Friday, 24 May 2013

Cannes-Kent? Is Kent’s future filming rather than farming?

The 66th Cannes Festival closes this week with all the glitz and drama you’d expect.
If Kent’s glory days of 2006 haven’t been achieved again with the Jury Prize at Cannes for Andrea Arnold’s Red Road then that’s part of a thin showing overall for the British film industry with no UK films showing at Cannes.


But last week’s review of Kent film locations in the Kent on Sunday highlighted blockbuster shoots such as Harry Potter, Pirates of the Caribbean and even Les Miserables to sit alongside home-grown talent such as Orlando Bloom of Canterbury and Brenda Blethyn and Timothy Spall of Ramsgate.

Albeit with most of the locations being either Chatham Dockyard (can there really be that many naval films?) or Knole Park (best-known for the Beatles Strawberry Fields Forever, the first pop video or the Magical Mystery Tour film) holding the end up for Kent’s TV small-screen industry with its heritage of Broadstairs’ Bagpuss and recent productions such as Margate’s Exodus, Gypo and John Hurt in the spooky Whistle and I’ll Come to You.

Yet should more be done?

I think so, having invested heavily in the East Kent Film Office and Studio project with Expansion East Kent now awaiting sign-off, having run film marketing agencies with the likes of James Bond and Mission Impossible movies and FilmLondon.

And there’s a wealth of grass-roots activity whether it’s the Canterbury Film Festival, the 28 Days of horror and film courses at Kent University all tapping into the rich film heritage in East Kent of A Canterbury Tale, and Powell and Pressburger’s Contraband.
Even Dreamland amusement park and its cinema is on the brink of resurrection, still fondly remembered for shoots such as Only Fools and Horses, along with newer long-term enterprises such as the Paramount theme park in North Kent.

Clearly these aren’t happening despite newer structural initiatives such as Kent TV or Kent Film Office – it’s some years since I had to turn down a Board role there. Yet the closure of the Film Council in London has been a retrograde step, even more so, at a time when the BFI is now emphasising regionalism in film. And hopefully not just a pale imitation of the Whitehall out of Whitehall strategy of, say, the BBC relocating to Salford.

But there’s a deeper hampering of film shorts and advertising via the COI closure, or the Advertising Museum languishing in the doldrums, or the painfully slow roll-out of broadband and wifi that has slowed the creative industries particularly and wider Kent economy unnecessarily.

A tighter lens on East Kent to generate film heat and light is required.

Earlier this month for example the CEBR/UKTI released an excellent report on the value of the creative industries to the UK economy. If public investment too often counts as selling guns to Arab dictators or another Tarmac Glory Project, then the film, advertising, television, videogames and arts represent an astonishing success story requiring just 0.1% of public spending, but generating 0.4% of national GDP.

An industry turnover of £12.4Bn and 110,000 jobs (some 0.45% of employment) plus double that number in indirect employment is higher than both the usual suspects of the arms industry and construction industry so favoured by government subsidy.

One particularly interesting statistic was that the arts add £26,817 of value to property in areas with high cultural diversity. And public investment develops creative properties such as War Horse from novel to stage to screen and back to stage again, as a form of creative recycling and certainty generating increased jobs and profits with every cross-arts cycle. Or there’s riskier arts ventures such as the staging of the Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time now garnering Olivier awards, and fresh projects for the likes of Strange Cargo in Folkestone.

Perhaps more tangentially the report’s author banker, John Studzinki describes the arts in the globalisation race as developing critical thinking, creative problem-solving and communications skills. All linked to the bottom line and raw brass tacks of the UK economy highlighted by the Chancellor himself funding expansion at Leavesden for the plethora of new Star Wars films, animation and games franchises.

Increasingly perhaps the UK’s film industry will grow form its rather feeble cottage industry at present to a more substantial production arms benefitting, as the banks have done, from the benefits of time-zone, language and increasingly a 24/7 wired world.
Right now Kent will miss out of such a future.

Indeed we’re seeing the green shoots of recovery in East Kent with the Turner contemporary art gallery and plans for the Van Gogh Gallery as regeneration mechanisms. Too much of the activity though is broad-brush-stroke, one size fits-all-silver-bullet-wishful-thinking. Nothing beyond the Grand Projects has been done – and they stumble when the funding tap is turned off.

The Cannes and Kent analogy is certainly not untenable – the former was after all only a small village in 1947 in war-ravaged France seeking to stimulate the local economy. And fuller film activity could include deeper reliance on arts funding, for example Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives was the 2010 Cannes winner yet failed to gain a UK release at all.

While sure-fire movies at this year’s Cannes such as Michael Douglas and Matt Damon in Soderberghs’s Liberace biopic failed to gain studio funding in the USA. And the likes of Robert Redford now in All is Lost, were so hamstrung by the industry they developed that a separate strand of the Sundance Festival and roster of funding was required.

But is a full-blooded Kentish Hollywood viable with Tom Cruise hanging off Canterbury Cathedral in Mission Impossible 27? Or Bruce Willis in Die Hard 35 struggling to get home for Xmas after being locked in the gun cupboard at Maidstone Police HQ?

Probably not.

But Kent certainly should be at the front of the queue in LA and London – as well as the burgeoning film markets in India and China and East Asia. The established Busan and dynamic new-start Hua Hin Festivals have kick-started their film economies, with star-heat such as Ryan Gosling now debuting Bangkok noir at Cannes, in little more than a decade.

And a more realistic view would see an expansion of live TV and radio across say East Kent – like me are you bored if hearing “the news from Kent – today in Brighton” from the BBC as the news outlets consolidate?

A hardly inspiring world-view for those young Kent citizens that don’t want to plough a field, or tarmac it.

It’s time for lights, camera and action for East Kent.

Tim Garbutt is the Managing Director of Sincerity Agency in East Kent: and Patron of the Surin Village School Charity.

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