete absence of ideas and know-how masquerading as a policy and failing…

    I’m all for an Academy, but it needs to form part of a plan for sustained investment over, say, a ten year period. You need to find the politician who gets the big picture.

    Film-making is another massive untapped Scottish natural resource. If we allocated x thousand barrels of North Sea oil over 10 years to the Scottish film industry Glasgow could become a real competitive alternative to London for foreign shoots, like Toronto is to New York (film makers often use Toronto to shoot New York).

    But you need a cross party long term commitment and people in government with vision, and of course you need a Scottish national television channel, you need acquire critical mass.

    Film unites all the other arts has potential to employ almost anybody who does anything in the arts, and is also a great showcase for Scotland internationally. That;s not the essential reason for investing in film of course, but it doesn’t make it any less true.

    My model for the Academy would be The Glasgow School of Art, I mean the philosophy behind it. I would try to understand, in detail, what it was they did there to turn GSA from being another good art school to being a conveyor belt of world class talent. (I say that having just checked out the Edinburgh leg of the nation wide exhibition “Graduation” which is brilliant.)

    Scottish writers gave the world some of the most famous universal screen characters of all time: Sherlock Holmes, Jeckyll and Hyde, Long John Silver and Peter Pan. When you tell foreigner friends that they were all written by Scots, they take a step back…

    Yet, my guess is that not a single one of them has ever been committed to film by a Scottish film-maker and/or production company at the same time. That’s truly an incredible situation.

    As for Creative Scotland, I am reminded of that line by Adorno: “he who says the word culture, says the word administration”.

    The administration of Scottish culture has now got to such a suffocating stage that it is habitual for literary prizes to offer feedback or indeed a “tailored programme of mentoring” as part of the prize, as the Scottish Book Trust is now doing

    That’s when you know that the Culture Industry has won and the game is up; when they start offering you prizes which consist of another kind of administration….

    1. Adorno, phew! Bella does attract the cultivated, might have anticipated the pretensions of the ICA.

      1. Douglas says:

        Any public library in Scotland is bound to stock Adorno..

        By the way, an example of the embarrassment of riches which is Scottish literary culture and its adaptation to the screen.

        Check out the sheer number of screenplay adaptations from the works of R.L Stevenson:

      2. Alasdair Frew-Bell says:

        It often takes the outsider, that includes our neighbours, to make us aware of how rich we actually are. The Italian company Cassina making Mackintosh design furniture has resonance.

  6. tartanfever says:

    We have a UK National Filmschool. It’s based in Beaconsfield just outside London. Scottish taxpayers money pays for that. It’s for all residents of the UK. Now we are being told here that we require our own Scottish National Filmschool. Why ?

    As for the BBC, we are ripped off in Scotland. We make no nationally broadcast dramas in Scotland. Waterloo Road was hived up here from Manchester and brought most of it’s cast and crew with it. The jobs it actually created for Scottish based crews were minimal. Much the same as the BBC adaptation of Wallander with Kenneth Branagh. A BBC Scotland co-production, filmed in Sweden with a mainly English cast. That funding came out of BBC Scotland’s budget and yet provided no return or support for any Scottish based crews.

    This has been happening for decades.

    Until we have a good solid base of consistent opportunities available for freelance film and tv staff in Scotland then we will always struggle. Creating that work and opportunities will come mainly through tv productions, not films. TV work will be the ‘bread and butter’ work that will sustain careers, improve the skillbase and bring about the building of a proper studio.

    Not impressed with this article, it’s about time some home truths were spilled about the lack of industry opportunities from the UK Government and the BBC, not the Scottish Government.

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