President's Perspective / Barry Ackroyd BSC
President's Perspective / Barry Ackroyd BSC
2016 is over, and what a year it was. Just about every thing I read over the festive holidays said that it was one of the worst. Almost certainly some kind of turning point was reached and, of course, I have to agree. Or was it a good year?
Certainly for our industry, 2016 proved to be another bumper twelve months for British films. The studios were and still are full, with new stages opening up, practically full employment and, more importantly, some great British films being made – both indie and mainstream. The BFI continued to contribute hugely from its meagre funding to educate, to create and to preserve cinema of all kinds. On top of that, with new equipment from our valiant camera houses, our skills as cinematographers continued to progress exponentially, both technically and artistically, leaving us in a good place.
So what was so wrong with 2016? The turning point came with the politically motivated potential exit from Europe, and 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 it proves so, I can see the links already made will continue. I hope so, because this is the best hope for our most important film sector – independent cinema.
But then came the hammer blow, the one-man coup d’état 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 breaks, the box office profit continues to flow away from our genuine British filmmakers and towards the corporate moviemakers. The executives, producers and stars all benefit, whilst indie films struggle to find traction, getting little access to distribution. Indeed, "foreign language" films get 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 versus Oscars. It’s that time of year when the publicists work overtime, the big budget movies get plenty of airtime, only to be beaten down by a 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 the huge money-making reboots, spin-offs 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. It’s a time when celebrity and commerce rub shoulders in the biggest reality TV show on earth. I wouldn't be surprised if this year Trump himself decides that it's the president’s duty to preside over the ceremony.
So what of 2017? In my mind, as we move into this world of "Post Truth", it becomes more obvious that cinema has a great part to play in a cultural role. The best cinema has always had at its core the theme of the struggle against injustice – from Chaplin's The Immigrant (1917) and To Kill A Mocking Bird (1962), through to Ken Loach’s Kes (1969), Erin Brockovich (2000) and Selma (2014) – 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 same year that the NHS was born. Although its aims were a little less ambitious (well quite a bit less ambitious) they were good aims – to share ideas and to progress cinematography. We can continue these ideals 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 desires are: that cinematography gets recognised as the first art of cinema. That we should have intellectual property rights recognised, and fair profit-sharing for all films. That the elitist idea of above-the-line/below-the-line is shown up for what it is. And, probably more importantly, that world and indie cinema become 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 for the widest audience possible.
Long live cinema!
Barry Ackroyd BSC
British Society OF Cinematographers