From Submarine to 12 Years A Slave – Jason Wood, artistic director of film at Home, and Ian Haydn Smith, editor of Curzon Magazine, reveal the breadth and diversity of British cinema in their book New British Cinema (Faber, £14.99). An in-depth series of interviews with emerging and established film directors.
Why has British film never had an industry like America?
I’m not so sure it doesn’t. In Britain there are some wonderful film schools, production houses and studios. Britain also has various very committed funding bodies (predominantly the BFI) who are working tirelessly to ensure a multiplicity of diverse voices. What perhaps Britain doesn’t have is as an industry committed to producing the blockbuster films that act as the foundation for film in a global sense. I guess the closest equivalent is our propensity to produce high-end costume dramas. Many of these are, in their own way, also commercially successful, both domestically and internationally.
How does the film industry in the north of England fare?
I think we are going to see a huge hub of activity in the north. There is obviously a lot of talk about a Northern Powerhouse and talent is migrating here. There is a huge amount of industry in Sheffield, which is also the home of Sheffield Doc/Fest. I visited recently a huge new production house in Leeds and in Manchester there is talk around a new film school and developments at the old Granada Studios, including a production house and new film studio.
What does British cinema offer that other nations don’t?
If you look back at the history of cinema in Britain there is a tendency to produce work that challenges social and political ideologies and I think that this is something that continues to happen. I am not saying that this is particular to Britain alone, but it is certainly a characteristic. I also think there is genuine support for diverse cinema culture in the UK (through organisations such as the BFI) and artists and filmmakers that are prepared to work outside the system in order to have their voices heard. In many ways I see someone like Peter Strickland as a role model for anyone that wants to make films. He ploughed his own furrow, using an inheritance to make Katalin Varga, and is now regarded – and supported – as one of the brightest talents we have.
What has caused the recent resurgence in British film?
I think the resurgence is down to a confluence of events. The BFI support system, filmmakers emerging from different backgrounds and cultures (the rise in artist filmmakers is of particular interest to me personally) and talented individuals in various creative departments: directors, actors, producers, editors, cinematographers, etc.
The book is comprised of interviews with British film directors. Why did you choose not to include much commentary as editors?
I personally think that people reading interviews are too often confronted with the gargantuan ego of the journalist asking the questions. I am so tired of reading interviews where the writer leaves in comments such as “the publicist appeared to say our time was over but was waved away because there was such a connection with the subject”. That’s all irrelevant. I think it should be the voice of the filmmaking subject without all the extraneous incidentals. It also gives the filmmaker the widest opportunity to express his or her views without having the views filtered or mediated in any way. We find ourselves in a media fixated with mainstream culture so artists operating slightly outside of the mainstream should have a platform to express themselves. Editorial comments can threaten to take away from that
What do the interviews reveal?
I think the interviews reveal the methodology of the subject in question. They also obviously reveal the collaborative spirit in which many of the directors work, a sense of striving to bring a distinctive vision to the screen and the need to recognise that whilst film is an industry and part of an economic process it is also an art. I think the interviews also reveal that the subjects are very well versed in the history of cinema. They didn’t just emerge from a vacuum and been inspired by other film artists.
Which interview is your personal favourite and why?
That’s a difficult one. I enjoyed talking to Harry MacQueen about Hinterland because I think his story is so interesting and in many ways inspiring.