Why David Cameron's plans for UK cinema will make for a more boring world

The PM's wrong to ignore the role that the "arthouse" circuit plays in the building of cinematic successes, says Andrew Collins

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Andrew Collins: Take Two
Andrew Collins
Andrew Collins
Why David Cameron's plans for UK cinema will make for a more boring world

It seems grimly ironic that David Cameron announces that he wants the British film industry to "rival Hollywood and produce more blockbuster films such as The King’s Speech" after a year in which, while The King's Speech hoovered up all the awards and made a ton of money back, the best British movies were on the whole small, difficult, serious and esoteric, many of them from first-time directors, and more likely to be seen at festivals or on the arthouse circuit. 

I'm thinking of Tyrannosaur, Kill List, Weekend, Submarine, Archipelago, Dreams of a Life, Wuthering Heights...

The term "arthouse" suggests films that will only play to a particularly clued-up audience, whereas in fact, with the safety net of a thriving network of arthouse cinemas in the UK, film-makers and the producers that fund their work can take bigger artistic risks, secure in the knowledge that smaller, independent cinemas are likely to exhibit their movies. 

But it need not be a ghetto where commercial failure is subsidised. From this discerning platform, smaller, indie films can often go on to find a broader audience and enjoy exhibition in multiplexes. To cut off funding for smaller films in favour of bigger films means that many middle-sized films will not get made. And what a boring world that would be.

To state that National Lottery money will in future be directed at "mainstream" films that "could become commercial successes" completely ignores the role that the "arthouse" circuit can play in the building of such successes. 

Also I would personally rather see a hundred films as exciting and challenging as Tyrannosaur or Kill List or Weekend than another King's Speech. No disrespect to all involved in producing it, but it's a far more significant commercial than artistic triumph. 

In order to satisfy the government's fantasy of exporting British cinema, we will have to make films like The King's Speech that pander to narrow foreign views of what "Britain" is all about. In other words: heritage, royalty, posh people and the Second World War.

It's fantastic that massive Hollywood blockbusters are made at Pinewood and utilise British technical talent we should be proud of. But I can't be alone in feeling slightly nauseous when the PM outlines that the government's role is to "support the sector in becoming even more dynamic and entrepreneurial, helping UK producers to make commercially successful pictures that rival the quality and impact of the best international productions."

I'm with Ken Loach, who called the move "a travesty" and went on to say, "What you have to do is fund a lot of different, varied projects and then some will be successful, some will be original, some will be creative, and you will get a very vibrant industry."

I rather suspect David Cameron only saw one film last year. It had a stuttering monarch in it.

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