Beyond The Box Office

Posted on 8 January 2011

New report shows that people remember feature films set in the north of the UK better than ones set in the south.

On Friday January 7th 2011, the University of York hosted Beyond The Box Office - a debate on the cultural impact of film and its relevance to our lives. The event was held in the screening room of the Department of Theatre, Film and Television. 

The speakers were Ian Christie, Professor of Film and Media History, Birkbeck College, London; Carol Comley, Head of Strategic Development, UK Film Council; Sally Joynson, CEO Screen Yorkshire; Estelle Morris, Former Secretary of State for Education and Skills and Minister for the Arts; Andy Harries, CEO Left Bank Pictures and Film and TV Producer; and Bertrand Moullier, Senior Consultant, Narval Media.

Andrew Higson, Professor of Film and Television, University of York chaired the event.

Sally Joynson and Carol Comley talked about the importance of film to the economy, particularly outside London. Then Ian Christie and Bertrand Moullier presented the results of their study, commissioned by the UK Film Council, looking at the cultural impact of films for the regions where they're set, and also where they're made (not necessarily the same place of course). One interesting point that came out of the study was that although UK films are fairly evenly distributed around the country geographically, if you ask people to name UK films, they tend to remember ones set in the north, such as The Full Monty, Billy Elliot, and The Damned United.

Andy Harries then talked about some of his experiences as the producer of The Queen, starring Helen Mirren; and The Damned United, about Brian Clough's tenure at Leeds. He explained his philosophy: it's important to film in the real area where a film is set. So even though it would have been cheaper to film in Northern Ireland, the Scottish countryside scenes in The Queen where really filmed in the Highlands. And the Elland Road football ground in Leeds was the main location in The Damned United.

Estelle Morris discussed how film, like other art forms before it, is the first draft of history. She talked about her experiences of using the film Cry Freedom with her students when she was a teacher in Coventry, to explain the problems of apartheid in South Africa, and the dilemma she had that in the fictional narrative, some facts were changed to make a better story. On the other hand, the film was so gripping that it was the only time in her career as a teacher that the students wanted to ignore the bell and carry on with the lesson.

She also thinks film is in a very privileged position: not only does it feel more real than other art forms, but the people who work in films are celebrities, and so have access to power. She told the story of Dickie Attenborough phoning her when she was minister for the arts, to let her know that he was planning to "take a walk up Downing Street to have a chat with Gordon Brown..." As she pointed out, not many other people would have much chance of success with that plan!

The afternoon finished with a stimulating panel discussion. The picture shows, from left to right: Professor Andrew Higson; Professor Ian Christie; Bertrand Moullier; Estelle Morris; and Andy Harries.