Arts Manifesto – Policy for Film in a Post-Everything Scotland
Bella Caledonia is crowdsourcing an Arts Manifesto for post-covid, post-brexit, post-independence Scotland.
Over the next month Bella Caledonia will publish commissioned articles on policy ideas for this ‘post-everything’ Scotland. Leading figures in various sectors and backgrounds will outline their policy ideas. But we want you to get involved too, the artists, the audience and the army of people behind the scenes who make the magic happen. In the comments section below and after each published piece, tell us one policy that you think would make a difference. Our second commissioned piece in this series is by Peter Mackie-Burns, Director of Daphne and Rialto:
What would make good policy for film in a Post -Scotland?
As we tentatively prepare to emerge from our current lockdown, albeit perhaps only temporarily, is there now an opportunity for us to consider policy that might better prepare our film industry for future generations?
Time spent homeschooling my children in recent months has given me the opportunity to imagine the type of world they might one day inhabit and how the role of film and TV (and other moving image culture) may shape and inform it. If my own household is in any way representative of others across the country then importance and value, socially, culturally and economically of our screen industries has been clearly and regularly demonstrated by every one with access to a screen .
Innumerable reviews, consultations, reports, and rebranding of our funding bodies have come and gone since Jennie Lee’s white paper, A Policy For The Arts- The First Steps, produced in 1965 led directly to the formation of The Arts Council. The white paper, the first and, to date, only white paper on the arts recognised that equality of access and wide participation were as essential to the population’s health and wellbeing as the NHS.
A moot point, perhaps, in the midst of a global pandemic that at time of writing reports approximately one hundred and twenty three thousand deaths in the UK. However, in the context of a “Post- Scotland” Film Policy that could reflect the imagination, collective well being and potential contribution to the future economy of our country, one that we like to think of small but progressive, we clearly still have some work to do.
One suggestion that could offer a way forward as outlined in Lee’s white paper is wider participation. Might that be improved by earlier access and education in the screen arts?
A glance at our domestic feature film output over the last fifty years would show an occasionally excellent but often frequently forgettable patchwork of productions that suggest little in the sense of a cohesive film policy. The notable exceptions are testimony to the vision, talents, and dogged persistence of film makers who’s work earns critical acclaim, box office success or increasingly finds wider audiences on streaming platforms. These rare gems are to be rightly celebrated but are indicative of a film strategy that seems neither wholly convinced nor confident in our film makers and audiences.
The myriad reasons for this lack of a thriving Scottish film industry are well documented- the hitherto lack a film studio infrastructure (the bedrock of successful film industries across the world.) Our geographical proximity to our culturally dominant neighbours, our “impenetrable accents,” the decimation of the film business due to Covid- 19, the seemingly unquenchable thirst for superhero movies for children of all ages, the purported lack of interest in indigenous film. These are all regular features in a bingo of increasingly risk averse film production and distribution that has effectively stalled our industry.
The Scottish Parliament Act was passed in1998. We have had the opportunity to address some these issues for almost a generation. Regrettably, despite good intentions and some small yet laudable steps forward we have failed to create a film industry that is functional let alone forward looking. It is time for new policy to address strategic changes and fresh thinking necessary for meaningful change rather than the seemingly endless tinkering with our funding bodies. Root and branch cultivation can encourage film in Scotland to flower, but how?
In recent years our government has looked to the progressive policies of Finland, another small country that shares some our own health and social issues. We have even adapted and implemented a number of the Finns’ progressive ideas (the success of the baby box scheme being one of the most memorable.) Scotland’s approach to treating knife crime as a health rather than criminal issue demonstrates that we are more than capable of strategic and imaginative thinking with tangible results.
Why can’t we apply a similar level of strategic and lateral thinking to our film industry? We clearly have the grey matter and masses of potential using screens in our homes and classrooms. Why not introduce moving image education at primary school for all of our children? Why continue to half heartedly encourage an industry that could significantly benefit our artistic, social and economic future?
The film Policy of two other comparably sized countries- Denmark and Ireland paints quite a different picture to our own. Denmark’s film industry was originally created in response to buying films from their Swedish neighbours. Their politically driven and artistically successful Dogma95 movement proved to be a game changer that put the Danish film industry firmly on the map. The Danish Government’s decision to fund a series of low budget features over a five year period in the hope that that would either gain international critical acclaim or even make their money back proved to be the kick start their industry needed. Had the films not been a success then their government would have simply declined further investment. The Danes, like the Scots known for their practicality, simply decided to invest in their talent and continue to do so.
Ireland in response to the resounding crash of the Celtic Tiger economy created tax incentives and invested in large film studios whilst simultaneously continuing a strong screen trade union system that has resulted in year round indigenous and international production and related employment. Neither industry in those countries are without their problems and shortcomings but both demonstrate political nous, strategic risk taking, investment and belief in what their film industries can positively achieve for their national identity and cultural well being. Is there a similar confidence and political will for this to happen in a Post Scotland? Introducing our children to film as a way to help unlock our imaginations seems like a good place to start.