TWO STEPS FORWARD THREE STEPS BACK
2016 is over, and what a year, just about every thing I read says that its one of the worst, almost certainly some kind of turning point and of course I have to agree. Or has it been a good year? Certainly for our industry, once again it's been a bumper year for British films. The Studios are full, new stages opening up, practically full employment and more importantly some great British films both indie and mainstream.The BFI continues to contribute hugely from its meagre funding to educate, to create and preserve cinema of all kinds and on top of that, as cinematographers, our skills continue to progress exponentially, new equipment from our valiant camera houses and ever growing skills from cinematographers both technically and artistically. Right now we are in a good place.
So what was so wrong with 2016? The turning point came with the politically motivated potential exit from Europe, a turning inwards that could well mean cuts in funding and loss of co-productions in Europe. I personally still feel that Brexit is beyond the ability of those who wished it upon us and if so, then I can see the links already made will continue - I hope so because this is best hope for our most important film sector, independent cinema.
But then came the hammer blow, the one man Coup d'etat at the November elections, a blow to truth and an open door to chaos. Like some dreaded refrigerator monster (the one that eats up all the good things and leaves the rotten stuff behind) Trump and his alt-right media could destroy what's good and leave the world destitute.
2016 was a year where the pattern of profit, at the expense of originality, continued to spread and although the US studios continue to use our talents our resources and our tax break, the box office profit continues to flow away from our genuine British film makers and towards the Corporate movie makers. The executives, producers and stars all benefit whilst indie films struggle to find traction, getting little access to distribution and in deed "foreign language" films getting almost no distribution outside of their own borders. This trend only widens the gap between us and them.
But what next? As the new POTUS begins to spread havoc across the globe, we can prepare ourselves for a new bout of BAFTA vs Oscars. Its that time of year when the publicists work overtime, the big budget movies get plenty of air time, only to be beaten down by plucky indie film that will rise to the top and snatch away the big prizes. In fact It's not so much about the awards themselves, as they often go to the smaller, and more worthy films, rather that the huge money making re-boots, spinoffs and remakes but the glam and glitz of the red carpet provide the spectacle that puts a creative gloss over the hard nosed business end of our industry. A time for celebrity and commerce to rub shoulders in the biggest reality TV show on earth. I wouldn't be surprised if this year Trump himself decides it's the presidents duty to preside over the ceremony.
So what of 2017 in my mind, as we move into this world of "Post Truth" then it becomes more obvious that cinema has a great part to play in its cultural role. The best Cinema has always had at its core the theme of the struggle against injustice, from Chaplin's The Immigrant, To Kill a Mocking Bird, from Ken Loaches Kes, to Erin Brockavich and Selma, the list is endless and that's because injustice is our strongest emotion. It's time for cinema and cinematographers to play their part, to play to our strengths and make free thinking original films. The BSC was formed in 1949 the year the NHS was born, its aims though a little less ambitious, ( well quite a bit less ambitious) also had good aims, to share ideas and to progress cinematography. We can continue that ideal and we should recognise that the moving image is a powerful tool, to shame injustice and point out the truth.
We should turn 2017 into a great year, my personal predictions, Cinematography gets recognised as the first art of Cinema, we should have intellectual property rights recognised, fair profit sharing for all films. The elitist idea of an "above the line" "below the line" is shown up for what it is and probably more importantly, that world cinema, indie cinema becomes better funded, better distributed and more widely represented. Cinema is the eyes and ears on the world, funding for creating and distributing should be available, not only to be seen on the big stage of awards ceremonies, but shown to the widest audience possible.
Long live cinema
British Society of Cinematographers