** I wrote this article in 2012 when BIFA and Raindance were a lot younger than they are now. I was going to do a ‘cheat’ and update this – but have decided to let this rant stand as it is. Please enjoy and see if you can add some comments at the bottom.
– Elliot Grove, London, August 2018
With the British Independent Film Awards around the corner, once again the eyes of the world will be focused on British film and filmmakers.
Britain’s film-makers and British film are constantly battling to break out, struggling to find the finance to make enough good films to create a viable industry. Among the things holding them back is …
…a pile of lies – or misconceptions, if you prefer – masquerading as truisms.
Here are a few of the more common ones.
1. If you have a good script, it will get produced.
This is one of the biggest and best lies.
A perfect illustration of huge naivety believing that parts of our imperfect world (including film-making, of all things) are in perfect running order.
The reality is much more frightening: if you have a good script in this country, you are likely to have a problem.
Bad scripts, or at least mediocre scripts, are much easier to read than good scripts and producers are not known for their reading skills so much as their financial acumen.
When accounting meets literacy, there can only be one winner. You don’t need to go to film school to work that one out.
2. Soho is Britain’s Beverley Hills.
This lie is not as outlandish as it sounds.
Obviously most film-makers’ Soho offices are less grand – okay, drab – by comparison. And there are not many hills in Soho, either. None, in fact. Nor is there as much sunshine as you find in BH.
But, as in Beverley Hills, there is a lot of talent concentrated in one place in Soho, so the two are linked in that sense.
What makes this statement a lie nevertheless is that, in Soho, you actually bump into film people in the street all the time, and they are amiably human, while in Beverly Hills the talent is locked up in cars trapped in traffic jams.
Long live Soho.
3. Britain hasn’t made a great film since The Full Monty.
Perhaps you think this lie is more absurd than mendacious. The Full Monty? A great film? Be serious.
If it wasn’t one of your favourites, substitute any one of dozens of other successful British titles from the last 10, 20, 50 years.
Billy Elliott. Ghandi, Notes On A Scandal, Performance, Don’t Look Back, Atonement, Control, This Is England, Slumdog Millionaire, Son of Babylon, King’s Speech and on and on and on.
Say, if you will, there hasn’t been a great British film since The Lodger in 1927.
The point – the lie – is the suggestion that Britain has lost its power to make a decent movie. That it lost it some time ago (a few years ago, a few decades ago, whatever) and not only hasn’t made anything decent recently, it never will again.
Just watch out for the films nominated for this year’s British Independent Film Awards and the new British films coming out this year.And the terrific new British films at this year’s Raindance Film Festival. And by the way, Ben Wheatley’s DOWN TERRACE screened at Raidance in 2009. Largely ignored by the British industry, Ben went to the States and came storming back with Kill List. Many call Ben’s first two films PDG (Pretty damn Good). His Another field In England smashed pre-conceived distribution notions too.
Britain can and will make more memorable movies.
The sad fact is that it will not make as many as it might unless it has greater self-belief.
Only in the fantasy world of film could anyone get away with objecting to something on such flimsy ground.
This is like complaining that an architect’s drawings could never add up to a skyscraper because they fit into an envelop.
Where is the imagination to see that anything can be made to work as film rather than TV if handled creatively.
If Beckett can find majesty in a tale of two tramps, if Proust can find the whole of life in a tea break, great films, not TV, could be made from a limerick or less if there is an idea involved.
5. British actors can’t open a film.
If opening a film means guaranteeing packed houses for a film from the off regardless of the script, certainly Britain is short of sure things.
Mind you, so is America every few years. Only it gets around the failing by running huge publicity campaigns. Indeed, without massive and expensive publicity even America’s best would have trouble luring many potatoes off their couches.
Besides, Britain does have big draw names, from established entities like Catherine and Kate, Sean and Anthony to newcomers such as Christian, Hugh, Benedict, Edward, Tom, James, Ewan and Orlando.
They and dozens of other quality actors can all lodge a title in a film goers’s mind, even without publicity, and open a picture very well.
If they seem to do so less successfully than their American colleagues, it is most likely that they are robbed of the press and publicity coverage they deserve.
6. Gangster films give the most realistic depiction of modern Britain.
A hard one to disagree with, this one. For Britain does seem to have a knack for looking at criminals with a cold, hard, accurate eye.
But, despite the pervasive sense of a country swamped by crime, these cruel flicks in no way reflect the reality of life in Britain for most people today.
They only seem so valuable because there are too few engaging films dealing with more conventional people. That is the mystery, or crime, that there are not many more convincing movies about ordinary society.
Is it so dull that it can’t make great cinema?
Or is ordinary society not interested in seeing films about itself?
7. Britain is only good at period pieces.
There is no denying that the country has a canny way of looking at its past, and it is not short of a few centuries of past to look at either.
So it is not surprising that it churns out a fair number of them.
Is this a flaw? As Julius Caesar might have said: Did the Greeks not write about their past? Was that not honourable?
There still needs to be scripts looking at the present day certainly.
But even Hollywood tends to devote a fair share of its budget on period pieces, especially given America’s relatively short history. They just cleverly disguise them with other, more vibrant names.
Westerns. Colonial period. Pioneer days. The Twenties. The Forties. War films.
8. British film scripts are too wordy.
The implication is that other counties, meaning America, know when to shut up and let the visuals make the movie.
That they know how to write scripts that make great movies.
Oh, yes, they do. Sometimes.
The flaw in the argument is to suggest that they know how to write successfully all the time. As if they never produce turkeys. This is a porkie on a grand scale.
Consider how many monkeys they have tinkering with hundreds of scripts day after day after day. Then consider that they only release the best of these, a fair share of which are actually written by Brits.
Then consider how many of these – not the British scripts – are flops! Unless, of course, you have never seen a bad Hollywood film! What’s extraordinary is not how well Americans write but how badly.
9. Brits prefer Hollywood films.
Oh, no, they don’t!
This is a classic case of chicken and egg. Or, in this instance, more like big, wild Woolly Mammoth and egg.
If truth be told, if Brits prefer any country’s cinema more than their own, it is most likely French or Chinese or the work of some other nation that produces insightful, thought movies.
But if it is Saturday night and the media have been telling you for months that Spiders/Snakes/Machetes in a Bed/Plane/Refrigerator is THE movie to see and it is playing on 18 of your 19 local screens, with the unnoticed British oeuvre scheduled for the final six seat auditorium, guess which one Brits are going to flock to?
So decent but unadvertised British films open and die by Sunday morning, leaving the coffers empty and unable to fund future, more adventurous films and US behemoths ride laughing all the way to the top of the box office.
This is where Raindance comes in, and it is where you come in. Certain festivals, like Raindance, have become a key way for filmmakers to launch their films into Europe. Which means Raindance needs your support in order to get bums on seats during the festival screenings, and get eyeballs of websites before the screenings.
If you think you can help, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and we will put your energy and your communication skills to good use.
To make the festival easier to navigate, we have divided our movies into strands: Simply scan this list and see which strand appeals to your sense of taste and adventure.
See you at the festival!