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Saturday, 27 November 2010

Film Culture and the Spending Review on APEngine

The people at the marvellous APEngine have published an article of mine on film culture and the spending review, available here. Check out the rest of the site - great stuff.

Official News Sources and Citizen Journalists

Met Forced to Admit Mounted Police Charged Protesters at Wednesday's Anti-Cuts Demo

Scotland Yard has been forced to retract its statement about the use of mounted police charges during Wednesday's anti-Higher Education cuts demonstration. As reported in the Guardian, on Thursday a Met spokesperson categorically stated that "Police horses were involved in the operation, but that didn't involve charging the crowd."

Since then footage shot by a protester has surfaced that clearly shows mounted police charging without warning into a crowd containing school children, at least two mothers who had come to collect children and a pregnant woman.



Somehow the mainstream media managed to miss this and the other mounted police charge.

Citizen Journalists and Agenda Setting

Coming off the back of the citizen journalist footage that forced the Independent Police Complaints Commission to investigate whether the Met had misled the public over the death of Ian Tomlinson at the G20 protests in April last year, this highlights the value to protesters of on-scene video. After Ian Tomlinson was attacked by a policeman on his way home from work 'anonymous sources', 'eye-witnesses' and police sources were employed to set the agenda in the right-wing press. Sky News, for example: "Police said they were pelted with missiles believed to include bottles as they tried to save his life." Or this headline from the Evening Standard (now mysteriously disappeared from their website, captured here):

 
Without the video shot by protesters that clearly showed a police officer beating Tomlinson before pushing him to the ground this may have remained the accepted truth of the events that led to his death.

This demonstrates the power of authorities, including the police, to set the agenda in the mainstream media's reporting of events, as campaigning journalist Heather Brooke discusses in relation to the shooting of Jean Charles de Menezes in the video below. 



Activist video and citizen journalism clearly has an increasing role to play in the countering of this sort of information control by authorities and institutions. Techniques first developed during the anti-road protest and environmental movements of the 1990s (see here from page 81, for example) are now, through mobile video technology, available to greater numbers of people and have been successful in shifting the public discourse about the policing of demonstrations, to a certain extent.

Viva Camcordistas!

Wednesday, 24 November 2010

And now, the news from a parallel universe...

Simon Cowell wins award for his contribution to culture and humanity.



"Cowell received the International Emmy Founders Award for 'significant achievements in television that cross cultural boundaries and contribute to our common humanity.'"

This must be the same universe where Blair is a peace envoy and Obama a Nobel Prize winner.

Tuesday, 16 November 2010

Cultural Shock Doctrine Round-up

A round-up of news on cultural funding post-Spending Review 

1. How do you define 'front line' services in the arts? 

Charlotte Higgins' made a great speech at the Paul Hamlyn foundation awards for artists and composers. Here is an abridged version: 

The great artistic achievements of this country don't start in our rightly celebrated national institutions – the Royal Opera House or the National Theatre or Tate Modern. They start in bedrooms in Bradford and garrets in Glasgow and classrooms in Coventry. They start in grubby student accommodation and after-school clubs and through the energy of surprising and inspiring teachers. People become artists because of a complicated web of interconnecting threads. What happens in your school is hugely important. What happens in your university or conservatoire or art school is hugely important – and we are hearing terrible intimations of what might happen to funding for the arts in higher education. What happens in your town – the local museum, the library, the theatre – is hugely important. Our Government is happy to celebrate our great national institutions but it needs to protect the delicate network that supports them. It needs to provide the solid framework around which enlightened philanthropy can work.

Talking of the spending review... Well, George Osborne's announcing a cut of 15% to the arts really was quite breathtaking, wasn't it – when the actual cut to Arts Council England's budget was 30%. Jeremy Hunt promised us fresh ideas as culture secretary, but I don't think anyone anticipated an idea as creative as this: a completely new way of describing the national arts budget that no one had ever thought up before.

So: Arts Council England is going to be cut by an overall 30%, but Jeremy Hunt has asked them to pass on cuts of only 15% to the "front line".

Asked to define "front line", Ed Vaizey, the culture minister, said that the organisations that the Arts Council regularly funds are "front line" and everything else is not.

According to that definition, the funding that supports national touring for opera and art shows is not "front line". A scheme that offers parents interest-free loans to buy musical instruments for their children is not "front line". Manchester international festival, which has commissioned artists such as Jeremy Deller, Steve McQueen and Joe Duddell is not front line.

As Higgins has argued in another article, "These cuts within higher education cannot be seen in isolation from those to culture in general: to museums, to the theatres, orchestras and other arts organisations up and down the land and to local authority cultural budgets."

2. Boris and Cumberbatch get in on the action

An article in the Evening Standard details Boris Johnson and Benedict Cumberbatch's warnings that private sponsorship will not make up for the massive cuts in cultural budgets. Indeed, they actually fell by 8% last year, apparently.

(Johnson worried enough about re-election to have momentary memory laspes that he is a Tory?)

3. Where will the next generation of artists come from? Not from Somerset.

Tory Shire cuts 100% of its arts subsidy. Somerset council voted to end £160,000 of direct grants to 10 organisations, including theatres and a film production company, as part of a £43m programme of cuts across the services.

Charlie Dearden, director of Bridgwater Arts Centre, said 25,000 people were participating in arts and media projects in the county of Somerset, half of them located in deprived areas.

4. And the winner is...

According to the Mail (and reported in BFI Watch) the Government has announced that what remains of the UK FIlm Council's responsibilities to fund film in the UK will be transferred to the British Film Institute.

I'm not sure what to make of this last one yet. It effectively puts institutionalised film policy back where it was before all this Film Council nonsense. But it seems unlikely that this will result in a return to the days of the Production Board. The wider situation has changed - not least because of National Lottery funding. The BFI has changed too. So how will it cope?

Friday, 12 November 2010

Who Are the Thugs?

Montagu’s Daughter would like to publicly condemn the behaviour of a small minority of anti-social yobs. The actions of these thugs do not represent the wishes of the vast majority of people in this country. It is a shame that these outside agitators have managed to hijack the democratic process for their own ends.


Let's hope that the media will not be distracted from focussing on the real issues.

Saturday, 6 November 2010

Broadcasting and Union Struggle: A History in Video

The Battle of the BBC

Other people have blogged on the current industrial action by NUJ members defending their pensions against the BBC management retirement raiders. The Worker’s United has a short commentary here and I would also recommend this one on A Very Public Sociologist in which you can get a list of celebrity scabs.

For my part, the current dispute has prompted some thoughts about the history of trade unionism in the media. Firstly, BECTU is sitting this one out which is a big loss – it has a history of relative militancy in the film and TV sector. One of its predecessors, the ACTT, was at the forefront of industrial struggle in the 1970s. In 1973 they commissioned a report, written by Simon Hartog, detailing plans for the nationalisation of the film industry (which can be accessed from this page, if you’re interested). In 1975 the ACTT commissioned Patterns of Discrimination, the first ever trade union report into sexual discrimination in the workplace, and appointed a full-time women’s equality officer. They were responsible for shutting down much of the ITV network for ten weeks in 1979 – what Glen Aylett calls the “granddaddy of television strikes”. They were also central in negotiating the now defunct Workshop Declaration in the 1980s, which for my money is a landmark model for progressive film-making (Amber Films – the only workshop to survive from that era – have details here). While it was never widely adopted, for those lucky enough to work under it the Declaration provided what are now almost unimaginable opportunities for lefties, women, members of ethnic minorities to make films that represented their interests and visions as opposed to the perceived needs of the ‘market’. 

If broadcasting trade unions have been at the front of progressive union policy, the broadcast sector as a whole has been at the front of neoliberal restructuring. Trade union membership in the film and television industries, as in trade union membership more generally, is less than half of what it was 30 years ago. In fact, the audio-visual industries are seen by some commentators as exemplary of the trajectory towards de-unionisation and the attendant casualisation that has characterised the neo-liberalisation of industrial economies since the late-1970s (see here, for example). If that is the case then the current dispute has ramifications for more than the pensions of BBC workers.

And now a look at some past struggles.

A Random History of Trade Unionism in the Media in Video Format 

Report on current industrial action:



BBC One Strike, 1994:



ITV Strike, 1979:



And finally, Wapping Lies, a video on the Battle of Wapping in 1986. This lesson from history precedes Murdoch’s integration into the fabric of the British economy, British politics and British culture. It demonstrates the sort of issues that are at stake at the current time with downward pressure on the pay and conditions in the public sector part of creeping privatisation. As David Puttnam recently argued, it is Murdoch's control over the British media - not the BBC - that is “chilling”.



Here’s hoping the NUJ do better this time around.

Saturday, 23 October 2010

Film Policy in the UK and the Spending Review: The Cultural-Shock Doctrine in Action?

The Spending Review and Film

In one of the first posts on this blog I speculated as to whether the closure of the UK Film Council would signal a return to the dark days of the 1980s and the almost complete collapse of British film production. As I said then, the devil is in the detail: how much will overall subsidy be reduced, how will it be distributed? The details of the cuts made to public subsidy for film in the UK are now emerging. What do these suggest?

Cuts or Restructuring?

The following article in Screen Daily outlines the cuts, reproduced via BFI Watch:

film-sector funding outside Lottery funds and the British Film Institute (BFI) has been slashed by over 50% . . .

. . . the annual grant-in-aid budget for film in each of the next four years will be around £18.618m, down from £23.9m in the year 2010/11. After counting the BFI’s newly reduced annual budget, that leaves just £4.655m for all other film activities (excluding Lottery development/production funding which the government has pledged to maintain at current levels). That £4.655m will have to cover:

• inward investment and the work of the British Film Commissioner
• National and regional screen agencies
• research and statistics
• film exports
• certification (assessing which films qualify as British and are therefore eligible for Lottery funding and/or UK Film Tax Relief)
• diversity initiatives
• anti-piracy initiatives
• co-production support
• The UK MEDIA Desk activities
• Sponsorship of work such as The UK Film Centre at Cannes

Cuts had been anticipated but the 50% figure for non-BFI and non-Lottery funding is a stiff reduction and confirms the fear of many in the industry that, while Lottery funding and the tax certification are safe, other areas of the film business will suffer . . .

. . . Meanwhile regional screen agencies are anticipating a cut in funding along the same 15% lines as the BFI.

So these are big cuts, disproportionately placed on certain parts of the subsidised film sector. The tax incentives designed to stimulate commercial feature film production and inward investment are maintained, along with Lottery funding for production. The main cuts are to come from the BFI and the Regional Screen Agencies. The Spending Review can be seen, therefore, as a restructuring exercise for film subsidy in the UK. We can understand it by looking at the structure of film subsidy during the New Labour period.

The Structure of Film Subsidy under New Labour

In the UK Film Council’s first major policy statement, ‘Towards a Sustainable Film Industry’, then Chairman Alan Parker described the UKFC’s strategy thus: "Essentially our intention is to use public money to make better, more popular and more profitable films in real partnership with the private sector, which drives our industry and largely creates our film culture." On the other hand, the “cultural role of the UK FILM COUNCIL has been largely delegated to the British Film Institute and its regional partners." (Here, page 1)

While the separation of industrial and cultural functions proved to be not as neat as Parker would have us think, this demonstrates the structural division between commercial subsidy – primarily via the tax incentive and lottery investment in production – and cultural subsidy – via the BFI and the Regional Screen Agencies – that characterised the New Labour period. As a DEMOS report put it: “The Government and the UK Film Council look to the RSAs to help capture the many facets of British communities”:

To encourage the growth of a sense of community and identity, to identify and empower under-represented and marginalised voices, give support for different forms of distribution, and ensure diversity of access and participation. (Here, pages 20 and 17)

In policy terms, the social and cultural objectives of film subsidy – community, identity, diversity, social inclusion – were placed onto the RSAs and the BFI. The extent to which the Regional Screen Agencies concerned themselves with social and cultural initiatives in practice is a bigger topic than I have space to discuss here, but it is undoubtedly true that they provided a badly-needed inroad to the industry for marginalised social groups. However imperfect they were, these aspects of film policy recognised the failure of the market to be representative of British social and cultural life. It is these sorts of initiatives that will be reduced. We’ve already seen Screen East, one of the Regional Screen Agencies, close (although the circumstances of this are unclear).

So while operators like Clint Eastwood, Dreamworks and Directors UK might be breathing a sigh of relief for the moment, this spells trouble for community film-makers in Leicester or Newcastle. In short, these cuts are not fair; like the more general attack on the welfare state of which they are a part they will disproportionally effect the poorer, more independent and vulnerable sections of the film sector. 

In the 1980s commercial subsidies – the Eady Levy in particular – were slashed leading to the almost complete collapse of commercial feature film production in this country. At the same time, cultural-film subsidy was maintained at a certain level, mostly through BFI Production. This produced some memorable, often oppositional films (My Beautiful Laundrette, Orlando, The Draughtsman’s Contract, Young Soul Rebels).

In this phase of neoliberal restructuring we appear to be witnessing the opposite strategy: the maintenance of subsidy to the commercial film sector at the same time as the withdrawal of state support for the cultural sector. This is the cultural-shock doctrine in action.