Strictly For The Birds…

For a few weeks now, the ‘Guardian’ has been running a series of posts under the subheading ‘The Cuts Get Personal’. Some of them have been those stories you’d expect (cuts to disability benefits, etc), but most of them, well, they’ve merely shown the parochial interests of the ‘Guardian’ readership.

Rachel Millward is one such plaintive voice:

I launched the inaugural Birds Eye View Film Festival in 2005, with a small amount of sponsorship and an entirely voluntary team. I didn’t have any access to public funds, or the faintest idea how to get any.

Well, good! Your initial success showed you didn’t need any, didn’t it?

To my naively ambitious mind, if I did this well enough, the funding would fall into place. I already knew it was important. It just had to be good.It was good, and it got better. Over the next six years the festival grew to reach an audience of 12,000, with another 6,000 through touring, and an incredible 650,000 via online and broadcast channels.

Which is still pretty niche, but then we are talking about an organisation promoting films by female directors, here. I suspect she’s fishing in quite a shallow pool.

A huge achievement for a micro-organisation. But what about funding?

Yes, what about funding? Surely, if you’re making a commercial product, the commercial film companies will be queuing up to give you money?

Well, no. Not exactly:

In 2007 we first received support from the UK Film Council’s Diversity Grant in Aid to the tune of £30,000. In 2009 we were one of only eight national film festivals (outside London and Edinburgh) to receive the support of the UK Film Council’s Film Festivals Fund – at £58,500 a year.

They did get some corporate sponsorship, however. While times were good, and it looked like a good idea to have a ‘female interest’ charity donation on the books.

When the credit crunch hit, of course, such things dried up. As you’d expect.

That was an immense achievement, but it came at the same time as the credit crunch, when our growing corporate sponsorship disappeared. There has been no opportunity for core funding – the Film Council never supported organisations in the way Arts Council England has, and trusts and foundations tend to rule out film from the start. But we muddled through, with a too-frequently changing low-paid team and with all the favours we could pull.

But that credit crunch hasn’t gone away…

This year, after the sudden closure of the UK Film Council, and transference of funds to the BFI, we found ourselves with a 90% drop in the festival budget. Thus we will not be able to run a film festival in 2012

You know what? I think the film industry’ll survive without you.

We will be back, I’m sure of it. But 2012 will lack a festival that has become vital to our culture.

It has? How come I’ve never, ever heard of it, or you?

Is it perhaps because my decision to watch a film – like most people’s – is based on what it’s about, or who is in it, and never, ever on what the sex of the director is?

Women still make up less than 10% of film directors and 15% of screenwriters.

So what? Last I looked, the film industry was doing ok. Plenty of women seem to have no problem seeing a film directed by a male director. Are they missing something?

You hear it said that times of cuts are good for culture: “talent will out”. But we do not live in an equal world. If we lose the best efforts of the last decade to counter inequality, we will lose access to the creative vision of half the population. And what a loss of creativity that would be.

Well, on all the evidence before us, it doesn’t seem to be. If you need taxpayer’s money to make this stuff, it can’t be very much in demand by the public, can it?

11 comments for “Strictly For The Birds…

  1. November 8, 2011 at 7:59 am

    Women still make up less than 10% of film directors and 15% of screenwriters.

    I find her latter stat a little hard to believe if the number of female names with writing credits that come up at the end of things on TV is any guide. Perhaps she’s talking only about the UK and only about movies, but as you said that’s a pretty small pond anyway.

    Incidentally, I’m making a load of see through inflatable dartboards. They look pretty artistic but no bugger’s buying. Anyone know where I can get a grant to keep knocking out shit that there’s no real market for? 😉

    • November 9, 2011 at 5:47 am

      We’ve probably got just as many in the UK – Lynda La Plante seems to be sustaining the sex n’ slaughter TV serial franchise all on her own!

  2. November 8, 2011 at 8:20 am

    A light bulb has gone on over my head. Recently at my humble blog I asked why The Guardian was so unsupportive of the reputation of William Shakespeare, a working-class provincial boy made rather-more-than-good. Now I realise why. He wasn’t funded by taxpayers and didn’t (as Angry Exile so poetically puts it) “keep knocking out shit that there’s no real market for.”

  3. November 8, 2011 at 8:21 am

    an incredible 650,000 via online and broadcast channels.

    Given that you can put footage of a dancing tortoise on Youtube and get half a million hits, I’m not sure that’s necessarily a significant cultural achievement.

    Meanwhile there’s a certain amount of amusement in her nomination by the cultural leadership programme as a ‘woman to watch’ for 2010; ‘Although Rachel Millward was unable to attend many of the Women to Watch events throughout the year because she was on maternity leave, she feels that it was still massively helpful to have her profile raised through the list while she was away from work.’

    Isn’t that the ultimate in having your cake and eating it?

    • November 9, 2011 at 5:47 am

      You might have linked to the dancing tortoise clip! 😛

  4. TDK
    November 8, 2011 at 9:12 am

    Women still make up less than 10% of film directors and 15% of screenwriters.

    What you’re forgetting Julia is that Women can’t make films in the free market.

    That is, if we ignore the lack of a strictly controlled film limit and pretend that old style conservatives dominate the right-on film industry.

  5. November 8, 2011 at 2:36 pm

    One of my favourite films, Point Break, was directed by a woman. But I don’t watch it for that reason. It’s a good film.

    • November 9, 2011 at 5:48 am

      Spot on!

  6. Steve W
    November 8, 2011 at 9:18 pm

    Good films will get made regardless of who makes them – the lass who directed Near Dark and more recently The Hurt Locker being a very good example off the top of my head.

    The lass from the Graun is a ridiculous arse and doing talented female directors no favours at all by suggesting that they can only get their films made with public money. She should first get to fuck, then maybe consider getting a life.

  7. November 9, 2011 at 2:52 am

    Some good examples mentioned by Michael and Steve, though of Kathryn Bigelow’s stuff I’d rate Blue Steel above Point Break (not seen The Hurt Locker). Add in a bunch of other critically and/or commercially successful films with female directors: the Look Who’s Talking films, Bend It Like Beckham, Brigitte Jones Diary, The Piano, American Psycho, Wayne’s World (yes, really), Lost In Translation… basically there are heaps when you begin to look for them. A minority, sure, but still some very noteworthy movies, and all noteworthy in this instance for not being funded by some quango shovelling tax money at a GROLIES wannabe art-house project with a market of about a hundred people.

  8. Lord T
    November 9, 2011 at 9:28 pm

    I find all these people who fail in real life but then get prizes by goverment sponsored awards are self delusional. When you can ignore the reality of failure by having an award the lack of follow up work doesn’t bother you. You were a winner.

Comments are closed.