Volume 2 - Issue 2 - Editorial

This issue of Vertigo has been brought together amidst the howl and hell of war in Afghanistan, the more nebulous ‘war on terrorism’, and the struggle in the West to come to terms with the faultlines laid bare by the attacks on New York and Washington. Tragically, nothing in the much-vaunted wizardry of the ‘information revolution’ was able to protect the victims in America or Afghanistan from their fates. Nor have we been able to see much of what has been going on on the ground. Television viewers of the Vietnam War in the seventies may not have realised that they were spectators of both the first and last relatively uncensored war in media history. What we have witnessed in the second year of the new millennium is in every sense a global breakdown in communication and the resort to utterly primitive means to repair it: bombardment into submission.

box-jes-benstock-luke-losey.jpgThe Box, Orbital music video directed by Jes Benstock and Luke Losey 1996, featuring Tilda Swinton

In the nineties, British broadcasters became increasingly complicit in reducing our access to news of the world. International documentaries became unfashionable, yesterday’s obsession, and a phobic aversion to anything subtitled, whether fact or fiction, imprisoned us in a world according to our own English-language version. The risks of perpetuating the isolationism of the last decade are now self-evident. Yet, this is exactly what is threatened by forthcoming reforms of the entire communications system of this country. If broadcasters come to govern and regulate the output for which they are responsible, continuing to use an ever ‘lighter touch’ in a more and more commercial environment, then the situation is likely to get much worse: unless, of course, there is a huge shift in understanding and priorities.

It will be a matter of political will whether the vast potential inherent in the new communications technologies will be developed to encourage the broadest cultural horizons for our audio-visual future. One optimistic and exemplary initiative singled out in this issue is Cybercinema, a European project which will use digital projection and interactive technology to link the farthest flung communities of Europe and encourage the development of their own agendas and audiences.

This issue of Vertigo coincides with the Rotterdam Film Festival and carries several articles intended to reflect its principal debate, “What (is) Cinema?”, but giving it a British inflection. Responses to the question cling to place, or space, struggling to get a grip. Where is cinema, or rather, where is the moving image? Lying out there on the web, perhaps, unsung in music videos, or, through light-box, loop, and installation showing within gallery walls? Significantly it is the image-makers themselves who are shifting, challenging spectators to trespass unknown spaces in pursuit of new form and expression, motivated by the latest digital tools, to play. The optical printer is now on the desk at home, the camera in the shoulder bag and the global, historical archive of sound and image accessible on the web. War can be reported from the remotest battlefield, autonomously, using a video satellite phone. It is amazing to witness the explosive energy of audio visual invention today, even though so much is still ignored by the mainstream media. There is a sense that we are on the brink, imagineering future forms we cannot see… Vertigo.

Whatever the creative energy of the time, however, the material question of funding and funding structures remains stubbornly unresolved, particularly in the light of the recent convergence of public funds largely within one institution. Last June, the Film Council launched its £6 million fund to support production in the nine English regions. This is a welcome and necessary initiative to decentralise sponsorship and cultural agendas, and one which builds on a history of struggle in the regions to develop resources for their own self-expression. Thus the current issue of Vertigo includes contributions from Yorkshire, and from Scotland, where Steve McIntyre has recently become the new chief executive of Scottish Screen. The challenge for the new cultural entrepreneurs will be to bring in multiple sources of investment without limiting a diverse production base, and to identify ongoing obstructions to the funding and circulation of the work which they are asked to support. It is still a matter of concern that whilst the galleries are offering the moving image and its spectators exciting alternatives to the linear drag of narrative, they are also one of the only exhibition spaces open to more experimental projects; furthermore there are too few of them. There is a general reluctance by the principal funders to take risks, to open up necessary space for invention – even on occasion for failure – and many innovative filmmakers and visual artists are still hanging on at the margins. In this context, the disappearance of the Lux from Hoxton Square in London leaves an even blacker hole.

Back ‘home’ in the cinemas, whatever the struggle to reach or stay on our cinema screens, and regardless of the figures from the box-office (all of which can and should be argued), the existence of films such as Andrew Kötting’s This Filthy Earth or Ben Hopkin’s The Nine Lives of Thomas Katz are vital signs of life. Whatever the wonders of the new technologies, human stories will never be better than their various storytellers, and these desperately need cultivating, with a vision which goes beyond today’s fashions and fetishes and which rejects the current substitution of popularism for genuine choice and diversity.

The editorial board of Vertigo would like to thank all its contributors. If you have any feedback on the articles please write or email us at our registered address.