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A Magazine for Sheffield

The Slow Demise of the Regional.

In my filmmaking practice, I always have a lot more questions than I have answers - something I regard as a positive trait. This is not to say that I don't actively seek solutions, but my return to these pages (after a hiatus from contributing to Now Then) is riddled with uncertainties when it comes to my subject of choice. On Monday 26th July, the confirmation of culture secretary Jeremy Hunt's plans to abolish the UK Film Council hit those directly or indirectly involved like a sledgehammer. The ramifications of the outrage that ensued have been varied and exposed all sorts of truths and agendas, which had very little to do with how this affects those on the creative frontline. Its roots are without question firmed in a political/cultural identity which presents itself as one thing but is in fact fossilised as something else. In other words, this is not so much about (or a direct result of) the current economic climate. We are talking about a long-brewing, inescapable delusion which informs how this culture perceives and projects itself. The façade of the recent decade or so - which carried diluted tones of Socialism with a pinch of Liberal values - only served to cement such delusion. Where I come from, the main governmental funding body for Cinema is routinely kicked about, always the first to suffer cuts and regularly abolished in one way or another. Needless to say, we don't have a Film Industry. What my country definitely shares with this one is an ingrained historical pre-disposition for austerity and control of its people, an underlying strictness which manifests itself only on occasion these days, but of which there are constant reminders. Back to the specific case of the soon-to-become-extinct UK Film Council, we are talking about an institution which was formed as a means to centralise resources. To begin with it promised to abide by a credo of investing in national talent and nurturing the future of British Film from within - allocating funds and schemes to hand-picked regions of the country - but soon it chose to present itself as the main funding resource to support an industry which could compete with the US in scale and so-called quality. Based on box-office failures, it has attempted several more times to revamp itself in its claims of what it stands for. But my point is that the aforementioned ambition was not just mirrored on Film4's uneven trajectory as a self-proclaimed beacon for large-scale British film productions, but also had its symptomatic localised impact across the country. Regional film funding bodies have had a fraught and often short-lived existence, but theirs has also been an uninspired one which I dare say was mostly rotten from within to begin with. Decisions higher up have had a crucial influence further down the food chain. No one can deny that. Yet the vast majority of such institutions have been plagued with misjudgement in every sense. They have often been run by individuals who have only a peripheral connection to film and who approached it as any other business. Good admin skills do not equip a former writer of soaps with the necessary wider perspective to recognise raw talent or plain cinematic vision. Repetition of commercially successful formulas can only lead to an embarrassing debacle of services. The examples go on and on and Sheffield has been quite the paradigm for fiascos in services of such kind, all made defunct by the decisions and actions of individuals whose lack of self-awareness even leads them to, once the dust has settled, self-entitle themselves as filmmakers. By now, no one can contest that Film attracts the worst kinds of individuals. Even a small regional business which is supposed to very indirectly have anything to do with filmmaking found the inspiration to run a scheme with TV professionals and lure independent filmmakers into it. What was presented and handled as being based on merit alone, soon turned into a completely shameful and unlawful extortion of payment - over a year after the fact. This outrageous case highlights not just the vulnerability of independent filmmakers who still want to believe that there is a way into a corroded system, but also how tainted the term 'merit' has become. Subjective as it might be, merit has always been crucial in any artist's progress from the moment they rely on someone else to help them onto the next stage. Not many depend on it though, since 'networking' seems to do the job for most. Film has become a barren land in which the honest aspirations of countless hopefuls are left behind and only very few of the same genuine breed continue regardless. What is left for those losing hope or will or conviction? Is the axing of the Film Council going to make it harder? Absolutely guaranteed that it will. But my answer to all that is plain and simple: buy, borrow or rent digital equipment and put together an achievable project which you will care about so much that you will fight endlessly for it to be known, seen and appreciated for how it came into fruition - and for how it stands proud in its completed form. JOÃO PAULO SIMÕES IS A PORTUGUESE FILMMAKER LIVING AND WORKING INDEPENDENTLY IN SHEFFIELD. HIS WORKS INCLUDE ANTLERS OF REASON AND AN ARRAY OF MUSIC VIDEOS AND DOCUMENTARIES. CAPTURAFILMES.BLOGSPOT.COM )

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