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.

Wednesday, 20 October 2010

The Spending Review 2010 and Cultural Funding Cuts

How badly has Cultural Funding been slashed in the Spending Review?

Museums and Galleries breathed a sigh of relief at cuts of 15% - and admission will remain free.  Similarly, the British Film Institute came in at 15% although this should be seen in the context of earlier cuts to promised, badly needed investment.  The Department for Culture, Media and Sport has had its budget cut by 24%.

Arts Council England has been particularly badly effected with its budget cut by nearly 30% over the next four years.  This is the top end of what was expected, but what will it mean in practice?  Clearly it is difficult to know at this stage.  As Nicholas Serota, the Director of the Tate, previewed in the Guardian a couple of weeks ago:

"A 10-15% cut in cash terms over four years would be a challenge of the kind that arts organisations regularly surmount; more than this will threaten the whole ecosystem, cutting off the green shoots with the dead wood, reducing the number of plays and exhibitions, discouraging innovation, risk and experiment and threatening the ability of organisations to earn or raise money for themselves."

According to Alan Davey, the Arts Council's Chief Executive, this will mean the end of at least 100 organisations.  That sounds like a conservative estimate to me.


The Con-Dems ludicrous mantra is that the cuts are both neccessary and fair, or even 'progressive'.  The evidence does not bear this out.  For example, Jeremy-culture-vandal-Hunt has asked the Arts Council to attempt to limit cuts to its 850 Regularly Funded Organisations - big theatres, opera houses, that sort of thing - to no more than 15% meaning that the rest must be made up from cuts to administration and other programs.  Programs such as Creative Partnerships and Find Your Talent that focus on cultural provision children and young people from disadvantaged communities.  In the cultural sector, as in society more generally, the savage attack on the welfare state will affect the poor disproportionately, but at least the likes of George Osbourne will still be able to go to the opera.

I'll leave the final word to Ian Brown, West Yorkshire Playhouse artistic director:

“As a direct result of these government reductions there is the potential that a whole generation of people will lose out and be unable to enjoy the fruits of a complex and diverse cultural landscape. I strongly believe that these cuts will make no, or very little, impact on the UK’s deficit and that what we are looking at is a very conservative approach to subsidised arts funding.”

Conservative indeed.

Thursday, 7 October 2010

George Carlin Explains Political Economy

"They've got you by the balls"

This clip has been circulating the internet.  George Carlin explains political economy.

Wednesday, 6 October 2010

No Pressure Backlash Roundup

A Selection of the More Interesting Responses to the 10:10 Campaign Video No Pressure

As a final follow-up to a number of previous posts (here, here, here), there's a selection of responses to the No Pressure film discussed in the Guardian, here.

Climate Safety has an interesting discussion of the failed tactics used in the film here. For example:

Of course, its easy to be critical of any attempt to engage the public with climate change – it is a formidable challenge finding the right way of encouraging people to embrace low-carbon lifestyles. But gradually, social scientists and climate change communicators are starting to piece together good evidence on how to effectively communicate climate change. The recent report by the Climate Change Communication Advisory Group (CCCAG), a network of climate communication academics and practitioners, set out seven principles for communicating climate change to mass audiences:

1. Move Beyond Social Marketing

2. Be honest and forthright about the probable impacts of climate change, and the scale of the challenge we confront in avoiding these. But avoid deliberate attempts to provoke fear or guilt.

3. Be honest and forthright about the impacts of mitigating and adapting to climate change for current lifestyles, and the ‘loss’ — as well as the benefits — that these will entail. Narratives that focus exclusively on the ‘up-side’ of climate solutions are likely to be unconvincing.

a. Avoid emphasis upon painless, easy steps.

b. Avoid over-emphasis on the economic opportunities that mitigating, and adapting to, climate change may provide.

c. Avoid emphasis upon the opportunities of ‘green consumerism’ as a response to climate change.

4. Empathise with the emotional responses that will be engendered by a forthright presentation of the probable impacts of climate change.

5. Promote pro-environmental social norms and harness the power of social networks

6. Think about the language you use, but don’t rely on language alone

7. Encourage public demonstrations of frustration at the limited pace of government action
Finally, in probably the best discussion of the film that I have read, Luna17 describes it as "perhaps the worst campaign video I've ever seen." Luna goes on:
The basic failure here is its perpetuating of the myth that reducing carbon emissions is primarily a matter of individual responsibility, thus depoliticising the whole issue of climate change as well as misrepresenting the reality of what drives it. There's no sense that some forces in society - the aviation industry, say, or oil mutinationals - might perhaps be disproportionately responsible.
What I find especially nauseating is that in a number of the examples it's the higher-status individual - teacher, boss - who is enlightened about climate change while its their 'inferiors' - pupils, workers - who are ignorant and irresponsible. It is deeply snobbish and reinforces the mistaken idea that the elite is already 'on board' with tackling climate change, but now ordinary people need to be similarly convinced. 
I couldn't have put it better myself.

Saturday, 2 October 2010

10:10 No Pressure Video: The Backlash

The Richard Curtis directed 10:10 campaign video No Pressure has prompted a furious backlash from climate change deniers.

Yesterday evening the 10:10 campaign issued the following statement:


Today we put up a mini-movie about 10:10 and climate change called 'No Pressure’.

With climate change becoming increasingly threatening, and decreasingly talked about in the media, we wanted to find a way to bring this critical issue back into the headlines whilst making people laugh. We were therefore delighted when Britain's leading comedy writer, Richard Curtis - writer of Blackadder, Four Weddings, Notting Hill and many others – agreed to write a short film for the 10:10 campaign. Many people found the resulting film extremely funny, but unfortunately some didn't and we sincerely apologise to anybody we have offended.

As a result of these concerns we've taken it off our website. We won't be making any attempt to censor or remove other versions currently in circulation on the internet.

We'd like to thank the 50+ film professionals and 40+ actors and extras and who gave their time and equipment to the film for free. We greatly value your contributions and the tremendous enthusiasm and professionalism you brought to the project.

At 10:10 we're all about trying new and creative ways of getting people to take action on climate change. Unfortunately in this instance we missed the mark. Oh well, we live and learn.

Onwards and upwards,

Franny, Lizzie, Eugenie and the whole 10:10 team


Montagu spent a bit of time this morning scouring the interweb to get a feel for the criticisms of the No Pressure film. The general line of argument is something like "eco-fascists want to explode CHILDREN who don't agree with them" which represents a massive sense of humour FAIL on a film that was clearly meant to be a joke. Rather than reproduce the more ludicrous criticisms here lets take what can possibly be defined as the more "sophisticated" end of the climate denier spectrum as an example.

James Delingpole is a climate change denier and occasional Telegraph journalist that has been described by George Monbiot as specialising in "ill-informed viciousness provided for free by trolls on comment threads everywhere, but raised by an order of magnitude."

Delingpole argues that "With No Pressure, the environmental movement has revealed the snarling, wicked, homicidal misanthropy beneath its cloak of gentle, bunny-hugging righteousness."

Snarling, wicked, homicidal misanthropy? The extent to which the criticisms of the film reveal the hysteria of climate change deniers is entirely predictable. More surprising is the speed at which the 10:10 campaign capitulated to this, clearly deciding that No Pressure had become a propaganda own-goal in the space of a few hours. This shows the effectiveness of the climate change deniers at setting the agenda in online discourse.

However, it may also reveal some of the limits of the 10:10 campaign: the attempt to package a message about climate action in a simple, acceptable, a-political way. Perhaps the speed at which the campaign had been taken up in the mainstream - celebrity endorsements, Sony, David Cameron and so on - had given them the confidence that they had their finger on the Zeitgeist? The No Pressure film itself has a simple message - everyone should do their bit - and packages it with a mixture of light-hearted shock and celebrity endorsement. The negative response - removing and, for a time, attempting to suppress the video - demonstrates how this tactic can run into problems, shying away from genuine conflict at the first sign. Maybe they should have stuck to their guns a bit more and given the film some time to reach the right people? Or maybe made a stronger political argument about the obstacles to climate change action? You are never going to persuade hysterical climate change deniers like Delingpole, a man who lists his "likes" on his blog as "Margaret Thatcher; Ronald Reagan; English tradition; the American Way". I'd suggest exploding him.

Friday, 1 October 2010

Franny Armstrong's No Pressure Video and Climate Change Activism

Richard Curtis has made a short video to publicise the upcoming 10:10 campaign initiative.


A previous post discussed the radical potential of the 10:10 campaign.  This video makes an interesting follow-up. It is a series of short-sharp-shock films that appear to be custom designed for distribution through social networks as an internet meme. They come with celebrity endorsements from the likes of Gillian Anderson, David Ginola and Tottenham Hotspur ("The first football club to sign up") and present a simple, clear message about reducing carbon emissions through activities like cycling, changing light bulbs and insulation.

In this way it is a good example of one of the current trends in media activism. This focusses not on addressing systemic barriers to climate change solutions, but on individual activity. It does nothing to create strong ties between activists as part of a grassroots movement (one of the stated aims of the 10:10 campaign), but instead relies on weak ties generated through social networking. Further, in adopting the established conventions of commercial advertising and integrating itself with celebrity culture, the radical potential of such campaigns are blunted - and radical campaigns are surely what are needed. In this way it is exactly what Micah White was criticising in the previous post - "To increase click rate, they water down their messages and make their 'asks' easier and 'actions' simpler." No pressure indeed.

It will be interesting to see how effective the 10:10 campaign turns out to be. Hopefully I am completely wrong and billions of people across the world will radically transform their daily lives giving governments no option but to drastically redesign the organisation of the advanced industrial economies and channel resources into a sustainable but fair production model based on human need.

The Limits of Online Activism

Following a previous post on strategy and tactics in climate change activism, below is a post written by Micah White at the Adbusters blog. White argues that the "future of activism is not online; it is a spiritual insurrection against pollution of the mind. And that begins with turning off our screens." This is an interesting article and I am fully aware of the irony of reposting it on this blog...

Rejecting Clicktivism

The world is in desperate need of a cultural revolution. While some of us slave to produce objects we will never be able to afford, others toil to consume luxury items they do not need. Neither lives a fulfilling life, neither is happy and both play a role in the continued desecration and evisceration of the earth. Consumer society is founded in this vicious cycle that chains some to the factory workbench and others to the screens in cubicles. It is an increasingly inhumane cycle that is spiraling out of control, dragging humanity into the abyss of climate wars and cultural insanity. That much we know. But what remains unclear is how to change the situation.

One answer that has come to dominate all others is that the future of activism is online. Dazzled by the promise of reaching a million people with a single click, social change has been turned over to a technocracy of programmers and “social media experts” who build glitzy, expensive websites and viral campaigns that amass millions of email addresses. Treating email addresses as equivalent to members, these organizations boast of their large size and downplay their small impact. It is all about quantity. To continue growing, they begin consulting with marketers who assure them that “best practices” dictate crafting a message that will appeal to the greatest number of people. Thus focus groups, A/B testing and membership surveys replace a strong philosophy, vision for radical change, and cadre of diehard supporters.

It is no wonder that their campaigns soon resemble advertising: email messages are market tested and click rate metrics dominant all other considerations. In the race for quantity, passion is left behind. But with each day they find it harder to elicit a response from their “members”. Soon, they hit the pitiful online-activist industry average: less than one in twenty of their members are clicking on their emails, the rest just hit delete. (It is a well-known secret within Bay Area progressive organizations that a 5% response rate is the norm.) Thus, despite their massive, gargantuan list size, they can only count on rallying a minuscule response for any of their actions. To increase click rate, they water down their messages and make their “asks” easier and “actions” simpler. Soon, the “click to sign” deception is rolled out and simply opening an email link is treated as signing a petition. And yet, while their membership list grows larger, the active portion of their base disappears. And what is worse, as well-meaning digital activists soon discover, they are being outdone by disingenuous advertising campaigns posing as true agents of change.

Thus, we find ourselves in the bizarre situation where the celebrated international climate change organization TckTckTck with 10+ million members and 350+ partner organizations – including Greenpeace, 350, WWF, OXFAM etc – is covertly run by Havas Worldwide, the world’s sixth largest advertising company. Havas’ clients include Wal-Mart, Coca-Cola, Pfizer, BP and the rest of the ones who are to blame.

By turning activism over to the technocrats, we’ve done a great disservice to the noble tradition of rabble rousing that has brought humanity every egalitarian development. We’ve exchanged the difficult process of engaging in real world struggles for the ease of sending emails and clicking links. And I say this knowing that digital-activists agree and a new generation are only too eager to offer their services, hawking themselves as the pioneers in the cutting-edge field of turning email addresses into bodies on the street. But we must resist their claims to expertise and their successes defined by quantity. The way forward will not be through the mediation of the screen.

Activism, when properly conceived, aims at revolution by striking at the root. It deploys an essential critique of society that cannot be resolved, or recuperated, without a major cultural shift. Each era must find and hone that critique and with persistence use it to repeatedly attack the prevailing social order. The essential critique of our generation is the mental environmentalist perspective which understands consumerism to be a plague upon the earth supported by pollution of our mental ecology by advertisers.

The future of activism is not online; it is a spiritual insurrection against pollution of the mind. And that begins with turning off our screens.



There is a rebuttal to White's piece in the Huffington Post by Angus Johnston, where he argues:

"The American student movement of the 1960s wasn't directed by any national body. It wasn't, in the main, financed or facilitated by pre-existing groups. It was built at the grass roots by students who stood up when they saw their fellow activists on television or in the papers, or received newsletters from national organizations and letters from friends at distant campuses. It was a movement sparked by social networking, and it was a movement that transformed the campus and the nation.

And now, with the help of contemporary social media, a new generation of campus activists is doing it again."