LONDON — Last year in this space, we analyzed the complete absence of British films in official sections of the Cannes Film Festival.
The shut-out was particularly galling to the Brits in a year when, outside of the hit “Bridget Jones’s Diary,” few Brit films were racking up either critical plaudits or big B.O. numbers. The Film Council, the U.K.’s much-scrutinized and oft-maligned public film funding body, was regularly raked over the coals for both areas of disappointment.
Cut to 2002: “Gosford Park,” “Ali G Indahouse,” “Bend It Like Beckham, “About a Boy” and “Iris” have all posted terrific theatrical grosses and gotten reviews ranging from solid to rave.
As for the tastes of those mercurial Cannes programmers, a neat half-dozen British features made the official selection list, including four titles in competition. Another three projects are British co-productions, and two more shorts in Cinefondation raises the U.K. ante to 11. Four of the features were Film Council-supported.
So what happened in the intervening 12 months? Who gets the credit for the turnaround?
Unlike their American counterparts, U.K. showbizzers don’t spike the ball, slap high-fives or give themselves over to other public demonstrations of unbridled glee.
But chatting with Robert Jones, the Film Council’s Premiere Fund topper, and Paul Trijbits, head of the Council’s New Cinema Fund,their mood is one of barely suppressed joie.
“I’d like to say the main difference in one year is the Film Council” laughs Trijbits, “but I could never say that!”
But neither Trijbits nor Jones is claiming anything like victory. Trijbits calls last year “a statistical blip.” He can’t resist one dig at the council’s critics noting, “The Film Council wasn’t operational one-and-half years ago, so we couldn’t be responsible for the commercial film problems or the Cannes selections last year.”
Jones points out that “this year, the established arthouse filmmakers from the U.K. all had films ready in time.”
The presence of Cannes favorites Mike Leigh, Ken Loach and Michael Winterbottom in this year’s competition supports that thesis.
So is the current bounty of Brit films in the Cannes fest and the top of the B.O. charts a sign of a British film industry’s resurgence? It’s funny, but you can’t find any filmmaker in the clubs and pubs of Soho who believes that.
Jones and Trijbits don’t disagree with that perception.
“Anytime there’s a film hit, it’s a false dawn,” says Jones, who agrees that Cannes can distort one’s perception of the film business realities. “You can be king for a day in Cannes,” says Jones, “but films can also suffer from a hugely distorted critical reaction. I’ve had films in competition that were great triumphs and I’ve had films in competition that have died.” The real work, in the views of this duo, lies ahead.
Jones says the Film Council’s most important efforts are long-term and focused on education, training, distribution and exhibition.
“These efforts will take five to 10 years to show their effects,” he says.