The EU: A Cinematic Love Letter

In case you’ve been living under a rock, you are probably well aware that Britain has voted to leave the EU following a closely fought referendum for membership, that saw the leave campaign gain a narrow victory. With the consequences of this vote likely to be felt for decades to come, it is time to acknowledge that it isn’t just politics that this result has implications for. Since the early 90’s, different EU-funded subsidiaries, including Creative Europe and EURImages, have helped fund British films and help them get widely released in cinemas across the continent.

With the scrapping of the British Film Council by the austerity-friendly UK coalition government in 2011, British filmmakers have regularly relied on the EU to get their movies made. You could argue that funding movies and TV is a waste of taxpayers money. But when the EU has helped fund highly successful productions like The Full Monty, Billy Elliot, Slumdog Millionaire, The King’s Speech and the first few series of Game of Thrones, the financial benefits far outweigh the cost of making them.

Being a part of the EU gave our filmmakers a voice, which will now struggle to be heard- if it even manages to get financed from struggling UK studios at all. As minor as this may sound, it is projects like these that help Britain get heard on the world stage; our entertainment is beloved worldwide and is a significant contributor to our GDP. It isn’t just movies; the music industry is already counting losses, with EU factory closures likely to ensure the instant death of the CD and the re-emerging vinyl boom (due to increases in costs to export the products), as well as swelling costs for artists to perform across the continent and gain international exposure.

It is sadly fitting that Creative Europe’s latest triumph was helping to fund Ken Loach’s I, Daniel Blake (in UK cinemas October 22). At the age of 79, Loach has become the first British filmmaker to win the Palme D’Or at the Cannes Film Festival in 10 years- and coincidentally, he was that very British winner 10 years ago, with The Wind That Shakes the Barley. Daniel Blake is an impassioned takedown of the British welfare state that has caused those irresponsibly deemed fit to work to fall into a life of misery, living off benefits and food bank donations.

It appears to be a timely criticism of the divided Britain we live in today, making it oddly fitting that it is among the last British films to get EU funding. What is the film if not a warning about the perils of a government ignoring the Human Rights Act in order to ease the strain on public health services? With the likelihood that this could end an era of immense creativity in British film, here is a look at some of the best movies the EU has funded.

Trainspotting (1996)

Director Danny Boyle’s adaptation of Irvine Welsh’s famously unfilmable novel may be the epitome of the mid-90’s “cool Britannia” era. But a project that seemed so uncommercial on paper (a decades spanning romp about Scottish heroin addicts) would only be funded by risk friendly European investors. The result was one of the defining films of the decade and a career high that Danny Boyle has never managed to match. Choose life. Choose EU funding.

Secrets and Lies (1996)

Winner of the Palme D’Or at Cannes in 1996 and later a Best Picture Oscar nominee, director Mike Leigh’s tale of an adopted woman looking to find her real mother is a rich and emotionally rewarding watch. Leigh made the film to upturn the stereotypical portrayals of black people in the media, whilst acknowledging the easing, albeit still complex, race relations still present. With the Brexit vote likely to cause a rise in extremism, Secrets and Lies feels all the more essential- the problems presented within transcend the race of the characters to become mere human struggles.

East is East (1999)

A film from a perspective the media largely ignores, East is East is among the most mainstream films on this list, yet manages to do something even the most in-depth arthouse efforts fail to. It explores a developing youth culture amidst racial tensions and tells us how progress is always a good thing, even if it comes at odds with societal and cultural norms.

This is England (2006)

And here is another film that sadly feels relevant yet again. Director Shane Meadows depiction of a British youth culture divided by the rise of the far-right National Front movement in the early 80’s is a tough, punishing watch. With fringe groups like Britain First and the EDL provoking alienation and spreading hate speech amongst many young, disenfranchised Britons, a film like This is England is a pitch perfect depiction of the horrors we must never replicate.

Control (2007)

Dutch Director Anton Corbijn’s debut is a chilling biopic of Joy Division and their troubled lead singer Ian Curtis. Managing to be both a celebration of the band’s pioneering music and an in-depth character study that gets under the skin of one of rock’s biggest icons, it is a cinematic feat that all musician biopics should be measured against.

We Need to Talk About Kevin (2011)

Scottish director Lynne Ramsey’s adaptation of an unfilmable bestseller is one of the most provocative (and downright best) films of the new decade. Anchored by a career best performance from Tilda Swinton, the film explores how post natal depression can cause an extreme rift in relationship between mother and child; a horror movie that is all the more shocking for feeling eerily plausible.

Shame (2012)

Director Steve McQueen’s first two films were both partly funded by the EU- that his third, 12 Years a Slave, is an Oscar winning modern masterpiece shows the extent to which the union helped to nurture talent as it blossomed. Michael Fassbender stars as Brandon, a New York yuppie who is a slave to his own self-destructive sex addiction. The arrival of his sister (Carey Mulligan) lays his soul bare, depicting a tortured relationship leading to mutual implosion. Not a feel good film by any means, but an undeniable modern classic nonetheless.

Under the Skin (2014)

A punk rock sci-fi masterpiece that completely defies simple classification or explanation, director Jonathan Glazer filmed Scarlett Johansson drive around Glasgow with a fleet of hidden cameras as she portrayed an alien looking for men to devour as an energy source. One of the weirdest films Britain has ever produced and one of the best by a country mile.

Shaun the Sheep Movie (2015)

Aardman Animation Studios returned to the spirit of the silent movie with this underrated stop motion gem. A spin off from the highly popular CBBC show (also funded by the EU), the narrative simplicity helps make way for some stunning animation, genuinely funny gags and an adventure that can be enjoyed by all ages.

The Lobster (2015)

Despite a Greek writer/director and an Irish setting, the sensibility of The Lobster’s dry comic tone is 100% British. A surreal, pitch black satire on modern dating, Colin Farrell stars as a sad sack divorcee tasked with finding a new romantic partner in 40 days- or get turned into an animal of his choice if he fails. One of the funnier films in recent memory, climaxing in an ending designed to make an audience squirm.

And it isn’t just British movies that receive funding. The list of brilliant European movies that have been aided by EU funding is seemingly never ending, but here are a few; Festen (1998), All About My Mother (1999), The Pianist (2002), The Triplets of BelleVille (2003), The Child (2005), Cache (2005), The Lives of Others (2006), Antichrist (2009), Carol (2015) and Tale of Tales (2015).

If this wasn’t enough, my favourite film of all time, Pan’s Labyrinth, wouldn’t exist without EU funding. Continuously supporting uncompromising European filmmakers, from Lars Von Trier and Michael Haneke to the Dardenne Brothers and US contemporaries like Woody Allen, the world cinema climate wouldn’t be as vibrant were it not for their help.

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