12 Questions to Government: Report from the Independent Film Parliament

By Holly Aylett

Only clear policy objectives and constructive intervention for public rather than corporate values will deliver a diverse film culture in the rapid digital expansion of our audiovisual environment.

The former Minister for the Creative Industries, James Purnell, initiated a government review of film policy last year, to address four key issues: “How do we attract big budget films to the UK? How do we support UK production? How do we improve distribution? Should we do more for cultural film?” [1]

The questions listed below were presented to the Department of Culture Media and Sport in January by the Independent Film Parliament [2] (IFP), to urge the widest debate on the cultural value of film, and 38 recommendations were submitted for policy initiatives to address market failure and deliver a broad-based, pluralistic film culture.

Statistics gathered by the UK Film Council for 2004-5 are clear indicators of the lack of diversity in delivering film culture in this country:

• Only 6% of screens are dedicated to non-mainstream programming

• Under 5% of screens are in rural locations

• Foreign language films represent 4.6% of UK box office (gross)

• 97.3% of films in distribution and exhibition(UK & Ireland) are North American or North American co-productions

• Almost 70% of film sales to the industry come from London.

Britain is not alone in facing this challenge. In an extraordinary development last year, 168 countries, including the UK, voted for the adoption of UNESCO’s Convention for Cultural Diversity [3], (the United States and Israel voted against), which provides a legal framework to safeguard governments’ right to develop cultural policy in the interest of maintaining national identities and a diversity of language and expressions. If it is ratified by individual states (one of the IFP’s key recommendations) it would be the first time that culture has been given its own international platform alongside other principal concerns, such as trade, environment and agriculture, in debates about the impact of globalisation. Meanwhile, UK Film Policy needs ambitious rethinking if the Government, through the UKFC, is to meet its aim to “stimulate a competitive, successful, vibrant British film industry and culture.”

12 Questions

1 Has an acceptance of ‘the market’ in audiovisual production weakened cultural and educational positions, which are the proper concern of public funding and institutions?

2 What definitions of public value inform government policy with regard to culture and are they an adequate base on which to build priorities for the audiovisual sector?

3 Does government policy adequately recognize the way diversity delivers social inclusion of grassroots communities and individuals into the ‘economic engine’ of the creative industries, and moving image in particular?

4 In promoting the significance of diversity to advance equality and access in our society, has the aspect of internationalism – keeping an open door to narratives from other countries – been overlooked? This is especially critical given the UK’s shared language with the United States, the more dominant partner with a global footprint.

5 Does the government recognise the specific and curious economics distinguishing cultural works from commodities, as outlined in the UNESCO Convention, which demands intervention to protect both popular and niche audiences from the effects of market failure?

6 What is the role of regulation in film and broadcasting, and what toolkit of measures would best suit this country’s particular needs in the context of new media and the internet, where borders will still be important?

7 Has the impact of digital media been sufficiently understood as requiring major re-thinking of traditional distinctions between film, television and telecom; and between production, distribution and exhibition?

8 Is film being recognised both as a major art form and a cultural entitlement, and if so do we have policies for audience development that are comparable with those for other art forms?

9 Are we encouraging a diversity of taste at a young enough age to nurture media literacy in its deepest sense in school children? Is the current focus on critical and creative activity in strategies of Media Literacy failing to engage with issues of access to the broadest range of cultural material?

10 How might audiences throughout the UK be introduced to a broader range of types of film and film cultures than those made available through multiplex cinemas?

11 Have UK public bodies and agencies argued the case sufficiently for the UK playing a major part in a European audiovisual strategy, as well as retaining a stake in global media developments?

12 Having joined with its European partners and adopted the UNESCO Convention on the Protection and Promotion of the Diversity of Cultural Expressions, will the government take the next step, and urge that Britain should now ratify this Convention?

[1] James Purnell, former Minister for the Creative Industries, IPPR, 16.06.2005
[2] Report from the Independent Film Parliament to the Department of Culture Media and Sport, January 27 2006 http://www.filmparliament.org.uk
[3] UNESCO Convention on the Protection and the Promotion of the Diversity of Cultural Expressions, October 2005 http://portal.unesco.org/culture/en

 Holly Aylett is a writer, lecturer in film and founder / director of the IFP.

Visit www.independentfilmparliament.co.uk