New talent funding and closed distributions pathways

October 28th, 2008 posted by Rebecca Frankel

Last night I went to the BFI to watch some shorts funded through various schemes associated with Film London.

My favourite far and away was Bevan Walsh’s nostalgically humorous Love Does Grow on Trees, which I’d actually already seen when it won Best Newcomer Award at Rushes Soho Shorts Festival. (One liner description: a teenage boy’s lust and desire for pornography in a world before the Internet.) This caused a few murmurs in the audience afterwards, because it was emphatically stated that the slate of films were all worldwide premiers.

New talent investment is a funny thing. Organisations give money to people to make films and find their directing voice, and mostly come back with perfectly acceptable safe films that seem professional enough but challenge nothing. This means they can’t be seen as ‘failures’, but is this the same as a success story? Baghdad Express was a perfect example of this. Out of all the films, it was the most confident about what it was, and director Nimer Rashed is the person I would give my money to if I was commissioning television drama. It was a strong story, told and filmed well, with great acting. But is it desirable that the most accomplished films are the ones you can most easily imagine progressing onwards into already established spots in the landscape of production money? What about taking risks and discovering something fresh and exciting that people [distributors] don’t quite know what to do with?

It’s actually a rare occurrence to have a film made by new talent that works filmically and emotionally resonates with the audience. It’s the kind of ‘product’ which is opaque on paper applications because it depends on the magical X-factor that’s hard to predict, and doesn’t come around too often. Certainly not an annual basis in line with funding deadlines. Which is why Love Does Grow on Trees, immediately produced through a local scheme with the borough of Wandsworth, is now being shown off by every funder attached to it – as an example of brave British filmmaking at its best. Even if its screening status isn’t as virginal as promised.

This conversation leads me off in lots of different directions, which I am going to pursue in further blog entries.

1) Taking risks in filmmaking, especially having just seen Terence Davies’ Of Time and The City. I was struck by the frequent comment that it is a crime it’s taken eight years since anyone has funded him – he was considered too ‘high risk’ as his previous film The House of Mirth didn’t do well – yet his new low-fi film has played to critical acclaim at every festival, including Cannes. Risky means high and low returns, not mediocrity… Should certain segments of film funding be cornered off for high risk candidates who may mess up, but who also might shake up our notions of what to hope to expect in a film?

2) The future of film distribution. I went to the very inspiring Power to the Pixel conference last week. Heading up the conference were amazing anarchic filmmakers whose approach is how can I make things work for me [in terms of independent film distribution for the type of film I actually want to make], and be open to individual possibilities instead of being closed and possessive [like old models of distribution and funding are].

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